Renewing Attention

By Kate Eubank

In addition to supporting infrastructure and operations at Hackman Consulting Group and providing expertise on organizational change and development, Kate Eubank has worked as a youth worker, nonprofit development director and community foundation executive director. Kate’s activism, organizing and training work focuses on issues of racial and social justice, resource redistribution, and gender and sexuality.

I’m a January baby. The solstice and the gregorian new year and my birthday arrive one right after the other, asking me every year to make peace with the year that has been, turn my face toward the light, and set my intentions for the year to come. Asking me to do this in between the longest, darkest nights in our hemisphere. Calling me to renew my courage and commitment to justice, connection and change, often in the face of uncertainty, fear and grief. Inviting me to step forward, carrying gains and growth but also the deep losses of the year before.

Ferguson. Eric Garner. #BlackLivesMatter. The turning of this year, even more than many, found me feeling my way through a mix of grief and hope, trying to work my way through my own weariness and fear to action, trying to re-find the combined sense of vision and anger that fed and sustained my work in past years. Fearing for the people I love and the survival of the planet we share, thankful for their courage and vision but feeling at a loss for finding my own.

And spending much too much time wandering Facebook, losing myself in overwhelming amounts of information about ongoing catastrophes (both human and planetary) and up-to-the-minute news and analysis of demonstrations and actions that others were organizing and attending.

And as I was wandering Facebook a few days after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, paging through tragic details and ignorant-to-hateful anti-Muslim comments, a post from my wise and thoughtful friend Claire popped into my timeline:

“As the mainstream media and a majority of this country continues to pay disproportionate attention to certain world happenings, while ignoring Nigeria, and on-going systemic threats to our own nation’s security (i.e. institutional racism, health disparities) I keep thinking of what Marge Piercy said, Attention is love. Attention is love……bless whatever you can, if you can’t bless it, then get ready to make it new. …”

Something shifted and clicked. Claire’s reflection was an unexpected gift – it got me thinking not only about what I want to pay attention to going forward, but also how I pay attention – to both the things that give me hope for justice and joy, and to the things that challenge and scare and sadden me. I loaded the full text of the quote she was citing:

“Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”

Marge Piercy, The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme

There are many things from big to small that I am still not very good at – constructively interrupting racist comments, finding my words in the middle of conflict, cooking anything other than chili without burning it. But I think, I hope, that one of the things that I am good at (most of the time) is loving. Loving in a way that is active, that is both sustained and fierce, realistic and hopeful. Almost fifteen years ago, I stumbled on bell hooks’ brilliant and accessible All About Love. Her (re)definition of love not as a passive emotional stance but as an active act, an ethic of justice, freedom and responsibility, a constant practice that was a necessary and powerful force for liberation and growth gave me a vision and words for what felt intuitively right.

I’m not talking about the squishy definition of love – the one that prioritizes “feeling the love” and the uncritical satisfaction of wants and desires. The privatized love that exists only in individual lives or romantic couples to the exclusion of larger communities of responsibility and accountability, challenge and action. Quite the opposite. The kind of love that hooks is talking about – the kind of love I want to practice – is the kind of love that translates directly into action, that is a collective practice against domination, that precipitates daily transformation.

Fierce love. Patient love. Brave love. The kind of love that reminds us “your heart is the size of your fist – keep on loving, keep on fighting,” that pushes us to take a hard look at our own privilege and dysfunction and strive to transform and heal them, that calls us to listen and speak and write and demonstrate and organize, the kind of love that helps us speak and act even when we are tired and afraid (thank you, Audre Lorde.)

So if attention is love – and love is an ethic, an action, a liberatory practice, a way for me to move beyond the fear of getting hurt, of not getting it right, of my contribution not being enough, of failing – then I want to commit to use the resources of my attention and my love well in 2015. I want to throw my attention and my love and my action toward our shared survival, toward justice, transformation, healing and compassion, toward my own humanity and liberation. I commit to (re)turning my attention, my love and my action this year to the world that I’m dreaming of.

And so, for my own accountability and sustenance, here is the list that I have started of what and who I am attending to this year – both things I want to bless and the place I want to pick up a tool and help make change – with space at the end for some more additions. Because – as the best birthday card I received this year reminded me – another year is coming, and another world is possible.

Where will you be focusing your attention this year?

Kate’s Renewed Attention List:

  • Queer & trans* youth & elders of color and indigenous communities, and all those who stand in solidarity with them, organizing and healing for a different world. I’m going to be attend to campaigns and groups like undocuqueers and the Youth Empowerment Performance Project and Fierce, the leaders from the Trans Youth Support Network who are closing forward with such integrity and others I haven’t had the gift of encountering yet.
  • Other folks with privilege who are working to shift systems, share power, give over and give up resources. I’m going to keep attending to pulling apart my whiteness and class privilege and finding/learning ways to shift, leverage, heal, talk about and/or deconstruct them. I’m going to be learning from organizations like Resource Generation and the Catalyst Project and at places like the White Privilege Conference.
  • People and organizations doing the messy, honest, hard and true work of organizing and building community across difference to create change and transform all of us. I’m looking forward to paying attention to and learning from organizations like Southerners On New Ground, Minneapolis’ new People’s Movement Center, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, and Freedom Inc.
  • Alternatives to policing and punitive models of “justice” and social control. I’ll be paying attention to organizers and practitioners in healing justice, prison abolition, transformative justice and community organizing, people like Angela Y Davis and Dean Spade, Cara Page and Susan Raffo, Critical Resistance and the TGI Justice Project.
  • Responses to our climate change and environmental destruction that advance environmental justice, shift our basic understanding of our relationships to each other and the planet, and are envisioned and led by those who already are and will be most impacted – and the ways that my own behavior and consumption can and must shift. I’m going to start by attending to the work of the Center for Earth Energy & Democracy, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and reading more Naomi Klein.
  • Organizing happening in small towns and rural spaces where resources and relationships and liberation look different – and take different skills and capacities – than the more urban organizing that is more familiar to me. I’m going to be attending to the work of some of the awesome Upper Midwest folks I had the privilege of working with at PFund Foundation and paying more attention to the organizing going on in central Maine where I’m living now.
  • The people in my life who call me in and call me up – the people who teach me, who remind me what I believe in and who I want to be, who challenge and support me to continue growing into the person that I believe in being, who help me move to action when it feels hard. I’m not going to name all of you here, but I promise to pay attention.
  • Finally, I’ll be attending to me – my role, my power, my courage, and where I can be of most use. I’ll be attending to the places and moments where I need to change and shift, where I need to be brave and take risks, where I can do more, let go, give up, give more, and where I need to pull back. I’ll be attending to what sustains me and calls me to be better, and how I can live out love in action to help make another world possible this year.