Any act of liberation is necessarily a struggle: it requires more than a few steps outside a zone of comfort and into one of temporary adversity. Liberation implies a confrontation of established power, and power will always seek to crush its challengers. Even at the heart of democracies today, various forms of imprisonment and oppression are thriving, turning profits and ending lives, and resisting change through legal loopholes.
True acts of liberation are also rare, often replaced by the mere expression of wanting to be free from oppression: underpaid workers who leave notes in the pockets of the clothes they make are not liberated by this gesture of speaking against their oppression; teenagers whose loss and grief lead them to protest the giants of the weapon industry are not truly free from this danger. We must measure the freedom to speak of our oppression against its power to effect real change. What stands in the way? Who opposes it, and why? Who benefits from oppression and what will they do to preserve their status? Knowing the answers will give a clearer shape to the struggle and it will steer efforts in the right direction.
Poverty, hunger, disease, and conflict enslave millions of people today, with few of us bearing to read and hear their stories; we might feel too powerless and small, too far away and unable to help all those we´d like to help. As American writer Rebecca Solnit puts it in her memoir, “The Faraway Nearby,” “the moment when morality, ephemerality, uncertainty, suffering, or the possibility of change arrives can split a life in two.” This moment is also rare. Most of us live cuddled in various luxuries and privileges: we make taboos of death and old age; we counter claims at our ignorance with endless scrolling of a barren newsfeed. Headlines are not knowledge; tweets are not actions; digital identities are not transcending our limited humanity. The struggle here is with a type of comfort that numbs the spirit and dulls the mind.
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, first trip through Latin America. Photos taken in Peru, 1952.
In illustrating this act of splitting one´s life in two, Solnit recalls Ernesto “Che” Guevara´s motorcycle journey across South America as his witnessing of poverty, hunger, and disease, one that radically changed the course of his life and went on to change history. His revolutionary spirit awoke at this sudden clash with the real and inspired his “continent-wide liberation strategy.” Our very own clash with suffering and death, during the recent refugee crisis, made us witnesses of a different kind. The etymological connection between “witness” and “martyr” (from the Greek μάρτυς, mártys, "witness") is suspended in contemporary times by a dangerous form of by-standing, which is manifested by live-feeds and tweets, an significantly reduces any personal involvement.
With this issue, we aim to look at acts of liberation in a necessary comparative manner, by critically assessing our present-day collective reaction to instances of poverty, suffering, and injustice. What do we mean by “revolution” today? How do we visualise and conceptualise liberation, freedom, and exclusion? What are the forces and anti-forces of liberation today? These are a few questions we´ll be addressing, hoping that the answers will illuminate new ways to freedom: big or small, of the few or of the many, of the body or of the mind.
Words: Elena Stanciu