Kristine makes the case of why When We Fight, We Win! is a book that should be in the toolkit of any social activist fighting for change.
I’m back on the new book train and looking forward to sharing some thoughts about a new resource called When We Fight, We Win! which was written in collaboration between longtime social activist Greg Jobin-Leeds and Deymirie Hernández, José Jorge Díaz, and José “Primo” Hernandez, who are part of AgitArte, a collective of innovative artists and organizers.
I want to start with the cover art. The initial impression is a blue cover with the title presented as if on a big sign held at a protest. You then start to notice the figures within the blue background; a collection of different people, many with arms and hands held up in celebration, in welcome with joined hands, lifting signs, throwing up graduation caps, and proclaiming victories. Hands and voices raised both in solidarity and in protest. There are the faces of people: young, old, different races, diverse ethnicities, various identities, women, and men. United in a wash of blue across the whole picture you see different people working for different issues, but with a sense of “we” and with a collective goal; transforming our world.
When We Fight, We Win! tells the stories of current social change movements. Why does this matter? Today is a truly dynamic time for social activism (for example, the Fight for $15, #BlackLivesMatter, Occupy Wall Street, Reproductive Justice, etc). Many people think of the 1960s as the era of major social change, but new movements are very much alive, working to create a fairer and just world by demanding real systemic change. When We Fight, We Win! pulls together the collective wisdom of hundreds of activists, organizers, academics, and movement leaders within several current social movements (each has its own comprehensive chapter): the LGBT movement, the fight for public education, the prison justice movement, the DREAMers and immigrant rights, the modern economic justice movement, and environmental movement. Through these chapters, Jobin-Leeds identifies seven key practices that begin, sustain, and grow successful social movements. (I recommended that you pick up the book to read more about those seven practices.) The book aims to highlight these movements; to honor their victories and losses, to guide and provide direction for those involved in organizing, and to encourage us to keep fighting even when winning seems impossible.
This is a topic that is really important and genuinely interests me, however I was worried it would fall short and be a well-meaning piece of work but paint an incomplete picture or fail to address intersectionality, by presenting each movement in a vacuum or worse, reducing entire movements to a single issue or individual (usually male) as the face or sole leader of a whole movement. Luckily I found this was not the case.
WWFWW! is clearly a collaborative effort. Jobin-Leeds does not center himself in the conversation but links up with many voices within varied communities and disciplines, who are all active in current movements. We get to read about seemingly unrelated movements recognizing each other and working together to identify the root causes of oppression that link what appear to be separate battles – for example, the Undocuqueer Movement – as opposed to focusing on short-term single-issue solutions.
Something else I liked was though it deals with seeking equality and peace, the tone is unapologetically fiery and passionate. After all, it’s titled When We Fight, We Win! not When We Wait and Ask Nicely, We Maybe Get Somewhere Eventually! To borrow from Antonia Darder as she says in the book’s afterword, the book resonates with “love and fury.” Throughout the pages, we meet people working and fighting to confront systems of oppression, refusing to be dehumanized, devalued, and disposed of. Movements not only build solidarity and bring communities together, but the goal is also to disrupt and transgress the current systems that have historically been built on oppression.
Currently social activism is going strong. Many today are concerned about persistent (or growing) inequalities. People are mobilizing/organizing, demanding change, and rejecting the narrative that they are the “problem.” However, the fight is difficult, and it’s easy to feel powerless or give up when injustice is so huge and systemic. It can feel impossible to overcome such odds. While there is much to do, WWFWW! reminds us there are many victories and people to celebrate. What we do matters. Our work CAN make a difference. There is a clear sense that today’s movements are part of a continuation; building on previous movements that evolve going forward.
I think WWFWW! is a great resource for educators, students, and anyone interested in activism. WWFWW! is a history lesson, a love letter, as well as a roadmap for how to create real, enduring, sustainable change. We learn how art and artists can be major players in social activism and organizing, and about the power of transformative organizing. It reminds us we are not powerless, especially when a cause is grounded in community and solidarity, transforming outrage into action.
Once again two words in the title are key: WE and FIGHT.
(Photo Credits: Pixabay.com, The New Press)