No More Saviors

A person begins to speak, at a mic stand in a city council hearing, before a bouquet of press microphones, behind a bullhorn. The speech is supposed to rally a group, an audience, a march, an occupation. But the intended listeners don’t wake up any further, they go to sleep a little behind their eyes, waiting for it to be over. They’ve heard this before. It’s either unimpeachable but useless or actively retrograde, full of abstractions rather than action, shot through with calls for moderation instead of radical thought, championing respectability and its tiny ambitions for improvement; nothing system-breaking there. Nothing will change as a result of that voice in the air, coating the collective in familiar stasis.

A savior is supposed to do something no one else can, otherwise their semi-divine services wouldn’t be needed. They supposedly have more of something—faith, vision, power, expertise, authority, connections, plans—than others and therefore can do more alone than the collective they promise to rescue and redeem. They are not exactly part of the group they would deliver from peril—they stand apart in their greater capacity and knowledge and foresight: they are not quite among, they lead, speaking for, not with. The problem is that there are no such people on earth. There are, instead, people who style themselves saviors—leaders, oracles—hanging onto the bullhorn too long, finding the tv reporter in the crowd, imposing events on communities they don’t know well enough, the podium calling out to them. But the authority they claim to possess is stolen.

The only real authority is the group’s, produced organically in and by struggle for common goals. When a comrade speaks they are only partly individual—the authority of the group speaks to and through them as well, full of that collective’s vision, will, and destination, shaped by the force of their suffering and their love for each other and real justice. Only a group can replace an endlessly receding future of promise with an intense present of trouble and resistance and hope-in-action. The future is what leaders describe in order to maintain the present; the present is where groups act to make a real, habitable future. Only a group, coming together because the world is not enough, but its love for its members’ differences is, can save itself.

The aim of a savior isn’t actually deliverance then. They don’t expect to succeed. In fact, they’re pessimistic about real change, but addicted to the time before solution because it centers them. They need the state of insoluble problems—that’s their time to hold forth, weigh in, say that it’s premature and reckless to transform life. Instead, doomed and “responsible” cooperation over shutting things down, safe, sensible little increments of improvement. The fire always next time rather than this time.

We need that fire if we’re going to destroy all the structures that have contempt for life, including leadership; we need the cops gone, prison doors opened, wealth redistributed, reparations made. Any good group preserves the embers of the last struggle within itself and looks for ways to make the right new conflagration—a police precinct in Minneapolis maybe, but also the spreading call for abolition.

If you pray or kneel with a cop, you’re praying or kneeling with a descendant of fugitive slave patrols. If elected representatives are at the front of march then they’re not representative, and haven’t ever been representative, except of status quo—they’re just at the front. When you listen to a “leader,” your limbs get heavy, you go to sleep with your eyes open. When the group shouts, you’re well and truly wake.

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