Highlights from the US Social Forum: LA COIL on Intersectionality, Horizontalism and Prefigurative Politics

My favorite session at the U.S. Social Forum was organized by LA COiL (Communities Organizing Liberation), a collective of revolutionaries who work with the teachers’ union, the Garment Workers’ Center, and in hospitals in Los Angeles. [For more information, contact them at coil.losangeles (at) gmail.com.] They asked us to imagine in detail the world we want to live in, starting with what we want our schools to look like (windows on every floor! peer evaluation! all students, faculty, staff and community members involved in decisions about budget, curriculum, etc!) and then exploring how we can build accountability and support structures in our neighborhoods to replace police and prisons. These folks are for real.

LA COiL members gave workshop participants a little green booklet with a fresh design (trippy rippling circles that intersect) and reader-friendly layout. I am going to zerox the hell out of this thing and start handing them out like candy. I don’t think it’s available on the internet yet (although you can download a scrappy pdf here), so I’m going to type up a few short excerpts. The pamphlet, which LA COiL wrote together with a group named Another Politics is Possible, is called, “So That We May Soar: Horizontalism, Intersectionality, and Prefigurative Politics.” What does that mean? Basically, these folks are putting into words the kind of politics many of us have been trying to develop and have been searching for in every organization we work with. Here are some brief quotes from the pamphlet that can be used as definitions:

1. “Horizontalism challenges each individual to break out of the patterns of allowing others to be the agents of change, and to begin to trust, grow and develop ourselves, politically and personally, alongside others…. It is about investing the time and energy in education, support, and encouragement in order to allow for full participation and decision-making…. This requires the development of structures that truly embody collective work, collective leadership and decentralize power.” (pages 11-12)

2. Prefigurative politics: “We offer our vision of a different world, not as a promise of a place that is far off in the distance where one day we can hope to dramatically arrive, but rather as a set of principles and values that guide us in our practice of liberation now. We want to talk about how to build movements and organizations that both challenge current conditions and practice liberation. We practice liberation now in order to build experience with holding power differently in our own lives and communities, to reclaim our agency, creativity, humanity, dignity, and our capacity to love and be joyful…. We understand revolution as a process rather than an event and are working to build movements that transform power, rather than merely seizing or democratizing power in its current forms.” (page 1)

3. For Intersectionality, the term I think is most relevant to the AIDS movement, I’m going to type up a whole section of the pamphlet here:

Making an Intersectional Analysis Central

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.”

— Audre Lorde

We all live at the intersection of multiple identities, privileges and oppressions. As a result, radical politics that rank oppressions or attempt to identify a “primary contradiction” all too often end up addressing one aspect of domination while reinforcing others. We see this in the history of movements and governments that have attempted to focus on class exploitation without challenging patriarchy, or those that have framed struggles solely in terms of race or national identity without addressing class divisions. As activists and organizers we experience hierarchical and patriarchal patterns of behavior emerging in our own organizations when we do not take into account the intersecting identities and oppressions embodied in each of us as we do the work. We may end up feeling isolated or disconnected from movements for liberation, experiencing racism or heterosexism in organizations and groups devoted to social justice.

Since the ways we experience oppression are intersectional, our resistance must be as well. In the same way that we use the term “intersectional” to describe the mutually reinforcing ways in which different systems of oppression interact in our lives, we think about “intersectional struggle” as a way to describe the complexity of understanding, methodology and vision we use to conduct our struggle so that we are profoundly taking on a simultaneous struggle for liberations from all forms of oppression because we see that they are intimately intertwined. Movements and organizations might focus on a particular issue, such as housing rights, or highlight a certain strategic demand, such as classroom size, in a particular moment. But waging an intersectional struggle means keeping the interrelationship of all forms of oppression at the center of our analysis and vision.

Examples of How Without Intersectional Analysis and Struggle We Don’t Change the Root:

Anti-Colonialism: A ‘Manly’ Fight?

Often one form of violence is used in the service of other forms of domination. For instance, as activist and scholar Andrea Smith has extensively documented in the United States, gender violence is a primary tool of colonialism and white supremacy. The goal of colonialism is not just to kill colonized peoples, but to destroy their sense of being people and their ability to care for themselves and one another. It is through sexual violence that a colonizing group attempts to render a colonized people, in Smith’s words “inherently rapable, their lands inherently invadeable, and their resources inherently extractable.” One cannot end colonialism and white supremacy without ending heteropatriarchy, and vice versa.

War an Answer for Violence Against Women?

Some anti-violence against women groups supported the bombing of Afghanistan in 2002. Invoking reasoning that said they thought it was necessary in order to save women from the Taliban. It is hopefully clear to many now that the invasion and bombing of Afghanistan has not only directly resulted in violence against Afghan women, but also created conditions for many other forms of oppression to flourish. [note from Suzy: See http://www.rawa.org/index.php for more info on why Afghan women opposed the U.S. bombing from the beginning.] The concern for one type of violence but not another has characterized liberal and conservative responses to violence against women abroad and at home.

Many of these same groups support fighting violence against women in the United States by relying on criminalization as their primary strategy for ending domestic and sexual violence. In fact, increased criminalization has built up the prison-industrial complex. This has meant an increased incarceration of women as well because often police arrest ‘both’ parties. This has contributed to increased state violence against women of color by police and prisons, and contributed to mass incarceration of communities of color without appreciably increasing safety for women or helping to transform the perpetrators….

[note from Suzy: I’m going to skip ahead to an excerpt of a poem called “Manifesto (Hablo por mi diferencia)” by Pedro Lemebel, a gay communist from Chile.]

…But don’t talk to me about the proletariat

Because being poor and gay is worse…

What will you do with us compañeros?

Will you tie us up by our braids

Destined for a Cuban sidario

Will you put us on a train to nowhere…

Are you afraid of the homosexualization of life?

And I’m not talking about sticking it in and pulling it out

I’m talking about tenderness compañero…

I’m not going to change for Marxism

That rejected me so many times

I don’t need to change, I’m more subversive than you….

— Pedro Lemebel


Filed under Alternatives to 501c3, arts and culture, California, economic justice, gay and bisexual men, gender, imperialism/colonialism, Native Americans/Indigenous peoples, police repression, prison, revolutionary strategies, sexual violence, transformative justice, Uncategorized, war, women

2 responses to “Highlights from the US Social Forum: LA COIL on Intersectionality, Horizontalism and Prefigurative Politics

  1. krista

    I’d love for you to scan this as a zine (booklet style). The current copy in zinelibrary is not super printer friendly and this is so important.

  2. Suzy Subways

    That is a really good idea! I’m sorry I never replied. I am a little technically challenged and have not figured out how to do this. The most I could do is to try to scan it at work, but then it would be still the same scrappy version, not booklet style. I would suggest contacting LA COiL at coil.losangeles (at) gmail.com or
    5011 Wadena St.
    Los Angeles, CA, 90032
    United States

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