But the creator of the image has a point, right? The truth is that we are implicated in everything we indict. Just by virtue of living embedded in a network of social structures that privilege some at the expense of others, we end up participating in oppression, violence, and exploitation, and to the extent that our protest movements ignore that, opting instead to present an image of us as the righteous good guys and “them” (in this case Wall Street stockbrokers and corporate execs) as the bad guys who done us wrong, we perpetuate a lie and make ourselves the targets of snide and cynical discrediting of the kind represented by the Midnight Trucking Radio Network’s Facebook photo. And we have that much less chance of winning over whoever subscribes to their posts, who I imagine are truck drivers whose interests would actually be served by joining us.
So all this has me thinking that we need a confessing movement. We need a movement in which we start by confessing our part in the suffering we have perpetuated in our efforts to escape suffering ourselves. “Not my banker brother, not my stockbroker sister, but it’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
Or maybe I should model this by starting with myself. I need a confessing movement. I need a place where I can go to confess my complicity in the very systems and structures I protest against. I rail against the crimes of the big banks and help to organize Occupy Oakland while maintaining an account at Wells Fargo out of convenience that feels necessary to my harried life. I lock elbows in a buffer line, faced off in oppositional stance with a police officer from whose work, like it or not, I benefit, whether or not I ever call the police myself. No matter how much I work for racial justice, my white skin and the (so far) continuation of white supremacy conspire to keep me locked in the oppressor position, keep me benefiting from the limitations placed on darker-skinned people. I do not think this nullifies my work for justice, but I do long for more honesty. I long for a place to say: “Sometimes I am greedy. Sometimes I put my personal profit above the good of the community. Sometimes I seek status at others’ expense. And I am not sure I can stop on my own. “
I long for a movement in which I can cultivate my ability to sit with the anguish of my both my complicity and my captivity, and do it in community, until in our midst some new creative freedom projects emerge. I long for a movement that transforms me as it transforms social structures. I can’t do any of that alone.
And so, I need you, and I need a confessing movement, so maybe it’s okay to say that we need a confessing movement. We need a movement that transcends the old-school protests organized by us (the good guys) to target them (the bad guys) to recognize that we are all accomplices in the creation and perpetuation, of the systems that are killing us and our planet. To the degree that we haven’t participated, it is often because structural barriers have barred us from the chance.
The confessing movement is a place for confession, yes, but it is also a place for radical repentance. It is a place to cry out to God for deliverance, a place to seek God’s face in each other and in the Spirit of change that seems to be gripping us, and a place to recommit to cultivating the disciplines of love, generosity, honesty, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude.
The confessing movement is for ordinary people—imperfect and no less lovable for it, deformed by our experiences of social trauma, at once yearning and tentative—people of all colors, classes, abilities, genders, sexual orientations, immigration statuses, and ages, who are coming to understand that we have benefited (albeit to vastly different degrees, depending on our social locations) from the suffering of others, who are starting to recognize the ways in which we’ve compliantly played out the roles assigned to us by a brutally exploitative set of interlocking death systems, and who are committing ourselves to each other in a movement of healing, social change, and solidarity. We need a movement where it is safe to look honestly at ourselves, acknowledge our true histories, make mistakes, be forgiven, and keep moving forward together.
I imagine a movement that is radically open to critique from those who are hurt by it. In the past week, a number of nuanced, passionate posts and articles have been written by activists of color about the ways that white supremacy is being replicated in the Occupy movement. Similar critiques are emerging from women and people who identify as genderqueer. As a white cis-gendered woman involved in that movement, I want to listen carefully, without defensiveness, to these critiques and change the things I am doing that are hurtful, and I can only do that if I am not insisting on my absolute righteousness as a source of my esteem and legitimacy.
I imagine a movement in which we acknowledge that we have suffered under and benefited from systems of oppression differently depending upon our social locations. White people have received far more consolation prizes (privileges) for their participation than have people of color. Men have received more than women; heterosexuals more than gay, lesbian. bisexual, or queer people; cis-gendered people more than transgendered or gender-queer people; people with wealth more than poor people, US-born citizens more than immigrants. We are committed to holding this complexity, to resisting easy solutions that leave anyone’s struggle out, and to finding ways to honor a variety of contributions, recognizing that some forms of activism are far safer for people of relative privilege than for those who lack those privileges. I imagine a movement in which we come into relationship without reducing our different histories and experiences to sameness.
So what do you think? I’ll bring the ashes if you bring the sackcloth.