Love as a Verb

Lina Srivastava
6 min readFeb 16, 2024
A heart-shaped thorny cactus in Austin TX
Photo taken on 7 October 2023, by the author in Austin, TX

I heard someone a few weeks ago describe 2023 as having opened up vast landscapes of hurt that people can feel seeping into the marrow of their bones. The spillover from one of the darkest years in my living memory has opened this one with a feeling of despair, of being unsettled and subdued.

How could it not? Everywhere around us is deep and persistent violence. We are living through tumultuous degradation of the earth and fast, dark sociopolitical change. October 7th tore a deep gash into a world where global policies and political choices continue to create cycles of inequality, deprivation, and oppression. More people are displaced now than since World War II, and they are pushed away from borders into tighter, more desperate spaces. Species are disappearing, hunger is rising, and houses are being washed away. Amidst this, people with the most economic and political power degrade our environment, governance and electoral systems, and information ecosystems.

The most vulnerable consistently pay the price of our decisions with their lives. In the past few weeks, we’ve borne witness to the murder of twelve-year-old Sidra Hassouna in Rafah. Six-year-old Hind Rajab massacred in Gaza City. Ten-year-old Yoriel Rubi and eight-year-old Jonathan Augustín Briones Sancha with their mother Victerma de la Sancha Cerros, drowned in the Rio Grande. Children whose names we don’t know, killed and disappeared in Gaza, Darfur, Amhara, Kharkiv, Manipur, Ituri, Eagle Pass…. Children’s blood is on the hands of western governments, including my own: The United States persists in being complicit in genocide, most recently in Palestine. (I keep thinking of the Audre Lorde quote: “We are citizens of the most powerful country in the world, a country which stands upon the wrong side of every liberation struggle on earth.”)

2024 will add layers of chaos to the past year’s ‘landscapes of hurt.’ Nearly 4 billion people may go to the polls in over 60 general elections, which will change the political landscape of the globe in ways we can only guess — although the global tilt to the far right currently seems unstoppable. The atrocities we’re confronting show little signs of abating. Countless people, species, and habitats will be destroyed. Countless. The counting is impossible and heartbreaking. The complicity is enraging.

How do we survive all of these avoidable, deliberately chosen deaths?

Love. To survive, we need to choose love, over and over again, each time grief and pain start to harden in our veins.

A few weeks ago, I spoke on a panel called “In a Chaotic World of War, Conflict, Inequality, and Disasters, Is Love the Answer?”, part of the Courageous Conversations series from The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom, organized by Marie-Rose Romain Murphy. I wasn’t exactly sure of the answer until I started writing the notes for my presentation. Love as a concept can sound naive, perhaps, or even mundane. Often when I’m on panels about social change, I talk about the way I build strategies, tell stories, and analyze models of collective action toward social transformation. These are essential practices, but they mean little without the foundations of mutual care, joy, and love. Being on the panel was a reminder of the crucial role tangible and strategic love plays in achieving justice.

So my answer to the panel’s core question was, Yes, love is one of the answers. Integrating love into our social systems is a political act. Infusing societal values of joy, care, and solidarity into our interconnected networks helps dismantle oppression and promote collective well-being. Love is a catalyzing force, especially if, as bell hooks wrote, it is used as a verb.

I often like to say leadership exists everywhere if you know where to look. The same is true for love in action. If 2023 was deeply painful, it also gave us example after example of this.

One example is the global Palestinian solidarity movement, which has united a cross-section of movements and people, including Palestinians like Mosab Abu Toha and Bisan Owda who are lifting their voices into our global digital commons, Jews like Rafael Shimunov and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein who are speaking for justice against dominant narratives, Black advocates like Ta-Nehisi Coates and artists like Aja Monet who use their platforms to broadcast voices from the movement and shape discourse. Another is the collective labor movements of SAG-AFTRA, the WGA, and UAW workers, and the collective of artists who have banded together to activate for their creative rights in the face of AI tech power consolidation. Journalists, scholars and dissidents like Maria Ressa, Harsh Mander, and Alexei Navalny faced prosecution, detention and death for their beliefs. Ongoing advocacy for humane borders and welcoming culture from migrant rights groups such as the Haitian Bridge Alliance and The Melissa Network is another example, as is the work of organizations like CCR and LegalAid who use the law to shape rights and access through lenses of justice and community care. Beyond the headlines, love was evident in the daily acts of care and community support that often go unnoticed, like people showing up at community councils and school boards for transgender kids and against book bans.

Shaping a world we want to inhabit requires daily commitment. It demands the relentless efforts of countless individuals who persistently advocate for change, support those in need, and speak out until positive outcomes are achieved, all while ensuring the sustainability of these changes.

As we navigate this year of chaos and upheaval, the question is: How do we sustain this energy? How do we pick ourselves up day after day to do this work and to care for each other?

We need dragons.

(Surprised you with that, didn’t I?)

As I write this, six weeks into 2024, we are at the beginning of the Lunar New Year, and it feels like a chance to start again: This is the Year of the Dragon, which, if we can believe the astrologers, promises collective abundance and sweeping unity. (Oh, how we need these.)

To celebrate the holiday, a friend sent a quote by Ursula K. Le Guin: “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.”

We can’t afford to deny Le Guin’s dragons. Global policies are quite literally killing people, and for those who survive, we are shattering their lives. We are staring down a future in which the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of people, especially children, will have been thwarted or completely erased.

So I say “dragons” with little irony or humor, but with reverence for the metaphor, because navigating our way from oppression to liberation means we have to embrace belief in new systems and new ways of being that may not exist yet. We need to give in to the magic of creating new worlds, the delight of companionship found in new networks and communities, and to the power of our collective imagination — because we desperately need new political imaginaries.

There are already thousands of us who are creating new ways of being in community together, and pulling from existing wisdom to innovate our social systems. We are doing this through movements, enterprise, carework, scholarship, and art. As we go to the polls this year, as we commit to our movements, and as we live our daily lives, what do we need to do to nurture peace, justice, and shared prosperity?

What we need from the rest of the world are the political will and the moral courage to nurture and resource these new visions. We need to challenge dominant narratives, advocate for systemic reform, cultivate fair and inclusive communities. We have to continue to pressure our governments for a ceasefire in Gaza, and to stop enacting policies generally that lead to killing and avoidable death. We have to foster a collective awakening fueled by righteous anger that shatters old paradigms, protects people in the present from harm, and compels us to reimagine our future. We have to finally recognize how interconnected we are.

For all of these things, we need love beyond ourselves, love that guides compassionate actions rooted in care, joy, solidarity, commitment, dialogue, understanding, accountability, respect, and trust.

We need to fall in love with the world again. And to keep our dragons close.

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Lina Srivastava

Founder of Center for Transformational Change https://transformationalchange.co. Using narrative to cultivate community power towards just futures.