The Feminine Rising

An intimate conversation with yoga therapist and women’s wellness teacher, Tina Nance, about the masculine origins of yoga and how to reconnect effectively with the body.

Women’s wellness teacher and yoga therapist, Tina Nance, teaches a potent and embodied class at Bali’s famous Yoga Barn in Ubud – the so-called “spiritual capital” of the east. Coming from an inquisitive background myself, I was interested in exploitation, authenticity and the effects that the rising yoga industry and expat communities are having on local populations in these yoga destinations around the world. After feeling intensely moved and inspired by Tina’s practice, and witnessing the diverse women spontaneously converging into a sharing circle after each class to offer their insights and discuss personal issues, I needed to find out more.

As I sat down to chat with Tina on one of the many daybeds dotted around the tropical paradise of the Yoga Barn, I couldn’t help but feel her energy: She is strikingly beautiful, with long brown hair, piercings and a cleopatra-esque confidence that oozes sensuality, ease and a powerful femininity. It took a while to get this sought-after teacher on her own, but she was more than happy to share her story.

Aptly named “Women’s Balancing Yoga,” this specific class values what Tina calls the “feminine, yin qualities” that have been “over-yanged” in a system that often favors men. In a world where value and worth  are “entirely in the masculine,” Tina believes that we have moved on from the need to assert our energies in “masculine” forms like extreme physical exertion, aggressive attitudes and long working hours. She describes the toxicities that modern living has plagued us with such as excess sugar, stress, xenoestrogens from plastic, and mercury exposure. All of which create a confusion within our bodies. And significantly, these lifestyle stresses are causing an inhibitory effect on the female reproductive system, according to several studies from the Journal of Reproductive Immunology. Tina’s response to all of this was to create a re-balancing and gentle practice of self-care.

‘Women’s Balancing Yoga’ is Tina’s response to what she calls “the feminine rising”––women “wanting to re-empower themselves,” to be seen fully for their worth as individuals. We are seeing ourselves as whole people, already complete. We already know what we need to do, we just might need someone to spark that body-remembrance.

With a background in wisdom traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.)––which Tina refers to as each sharing a “masculine lineage”––I wondered what inspired her to focus on the significance of reconnecting women to their feminine nature of being. Tina explains, “Yoga has been birthed from men: it has been written by men and taught by men. The wisdom traditions we know today have been brought to us through a male’s perspective. Not only have we assumed these traditions, but we have also misinterpreted aspects of our innate human qualities in the chaos of our daily lives. This causes an imbalance in all aspects of our lives.” But the question is – if we agree that this is the case, how can we change this, or at least become aware of it? How can we tap back into our feminine nature whilst exercising a practice that was formed through a masculine lens?

``Yoga has been birthed from men. It has been written by men and taught by men. The wisdom traditions we know today have been brought to us through a male’s perspective.``

Tina advocates that we are both feminine and masculine, but says that this has been overlooked in wisdom traditions like Yoga. This is one of the many reasons that she opts for a mindful practice of baring ourselves down to our inherent connection with mother earth through a practice of drawing in on ourselves and feeling what our body feels. It’s a yoga that honours both the “divine” feminine and masculine qualities necessary for a balanced life experience. However, Tina informs me that she is “less attached to the idea of masculine and feminine because it eventually has a glass ceiling” – it’s limiting. Yin and Yang, she believes, have less gender bias and more space, and, I will add, are inherently interconnected. The basic meaning of the duality symbol of yin/yang (light/dark, sun/moon, positive/negative charge, and so on) is that one cannot exist without the other in the natural world. Just like feminine/masculine. Certain aspects of masculine behaviour, she says, if unattended to, can result in “unconscious” behaviours that remove us further from our “true essence” and inherent conscious masculine and conscious feminine:

“These are generalisations, but we could say that the unconscious masculine looks like disassociation and numbness, and the conscious masculine looks like resting in equanimous awareness of everything as it is,” she said. “These are two very different things, but they often look the same.”

Tina views the “unconscious feminine” state as being “identified with emotion.” For her, this means identifying strongly with a story or a feeling, and viewing it as part of oneself, instead of  seeing it for what it is: a separate entity that can come and then go as quickly as it arises. For Tina, “the conscious feminine” state is “feeling everything and being informed by that communication.” In other words, we consciously respond, rather than allow the emotion to take over and be viewed as part of our identity. There is a distinction between feeling anger, for example, and being an angry person.

Creating a fusion of the ancient traditions of Indian yoga, Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy and intuitive techniques, Tina’s class is eclectic. It’s aim is to “calm the nervous system and promote the flow of blood and chi [energy] into specific endocrine glands and organs that play a key role in a woman’s hormonal balance.”. It is her way of supporting women who are experiencing reproductive and hormonal imbalances––which she refers to as “just the tip of the iceberg.” (The iceberg of the suppression and detachment of the female body due to the past two thousand years of predominantly patriarchal rule.) This, she said, has removed our “connection to the body, to sex––sensuality and sexuality––and connection to the earth.” These qualities, which Tina views passionately as “feminine,” were not only removed but “shamed.”

Place your toes together, spread your knees wide and sit back towards your heels.
Place a bolster underneath your torso and relax into it.

Using the anchor of the body as more than “just preparation for meditation” is essential for this feminine practice. For Tina, this means coming into “direct contact with the fact that mind, body and spirit are inseparable.” Also known as the ‘bodymind’ intelligence in alternative philosophy, this notion views mind/body/emotions/spirit as an integrated whole for which every experience is stored in the body. Tina began listening to her body, “allowing it to speak, and it to direct [her] practise.”

“I just wait for the body to be moved, rather than the other way around – like spontaneous dance where something starts to happen through us,” said Tina. “I don’t really know a step-by-step process. It’s a result of embodiment, consciously being here more.” She listens, and her body takes over, she said. “This whole dynamic current of energy moving through our body that knows exactly where to go and how to awaken the body, I would describe that as feminine.”

``This whole dynamic current of energy moving through our body that knows exactly where to go and how to awaken the body, I would describe that as feminine.”

By directing her practice and teaching through a therapeutic lens, Tina employs the meridian pathways system of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This therapy maps out energy lines running through the body, working with “different organs, thought frequencies, emotions, fascia and connective tissue.” And so, Tina’s balancing class promotes a restorative, gentle and receptive yoga of presence. The objective is to ease the discomfort caused by hormones and menstrual cyclespremenstrual syndrome, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, depression, cramps. The effect is immense.

During the 90-minute class, her meditative commentary allows students to be present as she paints a picture of the mind as a clear blue sky, whereby thoughts are clouds, just passing by, always changing, always moving. Because of its restorative focus, students are given various yogic ‘props’––a strap, bolster, blocks and a blanket––and set up in various five-to-ten-minute-long postures. My favourite of these is the hip-opening Supta Baddha Konasana. For this posture, also known as Reclining Bound Angle Pose, you lie on your back with the soles of your feet pressed together, knees spread wide, with a bolster (a long, thick pillow) underneath your torso.

We store tensions in our bodies, particularly the hips, so these hip-openers––pervasive in restorative styles of yoga––are also said to be home to meridian pathways connected to certain hormones; specifically, the hormones that may be out of balance for women. Understandably, holding these asanas for lengthy periods of time gently forces us to pay attention to the areas of our bodies, and our lives, that have perhaps been neglected. They also allow a refreshed flow of energy to run through our bodies. Double whammy.

Tina’s all-female class offers an example of why “being around a sisterhood, around other women [who] support what you are doing, is so important.” Just like my own journey to this class from the other side of the world, and just like Tina’s story, she says, “women are finding their voice and that’s a rising––initially through a curiosity and then through an exploration.” The “tiara-wearing, superficial goddess culture” concerns her. She worries that people see that which is louder and on the surface, and go on to make assumptions that can devalue the depths of the feminine work that is actually taking place.

Reclined Bound Angle pose with bolsters.
Lie back, place the soles of your feet together, and spread your knees wide. Place cushions under your knees, a bolster under your back and a pillow under your head. Ease into the pose and rest.

Despite some very obvious tendencies for Westerners to bombard a good thing and potentially limit the inclusion of a country’s locals (think party strips on the beach, alcohol abuse, etc.), Bali is also home to some very popular and authentic yoga studios run by Balinese teachers. These teachers incorporate their traditional Hindu practises of worship alongside traditional yoga styles, and some offer discounted rates for locals. Perhaps this is their response to the “rising” that Tina describes. And during the Eat, Pray, Love stage of my own path of self-discovery in 2017, like Julia Roberts, I too ended up in Bali. But, it’s safe to say that regardless of the movie’s cringe-worthy, patronising and predictable nature, the film got one thing right: Bali is a very special place, with appeal to the spiritual seeker from the West. In Ubud, in particular, there is a genuine integration of faithful yoga communities––communities seeking to respect and learn from the peaceful culture of the Balinese. There are also those that are authentically growing to explore this feminine rising. And this, Tina strongly believes, can “burn through any bullshit.”

Legs up the wall pose.
Lay on your back with your bum a few inches from a wall.
Place a bolster under the hips and rest your legs against the wall. Relax.

Thankfully, it’s not necessary for everyone to undergo intense training, or travel to Bali, to benefit from these ideas. The real wealth of what Tina, and many other women all over the world, are exploring and sharing is this idea that we can come back into our bodies anytime, anywhere. We have the power. We can take comfort in the fact that there is a whole world of women unlocking their potentials through re-connection within their bodies. Through a re-awakening of what may lay dormant for today’s modern woman. We can practice daily self-awareness and care, on our mats, in our beds, at our desks, on the bus. The options are  limitless. “It’s so exciting!” Tina says, smiling. “It doesn’t take much to inspire women.”

Illustrations by the author.

Angelique Jones is a freelance writer, Hatha Yoga Teacher and globetrotter who holds a BA Honours degree in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University. She plans to do her Masters on Women and Film. She loves to travel, paint, cook vegetarian food, and analyse gender politics in film – particularly the representation of women and its effects on the collective psyche. 

On Protesting: The Impossibility of Justice Needs Antifa

Photographs by Sara Rose
Photographs by Sara Rose

Black political action pursues an impossible object.
—Calvin L. Warren, Black Nihilism and the Politics of Hope

After attending a Charlottesville preparation workshop, I learned the following: do not rub your face after being pepper-sprayed, do not separate from your group, and do not engage the Nazis. We received our list of essentials to accompany our exposed, shaky nerves:

A change of clothes
Johnson Baby No-Tear Shampoo
Water
Bandanas
Medications
Vital info and numbers on your body
Coordinates for a meetup point
Emergency contact
Snacks
Prayer

At the same workshop, my myopic view of white supremacy expanded: there were over 18 hate groups we learned about—each having geometric, distinct symbols, colors, handshakes or gestures. There is a lot of phoenix-esque imagery in supremacist symbols like eagles, chickens, and other birds aflame. Triangles, arrows, and the confederate saltire (diagonal cross) are boastful in their regalia too. Later, I even learned how their memorabilia is bound to the Middle Ages, Crusades, and even African symbolism. I sneered at their irony of using tribal and the Flying African parable in their quest for terror. Strangely, I learned the A-ok hand symbol is a white supremacist gesture––regardless of writing  contrary to this––as I was thrown the symbol by multiple men.

Importantly, this was the workshop where I first learned about the antifascist or antifa group. Confusingly, this is not a concrete organization, but rather a shared, far-left belief system held by various activists (even internationally) who periodically convene to oppose Nazi rallies and to provide protesters with protection. For example, individuals from the Redneck Revolt or Democratic Socialist Association (DSA) can be part of the antifa network while still upholding and carrying membership for their respective organizations. Antifa members are socialists, anarchists and communists who research, expose, and confront Neo-Nazis. They were there at the Charlottesville protest and protected myself and others from incendiary harm and even fatality.

The evening before the protest, I had a DSA and antifa member from Arkansas stay at my home. I received a text from a friend that someone needed rest and wanted to caravan with others. I got his name, cleared it with other leaders and opened my door. We talked about his entry into organizing and struggles with mental wellness. He loved Rosa Luxemburg and The Art of the Impossible and grappled with the bravado of violence when I poked the reminder of gender and trauma protection politics in their creed of masculinized protection. We had a professor in common and both liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches. He was not the wayward, bored student Trevor Noah depicted in his unfortunate critique of antifa. He was white. He was also fragile and angry like we all are right now––at least the latter. And because the protest is a vulgar but urgent spiritual practice, this deeply confessional space elongated at the rally with others who talked about their origin stories and wounds. I learned about activists already arrested, assaulted by the police, coming to the protest to affirm their power against police brutality. These people could save your life so you might as well tell them why you got into this work—from Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) family members’ influence to partner rape and abuse.

At the C-ville protest, I marched with Antifa members, veterans’ groups, trans activists, college students, Black Lives Matter, feminist groups, religious officials and several other communities. And we looked out for each other—warned each other which streets were dangerous, where to find restrooms and where to refuel. We argued about whether or not shouting We Love You to Nazis was patronizing, diminishing to ourselves.

But of course, confronting your oppressor at a protest comes with dire and even fatal outcomes. I witnessed two white supremacists punch a woman in the face. Her hand did nothing to stop the wound pouring through her fingers while hordes of protesters—including antifa members—dived into the crowd protect or enact vengeance. I couldn’t look at the devastation; the last thing I remember was someone breaking the pole holding their confederate flag in half, over a knee, raising the stick as a weapon while the state police came marching over. But everyone in that fight lived. After, an antifa woman started to hand out homemade shields made with wood, rubber and nails and I quickly took one.

Not too long after that assault, and when the police shoved Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer away, we left. We were tired, swampy but joyful, feeling that emotion one experiences when standing up to a bully, a mythical monster, or one’s abuser. It was especially rejuvenating as I have never confronted my relationship abusers before in courts or at a police station or even face-to-face.

But then Heather Heyer was murdered.

The days after any protest are usually exhausting and reflective; however, the days after C-ville threw our souls out. I couldn’t stop sleeping and felt this warm, angular wrath when the media started to focus on the “violent and radical” antifa . The focus was off. I understand why there have to be two wrong sides because binaries or linearity is calming for folks, and people sitting on fences can avoid choosing action, but it steadfastly remains that we were and are still under attack. Antifa didn’t murder someone. A white supremacists killed Heather Heyer. He killed her, and injured many others, in daylight.

What’s frightening is that I understand the process and aftermath of Heather’s death. It’s not shocking because I’ve witnessed such racialized ire before. The desire to circumvent and focus on antifa instead of white supremacists is also not shocking. There’s something banal and now just borderline comforting concerning the death of the marginalized. Through the right-wing media gaze, Heyer received the same treatment as Trayvon Martin or Sandra Bland––her life an omen to the righteous white: this death was necessary because [insert victim] would have been a threat to your joy. What I truly don’t understand is the level of denial and disregard of what survival looks like in this political climate. To pursue an impossible object—like justice—in an absurd world, you need those who value antifa principles. And even then, I have to accept I will always lose whatever battle I imagine.

When I told my father the preparation and planning for the Charlottesville protest, he said “it sounds like you’re preparing for war.” When he tried to talk me out of going, I told him “Dad, they’re killing me anyway. I don’t want to go back. I’m not going back. I deserve to be healthy and they deserve my confrontation.” But I’ll never be healthy protesting and demanding my humaneness because I’m fighting for an impossible object.

After reading right and even leftists critiques on antifa, I sought out the man who I spent time with at the protest. We separated and I saw him from afar, his bandana over his face, his arms up and out like his chest and his blood. I stayed away from him because I knew he was there for protection and confrontation and I didn’t want to be near the violence, but now I needed to be close to him—at least briefly to ask about issues of gender, violence and other distress I picked up from antifa critiques. Although he offered to use his real name, as he was pictured on CNN and has been outed by white supremacists on their platforms, I want to respect the slight anonymity he still has in this movement, and will only refer to him by his initials throughout this piece. There was a lot we couldn’t talk about, but I especially didn’t want to approach the death of Heather because it was clear everyone was tender and grieving.

Here is our exchange.

KW: Can you tell me a little more about antifa and its mission?

MS: There’s no hierarchy whatsoever and it’s really a tactic as well as any. I wish we could just call it antifascists or antifascist action which is actually what it was originally called. I mean really, it’s a tactic which I’d like to kind of briefly and concisely explain into two things: No platform for white supremacy because white supremacy is violence. Secondly, any expression of white supremacy is a form of hate and actual violence and we will confront that.

KW: How do you organize with locals? From various sources and readings, I see you all clash with local organizers or work on their behalf. Can you explain that dynamic and relationship?

MS: Now because antifa is a tactic, it works as a community strategy. That’s how we describe it amongst ourselves: above all else it is community defense. And you know that’s why I wanted to reach out to you all when I went to Charlottesville or when I went to Virginia—so you know that’s as close to locals as I could. In Arkansas, for example, is the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan and in the past few years they’ve had really really big and successful Pride Parades and a lot of antifascist activists who wanted to get out to confront the Klan whom we knew was going to be there. And the liberal groups told us our presence would make them feel less safe because they would have to suffer the consequences, so we stood down. It’s a lot more than just punching cops.

KW: Because antifa is known so much for physical violence and reaction, I caution to ask about gender dynamics and values. Can you explain that to me?

MS: I really believe the most effective and wisest and intuitive leadership comes from the women in our group and that didn’t happen because we decided it…it just happened. I think in organizing it’s just kind of the nature of horizontal decision making––women get a better voice.

I believe egalitarian structures are inherently matriarchal and that’s one of the most inspiring things about this approach to coalition and organizing.

The women in our group are the best at sensing trouble. They’re the best at predicting what’s going to happen next, like reading the more liberal groups that are maybe collaborating with police…they might be trouble. There’s just all types of people we have to watch out for. For [women] it’s just very spur.

KW: How has your life changed now from organizing?

MS: At this point, I’ve been doxxed and identified by many fascist groups as to where to find me. I’ve been sent pictures of my mother’s face. You know I was sent a satellite view from my house and a photograph of my front door and stuff like that.

KW: What provisions do you all or can you all take for safety?

MS: Well you know actually I don’t want to give away any tactics for you, but I would like to explain the covering of the face. You know most people see that and they say why are you wearing a mask. You know why. Well because I don’t want to be identified by fascists because they will terrorize me, but that just goes in one ear and out the other. Certainly you know baby boomers they think wow your face is covered. You must be up to no good. Then there’s the technology aspect and FBI attempting to infiltrate our chat groups. It’s never-ending anxiety and paranoia but we have a pretty good intuition.

KW: What else would you want people to know about DSA, antifa and other underground groups?

MS: Like before, we’re not just cop-punching folks. I’m on medication for sleep and a mood disorder and, I like, I can’t sleep if I don’t get that medicine, but if something happens with intervention or violence, why is it that the police are the first people to show up?

And I know in some places like in Charlottesville, for example, they told me that the police don’t have training, but, you know what, social workers are the ones that are solving domestic disputes. Now, I understand that you can’t have social workers doing that kind of work, but there’s an education neglect there. Who are they choosing and why?

So it goes back to the horizontal decision making and moving towards community autonomy and that’s a huge priority for me in my community: just making sure that everyone has been heard and that continues in other coalition strategies, like so people won’t have to ask their parents for pure dependence. Young folks and poor folks don’t have healthcare and need help now and a platform for voice––we shouldn’t have to own a car in order to go job hunting because you have to have a job, make money to buy a car in order to afford to go job hunting and sustain capital and have a family. And you shouldn’t have to track transportation infrastructure, but it’s a corrupt, marred infrastructure too. Everyone has to depend on that system though––a bad system in order to get a job. I want to fight class structures too. We want that too.

I just I would love to see policies [and] investment in things that benefit everyone. […]  I just want us to say something and smash the patriarchy and rape culture. People keep on saying “Wait, be patient and settle down,” like from university professors to community folks. When will we ever have time for that? When did being slow and quiet ever help anyone?

Endnote from the author: Sometimes, I remain unsure of my placement in antifa as a queer, black woman even though I have seen evidence through social media of celebrating queer history and activists. I know there are women and queer people in antifa. However, I also know that a system that is built on resistance and reaction will internalize those modes of violence, hierarchy and oppression. We internalize and eat poisons everyday. We really don’t have a choice in that matter. And I hate to operate in a system in which I need saving because that means I have little power, but I don’t have a choice in that matter either. It seems, at the very least, antifa is aware of those elements and is trying to remain afloat in a current state that is desperate to incite fear, break bones and take my life. I don’t think antifa is fighting for that impossible object called justice; I just think they are trying to survive and ensure others can have that ability too.

Kimberly Williams is the Features Editor of The Rational. She studied poetry at Cornell University where she also became a Callaloo Oxford University fellow. You can find her creative works in Gulf Coast, Callaloo, and Drunken Boat and her nonfiction in Slate and Sounding Out!

Speaking Up With Beck Levy

ACTIVIST. MUSICIAN. WRITER.

In the class we took on nonfiction writing at Mills College, Beck Levy sat at the end of the table facing away from the windows, and the sun at her back made her dark curly hair shine at its edges. She wore a look of intensity on her face much of the time during book discussions—her green eyes sharp and wide, sometimes lined with colorful eyeliner; her mouth slightly open, ready to speak, to call out privilege or ignorance where most of us couldn’t see it. It was 2015. I was afraid of her because I sensed she was ten times smarter than I would ever be, and that she had answers to questions I hadn’t even thought to ask. I wasn’t wrong. I sought her out for the conversation below because her penetrating intelligence and political awareness make her an invaluable source of insight into what it means to live as an activist. Long before white people of our generation were activated by the campaign and now the presidency of Donald J. Trump, Beck was protesting the war in Iraq, doing banner drops, and staging die-ins.

Beck is open and warm. Talking with her over the phone in our three interviews, I got the sense that there is little she hasn’t thought about; she had an in-depth answer to most of my questions, with analysis to back up her opinions. She’s a polymath—a musician, public speaker, book artist, mental health activist, writer—but labels don’t stick easily to her because she’s also inclusive, and labels often work to exclude, to simplify. She’s not easily summed up, which is partially why she’s a good source of perspective right now, when everyone seems to be searching for “The Answer.” 

She knows things aren’t simple or easy, that to think there are solutions is to be naïve: We will never “solve” the problems of racism and bigotry, sexism and misogyny. But we can think more critically, we can work to be inclusive, to listen, to live at life’s intersections, and hope that these actions will encourage others to take up the fight alongside us.

The Rational: You see injustices very clearly. I’m wondering how you came to be so aware, especially as a white woman.

Levy: The first thing to point out is that I’m from D.C. I grew up in Maryland, but right over the line, and I was riding public transportation by myself from a very young age. When you are growing up in an urban setting from a young age you have access to a lot of culture, experience, and perspectives you might not have in a more isolated setting. [W]hen the Bush administration started, I was a young teenager and that really expedited my political consciousness. I started going to anti-war protests very quickly after September 11th and just plugged into that, and met a lot of like-minded people.

I’m laughing because it’s really wild to look back at that time right now. Me and a bunch of other high schoolers in the D.C. area […] met at protests, and organized and formed a coalition…sort of like a network of affinity groups. We would go to national [and local] mobilizations together. We also organized school walkouts and protests. We had a lot of support from the local D.C. activist scene. We got introduced to WPFW [a D.C. radio station] people, and did an interview on the air with them. Watching the way other groups organized made us take ourselves and what we were doing seriously, and so we had press releases for everything we did—I was the press contact.

Part of it was that we were in D.C. and so we felt we had a really clear channel to the forces that were ruining the world. Part of it was that we were at that age when you aren’t taken seriously by adults and you’re about to inherit a world—those realizations are really clear when you’re a young teenager. That was happening at the time when all this shit was going on [that] we didn’t want to happen. It just seemed so simple to us. It felt like the end of the world. You know how it kind of feels like the end of the world right now? It felt like the end of the world then. When you’re a teenager, you don’t have a good concept of time. Every moment feels like it’s going to last forever. You just don’t understand that there’s an ebb and flow, that circumstances change. The immediacy we felt was really intense. I skipped school to go to protests so much, I can’t even quantify it. I would skip school to go to protests downtown, I would skip school to go to protests at other high schools.

[The] Department of Homeland Security was created that year [2002], [and] shit got really serious for us organizing. It’s such a new department, and people often forget that…Tom Ridge was the first [Director] of the [Office] of Homeland Security and Blair High School—this high school in Montgomery County (right over the D.C. line into Maryland), had about 3,000 students—it’s just an enormous high school, and because of that it has an enormous auditorium, so Tom Ridge was going to use the auditorium for some type of event or press conference, which, in the D.C. area, at the time, was not unusual […] So, we found out that Tom Ridge was coming to Blair and we had members of our organization at Blair, and we all just skipped school and came to Blair to protest Tom Ridge, protest the Department of Homeland Security, and protest the War on Terror.

It was mayhem. They weren’t expecting us, at all. They weren’t prepared. It was this period of time where we were transitioning from an implicit police state to a total police state, I guess. It was just crazy. We did banner drops inside [and] outside the school. We fucking took down the American flag and replaced it with a black flag—it was bananas. Through that, I met people who I’m still friends with today, who are still radical today. I also found out that there was an anarchist bookstore in D.C.—called the Brian MacKenzie InfoShop. I worked there one day a week. I’d always been a big reader and kind of a nerd and a loner, so I just read a ton of stuff there. That’s the best way to sum up my political awakening.

The anti-globalization movement was still active at that time, so I was able to draw the connection between the economics of free trade and globalization and the economics of the war machine. I had a lot of really enlightening experiences like getting beaten up by the police. Also, the InfoShop was in a part of town that was right at the beginning of being gentrified. I started seeing how black communities were policed. I got exposed to a lot of shit in the three-year period between 14 and 17 that completely dictated who I was to become for the rest of my life.

[Our coalition] was called Students for Peace and Justice – SPJ. […] We definitely contained a spectrum of political opinions, but the people who were organizing things and were the movers and shakers were identified as revolutionary communists and anarchists—I identified as an anarchist. I forgot to mention that we all did Food Not Bombs, which is a decentralized, activist thing where anarchists take food that would otherwise have been wasted and do public feedings in public places for people who are experiencing homelessness or anyone at all who wants to eat for free. It’s a demonstration of how wasteful capitalism is and how even just a little bit of funding away from the defense budget would be transformative for people who are experiencing food insecurity.

We also did die-ins [in the suburbs]. A die-in is a type of protest that seeks to bring the war home in terms of making people think about the violence that people in other countries are suffering as a result of U.S. imperialism. Usually, it’s a bunch of people laying on the ground pretending to be dead somewhere while someone else distributes anti-war materials. Sometimes there’s someone pacing around, hectoring the audience on a megaphone while people lay around. Sometimes people are outlined in chalk. Sometimes it’s just that there are chalk-outlines of bodies and info on how many people have been killed. We tended to take it to a kind of next level where we had a lot of fake blood and [stuff].

The Rational: You were an activist long before many white people of our generation realized there was anything to actively fight against or to try to reform. What do you think of the mass white “resistance” of previously politically inactive people instigated by the election of Donald Trump?

Levy: I go to a therapist who is like this really badass, old-school activist who is queer and was involved in ACT UP [AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power]…she told me that one of the ways that white supremacy often manifests itself is through a sense of urgency. I thought that was really interesting because…that really ties into this most recent activation of white people in response to the election. There’s a lot to legitimately be furious and activated by in terms of the election. The sense of urgency that white people have brought to it should probably be deconstructed, and I think has been deconstructed by people way more qualified to do it. The main issue is that things have been wrong for a very long time. Since the first white colonists came to this land. The Black Lives Matter statement on the election concluded with, [“The work will be harder, but the work is the same.”] That’s something that every white person who’s newly activated should sit with.

There’s also some really great writing by women of color, particularly black women, in response to SURJ – Standing Up for Racial Justice – [it] is a group for white people who normally self-describe as being there and organizing themselves in order to just show up when black leadership tells them to, but in practice it ends up playing out in more messy and complicated ways. [It] often manifests as groups of white people in white-only spaces, talking about racism, which is suspicious and suspect. Also, just in terms of answering questions about the problems of white mobilizing and white organization, I have a lot of opinions and perspectives on it, but I am less well-qualified to comment than black thinkers and black activists who are doing the great challenging writing on that topic.

The Rational: The white community who are very new to this, newly awake to their privilege – many of them thought everything was pretty much OK. We all definitely need to be listening to people of color especially right now, but I also think we need white people to talk to white people because if we leave all that work to people of color we’re asking way too much.

Levy: Oh, yeah. I totally think that expecting black women to carry the entire weight of the world is really fucked up, although it is what historically happens and is happening. I just think that there’s a way that white people can take the ideas of black activists and represent them as their own, rebrand them, and extract credit from them. Since white people have more of a platform than black people, that results in credit not being given and the platform not being extended. I’m not saying that’s something that happens in every case, it’s just something that is absolutely a big problem and something that I try to be really conscious of when I’m talking about this stuff.

Back to your original question, people genuinely not realizing that there was a problem before now is a symptom of a lot of things. One is the idea that progress is linear, and we’re always getting closer to justice, which is not true. Another is the product of really intentional decades of segregation that insulated white people from the realities happening outside of their bubble. Another is the tendency of people in liberal democracies to not feel responsible for creating change if they aren’t personally affected by it.

The Rational: And Donald Trump made us all feel personally affected by it?

Levy: Yeah, I think that white people for the first time in a while felt like, ‘Oh, shit, my life could get fucked up from this.’ Even if it’s not like, ‘I directly see the specific effects these specific policies could have on my well-being,’ It was white people being like, ‘I like to think of myself as not a racist and not a sexist and not an Islamophobe, and this person is making it really hard for me to go on like that because they are going to purport to speak for me and represent me to the world, and in order to keep thinking of myself as a good person, I have to actively distance myself from them.’ Every white liberal got to feel really good about themselves for eight years. As long as you didn’t have any Yemeni friends, you got to feel like the racial utopia was at our fingertips and you had a part in creating it.

The Rational:  In the summers of 2015 and  2016, I felt a lot of pain and lack of any kind of agency when it came to the shootings that were being televised of black men by police, and black women, too––though I heard less about their stories. I definitely felt a building sense of anxiety because there’s such a big disconnect between those events and how we get to a place where we’re not having these things happen. It feels like stepping into a space where so many people have been in this pain for so long would be an intrusion.  

Levy: Just kind of working backwards—you’re definitely not the only person who I’ve heard say, ‘I don’t know how to find an entry point for things like organizing against police killings of black people because it feels like an intrusion.’ What I think is at the heart of it is that, ‘I’m afraid that I will step into this space where I’m uncomfortable, and I will be wrong. I will be made to feel uncomfortable. I will have to make mistakes and be called out for those mistakes. I might be called racist.’ That is part of white people’s anxiety in getting involved in this stuff and is maybe a reason why white people don’t show up to Black Lives Matter marches. If you think about it, black people have been showing up to white-led activism a lot, being a minority, and not being sure if they’re welcome or how to participate, and it’s way higher stakes for them. It’s ok to just enter, ask, and do a ton of listening. Ask how you can be supportive, and maybe be told things that are painful to hear, like, ‘I don’t feel like telling you how to be supportive, figure it out.’

The way that the police have been terrorizing communities of color—you can draw a direct line from the militarized forces that would hunt down slaves to the police departments of today. There’s absolutely a direct line between those two white nationalist organizations. I don’t think there’s a problem with – no matter what type of organizing you’re doing – incorporating resistance to police terror into your organizing. There are really clear connections between whatever your issue is and that because it’s about land. It’s about black people – not all black people, but, black communities that are most vulnerable to police violence – being forced into and driven out of various neighborhoods, and [being] historically looted, having their labor extracted for wealth that they can’t access, and being victim to environmental catastrophes as a result of industry that white people profit from. All of these things relate to the way that black life chances are stolen, whether it’s at the end of a gun that a police officer is holding or because of untreated asthma [they have as a result of] environmental racism. Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as an unnatural shortening of life. It seems so simple and so obvious, but when you think about it, there’s just no reason that, using that definition of racism, it can’t be a part of any type of organizing.

[A] lot of people of color and black people in particular have been putting a lot of effort into telling white people how to participate. There are all types of articles about like, ‘As a white person, here’s how to be an accomplice in our fight against white nationalism,’ [and] right down to advice about what to do when you come to a community meeting for the first time. So, I’d say…the first advice is to listen to black people. Don’t reinvent the wheel. That’s part of white urgency, thinking like, ‘I’m going to apply my mind to this problem and solve it.’ How ‘bout, just listen. And then after you listen, trust and believe. Other aphorisms that come to mind that I’ve absolutely not invented but I’ve gleaned from, attempting to, as best as I can, listen to black writers and black thinkers [are]: ‘Stay in your lane,’ and ‘Don’t make everything about you.’

You don’t have to worry that your particular oppression isn’t going to be dealt with if you’re fighting for the liberation, wellness, and livelihood of people who are more vulnerable to institutional violence than you. If people who are more vulnerable than you are safe and well, then you are also going to be. Grassroots is the opposite of trickle-down.   

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The Rational: You are not a pacifist. Tell me more about that.

Levy: So, Black Panther, Fred Hampton, said it best when he said that, “We say it’s no longer a question of violence or non-violence. We say it’s a question of resistance to fascism or nonexistence within fascism.” [Quote corrected to match speech transcript.] That’s probably the best and most legendary way of answering that question. Truly, what a beautiful turn of phrase. I think of violence as being a precondition of the moment, and so opting out of violence is kind of like opting out of capitalism—it’s the sea we’re swimming in. So, I wouldn’t ever call myself a pacifist because of that.

I totally get why some folks would be like, ‘I’m a pacifist,’ because, to them that means, ‘I’m anti-war.’ I just don’t find it to be a useful shorthand because, for people who have to fight, often physically, to defend their lives, it just seems insensitive and self-righteous and with tones of moral superiority. A lot of people who call themselves pacifists, if you dig, would say, ‘Of course, I believe in self-defense.’ I don’t think that self-defense vs. pacifism are stable categories.

Things are really complicated and nuanced, but I’m an anarcho-communist. Definitely hardline, militant, anarcho-communist.

The Rational: And what does that mean in your daily life?

Levy: Well, in some ways it doesn’t affect my daily life at all because, like I said, we’re all swimming in the same sea. It does mean that when I am involved in resistance, I think about whether or not it’s resistance that pushes us towards a horizontal society, that places personal autonomy as the highest value and the community as the fundamental social unit rather than the individual. For me, it all comes back to capital. Any time I’m trying to analyze a situation, I’m like, ‘Ok, what’s happening here with power? What’s happening here with capital?” So, that’s my lens.

The Rational: Have you applied that lens to animal rights and the food system, and how those things are linked to climate change?

Levy: Oh, sure. That was one of the original reasons I became vegan…fifteen years ago. I was really concerned about climate change when I was a kid. The elementary school I went to [had] like, really aggressive Earth Day celebrations. We would have school-wide contests about like, ‘Best Drawing About Saving Water,’ or whatever. It was really part of my consciousness. […] I had an unarticulated understanding of climate change…as having something to do with the smoke that came out of cars. I went vegan because I found out – and I don’t remember how – that the agriculture industry was hugely responsible for [climate change], and that a huge amount of resources go into producing one hamburger.

Environmental reasons were a big factor in me deciding to be vegan. As I got older, I started understanding the critique of lifestyle politics [as] not necessarily a way that change was going to happen. I think this is what the expression, ‘There is no ethical consumption under capitalism,’ means; the idea of voting with your dollar—it isn’t really clear how that would make change. People often say like, ‘Well, if everyone became vegan, then the meat industry wouldn’t be able to function,’ but that’s not going to happen. If your individual act doesn’t wage that outcome, it’s hard to rationalize that as being a huge force of social change.

Another thing that happened as I became older is that I became really disillusioned with how white veganism is, and [I] got more of a sense of how messed up it is that groups like PETA would compare the slaughter of animals to slavery, and how that actually just feeds into very classic racist caricatures that animalize black people.

Food is a very personal thing. The types of food we eat, the types of food we have access to, and the types that our families’ cultural and religious traditions connect to—that’s all very personal and part of the fabric of our lives. It’s really presumptuous to assume that because factory farming is so brutal, and the meat and agricultural industries are doing such violence to our planet that the answer is for people just to rip their food choice and traditions out of their lives and replace it with, I don’t know, a veggie burger, or whatever. That said, I’m still vegan, and I’m not sure if I ever won’t be vegan, and I still really identify with animals, but being vegan is a personal choice in my life and it’s not something that’s part of my politics.

The Rational: What does the media get wrong about mental health?

Levy: The mental health and disability community is very organized and very well-spoken. Advocacy is having a louder voice than it used to and I don’t want to discount or minimize that in the critique that I’m about to give.

The media and mainstream society have a really faulty model of what mental health and mental illness [are]. In my opinion disability is constructed in part by its environment. The example that’s commonly used in disability studies is that using a wheelchair is only a handicap in a society that uses stairs. That same principle applies to mental health in a lot of ways. Having depression, or attention deficit disorder, or something [else] is only a disability in a society that demands that you structure your days a certain way and that you perform certain types of labor in order to live and earn a living and have a right to live. That doesn’t get talked about, pretty much at all: The ways in which poverty and diminished life opportunities interact with mental health is also not talked about. Intergenerational trauma as a result of institutional violence doesn’t get talked about. A recent meme on Facebook is like, “It’s easier for people with mental illness to buy guns than to buy health care,” and that was a really depressing thing to read. People clashed with that pretty quickly and said that people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it, and that we absolutely deserve health care, but that juxtaposing it with gun laws in this way is not particularly helpful to people who are struggling.

The Rational: The National Institute of Mental Health reported that, “In 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 12.5% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.” How young were you when you began to be hospitalized for mental illness?

Levy: That is so sad. I don’t look at statistics like that super often and that is super sad. Thank you for telling me about that. I was first hospitalized when I was twelve and I’ve reflected on that in a number of different ways. My understanding of why that happened has evolved and probably will continue evolving over time. One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how I could have just as easily ended up in juvenile detention or jail if I wasn’t white, or if I lived in a different zip code—all these different factors in why some people go to a hospital and other people go to jail. I wasn’t violent towards other people or threatening to harm anyone else, but I definitely had behavioral health issues, and mental health issues. When you’re a kid like that, jail is the front-line, first resource for mental health in this country. I’m just so grateful that that’s not where I ended up, not that a hospital is a safer or more healing environment than a jail in some ways, especially if you’re there because you don’t have any other choice.

The Rational: You’ve written that a privileged (white) person who survives a suicide attempt will likely be taken to the hospital, but in the same situation non-white and/or underprivileged people will likely be taken to jail. How can communities build their own, more effective support systems?

Levy: The first thing that people need to do is stop calling the cops. Introducing a police officer into any situation is generally going to make it worse and put any brown person in the area at risk of arrest or death. Sometimes when you say, ‘don’t call the police,’ people immediately jump to well, ‘what if there’s a serial killer with an axe over my head?’ – these really hyperbolic scenarios. For one thing, in a lot of these [suggested] scenarios, if you call the police, they’re just going to come find your body at that point? But also, that’s not the most common situation in which the police are called. A common situation in which the police are called is when a white person feels uncomfortable. People call the police for all kinds of situations, but I feel like the most direct action people could take if they’re sad about the unequal way that white supremacy affects who’s hospitalized and who’s jailed is to not call the cops.

The other thing would be, if you want to be an advocate for people with mental health problems, or if you want to be political in your survivorship of mental illness, center people who are the most affected by the prison industrial complex in your work. If your mental health advocacy is about imprisonment, it’s going to affect people who are less affected by [the prison industrial complex]…if you center your reform around the people who are facing the most abject forms of oppression like torture and confinement, then [your efforts are] going to benefit everybody.

The Rational: What do you think of the claims that Trump is mentally unfit for the job of president?

Levy: Oh, lord. It’s probably true, but that’s not why he’s unfit. He’s unfit because he’s a white supremacist, rapist oligarch. Everything about his administration and the entire political structure that enabled it and continues to enable it is unfit. I’d say the mental health stuff is pretty fucking low down the list. I don’t really pay that much attention to democratic shenanigans, like these gestures towards getting him out of power. I would love to see bad things happen to 45, for sure, but I think what you’re asking is, does it hurt mentally ill people when people attack or criticize Trump as being mentally ill, and I think the answer is absolutely yes. I love that prominent psychiatrists have been outspoken in saying that it’s actually unethical to diagnose people who are not your patients. It’s not particularly useful, ethical, or even medically true to be like, ‘Oh, this guy has narcissistic personality disorder, or early stage dementia or something.’ It does hurt people with mental illnesses or people with neurological conditions. That said, I’m not sayin’ he ain’t off his rocker. I’m just saying it doesn’t seem like the right tack.

The Rational: What was also underlying in that question for me was that, when I hear people claiming Trump is mentally ill, it seems to me that they’re correlating mental illness with lack of intellect.

Levy: Oh, yeah, I agree. Incompetent. Totally. It seems like there’s a whole constellation of reasons why it’s harmful. I mean, equating mental illness with abuse of power—for sure, there’s a huge intersection between power dynamics and mental illness, but again: people living with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of abuse of power than the perpetrators of it. So much of the public dialogue is wasted [on] these really frivolous things, like ‘he has dementia,’ like ‘is he incompetent and stupid?’ like ‘did he commit witness intimidation?’ Probably all of the above, but more importantly, this is a white nationalist who is consolidating power and acting with impunity. Let’s definitely focus on that.

Sarah Hoenicke is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she’s working toward her Master of Journalism degree at U.C. Berkeley and revising her first novel. Her work has appeared in the Rumpus, the LA Review of Books, Guernica, BOMB, Gulf Coast, Brooklyn Mag, and many other publications. Sarah and Beck met while studying in the English Department at Mills College.

An Interview with Harriet Minter: Guardian journalist and radio host

Illustration by Hannah Fitzsimons
Illustration by Hannah Fitzsimons

THE RATIONAL SITS DOWN WITH A FEMALE JOURNALIST WE COULD ALL LEARN SOMETHING FROM

Harriet Minter has noticed that women have stopped apologizing. We no longer accept the time that it has historically taken for incremental change to occur. Instead, we are standing up for ourselves and creating a fairer and more equal business landscape. Minter is a woman on a mission, juggling work on her radio show, “Badass Women’s Hour,” heading various leadership programs in the United Kingdom, and managing the Guardian’s “Women in Leadership” section. The dedication and strength Minter needed to build her status and career exemplify what is required for women to accomplish their goals in a world that’s still built for men.

The Rational: Women are in more powerful positions in the workplace today. What do you think is the main driver behind such progress?

Minter: At some point, people stop being patient. When I started [working in my field], there were a lot of guys who’d say things like, “Change will happen, but women just need to be patient.”

We’ve been sitting, waiting for things to change, because we were told that if we were patient they would. The fact that they [hadn’t] changed got to be a bit too much. Industries are becoming aware of the benefits of having a more diverse company, and, by having more women in senior roles, they become increasingly aware of the lack of women in these positions. That starts to change things.

The Rational: Have you seen any changes in male behaviour as a result of female empowerment in business?

Minter: Men are opening up and asking for more in terms of balance and family life. What will be a real change is when we start to expect as much from fathers as we do from mothers, and that is beginning to shift. Men are asking to take paternity leave, and are expecting companies to provide that option. The socio-economic emphasis is still on men to provide, and they may feel that if nobody else in the company is [changing the status quo] then they don’t want to be the first one.

The Rational: What should be the next change for women?

Minter: Redefining what “success” means. We traditionally define it in very alpha-male terms, whereas for women in general, success isn’t linked with a really great office or more money; it’s linked with being able to change things and the ability to bring people up, to create different cultures. So, when we’re looking at what we mean by being “in power,” or giving women more power, that’s the stuff we’d then have to be rewarding hard work with rather than the traditional format of a bigger title and [more] money. Although, those are good too.

The Rational: If that’s the case, then when we do get more power, do we want to change the status quo? Or is this a sign of how women and men think differently?

Minter: I’d look at the priorities for men and what we think equates to masculinity. If we use traditional alpha-masculinity to define men by how much money they make, it’s not that surprising that high on their priority list is making more money. As we have never really put that pressure on women in the same way, we’ve created a culture where women can be more focused on what really interests us and what motivates us. Often money isn’t enough and [we] want to have an impact on the world around us.

The Rational: What was it for you that made you want to do something about this and put more coverage out there?

Minter: Being completely honest, I felt there was a gap in the market. I spend 75 percent of my life at work, but when I look at women in media there’s not much out there about our working lives. What I found frustrating was that so many amazing women had pushed and pushed for equality, and they’d inch forward just to take a step back. We have to be more aggressive about it, and the media has a role in how we represent women. It’s an issue that goes through every aspect of our society and affects everything we do. Your working life isn’t just about who you are as a person, it’s also about your economic power, and that in turn affects all the decisions that you make about where you live, how many children you have, what your relationship is like with your partner and what your views are on society. Work is a fundamental part of who we are as humans and until we start addressing it as such, we’re just keeping women down.

The Rational: Do you feel that it takes a certain amount of luck to be a woman in a position of power in the media industry today? And do you feel lucky?

Minter: I definitely feel lucky to be a woman. I often feel sorry for men because I don’t think they get to talk about things in the way women do, and they don’t get to admit vulnerability or fear in the way that women do. In response, they don’t get the support that women do. So I definitely feel lucky to be a woman. I feel lucky to be in my industry. It’s an amazing industry filled with incredible people doing amazing work, and being a part of it is something I hadn’t even dreamt of. I think about what it’s like to be a woman, and I think about what it’s like to be in my industry, but I don’t always know what it’s like to be a “woman in my industry.” I see the sexism that happens occasionally, and I see the discrimination that happens occasionally, but a lot of the time, because I’m surrounded by other brilliant, incredible women, I feel buffeted from it, and I’m very lucky and thankful for that.

Listen to Minter’s radio show here, and read her articles for the Guardian here.

Alex Cleator studied Product Design at Central Saint Martins. She is now a freelance content writer, service designer and lead interviewer for The Rational.