A Brief Manifesto on the Re-Education of Struggle Un-Resigned
Learn what’s not taught, listen to what’s not heard, remember what’s forgotten, and speak what requires courage; these are the simple duties of intellectuals in struggle. Frederick Douglass speaking on the Fourth of July, Anthony Benezet preaching on Thanksgiving Day, or Ella Baker counseling students. These great examples remind us that the proof of education is in re-education.
At this tenth anniversary, we gather to re-educate ourselves against the apologetics, rationalizations, and condescensions that would hustle us down paths of resignation. To the canons of education, we are un-resigned. To the silence that insulates well-fed wisdom, we are un-resigned. To the forgetfulness that buries in unmarked graves our memories of hopes embodied, we are un-resigned. And, to the briberies and blackmails that would have us hold our tongues, we are, defiantly, un-resigned.
Terms of justice, freedom, equality, fellowship, and democracy are still worthy terms to guide the purpose of struggle today, but they must be remade. For example, we can’t hand over the term justice to the Department of Justice, to be swallowed up by the image of the existing state. We can’t yield the term freedom to the so-called free press, to be celebrated through the care and construction of a commercial audience. We can’t hand over the term equality to Offices of Equal Opportunity that confound us with timidity. Nor can we be satisfied with fellowship confined to the experience of an occasional, shared snack.
Democracy, above all, should be a troublemaking term. What does democracy mean? For too many voices, democracy means all that is here and now. But democracy cannot mean what we already have. We’ve come too far to settle for this. The greater danger facing democracy today is not the alleged threat from outside; rather, democracy is under attack from forces, trends, and powers that would quiet democracy from within.
Democracy, we are told, is like an eggshell that can be cracked. But eggshells, we should not forget, were made for life. If the shell is never broken, then life never grows in the fullness of the sun. The purpose of re-education, therefore, is to transform our shells, from shelters to breakthroughs. And the purpose of struggle is to break our shells from within. Well, it’s true, democracy is a little chicken these days, begging for more darkness instead of new light. So it’s time to “agitate, agitate, agitate” the troublemaker within.
Thanks to Everet Green and Leonard Harris for bringing us together once again. Thanks to Anna Stubblefield and the Newark community for making space. And thanks for listening to these remarks in absentia. See you next year.
Read in absentia at PBOS X (2003)