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by Travis Alabanza

“...AND OTHER THINGS I HAVE NOT FIGURED OUT”: a stream of consciousness from Travis Alabanza.

I am writing this on the 30th of June 2020. I have started all the things I write with letting you know the date. One of the many things 2020 has taught us – shit can change overnight. So what does 30th of June 2020 feel like to me, in this moment? It feels like exhaustion. Exhilaration. Dismay. All my Black friends feeling hungover. Confusion. Over stimulation. Disorientation. Distrust. Fake apologies. Memories of Black squares. Learning about Angela Davis via a Tik Tok dance. Learning of a protest through a viral video. Feeling scared about your mother. Thinking of all your family both biological and chosen that are Black and in the States/global south/somewhere you are not. It feels like having spent more time on the internet in 11 weeks than you may have since you first discovered MySpace.

I have a headache.

But I do not think that is a bad thing? I am not sure if I could imagine ruptures of change, systems trying to be burned down, forces trying to be defunded – without a headache. If it happened without disorientation, confusing, internal conflict – something would be missing. I welcome the headache. It tells me I am shifting too. It tells me that I am growing. It tells me I am thinking and alive.

I have sore eyes from looking at my phone screen too much.

Now that, as someone who already has a -8.0 glasses prescription, is a harder problem to wrestle with. The phone has become a source of tension beyond just my very real eye problems. It seems I cannot look away whilst also wanting to log off forever. I am both cursing and praising the internet in the same breath. Hugging
my iPhone tight whilst also throwing it against the walls of the bedroom I have not left for weeks. My phone screen has become a place of both extreme joy and tension. Of both great learning and intense ignorance. A site that felt like a revolution happening, but also the question of whether this will keep us sunken.

This is not new. We have been here before. We know that hashtags have started protests and movements, heck even the reason I am writing this is due to a resurgence of white dominance deciding the hashtag BlackLivesMatter suddenly is relevant towards them again. To be succinct: Black people have been the vanguards of internet culture, knowledge distribution, memes and anything good on those sites long before yet another spotlight is on us. We been doing it. Whether that is Black Twitter being the only reason I got into watching Love Island, the many Black queer and trans artistic creators I only know due to Instagram – Blackness and utilising internet space has gone hand in hand.

So why do I feel confused right now?

Confused because I know that the internet has been fundamental in important work for the last four weeks and beyond. I know that despite the vapid Black squares trying to block up hashtags, Instagram has been one of the few consistent ways police violence has been documented at protests. I know through my own page that I have used Instagram to raise money and funds for other groups. I am in joy looking at prison abolitionist theory being constructed and digested via a 15-year-old’s viral Tik Tok dance. I have seen how the online spaces have hosted and connected us to cross-community conversations we could not facilitate in the physical. There has been so much resource, tenacity and sharing of radical politics amidst it.

So why do I feel confused right now?

Do I sound like a b**mer right now? Confused about the internet. I forget if I’m millennial and gen-z but whichever the generation is after me is probably reading this and just screaming: “log off if you have a headache Grandma”. Yet, as always, I think a caption always has character limits – and I believe the online space does too. Heck, we all have limits, and that is ok – if we name them. Expecting something to be limitless and hold everything will always lead us to disappointment. So maybe my confusion and conflict with the internet right now is that we believe it is the only thing that can measure, create or impact change – and that it does not sit within a system of things we need to use to utilise change. I am worried that if we only consume theory on Tik Tok we will not take the time to sit offline and read where that theory came from. I am worried if we only celebrate those visible on Instagram, we will forget all those who have been organising without a phone for years. I am again stressed that people believe an online statement from an organisation without any IRL follow-through will change anything.

So why do I feel confused right now?

I think for me, change is always about uprooting and planting new seeds. The work and activists I am inspired by are masters in this process. I see us all carrying a part to play in this planting and uprooting. I see the internet as a tool not to be laughed at in both of these actions. Yet I just hope that people know that alone: the Instagram and the Twitter and the Facebook cannot hold our garden, not when it is owned by the very people that damage our fields. Maybe it is the spark for joy, or the reason to spread, or the way to fund – and none of these things should be frowned upon – yet I hope that we use this moment to think about what we are also growing offline. To know that the internet cannot hold all your work and action, and nor should it need or be expected to. That it can be a part, and has been a part, of this uprising – but that often we are seeing posts shared that happen on the streets.

Whatever that street is, whether it is your community centre, your friend’s house, your workplace, or a protest – I hope you go there too. I hope you plant there too. I hope you share there too.

So why do I feel confused right now?

Maybe I just have a headache, and maybe that is to be expected, I’m not sure change should come with such clear answers…

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