September 2009

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So there is a cool little idea that I’ve had for a couple of years that I don’t really do anything with, but my friend Bruin prompted me to write about: Revolutionary Sundays.

See, one common frustration within activist and organizing circles is event overlap. This group plans their big rally for this day, and then two days before discover that this other group planned their reportback for this same day. Not to mention that on the same night this non-profit has their auction, but it’s also the day that so-and-so will be in town giving a great talk. Everyone throws up their hands, and curses themselves and each other for not being more in coordination. It feels like amateur hour.

But what if we converted this frustrating occurrence into a strength? What if we avoided the accidental event overlap with purposeful event overlap? What if we liberals, progressives, radicals, scheduled all of our public events, open meetings, and cultural gatherings on the same day…say Sundays? I think it could actually have really powerful effects on us as a movement.

Think about a really good conference, or something bigger like a big music event or the World Social Forum. In those events, there is no possible way that a person can go to all of the things they want to. And that is one of the most exciting things about it! You know that there is so much cool stuff going on, that you can’t make it to all of it…but you are also happy because you know that there are other people who did make it to that other event. There’s a critical mass.

What if that happened every Sunday? A whole slew of events to pick from, and maybe a little program that you can read to pick from. When you are at one event, people give a brief summary of what else is happening that same day, and you fill enriched to know there are so many people who care, so many groups doing good work.

Mobilizations for petitions or door-knocking would be so easy. New people in town would find it so easy to make friends and get the lay of the land.

Sure, it would mean that groups couldn’t depend on the usual suspects to make it to all their events, and it would force growing out to new people…

…but I think this would be so cool. It would give such a great meaning to the question, “what are you doing this Sunday?” Like a political code word. Neat.

Class politics, family style…

Let me share a little bit about the economic reality in which Glendi and I live, because it’s really intense, and I want to start talking more about it on this blog. I really need to talk about it more, reflect on it more…feel it more.

Here’s the short version: Glendi and I are more or less the sole breadwinners for our family of 11 people in Guatemala (and occassional supports of 4 or 5 others). This means at least one monthly payment to cover all food and utilities expenses (which are constantly rising in this economic climate), but it also needs to cover school fees, clothes, transportation, medical expenses, and so much more. This is something that we, of course, have built into our budget, but every month, when we send our payment (and especially when we have to send our frequent emergency payments), I am just struck by this reality. We are responsible for the health, nutrition, safety, and economic stability of a huge family who we barely even get to see every year. Coming from my own very stable U.S., white, managerial middle-class family, there really is no straightforward way to assimilate the full implications of this. It takes time, and it is a daily struggle (and one which I am privileged and honored to be a part of).

Truth is, it’s something that I find hard to talk about with my friends, and especially with my family. Sure the numbers and broad politics of it, fine. But the deeper emotions that I live with, and which have been stirring in me for these two years that Glendi and I have been living together…this is something else. I mean, I’m still me. I still like movies. I still play video games. I still like new gadgets and toys and all of that shit. And at the same time I don’t just have some distant family that I married into because I love their daughter…her and I are their core economic (and often emotional) support. I am involved. I have been grabbed by a context and pulled into the center of a family that is so different from me in every way…and it’s so real and so immediate that often there isn’t a lot of time to pause and analyze it.

I mean think about it as like some pop-ed workshop scenario exercise about power and privilege: Twenty-something middle class white guy marries spanish-speaking immigrant campesina and becomes a primary breadwinner for her 11-person family. What are the intersections of oppression? What does allyship mean? Just how problematic is this social relationship? I’ll tell you! It’s extremely problematic, and it’s also our daily life. With an economy in rural Guatemala in which there is almost no legal work, where health problems are mounting within the family, and in which the majority of children are still focusing on their education, what other options does Glendi’s family have but to depend on what their family in the U.S. can send them? And in a context where we make 4-8 times what they make in a month for doing much easier work, what moral option do we have but to send part of our check to them every month?

Having friends who are mostly white, anti-racist activist types, this is something that I like to talk about, but which leaves me feeling lonely. It’s a situation where I feel so much more comfortable talking with immigrant folks, because they know what it’s like to send the moneygram or money order, and to know that it’s never enough.

It’s never even close to enough.

And it’s so, so much harder, and so much deeper, when this beloved family calls and needs to ask for more. To think about their dignity, and the fierce injustice of needing to depend on this white guy and his wife (who only got here because of marrying the white guy) to be able to fucking pay for their pre-school for the twins, or the diabetes medicine, or little cotton balls for a school diarama…and even more complicated when we are stretched, and we don’t know if we can pay…but we also know that we do have a subscription to netflix that we could cancel or cut back…

This is just the beginning of me talking about this and working it out. It really goes so deep, and touches so many layers that I am going to need time to get at it. But I really want to. Because I feel like my inability to express myself about this to my friends and family is really cutting them off from understanding what my life and emotional state are really like…

…and also why I sometimes think that a lot of current U.S. activist preoccupations and analyses are kind of bullshit…much more than I used to, anyway. I mean, when people who you love are fucking screaming from malaria, or locked up in fucking Texas deportation prison, or they are eating beans and rice for the 7th straight meal of the week, because they can’t afford even carrots…then yeah, one’s sense of what is most important politically really changes. And you kind of do start thinking about some “oppression olympics” and some “class reductionism” sometimes. It’s hard not to. But it’s also important to keep the bigger picture in mind…but it does change you.

And I have been really changing. Not toward the sell-out side of the spectrum, not by a long-shot. More toward the, I am so pissed at this society that I need to do more side of the spectrum. My anger is a lot more visceral, and a lot less academic than it used to be.

As you’ll see as I eventually write about this more.

It’s been a long many months…

It’s not just about personal cycles when I get down and stop writing. Sometimes it’s about real stuff that is happening to me, that is happening to my family, to the people I love.

These have been some of the hardest 6+ months of my life. So many small and large personal struggles, economic struggles, professional struggles, political struggles, all packed into a terribly short time.

I’m writing now because it feels like maybe, oh pretty please maybe, things are starting to change. The pressure is easing off and my hours are becoming free to actually look at myself again, and to work on some growth and healing. I am so exhausted from being so stretched in so many ways, and especially by seeing just how cruel and terrible people can be to each other. Dealing with evictions and deportations and emergency board meetings and empty personal accounts and emergency moneygrams and malaria and sexual violence and…and…I’m tired. And the wild thing is that I am rare in my privilege to get a break. So don’t think I’m whining. I’m just acknowledging how damn hard life can be. And I don’t even know the half of it.

And it would be tradition to go off now on all the posts I want to write and the incomplete series’ that I’m going to finish up on this blog, but I have no promises to make. First I just need to break my own silence. Then we’ll see how I feel about writing more in the next day or two. Or whatever.

To those who catch this. Hi! I hope you have been doing better than me…and if not, let’s congratulate each other on surviving.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi