24 Apr

What is Joyful Militancy?

My take-aways from a workshop based on the book 'Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times'

I recently attended a workshop hosted by Refresh and Renew called Joyful Militancy. The workshop was based on the book with the same title, Joyful Militancy, Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times by carla bergman and Nick Montgomery. The book is an exploration of how social movements can foster toxic behaviours within their movements (rigid radicalism) and how we can all foster regenerative behaviours  (joyful militancy) that facilitates the change we are working towards. 

Book cover:

In the workshop, we worked individually and in groups to reflect on when we have experienced rigid radicalism, identify tools to disrupt rigid radicalism and plan practical actions we can take to cultivate joyful militancy in our movements. Here are my principle take-aways from the workshop.

The day started with an exploration of three core concepts from the book.

  • Empire – ‘the organised destruction under which we live’. It encompasses structures and systems that make everything up for sale, backed by violence, in all fields of life.
  • Rigid radicalism – In this form, radicalism is an ideal that is sought. Everything else fails to live up to it, perpetuating a constant critique and policing of behaviour and thought.
  • Joyful militancy – Joy = ‘not an emotion’ but an increase in our ability to feel and create feeling. Militancy = ‘combativeness and a willingness to fighting might look like a lot of different things.’

1.Militancy can be personal and public.

Militancy is described as ‘combativeness and willingness to fight, but fighting might look like a lot of different things.’ for example, ‘the struggle against internalised shame, fierce care for a friend, a quiet act of sabotage.’ Militancy here is both expressed as personal and public acts of resisting oppression. I think it is important to acknowledge that actions against injustice can be both personal/individual and public/collective. At university, I worked part time at a retail shop that I absolutely loved. On occasion, I realised that while I had spent 8 hours being positive and smiling to hundreds of customers, when I got home I wanted to rest alone without having to interact with someone else. The emotional labour I had given in my work, was not recognised or remunerated.

In this context, militancy can be expressed by an employee in a similar situation, taking the active steps to minimise the impact of this emotional labour in their lives. Militancy can also look like employees in a similar situation taking active steps to lobby for their employer or industry to recognise and remunerate effectively (in time or money) the cost of emotional labour. Both,  in the definition of joyful militancy,  are combativeness.

2. How do you disrupt in moments where you feel disempowered?

In the workshop, we tested tools to disrupt power dynamics and behaviours that were enabling rigid radicalism. In thinking of real life situations when I had felt disempowered by a dynamic in a group, these tools would have proven really beneficial in disrupting that dynamic. The challenge for me is that in those situations, I did not feel empowered enough to disrupt that dynamic. Which goes to say those who feel disempowered by a situation need disruption the most, but disruption is an act of power that is not often easy for someone when they are in a position of disempowerment. So the invitation to movements is to build in spaces, relationships and principles for people to feel safe to disrupt dynamics in the room that are unhealthy.

3. ‘It’s important to nurture your creativity because the future requires so much of our imagination.’

This was a beautiful reflection from one of the participants at the workshop. Creativity in light of the issues we are facing now, sounds playful  but we must reclaim it as an important tool for resistance. Creativity gives us personal resilience to withstand challenges and the power to create alternatives to the status quo.  Creativity is a powerful tool to channel one’s energy – whether it’s rage, grief, or helplessness into something empowering and generative. Creativity is essential to finding new ways of organising our economy, our society and our relationships. It invites within us curiosity, openness to new perspectives, a willingness to learn and try.  Nurturing one’s creativity on a daily basis is not a luxury but necessary to the work of social movements looking to upend the status quo.

4. How does joyful militancy look like within institutions, specifically multilateral institutions?

It is easy for me to imagine joyful militancy within the context of local movements working outside and in resistance to formal institutions. It is more difficult for me to imagine joyful militancy within formal institutions and at global, transnational institutions such as multilateral agencies.
Can people working within institutions embody joyful militancy? Without having read the book, I assume that the authors would argue yes, having adopted the viewpoint that movements are fluid, evolving and generative power sources which are embodied by fluid, evolving and generative capacities within the individuals. 

How does joyful militancy look like for professionals working within multilateral institutions? How are they resisting the status quo whilst working and living within it? What challenges do they face in cultivating their generative capacities to be joyful and militant? What does disrupting look like in a rules-based order? 

5. Relationship is at the core of joyful militancy – a relationship with oneself and a relationship with others

Joyful militancy is about relationship and relationships are essential for long-term social change. The support, the creativity, the collective power to disrupt, the ingenuity, the safety. Times to meet and just be, without the motive and agenda for organising and planning. Our tunnel vision on the end goal can leave us negligent to how we are doing the work and the ways in which that falls short of the idealistic vision we aspire to. In an attempt to not fall into the traps of inequality and injustice, we can set very prescriptive/restrictive ways of being which are policed rather than cultivated. The result? Rigid radicalism – there’s only one way to be radical.

To me, joyful militancy offers a renewed focus on relationships – we take care of the future by taking care of ourselves and each other. 

For more info, check out:
Joyful Militancy : Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times by carla bergman and Nick Montgomery –  https://joyfulmilitancy.com/

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book and on what you are doing to nurture regenerative cultures in your movements! Reach out to me on LinkedInTwitter or Instagram <3

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