A call to action

The fight for equality must be fought on many fronts—in the urban slums, in the sweat shops of the factories and fields. Our separate struggles are really one—a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity.

This passage of a telegram from Martin Luther King Jr. to César Chávez from September 22, 1966, offers an important lesson for today’s activists, as struggles for justice are becoming increasingly global. It is one of the first articulations of what can be called an anthropological imagination.

Every day it seems another crisis is coming to light, each more urgent than the next. It is easy to feel overwhelmed. Within a generation, getting news went from having daily broadcasts and newspapers to being subjected to a literally constant barrage of information. The “news cycle” is rapidly losing its meaning. In addition to several twenty-four-hour news stations with constantly scrolling headlines, news websites now employ clickbait, content that is sensationalized to entice readers to click on a link to a particular website, sponsored by paid advertisers. Social media platforms track—and predict—our every move, eerily foretold by the movie Minority Report. How can one possibly keep track of what’s actually going on or tease apart fact from “fake news” or “alternative facts”?

It is also precisely during periods of “crisis” like these that the fog of ideology is easier to lift. Activist movements now are already adopting an intersectional approach, leading the way. But people who are going to one march this week against gun violence, another next week against family separation, or climate change, or women’s rights to safety, or transgender people’s right to exist, or science itself, risk reproducing a defensive, single-issue individualism, atomization, and compartmentalization—a “whack-a-mole” approach to resistance.

Our destinies are already intertwined, connected by legacies of colonialism, patriarchy, slavery, and capitalism. After World War II, within the United States in particular, a white “middle class” was created and sold the belief of endless growth. That growth has reached its natural limits. And the engines of growth are belching greenhouse gases, choking out other life. At some point this endless growth machine was going to come back and bite us. That time is now.

Rather than the endless whack-a-mole process of resisting, which is exhausting and burning people out, this moment calls upon us to see how we are not only connected by these particular issues but also connected to communities that are differently situated along global capitalism’s process of accumulation by appropriation. Folks whose bodies, families, languages, and religions have been targeted by this system built on inhumanity are building specific networks of solidarity. People who until now have been spared the brunt of the colonialist, white supremacist, cis-heteropatriarchal accumulation machine’s violence need to put our own bodies on the line. Not just by carrying signs and chanting, but by educating ourselves about the ways in which these issues that appear on the surface to be particular local struggles are already interwoven together globally. More importantly, those of us who have found ourselves on the privileged side of these increasingly terrorizing inequalities need to do the self-reflection necessary to see how our lives are complicit in maintaining these systems. And when we do act—and we must act—to dismantle this privilege, we must do so with the understanding that these systems that might have temporarily benefited the privileged few need to be dismantled from within and without. The inhumanity of the genocide of Indigenous populations of the earth to make way for settler populations, and the economic system built off this theft and the savage system of slavery, reducing the entire planet, including women’s bodies, to the status of private property, is not good for anyone. It is killing the planet, just as it is killing individuals who are fleeing their homelands seeking asylum.

If we—and by “we” I do mean everyone—are serious about our struggle to defend humanity against the worldwide systems of dehumanization, in all its specific local faces, we need to see the system for what it is. To do this requires what could be called an anthropological imagination.

The group of thoughtful, committed citizens is not actually so small. I am honored and proud to be part of it.  Thank you.  Now, while we still can, let’s change the world.