I just finished an online workshop called "Oppression, movement building and our relationships as activists", it's been a while since I wrote a blog post and so here are some thoughts.

First a summary of what came up during the workshop. One of the first "lessons" we were taught was that our societies are filled with systems of oppression (sexism, racism, ableism, nationalism, ...) which are designed to divide and conquer and make it easy to rule. OK, that was extremely simplistic, but hopefully you get it. What this means is that (pretty much) everyone is both oppressor and oppressed, perpetrator and victim. I've written some similar things here before.

The second thing I will keep with me from the workshop is that punishment and blame are not constructive ways of fighting oppression. This doesn't mean we shouldn't intervene to stop acts of oppression (e.g. someone expressing a gender stereotype) but that we should do it from a position of love and care for the person carrying out this act. Guilt, shame and punishment may prevent certain behaviours in the short term but they prevent learning.

I was going through all of this and I was reminded of the documentary 'Fuck White Tears'. In it, the German student making the documentary is told to fuck off multiple times (to my recollection, literally in some cases). Her coming to film South African students protesting is another way of oppressing them, since she's profiting from the documentary while they will be left with nothing. The anger and frustration of the students is quite a contrast to this workshop.

I guess I'm trying to reconcile the anger you can feel knowing you've been wronged or seeing injustices play out (in my head I'm thinking oil company executives continuing to fuck my future like rabid teenagers), the desire to scream and shout at people with the fact that you're not going to change anyone's mind doing that. I just realised how apt this thought is given that Extinction Rebellion's motto is Love & Rage.

Is love and care the only way to change or open people's minds though? Watching that documentary really stuck with me, in a way that a gentler approach would not have. The same goes for an interaction I had with Brenda Odimba, where she basically called me out for believing an old white dude over her and perpetuating forms of systemic oppression. That's a gross oversimplification and I think there was some miscommunication, but her "I'm going to call you out on your bullshit" attitude still made me think and I generally agree with her on. I can, however, imagine how most people would get very defensive from these sorts of experiences and shut themselves off.

If I had to form some sort of synopsis here, I guess it would be: make people uncomfortable to get them to think, then guide them with love and care through their journey of convincing them that you're right learning to be less shitty people becoming more loving and caring people.

Another thing, and this is mainly a reminder to myself - we all make mistakes, we are all "wrong" some or even most of the time, and its only by acknowledging this and admitting it when it happens that we can improve. If I really took this on board then I would probably be less frustrated and generally a more pleasant person to be around.