Legitimate consent cannot be given without real freedom of choice. If a no is not available, then a yes is not valid. In any moment when someone asks me if I consent to something, there are countless factors that can prevent me from accessing no. Socialization. Expectation. Obligation. Coercion. Power. Fear. He was driving me home, I couldn’t say no. I had said yes already, how could I take it back? And the way she looked at me when she asked—I heard myself say yes before I even considered the question.
All of our interactions are wrapped up in powerful social forces influenced by our identities. Living consensually in relation to one another is an active practice of cultivating our own awareness of power dynamics and social cues, asking questions with an openness to hearing no, and checking in often with ourselves and others. Was I projecting my own assumptions and desires onto her? Did they seem nervous when they said yes? Did I ignore the hesitation in his voice because yes was what I wanted to hear? How can I help make no more accessible in the way I ask?
This dynamic process of relating is complex and nuanced in exactly the way that “the system” is not. Under capitalism, your consent is assumed—in fact, your consent is required. You must consent to giving over control of your time to an employer if you want your paycheck. How could you say no when the alternative is no money, no food, no housing? And what if you don’t even get the opportunity to say yes?
Everything about us—where we are born, who we are born to, how we look, how we speak, how we identify—affects whether or not we will be able to access the basic goods that we all need to survive. We cannot say no to the color of our skin or the feelings we have for people of our same gender, nor should we have to. Instead of succumbing to this pressure to deny the identities that disempower us under capitalism, how can we deny the power of the system itself? How can we live in ways that say no to capitalism while still existing within a capitalist society?
If you do have power under capitalism, ask yourself “how can I use it to give?” Share the resources that your privilege grants you: tutor someone for free; make a hot meal for houseless folks in your area; open a cooperative for people who are getting pushed out of the city because you can afford to pay higher rent. Share your intangible resources too by listening to and amplifying the voices and perspectives of people who are not given the social power that you are.
If you do not have power under this system, how can you undermine the legitimacy and power of the system itself? Capitalism relies on all of our silence for its power, so speak out. Show the world the power that you do have. Expose the injustice inherent in this system. Seek out and spread just alternatives. Live them now. And then maybe even write about it for your local anarchist newspaper.