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  • kjoannerixon

How We Get Free

"If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression."

Okay, so first of all HOW WE GET FREE is absolutely fantastic. It's accessible, friendly, and also one of the most radical political acts I've ever seen. Nearly fifty years ago these women were taking leftist organizing and shaking it up, shaking it out, shaking it by the shoulders until it got its shit together... except we're still working on that. Still trying to get our shit together.

I'd never read the Combahee River Collective's statement before, and was mainly attracted to the book because I'd heard about it and wanted to know more. It's an incredibly powerful statement that should be required reading--should be scripture--for all leftists. In fact, I'm going back and reading it again. It's not long, it's accessibly written, it makes sense on a fundamental level that I found nearly physically satisfying. Like puzzle pieces snapping into place, that feeling of: oh, of course, that fits nicely.

The interviews with members of the Collective who were organizing in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and also with one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, are also fantastic. I'm profoundly grateful for the conversational, reflective nature of the interviews, which allows me entrance into the thinking of experienced organizers and philosophical elders. It's like the director's cut, the behind-the-scenes gossip about feminist organizing that you never knew you needed. And there's something of the basic principles of the Collective is that black women are important. They matter. They are valuable and worth centering and listening to and following. These interviews are with people who know that about themselves: they are important. In a world that doesn't want them, they are important. It's profound and powerful.

Beyond the book itself, reading this book in quarantine, as a disabled person watching the world burn because of a serious health threat, has me all up in my personal politics. So much of the activism and organizing I've been involved with has been predicated on the idea that disabled people are not important, that we are last in line for liberation, that if everyone else but us gets free that would still be a victory.

And I've accepted that, for the chance to work on causes I believe in, for the benefit of people I care about. Some of whom are disabled people! People trapped in immigration detention receive substandard health care, are marginalized, are often disabled and/or elderly. Black feminism often addresses health issues, from environmental racism to discrimination in medical encounters to whatever.

It's an honor to work toward the liberation of others. But I do wonder sometimes what it would look like to be right at the center of things. To be confident saying out loud that my liberation matters, that no one is free until I am, that the destruction of oppression requires an ethos centered around disabled bodies. I wonder if the pervasiveness of covid-19, with its lingering symptoms, is going to change how the mainstream conversation on these issues goes.

I don't wish illness on anyone. But I finished reading feeling like all my skin had been peeled off and now I could feel the wind on every square centimeter of surface area--but in a good way. Refreshed. Brand new.


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