The state cannot destroy us the way we destroy each other.
It’s bad enough being an activist; try living with them. During the few short years in which I was one, I lived in a number of shared cooperative houses. I might have lasted longer than a mere few years, though, had I knocked off at the end of the day and gone home alone. Living communally meant that going home was often where my day, and the work, would start all over again. Co-op homes are often run by consensus, which sounds great in theory. In practice, it means long meetings into the night crying over soy milk. It means long arguments convincing holdouts to roll over and agree. It means examining things from every angle, as many angles as people, and more besides. It means completely repudiating a project in the eleventh hour because we each have a right to derail the process. It means heavy and sustained involvement on a psychological level just to make sure there’s soy milk in the icebox and grey water for the toilet. Such meetings are more like unstructured group therapy, complete with angry condemnations, tearful resentments and bitter recriminations. And this is was just the meetings.
Early on, I thought we were merely working out the kinks—as if there were a finite number of things to sort out before “normal” life could resume and we could just get on with things. Then I thought it was just this particular group of people, or just the Bay Area, or just the movement. But it eventually became plain to me that, if you’re in the business of world-building, of reinventing the way things should be, there is no end. There is nothing to get on with; this is the work. That the grey water has a silver lining, that every thing, every decision, every conversation, is a cite of intentionality, a place to put your collective theory into practice. Sharing a home with others who take on this work—creating an intentional community—is the most ambitious project a group of people can embark on. It’s where all those lofty ideas become real. For better or worse, the revolution starts at home. Only, for most of us who’ve tried to live by that, it’s been a dismal failure. In my small world, despite all of our work, the things we agreed we hate—authoritarianism and abuses of power—remained just as ever.
Seeing this in the least likely of places is particularly crushing. “You are met with the reality that the movement, like other systems in this world, has failed you, and you have failed it,” Bobby London writes in an essay on the social fallout in resistance movements. It is rather unexamined terrain, though it is rich with lessons from those who died trying.
The New Inquiry