In Chapter four of Deep Green Resistance, Lierre Keith talks about the difference between alternative culture and oppositional culture, which I wrote about here. Then she describes what makes a culture of resistance. I’ve been thinking about this and placing it in the context of feminist activism, because that’s the kind I understand best.
Keith explains that a culture of resistance requires a few people who have the courage to take militant action, and then a whole community of support surrounding them. This community of support provides loyalty and material support. She also notes that militant groups require leaders, because often enough people on the left reject hierarchies which means if anyone emerges as a good leader they get taken down by their own group. She says that there’s a reason why the government tries to take down the leaders first—it’s because the group needs a leader, and without the leader they will be ineffective.
There are not many people who have the right personal character to do front-line work and underground actions, and we have to accept this. The rest of the group creates a culture of resistance, and provides material support to those doing the front-line work. She talks about the group of suffragettes called the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) as an example of an effective activist group. This group had leaders who were willing to go to jail and endure hunger strikes for their activism, and it had a group of loyal supporters to help the leaders.
“Over a thousand women endured “solitary confinement, hard labor, brutality, broken health and ultimately death.” Even more women committed acts of physical courage that didn’t result in arrest, ranging from confrontations with police to stealth property destruction. And then there were the foot soldiers engaged in constant, daily tasks like fund raising, educating, public speaking, printing newspapers, door-to-door lobbying, organizing rallies, and prisoner support. All of these women supported their militant comrades. There were also between 500 and 600 non-militant women’s suffrage societies across Britain, and it’s interesting to note that the increase in militance by the WSPU resulted in a reinvigoration of those groups as well.” (p171)
The hunger strikers were sometimes released from prison to recover, and were expected to return to prison again once their health improved. But some of them were protected by “a network of loyal supporters” so that they managed to escape returning to prison. There was also a house set up where hunger strikers could go and get nursing care. Groups of women bodily defended each other against police. It eventually took “battalions of police” to arrest suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst because she was surrounded by bodyguards. When police offered money to community members in exchange for help in arresting Pankhurt, no one would take any money.
This is how militant groups must operate. Communities of support need to make sure that activists have the ability to do their work, and we must remain loyal to each other and the cause no matter what.
I’ve been thinking about where I’ve seen this kind of community support play out. Women’s shelters are an example—they are run by front-line workers who give women counselling and support leaving abusive relationships but they cannot do the work alone. It takes a whole group of people to do fund-raising and to raise awareness of the need for support for these shelters. The shelter will thrive when the whole community understands the issue of violence against women and therefore helps by donating money when fund-raising campaigns are going on. Not everyone can be a front-line worker, but lots more people are needed to be the helpers.
I’ve met survivors of prostitution who travel to conferences speaking about the realities of prostitution, and they are supported by a whole network of feminists. Because there are women who hold events and speak out against the sex industry, and because the testimonies of exited women get shared amongst feminist groups, when a survivor sets up a Go-Fund-Me account to raise money to attend a speaking engagement, everybody chips in, because we know the importance. Not everyone can be an activist, but each activist needs a community of support providing them with the resources to keep doing their work.
This understanding of what a culture of resistance looks like does give me hope. I’m not a militant person myself—I’m an introvert who hates confrontation and conflict. I’m better suited to raising awareness and making donations to activists who are doing things. I’m starting to understand my role in the revolution, which is to help create the culture of resistance, and provide support and loyalty to activists. I’m not likely to actually blow up civilization, but I am likely to talk to other women in my area about who our local activists are, what they are doing, and how they can help. Women with the courage to do activism need to know they have a network of support behind them and they will be helped along, and in fact, a strong culture of resistance will breed more activists.