I came across this fable by Luís Henrique on the internetz recently:
Once upon a time, people came to the home of The Revolutionary, shouting: Revolutionary! Revolutionary! O Revolutionary! Come with us! There is a revolution going on!
The Revolutionary came to his window, and asked: But will there be hippies there?
– Oh yes, there are hippies there. And all the other people, too.
– And are there religious people there?
– Oh yes, there are religious people there, Quackers and Mormons and Catholics, and even a few Buddhists and Hare Krishnas. And all the other people, too.
– And there are soldiers in there?
– Oh yes, there are soldiers in the revolution, marines and sailors and firemen. And all the other people, too.
– And are there prostitutes in the revolution?
– Oh yes, there are prostitutes, and johns, and even a few pimps in there. And all the other people, too.
– And are there people in ties?
– Oh yes, there are people in ties in the revolution, and in blue jeans, and in rags, and in McDonalds uniforms. And all the other people, too.
– Oh so I am sorry, but that isn’t an actual revolution, because if there are enemies of the people, like pimps and soldiers and Mormons and nuns and hippies and yuppies and whatnot, it can’t be a Pure, Pristine, Perfect Revolution as I dream of.
And so the people went away to their revolution, and The Revolutionary stayed home, explaining from his computer to the internet why the revolution was not a true revolution. And so the people had to do their revolution without The Revolutionary. But the good thing is, people didn’t actually need The Revolutionary, because a revolution is to be done by hippies and Quackers and soldiers and whores and people in ties and people in rags, and all the other people too.
I appreciate the sentiment, and there is something to the critique that Henrique is making. We don’t get very far if we wait for social movements to have perfect analysis and tactics before we join them.
But I can’t help thinking that probably the conversation went more like this:
– Are there women in the revolution?
– No, the women all left because a man in the revolution had raped some of them. But the revolution needs him. He knows how to use photoshop and how to shout slogans into a megaphone.
– Are there indigenous people in the revolution?
– We’d like to get some. But they just want to talk about how their land was colonised. It’s sectarian and divisive.
– Are there people who are disabled in the revolution?
– No. We can’t be bothered making our revolutionary spaces accessible.
– Are there trangender people in the revolution?
– No. We don’t want to alienate transphobic cis-people by having transpeople in the revolution.
– Are there migrants in the revolution?
– Not yet. You know, it’s not really part of their culture to join a revolution. It will take some time for us to raise their consciousness.
– Are there gay people in the revolution?
– We had some but they left after someone made a homophobic joke. They are too sensitive and their priorities are wrong.
– Are there parents in the revolution?
– Only the ones who can afford a babysitter. We’re not going to provide childcare. If people choose to have a baby that’s their own responsibility.
Well, you get where I’m going with this… in the end the revolutionary probably decided to go join the revolution anyway to avoid being sectarian. Or maybe she just stayed home and wrote a grumpy blog post instead. I don’t know.
My point is that the reason I critique movements like Occupy Wherever (or the July 14 movement in Israel) isn’t because they’re too inclusive, it’s because they aren’t inclusive enough. Being inclusive of some people, say West Bank settlers, or men who have commited sexual abuse towards women, or cops, means excluding others, like Palestinians, or women who have been sexually abused, or people who’ve been terrorised by cops their whole lives.
It’s not sectarian or divisive to refuse to organise a revolution with people who’ve oppressed you, or to demand that the revolution you’re part of addresses your oppression even if it doesn’t affect everyone else in the revolution.