How do we keep hope alive in our movements?
There is hope in resistance. It's time we decolonize hope.
Hope is the bedrock of all liberation struggles. It may not be easy to come by, especially in the “west”. I see people struggling to remain hopeful or stuck in a sea of despair watching an escalating genocide unfold on livestream despite over 2 months of solidarity efforts. As someone who was raised in the global south but is now living in the US, I’ve oscillated a lot between hope and hopelessness. In the process, I’ve kept asking where does hope come from and why is it so difficult to access in these capitalist societies? I’ve learned that the concept of hope in the heart of these empires is very different from what hope means in the global south or in the hearts of collectivist communities. This piece parses thru these differences to draw lessons on how we can keep hope alive in our struggles for liberation.
The contradictions of hope
Hopelessness is often most pervasive among the privileged who are more insulated from from overt violence. However, when I look to the Palestinian resistance on the ground- even from thousands of miles away, across oceans, I feel the flame of hope reignite within me. Their ability to co-create and sustain unyielding, unfaltering hope baffles and inspires me. Palestinians are not only up against the brutal Zionist state but also the destructive imperialist superpowers financing it (like the US). And yet, you cannot kill hope in a freedom fighter. You cannot suppress the waves of hope inspired by martyrs who died resisting.
This genocide has been raging on for nearly 100 years and 76 days and yet, Palestinians remain steadfast in their unrelenting pursuit of freedom, generation after generation. However, their fight should not be glamorized. Their resilience is a necessity borne out of atrocities that are unimaginable to most of us. They should not have to bear such suffering only to have their “strength” exotified as their pleas for help are ignored. It is not a struggle they asked for. The violent colonial occupation of their indigenous homelands is an undeniable reality they were born into. Their only choice is to resist or passively accept the annihilation of their people. So is hope even a choice or is it a flame people across history are simply compelled to keep burning in order to survive? How have collectivist communities resisting colonialism around the world remained hopeful in the face of seemingly insurmountable oppression? How do they simultaneously carry pain, grief, hope and joy?
Why is hope prevalent & widespread among those at the frontlines of the struggle but often scarce among those at the peripheries who are shielded? I think it comes down to individualism and colonial values.
Resistance movements give me hope. Across history, in the face of brutal systemic violence, people have always fought for freedom and the right to love— each other, the land, their diverse cultures, & ancestors. Communities have dismantled entire empires. It took generations of unyielding resistance. It took a lot of faith, conviction and belief in a free future. It took decades & often centuries of work but people freed themselves. They always have. What can we learn from them?
Hope is not a feeling generated by an individual from within. Hope is a flame that is intentionally co-created in community that then permeates & passes through us all.
Hope, happiness, joy, contentment, safety, meaning, purpose, motivation, creativity, etc are all things an individual cannot independently generate in isolation even if colonial logic convinces you otherwise. Hope is a fire that is tended to and kept alive by the collective efforts of many. Just like any life-giving, life-sustaining energy that circulates within an ecosystem, we depend on each other to have hope. Like survival, hope is a collective responsibility, not an individual burden. We have to play our role in seeking out community where such hope can be co-created. The struggle to forge community in itself is a journey with a million hopeful moments that can only exist alongside painful teaching moments. As long as we run from the struggle, hope will remain just as inaccessible.
Hope is not a goal to achieve or destination to arrive at.
People get disillusioned when they don’t see immediate results and this impatience defines capitalist/ colonial societies that socialize people to chase self-centered goals and individual achievements. People are hooked to garnering validation from “achieving” something while ignoring the process itself. People want to climb mountains not for the journey, the lessons learned, the growth or transformation incurred but just so they can conquer the summit.
“What is the point of life if we don’t dominate something or aren’t the best at something?” This same logic permeates activism in the west, especially liberal spaces. People engage in activism as though it is an external activity separate from their personal life expecting the same outcomes as in their career or job— productivity, results, some sort of perceivable or easily identifiable success. If we’re not “winning” accordingly to the narrow capitalist definitions of what a win means, people are left wondering “well why does any of this matter anyways?” I’m not saying it isn’t important for us to celebrate the strides our movements make. It is necessary for us to practice joy but it is not sustainable to attach our joy to narrow definitions of achievement. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It is not a race, it is a collective struggle for liberation.
Hope is a cultural practice and collective tradition
Collectivist communities have detailed rituals not only because they give life meaning but because they sustain hope. Even if it is the simple act of fine tuning a traditional recipe, praying together, mourning together over days & weeks, refining a dance form together— these cultural rituals make up the soil that grounds us & anchors us to what matters. A win for us is a meal prepared & shared in community. A win for us is a night exchanging stories over a fire & some chai. Watching video after video on your phone can understandably drive despair if that is all you are stuck doing. Isolation & loneliness literally kills people— this is not a hyperbole. However, when you organize in community, find people that share this passion & fervor for liberation— then hope comes from the actions you engage in to get to know each other, build together, the day-to-day, the meal-to-meal, the process of fighting & struggling together is in itself liberating. We need to focus on the day to day, the process, not just on the “goal”. We need to intentionally practice co-creating & being present in the small moments that cumulatively lead to freedom, not because there is a trophy waiting for us to grasp at the end of the road but because each moment is life-giving in itself.
Hope comes from each moment in community where we are embodying values of collective liberation despite the capitalist/ colonial hellscapes that try to keep us from each other. Hope comes from every moment where we realize how connected we are to the land- as a butterfly lands on a flower. Hope comes from the moments we see collectivism embodied all around us— birds intricately oscillating in formations, moving as one big synchronized whole, following & leading each other along, twisting & turning in unison, a collective display of unity called a murmuration.
Even amidst videos capturing atrocities in Gaza, there are videos of children consoling their injured elders, people digging through rubble & miraculously saving someone who was trapped for days, children holding the kitten they rescued from a bombed house, healthcare workers naming an orphan baby who survived & committing to caring for them regardless, people sharing their scarce food rations with those who have none, people dancing & singing to make a baby laugh as bombs rain in the background and of course the resistance that is a source of real hope for Palestinians of a life beyond the brutality of the occupation. It may be heartbreaking but it is also hopeful.
We don’t fight for us, we fight for those who came before & those who will come after us.
Intergenerational collectivism is intuitive to some but many are not used to thinking deeply beyond the self let alone acting to preserve future generations. Capitalism convinces people to look out for themselves, effectively cutting them off from community not just in present day but communities of the past & the future. Palestinian resistance factions are sacrificing everything including their lives knowing they may not necessarily see a free Palestine within their lifetime but future generations might. We have to fight as though the freedom we envision can be actualized right now but also commit to fighting regardless. This basic logic drives collectivism. Land-based communities don’t just sow seeds to have food next year, we sow seeds for trees that will bear fruit or nuts in the future, sometimes decades or centuries from now. Ultimately, such foresight & care makes our ecosystems resilient, more sustainable & our soil infinitely more fertile even in the present. So it is not a fully selfless act, it is reciprocity. The act of thinking beyond yourself as an individual generates hope. We don’t need the perfect hypothetical utopia of tomorrow to arrive to experience real hope. We need to put in the work to co-create it today & it is all around us if we’re open to it.
Abolishing toxic, liberal positivity to make way for realistic, radical hope
Periods of heightened turmoil catalyze global consciousness and push people to face contradictions. This is a pivotal moment where many are realizing that mainstream channels of “change” aren’t going to free us or anyone in Palestine. Some are finally seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes. The oppressive nature of systems, people in power and dominant ideologies is more apparent and harder to deny.
If people are still hinging all their hopes on the more palatable, “peaceful” methods to be what dismantles these violent empires, then they will be disappointed over & over & over again. And sometimes that disappointment radicalizes people, but other times, it leads them to abandon the cause entirely under the guise that it is “hopeless”. But there is nothing hopeless about firmly believing in the vision and acting on it as if liberation is impending and inevitable either tomorrow, the day after or the lifetime after. Our responsibility is not to “achieve” liberation or win and feel defeated if we are unable to actualize that in the time frame we desire, we must simply play our role with unwavering dedication and steadfast faith. Palestine will be free- that is not a request, it is a promise.
It is exceedingly common to see people show up to weekly protests, call their representatives to demand a ceasefire, post IG stories and even participate in boycotts WHILE simultaneously denouncing and condemning Palestinian resistance efforts on the ground. Such liberal delusion is rooted in colonial logic & saviorism— when the more privileged people, living far from the violence, selectively engage in comfortable forms of “activism”, even if these actions are futile, while simultaneously demonizing truly effective resistance efforts on the ground carried out by those who are most impacted.
Solely turning to the same oppressive systems that are causing this genocide to beg for crumbs and mercy is a recipe for despair. Taking direct action to target oppressive systems and weaken the power they have over us is a source of hope— whether it is done in the heart of the American empire or in Palestine. THE main thing that will stop this genocide once & for all and liberate Palestine is the Palestinian resistance— and they need every ounce of unconditional support and solidarity they can get. The people who are at the forefront of facing, confronting & resisting any struggle play the most important, direct, effective, critical role in any fight for liberation. Who are any of us to say we know better?
This is not to say that the simpler, more mainstream, acceptable displays of solidarity don’t have some utility in contributing to Palestinian liberation and the eventual end of zionism. However, hope comes from us being realistic about the type and scale of impact these actions are meant to have. It’s time for us to be honest with ourselves. Hope is inaccessible when we encase ourselves within an elaborate illusion, patting ourselves on the back about our stellar “allyship” just so we can coddle ourselves to sleep at night. We have to be willing to push the boundaries of what we thought was possible. What real steps will genuinely lead to liberation? Organizing in community will push you to think it through step by step because you will keep running into walls. It will show you exactly why people take direct action rather than appealing to institutions or people in power.
Protests give us a space to build community to co-create hope, direct actions gives us hope
It has been difficult to organize around Palestine in the South. Up until a few weeks ago, Nashville did not have a community-based organizing collective dedicated to Palestine that served as a political home for people to join & engage in effective direct action. There are other places like NYC, Chicago, the Bay area, LA, etc that have strong organizing infrastructure for Palestine that took decades for communities to build. In my current local context, we have a long way to go & lots of work to do to lay foundations for more militant organizing rooted in community care.
The first protests in Nashville were organized by sporadic groups of people that came together just for individual marches. I remember the first protest in October. I picked up the microphone. “Freeeee, free Palestine!” (people in the crowd chant with the same rhythmic cadence), “Free, free, free Palestine!” (people chant back with the same tempo). I look around & take a second to really be present with the people around me. Hundreds and then in subsequent protests, thousands. I see an ocean of people who look a lot like me or my relatives—elders hugging each other, young children holding signs with pictures of martyrs, brown and black babies in prams wrapped in kuffiyehs, hijabs & kufi caps, colors of Falasteen & Sudan, thobes & salwar kameezes, Sittis (grandmas) who were displaced during the Nakba proudly waving flags. I feel layers of heavy, intense, profound emotions ripple through me and overwhelm me. I stumbled a little.“From the river to the sea!” “Palestine WILL be free!” Unlike most spaces in the US, there were more racialized folks than white folks. There were far more languages other than English spoken all around me.
“من المية للمية فلسطين عربية” (the Arabic chants reverberate just as loudly across the crowd) Then I hear the tablas/ drums join in unison as I feel the percussion in my heart. I teared up and this was after weeks of feeling clogged, unable to truly grieve or mourn the devastation. I’ve been in Nashville for 1.5 years but this was maybe the first time I felt close to “home” which says a lot. People in the crowd were not pretending to be happy. I could see & viscerally sense the heaviness of the grief that was being carried. People were shaken, wrecked, devastated, sobbing, holding each other close, praying, chanting, marching, and also uplifting each other, consoling, reassuring & supporting. A older woman originally from Khan Younis in Gaza, who had lost 30 family members, came up to me shaking, feeling overwhelmed by the solidarity expressed by all those around her. I have since gotten to know her better as she’s come to every single protest or action, even the riskier ones, with a kuffiyeh hijab, hoisting a large Palestinian flag, probably one of the loudest chanters bringing fervor, intensity & fire to each word she uttered. That is what protests are for- for us to find each other, connect & build something more sustainable & long lasting together.
But even something small like a protest must be organized with intention and in alignment with the principles of the Palestinian resistance at the frontlines of this fight. “Resistance is justified when people are occupied!” From the chants to the speeches to the calls to action— we have a responsibility to be principled, bold & firm in our support of Palestinian resistance and not water down the cause.
City-permitted protests or BDS are the floor, not the ceiling.
They can be catalysts but they were never meant to be the most impactful, revolutionary actions that truly weaken oppressive structures. We organize protests mostly to give our community members a space to gather, to cry & shout with rage & sorrow without being policed, to express themselves having a safety net to fallback on, to be seen & witnessed in our grief. Protests or one off events are a space to meet people so you can get organized or seek out collectives already doing this work in community. In our case, protests allowed people to keep showing up for each other. Younger organizers were able to share meals with older Palestinian community members and truly connect. This created momentum for a few folks to come together and create a community organizing collective for Palestine so people have a principled, abolitionist, political home to ground in where they can learn, gain experience, push the boundary & take direct action beyond what any of us thought was possible.
Protests are a space where people’s frustration and disillusionment can be directed towards more powerful, mature, sustainable organizing. Over time, as the death toll climbed, people began to see that rallies weren’t affecting those in power. More fearful, less experienced community members went from asking us “are the police are okay with this” to better understanding the role the police play in upholding oppression & violently suppressing dissent. As we built trust, people were more willing to engage in bolder, more disruptive actions. Gradually folks were comfortable blocking traffic by exhausting the police with our overwhelming numbers. Folks saw that there is A LOT we can do if we move as one. Eventually, we took direct action and fully shutdown the busiest commercial street in Nashville for 2 hours during peak weekend traffic, effectively disrupting the “business as usual” status quo and flow of profits. Thru all this, many of our community members, including older generations, are starting to see how all oppressed communities are unified in our struggles for liberations.
The early momentum we built in Nashville allowed us to address deeper issues within our community like normalization. Now we’re tilling the soil, focusing on direct action training, sowing seeds, and building cross-community coalitions. Fighting for the liberation of Palestine is liberating our communities in so-called Nashville— the lands of the Cherokee, Shawnee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek peoples. Each incremental step towards direct action, each moment of connection & solidarity that strengthens communal bonds, every meal, prayer & emotionally vulnerable conversation that lets people fall apart as they pull it together, all the conflicts along the way that had to be worked thru, the resilience built from navigating the messy push & pull dynamics of community building — that is what gives me hope.
Begging politicians, the rich or celebrities to do something is not a source of hope. Dreaming of a free Palestine & acting on that dream today gives us hope. Finding people to fight & struggle with is life-giving. Drawing threads between our distress & struggles is life-sustaining. Boldly supporting the Palestinian resistance gives me hope. Ultimately, it is revolutionary direct action that creates hope— building towards it, forging relationships around it, engaging in it and supporting oppressed people as they engage in it.
From here to wherever you are, there is much work to be done. But I assure you, fighting for a free Palestine is actually going to free you… if you let it.