An Introduction to We Decide the Future

“History does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are consciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”

--James Baldwin

 

“History is the fruit of power, but power itself is never so transparent that its analysis becomes superfluous. The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.”

--Michel-Rolph Trouillot

JUNE 2021  When we sit down together and start to ask ourselves-- collectively-- why things are the way they are in the world-- or in our neighborhoods-- we begin to discover some observations that bring us closer to understanding the root of many things we share, including the nature of much of our material conditions at the neighborhood level, and the related violence, loss and overall suffering faced by a majority of neighbors. When we sit down to ask these questions-- and ask these questions together as a community working under and sharing the same vision-- we not only embark on a journey of discovering our own shared and complementing histories, but we also set off a cataclysm of wanting to know more-- collectively--in order to make sense of the world we live in-- and to reveal the invisible hands shaping the material conditions which we face everyday.  Of course this journey of discovery leads to many painful lessons or understanding for many in our community-- first we learned about the roots of the housing crisis and displacement, and these answers began to show us why neighbors in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea (among many neighborhoods) have suffered in such a terrible, long and ongoing way, while a plentiful few in Denver continue to thrive in luxury.  Now, a group of neighbors that have been paying attention and talking to other neighbors always have many questions that will often seek to shine the light at the root:

“Why is the air pollution so bad in our neighborhoods?  Why did they build the highways right through the middle of the neighborhoods more than 60 years ago?  Why are so few neighbors able to find dignified work with a livable wage? Why do the rents keep going up? Why are most of our neighbors struggling to stay in their homes today?”

By coming together to make sense of the reality of the world as it is (or our neighborhoods as they are)-- we are able to direct this energy together and form a historical analysis of power. Through this study of 'history from below', we learn that history is literally the shape of the present, as American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist James Baldwin suggested.  However, for those accustomed to not taking power into account, we might conclude blithely from Baldwin’s words that everything has a history, and it matters. Yet such speculations and conclusions on our part don’t really mean anything if we don’t take into account the analysis of power at every turn, at every decision, at every relationship, to every scrap of historic detail-- in order to understand history as the present, we must then always take into account how power (and which powers) are always at play.  

From further study of the past and the present, we learn from Haitian academic and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot that history is the fruit of the powerful. This we know and see, and we can show you how the powerful promote and defend a history that hides the exploitation and extraction that makes the profit-margins of slavery, colonization, redlining and predatory development so lucrative for investors, again and again. Through this "hiding," the extraction of our neighborhood becomes invisible, which makes the extraction palatable to the public, and then soon the extraction is feasible. Through this understanding, according to Trouillot, the ultimate sign of the powerful is their invisibility from the story they create, promote and enforce. We learned that it is the ultimate challenge for organized neighbors to expose these stories at their root.

A common aphorism today, first attributed in 1905 to George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist,  reminds us that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” American historian, playwright and philosopher Howard Zinn takes this idea a bit farther, and reminds us that, “History is important. If you don't know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.” An urgency begins to take shape that illustrates a great need for community education-- a call for a pedagogy of the distressed-- bringing together a community education that make sense of the violence of systemic extraction by revealing these roots, and how these roots are tangled up with the violence of everyday life. So while these types of systemic violence are so ubiquitous to the way the neighborhood experiences real life every day-- officially, this violence is seldom, if ever, named, addressed, or formally observed.  

For real justice to be delivered, the burden would fall on those who do not act for the benefit of collective good, or those who chase profits in rejection of our shared self-interest--  and those who profit from injustice could only be accountable for the harm they have caused by redressing these harms with reparations and redistribution of resources and land. And while many will defend power, or seek proximity to and favors from power, many will also seek to legitimize and make excuses for the abuse of power and exploitation. Many will claim or seek to appear somehow neutral in the conflict between community and development, as if it were possible to remain neutral when community health is decimated by an investor's lucrative profits. At these times we are reminded of Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire's astute observation that, “Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”  Zinn adds to this, claiming that neutrality in the face of the abuse of power is a cover for supporting or enabling the violence of the powerful, explaining that the metaphor shows “that events are already moving in certain deadly directions, and to be neutral means to accept that.” Instead of choosing to accepting the word as it is, we embrace the hope and we dare to dream, and we dare to organize for the world we want, and fight for the world we want to see. We see a world that no longer permits this abuse of power, and through this vision, we work to reject these extractive models of development and speculation that rely on, and cause so much harm, to our communities, past and present.  

We are reminded that as people, our self interest is always connected-- a fact that biologically, all life on Earth is deeply intertwined. While he remained unjustly jailed, American minister, activist and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," and he went on to explain that "In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”  Seven years later in 1970, Baldwin, writing in solidarity to American political activist, philosopher, academic and author Angela Davis while she was incarcerated as a political prisoner, told her “If they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.” We know that as neighbors, communities of color are long-standing targets of municipal and state extraction, and this 'policy of violence' and 'violence of policy' continues to unleash cruel and abominable harm across the people and the land. However, we often forget how our survival depends on our shared fate, not only as a community, but as a species that makes up part of our planet of Living things. We would be wise to recognize that our destiny--with all of life-- is especially interconnected, interrelated and intertwined.

Through this collective journey of discovering history and connecting this learning about our interconnection to the world and each other,  we keep at an old struggle-- a historical inquiry about the organization of the many to fight against the abuse of power in it's many forms and incarnations. And more relevant and interesting to us-- through careful study-- we see and hear again and again the people’s history of organizing and winning benefits that improve our lives-- and we have somehow always known that organized communities can quickly improve the material conditions of our collective struggles, especially when we are acting strategically among the many, and when we are synchronized in a decentralized way that brings to life our shared vision. To do so today first requires that we share a vision that can transmute this understanding of ourselves-- the understanding that while we are always at it alone as individuals-- our destiny, our safety, our health and well-being, our strength, will, and determination, are all born from and made possible by the collective organization of a shared, living vision, and the collective pursuit of these inquiries that bring an abundance of these shared collective efforts, which reveals between us a great power to change reality.

Despite the dizzying amount of violence, vast in systemic proportion, that seeks to leave the community hopeless and bleak, we try to remember and live by the idea that Zinn explains: “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” We continue to rejoice in our power to come together to care for each other, and to eat, dance, make art, play, organize, research, analyze, learn, plan and build a powerful solidarity, mutual aid, cooperation, action, group or organization that is self-determined by collective power-sharing. It is this organization that informs a vibrant and powerful type of cooperative community-wide apparatus capable of great communication and community action. While we will always want to build a reality that meets the needs of our community, we will also defend our community’s ability for our own determination, and we will denounce the abuse of power of those who profit wildly from this past and present extraction.

We celebrate and pray that these efforts find us in the spirit of solidarity, to fight and defend each other, to take care of one another through cooperation and mutual aid, and to remember that what we share, and how we organize together, can make each other stronger. To fully embrace this practice of care-- from the land to the people--  we organize to build the reality that makes room for all of us, the reality that we can already taste and see.

 

We act together to bless this land, and we pray everyday for the blessing of this land that feeds and sustains us. We pray for the blessing of the people and our struggle, and that we find a way to rest, be taken care of, and take care. We fight to uphold a shared vision that honors our differences as a way to make our work bigger. This is a testament to our energy, agility, relentlessness against despair, and overall, reveals our collective power and strength. As neighbors, we ask you to see your place-- in your way, and with your neighbors-- organizing together to fight to reclaim a powerful and shared vision of community life. We organize for a future where we are healthy, vibrant, strong and safe--   a future that we decide-- and a future where we are able to stay.
 

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