I’ve been thinking a lot about Bernice Johnson Reagon’s piece “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century.” I particularly like the distinction that Reagon draws between a coalition and a home, and her criticism of those who seek home and comfort in a coalition.
Reagon challenges people who come to a coalition expecting to be nurtured, and I agree with her problematizing of this behavior. Expecting the people you organize with to be nurturing like a home is unrealistic and unproductive. I agree with Reagon that organizing is most effective when it is uncomfortable (i.e., a “crisis”) and when the people in the group are having difficult conversations across difference. Reagon’s speech is important because, in pointing out that coalition work is inherently difficult and, furthermore, most effective when it is difficult, she encourages her audience to establish a home outside of organizing that supports their work but are not directly tied to their work.
Some organizers forget to take time away from the coalition and seek empowerment, resources, and nurturing all through coalitions. I think Reagon would say that these organizers put themselves at risk to become burnt out or easily frustrated with those they organize with. For an organizer to be emotionally and mentally healthy they need time away from the coalition, a “home.”
Personally, I always make a conscious effort to keep my organizing around social justice and my personal life separate. Though I form close bounds and even friendships with people I organize with, when I socialize I choose to surround myself with people who are not as social-justice oriented as I am. My friends are mostly math and economics majors. Though we spend some time discussing politics, there is never the pressure to activate or organize change. For me, this is a needed break (that my friends have to lovingly remind me to take from time to time). This is the “home” that Reagon is talking about. Though of course I live the values I endorse in my work everyday, when I am “home.” I am not constantly theorizing, organizing, and developing methods for change. I am being taken care of in a way that a coalition should not and cannot be expected to take care of me. I have not always understood why I need to draw this distinction and why it is important to me, but Reagon articulates this phenomenon very well.
As I write this post I realize that being able to take a break from coalitions that organize around “race” is an immense privilege. I am white and therefore I can leave the fight against racial oppression whenever I want, for as long as I want, with little to no repercussions. People of color who live the reality of race-based oppression each day cannot escape their identity (as it is read by others) and the challenges that come from it. People of color who are well versed in topics of colonization and intersectionality therefore, I would imagine, find it much more difficult to escape theorizing on their oppression and ways to enact change. Perhaps in a way drawing the distinction between home and coalition is a privilege. What do you all think?