5 min read

America's open tabs

There is only one browser tab I keep open on my phone. It is this link to a copy of The Combahee River Collective Statement.

I am a pretty organized and disciplined person and regularly clear out my tabs, archiving links to Evernote or firing off must-reads to the group texts. But every time I get to this open tab, I linger, reread it and decide it stays. I’m not done with you yet.

This week I was reminded there is still a lot of undone business here.

The Combahee River Collective is foundational Black feminist framework for intersectional feminism. It unpacked the dynamics of interlocking oppressions, the politics of solidarity and the politics of struggle. “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.”

The Combahee River Collective statement was primarily authored by three Black women leaders; Demita Frazier, Beverly Smith, and Barbara Smith. The trio first coined the phrase “identity politics” in the statement: "This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else's oppression."

Working with younger Black movement leaders over the years, some of the most expansive lightbulb moments I've observed is when they come to understand that there could be a place in politics for someone like them. I've also witnessed these same leaders surf waves of rage and loneliness realizing many of their white counterparts never needed to have that a-ha moment. Power, as it exists in its current form, was always for them. This week the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women & State Innovation Exchange released No Democracy Without Black Women, a report and comprehensive data analysis recapping the political imbalances at play as Black women electorate repeatedly save democracy from the brink yet only make up 4.82% of the elected state legislators. The truth is sad and staggering: there are 8 states without a single Black woman in the legislatures and the few who are elected remain underfunded. "The people who most intimately know the true impact of structural racism and sexism—Black women—know best how to dismantle those systems and move to a just and equitable democracy and society."

This week The View cohost Meghan McCain falsely conflated calls for more diversity and representation as a personal attack on her job fueled by identity politics. McCain is far from the last person to co-opt identity politics for harm. But when she was corrected on Twitter by Barbara Smith, the movement leader who coined the term "identity politics," McCain blocked Smith and complained to the press about Twitter's toxicity. The truth is sad and staggering but the real toxicity unfolds when you tell the truth to someone who does not wish to hear it.

Barbara Smith is an actual Nobel Peace Prize nominee FWIW.

Back in 2019, Stacey Abrams (also a Nobel Peace Prize nominee) wrote E Pluribus Unum? The Fight Over Identity Politics in Foreign Affairs: "The American working class has consistently relied on people of color and women to push for improved status for workers but has been slow to include them in the movement’s victories."  This week reminded me how we are both slow to be included and also the first to be sacrificed. Take for example, how this week the city of Oakland announced one of the nation's largest guaranteed income pilots with 600 families to get $500 a month, it is a tremendous achievement for the movement for Universal Basic Income. "We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives," the Combahee River Collective statement declares.

This win for UBI is tied to work from leaders like Barbara Smith, who is now in her seventies. Her movement work did not net her retirement benefits nor a pension. Her community created their own UBI for her, the Smith Caring Circle and formed The People's Pension that is crowdfunding Smith's retirement through a monthly giving circle through Patreon (you can sign up for yourself here). It is beautiful and innovative for community to build systems of care in this way. But I wonder how, as more of us engage with systems for the explicit purposes of reshaping and reimagining them, can we explicitly redirect resources to the people, leaders and communities whose radical leadership made these shifts possible in the first place. People of color and women are slow to be included in victories, as Abrams writes, but can the status be called improved if these same innovators are also blocked and left behind?

I have fewer problems with the myth of meritocracy than I do with the false promise of dignity and America continually fails to deliver on that promise to Black women.

Last night my friend, Georgia state legistator Park Cannon was arrested for peacefully knocking on the office door (content warning: police/arrest footage at link) of Georgia Governor/Literal Cartoon Villain Brian Kemp after he signed a new round of voter suppression legislation behind closed doors. The new laws explicitly undermines voting access in communities of color in a state still reeling from white supremacists attack on the AAPI community just one week ago. The Combahee River Collective explains how these oppressions are all intertwined and interlock. The collective fights are also sustained oppressions, legacy work that transforms calls for dignity into batons passed from one generation to the next.

I believe (and hope) we can solve for sustained oppressions through expansive dignity.

Expansive dignity is how I got to know Park in the first place. A few years ago, I ran my own UBI experiment of sorts and started a giving circle in memory of a family member. One of the giving circle members used a portion of their gift to donate to Park's re-election campaign. Park was in her late 20s years and running for re-election for her Georgia state legislature seat. My friend wrote how she saw herself in Park, "She gives me hope that I can be this radical and still able to run for office while being myself!" I immediately knew that this was someone I wanted to know too and got in touch. Following her release today, Park wrote a series of tweets and calls to action "I am not the first Georgian to be arrested for fighting voter suppression. I’d love to say I’m the last, but we know that isn’t true. But someday soon that last person will step out of jail for the last time and breathe a first breath knowing that no one will be jailed again for fighting for the right to vote."

"The marginalized did not create identity politics: their identities have been forced on them by dominant groups, and politics is the most effective method of revolt," Abrams writes.Park's leadership then and now is a signal to expansiveness, that we can imagine the last when there are more of us: engaging in democracy, knocking on doors and bringing dirt to the light.

Maybe this way we will not have sustain fights but rather sustain light and finally close some tabs.

Stuff to do

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Welcome to Sabrina’s personal newsletter! I decided to restart my newsletter, it’s been a minute and you may not remember signing up for this and want to opt-out. If so, that is cool! If you choose to stick around, great! The forthcoming newsletters will be delivered via Action Network. We're just doing some spring cleaning over there first. Now please go take a nap!