Commentary  Destroy what destroys you

Blockading flows of unequal power

Around the world flow commodities, information, and people: oil, food, ideas, data, tourists, workers.

A flow is established through a series of relationships. These relationships, through inequality, become conduits for power and privilege.

Power becomes more than a moment of decision: it occurs in the ordinary-everyday. In other words, power sets parameters around what our relationships can (and should) be.

These flows sustain our bodies and inform our identities – for some, they offer protection, security, and comfort. But since privilege is built on oppression, these flows are necessarily unequal.

We can resist this oppression by blocking these flows.

People here and across the world have made a decision – that the only way to stop what oppresses them is to block something they have relied on, profited and gained from. It means seeing at last, that in the end, this gain destroys them too.

Blockades, strikes, hunger strikes, occupations, work slow-downs, sit-ins, boycotts, street protests.

In October, the French blocked highways, ports, and oil refineries – protesting the imposition of austerity measures. The piqueteros of Argentina saw their flows of finance and commodities as creating crisis after crisis – so they blocked them. The Mohawk community of Tyendinaga says: “when justice fails, block the rails.” The protesters in Tunisia, and now, Egypt, are disrupting flows of order – they are disrupting the economy and what nourishes them – but they know that these flows are also keeping what’s starving and beating them into place.

What separates an activist blockade from a military one is that the latter is an attack on another, while the former is really a blockage of the systems that flow through the self.

When students at the University of Puerto Rico occupied their campus for two months last year to protest fee increases, the police surrounding them cut them off from food – so they started growing their own.

And that’s the point: When the flow is blocked, when we don’t allow it to determine our relationships, new ways of being and relating start to open up. It frees up a space and time to do things differently.

In our communities, when participants recognize their privilege and stop themselves from taking up too much space in conversation, or when consensus blocks majority rule, flows of power are also blocked.

If the hierarchical processes of decision making are subservient to the needs of the flow, consensus is what allows us to see that the process of working against power inequalities is more important than coming to quick decisions.

On a smaller scale, once again we can turn to the notion of consent. Consent as blockade confronts the notion of entitlement over our partners’ bodies. It’s about seeing inequitable distributions of power within a relationship as unacceptable.

Entitlement to be pleasured or satisfied regardless of our partners’ desires, to determine how our partners spend their time, who they can speak to or be intimate with, or how much information and personal disclosure we require from them are all explicit articulations of power and control.

Asking for consent resists these flows and insures that whatever act is performed or engaged in is wanted by everyone involved.
Consent is about respect – valuing our partner more than fears of awkwardness or rejection. It’s about seeing inequitable distribution of power within a relationship as unacceptable. Acts that do not involve consent hurt people, put their lives and well-being in danger, and are therefore inherently violent.

These blockages help us establish new boundaries. They help us conceive of sex as a process rather than a goal. They open up spaces for safe conversations and anti-oppressive thought. They enable us to reclaim spaces to live, and from which to resist systems of domination and privilege.