Kelly Hayes Credit: Sydni Baluch

A couple times a month, I fact-check Kelly Hayes’s transcript for her Movement Memos podcast on Truthout, a non-profit independent news organization dedicated to reporting on social justice issues. Kelly is a writer, organizer, and movement educator, co-founder of Chicago’s Lifted Voices and the Chicago Light Brigade, and my colleague at Truthout

Hayes usually hosts people on Movement Memos from the frontlines of movement work, from journalists to activists leading the way to social change. I learn a lot from fact-checking Kelly’s transcripts, and so was more than happy to help when she approached me to fact-check chapter 6 in her book, Let This Radicalize You: Organizing and the Revolution of Reciprocal Care, co-written with Mariame Kaba and published in May.  

Chapter 6, titled “‘Violence’ in Social Movements,” explores the summer of 2020 in Chicago when the liberation movement was at its height and Black Lives Matter actions were taking up every corner of the city. During that time, people were protesting and showing up against police brutality en masse. People were angry and grieving, and in response to inaction from the government, some residents took to the streets to commit acts of property destruction. Hayes and Kaba write, “the destruction of property is usually viewed as violent only if it disrupts profit or the maintenance of wealth. If food is destroyed because it cannot be sold while people go hungry, that is not considered violent under the norms of capitalism.” 

In chapter 3, “Care is Fundamental,” they recount an incident at the Chicago Freedom School (CFS), co-founded by Kaba. When youth were left with nowhere to go after then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a curfew and raised the bridges downtown, CFS opened its doors and fed the kids pizza. It was then that police showed up and “The city inspector claimed the city had received complaints about CFS preparing food and housing young people without a license.”

Often overlooked, Hayes and Kaba write, is that “…the main perpetrators of violence are these extractive systems, which—in varied but connected ways—extract the resources that sustain life.”

Let This Radicalize You explores the intersection of capitalism, individualism, environmental racism, and mental health through anecdotes, advice, and personal experiences. It touches on police brutality, the prison industrial complex, climate change, and the interconnectedness of not just these movements but all “movements against dehumanization.”

The authors warn readers that this book is not to be viewed as a manual, but rather as a love letter, or a deep conversation with a pal. I sat down with Hayes to talk about Let This Radicalize You and what she learned through her writing. 

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

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[S]outh Side Weekly: When you began writing Let This Radicalize You, did you sit down to make a list of everything that you wanted to include in the book, or did you just let it all pour out?

Hayes: There were jumping-off points that we knew we needed to include that felt really relevant. And then there was a lot that just kind of cropped up along the way. It was like, “Oh, well, if we’re going to mention this idea, then we should really talk about this group and the work that they did,” and, “Oh, if we’re gonna touch on Palestine, then we should really talk to Leah.” The book kind of kept perpetuating itself in a way in that we were constantly challenged by what we had already written, or what we were trying to say to include more, much to our editors’ chagrin. It just kept getting longer. 

In your podcast, Movement Memos, you introduce yourself as a writer and an activist. There’s this tabooness to identifying as both an activist and a journalist. Part of your work is journalism. Do you think that it’s possible to be a good journalist and an activist simultaneously?

I think that it’s important to recognize that all journalism has a political perspective, and that some people are just in denial about that, right?… How did this concept even arrive in journalism as a marketing ploy, as a means of selling penny papers to wider audiences? And so even within that frame, right, it never stopped having a political perspective, it never stopped having a political framework. It’s just about trying to make that invisible in many cases, by acting as though some midway position between sort of various extremes, or what are perceived as extremes, as though that makes something non political. When really, you know, what’s depicted as centrism in the U.S., of course, is pretty far right. And what’s depicted as sort of mainstream is actually really extreme in a lot of ways. We talk in the book about how normalized some forms of violence are in the United States. Structural violence, normalizing the fact that people are being tortured daily and dying in prisons. That’s a mainstream position. That’s a status quo position. And so yeah, it helps me to understand that there’s no such thing as not really being political. It’s just about what politics you’re embracing, and whether or not you’re being honest about it. And so my jumping off point is that I’m honest about it. And also, I don’t think it’s an extreme position, you know, to start off from a place of acknowledging that the world needs to change drastically.

This book was a learning experience for me, was it a learning experience writing it?

The chapter on burnout was groundbreaking for me personally. I thought that I had already learned some pretty important lessons, just from my years of work and also from becoming disabled while doing the work and the ways in which that had forced me to learn to pace myself differently. But listening to Sharon Lungo talk about how you have to actually visualize yourself in the future that you’re fighting for—that we can’t treat ourselves as disposable for the cause. 

Allowing ourselves to have things and modeling that for the next generation of young folk. That like, actually, yes, you should have hobbies, you should be caring for yourself, you should be indulging [in] creative pursuits, you should have more. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself. And in fact, that’s kind of a bad thing to be teaching other people to do. Those conversations, I think, saved me a lot of lessons that I would have had to keep learning on my own the hard way.

For a while, I think, I was spared some tumult and some grief by getting to hear from folks who were just, in some cases, a couple of years ahead of me on the journey, but whose footsteps I had been following in. In a lot of ways, in terms of not treating myself as being as valuable as what I was fighting for. And, you know, I think that what Ruthie says about where life is precious, life is precious. It’s become so central to my way of thinking, because it’s like, well, life is us too. You know, it’s like that means I have to be precious too. So what do I need to be okay in this world? And what do I need to be showing? As someone who was looked up to, to some degree, what do I need to be modeling about how we should be caring for ourselves, while also not giving up on other people?

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Jocelyn Martinez-Rosales is a Mexican-American from Belmont Cragin, Chicago. As an independent journalist she’s passionate about covering communities of color with a social justice lens. She’s also the labor editor at the Weekly.

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