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Lessons Learned

by : June Terpstra, Ph.D.
Thursday January 14, 2010 - 18:24

I have recently been called to answer the question of with whom, when and where to align oneself as a warrior for social justice. These questions come up regularly in my teaching classes about resistance and revolution in a Justice Studies department in the USA. However, a more troubling and persistent call also comes from relationships with family members, neighbors and colleagues.

For some time now, a growing number of people, whether they call themselves right wingers, left wingers, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, moderates, independents or libertarians, are vocalizing their anger and the need to resist the system which creates the political and material conditions of their lives. Many of these people who did not agree with resistance or revolutionary discourse in the past are articulating agreement with notions of rebellion and revolt now. But revolt and rebellion for what purpose? Self-interest? Survival? A Judaeo-Christian theocracy? A new and improved capitalist system in "populist guise? A return to white supremacist Protestant screeds of master/slave work ethic, replete with racism and sexism? To what extent are they accompanied with an extreme fear and hatred of the poor and a self-loathing in the middle and working class? All of these themes are prominent in the popular discourse of the media, entertainment, faux news and radio ranting spheres. These programmed narratives also manifest in student’s reflections in the classroom, relatives’ blogs and friends’ Facebook, Twitter and Digg spaces.

While the predictions of and possibilities for resistance are more concrete today as more people rise-up to fight the oppressive political and economic conditions that are worsening all over the globe, many of the people who rise up do not want freedom for everyone. In fact, like their American forefathers whose white supremacist and patriarchal ideologies of freedom were born in the blood of genocides while perpetually sinking into deeper debt slavery to a handful of bankers they hunger for a narcissistic dream of white male capitalist entitlement to be consummated.

What then does the student of social justice, liberation, self-determination and freedom have to do with people who do not want a world where the political and material conditions of freedom are secured for everyone? Let us be clear. We cannot "agree to disagree". We must disagree and recognize that the fight for liberation from exploitation, resistance to injustice, and freedom to be a self-determining human being is on, on many fronts with many enemies.

History teaches that a fundamental rule of social justice is to work for a world where the political and material conditions of freedom are secured for everyone. By their nature capitalism, imperialism, fascism, totalitarianism, militarism, globalism, patriarchy and organized religions structure inequalities economically and socially deprive and divide people on the basis of class, sex, race, and creed. Under these systems there is freedom for some people: freedom for capitalists, "Americans", "Brits", Christians, Zionist Jews, select whites, upper-class men and women of acceptable creeds and colors, but definitely not freedom for all people everywhere. That was never the intent of their framers.

The lesson should not have to be learned over and over. When a resistance group or revolution does not adhere to this fundamental principle to work for a world where the political and material conditions of freedom are secured for everyone, the people will continue to suffer injustice, inequality, exploitation and oppression. Another major lesson learned is this: the structuring of freedom into a new society is no easy task and nothing can be proscribed (especially not by Euro-American Judeo-Christian imperialists and their military forces). The conditions for freedom are unique to each locale and culture and must be decided by the people concerned. This is the essence of freedom, involving self-determination and responsibility for the choices that are made and acted upon.

Many revolutions and resistance movements ultimately failed in their goals for freedom in this context and most of these movements excluded groups of people on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity and creed. The French Revolution prioritized the middle class and ultimately rejected the poor, the working classes and the women who fought for the revolution. The Russian Revolution attempted to rectify some of the wrongs against the workers, peasants and even women but still hated certain ethnic groups while re-instating a new version of imperialism and the old stratified class system. America wound up amplifying the Imperialist brutality and extending the world domination practiced by its one-time colonial master Britain, creating an entity founded on and sustained with the genocides against a large number of peoples and nations, beginning with the Red Indians and the Black slaves. Additionally, many global nationalist and independence movements, past and present, mistreat and abuse women, certain ethnic tribes and people of various religious creeds, social milieus and cultural backgrounds.

Thus, we must distinguish ethical from unethical liberatory projects. It is very clear; if they are not for the freedom of all people than we do not support the work, group, organization, reform, resistance or revolutionary project. For the record, all of these projects must recognize and include the freedom of women. Let us affirm that the goal of participation in any work, project, art, reform, resistance and revolution is to end oppression in mutual recognition of each other as free human beings with the right to self-determination.

What are the principles of revolutionary relationships? Certainly, this recognition of each other as free and equal human beings is one fundamental principle. Revolutionary relationships are mediated through our common commitment to shared goals and values of a world that is structured to foster political and material freedom. If the goals and values of a group are to rid a nation of invaders, occupiers and despots it necessarily follows that men and women must support each others’ projects as equal self-determining human beings rather than determined beings based on creed, culture and gender. Women and men of all creeds and cultures are equally qualified to become guerrillas and guardians against injustice. The standards of equality, courage, strength and fortitude cannot be based on the male body, the "American" entity, the "Christian spirit" or the capitalist system.

As women, indigenous, poor, black, brown, red, occupied and colonized, all of our identities must be central to liberation struggles. When one’s identity houses multiple or all of those constructs there stands before us a well informed individual with countless contributions to make to the struggle. The struggle shapes our commitment to the recognition of freedom at every stage be it mobilization, the war itself, or postwar political and material relations. In the past a blind compliance and obedience was fostered by many movements under the guise of supporting the revolution for the independence or the nationalist struggle. Inherent racism, sexism and ethno-centrism were embedded and injurious to many in the struggles. This was and is a grave error in liberation struggles as no person by virtue of their race, class, sex, age, ethnicity, religion, or orientation is inessential or secondary in liberation struggles.

How then do we transcend isolation to create a community and network of allies across our families, neighborhoods, communities, nations and world? We must be clear that evil resides in the denial of freedom. We are responsible for ensuring the existence of the conditions of freedom for all the people: the women, the aged, the poor, the invaded, the occupied, the exploited, and the people of the world. We must learn our lessons from the past. My freedom is dependent on yours and yours is dependent on mine. This is the inescapable human bond.

June Scorza Terpstra, Ph.D. is an activist educator and university lecturer in Justice Studies, Criminal Justice and Sociology. She has founded numerous programs for homeless, abused, youth and oppressed people in the USA. She is presently teaching courses on Law and Terrorism, Social Justice, Resistance, Criminology, and Juvenile Justice. She is a former Community Research Fellow and doctoral graduate of Loyola University Chicago.

http://juneterpstra.com/



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