living towards liberation: four tools to help us create collective liberation

this post is part of a series about imagining and creating collective liberation. for more information, read the series intro post.

hello, beloveds. i’ve been learning a lot lately about how my whiteness and the norms of white supremacy culture i’ve internalized from being socialized in it act as barriers that prevent me from living toward liberation. to counteract this, i am actively developing regular practices to guide me intentionally toward collective liberation. i’m sharing some of the tools and practices i’ve been using below, in case any of them are helpful to y’all as well. ❤

Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture – this list of the characteristics of white supremacy culture was created by Tema Okun of dRworks and is part of dRworks’ Dismantling Racism Works Web Workbook. collective liberation requires deep cultural shifts and a necessary and enormous part of those shifts is a turning away from white supremacy culture’s paradigms as outlined in this list.

in addition to outlining aspects of white supremacy culture, this list thankfully also offers antidotes to these cultural characteristics, giving us the jumping off points we need to live towards a better world. i deeply love this list and am incredibly thankful that it exists; it makes a huge difference in my life and really helps me see aspects of the culture we’re in that i have trouble seeing without guidance.

my partner and i have an evolving weekly practice of sitting with this list. we started out going through it item by item, examining where we’ve seen those characteristics in ourselves and in the organizations that touch our lives and where we’ve been using or experiencing the antidotes. now we target specific characteristics that we know are going to try to show up in our lives in the coming week and make plans together for how to live differently by implementing the antidotes. having that practice has profoundly shifted how i move through the world.

mindfulness one of the characteristics of white supremacy culture is defensiveness. without tools to recognize and defuse it, defensiveness can get in the way of learning new things and of changing what we believe and how we act when we need to. when we’re trying to create a new world by living it, this can be an obstacle. i’ve found that mindfulness — which for me is the ability to name what i’m feeling, sit with it for the appropriate time, and then make values-informed choices about how to act — is a great help in recognizing and defusing my own defensiveness.

being able to recognize that i am feeling defensive — or that what i’m feeling may be defensiveness — allows me to pause and examine that feeling and whether it’s serving me and my goals for right relationship and collective liberation or if it’s serving to uphold white supremacy. my defensiveness is always doing the latter. once i know that what i’m feeling is defensiveness, i can choose to act from a place other than it. mindfulness is the skill i’m using to slow my responses to my emotions down until i have recognized what i’m feeling and to give myself the time i need to choose how i’m going to act, instead of me acting defensive just because i have felt some defensiveness.

my education regarding mindfulness comes largely from Kristen Neff’s work, especially her book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind (which appears to sometimes be known by a slightly different title). it was a helpful resource for me, but i absolutely cannot recommend it without warning about the parts of the book where the author talks about her personal life. her narrative contains remarks that are likely to be triggering/harmful/hurtful/all thee above for autistic and otherwise neurodivergent folks. these parts are labelled and distinct from the parts that teach the tools the author offers and can be utterly ignored.

i also found the episode of the Queerology podcast that featured Kristy Arbon helpful and there are many other resources on mindfulness available that are certainly at least equally as useful as these two. (if you have favorites, please drop them in the comments!)

curiosity – several months ago, a friend of mine requested that i come into a space with curiosity. moving through the world with a lens of curiosity can radically alter how i show up.

there are a few things that curiosity does for me that i think might be helpful to others as well. one is that it decenters my perspective — if i’m approaching people and situations with a desire to know more about them, i’m automatically undermining the assumption that my perspective is the only perspective or the “best” perspective.

as a white person, i’ve been socialized such that my cultural norms appear universal to me, instead of culturally specific. this creates a sort of “water i swim in” situation where i often don’t even recognize that i’m assuming that something is true for everyone or that there is no other way of being or doing. relatedly, my cultural norms seem benign to me when they’re actually harmful. (this is why the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture list is necessary and important.)

what curiosity does is give me a tool for moving through the world that prioritizes considering the experience of others, knowing that it is likely different from my own. curiosity causes me to wonder about that experience, to position my own experience as just one of many, and to see other people as full complex beings who have valuable knowledge, experience, and perspective that i do not.

if i take curiosity on as a practice, it can help me negate the harmful behaviors that come from my former practice of centering my white self and it can help me learn about and imagine new ways of being.

rest – the system of capitalism depends on us believing that our worth is tied to our productivity. capitalism wants us to burn ourselves out making profits for the people who own the majority of the world’s wealth. keeping us busy is also capitalism’s attempt to keep us from being able to organize against it.

these cultural norms are also tied up in racism and ableism. Ibram X. Kendi teaches in How to Be An Anti-Racist that capitalism and racism are twin evils (think of how chattel slavery was put in place to generate wealth for white people).

also, productivity in this model is measured by an idealized version of human capacity that none of us can reach and remain healthy and that disabled people struggle to reach even more.

stepping outside of that system by slowing down and engaging in rest in its many forms disrupts these cultural norms and is an important part of building new, healthy norms. leaning into rest and developing a new pattern of thinking about the world that is not about grinding all the time, but about leaning into the fullness of the human experience can be really hard. i highly recommend checking out The Nap Ministry, which is a body of work by Tricia Hersey about the importance and breadth of rest and about rest as reparations and rest as resistance, centering the experience and liberation of Black people. i have learned and do learn so incredibly much from this project and am continuously challenged by it, which is always excellent because that shows me where my growing edge is.

if you have tools that you’re using to dismantle white supremacy and other systems of domination in your life, please drop them in the comments! i am desperately in need of more tools. the larger the library we have to pull from, the better off we’ll be.

want to support this project? donate to the Concord Families Rent Assistance gofundme.

living towards liberation: visioning

i wake up when my body wants to. there’s a collective care circle tonight where we’ll think, learn, and grow together around how best to take care of ourselves and each other. we’re learning how to hold space for trauma, for healing, for mental health issues that disrupt our relationships and well-being.

i am eager to put myself into the gentle hands of my loved ones and to hold them in return, but right now i have time to make a thai tea and sit on the back deck of my house, watching the earth heal. i sit and sip and write scraps of poetry until my need for quiet and slowness is met.

across town, at a fully and easily accessible community building, my partner teaches his class of students. they’ve all chosen to learn biology today and my partner works in collaboration with them and with educators who are people of color. education is voluntary and culturally responsive. students create their own goals and partner with those who teach to assess their progress. my partner is full of joy.

i get a text from my friends — a polycule of trans folks my sister knows are moving into a house of their own today! with the time i’ve had to tend to my health and with free, accessible, responsive healthcare, i’m the healthiest i’ve ever been. i can lift things again. setting aside the writing i’m doing on what i’ve been learning about transformative justice with my community, i hop on the train and head over. we have a great day together, laughing about the unexpected effects of HRT — widely available without gatekeeping to all trans and/or non-binary folks.

we grab food at a cooperatively owned restaurant. my partner, with his flexible schedule, joins us, as others do as well. the food is delicious beyond words. we grab some of the free zines on the shelf near the door when we leave, several of them include tips on gardening and one of them is a superman comic. with our biggest pop culture icons in the public domain, the number of stories about them has exploded.

the art in the comic is extremely detailed, obviously time-consuming work. in it, superman is a Jewish man of color engaging in mutual aid in areas where natural disasters have struck. while the number of natural disasters we experience has reduced dramatically as Land Back meant we lived into Indigenous wisdom around caring for and living with the earth, we still experience some. mutual aid networks are stronger than ever though and folks pre- and post-natural disasters create the supports they need together.

i go home and devour the comic, resting in bed to have stamina to go to circle tonight. my time is mine to use as i want and my work on recording what we’re all learning together to share our experiences with others can wait until i’m able to do it. all of my work can wait until i’m able to do it, because i share all work responsibilities with others. together, we get the necessary labor done and make sure we’re all able to attend to our health and happiness.

circle is beautiful. we share deeply about how we’re doing and what tools we’re using to engage in self- and collective care. i learn so many new things. i am lovingly corrected when i misstep or fail to see how the vestiges of the white supremacy culture i was born into are still affecting my perspective and actions. tomorrow, i’ll talk it out in our circle for white accountability where other white folks can do the labor of moving me through these things rather than the people of color present in this circle. i’ll make the repair i need to with them individually and collectively, using tools and communication strategies we’ve developed together. our relationships grow more intimate and authentic. i feel more whole.

after, my partner and i crawl into bed excited for tomorrow. we share stories about our days and laugh together. worn out in the best way possible, we fall asleep in the middle of talking about how we’d rewrite xena warrior princess, smiling and holding hands. we have sweet dreams about community dinners, dogs, and the smell of lavender from the community garden that is our front yard.

~|~

hi beloveds. the above is a visioning of one way collective liberation could be experienced. there are so many ways collective liberation could look and they are all deeply exciting to me. i’m finding that when i don’t spend enough time envisioning the end goals for all my organizing work, i lose hope. so i hope to keep this practice up here. maybe it’ll help all of us. i think a vision to strive for is imperative in the hard work we’re doing. ❤

~|~

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.

ANNOUNCING: “living towards liberation: dismantling hierarchy” zine!

hi loved ones! now that i’ve figured out how to format eight-page mini zines, i feel like i’m on a roll! my goal remains to get as many of my blog posts turned into zines as seems relevant and towards that end: my post about unmaking hierarchy is now available in zine format!

the “living towards liberation: dismantling hierarchy” zine is free to print here! i love having things in print and figure i’m not the only one, so i’m excited to make this available in this way. i hope it’s useful.

(the zine is the same as the blog post with the exception of the title. “dismantling” just seemed like more recognizable language when i was imagining tabling with it at a zine fest.)

image description: an eight-page mini zine titled “living towards liberation: dismantling hierarchy” placed against a backdrop with a large floral pattern. the cover of the zine also notes ky magdalene as the author.

the zine is an eight-page mini zine. it requires some simple cutting and folding to take it from print out to finished product. the video below shows you how to do that cutting and folding:

i’m going to keep turning posts into zines as i go and if there’s a post you really want to see become a zine, let me know in the comments so i can prioritize it!

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo @Ky-Magdalene.

living towards liberation: mutual aid resources for beginners


this post is part of a series about imagining and creating collective liberation. for more information, read the series intro post.

hey beloveds. with the dream of a new culture feeling more possible with the ongoing uprisings across the u.s., i thought it might be useful to chat about mutual aid.

mutual aid is about helping each other meet our needs without relying on the systems that are put in place by the state. these systems deliberately fail and harm Black people, Indigenous people, other people of color, women, trans and otherwise queer folks, children, immigrants, poor folks, and others this society refuses to value. but those systems and the state that houses them are just constructs that we can work outside of if we pool our power, time, effort, and other resources.

mutual aid is anti-hierarchical and reciprocal. it’s the communities who need the aid providing the aid by resourcing themselves. this is in direct opposition to hierarchical structures usually employed by the state and its agents.

for example, non-profits tend to be driven by a board of directors made up of people who are not experiencing the need the non-profit says it meets. this board gives the direction for its employees in a top down fashion, filtering it through the CEO and other leadership until it reaches front-line workers. often, the workers in a non-profit are also not members of the community the non-profit is formed to serve. this charity model isn’t equitable and in fact acts to reinforce the capitalistic structures that created the disparity these organizations are supposedly addressing.

service organizations also often require something of the people they claim to serve. this can range from highly personal information to behavior change in order to receive services, ultimately forcing clients to choose between receiving services and maintaining their autonomy.

this is all if people are even considered eligible for services in the first place. undocumented folks face difficulties accessing social programs, as do people of color, trans folks, and many others. think of how homeless shelters often deny trans people shelter.

working outside of the state is an essential component of mutual aid as it is a practice not only to take care of ourselves but also to edge the state out of social service work and ultimately to abolish it and the oppressive systems it upholds.

mutual aid looks a bunch of different ways, but some mutual aid efforts that i’ve been involved in include pooling money so folks can get out of abusive households or building a network of folks who can deliver groceries to those who need to stay safe at home during the pandemic. donating to someone’s gofundme is mutual aid. picking up someone’s prescriptions is mutual aid. pooling money to pay someone’s rent is mutual aid.

below are some resources that you can use to get started practicing mutual aid:

Dean Spade made the syllabus for a class he taught called “Queer and Trans Mutual Aid for Survival and Mobilization” available at Big Door Brigade’s website, which also has other resources for learning about mutual aid.

Annika Hansteen-Izora created these templates to use to express needs, share offerings, and negotiate skill trades. they’re available in Annika’s instagram stories to be screenshotted and used with credit to Annika for their creation. i think they’re an incredibly useful tool for getting started in these conversations. we’ve been taught not to share our needs or accept help and so voicing them can be difficult, as can be asking for resources — especially money.

towards the end of being able to ask for money, i wrote a post about how to talk about money with the people you love. it has tips for having discussions about money in open, honest, productive ways.

to learn about mutual aid practices specifically centering the experiences of disabled and chronically ill folks, try Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. there is a lot of wisdom and brilliance in this book that has greatly informed my mutual aid practice.

along similar lines, T-Maps (Transformative Mutual Aid Practices) are a set of tools to help you explore your own needs and connect your struggles to collective ones. getting a deep understanding of our own needs and how we have gone about getting them met or could go about getting them met is a pivotal step in building relationships where care is mutual. having this information to share with each other helps us set up care webs or collectives, which Care Work provides foundational guidance for.

if you want to get connected with an established mutual aid network, try It’s Going Down’s list of mutual aid networks that were created to deal with the fallout of COVID-19. networks are listed by region and state and include a short listing for Canadian networks as well. at the end of the list, there are some other resources to use in growing your mutual aid practice, too.

if you’re in the seattle area and want to get involved with pre-existing mutual aid networks, you could try the networks below:

if you have other resources that can help us grow our mutual aid practices, please drop them in the comments!

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.

living towards liberation: unmaking hierarchy

this post is part of a series about imagining and creating collective liberation. for more information, read the series intro post.

hello beloveds, i’ve been thinking a lot lately about unmaking hierarchical power structures. i believe very strongly that hierarchies are morally and ethically wrong. systems which give people power over others shouldn’t exist. in a collectively liberated future, they wouldn’t.

Sonya Renee Taylor teaches in her book The Body is Not an Apology that the hierarchy of bodies in our current culture is oppressive. racism places a white body higher on the hierarchy than a black body. ableism places an able body higher on the hierarchy than a disabled body. cissexism places a cis body higher on the hierarchy than a trans body. all oppressions, Taylor shows, can be articulated this way — as coming back to body hierarchy.

the truth is that all bodies are of equal and immutable inherent worth. placing bodies — and the people within them — on a hierarchy is an oppressive lie. hierarchy is a tool of oppression.

hierarchies are also our most common organizational structure: people in management — or “leadership” — positions have power over people in non-managerial — or non-leadership — positions. (you may have heard this articulated as the ruling class having power over the worker class.) organizations that use this structure include non-profits, religious institutions, corporations and other businesses, schools, and many others, though they don’t have to and some don’t. those higher-up positions are harmful — to the people in them and to the people positioned “below” them.

hierarchies create a need for power-hoarding (a characteristic of white supremacy culture) instead of power-sharing; once someone has power, they are pressured to do anything they can to keep and increase it, which necessitates stopping others from having it.

a horizontal structure — i.e. one that does not have hierarchy — places all members of an organization on equal footing. this is a lot more ethical because it allows for people to have power with others rather than power over. it also still allows room for experts: some folks have specific knowledge or skillsets that others don’t and we should rely on their wisdom, but it doesn’t mean that they should have power over others or be paid more than others (we all are equally worthy of survival and of the tools we need to achieve it).

horizontal structures require a lot of learning, tending, and care from their members, but destroying dominant paradigms always does and is always worth it.

Taylor teaches that we must root the body hierarchy out of ourselves to root it out of the world. here are some of the ways that i’ve been thinking about that we can unmake hierarchical culture in ourselves and in the world:

  • name hierarchy when you see it. name it and call it bad, immoral, unethical, harmful. suggest alternatives
  • if you have information, share it
  • learn about, learn how to use, and use non-hierarchical decision-making methods like consensus. use them in your personal life. use them in your professional life
  • admit your mistakes and learning curves freely
  • acknowledge areas where you lack expertise. uplift and rely on the expertise of others
  • do not gatekeep, examples of how not to fall into common gatekeeping traps below:
    • make sure that any role you play in a system can be played by someone else, that the information and tools are readily available to them to be able to do so
    • if someone comes to you for help and you know a resource that can help them, direct them to that resource. do NOT access the resource for them, unless specifically requested to do so by them after you’ve made sure they have everything available to use to access it without you. (if you are their access, access the resource on their terms)
  • be assured of your own worth. your expertise, experience, and wisdom are different than other folks’; they are not worth less than others’. all wisdoms have their relevant contexts.(shout out to Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body is Not an Apology again for this one. knowing and being confident in our own worth is a way of ridding ourselves of the hierarchy by removing our compulsion to move our place on it)

unmaking a hierarchy from inside one, especially as someone on the lower rungs, is a huge task at this moment in time and you’ll need to honor your need for rest as you undertake it. but even small actions that chip away at it are meaningful and necessary. i’m with you and if you have other ways you’re working to unmake hierarchy, please tell me in the comments!

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.

living towards liberation

hello, beloveds. i’m starting work on a series of blog posts titled living towards liberation. i’ve been thinking a lot about how to grow our ability to imagine a different, better world than the one we have and how to collectively create the world we wish to see by living into it.

i’m inspired by adrienne maree brown‘s work especially as i think about this. brown taught and continues to teach me a lot about living towards collective liberation. i highly recommend you check out her blog to either read her writing or to access the long list of audio interviews she has listed. her work is foundational for me in this.

my goal for this series is to increase access to tools that can help us grow our imagination and our practices. i’m writing this series with trans and/or non-binary folks as my primary audience; i write from a trans perspective to and for a trans audience and consider all of the topics i’ll be writing about to be trans issues. my hope is that this series helps us, in our unique position, to navigate the dominant system(s) in a way that allows us to be healthier individually and collectively and that it helps us to push those oppressive dominant systems out of existence so that survival is ultimately easier for everyone to attain.

this is not to say that i don’t hope that folks who are not trans or non-binary find this work useful; i very much hope they do. (i always hope they know that to work for trans liberation is to work for their own.) it’s only to say that i, as always, can find no way to separate trans and/ or non-binary issues from collective liberation and i want to be very clear on that.

trans communities do the work of imagining and enacting alternative ways of being as a means of survival — among our many other reasons for doing so. i want to center our wisdom here — for ourselves and for others, who have a lot to learn from us. white trans and/or non-binary folks also have a lot to learn from people of color, particularly trans and/or non-binary or otherwise gender non-conforming people of color. i want to center that wisdom as well. as bell hooks taught me, those living in the margins have the greatest perspective on liberating wisdom.

the idea is that together we’ll be discovering (because much wisdom already exists) and developing (because we’re always creating new technologies) ways of thinking about and living in the world that — hopefully support the struggle for collective liberation.

you can read the posts in the series here.

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.