The Momentum of Change
Published in: The GC Advocate
What are our current displays of anger, rage and hurt communicating? I asked myself this after returning home from another night of protests in New York City. The first I attended was Friday May 29th, 2020 at Barclay Center in Brooklyn. That following Sunday, protesters gathered in Foley Square, marching up Broadway to Washington Square Park in Manhattan. Later in the evening that same day there was a second gathering at Stonewall, the historic landmark in Greenwich Village, the site of the 1969 riots. This site, one of the birth centers of the gay rights movement, was where the Sunday night vigil was held in response to the ongong violation of black queer bodies; violated for being black, for being trans, for being queer, for being alive.
In the past couple decades we have seen uprising and revolutions transpire in other regions of the world, igniting movements against economic and political corruption. From Argentina, Lebanon, Greece, Turkey and Hong Kong, the United States media has captured and displayed these other country’s revolutionary reactivities as unsophisticated responses to their governments. These responses have often been displayed in such a way that was something not meant to happen under the sophisticated guise of the U.S. government. “Otherizing” the political unrest happening elsewhere became a subversive method to elicit a quality of forced gratitude for our country and its “good behavior”. The illusionary display of “tranquility” in the U.S. has been promoted to be an exemplar of the ‘ideal”, something we had and others needed to obtain. On the paper thin surface we were a country emblematic of not needing the same incendiary measures to generate change, but rather could supposedly find solutions through a steadfast commitment to rational law making in collaboration with well-groomed law abiding citizens.
Such complicity, however, has caused a severing in community ties, increasing a sense of disconnect, loneliness and a feeling of purposelessness for many across the country. While many have also felt on a deeper intrinsic level that the current agenda for a supposed well-lived life as it stands is one which has left a sense of vacancy and despondency of the soul. This despondency is a result of tragic misalignment of more inherent human values of connection, respect, equality and love. In contrast, the U.S. media-manipulated “heinous displays” of other countries retaliating against their government may have coincidentally, in their collectivized movements, been performing for us how they have subversively maintained communal bonds in the face of oppressive circumstances.
The problematic complacency historically seen in the U.S. to initiate collectivized movements toward the dismantling of our unjust political systems is a complacency that has been socially ingrained in this country since inception, granting misleading permissions to stay silent for too long. Such violent permissibility of this harmful silence has prevented many people in positions of power (on account of the economic class and privileged race) to remain taciturn in conditions of blatented inequality, oppressions and racism.
Our denial that has feed our psychologies has yielded a lack of accountability in the overtly disadvantaging it’s non-white citizens. Such denial has not only exacerbated the issue, but also contributed to the suffocation of many for feeling unmet in their current existences, not being acknowledged or witnessed by those around them in their experience of living in a racist country. This is a country with an unprocessed childhood issues, with its very foundation resting too comfortably on its history of pillaging and raping for the ownership of a land that was never meant to be owned. While throughout the 20th century there has been some movements to discuss the insidious trauma that lives underneath our feet, we seem to only now want to confront the social injustices on a broader scale, a scale that is receiving support throughout the globe. With this, we are coming to face that we have not only been in denial but have validated our denial by not giving attention to a majority of its citizens' grievances, or even understanding why they are grieving in the first place.
Our juvenile behavior has been learned by way of our media and pro-capitalitalistc institutionalized educational infrastructure that contributes to the ongoing manufacturing of the illusion many of us are led to believe is our reality. The falsified reality teaches us that we are all meant to equally thrive under such a system supposedly centered on “a people-powered” democratically-aligned government. When in fact, such a government has been a disguise for the oligarchy, one that has built a magnificent theater for us. This theater has carefully choreographed its citizens to invest their annual income to the powers of consumerism, in turn leading us to what becomes a convenient host-body for the parasitic incentive behind the allure of capital. An allure so intoxicating that it has yet to cease in the successful manipulation of all its participants in continuing to carry out its motives.
Our system has prefered egalitarian infused jargon more than its tangible application. If the jargon were to be applied into our real life scenarios, the middle and lower classes would experience social safety nets such as universal healthcare, social security and governmental support in times of economic depression. However, the carefully crafted facade of a people-powered government has unfortunately led many to falsely believing the claims that its citizens- the Citizens of the U.S- are supported because they live in a country where there are amenities, heat and running water. This facade has prevented drastic measures to be taken as seen in other countries with uprising and revolutions. Because, as the story goes, Democracy is a shared power light years away from fascist dictatorships that were displayed elsewhere, or so we thought…
And yet even with all the smoke and mirrors that rolled out the current empress in office- that as we now have witnessed has been less for our entertainment and more for a strategic political performance to disguise the ongoing racial, political and economic inequality our country has been drenched in on a daily basis-no one is even remotely surprised that we are just now witnessing a revolution demanding justice and radical change. The only hope is that this demand for justice is done in an unprecedented way. A way of collectivizing to create new knowledge and act on a vision that has clearer motivations with strategic benchmarks. As such benchmarks are needed in effort for progress to be tracked, to not repeat past movement mistakes of wafty goals and shapeless plans that left many lacking the necessary road map to arrive at any explicit, well defined destination.
But the fact remains that there has been less surprise and more bewilderment as to how it took so long to get to the point of saying enough is enough. The “Matters” in the “Black Lives Matters” movement hashtag is in fact the “minimum” of what needs to be done. What we might be seeing is something unprecedented, as it did transpire from conditions we had never quite found ourselves in. Conditions where people were home, out of work, and plastered to social media to witness everything in real time- from the death of George Floyde to the immediate wave of anger as a response of losing another black life for no reason worthy of the loss. One could say the conditions were set for more collaboration to take place in this movement then we had ever seen before in this country. Rather, perhaps it’s not that the conditions were ‘set’ as of recent, as the conditions for anger, rage and the recognition of grienves of an entire populus have been developing since the founding of this country. But what was set was a nation of people in solitude. Solitude cultivates a space for reflection on what matters. It may have been the very conditions of COVID and its somewhat contemplative moment of history that has led to more honest conversation on racism, on the denial of racism and how justice is no longer an option but a necessity. This has led perhaps more white people to see themselves and become humble about their ignorance, stepping in where they can, although still more ignorant than many would like to admit. From collaboration between black and white activists on the street in the creation of “white shield” to protect their black brothers and sisters, or timely discussion for how whites can use their privilege for the benefit of movement, for the benefit of change, there is a big sigh of it's about time we got here.
Did we have to wait for an insidious virus to cause the entire population of the country to be confined to the four walls of their apartment in order to set the condition for people to be both physically and emotionally accessible to collectivize in mass numbers? Maybe, yes. We did perhaps need certain conditions to be set for our country to be emotionally available to confront what was no longer working. However traumatic these conditions might have been, it seemed what was required was an external force that put a world on pause to be available to witness the criminal acts that are taking place on a daily basis. For too long many have turned a blindeye, or even worse were never truly exposed to the overt oppressive circumstances of their neighbors in the first place
Capitalism promotes productivity, productivity promotes siloed existence creating a hyper-focused lens of the individual over the collective, and this busy, self-serving (or capital serving) lifestyle inadvertently keeps a country self-absorbed to the point where many begin to lose the empathetic tug needed to initiate change in effort to bring about justice for others. This is a system that excuses our actions as a result of the amount of work we believe we need to be doing in order to have enough capital to survive. However, the perpetual busy lifestyle serves no one but the violator, and we aren't even given enough time to acknowledge the abuse we perpetuate. Let's acknowledge the oppression that we have all been under by stepping into the vulnerable space of the unknown, shaking hands, listening, starting projects that have the potential to initiated not only change, but distinct palpable felt difference, a difference that becomes digested and understood in all of our exchanges, conversations, and eye locking. These are the nuances of life that have the creative potential to dismantle the underlying belief systems that no longer serve. Pay attention to breath, to engagement, soft into receptivity, or lack thereof, in every reaction. Stay in conversation. Stay in a relationship with one another. Stay in the momentum of change.
Its only flesh.
Much of my female worth ever since being born into this world had been placed on my body. A body that is not timeless and much more ephemeral in nature than cosmetics want me to believe. A body that was made no different than the cherry blossom tree or sunflower birthed from the earth, also sought out for their fleeting beauty. And while some will dry a rose after its prime in decorative adoration, few will flock to accompany decaying and monochromatic cherry blossoms upon their expiration. With this I wonder, who will prize my wilting body once its classic beauty of taut skin, raised ass, lifted tits and wrinkle-less forehead have only the memory of a photograph as a reference.
My body is no diamond as it was not made to last forever, there is no warranty. It will age, it will stop functioning, it will be non-commodifiable, it will die.
My crows feet that frame my periphery are a daily reminder of this process. A reminder to not attach my worth on a reflection. A reminder that organic creams, peels, scrubs will not outwit the life this body was made to live.
Do I take nude photos of my body, post them on social media, creating a digital time capsule of my youth? Although I am not vain I know there might be a time when I’d want to prove my youthful beauty to others, displaying photos of a self that has no more reality, and smiling behind my deepening lines. And while I can love my body until it turns to ashes and dust, I would be lying if I didn’t have any concern for the question of if there will be another that could love the aging skin I will inevitably be graced with from head to toe with years yet to come.
I know that, like race, we are neither an age-blind culture. A male friend- after forty four years- now mentions he's proud he's no longer attracted to prepubescent 20 year old’s taut, wrinkle-free complexions. Another friend in her 50s came to me in tears one day after realizing attracting a man had become increasingly difficult when relying on physical beauty alone, something that had often came with little effort for this aging delight.
I look in the mirror at my own body in awe, shock, disbelief and quite admiration, gracing my crows feet with my soft fingertips, patting the firm spot I’ve always looked for below my navel, wondering about my disappearing thigh gap.
This body can’t not be fooled. It could not be fooled ever since I was a young girl with leotard and mirrors, blurring the line between health conscious and starved focus. This body knows that none of it actually matters in the end. With the more years I am bound to gravity’s tug, the more attractive I am forced to become. Love yourself, my body whispers, and age with grace and ease.
It is only with the peculiarity of passing time that we are able to see without the costumes, the allure, & the temporality of pressure on this impermanent self. And it is that self, underneath it all, that beams abundance, an abundance that can’t not be loved. This body is far more interesting than what stories could be told by the assumption another could possibly craft upon a quick glance. And yet, even with all this knowing, I also know I am female and quick glaces is what this body has been gilded with since its inception.
I was told to not apologize, as ts only flesh.
Somewhere in Brooklyn, Audrey complacently pulled the condom off another tired foreskin. Her partner was in no rush to do it. It had been ten minutes since they came and Audrey didn’t want to keep staring at that pale, flaccid thing in a bag of white gel.
There was nothing sexy or sweet about it. She rolled up the condom without speaking, tied it in a knot, and put it on the desk. There it lay, like a beanbag, something she’d throw out in the morning. She’d done this act she’d done many times, with many bodies. She did it routinely, mechanistically, in some odd display of indifference. It was a subtle performance concealing the rot of it all.
Audrey didn’t know when she’d become responsible for the post-coital clean up. Perhaps with age it had all started to feel very chore-like: the sex, the groans, the ground maintance, the brief and unnvested kissing. Having been years since anything in Audrey’s life resembled a conventional monogamous relationship, sex as a verb had become something close to mechanistic. The act of sex, divorced from romance, seemed detached from all that was meant to come before and after it. Sex has become little more than a form of partnered calisthenics, she thought, with the ephemeral, albeit positive, byproduct of momentary physical euphoria. …she thought, feeling the fleeting physical euphoria of momentary release.
Mechanistic. Not her words, but his. He, in his mid-40s, used this word in a non-romantic way to describe how fucking has gotten as he’s aged. Ironically, he always shared this information in moments that, in her mind, were their unspoken dates - almost romantic but for his unsolicited personal reflections. Audrey thought about the vacuity of his words when they first met a year ago She reflected how she wanted nothing to do with someone who’s description ofr sex sounded like a George Orwell novel.
Audrey’s friend Samanatha once shared her own view on relationships: “Babe, it’s survival of the fittest out there.” Sam had gone on to describe how she was not alluding to the competitive nature of the human mating pool, but the more selfish need to survive. She explained to Audrey how she saw the instinctual need for companionship as simply an attempt to stay afloat, to keep one’s head right above the constant possibility of despair, isolation, and loneliness. In remembering this conversation, Audrey began to think about her own relationship dynamics. There were some men she would fall in love with on an undeniably deep level, leaving her spellbound and dopamine ravaged, while others just got her from point A to pointB - or just through the day.
She knew that this was possibly the reason behind why the interesting, funny, intelligent artist - the one who always provided much needed mental stimulation - persisted in her life. The company he provided, and that she craved, seemed to validate their transactionary, mechanistic sex. Theirs was a feral form of compensation keeping her from feeling any semblance of her innate aloneness. Sex, one of the oldest forms of currency the human species might have to date. The currency that often, indirectly, gets exchanged for those brief moments of togetherness, however simulated or performed they might be.
Audrey wondered about her disenchanted personal philosophy. She contemplated the idea of togetherness,as something that people always wanted. Audrey always wanted it when she didn;t have it, and faked it when she did. he took out her notebook and began to write:
“In such passionate movement toward another, there seemed to be the constant lack of acknowledgement that steady, invested, consistent togetherness could only be maintained for brief windows. And yet, the ebbs and flows of potential momentary merging- the visceral response the body has when being seen, felt, and carried by another- maintains the never ending pulsation towards being held. The constant striving for the ever fleeting, potentially painful, ideally transcendental shared experience.”
Closing her notebook, she realized that no matter how many times she has been hurt, broken, unrecognized or unfulfilled by another, it somehow did not dissuade her from longing for the experience just once more. She began to wonder why this might be. Was it as a form of potential refuge from the daily demands of the physical reality? Even though she knew her independence had often been just as fulfilling, it was when she had been isolated from another’s embrace for too long that Audrey fell into a monotonous gloom.
During these stages she would be reminded, by way of film, song, or photo, how tholding nother body could reinvigorate her mundane routine. Iit was the salvation of a kiss, a caress, or a knowing smile that nudged her back into the omnipresent magic beyond her own skin.
The morning after her jaded but still alluring bedmate left, she ended up taking a walk in a neighborhood she rarely visited. Rarely, due to it’s showcasing of a young professional, highly-monetized lifestyle, which she often felt that she lived on its periphery.
On this sunny Sunday while traipsing through the adult wonderland she felt like a privileged audience member into weekend coupledom. The streets were littered with late brunches, afternoon gelatos, WholeFoods domestication, and stroller-pushing dads. On first impression, a quick snapshot of the still life implied that very few hearts had felt like hers, had lost sleep over her same concerns. However, if she held her gaze a moment longer, peering a bit deeper, into the idyllic scenery of urbanite togetherness, she perceived a mechanistic appearance. Such polished performances concealed the unspoken roleplay that allowed it to all stay afloat, she thought. A form of roleplay that she knew she often failed at maintaining.
It had begun to rain. The scattering of people to nearby bodega awnings and other forms of makeshift city shelters created more sidewalk room for people with umbrellas. It was at this moment, in the dreary overcast scene, that Audrey was able to more easily perceive in those that she passed a shared longing for something other than what they had. Whether it was the dampened weather or her removing herself from her isolatory narrative, something had lent an exposure of vulnerabilities to the passersby. Now everyone she locked eyes with was communicating their pains, struggles, and domestic challenges. This sudden shift allowed Audrey to return to a sense of belonging.
When moving through a city inhabited by millions of strangers, and with Audrey a stranger to their strangeness, this spontaneous revelation of the vulnerabilities behind the veneer of a seemingly polished existence gave her a sense of contentment in her aloneness. She was reminded that no one can ever feel entirely mechanistic at their core.
The inadvertent catharsis of a non-automated society
I may be waxing poetic, or nostalgic for a moment in time that merely exists in my singular memory alone. However, I deeply believe there are crucial human exchanges that we are missing out on in our overly automated world. Myself, born in 1987, may have been one of the last generations to have been sent outside after school to play in the woods (I grew up in the Hudson Valley, in Upstate New York). I had a sandbox (now seen as highly unhygienic), a tree house, a swing set, and I think most crucial of all, a community of neighbors. Technology was limited to a phone with a cord, until it got upgraded to a cordless with a fancy caller ID. Our computer- what would now-a-days be considered a unseenly gigantic Macinstonish (updated into the far leaner "apple” model) limited us to computer games of two options- solitaire & mind-sweep Neither of those kept many glued to the screen longer than a couple rounds.
In addition to being outside and in activity more, we had exposure to community. We were exposed to our mailman & UPS delivery person. These were the times where, rather than the constant popping up of ads on a computer screen that we can now easily block, there were in-person interfacing opportunities with door-to-door salesman. Not being behind a screen or a cell phone, one didn't have an option to click the “unsubscribe” or “end call” button in someone’s physical presence. In this, there were unofficial lessons on how to talk to an unexpected guest, as well as unspoken significance of the opportunities that could potentially unravel in these exchanges.
The door-to-door sales tactic is how I got my first set of encyclopedias and the way my mother purchased her much highly desired Kirby Vacuum cleaner. But it was more than simply an exchange of goods for monetary compensation. Often times, it was a recognition in helping a community member out, acknowledging how one person’s livelihood helped another. On a deeper level what all these exchanges offered were unplanned, non-organized, organic, impromptu conversations with other humans.
Before a culture of Amazon, there was that whole inconvenience of store shopping. Groceries, clothing, school supplies, office odds-and-ends, and fitness options were all found outside of the comforts of the domesticated living unit. Unbeknownst to us at the time, these menial, brief exchanges had with the department store staff, the grocer, or a fitness instructor served a deeper, crucial purpose of diffusing our aloneness. The importance of such encounters and exchanges have not been given the credit they deserved back in those days. Now we are most certainly seeing the crisis unraveling of what it means to not have such seemingly irrelevant exchanges.
Not having an office or working quarters to go in-and-out of on a daily basis, with the rise of remote employment, while incredibly convenient, has also increased isolation. We are plugged into people's stories but often don’t unplug from our podcasts to wave to one another on the city street. As a response to this isolation in the work environment, co-working spaces has popped up as a solution to lessen the burden of our solitude- a solution to what was originally a solution for the original disgruntled labor force, not realizing to social impacts that working without companionship entailed. Another convenience of these “select your own” work environments means now we have overly curated social situations- choosing the people, places and cultures we want to be exposed to, not often being challenged by differing opinions and world views. The growing opportunities that we receive when exposed to others who doesn't share the same philosophies or motives in life, are lost, lending itself to perpetuate a culture of convenience & comfort. We are plugged into people's stories from around the world but often don’t unplug from our podcasts to wave to the other on the city street.
While I don’t believe the issues are as binary as this article might suggest, I do believe that through the “culture of convenience” we have collectively perpetuated through automation, codification, and outsourcing of labor, has directly caused the current byproduct of a community grappling with their desperate need for one another, and in the meantime engaging in self medication remedies by way of caffeine, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals to lessen the blow of the crippling feeling of disconnection. Pent up isolation has led us into a culture of addiction. While the opioid epidemic is certainly a part of this, and one of the easier issues to shine a spotlight on, we would be turning a blind eye if we didn’t also acknowledge our culture’s alcoholism and caffeine abuse increasing over the years. Living among one another verses apart provides a built in checks-and-balance system that is in desperate need of being reestablished. We are at a moment where our global social organism is relearning how to regain our human connection in a vastly different & unprecedented terrain.
Historically, “emotional labor” has been relegated to house work and that of a woman's job. However, I would like this poignant phrase so be reconsidered as something that is the responsibility of all of us if we wish to be the healthier version of our species. Cafes- with their free internet for the remote laborer and unlimited caffeine options- have become a refuge for our current times. Moreso, the brief exchanges had with the barista, whether a non-verbal smile or a back-and-forth about the political atmosphere, snowballs and catches wind for others in line to join into, feeling a sense of being in togetherness. We are all bearing the burden of the emotional laborer of our times, as it can no longer fall into the hands or responsibility of for arena, one person, one gender, one career.
The inadvertent cathartic releases that a less automated community provided with the traditional everyday exposure to a diverse set of people has shifted now. This shift is demanding us to build muscles in ways that perhaps were not requested of us before, or more appropriately put, are in fact innate instincts that we have forgotten in our rapid pace, plugged in and hooked up times.
It's high time to reconnect. If listening to a podcast, the news, an audiobook while walking down the street, take moments to unplug and greet other passerbyers either in smile, casual commentary of the weather, or perhaps laughter at something that was collectively seen on the sidewalk. We need humans more than we need water most days. In that, perhaps the biggest social movement that we can participate in at the moment is a candid smile to another face, as an acknowledgement of “hey I see you and we are all in this together”.