As long as we continue putting relationships on the back burner, our political vision will remain limited.
I used to be a big proponent of the idea that prioritising relationships takes away from “the real work”. I thought giving any real consideration to relationships, care, etc. would take away from building any sort of radical political movement. I was very much on some “I’m not here to make friends” and “no new friends” type shit and was turned off by the idea that I might get to know people I was struggling with in any personal way that didn’t directly relate to our struggling together. I wanted to rage at the state and that was all that mattered to me.
I was wrong and I showed up in a lot of spaces in ways that were not generative and didn’t reflect the vision I had for a liberated world.
Of course, I didn’t magically come to this conclusion. After the U.S. presidential election in 2016, some friends and I decided to do some deep study on how different communities and movements have dealt with and responded to authoritarian violence. Our goal was that we’d split up these different examples, do some individual deep study, then make pamphlets to share with the biggest lessons learned and practical information that might be useful to communities we were part of as we all navigated Trump’s incoming administration. My focus was on the BLA (Black Liberation Army). Nothing tangible actually came from this project since we all got swept up in other, more immediate things. But I did end up spending a year or so only reading things published by veteran BLA members and other revolutionary New Afrikans. I ended up learning tons about revolutionary theory, membership structures, organisation building, and more, but the thing that has stuck with me the most is the importance of our relationships with one another.
I was recently thinking about this because a good friend was telling me about some challenges he’s having with people he’s in political community with. I am frustrated by a lot of what he’s experiencing because so much of it is a disregard for principled relationships and instead resulting to petty gossip and passive aggressive ways of engaging with people you are in political struggle with.
What I’ve learned first from the reading and then from reflecting on past experiences in different formations and more recent stuff is that relationships are key. This doesn’t mean we need to all be friends or buddy-buddy with each other [thankfully, lol] but it does mean that we need to prioritize building relationships with one another that is rooted in our shared principled political struggle. This means practicing vulnerability in order to build trust and practices of support and care, which are all necessary for our own security as well as our sustainability and the sustainability of our groups. This is important especially because, when shit hits the fan——whether it’s legal/surveillance crackdowns on our collective or police physically attacking us at a protest——I need to know that you have my back and you need to know that I have yours. The only way to get to this point though is to build trust through our relationships with each other.
Safiya Bukhari, in her essay “What is Security? And the Ballot or the Bullet… Revisited”, is the piece that really shifted my understanding and that I refer to most often when thinking about relationships, and particularly, relationships as security practice. Below are some quotes that were especially impactful to my learning and development in recognizing caring about relationships as a central part of our political practice and not a personal endeavour that can be ignored or disregarded in other ways. My goal in sharing this is so that you can learn some from Sister Bukhari as I did and share this learning with those you’re in community with.
By definition, security means the freedom from danger, fear, and anxiety. Individual and organisational safety and well-being begin with that knowledge of what you’re about, what the organization is about, your limitations, the organization’s limitations, your strengths, and the organization’s strengths. Knowledge is the key to security. History has shown that the best security depends upon the internal strength of the organization and the internal principles of the people who make up the organization.
The ability to trust your comrades implicitly and to know with certainty what they will do in any circumstance is the best security…. The question, then, is how do we get to this point? It begins with knowing what you’re about——what you want and what you believe in and how far you will go to obtain it. The reciprocal reality is knowing what the organization is about.
This means that both the individual and the organization need to be open and honest….As we shed the ego and survive all the knocks of revealing these little truths about ourselves to one another, we become stronger, our organization becomes stronger and more secure, and our goal becomes realizable because we have begun to sublimate the big “I” to the collective “us” or “we”.