t some point, I decided that I’m not fighting to preserve a miserable world. That’s what makes up so much of the circumstances that are comfortably situated all around us: miserable, codified, systematized suffering. We’ve gotten to see ourselves and the people all around us in ways we never imagined in recent years. We’ve watched one another try to maintain amid all sorts of unimaginable hells. A lot of it raised a new awareness that maybe some of us didn’t want to confront. It’s an awareness of how terrible things actually are and how disappointing people can be.

I’ve hung on the phone with my friends, family, lovers, and more hearing the sounds of these times. I’ve heard confusion, terror, fear, happiness, sadness, pain, relief, wonder, and mourning in doses I can’t begin to enumerate. And I want to emphasize here that what I heard reminded me of what I’ve been told before.

I was told not to play too close to the road by my grandmother. I was told not to do a “half-job” by my father when we cleaned buildings at night. I was told what it’s like to cross a border by undocumented workers who I laid hardwood floors alongside. I was told to trust my gut by my friends. I was told what I wasn’t capable of doing by my adversaries. I was told to take risks by my sibling. I was told to be wise and protect my heart by my mother. She also told me I was going to see some things she didn’t want to stick around for very soon. That was right before she died. I was told there were only three certainties, “taxes, death, and trouble” by Marvin Gaye. And I’ve also been told that, “trouble don’t last always.”

So now I’m here to tell you that many of us come from people who have weathered storms so severe that we can’t begin to conceptualize their survival. Migrants who trekked tundras looking for work and safety. Slaves who toiled under everyday terror looking for escape, be it in life or death. Immigrants who gave up everything in the hope that they might find a better something. Disaffected workers whose refusal gave us weekends, vacations, and wages we have grown accustomed to. Youth who decided they’d rather die than grow old in the conditions they were born into. These people we come from are who Rehearsals for Living might remind us are rendered “endlessly useful” and “endlessly unnecessary.” We came from this to get here to this point. This is our moment, but it’s very much connected to theirs.

Anyone who knows me should be able to tell you I have no desire to romanticize the past. And at this point I know I would be failing if I allowed myself to wallow in nostalgia and long gone revolutionary histories as the world burns in the present. So despite the points I just raised, I know that some of the people we came from are not examples we should hope to follow. But their lives offer us lessons I feel can guide us towards something greater than them, greater than ourselves, and greater than all that these generations then and now have been offered to work with. I was thinking about all this when I read Rehearsals for Living.

I’m searching for a truth deeper than what any self-aggrandizing liberatory ideology, patriotism, nationalism, or statehood has to offer. I’m looking for a truth that’s in the mosaic of each story we can gather. A truth that’s in the fragments of every experience, revolution, rebellion, election, speech, book, school, movement, tendency, and tradition that can offer testimony.

I want each piece of the bigger composition to tell me how things got this bad or how things can get better or why things feel good. I wanna know so I can build with collectives who also know. I wanna know so that we cannot repeat avoidable mistakes. And this is what I’m working on. I’m doing it amid the laughter, crying, moaning, groaning, and the whispers of the people I care about. It’s taking place to the sound of nature, new music, poems, cooking food, beautiful lessons, and more. It’s in letters like those written in Rehearsals. It’s in conversations with the youngest among us and our elders too. All of it matters to tell us which way to go.

Robyn writes to Leanne, saying:

“We are, already, living and organizing on entirely different terms than those laid out by the monsters, however imperfectly, and these terms have longstanding historical traditions. We are engaged, I believe, with asking one another: What does it mean to try to build worlds that affirm, rather than destroy, life, and to do so from outside the barricades?
All world-endings are not tragic. There are some world-endings that I am comfortable with. I frame the present epoch as "late capitalism" as a kind of aspirational descriptor more than as a strictly Marxist category. In order to make earthly planetary survival possible, some versions of this world need to end (and indeed, should never have begun in the first instance). Some worlds, after all, depended on the ongoing violent, always racial- and gender-differentiated foreclosures of other worlds” (Maynard and Simpson, 2022: 25).

Leanne writes to Robyn, saying:

“The situation is similar everywhere because four centuries of colonialism creates similar conditions for Indigenous peoples, whether you live in Africa, Europe, the Americas, Asia, or Australia. Our land bases have been ecologically destroyed. We have been removed and dispossessed of our homelands. We live in a planned and enforced situation of poverty with less access to the necessities of life than our colonizers have. Our bodies carry the consequences of the physical and emotional violence of colonialism, making us more vulnerable to new viruses. We are made vulnerable and fragile by the ravages of capitalism and colonialism.
Still, we persist. Organize. Endure. Resist” (Maynard and Simpson, 2022: 42).

I’m listening to them talk and hearing what I’ve been told again. I’m making connections and seeing how our struggles and our lives and our desires for more intertwine. Because it’s true, not all world-endings are tragic, but I want to raise one of my concerns here that some of the endings that need to take place are maybe too close for comfort. Engulfed by tragedy after tragedy, I want to ask if we can do more than return to radical rituals. I believe this is part of the problem. Perhaps we haven’t realized many of our goals because our methods rely on building new worlds from redisguised old ones. The dreams of men who were entranced by their own ideas felt that they could plaster their ideas onto diverse peoples across the planet to “free us” for the foreseeable future. Many of us inherited these ideas and now many of us can’t seem to overcome them when we need newness most.

Ain’t nothing radical about all this repetition around us. Ain’t nothing radical about how people dress up the worlds we need to end in different ways and try to make it seem as if their version is true emancipation. But far too much of it is more of the same with a new moniker. Politicians disguised as revolutionaries. Violent states disguised as safe societies. Global lesser evilism disguised as anti-imperialism. Reformism disguised as social transformation. Limitations disguised as democracy. Liberals, progressives, leftists, and more doing the same dance to different tunes. How do we end the world these dizzy waltzers inhabit? A place where when fascism is in our faces, the only thing many have to offer is a sectarian quote, know-it-all condescension, all encompassing anachronism, and decaying ideas covered in the kudzu of a reality supposed radicals can’t bear to face.

I’m not just talking down here, I found this out looking in the mirror. I found this out listening to people talk and hearing what I’ve been told again. And one thing I’ve learned is all some people are going to do it just that, talk. It can go both ways. Just like these structures in this world we’ve been told we can seize, refashion, and repurpose for our freedom.

Robyn writes to Leanne complaining about liberals, saying:

“Their shock shows an unfamiliarity with history, of the reality that the policies originally crafted to sacrifice our (Black, Indigenous, racialized) respective peoples inevitably boomerang back onto the broader (white) public. (Structural Adjustment, anyone?) I'm dismayed, angry, horrified, at times. But to be surprised requires a level of naïveté, of feigned innocence, that is not possible if one has attended, even briefly, to the lived realities of Black peoples and Indigenous peoples globally.
And yet.
You might think I'm being overly optimistic - I have been accused of this before. But I don't want to capitulate to cynicism here. Even though I will dip my toes into cynicism now and again, I won't let myself reside there” (Maynard and Simpson, 2022: 25)

I’m not going to let myself stay there either, Robyn and Leanne. If I can join your conversation. I’ve been listening to y’all, my family, my friends, my foes, my teachers, and to strangers. And I’m speaking now, too, when I have something worth saying. And I’m doing what I can. I’m not just talking to talk or following political habits. My talking alone will not counter the violence we’re up against. My favorite books can’t pick a prison cell lock or stop a bullet. And my positive thinking alone won’t win a war. There’s too much around us that has to be overcome and obliterated and destroyed and sabotaged and abolished. And maybe it’s the Earth that’s making this clearer than anything else because it’s crying out. I once interviewed The Last Poets and learned about their connection to the writing of the South African poet laureate Willie Kgositsile. I turn to his words to complete my thoughts here. He said, "This wind you hear is the birth of memory. When the moment hatches in time’s womb, there will be no art talk. The only poem you will hear will be the spear point pivoted in the punctured marrow of the villain” (Kgositsile 2023: 64).


Kgositsile K (2023) Keorapetse Kgositsile: Collected Poems, 1969–2018. Lincoln NB: University of Nebraska Press.
Maynard R, Simpson LB (2022) Rehearsals for Living. Chicago IL: Haymarket Books.

William C. Anderson is a writer and activist from Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of The Nation on No Map (AK Press 2021), co-author of As Black as Resistance (AK Press 2018), and co-founder of Offshoot Journal.