How do we resuscitate individual moral agency, create community structures that reflect community values, and gain the power to shape our own futures?
Big question, huh? But it has a simple answer: we Circumvent traditional power structures. Oh, but that’s just pompous rhetoric? Let me explain what I mean.
The first principle of Circumvention is we use local resources to meet local needs. What constitutes a local resource depends on the community and its needs. For example, if safety is identified as a community need, we know that traditional power structures offer police as the means of creating safety. But interacting with police has historically given the short end of the stick (or the blunt end, as it were) to people of color and other historically oppressed groups. It is very difficult for private citizens to hold police accountable, and even more difficult to push for any kind of helpful reform.
Now, let’s pause for a minute. Remember the twofold strategy for improving society? We have to mitigate harm and work to address root issues. That means that even though it is difficult to push for police reform, that is still an avenue we must pursue. We need to work to reduce racial profiling, mishandling of suspects with mental health concerns, and so many other instances of police wrongdoing. So do not think that while I am discussing Circumvention I mean that we neglect reform efforts. I only mean that we do not count on reform efforts to address the root problems.
Okay, resume. I know that, being a white male, any time I rely on the police or the criminal justice system, I am choosing a course of action that will likely perpetuate someone else’s oppression. Circumventing the police means figuring out what other resources a community can use to meet their safety need. This is not an absolute, ideology-driven solution. The second principle of Circumvention is that we use this strategy only to the extent that local resources can take over meeting the needs that were being met by traditional power structures.
In other words, we don’t Circumvent the police for the simple sake of doing so, or when doing so endangers our community. If we are Circumventing the traditional power structure of police to use local resources to meet our community’s safety need, but in doing so we create unsafe situations, then we are failing to Circumvent properly by ignoring the second principle. We Circumvent properly by choosing to increase safety without calling the police, insofar as we are able. When we do this, we will notice very important changes taking place:
1) We will gain power by focusing our activities around resources that we control.
2) Because we control these resources, we will be more connected to the decisions that affect our communities and individual community members will be empowered.
3) Because we are more connected to the people and processes around us, we will make our communities less fragmented. This will make the consequences of our actions more concrete and increase our individual moral agency.
Now, how do we actually Circumvent police by using local resources to create safe communities? How do we Circumvent Walmart to access affordable retail items without sustaining a huge, unscrupulous megacorporation? How do we Circumvent pop culture to explore more authentic art? How do we Circumvent failing schools to support our children’s educations?
I don’t have the answers yet. There will be plenty of brainstorming, research and case studies to follow. For now we just need to establish this theoretical framework and vocabulary for discussing Circumvention. With that in place, we can begin to inventory the resources that are available to us and start figuring out creative ways to use them in order to bypass traditional power structures.