Systemic Change is Difficult and Dangerous

by Céline Semaan

sxsw march 10 2024-15.jpg Working against existing systems inherently causes friction, and the more fundamental or radical the change we are working for, the more intense the pushback. This pushback comes in many forms, from all sides—from within the systems of oppression because the work is threatening, and often even from within resistance movements because of horizontal hostility or activist perfectionism. In fact, sometimes to most vocal and intense criticism comes from those supposedly committed to liberation. Not to mention that it is extremely hard to sustain economically, given that systems change work is powered by people, and people need to eat.

A while back, after receiving death threats from so-called environmentalists of color, I wrote a piece exposing the hardships of doing systems change: Systemic Change is Absolutely Going to Irritate Everyone. At the end of the day, anyone questioning the current system by raising awareness, working on changing the narrative and perception, actively dismantling the system, and reporting back to a large audience with tools and frameworks for collective liberation—like Slow Factory is doing—is going to piss off everyone under the sun: the so-called leftists, the right wingers, the zionists, the police, brands, influencers and everyone actively working to uphold the given systems, which is more people than you would think. Receiving death threats from folks who claim they are doing it for liberation is one of the most absurd things to read and to experience.

Violence seems to be the mode of conduct for most, including in progressive spaces.

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The moment we announced we were going to SXSW, little freedom or grace were extended to us, and instead a wave of criticism and later harassment populated our page, our dms and emails. We purposefully didn’t want to announce that we were doing an action there, because announcing it too early would potentially hurt the effectiveness of the action. We had to first take a leap of faith and make an announcement hoping our community knew us enough to extend some grace as we rolled part two of the plan. Sadly, it wasn’t the case. This made the work extremely stressful and at risk for my own safety.

The main reason I ended up going to SXSW alone and conducting the action alone was because, since October 8, Slow Factory has lost almost all of its funders: brands and foundations alike dropped out, saying Slow Factory is now deemed “too political”. When my people are being bombed, simply existing as an Arab is itself political.

sxsw march 10 2024-6.jpg Arriving at SXSW’s location, I find out my counterpart, the person I was going to be in conversation with, is directly funded by the Department of Defense; the U.S. Military who are dropping bombs via Israel on my people. This made the decision to refuse to walk into the space ever more clear to me, as I nervously made my way there.

I was walking alone with my team on the phone. The reason we had the budget to only send me and one truck there was because of the funding cuts and the deep desire to defund us to shut Slow Factory down, and the lack of support we receive from our community, to be honest.

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We deeply appreciate the donations and support we do receive from small donations from the public, but it’s not enough to run an organization.

I bumped into Chani Nicholas who immediately shared with me how reckless it is of me to be here alone. I hung up with my team to hangout with her and her caring friend group who wouldn’t leave me until more community members show up. As more and more people came around the truck and myself, making a safe bubble around us, my phone began to ring non-stop, the SXSW organizers calling me asking me where I was and why I wasn’t in my room?

An angry white man shows up, with two cops, his zionists views yelled at us threateningly. Peers and friends de-escalating the interaction with the angry person threatening our safety. Again our community is holding us as we are holding our community. As anyone who has done any work resisting violent systems can tell you, our peaceful activities are called violent, while we are the ones subjected to more violence from the foot soldiers of imperialism: cops and angry white men, in the comments and on the streets. Systemic change is absolutely going to piss off everyone, regardless of their ethnic background, change is something that often scares people, even if it’s for their highest good, change requires courage and faith.

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To fund this work is a direct pathway towards our collective liberation as it powers this important platform reaching 10M souls everyday, breaking the internet and the algorithm of oppression with intelligent design, journalism and narrative change that is both effective and highly influential. We wouldn’t be here ten years in this game hadn’t we documented our impact and know that our strategies are working. Join us by supporting us monthly, by making a large gift, by investing in our collective liberation.

Our work now is more important than ever.

In gratitude,

Céline Semaan, co-founder and CEO Slow Factory

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