Flight Papers

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Archive for the ‘radicalization’ Category

volunteer! don’t do anything.

Monday, April 6th, 2009

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When you think of volunteerism, what do you think of? What image springs into your head?

Actually, there are lots of answers to that, and they’re probably informed by your own experiences, and that’s wonderful. What I ought to ask is: what do TV writers evidently think of when they think of volunteerism? What cultural image embodies that concept?

Soup. Ladling soup. Some white kid with their heart in the right place, ladling soup out to the homeless.

There’s a lot to do at a soup kitchen. Someone has to acquire raw ingredients. Someone has to prep those ingredients; someone has to cook them. Someone has to clean the place, near-constantly. And that’s just the soup. Someone has to acquire and maintain the space; someone has to advertise; someone has to coordinate with other social services. Depending on how you do it, you can skip some of these things—the Food Not Bombs chapters in my area just go serve food in the park and rely on word of mouth, but even they have to forage for ingredients, maintain their cooking spaces, and so forth.

On TV, all of this is reduced to one white kid, ladling out soup. Which is telling. Seeing that image, I wonder: why is she even there? I mean, there’s the soup, there’s a ladle, and there’s a pile of bowls. People—even homeless people—can generally ladle soup without assistance. The ladler, in this scene, isn’t giving out food—she’s portioning out food: this much for you, this much for you, this much for you….

I think that image and its connotations, more than any reality, damages the notion of “volunteerism”. I don’t want soup ladlers. I don’t want people to “help” me. I don’t want to “help” people. Volunteerism, in short, isn’t activism. Volunteerism is me giving you food. Activism is us, cooking. The government isn’t going to encourage activism, because activism, at its best, is dangerous—not violent, but not helpful, and certainly not safe.

[ Of course, TV has an image of activism, too. That would be (a) white college kids protesting something, or (b) passionate brown people working to “bring down” televangelists whose refineries are giving cancer to children (the passionate brown people, obviously, exist only for as long as they are useful to the main cast). ]

The Monster’s Shape.

Friday, November 21st, 2008

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Sometimes, the patriarchy is a thunderstorm. And sometimes, it’s billions of men spitting on you. It is important to know the shape of the monster before attempting to murder it.

An explanation.

Lisa recently posted an essay, “Don’t Like Feminists? Stop Helping Create Them”. It’s a little jarring to read an essay framed as, “here’s how to unmake feminism,”—not “white feminism,” or “western feminism,” or that statement phrased in any way as a critique of certain movements. Instead, simply, “how do you dismantle this social justice movement, in its entirety, and all the institutions it has inspired, and how once it is dead do you keep it in the ground?”


Pride is not the opposite of shame.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

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I got back from San Francisco pride a couple of weeks ago, and that is one intense. fucking. party., let me tell you.

I thought I would be writing right now about the commercialization, commodification, and normalization of “the gay lifestyle.” I thought I would be talking about how the rainbow-banner Bud Lite banners were vaguely cute but also vaguely sickening; about how the marriage industry is opening its arms to (heteronormatively-attractive and “normal-looking”) gay couples without missing a beat; about how the entire pride industry is a concerted force to push “normalish” (white, affluent, could be straight if they, y’know, wanted to be) gay people into the mainstream whilst marginalizing everyone else.

And I expect much of that is true, but those words didn’t come, in part I’m sure because we didn’t go to the “core” pride festivities at the civic center. We went to the tranny march and the dyke march, both at Dolores park; we also went, albeit briefly, to the giant rave held at the intersection of Market and Castro, where twenty-thousand people pack into the streets and just… dance. And my girlfriend and I cuddled in my friend’s backyard, and watched fireworks that we and nobody else made, and talked about moving to the city.

We thought, just a little, about getting married.


Love is the only true radicalizing force.

Monday, April 28th, 2008

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The question is: how to love?

You don’t know a thing unless you are perceiving it. This isn’t an epistemological statement—you are not meant to take this and run round-and-round in the solipsist death spiral. “My perceptions are necessarily imperfect,” you are not supposed to say, “ergo I cannot know anything.”

This is a statement about all those things that you actually do know, and act on, and use to make your self. It is a fact about those things.

When someone asks, “do you love me?” and you do, you don’t say, “I believe so.” Love isn’t a thing you believe, so it’s never a thing whose existence you can assert or prove. Love is a verb. It is a thing we do. It is a thing we have to build every day, with our words and with our tongues. It is not an easy thing, and it is fragile. This fragility is not the opposite of strength; like all fragile things, love is unbelievably strong.

I have hurt everyone I loved, some way, some how. And I have been hurt by them. These are the best relationships, the absolute strongest ones I hold. The love there is palpable, perceived, known.

You will hurt people; you will be hurt. I have hurt people; I have been hurt; I have hurt myself. These are words to hold onto, because without exception they are true.

Pause for a moment. Enter this place: You’re sitting in a stranger’s living room. You don’t know anyone else there, and they’re talking, and you can’t understand their words. You were not invited here—perhaps you are a ghost. The question is: what do you do?