From 2002 until 2007, I had the privilege of being a member of the Visions Collective. The Visions Collective was an intentionally intersectional group of artists, academics, and organizers that spanned broad racial, gender, sexuality, and age demographics. The genesis of the group was a discussion series held by the now defunct Freire Center in Minneapolis, which brought a group of folks together to discuss a number of topics, one of which was Israel/Palestine. The second intifada was in full swing, and a question was raised about suicide bombing attacks as legitimate acts of resistance versus acts of terror. The room was divided but the majority consensus was that when there is such a terrific and terrible imbalance of power between two peoples and when one people holds enormous and overwhelming military might that suicide bombing can be and has been used as a legitimate revolutionary war tactic.
For the lefty Jews in the room this triggered a deep and irrational reaction tied to political Zionism as practiced in Israel (which is distinct and different from the original aims of the Zionist movement). The outcome was that we realized that there were no spaces where we, who all identified as somewhere on the spectrum from progressive to radical, could come together to discuss and learn how to navigate what we termed "the places that stick." On the Left the issue of Israel/Palestine is perhaps the single most divisive issue because of the history of the Holocaust and the rhetoric of the Israeli government. But the fact remains that as allies to each other on the Left, we needed to develop a space to conscientiously and purposefully jump into those "places that stick," and figure out how to justly engage with one another in those hard places.
For five years, the Visions Collective met roughly monthly. Our only goal was to be intentional with one another and to talk about those hard places. We were not an organizing collective, we published no papers, and we had no agenda other than to build with one another over food and friendship. The collective was comprised of some amazing folks: Sara Leedom, Coya White Hat Artichoker, Juliana Hu Pegues, Ricardo Levins Morales, Nikki Kubista, Jeff Nygaard, Lisa Albrecht, and me.
I will never forget the day when Ricardo said:
When asking for equality, we must ask the question, "Equal to what?"
What a tremendously simple and overwhelmingly profound statement. It made me think, for the first, time, about it means to ask for equality whether that be racial equality, gender equality, or, the hot button issue of the day, marriage equality. At its foundation, in the United States, asking for equality really means to ask to be equal to and have the same opportunites as white, straight, wealthy men: aka the right to oppress others, the right to make enormous wealth on the backs of others, the right to degrade the environment for profit, the right to colonize and control the developing world, the right to amass private property, and the right to participate full as oppressors in the most heinous and oppressive neoliberal systems at the center of how the world operates.
No thank you.
Let's look, for a moment, at the institution of marriage. We are asking to be equal participants in an institution that was designed to subjugate women, perpetuate clan based power structures and preserve wealth within a kinship network with the specific caveat that the wealth, property and power be controlled by men. We are asking to be equal to a system that promotes and elevates one type of family structure, hold it up as sacred, and provide it with overwhelming benefits that are not accessible by either individuals that choose to live their lives singly, are forced to do so my circumstance, or choose to construct families and relationships on models that blow up the one person/one person binary paradigm.
No thank you.
Don't get me wrong. I absolutely beleive that any two people that wish to join together in marriage should receive the benefits that are available to a "straight couple." But I want to be clear in articulating what it is we are ACTUALLY asking to participate in and what it actually means to prop up the institution of marriage (plus, we all know just how wonderfully marriage actually works...).
The word equality is disgusting. I'd rather be called a nigger than be called equal.
I learned from Ricardo and the other folks in the Vision's Collective that what we REALLY want and what we REALLY should ask for is marriage justice, racial justice, relationship liberation, economic justice. The difference is very simple: justice and liberation require that each individual be supported, loved, upheld, and valued as a whole and perfect instrument with personal autonomy, sovereignity and integrity while also REQUIRING that personal power and privilege be balanced against not only ones immediate community needs and requirements but also against global needs and requirements. Economic justice means that everyone on the planet has food, water, clothing, shelter, education, and recreation before anyone else gets to have EXTRA food, EXTRA water, EXTRA clthing, EXTRA shelter, so on and so far. And by extra I mean more than the abundance needed to live your life well, wholly, and fully. No one should starve so that someone else can eat, but we should all eat what we need and not beyond excess because we believe we have a right to it based on our privilege.
Justice and liberation also require that we deconstruct misguided oppressive notions of what is or is not a valid union between peoples; if everyone involved is a consenting, informed, supported, and liberated adult freely choosing to participate in whatever type of relationship configuration, as long as it is loving and sustaining that relationship structure should enjoy all the rights and privileges of any other relationship structure that enjoys government sanction. Justice helps us understand that my liberation supports your liberation and blows up the notion that if somehow I should earn my freedom you will lose yours...we all get to be free. How sweet is that?
Equality sucks. I want no part of it.
Justice and liberation...now that I am down with.