Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch
So, if you’ve listened to the outro music on the podcast, it has the following lyrics:
“I wanna start a Revolution,
I can’t get time off from work…”
Now, when I asked the gentleman responsible for that lyric if I could use the clip as the outro, he got a little bashful and admitted he’d written it to screw with another musician friend of ours who’d written some really earnestly political stuff a while ago. I told him it was all right, because even though it wasn’t his intent, he’d written something that’s pretty important for people to get. And it’s also pretty important to understand what’s going on in modern activism right now, and how that happened.
See, in order to be an activist you kind of a need a couple of things: time and the knowledge that if you get arrested it isn’t going to irrevocably fuck over your family.*
Oddly enough, when you’re working class you don’t have either of these things.
One of the things that’s making the Occupy Wall Street movement possible is that the current political climate has already created, or rather enlarged, a class of people who are fucked: They have no jobs, they have no health insurance, they have no homes. So, not only are you getting your run of the mill, comfortably middle-class, social justice-minded activists, but you’re starting to get more and more of the people these issues are affecting and have already deeply affected. In short, you have created a population who have nothing left to lose, so why not camp out on Wall Street as living evidence of how screwed up the system is?
When you have to work two or more jobs you don’t have time to protest, or even if you just have one, but losing it would be catastrophic, it’s a lot harder to put yourself out there as a target. Particularly when you’re poor versus the rich/establishment. Because I’m going to tell you, poor people cannot believe the cops are on their side. They can’t. And they can’t afford the lawyers to fix it if/when they do fall foul of the law.
For the last thirty or so years, an awful lot of activism, particularly in the realm of feminism, has been the province of those comfortably middle-class, social justice-minded people. The problem with this is the tendency of human beings to universalize their experiences. So while these mostly middle-class, mostly white women meant well, there’s a lot of things they missed that are incredibly important to women of color, and poor women in general. Yeah, it’s great that your corporate job has maternity leave, a daycare and flex time for your white collar ass, but what about the janitors, retail workers, restaurant staff, road crews? Don’t they deserve childcare and the time to go to their kids’ school activities, too?
It’s not that they mean to be exclusionary, it’s just that they have a hard time really grasping how different life is for different facets of society. And it’s a criticism launched at a lot of different feminist movements over the years. From criticisms of the lady reformers of Victorian England who had prostitution declared illegal, thereby making it almost impossible for prostitutes to see doctors or report abuse. To the Victorian era American lady reformers who felt that working women who spent far more than 40 hours a week cleaning other people’s homes needed instruction on how to keep their own, as opposed to some real help. To the battle between the Menshevik and Bolshevik women, who disavowed the title feminist, and Bourgeois feminists, who were content to rally for their own right to vote, and… well, after they got the vote then maybe they could do something for the proletariat. As opposed to the Menshevik and Bolshevik women who were lobbying for creches, communal dining halls, and communal laundries to lessen the working woman’s burden at home, and for the legalization of abortion.** To the situation today.
It is high time for the activist movements of today to learn from the mistakes of the past. If you’re going to be inclusive, be inclusive. You have to listen to the concerns of people whose experiences do not mirror yours if you hope to make things better for everyone. You no longer have the excuse that you don’t know what WOC and poor women want, they’ve got blogs and they’re yelling it at you as hard as they can. I highly recommend Pam’s House Blend, Angry Black Bitch, and Angry Black Woman for starters. Just try not to say anything stupid while you’re there.
And know that your ability to go out there and get arrested and have a competent lawyer advocate for you is a privilege. Use it wisely.
*Either that or you have to have nothing to lose. Also this is not an “always” thing. The young people involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, particularly the African American participants had a lot to lose, in many cases their lives, but felt that the goals were worth the risk.
**So, yeah, I did my grad work on a comparison of Russian Bolshevik and Menshevik feminism versus Russian Bourgeois feminism during the Revolution. Trust me, you almost got a far longer history lesson here. Women’s reform movements have fucked up spectacularly in the past. The prohibition on prostitution and against alcohol being two points against them. And yes, Temperance started out primarily as a women’s movement in the 1800s. This is not to say that they should keep going and shouldn’t strive to do better. I am a lifelong feminist of the combat boots and stomping on your throat variety. But really guys, we need to pay attention to WOC, and let them talk.