by Nora McKay
May 8th, 2014
Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement strategy is what I would call an activist’s handbook. Through a series of essays, interviews, and personal accounts, Chris Crass shares with the reader the passionate, gritty, inspiring, and practical aspects of creating, continuing, and expanding a movement. Using examples of movements from the Civil Rights Movement to Food Not Bombs, Crass sheds light on the numerous struggles involved in activism, discussing everything from finding the time and space for activism, to confronting issues of privilege within groups of activists, to getting arrested. What is so unique (and wonderful) about the book is the very fact that it is not at all framed as what it is: a how-to book. Crass simply discusses every gritty detail of success and failure experienced within the movements and thus gives the reader a comprehensive overview of the components of a successful movement.
What made such a significant impact on me was the realization that the leaders of any and every movement make a lot of mistakes. They are confused. There are times when they don’t know what the next step is. That I didn’t realize this before sounds naïve to the point of ridiculousness, but it’s true. I always had the vague conception that the leaders of activist movements were people who knew all the facts and could work the system and had a plan for every step of the way. I have never had all (any?) of those things, and for that reason I excluded myself from the possibility of ever being anything but a follower in activism. Hearing about the failings of some of these movements actually inspired me! It gave me a sense of solidarity, a recognition that the leaders of these movements were and are really no different from me.
Of course, there are moments when I felt like Crass knew that the book was serving the purpose of a how-to guide even though he didn’t frame it in that way. The last chapter in the book for instance is called, “We Can Do This: key Lessons for More Effective and Healthy Liberation Praxis”. In it he includes eight tips for successful activism. Some of them are more practical like, “Cultivate a developmental organizing approach. Continually look for patterns, stages, and common dynamics that help move individuals, relationships, and efforts towards their goals, as well as what hinders them.” (274) Others have that distinctly hopeful, ethereal tone that I associate with whole-hearted activists, particularly: “Embrace the beauty and joy in the world. It is important that, even as we have a keen eye for injustice and a passion to end it, we also open ourselves up to the beauty and joy of the world around us.” (282) This last one is my favorite; a reminder that being hard-core, passionate activists doesn’t mean we have to feel guilty about appreciating all of the good stuff and the beautiful stuff that’s happening in the world as well. Because there is always something.
by Adam Lewis
Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture and Action