In today’s world, our lives are systematically fragmented and our relationships are transactional. When we try to put the pieces back together, we call it an intersectional analysis. However, the heart of the matter involves more than identifying intersections between different forms of oppression: it involves healing a broken vision and recovering our wholeness.
I used to work for a non-profit organization addressing domestic violence in South Asian communities. Time after time, when survivors of violence called the helpline, they didn’t just want advice and assistance, they also wanted to tell their stories. But soon, the intake process took over. Each helpline advocate had a form to fill out, a series of questions grouped within neat categories. Soon, survivors told fewer narratives and responded more to specific questions. By the fourth or fifth time they called, they were spitting responses to questions that hadn’t been asked—information they knew was necessary for social service agencies. This process enabled the helpline advocates to refer each survivor-client to appropriate resources, but it did not move us toward wholeness.
Resisting the Transactional Quality of Capitalist Life
In the realm of social justice work, there is an increasing desire for intersectional analyses and solutions. Even when the issue or population an organization is working with is very specific, in order to rally support for the cause, we need a critical mass of people invested in seeing change. To build that activated base, we need to feel the interconnectedness of our lives.
The more we try to analyze race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion/spirituality, nationality, immigration status, and the other social identities that have been constructed to have privileges or disadvantages associated with them, the more complex they seem. But when we listen to people share their life stories, we can intuit a wholeness that defies easy categorization. In our activism, we need to find a place for hearing stories that increase our capacity for complexity and encourage us not to jump to piecemeal solutions.
The organization I work with now, Resource Generation, uses storytelling as a core organizing strategy to integrate racial and economic justice work. Through our stories, we can reclaim our whole selves at an individual level and also see the full picture at a macro level. We organize young people with wealth to leverage our financial resources for social change. Working from a place of our own privilege is liberatory because we are working to reclaim our own humanity. During the Occupy movement, we were the ones holding signs that read, “We are the 1 percent and we stand with the 99 percent.” We are working to redistribute wealth and to change the mechanisms of distribution to be more equitable. The Center for Story-Based Strategy is another organization that recognizes the power of narratives in fueling social change and how critical stories are in framing issues.
Telling stories is one way of resisting the widespread transactional nature of interactions in our society, which is an obvious result of capitalism. It’s important to remember the stories behind U.S. wealth, which was created from land, labor, and natural resources. Native Americans were pushed off the majority of U.S. lands by violent force, and then Africans were enslaved to work that land. White landowners and slaveowners ultimately controlled the resources mined from land and water. To understand how class, spiritual, and identity politics are connected or divorced from each other, it’s necessary to understand how capitalism shapes our society.
There are some core values embedded in...