radical non-symmetrical (reciprocated) advocacy
I thought about what I want to stand for.
This is it's provisional form.
You can sign up too.
I think you know what to do.
Hannah and Lorea asked me to say more, so here are further thoughts...
We are encouraged to compete for limited resources, through application processes and the like. In this context it seems radical to think differently: cooperation in the face of scarcity. I am not sure that competition and cooperation are actually opposites, but that's okay because this whole premise is about asymmetries or the nuances of non-opposites, and we anyway know that triangles are strongest, right? It is perhaps about working through what is, whilst taking with us the things that don't get accounted for. More on that in a moment.
It will have different verbs, depending on who and where and what: to cede, to stand, to defend, to repair, to listen, to flood, to join, to leave, to rupture...
Not clear is it? I wanted this invitation to be a suggestion, and open enough for it to mean different, and differently similar things to anyone who would encounter it. I wanted it to fit in your pocket, in your backpack, under your tongue, to go around with you like your ear piercing. Someone told me recently (quoting, we couldn't remember who) that to be loved is for your name to be safe in someone's mouth. I think about love in the order of symbols. I think of accounting and quotas and words. I wonder what my name points to, for who, and how we can speak about and with and sometimes on behalf of others where we have a platform and they may not (or here: to cede).
I think about binaries, matches, pairings, best-friends.
I think about partnerships, match-funding, in-kind.
I think about seeing and being seen and obvious invisibilities that we (who?) remain oblivious to. The isms and their antis :
I think about models, structures and always the tyranny of structurelessness (thanks Fiona for the intro many years ago).
At the discussion (with Amy, Joe, Marie, Heidi, Julie, Antonio, Hamish, Pepa, Katye, Carolyn, Matthias...) I promoted this idea. It's not mine really, I think I just named it now, probably it is already very much a thing. Of course it is, it is THE NETWORK, THE BOYS CLUB, THE ALUMNI. And much darker things beyond.
What about an open alumni?
I consider that I have named a practice that already exists. I wanted to name it because naming points, draws attention, allows some ideas to crystallise under letters, and is a starting point to think and work through.
Here parentheses feel appropriate. A not-yet worked out thought on this is that: diversity of making makes a diversity of works, supports a diversity of voices, but the structures are obstacles exhausting to scale. We do not have a meritocracy, yet the application processes propose that. You are told that you do not have the experience, but they won't tell you about their looking-instruments. I was writing a poem a while ago about the opticians and how they fix the defects in the eye at a certain point and then the glasses (or contact lenses) ask your eyes to be that level of deficient from then on. I like this image and I think about criteria in this way: why is it that I/ we spend so much time writing applications to certain outdated criteria? I think about hernias and herniation (again), which is to say that you have to be somehow inside to cause a crisis of tension. I think about application forms as a protest vote (sometimes).
So the I is a you and the you a me, or we are each other somehow, differently experiencing the same conditions, some things invisible to me, and you sometimes invisible because of the problems with the lenses (glasses, contact lenses/ criteria/ structural problems) I have tried to mention already.
You are despondent with rejection letters but you reject the positioning this encourages: to look at the other and what they have (we could go deep into this manipulation…media… politic).
You do not want them to have less. It is not an equation like that where some one has to go down for you to go up. You want developmentally appropriate opportunities. You talk of insides and outsides knowing that these are place-holding ideas, relative, and universally denied: “everyone is outside” you hear from the person with the building, the funding, the tour. This way of talking and looking plays into what you want to avoid,
you try to say what you mean,
you try to advocate for a position based on generosity and support
lacking financial, emotional, physical resilience because
doing the cleaning work or the sex work or the childcare or the elder-care or the anti-racism/sexism/ ageism/ ableism work or working both at the university and the restaurant…
whilst not being white, rich, straight, neurotypical…
compounds your ability to do so in ways that you don't always account for, and our contemporary moment says "be gentle with yourself" (aka spend more money)
you get exhausted
your peers get exhausted
You try to warn the newer ones of this, to finds ways to answer their questions and concerns without lying and without telling the truth because hey who knows how it will be for them.
So. Simply put this whole premise is one of generously advocating for others, in the contexts you move through. It means taking it upon yourself to ask about what others are doing, what they need and think about, how to represent that to the gate-holders if you happen to get through to an institution/ a person in power etc. It is maybe an equivalent of adding a % to your budget line for an amount of work you will always be doing on the behalf of a broader community (I mean this as an image, but also hey why not do that if you can). Let us also, though, acknowledge that % that is already there, being done: the who who is already doing labours just to “stay put”…*
The advocacy: It means carrying around this practice as an idea, a question:
Am I practicing that non-symmetrical advocacy right now?
It can be little, it can grow. It can be seeding something for someone by mentioning their name in an appropriate context. It can mean taking with you concerns that are beyond the immediate topics of your work, in order to ask:
Where is….? Where are…? (As in, asking the powers to know more about our bigger ground than they do through the application type process) This is also quite clearly not about a position of: against. It is more about productive frictions.
It might mean sharing your contacts, but the point is that this is about you deciding what this practice means to you at each point you think of it, and then doing that. It’s not a prescription or a law, it’s maybe a guiding principle, a filter.
It’s non-symmetrical because your practising of it doesn’t guarantee that it will come back to you in a direct way right now. It’s non-symmetrical because those with more power/ resource/ various kinds of capital can more easily do more. It’s non-symmetrical because it is time-based, going along with you, and we cannot lay two time periods side by side and decide which one we would prefer. It’s my feeling that we have to act without knowing how it will work out, because isn’t it the truth that in our line of work you cannot easily predict what will lead to what or come from what, but you can decide how you will position yourself, and try to occupy a position, and then reach out for support with that when it’s difficult.
These are unfinished thoughts, mostly, but I hope there is something it in for you and (y)our community.
Janine Harrington, March 2018
ps. all of this comes out of talking, listening and reading with other people.
*I added this sentence in Sept/Oct. I’ve wanted to update this since putting it online, but am also aware that it may be better to add a revised version and more considered version explicitly and leave this version as a document of the first try to articulate something. Areas I was not done thinking about: ethics, love, emotional labours, canal-lock metaphor, class structures, email volumes, manifestos….