Between 2014 and 2017, I noticed the atrocities resurfacing in my daily life in the US. This period was a waking moment for me and many others to realize the social change towards equality and freedom (which I believed was happening) has not really happened, at least not evenly. I didn’t think ‘activism’ was the right direction. My limited participation in the activism of my generation: anti-war protests in the early 2000s, the Occupy movement in the 2010s, were unsustainable. I was inspired by Astra Taylor’s prompt to organize “difference between activism and organising, between self-expression and movement-building.” It was around this time I began to be more vocal about the values I aspire to hold. Four years ago, I made a pledge for the ‘next four years.’ “I pledge to create art that speaks honestly about our time. I will continue making art and participate in activism with a warm heart–to bring justice and equity to everyday life.”
Since then, I began to be more vocal about my political positions in art and teaching. I studied how racism, sexism, ableism, and environmental justice are interconnected at the macro level as well as in their manifestation in daily life. I articulated my beliefs and what I demand from my peers, colleagues, the community in academia, the art world, and to a certain degree, the tech sector. I thought deconstructing the problems and advocating for the changes I want to see, is the path towards changes in the real life. I thought that was the ‘organizer’s way to create small prototypes for the future we want to build. This method of organizing was popular. Art people called it ‘social practice,’ politicians called it ‘social change,’ technocrats called it ‘social innovation.’ Little did I know at the time, I was putting myself up for an unrealistic expectation, designing a road to failure.
In the last four years, the world at large, and my tiny world, has changed dramatically. We’ve seen more disappointments, heartbreaking news of police brutality, unfairness, and hopelessness. I’ve come to better understand my shortcomings, inner contradictions, and biases. I’ve also made mistakes, replicated systems of exclusion and racism, sexism, ableism in my organizing. It was humbling and sad to realize the ‘organizing’ was not enough. Even if someone intends to do good, they can replicate the bad behaviors which they criticize. Holding an unrealistic and unforgiving expectation for oneself can lead to failure. In meeting various organizers (namely from Detroit, South East Asia, South America and Africa), I’ve come to appreciate the complexities and sensitivities they handle. I tried to learn from their tenacity to hold each other accountable, how they practice justice through the restorative process of undoing and unlearning in their communities. I also learned the US is not the center of the world, and we need to decenter our perspectives to see the world from multiple places and layers.
Recently, I rewrote my biography and taken out almost all references to activism, organizing, and the values I hold. The edit does not signify I give up on organizing or the values I hold towards social justice. Instead, the edit is a way to set me (and others, my colleagues, friends) up for success to organize sustainably. For example, saying I believe in anti-racism, does not immediately make me an anti-racist. I hope the edit is a path towards practicing more of such values, rather than performing them.