How might we characterize Frederick Douglass’s views regarding religion? Douglass tries to forestall misunderstanding about his views in the appendix to his autobiography. He doesn’t want his readers to suppose him “an opponent of all religion” (107). “What I have said respecting and against religion,” he writes, “I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. […]. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land” (107). Why is religion the terrain of appeal here at book’s end? Religion has been a tool of indoctrination, a violently imposed ideology, a “crown of thorns”-style cognitive map and/or map of the cosmos imposed upon slaves. Douglass shows that the crown can be seized and repurposed. The slave arrives into Logos, reclaims “Scripture,” and sits in judgment upon the master. Douglass’s religious views also manifest in his several attestations about “divine providence,” and his claims regarding the latter’s influence over key events in the course of his narrative.
What will come of this summer of black lives mattering? Black reading lists are making the rounds, black-led movements are marching and protesting and rioting in the streets; money has been gathered in impressive amounts for black organizations and black-owned businesses. Consider now what comes after. What have we joined? Where are we headed? What comes next? Reality is a bath, a soup shaped by the tug and pull of bodies and forces, large and small. Worlds arise and transform the same way caterpillars transform into butterflies.
The story that writes itself and needs to be written is the story of black life — multiple, joined with others, protesting, demonstrating, rioting against systemic racism and Trumpism and white supremacy and police murder in cities across America. “We have our masks and we’re ready,” says the voice of the collective subject. Reception of the Event is always mistranslated by journalists — yet awareness is growing, consciousness is changing. We’re learning our way toward insurrection and rebellion against injustice. My hopes are, as always, with the struggle. Mike Davis and Jon Wiener walk me through the Watts Uprising of August 1965. As Horace Tapscott exclaimed, “The Giant Is Awakening.”
Tapscott’s Underground Musicians Association (UGMA) formed at the heart of the Watts Renaissance. They were a jazz commune like Sun Ra’s Arkestra — but unlike the autocratic structure of the latter, Tapscott’s group was, as Davis and Wiener say, “an anarchist participatory democracy” (Set the Night on Fire, p. 245). The feeling today is much the same: giants awakening, people assembling. What has needed to happen is happening.
Got into a fight with a wall. Because that’s part of what this is about: this 2020 election. We’re either putting up or breaking down walls. Time to wise up. Be Bold, Youth of Today. Vote, take action, muster a positive mental attitude, a utopian imagination, and exercise it, put it to use in action against gross injustice. Put an end to capitalist realism’s war on the possibility of Red Plenty. Dream big in one’s being toward the future. In the interim, Sarah and I cook up a pot of mushroom barley soup.
Hope is not merely a belief — it’s a narrative practice, a performance, a lived orientation toward being. There is much to do. How shall we do it? Converse with everyone; visit and receive visits; canvas; rally. Read and discuss books with others. Sing songs, shake rattles and tambourines.
Time to choose candidates. Time to get out and vote. Exercise hope. The left has been in defeat for fifty years. Time to take power, so that all of us may wield it in common, in the Tassajara sense: “(we’re really one, not two), / […] / (we’re really two, not one).” It’s just us and the dough — ripening, maturing, baking, blossoming together. As Edward Espe Brown writes, “everything is asking this of you: / make full use, / take loving care / of me.” When we concentrate and give our best effort, he explains, “everything is deliciously full / of warmth and kindness.”
What do we mean by rebellion? Government by election is illegitimate, the numbers and the games played with them suspect. Time for ontological rebellion, refusal of consent to another’s determination of reality. Time to write and perform alternate scripts. Take value-determination away from the money-form. Reject the count en masse. By that I mean the Census. That which can’t count can’t rule. Collectively, in groups, drop out of the count. Drop out of buying and drop into giving. Create an alternative narrative reality. Turn every house into a freehouse, a treehouse, an Undercommons, a tribal encampment. Those who have land, give land. Start communes. Queer language. Historicize it, romanticize it, poeticize it, improvise with it, cast spells with it. Disobey those who police it. Craft new states of being. Provide for the needs of others. Teach. Parent. Use love and generosity to coordinate local gift-exchange. And support those who take to the pipelines and the streets. Water defenders, metro fare protestors. Rise up, act out. Decolonize this place.
The white American settler-state has failed in its stewardship of the planet. Let us return power to the Red Nation. Build and strengthen “caretaking economies” to oppose what Nick Estes calls “the caretakers of violence such as the police and military.” Support the Sanders campaign and demand a Red Deal. Honor relations and kin.
Back to the bookstore. The love of books. Extended, now, to children’s books, like Mindful Kids and Henry David Thoreau in the Woods. Story time at 10:30am on Saturdays. Of course, most of that is the future. As of now, most of F.’s desires center around feeding. When she’s rooting for her mother’s breast, the most I can offer is my thumb or my pinkie. I wish the world we’re introducing her to wasn’t one on fire. Natural and built environments demolished and transformed according to the whims of capital. Nick Estes usefully reframes current events as a continuation, as if by law of correspondence, of white settler-colonialist America’s war on the Buffalo Nation. His book Our History Is The Future has me looking differently not just at contemporary US acts of aggression against Iran but also at hippie modernist classics retrieved from Goodwill like Jerry Rubin’s We Are Everywhere. Is it a coincidence, too, that after walking past a building demolition downtown, a friend’s text about “leveling up” leads me away from Estes toward a motivational blog exhorting readers to “Inhale the Future, Exhale the Past”? (“Level Up” is also the name of a conference on videogames that I attended at the start of my career as an academic.) The phrase inspires fears, though, about the creeping libertarianism interwoven in the DNA of transhumanism and human potential. Is self-actualization the same as “leveling up”?
A beautiful afternoon — a time to celebrate after several days of rain. Though even those have been wonderful: F. sleeping in my lap, or with her head resting on my shoulder. Sarah writing thank yous as friends and family visit us, bestow gifts on us, and feed us, local friends and colleagues having established for us a meal train. A circle of giving. Freedom is ours when we join and grow these circles of reciprocity. Extend the giving outward through the polis and the cosmos. Support the Sanders bid for the presidency. Make the vote count. Correct the outcome of 1972. Participate, too, in the antiwar movement. Make its number swell.