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By Any Means Necessary

Reflecting on Malcolm X’s birthday: What if what’s necessary is awe-inspiring, unconditional, militant love?

Malcom and Martin, photo by Wikimedia Commons

Photo by U.S. News and World Report/Wikimedia Commons.

“We declare our right on this Earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this Earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
— Malcolm X, 1965

Today I am reflecting on the meaning of "by any means necessary."

Yesterday was Malcolm X’s birthday, and I think of his voice saying those words. At the time he said it, I believe he meant it as it is commonly understood: That black people must be prepared to take up arms, if that is necessary, to defend our communities and liberate ourselves from the weight of white supremacy.

For me, the meaning has evolved as I experience more and more of this world and its layers of oppression. There are a plethora of internal and external dangers to the soul; it is so hard to keep your integrity intact—especially if you long for change—if the current world disappoints you or makes you furious.

What if what is necessary is not strategy, not plans, not dollars—just unconditional love?

I feel like it has become easy for us to occupy our rage without moving into action. It has become easy for us to get angry and self-righteous without really asking what is needed in that moment.

What if what’s needed isn’t sexy, intimidating or violent? What if what is needed is forgiveness? The kind of forgiveness that seems unimaginable, miraculous, holy, unattainable—like forgiving those who hurt you and hate you—like building relationships with those who kill your children? What if what is necessary is trusting people beyond their mistakes and shortcomings, trusting their best intentions? Are we strong enough to default to trust at a community level?

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What if what is necessary is learning to see family where you have seen enemies? What if what is necessary is not strategy, not plans, not dollars—just unconditional love? Are we able to be that militant? I want to be militant enough to admit I am changing and growing and don’t know the answers.

My sister is about to have her second child, which has me contemplating and researching birth and labor again. After the shooting of 7-year old Aiyana Stanley Jones by Detroit police last week, I was thinking of how quickly you can violently kill someone, versus how long it takes to create and birth someone. I find a small but awe-inspiring hope in the realization that giving life and love is harder work than taking it. Giving life and love and forgiveness and creating family—those are the behaviors to engage in to step into the miraculous.

As we strive to free ourselves, to uplift ourselves, to transform ourselves and our communities, let us consider what "by any means necessary" looks like in practice for us now—especially if the outcome is unknown, immeasurable, and unconditional; even if the means, at this moment, is militant love.


Adrienne Maree Brown, mugAdrienne Maree Brown is national coordinator for the US Social Forum, to be held June 22 to 26, 2010 in Detroit, MI. She also serves on the board of Allied Media, and is director of the Ruckus Society, a network of volunteers who support nonviolent community-based direct action.

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