On Transformation

Compañero,

You and your comparerxs on the other side of those walls must have a difficult time imagining how the seed that you’ve planted in our minds on this side of the walls, around how we understand human dignity and how we see the resiliency of life gives us hope to struggle harder and to force us take up new ways of organizing based on shared values and relationships.

I’ve enclosed an organizational chart of my community organization to demonstrate how we are trying to think of this ecosystem we’ve been building. For context I should share two stories with you:

The first, has to do with what our leadership described as the flexibility of organizing as an “amoeba”. An amoeba is a type of cell or unicellular organism with has the ability to alter its shape, primarily by extending and retracting pseudopods (false feet). To eat, it engulfs its food in the same way that it alters its shape. 

Francisco Varela (left) and Humberto Maturana (right)

Socialist Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in their book Autopoiesis and Cognition (1980) introduced two novelties to describe single cell organisms, 

Autopoiesis

1. “Autopoiesis” which refers to a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself. Maturana & Varela explain, “An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network” (Maturana & Varela 1980, 78).

Cognition

2. “Cognition” which is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.”(Thompson E 2007) For Maturana and Varela, the basic notion of autopoiesis as involving constructive interaction with the environment is extended to include cognition. Maturana defined cognition as behavior of an organism “with relevance to the maintenance of itself” (Maturana & Varela 1980, 13). In short, cognition is the ability of an organism to interact, react and shape its environment.

Using the “amoeba” as a metaphor, we asserted how our organizational structure had to be that malleable, that as the movement advanced, we had to have the capacity to shift like the amoeba that engulfs a specific political moment with urgency while discarding another piece that had served the purpose of advancing the environment of the social movement where our “amoeba” exists. Depending on the political moment, the organization may react to its environment or at other times reshape its environment via cognition, an interaction and intimate knowledge with the environment. I like to incorporate what I describe above by Maturana & Varela to provide philosophical context and I’m trying to develop an image of this as attached, a snapshot in time.

The second story related to the image has to do with the Caracol. A manner of describing social movements used by our comrades in South America, namely the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), the Congreso Nacional Indigena (CNI) in Mexico and Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Tierra (MST) in Brazil. I think the beauty of a caracol is that it is a 2D image that describes movement. In codices from Meso-America, the same symbol represented speech, the manner in which wisdom and knowledge are passed from human to human in order to work collectively. I think that the larger metaphor that the caracol provides is that humans are stronger in collectives. 

I hear you, in grieving the arrested collective capacity that has been so easily revoked by administration. I must remind you however that your and your comrades creativity made the cultural groups to survive the racist institutional policy of segregating you from your other brothers on that side of the wall. Ruth Wilson Gilmore defined Racism as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death” (Gilmore 2006). The fight that I would argue that you are helping to win on the legal side is to bring that state-sanctioned, group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death closer to its end.

Recently, I heard an interview of Bryan Stevenson, who said when asked about the museums he helped create:

“I felt we had to introduce a narrative about American history that wasn’t clearly being articulated. I think we are a post-genocide society. I think what happened to native people when Europeans came to this continent, was a genocide, we killed millions of Native people through famine and war and we justified that violence by creating a narrative of racial difference. We said that Native people are savages, and we used that rhetoric to justify the violence and it was that narrative of racial difference that got us comfortable with two and a half centuries of slavery. The great evil of American slavery wasn’t involuntary servitude, it wasn’t forced labor, it was this idea, this narrative that Black people aren’t as good as White people, that Black people aren’t fully human, Black people aren’t evolved, they can’t do this, they can’t do that. And that narrative created an ideology of white supremacy and for me that was the true evil of American Slavery…I don’t think slavery ended, I think it evolved” (NPR Interview of Bryan Stevenson, January 20, 2020).

Before that, he had said that “We are once again in an era, where the politics of fear and anger are shaping how institutions respond” (ibid).

Compañero, I hope these words find a place in your heart to give hope and endurance in the face of the repressions you and yours have faced in the recent months. And what was a full blown caracol for you has found fertile soil on the outside and is now a tiny bud that we will nurture and defend so long as it is in our amoeba.

We are our ancestors wildest dreams come true!

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