Combining Words with Action

Written by: Da'Shaun Harrison and Clarissa Brooks

In the following, Clarissa Brooks and I answer five important questions (listed below) about our introductions to organizing, the importance of reading as organizers, and we discuss some of our favorite writers and their work.

  1. What was your introduction to activism and how has it shaped your life?
  2. How important is it to blend being an organizer and a writer?
  3. How important is reading articles, books, and literature by folks with a global lens?
  4. What books, authors, and activists have shaped the work you do?
  5. In your everyday life, how do you bring theory into praxis in your organizing work?

Da’Shaun Harrison:

1. I was introduced to organizing work during my first year at Morehouse in January of 2015. After the non-indictment of officer Darren Wilson in November of 2014, I got plugged into police brutality in a way that I hadn’t been before. Over the winter break, on December 23, 2014 — while I was home in North Carolina — a young Black boy named Antonio Martin was shot and killed in Berkeley, MO by a Berkeley police officer. It was in this moment that I knew I had to get involved in what I now know to be the Black Liberation Movement. When I returned to Morehouse for my second semester, I joined a newly-founded movement to mobilize Atlanta University Center (AUC) students around systemic issues plaguing the AUC community and the Metro Atlanta area, at large. This movement is formally known as AUCShutItDown (AUCSID). I have been organizing with AUCShutItDown and several other organizations ever since. And since the genesis of my involvement with AUCSID, I have changed my major from business to sociology and created an entire plan to mesh my activism with my developing career.

Clarissa Brooks:

1. I was introduced to activism in the fall of 2015 when I joined AUCShutItDown. I had been complaining and griping to my friends about my own concerns with local social justice issues and wanted to find a way to get involved. AUCShutItDown an AUC organization that fights for the liberation of all black folks through education, direct action, and radical politics. That fall of 2015 I participated in an interruption of Hillary Clinton when she visited Clark Atlanta and later helped organize a protest against sexual violence in the AUC. Activism has helped me battle my depression but it’s also given voice to my truth and my ability to fight for a future I didn’t think existed.

Da’Shaun Harrison:

2. Writers have a great responsibility. We are at a pivotal point of political and social consciousness that is impossible to ignore and we are required to document this history. In order to record and tell a version of history that we’re most satisfied with, we must be on the ground, amongst the people, organizing around the issues that we are writing about. So, regardless of what type of organizing it is — recognizing that organizing takes on different forms and some are more accessible than others — we must be with the people whose stories we are attempting to tell. Because of this, it is incredibly important for me to fasten my organizing with my writing as it is how I am able to most accurately depict what is happening politically, socially, and economically in the lives of the most marginalized.

Clarissa Brooks:

2. I say this frequently but being an organizer and writing are the only things I know how to do well. I say that in the sense that I find my joy/liberation/point of access to some higher being by being able to write and actively work to see a world that can sustain freedom for black folks.It’s hard to explain but the liberation you feel telling the state you will not sit idle is as close to liberation as I have ever imagined.While my writing sometimes feels like a more controlled liberation, writing gives me space to fully articulate how I feel. I can put in my personal narrative and connect my emotions to a streamlined concept. Both are always connected, my organizing and writing are the only outlets where I can be myself without limitation.

Da’Shaun Harrison:

3. Reading is essential to our liberation. Reading work that is not dominated by western propaganda and half-truths is that much more important. As an organizer, a writer, and a socialist who operates with a Black queer feminist and abolitionist politic, it is vital that I have a clear understanding of the global effects of colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, anti-blackness, and the patriarchy. Without reading texts and other works written by Black and brown people a part of the Diaspora and the Global South, it would be impossible for my analysis — and, thus, my organizing — to include oppressed peoples around the world. Solidarity, especially from those who organize in the west, must be extended to the people who exist at the nucleus of our nations’ dominance. This is to say: we must always engage work that is non-western in order to decolonize our analyses and organizing.

Clarissa Brooks:

3. I know as someone who at times only felt black liberation was centralized to just a North American lens learning about the Israel/Palestine Conflict helped me understand how the black struggle is global. Reading helped build bridges to other nations and to other black and brown folks who I never met. I am not a good organizer if I am not constantly learning and expanding my understanding of the world. So as I learn about capitalism, I have to learn from global socialists who are discussing infrastructure and how imperialism has created the “third world” countries we have today and how they’re liberation is intrinsically connected to mine.

Da’Shaun Harrison:

4. There are a ton of writers who have been keen in the development of my politics and my writing. Some of those writers include Angela Davis, Alice Walker, bell hooks, Huey P. Newton, Elaine Brown, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, Daniel Black, Chairman Mao, James Baldwin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, etc. Their work that has been most important to me: Al-Amin’s Die Nigger Die!, Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete?, Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Black’s Perfect Peace, and Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists. Just to name a few.

Clarissa Brooks:

4. I think my freshman year I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that sparked my need to get a better global ideology of what feminism looked like, which lead me into reading James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton and Antonio Gramsci. These writers specifically, Clifton, Hurston, and Walker melded nonfiction, socialism and a real look at how black folks have built community and sustained in a way that made me want to get involved. Even if they didn’t use that exact language, their work made understanding what socialism looked like when I understood how characters in their works survived and built small manifestations of the theory that felt distant to me.

Da’Shaun Harrison:

5. In my everyday life, I hold conversations with people who exist with the same privilege(s) as I do about said privilege. I amplify the narratives and voices of folks who are marginalized in ways that I am not. I organize direct actions, occupations, teach-ins, etc. with the intent to be one step closer to the manifestation of a future where oppressed peoples are no longer oppressed. I hold those around me accountable by calling in and/or calling out their oppressive language and behavior. Overall, I strive to be a more decent human being struggling for the freedom of all oppressed people.

Clarissa Brooks:

5. In my everyday life, I try to survive. Whether it be through writing or organizing I bring my theory into practice by waking up every day. I know the work isn’t done there so I try to read as much as I can even if it’s just an article. I want to expand my understanding of the world by always surveilling my politics and seeing how I can make my organizing work more accessible, more intersectional and how I can show up for trans folks in any way I can. I am always evolving and theory can never accurately give language to the real experiences we all have but I try to bring theory and liberatory work together in order to fight for a better world.