An Unexpected Journey
I love my rage. When I tap into it, I am immovable; no human being can defeat me. I am firmly established in my power and have no fear. There is no doubt, no hesitation. My victory is assured; it is just a matter of time.
Many are afraid of rage. They think it is magnified anger. But anger and rage are very different. Anger is petty, selfish, based in powerlessness and fear. Anger is a tantrum, a sudden combustion, a flash fire that sparks and dies. The foundation of anger is ego and victimhood. Rage, however, is powerful and fearless and stems from the gut. It is based on compassion and conviction. Rage is a slow burn, a roar that emanates from deep within. Anger is pouting; rage is passionate.
I was fortunate to tap into rage at an early age. At 15, I made a pact with my mother: If she stopped shooting drugs, I would guard the house from her junkie friends who might lure her back to the dope house (a couple blocks away). I would handle all the business; she never had to leave the house. Sure enough, within a couple days this fellow-junkie got Mom high. I told my mother’s “best friend” that I would kill her if she ever showed her ugly face on my doorstep again. My rage was so intense, I could have destroyed her by the sheer force of energy. She left, never to return. The next day, my Mom and I started again. We lived through a month of inner terror: fever and night sweats, hallucinations, sores erupting on her legs, mind-searing pain that seemed to burst from every cell. Though the tracks (scars) on her arms left a permanent reminder of her years of shooting up, she never picked up a needle again. From then on, I knew rage was my ally.
I grew up in a poor Black neighborhood; the smart folks around me knew the system was not set up for their benefit. A fool followed the rules; a smart person made their own way. I knew people in authority were full of shit and not to be trusted. Though only 9 years old in Catechism class, I immediately dismissed as idiocy the notion that only Catholics got into heaven. The arrogant attitudes of superiority by ‘successful’ people, Black and white, gave me a healthy skepticism about the goals I wanted in life. Intelligence is not limited to the ‘white way’ of doing things. Though rewarded in school for calculating, rational thinking, I viewed it as a simple, minor skill. I was more drawn to wisdom I found in my neighborhood: deep, multi-dimensional, and heart focused.
It was a natural progression for me to get involved in racial justice movements. I have been down many revolutionary trails in my time. This picture was published in a book, The Gang of Four, when leaders of four Seattle communities – Black, Latino, Native American and Filipino – combined forces. (It was 1973 – I was still in high school. I am on the right, with the long blond hair). Over the decades, they changed politics and power in Seattle. One of the early successful actions was this scene: an occupation of the Seattle Mayor’s office to demand that a closed school building be turned over to the Latino community. I worked to end South African apartheid, supported the Sandinista revolution, marched to force unions to include Black construction workers, and protested police brutality. I studied systems change in graduate school, economic neo-colonialism, and revolutionary movements in Africa and Latin America. I was fired for being a whistle-blower and became an anti-racism trainer. For me, all these trails came from the same source and led to the same destination.
An underlying truth is that those who effectively ‘rage against the machine’ do so out of love. Love for their culture, love for their people, love for nature, love for ideals. At the core of outrage is compassion. Love and compassion is what drives you to stand up against mistreatment of others; a deeply selfless act. It is the rage in the gut that requires you to risk your own comforts. I have observed intellectual critics with no rage in the gut – they become a prisoner of their own ideology and spin in discord with others. Often stuck in an ego fantasy that they know what is best for others, they fight against rather than struggle with others; locked in the head with no base in the heart.
To rage against the machine marries the righteous rage in the gut with the calculating mind, passion combined with intellect. It is the combination of all true revolutionaries. To rage against the machine means to strategize against forces and patterns, not people. It requires disciplined analysis to follow dynamics to their root. One must be brutally honesty, because to take on the machine leads you on a long, deep journey. What may start out as a reaction against, matures into a movement toward. The path leads you to redefine the terms and change the conversation. Love compels you to create.
- Gandhi did not stay within the comfortable enclave of British-trained Indians in Delhi. He went out to the villages of India and ultimately focused on the profound act of spinning cotton.
- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, did not adhere to the expectations of his comrades and adversaries alike: that he confine his strategies to the Civil Rights movement. He followed the cultural malaise to its’ core, calling out the U.S. at the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world”, as he opposed the Vietnam War and the whole military industrial complex.
- Malcolm X did not turn a blind eye to the transgressions of his spiritual leader and mentor. Though at the pinnacle of his success, he dropped it all and journeyed to Mecca and a worldwide, diverse community of Muslims opened up to him.
Every revolutionary, on their authentic journey to tackle the machine, undergoes personal transformation. They take responsibility to discover and eliminate the vestiges of ‘the machine’ within themselves and within their culture. Their passionate commitment takes them beyond. Rage at the unacceptable carries with it the strength to act regardless of personal risks and to withstand the small-minded reactions of those around them.
In these examples, being willing to risk your successful position because of conviction opened up a more expansive reality, a greater freedom. This fits my own humble experience. I found that when I took big risks; even when I lost, I gained. When my reputation grew as someone who “shakes things up”, cautious bureaucrats wouldn’t touch me with a 10-foot pole. I knew certain professional jobs were no longer open to me. But innovative thinkers sought me out, and I was offered roles with more creativity and room for innovation. When I got fired from my job for exposing misappropriation of funds for homeless people, I lost my social service role as a ‘paid reformer’ and stepped into greater freedom as a consultant for structural change with powerful coalitions and advocates.
Change does not come without taking risks. And what are we risking, anyway? The jail that feeds us three meals a day? If you must risk losing something to maintain your convictions, it is by definition not worth keeping. To tackle the machine, you must drop your attachments to any benefits ‘the machine’ affords you. Because if you need security, it has you. If you are afraid to speak up for justice on your job, it has you; if you are afraid of losing anything – the machine has power over you. Any traces of fear make you vulnerable, the cracks created by fear and doubt entice us to be meek, to stay safe. This is where rage comes in as an ally, because rage can make you fearless.
A machine in and of itself has no intrinsic power; we lend it power when we use it. Without human participation, it is an inanimate object. To trace the nature of the machine and the source of its’ power, we end up with ourselves. If you define power as outside of yourself, you have already lost. We cannot fight the outer illusions of power unless we are firmly established in true, internal power. It is nothing less than the intrinsic power that comes with life itself, and it is affirming, celebratory and joyful. It is not based on greed, domination or manipulation. I am hearted to see signs of true, affirmative power manifesting everywhere.
- “using the power of empathy to stop our shame”, Tarana Burke, who launched the ‘Me Too’ movement for survivors of sexual assault in 2007.
- The Water Protectors at Standing Rock have galvanized people throughout the U.S. Native young people in the forefront. “We must protect our Mother Earth for our future generations.”
- Khizr Khan, the Pakistani ‘gold star’[i] father became famous overnight, when he offered to lend his copy of the US constitution to Donald Trump. He acts with such courage, a formerly quiet, private person, motivated by his deep love for American legal ideals (he is a lawyer) and an expansive love that extends to “all my sons and daughters”.
I recall an interview of Dr. Bill Grace, founder of Seattle-based Center of Ethical Leadership. He was sharing stories of the people who inspired him. Did he (a white guy) notice the heroes that inspired him were all people of color? Hmmm…. I will let you, dear readers, ponder this one.
In summary, my formula: find your righteous rage, travel the path to fearlessness, and discover true freedom.
[i][i] Gold star families are U.S. families with a member killed while serving in the armed forces.
Jagati works to include multi-cultural and low income folks in affairs that effect their lives. She runs a business, Emerging Design Consulting, supporting diverse nonprofits and people to build community, equity and justice.
Written for Rage Against the Machine Month. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more information Here. But first, leave a comment and let Jagati know what you think about her words, and be sure to visit her over at Emerging Design Consulting when you’re done.
Featured image via www.wallpaperstock.net