UC Berkeley’s 24th annual Empowering Women of Color Conference focused this year on revolutionary love and featured keynote speaker Cherrie Moraga, a Bay Area playwright, poet, activist and co-author of This Bridge Called My Back. Workshops considered a range of topics including documenting queer narratives, reproductive justice, and feminist art movements, but all raised a similar question: what is the relationship between love and activism and why is love important to activism?
For Berkeley undergraduate Crystal Marich, love and activism meet through art. She led a workshop entitled “Burning Down the House,” a reference to the current feminist art exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and to Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Marich stressed how artists may use their work as a means of resisting dominant narratives, finding one’s origins, overturning stereotypes and creating alternative models of representation and interpretation. But love seems to play a role in art as well. Feminists of color such as Alma Lopez view love as a kind of “oppositional methodology,” a way to destroy the proverbial “master’s house” (read: patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, heteronormativity) without using frameworks of institutional thinking. When one’s body is on the line everyday in order to create art, as in the case of graffiti artist and muralist Lady Pink, love can be a way to heal from the strain of such work, a way to prevent burn out and exhaustion. Without love through self-care and empowerment, activism seems less sustainable.
Cherrie Moraga offered another important intersection of love and activism when she discussed the absence of queer women of color voices in the mainstream gay civil rights movement. For Moraga, social justice movements should work towards all queer communities being able to love and desire freely, despite and against the confines of majority culture. Activists then, should “not confuse progress with progressive politics” and must be weary of “the ever ingenious ways that popular culture can begin to shape our rebellion.” Moraga’s vision of keeping queer queer, free of gendered and heteronormative binaries, suggests that the right to revolutionary love depends on revolutionary activism.
As activists, our work can be tiring and difficult. We must create space for healing, for self-care and empowerment, for reclaiming and resistance. The ways we love may intersect with other institutions but we can work towards “burning down the house” if we consider revolutionary love: a way to take care of our bodies, our mental health, to respect other bodies through safe, consensual sex, through spirituality and through a politics of humanity. This work must become a part of activism if we are to build sustainable movements and survive the struggle for progress. Feminists of color have often considered “the personal as political.” Why not activism as a kind of love, love as a kind of activism?