Love, anger and social transformation

The politics of the future must embrace all that makes us human: our anger, our pain, our joy and our love.

Rhiannon Colvin
10 April 2017

Credit: Flickr/r2hox. Some rights reserved.

It’s November 9 2010, and I’m one of many students that have surrounded and taken over the Conservative Party headquarters at Millbank Tower in London. I’m angry, we are all angry, because the government is trying to triple the amount of money we have to pay to learn, develop and grow as young people. They are trying to raise UK university tuition fees from £3,000 a year to £9,000 as part of the continuous process of marketizing education.

There is screaming, shouting and drumming all around me, along with police in riot gear, but we outnumber them by far as we are in our thousands. I am part of a huge crowd that is singing and moving like a shoal of fish in the sea. I am at the front, face to face with a helmet, baton and shield. It's hard to see the person inside but that’s not my focus - I am focused on getting into the glass fronted party headquarters. Suddenly we are all pushed forward and I find myself kicking with my feet, hitting the glass with anything I can find. I feel this rush of adrenaline in my body. I feel all my anger around the injustice of what the government is doing come out as a physical force.

I feel a release as I kick at the glass - and then there is this beautiful moment when the glass window smashes. Everyone cheers and rushes forward. We have done it - we have broken into the building. People stand on chairs. We chant, we sing, we fill the room, and for a moment this collective anger becomes collective joy - it becomes togetherness. I feel elated, I feel pumped, I feel powerful. I feel we are powerful, I feel together we can change the world. We just broke into Conservative party headquarters for Christ sakes - we can do anything!

And yet…

There’s no doubt that anger is a powerful motivator. It motivates us to get out onto the streets and do something: to take action; find kindred spirits; build collective power. But it also has a negative side when it turns to hate – hate at the world around us, hate at people who are destroying the environment, hate at the people who voted for Brexit. In my own struggles I also began to direct that hate towards myself in the form of guilt - guilt for being white, middle class and privileged; guilt for spending time doing things other than ‘creating social change;’ and at its worst, a general sense of guilt every time I experienced pleasure or joy.

That doesn’t mean accepting racist, sexist or other discriminatory behavior – we must stand up and challenge it and become aware of how we perpetuate it – but carrying that hate around inside of ourselves is incredibly self-destructive. So, can anger coexist with love, or do we have to choose one or the other? Neither extreme works for me, so what could a new approach to politics look like that acknowledges both of these forces as equally important in creating transformational social change?

From my early twenties I was drawn to spaces and places where I could explore what alternative forms of love might look like. I spent time in intentional communities and at festivals such as Boom and Nowhere (the European ‘Burning Man’), and went on courses and workshops exploring intimacy and sexuality. In different ways all of these spaces embraced the idea of love and connection as a force for positive social change.

It was during these explorations that I discovered Tamera – an intentional community in Portugal that has had a particularly profound impact on my life. Tamera was founded in Germany in 1978 and in 1995 it moved to Portugal. Today 170 people live and work there on 330 acres of land. As they put it:

“The founding thought was to develop a non-violent life model for cooperation between human beings, animals and nature. Soon it became clear that the healing power of love and human community had to be placed at the center of this work. Love, sexuality and partnership need to be freed from lying and fear, for there can be no peace on Earth so long as there is war in love. The ecological and technological activities of Tamera include water conservation and promoting regional autonomy in energy and food. Through the Global Campus and the Terra Nova School, we are working within a global network of similar communities on the social, ecological and ethical foundations for a new Earth – a ‘Terra Nova.’”

Love is a powerful force that motivates me to act, to create, to give, to be alive - love of the natural world, love of music, love from a friend that gets me through a difficult year; the love between me and a partner that can make me feel like I am flying and can achieve anything; sexual love that can put a smile on my face for the rest of the day; love for a stranger in another country that can make me donate money to charity; or the love of a family member that can make me drive through the night to be with them by morning.

I’ve had some of the most empowering, motivating, life affirming experiences in these spaces, experiences that have given me the energy to go back to everyday life and keep on fighting for a more beautiful world. However deep down I’ve always felt that there was something problematic in this approach to social change – that it couldn’t just be about love and nothing else. There’s a hope that when we live in utopian spaces such as Tamera, then all of the things that are sad, bad or problematic about human society like pain, anger and power will simply disappear, but this strikes me as naive. The reality is that we bring all of our issues and privileges with us to these communities, and if they are not explicitly addressed then the same patterns of inequality will be reproduced.

Without a clear awareness and analysis of power and how it functions, and proactive methods of engaging with it, love can become degenerative, particularly for those who may have less power because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic standing or personal confidence. So the way ahead at this crucial time in history must be nuanced, consciously working with power and embracing both our anger and our love.

With the rise of President Trump and a politics of hate and fear, it’s important that we don’t disengage, that we stay awake to, honour and acknowledge our pain, anger and rage. These are crucial emotional responses that lead us to take action, challenge the status quo, and build a different form of power together. But we can’t let that anger turn into hate, blame and guilt. Otherwise we lose, because we become participants in the political and emotional games of the forces that oppress and discriminate against marginalised groups; who promote further cuts in services and greater austerity; and whose actions take away the hope and future of the next generation.

Instead we must create a politics of love, empathy and compassion; a politics that reminds us of the beauty that exists inside of ourselves and in the world in which we live; and social movements that make us feel alive, connected and supported. But to do this we need to re-imagine and diversify the narrative of love, beyond the confines of romance and the passive acceptance that is so often used in ‘new age’ philosophies. As the writer and activist Bell Hooks writes:

“We need to reclaim the concept of love, not as an abstract, all embracing, fantasy but as a set of ethics, principles, values and behaviours. A love that is justice in action... To begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility...Culturally all spheres of life – politics, religion, the workplace, domestic households, intimate relations - should and could have their foundation in a love ethic.”

In this understanding love does not become passivity, acceptance or disengagement, or give into the pretence that pain, anger, and power do not exist. Instead it becomes a daily practice which also involves critical reflection, discernment, values and principles, as well as nurturance, care and support. A love that is justice in action is one that acknowledges power and knows that equality is a prerequisite for unity. This quote from the Black Lives Matter movement sums it up perfectly:

“Our aim is to provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation, rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams.”

The politics of the future must embrace all that makes us human: our anger, our pain, our joy and our love.

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