This is part of a larger writing project I am working on.
Fighting for Survival or Fighting for Autonomy
“No queremos sobrevivir, Queremos Vivir” “We don't want to survive, We Want to Live”
By Joaquin Cienfuegos
The question of survival can mean many different things to people. In the movement, it has come to mean what Huey P. Newton meant when he said, “survival pending revolution.” It has also come to mean, learning to live off the land and break one's dependency on this system of colonialism and capitalist-imperialist white supremacy. While I am not trying to undermine anyone's struggle here, I feel that the movement places more energy on the former, fighting to survive within a racist/sexist oppressive genocidal society. I want to discuss mainly what we intend to do, and hopefully get to a situation where we are not just surviving, and we can actually live.
In the major cities in the u.s. Empire, oppressed people are forced into a situation where we are existing in a state of crisis. We are always just trying to survive, because we do not have any resources that are our own, we are not self-sufficient, self-determined, or sustainable whatsoever. We are dependent on the system and those in power for our basic needs we need to live: food, clothes, shelter, jobs and education. For anyone striving to be free, this is an unfavorable position to be in strategically. It forces us into a situation where we are reacting, and to those in power, this will always give them the upper hand.
This is not to say that fighting for better living conditions isn't necessary, it definitely is. Collectively we need to figure out how to connect these struggles to a larger vision, so we don't get bogged down in a reactionary relationship to our oppression and our struggle for freedom. What we need to deal with is the professional activists, opportunists, and politicians/political careerists who wish to keep us in line with a form of struggle that is safe and keeps their non-profit or opportunist/political aims safe and payed. They wish to keep us resisting in a non-threatening way. This speaks to the cooptation of of the “survival programs” or the “serve the people” programs of the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary organizations of the 60's by corporations/Non-Profit Industrial Complex, due to the effectiveness of those programs. The fact that J. Edgar Hoover and the Counter Intelligence Program, saw the Free Breakfast Program as the “largest threat to national security” speaks to that. The difference, however, between the BPP (Black Panther Party), and these Non-profits or other organizations who claim to JUST provide services to people, is that the BPP at least for a long time had a revolutionary program/strategy that connected their programs to a larger vision of a different world.
Later the BPP leadership went down a reformist path and turned “survival pending revolution” programs into just survival, thinking revolution was too far off in the future. Today many organizations feel the same way, if they even use revolutionary rhetoric, some are straight up open about reformist aims, or just careerist goals as well. While some might have good intentions in providing services to the people, many just hope to serve themselves or their pockets. These folks benefit from the fact that survival not only is a necessity but people's nature is to fight for survival, so this struggle is inevitable. They act as a cushion for the boot of those in power to prolong our rebellion. This is part of the privilege of living in the first world, or in the belly of the empire. There has to be this this facade, that the people are being fed, and are being taken care of, if not by the government, than by their middle-men, the NGO's (and others like them).
So this type of survival, is one that is controlled, and when we become comfortable, then we build a dependency on this system. This is very common in the empire. People get into this unconscious (or conscious) way of relating to the state, without it they will not be able to live, and some will even fight to protect this way of life. Other comrades subconsciously get caught in this cycle of just reacting to the state, and what it brings down on our communities, and get involved only in this activism. Many people are stuck in this phase, and can't seem to get out of it; nothing gets built, and nothing really changes. Our communities, really just struggle to get by... to survive.
We have to learn how to be human again, this battle is one where we not only decolonize ourselves and our minds, but decolonize our condition, working with all indigenous people to do so. Recognizing again that we are on stolen land, and work with the rightful keepers of the territory we are on. This is a different type of survival, and it doesn't just mean doing what is sufficient for our people to live, but doing what is necessary to ensure the next seven generations, and prepare the ground so our children can do the same. It means that we have to fight, not just to survive, but to drive the colonizer and its system out of this continent and get rid of their way of life. This will mean learning the “survival” skills that are necessary, these are the valuable warrior skills that will connect us back to the land and our culture. This is how we will learn how to live, how to be human, and how to live outside of this system. This is a necessary step for the survival of not only indigenous way of life but humanity as a whole.
We will not fight to replace this system with another set of oppressors, who also represent the colonizer way of life. We have to build autonomy, which for that you need land, and you need to have a relationship to it and those who are the rightful caretakers of it. Having a relationship to the land means many different things, along being able to protect it, because it gives you life. Fighting for autonomy means going beyond just surviving, but being truly independent of the state and the system. The only way to go beyond just fighting to survive, and actually live, is to build autonomy while destroying this system and driving out their colonial rule.