Toni Cade Bambara, Black History Month, & Organizing

Get in the field! Mouth don’t win the war.

By Zoe Bambara


“Revolution begins with the self, in the self…It may be lonely. Certainly painful. It’ll take time. We’ve got time. That of course is an unpopular utterance these days. Instant coffee is the hallmark of current rhetoric. But we do have time. We’d better take time to fashion revolutionary selves, revolutionary lives, revolutionary relationships. Mouth don’t win the war. It don’t even win the people. Neither does haste, urgency, and stretch-out-now insistence. Not all speed is movement.”

— Toni Cade Bambara, The Black Woman (1970)


If my grandmother, legendary author, artist, and activist Toni Cade Bambara was here today, do you think she would approve of the moral apathy we’re seeing from organizations in the face of genocide? I believe she would be ashamed of the complicity from Black leaders and organizations, whose own experiences of racism and apartheid should call us to solidarity — not silence.

We see constant calls for the freedom of our people at home, but in the same breath bring a folding chair to a table full of oppressors and genocidal colonizers. In a moment that requires so much more, we are honing in on self-care and rest; while completely disregarding the importance of community care and organizing for all oppressed peoples. 

Everything I’ve learned about my grandmother has been through storytelling and her work as a Cultural Worker. I never had the chance to meet my grandmother. She passed away six years before I was born. However, her and my mother are the reasons why I center community in everything that I do. They have both taught me the importance of collective power building and why it is necessary to not only question any and everything, but to dream and act for a better world. Through her writings, films, and teachings, she highlighted the importance of acting in community with community. When Spelman wouldn’t allow her to teach a specific course, she took it upon herself to teach the class in her home (and it was open to everybody). From making a film about the bombing of Osage Avenue to editing an anthology in 1970 that highlighted the intersectionality of the Black woman and our struggles, not only did she talk that talk but she walked the walk (sometimes in a mini skirt with knee high boots). I grew up in a household where our dreams were limitless, but my mom always had two questions waiting for us: 

  1. How does this center community?
  2. What the hell are you waiting for? 

My grandmother died at 56, my mother will be 56 in two years. 

When I reflect on this fact, I think of how extremely important it is to recognize the health disparities that Black people, especially Black women, face in the South. We continue to see lack of access and disregard of our health, bodies, and spirit. It is very important that we continue to center the need for self care and good health, but we cannot be complacent in only consistently questioning these same systems that are killing us. It takes more than recognizing and speaking out, what the hell are we going to do about it? 

According to Public Health JHU, “CDC data show that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, with most of the maternal deaths being preventable. This heightened risk spans all income and education levels.” According to the study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the wealthiest Black woman in California is at a higher risk of maternal mortality than the least wealthy white woman. 

Black birthing people are also more likely to experience life-threatening conditions like preeclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, and blood clots, as well as increased incidence of other pregnancy-related complications like preterm birth and low birth weight.”

Our material conditions are demanding us to get in the field, y’all. 

Solidarity and advocacy consist of many different actions, and it is so important to recognize where you fit and where you are able to commit. This is something my grandmother knew very well, as she saw her role as a cultural work “to make revolution irresistible.” At the same time, we have to ensure that our goals continue to be the liberation of all oppressed peoples and the destruction of the violent capitalist system that is crushing us. We can’t ‘rest’ our way through radical change. The problems will continue to be there whether we ‘rest’ or not. We cannot move too quickly, fast, and in a hurry, either. We have to be strategic, organize at the root cause of problems, and make solidarity a verb.

“If your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order, It is so much easier to be out there than right here, The revolution ain’t out there. Yet. But it is here. Should be. And arguing that instant-coffee-ten-minutes-to-midnight alibi to justify hasty-headed dealings with your mate is shit. Ain’t no such animal as an instant guerrilla.” – Toni Cade Bambara, The Black Woman (On the Issue of Roles), 1970

These systems have been building and growing for centuries. They’re the same systems that my grandmother was engaged in struggling against, and they won’t die tomorrow. We have to build sustainable movements and make sure these movements are inclusive, and I mean inclusive. Poor Black folks have a voice. Trans Black folks have a voice. Queer Black folks have a voice. They all deserve to not only be heard, but validated and  have the authority to be leaders in these spaces. Our lived experiences are enough. 

Continue to organize. Continue to advocate. Continue solidarity and mutual aid. Continue to hold those responsible for our oppression and exploitation accountable, because accountability is the bare minimum; we are aiming higher. Continue to dream of and fight for a world where liberation is here, because it is soon to come.

Here’s a few ways I recommend to get active:

  1. Read a book. Get yourself educated. Form a community study group with your friends, family, and comrades. There is too much going on in the world to not know anything. 
  2. Join a radical movement or organization. Find like minded people who share your beliefs and center community, who are doing the work for a free world. 
  3. Unlearn the colonial mindset that is harmful to oppressed people everywhere. We have to destroy the fatphobia, anti-Blackness, misogyny, imperialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and other violent systems that are killing people, OUR people.
  4. Donate to your local abortion fund, like ARC-Southeast. Community care is self-care, and direct aid is how we sustain the vital community care that abortion funds provide.


Happy Black History Month. Happy Black Liberation Month. 

Black Blessings.


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