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Adrian Leong ‘16.5 sat down with organizer and abolitionist Joshua Allen after their TEDxMiddlebury talk in November. Below are audio tracks and a transcript of their interview, divided by topic. They cover everything from gender justice to harm reduction to ideas of success to divestment―check it out!
1/2. Reaction to student enthusiasm at TEDx
Adrian: I was wondering about- one of your Facebook posts were about oh, people actually stood up and clapped at my closing speech. I was wondering if you were implying some sort of surprise because of the, uh, how white Middlebury is and how people responded to your message? I thought, you actually are receptive to this…? You were surprised?
Adrian: Were you surprised?
Joshua: I was completely shocked, I was completely shocked. And one, not only is Middlebury like, a white institution, right? But the reality is that like, places like Middlebury that TED talks or like other places that get to espouse political ideas, you don’t see people like me, right? You don’t really see people who are as young as I am, you don’t see people who are as dark as I am, people who come from low class backgrounds, right? People like me are often times the exception to the rule of what these political spaces can hold. And so for me I was shocked, and of course honored, yeah to one, be invited here, and two, to be received so well. But I recognize that for centuries in the U.S. people who do political work, organizing work, are never seen and respected like I am, right? That the work that people like me do, that Black people, that radicals do, to engage in work that’s anti-state that has constantly been delegitimized as labor that can be respected, right? And so I was excited that that happened yesterday because that’s something that in American history, we have never seen. It doesn’t traditionally happen.
Adrian: Hm. My observation from yesterday was- this could be interesting for you too- I think because there was six speeches, and I think three or four of them got standing ovations. But the one that was the most obvious was the girl who talked about eating disorders, of course. And she, after her speech, she had more responses and questions than anyone else.
Joshua: Right! She’s the kind of person that at a place like Middlebury, or institutions like this can be behind, right? Um, so it makes sense that like people like her are people that American history has supported throughout time, right? And so yeah it makes perfect sense, it makes perfect sense. But I heard her speech was mediocre. So… I didn’t hear it, I didn’t listen to it, but I heard that it wasn’t that good. And so but like that’s part of the tradition here, right? Is that like people like me have to be especially strong at what we do to be like received well, and then a lot of, like, white people, a lot of white femininity can be very mediocre and subpar and just get by as well, so, made sense.
3. Summary of TEDx talk
Adrian: Oh, and I was wondering, um, since perhaps not everyone made it to the talk, I was wondering, um, would you like to use the space that I’ll get this in the newspaper to try to drive a key point in your Ted speech through the article, or wondering um if you’d like to summarize it, um, or offer a shorter version of it.
Joshua: Yeah, for sure! Maybe I’ll break it down into three major things. yeah? And so I guess the first major thing that I’ll share from the talk, um, is that, um, basically that we need to like kinda soften the dichotomy between like the murders and violence against LGBTQ people and against Black people by the state, right? Like we need to stop understanding those as different projects. And so that’s one of the main points I took away from yesterday, um, that like there shouldn’t be a dichotomy between LGBTQ violence and anti-black violence because they’re actually the same thing. Umm…
The second main takeaway point that I would try to summarize it with is that we can’t understand violence as interpersonal without like a structural understanding of it, right? And so, basically what I was trying to get across was is that like, so say right now that you and I are interacting and I like shoot you, right? um because I need money from you or because I assume that you have money or whatever right, um, it actually has less to do with me and more to do with the state that’s creating conditions like around me, right? So say I am a black person who grew up in the ghetto, never had any money, never had like a sense of economic security, right, and I perceive you as having that, in fact we can’t think about the violence that happened between you and I as an interpersonal thing, but rather as like a manifestation of the conditions that are all around us, ya know? And so, that’s something I try to point out as well. So, basically just understanding violence within a context that implicates the state, um, as opposed to always focusing on the interpersonal.
Adrian: Mmmm. Implicating the state. Yes.
Joshua: And then third point that I would point out, um, is that, so basically like all marginalized identities, like, in the US, our failing humanity, right? And was like, I guess, what I was positing as the reason for all the state violence, yeah? And so, black people, like me, are seen as sub-human because I’m black, right? So, I’m not good enough to be a real human being because I’m black, right? And that’s seen traditionally and historically supported by things like slavery, like ongoing genocides a;; across the world, right? So my blackness renders me as not human and therefore the state is able to kill me without punity right? Um. And the same thing with people who are queer, trans, or gender non-conforming, right? You’re deviating from gender, you’re failing gender, and therefore it is okay to kill you, yeah? And so that was, I guess, like really the crux of what I was trying to say yesterday as well. That people who deviate from the norm too far, whether that’s because their skin is too dark or if that’s because you deviate too far from gender, you’re then susceptible to so much more violence because you are not human anymore, and that’s what I was trying to point out yesterday.
4. Comparing the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter
Joshua: So it went from one extreme to the other, so we saw back in the sixties with the civil rights movement right, was that people just weren’t represented-so you had to be Black male and like respectable wearing a suit to be a leader, right? And then what we see now is different, so it’s like one extreme like no one’s seen at all everyone’s invisible and then you have another extreme where you try to make certain people who are different hypervisible, and like what it does is tokenizes them right. So like certain people who have marginal identities become hyper visibilized and then are like posited in positions as leaders just because of their identities and not because of their organizing work. Right, so it’s the opposite extreme, and neither one of those are good things right, like I don’t want to live in a world where either one is happening, like I don’t want to live in a world where I’m being erased and I don’t want to live in a world where i’m hyper visibilized just because of what my identity is. Yeah, and I think both of these things are bad and we need to find not a middle ground but just a different way to relate to each other in than identity in the movement org.
5. Assessment of Current Status of Middlebury’s Discussion around Race and Intro to Monday Workshop
Joshua: Okay so there’s two parts to that right, so the initial one is no this is not specifically for Middlebury, this is a workshop that I’ve done in all like in different countries, all over the US like everywhere um, but I am excited today and I’ve been working on this a little bit this morning, and I’m like pushing it, I’m gearing it a little bit more towards, and I was asked to do this too, gearing it more towards talking about the violence that trans and gender nonconforming people face right.
So one of the reasons behind that is because I’ve been hearing from friends and just all around that Middlebury’s very focused on whiteness right now and so what I’ve been hearing is happening is that people are having conversations about like white people and white people’s feelings and what white people’s role in the movement is and I don’t um-I don’t care about that and so I really want to move people away from that because like people can easily have a conversation about black lives matter and say like oh as a white ally I should be doing this right? And that’s boring to me, that’s not going to get us anywhere; I want us to talk about the real issues that are impacting and how people can get plugged in that way.
Right and so yeah the specific focus of the workshop today is going to be on challenging gender violence against trans people and gender nonconforming people, um that’s my specific focus today. I’m going to to do my best to move away from talking about whiteness in the workshop because we really don’t have that much time for, that and I’m excited to think about how Middlebury students can be positioned like within both of these movements because this is a campus where people aren’t necessarily like interacting with people outside of the campus all the time like this is a very small town we’re like far up here right. And so I’m more interested in hearing about the different things students can do to become more engaged in the movement. And so I hope we can parce some of those things out as well today.
Adrian: Right, I think I resonate with this, I’ve heard other students say this as well. With here it’s so remote that it feels as if we’re taken away from our communities and pacified here because we’re not organizing in cities anymore. So it would be very meaningful for us to think about how we could be powerful here as well.
6. Middlebury’s Position in the Gender Justice and BLM Movement: Harm Reduction
Joshua: One, I profess all the time that universities, colleges, places like this, you have to name that all of this is built on stolen land. So indigenous and aboriginal people of the U.S. and Canada and the land that we’re on right now, people had to be killed, murdered, like given diseases and displaced for us to be here, right? So we’re literally–you’re–being educated on top of a gravesite, right? So that’s one thing that’s clearly happening. And then two, oftentimes the labor to build these kind of places–places like Middlebury, places all across the northeast, a lot of liberal arts colleges, and all across the country–the labor that it took to build these institutions came off of black bodies, right? And so there was a two-tier problem that’s happening here at Middlebury, and I guess I don’t know if people are talking about it but it’s just the truth, right? People had to die for like land to be possessed by Middlebury, that’s one. And then some people’s life had to be taken. And two, black labor had to be exploited to build this, right? And so there’s extreme atrocities happening as we speak against black bodies historically and indigenous land historically, right as we’re sitting here. So that’s something that’s something that’s important to me. I feel that’s a good starting point to think about Middlebury’s position in the movement, right? Like Middlebury is positioned as like a place that steals land and exploits black labor, you know? And then I think that umm…yeah, so having that named it’s also okay…well what’s going on here? How much resources are here that cannot be found in the community, right? So how many resources are here…umm…at Middlebury that are not…umm…so we recognize that most black people that are living in this area are the descendants of the slave trade, yeah? And so let’s think about how much money like the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Middlebury has that the community who built this space at Middlebury don’t have, right? So if there’s a ghetto somewhere outside of Middlebury somewhere in Vermont, or outside of Burlington, or inside of Burlington, right, think about how much money is here at Middlebury and how much money is not in the ghetto, yeah? And let’s think about how students, student organizers, and the university all together can work to redistribute those resources, right? Because the resources wouldn’t be here at Middlebury if that black labor didn’t provide that space in the first place. And the same thing…what’s happening…are there any reservations here? Are there any first nations people at all in Vermont, right? And then what’s happening with the resources here at Middlebury and how is there a disconnect there between like the reservations and different first nations people who are in Vermont, right? And there’s another second place to start. And then…umm…to most directly answer the question of would I come here: absolutely not. I went to like my own university and then I left, right, because I realized that…I want to be very clear in this exchange too about how Middlebury can position in the movement…the only good part that people at Middlebury can do is harm reduction work. It’s not gonna be revolutionary change. It’s not really gonna shift any paradigm. The only work that people can do at Middlebury is harm reduction of the already really fucked up system and structure. Does that make sense? Umm…so I feel like if you’re gonna be an organizer at Middlebury or someone who wants to be positioned in the movement, your role is to do harm reduction work, you know? And so think about how you can redistribute those resources to the communities…umm…that the labor was exploited to or the land was exploited to. Yeah, so that’s kinda what I think Middlebury is positioned to do at this point.
Adrian: Because there’s so much historical crimes that have been done?
Joshua: Right. Right.
Adrian: Uh…the most immediate thing that the college can do is to admit that and then try to lower, lower, lower…
Joshua: Right. Exactly. Because because no matter what…the only way that Middlebury can do like any form of real justice here is to close down and give all this land back to indigenous and like black people. And Middlebury’s not gonna do that, right? And Middlebury’s not engaging in an actual process of justice. And that’s like…whatever…don’t engage in the process of justice but recognize that the work that’s actually being done here on Middlebury’s campus as harm reduction been, right? If it sits on the back of that historical injustice.
7. Places of Resistance at Midd
Joshua: It’s kinda difficult. So I’ve only been here..I got here umm..Saturday? Saturday night. And then I was like busy doing all the TED stuff and the same thing on Sunday. And so I haven’t had a chance to interact much, right? And so I don’t know much about what’s going on here at campus, but what I will name is that students are, or like what kind of resistance that I like and will name is really good is that it seems that students are, and I‘ll give a special shoutout to, like, the Queer Studies House and people who are organizing around that, umm…are are getting really really good with moving resources out of the university into more grassroots-like things, right? And so I know that lot of the..um..students of the Queer Studies House went to the Black Lives Matter conference last year in Arizona and that was good and Middlebury funded that, right? Like they put a proposal together and got..umm..Middlebury to fund it. I think that’s really important work, right? Because what can happen at..umm..at institutions so often is that, like, money will just spin around in a circle, right? Like, so Queer Studies can get, like, money from..umm..Middlebury to then do a conference at Middlebury and then it would all stay here, right? And so what they were able to do is get money from Middlebury to move somewhere else and then engage with the community, right? And that was really important. Umm..and that seems like a really good strategy in resistance that I think is really good. Umm..a lot, a lot of student organizers did a lot of good work to get me here..umm..‘cause I was gonna be here for the TEDTalk and then..umm..they invited me to do a workshop on Monday and a lot of people worked really really hard..umm..had built coalition across different groups, right? Umm..to get me here, which is really nice, and that’s strong, right? Because it can be so easy once again to, like, spin in circles and or just get the same kind of people over and over again, right? And so bringing someone like me, like, who dropped out of the university and only engaged in grassroots community organizing work is actually a really good, like, method of resistance of(?) people here at Middlebury. Umm..so that was good. And then possible methods..so..what I say all the time and people always laugh at me, but my goal is, when I go to different colleges and universities, is to help people realize that they should be dropping out, like, that actually, universities and colleges are actually horrifying places…umm..that of in spite(?) of..umm..like what we just talked about, massive historical and genocidal injustices, right? That have happened all across the U.S. and universities all across the world are this way, right? And so my goal, is really, to get people to understand that injustice and, to one, figure out how they can position themselves to reduce harm, or two, how they can position themselves to become a part of the greater movement outside of this toxic system of the university.
Joshua: And so..in that..in that..in that..umm..in that sense, there are so many different opportunities for.. for resistance for people, yea?
Adrian: Mmm…Hmmm…Yea…Mmm…So in a way, perhaps, it is like..uhh, when..umm..when we find students here who are so hung up on GPA and like, “I need to get this funding,” “I need to get this scholarship,” this is the opposite of..umm..what they should be doing because they are playing into this “hands of the system”…
Adrian: Like completely conform with the rules….
Joshua: Yea. And it makes the system stronger too. Like,
Joshua: And it makes the system stronger too, right like it’s not like- of course you’re wasting your own time. Like anyone who’s sitting here like trying to figure out how to get a number to adequately represent them as a good human being, of course you’re wasting your time. But not only that, but like you’re making the system stronger. Like, what you have to realize is that by being a student who’s actively engaging and sitting here saying I want to have the best grades, I want to get the best funding, I want to have the best scholarships, what you’re actually doing is making Middlebury a stronger place, right? You’re contributing better research, you’re contributing better papers, you’re contributing better ideas, right? This makes Middlebury a stronger place in the U.S. and therefore gives it more power, more political and social capital, more economic capital, and what happens and what we see historically is when places like when places like Middlebury rise, like low income communities, like indigenous people, black labor, are all devalued more, right. And so even by the act of wanting to be a good student at Middlebury, you’re helping Middlebury rise and other people who are most directly impacted, fall. And so yeah you’re just perpetuating like, you’re not only wasting your time, but you’re perpetuating systems of injustice that led to Middlebury being here.
9. Divestment and Neoliberal Forms of Progress
Adrian: I wonder about…umm…say the uh…divestment from fossil fuels and private prisons…I actually am a bit behind on the divestment from private prison initiative on campus. But I know of the fossil fuel divestment campaign. Um…if the campaign succeed, then, would you say that it is a way to elevate Middlebury’s status because then it becomes…somehow it has more social capital.
Joshua: These different things…they’re kind of like…it’s a neoliberal form of progress, right? Like so…for example, Columbia divests from prisons, right? And instead that like ninety million dollar endowment is just gonna go to something else. It’s just like when like…umm…you know, people use social justice issues to continue capitalism sometimes. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. So the example I always like to use is…like…say Poland Springs for example, the water bottle companies will say, oh, what I’m gonna do is reduce the amount of plastic of my bottle; therefore, it’s healthier for the environment. So I’m doing a good job as Poland Springs because I’m doing social justice and making the world a better place, right? And so what ends up happening because Poland Springs is now a better brand is that people buy ten times the water bottle and it just gets worse anyway, right? And so you’re actually…you’re pretending to make real efforts of change but what you’re just doing is like trying to get more capital to make more money, right? And so Middlebury becomes a more prestigious institution because it moves away from fossil fuels, right, and it’s like investing in the future. But then we’ll just continue practicing the same, like, injustices, right? And so, these kind of like…these neoliberal forms of progress actually don’t do anything at all except make it worse, right? And so neoliberal progress under capitalism just exhausts the problem. It doesn’t make it better. So yeah, Middlebury divesting from fossil fuels will just exhaust the problem. It won’t make it any better. It’ll just shift the problem from one place to another.
Adrian: Hmm…yes. And do nothing to…umm, uh…reckon itself with the historical crimes. It’s still not part of the discussion.
10. Reimagining Racialized Politics in the US
Joshua: I organize with, in New York in my hometown, CAAV it’s an acronym, and DRUM? One is a South Asian group and the other is a Middle East Asian group. What they’ve actually done is center their organizing work around black liberation. Instead of focusing on specifically Asian issues or East Asian issues, like in CAAV for example, they’re focusing their work towards black issues. What they’ve named and recognized is that when black people get liberated all the different oppression that Asian people will face will start to melt away because a lot of what happens with people of color is that the oppression they will face has a lot to do with their proximity to blackness. So you’re not white and you’re not black and the closer you are to blackness, the worse it is and the closer you are to whiteness the better it is. So, what CAAV and DRUM? are doing for example is organizing specifically around black issues to get us all moving in that direction. Those are two groups that layout really good frameworks. Last year some of my comrades who are now understood or go under the moniker steve. In Oakland there is a black organizing group and there’s really good comrades of mine and they did a shutdown of a police precinct in Oakland. So, what happened was there were different Asian solidarity groups working with them. When they shut down the precinct they created human barricades between the black people and the police because they knew that the black people are more susceptible to arrest or violence. So they created a physical barrier– so here’s the police precinct and the Asian people were standing in the frontline and they had the black people stand more toward the back. That’s another strategy and kind of activism I’ve seen in the West Coast. And then, what would I say, how can people position themselves in their work?
I think that one of the major things that I talk to my friends about is that we need to re-understand, a lot of college campuses are doing this, we need to re-understand the racialized politics in the US. The reality is that, basically, all of us who are living here are not from here. I’m not from here, you’re not from here and none of our people are from here and we’re not supposed to be here. So, we have this racialized context of people of color and that actually leaves a lot of nuances out. So what I’ve been doing is that parsing out the difference between people of color, black people and indigenous people. Because they face all three different things. When you name indigenous people as people of color, you separate them from this land. This is traditionally the land of indigenous people so when you understand them in the context of people of color, who may be brown and black, you remove them from the fact that this is the land that is indigenous to them and put them in this globalized and racialized context. So, naming indigenous people as people of color is not a good framework at all and it reduces their experiences. The same thing goes for black people, and so we see across the globe violence, rape, assault and all these different things, it impacts black people the most and then moves down. And so often times, for many people around the world, who are not white, their oppressions has something to do with their proximity to blackness. So, you can be from India, for example, the lighter you are the better you have it and the darker you are the worse you have it. So, when we understand black people as part of this larger, bigger framework of people of color it actually erases so many of the experiences of black people all across the global context and so it’s important to….and then also erases the majority of things that were built in the world have to do with black labor. So black people were extracted from one part of the world and put all over the world and then labor to make the world what it is. And so, understanding that outside the context of black labor and outside the context of indigenous land is not an effective framework at all. And so it’s important to understand that there is people of color– this is a US framework that I will operate from– so in the US there are people of color, indigenous people, and there are black people. Within people of color, there are different frameworks of understanding, different nuances to that but what we have to understand with people of color is that many people who are not black and indigenous are positioned as settlers– like my family moved here in the 70s and 60s. Now, I don’t have that kind of story, I know and I imagine that my family 400 years ago was dragged across the Atlantic and were forced to be slaves. But many people who are people of color, with different racial backgrounds, have immigration stories of “ I moved from this part of the world to be here.” This always has a lot to do with capital: “I moved here to have a better life,” “I moved here to make more money,” and “I was able to move across the world and you had to be dragged across the world.” That’s an important context to understand. I think that’s really important, especially here at Middlebury.
Adrian: It’s very important to me the distinction you’re making. Do you think when… for example, the environmental justice, when it’s talked about here, we only use the term people of color, that’s it.
Joshua: Environmental justice?
Adrian: Yes, yes. I think, when people use it…what they’re thinking about are….for example, are the Asian American folks who are living in Richmond….and yeah people of color…and that term, as you were saying collapses the difference.
Joshua: Well, yes. Environmental justice to you and I looks very different from someone who is indigenous. If we’re talking about fossil fuel and other things like that, recognizing that this backyard right here used to belong to indigenous people and that had all to do with the migration of different animals, and that’s completely disrupted now because both you and I are here. The water is not the same anymore, fishing cycle is not the same anymore and the migration of animals that might have been hunted before is not the same anymore. So if we understand this people of color more broadly and the way that we are impacted by environmental justice and the way that I’m impacted by environmental justice is much different from indigenous people. In the opposite way as well, I imagine that it’s different for you and me. And so collapsing that does not work for environmental justice either.
11. Urban Elitism and the NGO-Industrial Complex
Adrian: I’m starting a list in my mind of really fun, radical places to work in/organizing, so places like New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon…
Joshua: What happens is, what happens is urban elitism, is what happens all the time when we think about this, right? What happens is like when people graduate from college and, or even just like gay growing up or whatever, the best things that are happening are in urban cities. So oh if I move to New York, everything is gonna be fantastic, there are really great job opportunities, and that’s not the way it works. Urban elitism is a lie, that all really has to do with capitalism it’s really fucked up. So, what I tell people all the time is that actually some of the most radical work organizing in this country is not happening in big cities; it’s not happening in New York, it’s not in Oakland, it’s not in Berkeley, it’s actually in these small ass towns, it’s in fucking Mobile, Alabama, like it’s in like small places in Mississippi, like people are doing some really good work in Tennessee right now. What happens is that we get so caught up in the glamorous work, right? For example like the stuff that I used to do in New York, it looks so good in articles and on videos, right? Because it’s like New York is a glamorous city and there are so many people turning out, right? Tennessee has smaller populations but people are still resisting, people still have the same issues and are actually doing incredible organizing work. And so, don’t get caught up in believing that just because in a big city has radical organizing, it’s the only one because so many cities across the U.S. that you don’t know about, that are actually doing good work, because anywhere oppressed people are, they resist, and it’s good work.
Adrian: True! Yes, yes, thank you for that, that’s important. I want to put this in the article too. Because urban elitism is so real.
Joshua: Oh my God, especially when you’re graduating from college, right? Because when you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’re like okay so I’m not gonna stay in Middlebury, Vermont, and so like, so where am I gonna go? You’re always gonna be attracted to these places that you can see are elite, that are urban, but no you have to think outside of that!
Adrian: Hm, so this like idea of a list of cool urban spaces-
Joshua: It’s fucked up, that’s capitalism!
Joshua: You’re not looking at cool organizing spaces, you’re looking at capitalism only showing you like good things. Because capitalism doesn’t like- because places like Tennessee or Alabama can’t be sexy or can’t be glamorous if you want to be an organizer, or can’t be glamorous or sexy if you want to have like, a job at IBM. The way that capitalism makes things, is like that certain places become hubs for social, political, and economic capital and certain places are not, right? Um, and so capitalism only shows you certain things as good and certain things as bad. Um, yeah that’s not like how it actually works.
Adrian: I’m wondering, for example, San Francisco has a lot of places that can signify capitalist power, like a lot of headquarters are there, like conservative think tanks are there-
Adrian: So the kind of resistance that can go on in an urban space somehow to me it seems it gets at the power holders of the system…
Joshua: Well no, because like what happens is you start to think that these things are different but like all power systems are actually on the same page, right? So in San Francisco you have things like the Castro, right, and then you have conservative think tank groups. And so you think like oh shit, I’ll be in San Francisco and I can really organize things that are not good, right because there are really bad power systems here that are really capitalistic that are fucked up, companies and like conservative groups, or whatever. But then there is also like, you know like really important place for the LGBT movement, like really progressive places for economic justice in San Francisco, there’s really good racial justice organizing happening in San Francisco. And so what happens is you think that you can challenge these things that are bad but what you have to recognize is that both these good and bad … the good things like really big racial justice organizations like Facing Race or Race Forward or whatever, like these ones that get paid lots of money every year, and these big like conservative groups right so let’s say like an IBM headquarter that might be there. Like okay there’s good things here and there’s bad things here. I become the good thing. I can get rid of the bad thing, but our structures are part of the same conglomerate, like they’re part of the same thing, right? So this IBM group is working with Race Forward in San Francisco for example, and both of them are exploitative because IBM is exploiting factory workers somewhere in India and these racial justice groups are getting the money from it, right? So what happens is like when you have these big, strong, bastions of power in urban cities like they actually lose their ability to be connected and accountable to the community and it becomes about making more money and developing more capital. So no, like you think that you’re challenging power institutions but like when there’s good and bad ones there they are doing the same thing, they function as the same thing. It’s just like the republican and democratic party. It’s just like okay, fine, you are the good one and you are the bad one, but by the time you are at the level of presidential candidates and democratic power or whatever, you’re actually just the same thing, it’s all about money and recreating power and capital, right? So it’s the same thing, it’s the same thing with these kinds of places.
Adrian: Yes, I’ve heard of the term NGO industrial complex. It does get at this idea that NGO’s can acquire the logic of capital itself and grow.
Joshua: Right, and expand. That’s not the point- I tell people all the time, so I was just in Montreal a couple days ago, and they asked me , so lots of student organizers who were there and they asked me like how do I feel about working at nonprofits because a lot student organizers move from working and organizing here and moving into nonprofits so Rubby for example may be a student organizer in the Queer Studies House, but there’s a pipeline that’s set up for people to leave the university and then go study in nonprofits, right? Or go and like work in nonprofits or non governmental organizations right, and do social justice work that way. But they just get sucked up in capitalism because what NGOs and what nonprofits do is done work to eradicate issues, they perpetuate them. Say, for example, I’m an organizer for an organization called Allies Centered Around Homelessness and I was working to eradicate homelessness at a nonprofit, right? And say I was like the ED, the executive director that worked to end homelessness, right? So, say I did my job really fucking well and all the people who were homeless who worked at the shelter that I ran or whatever, like I supported them, I got them services, and then they were able to move on and like not be homeless anymore, and able to move into society with like a stable home and economic stability, right? Then, what would happen to me? I would not have a job and my nonprofit would close, right? And like, no one is doing that, no one is like I’m gonna do my job solo now that no one’s not here anymore. The whole point of nonprofit work or NGO work should actually be to eradicate the NGO. So like, my expectation of being an organizer at a nonprofit should be to do my job so well that the nonprofit shouldn’t have to exist anymore. If I’m working at a nonprofit to end homelessness, then at the end of my career I shouldn’t have a job anymore because homelessness should no longer be an issue, right? The same with hunger, the same with poverty, x, y, and z. But that’s not what happens because capitalism makes you need money. I organized too hard and ended homelessness too well, or eradicate poverty in Vermont too well, right? I don’t have a job anymore, and there’s no point to what I did, right? Because that’s how capitalism makes you think, that you have to continue having products. And so yeah the NGO industrial complex is just a part of it and you think you’re doing social justice, but then you end up doing the work of capitalism instead.