by Adam Heidebrink-Bruno
It’s easy for the individual to feel quite small in relation to the global superstructures that control the greater part of our lives. Even with a real, honest concern regarding the current state of things, individuals may feel lost in terms of taking the next step. Yet, many do. Some reach out to their friends, while other join work groups and book circles. Others, still, contact their legislators, to urge lawmakers to create systemic change. And while these strategies are important, alone they are not enough.
In order to push for an even more sustainable and peaceful future, we need to not only organize for change from above, but also build new systems from below. We need to build “infrastructures of resistance,” a concept that Jeff Shantz describes as alternative systems that “operate in the shadows of the dominant institutions [and] provide frameworks for the radical reorganization of social relations in a miniature, pre-insurrectionary form” (Shantz, Re-Building Infrastructures of Resistance). These new social relations offer “alternative ways of being”—not far off in the distant future, but here and now. But without them, without clear, functional alternatives, those who seek something different may be discouraged.
Building “infrastructures of resistance” requires an exacting critique of the systems that we oppose. Exposing systemic faults is only the first step, as in many cases the critic in question remains dependent on that very system for sustenance (be it food, energy, capital, etc.). Unions and NGOs are two well-established examples of infrastructures of resistance and their growth should be supported. Beyond these more formal structures, however, the possibilities for alternatives are as endless as our imaginations, and every individual, neighborhood, and community has the power to build them. Bartering, community gardening, neighborhood resource pooling, free schools, food and worker cooperatives, and learning collectives are just a few structures that offer exciting and participatory ways to reduce our dependence on dominant institutions.
The good news is that most of us reading this essay are likely already participating in some alternative way of being that runs counter to the dominant institutions. Individually, it is within our power to make little choices every day that positively impact the world, whether this means choosing how and where we spend our money, deciding to plant backyard gardens, or starting to walk and bike more frequently. To imagine a sustainable world beyond capitalism, it is important to first realize its possibility personally. And sometimes that begins in the home.
The bad news, however, is that operating in the shadows of the dominant institutions can be lonely business, fraught with difficulties; after all, the dominant institutions are designed that way. Dominant institutions (such as neoliberal, global capitalism) are strengthened by participation and thus those who benefit from these systems have a vested interested in keeping us involved. This makes alternatives difficult, as material pressures limit one’s time and resources, from which one could carve out an infrastructure of resistance. And without this infrastructure, without a community and culture of resistance, the impact of one’s actions fade quickly. It’s a cruel system, indeed.
This is why we need to work together.
Infrastructures of resistance lay the foundation for new possible futures. They are experiments fueled by the hopes of a better tomorrow. They are the realizations of what a small, dedicated community can do in face of systemic pressure to do otherwise. For example: I organize local, money-free bartering events not simply to trade excess goods, but to practice an alternative mode of exchange. By growing, making, and trading locally, we reduce our dependence on supermarkets, warehouses, and chain retailers as well as minimize the use of fossil fuels and oppressive labor practices it often takes to fill those buildings. I take the time to make what I do visible, in hopes of encouraging others to join and reveal that in this one small way, an alternative is possible. In time, these small ways add up and form a larger network and culture of resistance that’s hard to ignore.
I invite those reading this essay to do the same. Consider the acts of resistance already present in your daily life and structure them into visible, shareable, community practices. And if, in doing so, you encourage just one person to engage in more sustainable practices, you’ve already doubled the impact of your resistance. Together, we can build more sustainable neighborhoods and communities, the collective impact of which can ripple out into neighboring communities. Together, we can refuse to participate in the dominant superstructures. In order to do so, we first need alternatives. And these alternatives don’t exist until we make them. So let’s get started.
by Adam Heidebrink-BrunoAdam Heidebrink-Bruno is a ‘rogue educator and community activist, learning every step of the way’; he is involved with Education Underground, Lehigh Valley Bartering Community, LEPOCO Peace Center, and Hybrid Pedagogy.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)