A few days ago I had to have two of my back molars pulled, because I do not have health care and cannot afford the services (root canal and crown) to save them and prevent infection. This came after waiting nine hours at Highland Hospital just to be seen. I got there at 5:30am in order to get on the new client emergency services list, and I was still number 22 (they only take the first 45). Some people got there as early as 4:30am in order to get seen. This incident occurred two days after my wallet got stolen (with my new EBT card inside) making it the newest incident in a long line of irritating and problematic events that keep popping up in my life and testing my spirit and drive.
When I was sitting in the Highland Hospital dental clinic in the early morning waiting with all the other working-class sick people for some rushed and inadequate care, I noticed a beautiful little girl sitting with her mother. It reminded me of my own adolescence sitting in over-crowded health clinics with my mother, who was determined to keep her four children healthy despite the lack of health insurance at her exploitative restaurant job; despite the lack of help from her dead-beat ex-husband; despite the lack of help from a capitalist system that relies on profit extracted by people’s labor at the expense of their health.
I look at these working-class mothers and their children, who are up before the sun rises in order to get 15 minutes with a doctor (if they’re lucky), and I am reminded that the economic crisis is settled on their backs. It is their commitment to the survival of themselves, their children and their communities that sustains them all; certainly not this barbaric, teeth yanking system. When prices rise despite high unemployment and wage cuts, it is often the women who must find ways to feed their families. When schools, daycare centers, and after school programs close, it is the mothers who must find education and safe places for their children to be at when they are at work. When health clinics close and affordable healthcare isn’t an option it is the women who keep their children warm while they sit in emergency room clinics hoping to be seen.
This is why I am offended by these complacent, bourgeois phrases that attempt to blame the working-class for the lower standard of living they must endure at the hands of capital. Phrases like ‘lift yourself up from your boot straps’ and ‘when life hands you lemons you make lemonade’ fail to see the contradictions within a system that is organized around a division of labor that has built in unequal social relations. These phrases instill in the working-class this incorrect idea that they are the ones to blame for their lack of upward mobility and comfort, and that if they just work hard enough they can achieve it. People are working hard everyday, and they aren’t going nowhere and this is exactly how it is suppose to be. Capitalist society is organized around a class of paid and unpaid workers, who are exploited through the wage; and it is the unwaged worker, such as the unemployed, and the unpaid labor, such as gendered domestic work, that supports the exploitation of the waged worker. We must all participate in this system in some capacity in order to get a paycheck/money to survive. The only way we will achieve any kind of liberation and relief from such an oppressive organization of society is not by working harder, but by smashing such a system of forced labor that steals our life away and keeps us sick. We must re-create the system, the productive forces, and the concept of labor to embody the creativity and the collective survival of the people. This is the historical task of the oppressed.
As the capitalist economy continues to descend into crisis the working class, who are already socialized in the workplace and in unemployment lines, must become organized and armed with revolutionary theory and political clarity on the system, and how reforming it will not lead to our liberation. The working-class must understand their historical task through understanding the system and their role in it and their role in changing it. In Georg Lukacs’s brilliant book, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics he speaks to the practical and revolutionary functions of theory and consciousness within the class. He writes,
“Only when a historical situation has arisen in which a class must understand society if it is to assert itself; only when the fact that a class understands itself means that it understands society as a whole and when, in consequence, the class becomes both the subject and the object of knowledge; in short, only when these conditions are all satisfied will the unity of theory and practice, the precondition of the revolutionary function of the theory, become possible.” (3)
The working-class is a class in and of itself that is a part of the society we live in; they are one part (a huge part) of the objective conditions. When the working-class begins to study capital and understand the way society functions they begin to see themselves as this class of people with a particular function in the system that was created through a historical process. When the class begins to want to change these objective conditions as a subjective force, thus seeing itself as the subject and object of history, is when they can begin to make history through revolutionary means. This is when the class, the oppressed, becomes a fighting class for itself. In order for this to happen we need an organization of revolutionaries dedicated to developing other worker militants, who can spread such ideas among the class to reproduce revolutionary theorists and militants within the class. This is where Lenin’s system of reproducing professional revolutionaries that he theorizes about in What is To Be Done is incredibly useful and still relevant today; especially when most Leninist/Trotskyist organizations fail to do so. Lenin asserted that the working-class has embryonic consciousness of the inequality of the system through their lived experiences, but this doesn’t automatically result in all of the oppressed becoming dedicated revolutionaries committing their lives to overthrowing the ruling class, and emancipating humanity. This class consciousness must be supported and advanced by revolutionaries trained in such ideas, as well as the historical situations that inspire the masses to move. He illustrates this point well here, and when he refers to social-democrats he is referring to socialists. The way I would use that term today would be to describe liberals not socialists.
““We have become convinced that the fundamental error committed by the ‘new trend’ in Russian Social-Democracy is it’s bowing to spontaneity and its failure to understand that spontaneity of the masses demands a high degree of consciousness from us Social-democrats. The greater the spontaneous upsurge of the masses and the more wide-spread the movement, the more rapid, incomparably so, the demand for greater consciousness in the theoretical, political, and organizational work of social democracy.”(53).
This is true to me based off of my own class experience. I grew up poor as a woman of color. I watched my father get harassed by the police and my mother work several minimum wage jobs to support us, while dealing with my fathers emotional and physical abuse. I believed that the system was racist, and sexist and allowed serious class divides to exist between the rich and the poor. I also believed in the righteous struggle by the oppressed and considered myself a socialist by high school. But my socialism wasn’t theoretically informed by revolutionary theory and history enough to stop me from supporting John Kerry in 2004 and Obama early in 2006. I repped the Black Panthers, but saw potential in reformist and bourgeois politicians. These contradictions were based on a combination of my own contradictory consciousness and lived experience. When I begin to get exposed to Marxist thinkers, and read Marx and other revolutionary theories, histories and biographies, the fuzzy line between revolutionary and reformist politics begin to sharpen. I saw the contradictions within the system that would only be resolved through the revolutionary change in that system and the destruction of capital. It is this transformation within myself that reaffirms Lenin’s thesis to me and makes me committed to such a project. The people need political clarity; clarity that they will not receive from bourgeois education or their workplace. This clarity comes from the conditions we live in; the theory we study; and the determination and movement of the working masses and their organizations.
Ive grown tired of lemonade; give me my freedom!
I know its only January but the heat from the sun today was such a welcomed change to the rain and cold that we have been getting. I long for summer and longer days, where we can run the streets with day light till 8:30 pm and its warm enough to stay out all night. The warmth of the sun has now set and the cool fresh air that wafts through my windows cuts through the heavy incense smoke and re-energizes me with desires for adventures, laughs, and interesting people in filtered lighting. But for now I sit in my room and enjoy the company of Ms. Billie Holiday and one of my favorites by her, ‘Speak Low.’ The beat is so different for the time period; one of her more interesting songs. The guitar and percussion throughout the song create this cool vibe that makes me yearn for spaces with velvet interior, where the women wear red lipstick and suits and the men know how to dance and not just assimilate sex on you. Here’s to Billie, the summer air, and timeless music…
“It is difficult for me to separate in my mind whether it is my writing or my lesbianism which has made me an outsider to my family. The obvious answer is both. For my lesbianism first brought me into writing. My first poems were love poems. That’s the source–el amor, el deseo–that brought me into politics, that taught me my first major lesson about writing: it is the measure of my life. I cannot write what I am not willing to live up to. Is it for this reason I so often fear my own writing, fear that it will jump up and push me off some precipice?
Women daily change my work. How can it be that I have always hungered for, and feared, falling in love as much as I do writing from my heart? Each changes you forever. For me, sex has always been part of the question of freedom, the freedom to want passionately. To live it out in the body of the poem, in the body of the flesh. So that when I feel the stirrings of creativity, it is a fresh inhale of new life, life I want to breathe back into my work, into my woman. And I long to be a lover like youth.
I watch my changes in the women I love.”
–Cherrie Moraga, Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Paso Por Sus Labios
Excellent writing! I have started re-reading Cherrie Moraga’s book Loving in the War Years and it’s mix of poetry, prose, politics and her own personal narrative is giving me much inspiration. It is a very personal and powerful piece of writing. My writing, especially my political writing, is a tapestry influenced by the objective conditions of the world, the people I meet, and my own lived experiences. It is hard for me to separate my politics from my personal narrative. I have become politicized through the experiences I have had, the human connections I have made, and the conditions I was raised in. The politics and my being are in constant dialogue with each other; the politics shape me and I shape my politics. I was thinking about this a lot the other day when I was reading this book while sitting in the social services office waiting for my food stamps paperwork to be processed. Moraga’s own reflections of her life prompted me to reflect on my own.
Her thoughts about fear of loving and writing from the heart, and their relationship resonated in me greatly. I think there is a fear of vulnerability that most human beings experience that cause us to hold back and not allow people to penetrate us too deeply; to see our scars and imperfections. Writing, like most art, is another vulnerable activity, because it is an activity that represents you; as an artist you must allow yourself to be honest and create work that represents you. That’s what makes art so powerful; you can connect with people in a very deep way, and see into their souls. As artists there is a certain fear in allowing yourself to get that vulnerable with your art, because what if someone sees it or reads it and completely rejects it. That is a scary thing. But ultimately when we get over these fears and open up to others as well as ourselves during the creation process we are able to become more in touch with ourselves and our art, which results in our relations with other people becoming deeper, healthier, and more honest. This is very freeing, as Moraga asserts above. She writes,
“To live it out in the body of the poem, in the body of the flesh. So that when I feel the stirrings of creativity, it is a fresh inhale of new life, life I want to breathe back into my work, into my woman.”
So beautiful and sensual.
I am trying to get over my own barriers that I have built within to protect myself from others. A huge part of that process is trusting myself, my voice, and my writing. The more I write from my heart the more grounded I become, and the more I can relate to people and love in a more holistic manner. Moraga’s piece inspired me to write my own poem about love and freedom. Here it goes:
As a young girl clothed in pink
surrounded by visions of wedding days, husbands, children and happily ever afters
I carried closeted dreams within me
yearning for the courage to love a woman.
To take in all of her scars
pain inflicted by the hands of men and the system
that violates and manipulates
till you are no longer whole.
A fragmented being
want to pick up your pieces.
Treasure them and bathe them in oils and rose water.
Wipe your tears away with my lips
and cradle you in your sleep
so you can feel my warmth.
And our souls in dialogue with each other.
Gathering strength so that we can have the courage
Our love sweetens the air
and hardens the ground against our heavy footsteps.
No longer afraid of our abilities to take the world
and each other
into our own hands.
“I don’t want ‘forever.’ I want ‘now!’ Now! Now! Now! I want loads of ‘nows!’ And I want them till I turn old and gray.”
I have found myself echoing similar thoughts throughout my entire life. I feel like I live so intensely in the moment all the time; it’s like sometimes I forget to breath. I like to feel, experience, be free, all the time. I won’t lie though, the concept of ‘forever’ has always appealed to me. But I don’t like the anxiety that comes with planning out the future. Or being constantly obsessed with the future and the plans of your life and forgetting the details of spontaneous walks on sunny days, where the honey suckle sweetens the air and you lay in the grass writing and daydreaming or getting lost in used bookstores along the way. It is the now that I want and have always wanted.
The quote comes from the excellent film Aimee & Jaguar, which deals with the risky love affair between two women. Felice, a fiercely independent Jewish lesbian, and Lily, a mother and married housewife of a German soldier, in Berlin during World War II. The movie is based on a true story and the memoirs of Lily Wust. The above quote is from Felice’s character, who really resonated with me a lot. She was a very bold and courageous woman, who was actively living her life and expressing her desire, despite the extreme and threatening conditions around her. It was bad enough that she was Jewish living in Nazi Germany, but to openly be dating women and playing around with her gender expression, was like double jeopardy. Her life was in stark contrast to Lily’s, who lead a rather dull passive existence as a housewife. You can really characterize the differences in their lives between activity versus passivity. Felice is actively living for herself and fighting for her ability to live her life independently. She wants ‘now’ and that connotes a kind of activeness that appeals to me. There is also a kind of riskiness and recklessness involved when you reduce everything to sheer experience. I have dealt with that many times before. You get hurt or hurt others. And it can also result in you hardening up emotionally if you are always fighting and struggling for your position or your way of living. But I would settle on the latter and at least be freely feeling my subjectivity and humanity and becoming more in touched with myself, my desires, and who I am. It may be reckless sometimes and result in failures, but you learn more about yourself that way.
Lily changes when she comes into contact with Felice and her crew of underground single queer women. She begins to actively love. The sex scenes change. When she fucks her husband she just lays there, no expression or passion on her face, while he pumps away; she is just a receptacle for his pleasure. When she makes love to Felice you see her expressing desire; taking control. She can actively love someone and not wait to be loved or directed by a man. Her husband says early on when he comes home that she needs guidance. And later on when she is strong, due to her love with felice and relationships with all the women, she demands a divorce and he scoffs at her saying that it is impossible for her to really know what she wants. He treats her like a child, but she takes a stand strengthened by her relationships with the other women.
I am not trying to say that all hetero relations are unhealthy and that women cannot be free or expressing active desire and agency within them, and that it is only queer love and woman only spaces that can do that (although I do feel powerful in these spaces). But it is true that a passive heterosexuality is forced, often violently, upon women historically and into the present, and that marriage and family are mechanisms to control women, their sexuality and reproduction. Often these things prevent women from living independent lives or becoming involved in struggle, because they must raise children and take care of husbands. The women that Lily begins to surround herself with are the exact opposite of that. They are constantly in fear of the Nazi’s, but they are also trying to live their lives in the way they want to live them; they stay up late dancing, drinking champagne, and loving each other, and they aren’t relying on husbands to guide them. Lily becomes empowered through those spaces, and through her love and relationship with Felice, who fearlessly lives her life every second of the day. The last scene of the movie is Felice, Lily, and three other women friends of theirs, sitting around a table drinking and playing cards. They are talking about love and romance and forever, and Felice’s response to it all is,”I’d be satisfied with one single moment, so perfect it would last a lifetime.” This statement expresses a certain emphasis on actively living that is reflected in the opening quote above. And like the quote above I relate to it immensely. I am obsessed with living in the moment and making it perfect. I like setting a mood; paying close attention to the details, such as the light, the color of the room, the music. When its right its really right. I often find myself replaying a particular experience or moment over and over again in my head after it is over. And when I am in it and consciously processing how wonderful I feel that is when I wish it could last a lifetime.
I mentioned earlier that these spaces for me have been powerful. I knew from an early age that I didn’t really want a conventional life. Sure, I fantacized a little bit about marriage and having babies; I had dolls and played dress up. It’s hard not to when these things are being shoved down your throat while you are still in the womb. I also climbed trees, played in the mud, wanted to be a professional basketball player, and made my barbies sleep together (no Ken doll in site). I also valued having a strong community of women around me, who also respected each other and our independence, and were up for adventures. It is significant to note that the title of this blog entry comes from one of my favorite childhood movies the classic Auntie Mame (the Rosalind Russel version of course!). Mame was this fabulous bourgeois woman, who wasn’t married, but had many lovers, and friends who were artists and intellectuals, and she traveled the world, and threw amazing parties in her amazing home that was full of all her trinkets from her travels. She was all about living even when she lost all her money to the stock market crash. The film is called Auntie Mame, because the plot is about her nephew Patrick, who goes to live with her after his parents die in a car crash. Mame ends up losing custody of Patrick, even though they love each other so much, because her lifestyle wasn’t ‘suitable’ for raising children. I remember my embryonic feminist consciousness interpreting that as her life wasn’t suitable for a woman. Women aren’t suppose to travel wherever they want, fuck whoever they want, and think whatever they want. But I sure thought it was more fun that way, and I tended to become closer to other women who felt the same way, and who admired other independent, eclectic, and strong women in history.
In high school my best friend, Natalie Ribbons, and I would ride our bikes all around Sacramento singing the Mama’s and the Papa’s at the top of our lungs, making pit stops for vintage dresses, sushi, books, and incense at witchy stores. We would watch lesbian movies at our sleepovers and daydream about growing old together surrounded by women and our children. We rejected the notion that we had to fall in love with one man, and live with him forever. And we still do. I cherished those times and our friendship, because Natalie is another woman who lives in the moment, and cherishes the details of those moments and good times. And as risky and destructive as that can be sometimes we must try to see life that way, because it is more freeing, and its all we have.The moment, our relationships, and what we make of it all…
What Do You Do When Your Boss Wants To Fuck You Then Fucks You Over: A Statement By an Angry Feminist WorkerPosted: January 6, 2011
I am filled with anger. Anger and feelings of injustice towards this capitalist patriarchy that exploits me as a worker, and as a woman. For the last year and a half I have been struggling to stay focus and sane while dealing with harassment in a hostile work environment by my sexist boss. I worked at an middle school/high school in East Oakland as an after school educator. I love what I do. I love working with youth, building trusting relationships with them, and having the special opportunities to politicize them and expose them to revolutionary truth.
Youth work is generally a gendered form of labor. It’s caring work and ‘caring’ is naturalized as a womanly attribute rather than a skill we must all learn to develop. Most teachers, daycare workers, after school educators, like myself, are women. Principals, after school program coordinators, and other boss-like authority figures come with power, and these positions are usually populated by men. Not always though. In my case my boss’s boss was a woman, but she did not have empathy for me as a woman, which is why my job was terminated and my boss carries on.
I was very aware of these gendered dynamics as soon as I was hired to work at the after school program at this school. The coordinator of the program, my boss, was a man in his early 40’s and all of his staff, including myself, were young women. From the very beginning I found him to be sleazy and unproffessional; his behavior was intrusive and made me highly uncomfortable. He was flirtatious with me and immediately asked me inappropriate personal questions about my romantic life, while making sure to reveal to me that he was single. He contacted me through facebook through a friend request, and even invited me to breakfast with him when I came in early one day to do work; I, of course, declined the invitation and all of his inappropriate questions. I felt so torn over keeping the job, because I needed it. I was broke and new to Oakland and needed to save up some money fast. But I hated tolerating his flirtatious behavior and feeling disempowered at work. I was there to educate young people not to be another piece of meat in my boss’s personal dating pool, a.k.a his staff.
In general this guy doesn’t know how to interact and relate to people in a respectful and healthy manner. He uses his power over you to get what he wants and his power takes on different forms, depending on what he wants from you. He was attracted to me so in the beginning he was overly attentive and flirty. He didn’t care for his former assistant so he was cold to her and used his power to marginalize her at work. She finally had enough of it after only a month and a half of work and walked off the job one day cussing him out. In many ways I was envious of her decision to leave and the fierceness with which she did it. I could relate to her, because she was good with the kids and cared for them and was only trying to do her job admidst his unprofessional and aggressive behavior. I was angry that she had to leave and he didn’t when he was the problem. I began to act much colder to my boss as a response to his behavior towards me and the other women staff. He picked up on my change, and was clearly hurt by it, because he began to behave like a whiny child that doesn’t get the toy he desires. Now he no longer flirted with me, but actively tried to marginalize me through ignoring me, giving me the silent treatment, and acting very mean when he was forced to talk to me. I knew he wanted me gone, because my presence was a daily reminder that I rejected him, and heaven forbid you damage a man’s ego.
At first I was going to quit, because it was really emotionally damaging to be in such a hostile work environment. However, I grew to love my students so much. I knew their parents and their siblings, and was even invited to family functions. I also knew that he was trying to push me to quit, because he had no basis to fire me. I let him know that I intended on staying on for the next school year, and that combined with pressure put on him from my co-workers forced him to accept that decision.
I started this school year with a positive spirit. I was determined to do good work, despite his sexist behavior, and hopefully work to get him fired. After 3 weeks into the school year he blew up at me during a staff meeting. He yelled at me for not checking in with him during our prep period before school was out three days in a row. I was subbing those days, at the school I worked after school at, and he knew that because he saw me during lunch time. It wasn’t like I was just showing up late. And I also thought it was ridiculous that he was upset, because he knew I subbed and told me he was okay with it. It was just an excuse for him to attack me. He was very aggressive yelling and puffing his chest out like some wild beast. I calmly asked him over and over again to lower his voice, because I felt uncomfortable by his aggression. His response was “Im talking to you the way you are talking to me”, and continued to yell. I finally confessed to him that I thought his treatment towards me was personal and not related to our work, because he did not speak to any other staff members like that. This struck a chord in him, because he knew I was right; his treatment towards me has always been based on personal feelings and not business. He began to yell at me and say that it wasn’t personal, that he didn’t care about me, and this is just business. I then revealed that I knew he didn’t want to rehire me (my co-worker told me that he was trying not to bring me back on) even though I continue to do good work there. His response was “you’re right. I didn’t want to rehire you, but I did because of the quality work you do.”
At this point I was overwhelmed with emotion: I was happy that he finally admitted, in his own words, that he was a sexist pig who would discriminate against me for personal reasons, but I was also sad and angry that I was being treated like this and it had nothing to do with my work performance. It felt so unfair. I hated feeling unsafe at work and vulnerable to this man’s attacks. I immediately wrote up a report documenting the incident and gave it to my boss’s boss and the principal of the school. Neither one of them did anything about it, and I remained at work, but I was treated like I was nonexistent. My boss did not communicate to me at all; he didn’t tell me when we had staff meetings or schedule changes, ect,. The final straw came for me when 5 of my performing arts students, all 7th grade girls, came to me and confessed different stories where they felt unsafe around my boss. At this point I was determined to get him fired, because if they weren’t going to do anything about my safety I hoped they would do something for the kids safety. I submitted another incident report to my boss’s boss detailing what my students told me then we went on winter break for two weeks. I went to work the first monday back this week, and my boss continued to ignore me as he usually does. The next day I received a voicemail from my boss’s boss telling me my contract was terminated on December 17th, right when we went on break, and that I shouldn’t have come into work the day before. That guy let me come in, knowing that I was fired, and let me stay and work without saying a thing to me. He didn’t tell me why I was terminated and his boss’s boss still hasn’t informed me of the reasons why my contract was terminated. I know that none of the reasons have to do with the positive work I was doing. I was and am infuriated. I submitted two incident reports documenting my boss’s behavior towards myself and my students (all women) that left us all feeling unsafe, and they dealt with it by firing me!
So many women workers, maybe all women even, have experienced this before where a male boss feels like he can intrude upon you because he can and has the power to do so. It reflects the power relations built into the sexes and the worker/boss social relation. Under capitalism a workers labor is objectified, because she does not control her labor process or the fruits (profit) of her labor even though it is a a part of her. While you are working the boss owns your labor, and can command you to do whatever he wants you to do with it, because you need that paycheck in order to survive. As a worker the boss tries to limit any power you might have over your labor and your work environment. The only way workers can achieve gains or real power is through force and struggle that comes in the form of withholding their labor, seizing the means of production, occupying their workplaces, these acts move towards taking back the boss’s power over you. In the same way a workers labor is objectified, women are objectified as sexual objects for the pleasure of men. We often don’t feel like we have sexual agency and control over our bodies and desire. This patriarchal oppression of women has existed before capitalism, but it has taken a different exploitative form under capitalism that we must study and understand. In Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts he writes,
“From the relationship of estranged labor to private property it follows further that the emancipation of society from private property, etc., from servitude, is expressed in the political form of the emancipation of the workers; not that their emancipation alone is at stake, but because the emancipation of the workers contains universal human emancipation – and it contains this because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and all relations of servitude are but modifications and consequences of this relation.”
These power relations of worker versus boss, where the boss’s power over the worker is the result of the devaluation and exploitation of the worker, intersect with gender power relations, where male power is the result of the general devaluation and objectification of women in society. These social relations can intersect in very oppressive ways and mutually enforce each other when a male boss can execute his power as a boss and as a man over you as a female worker, and can intrude into your life in many different ways. He can command you to work overtime and command you to fuck, and if you resist you are fired. This leaves women with general feelings of powerlessness. It is disturbing to me how so many women I come into contact with have similar experiences and stories. Since women make up the majority of the workforce, and we share these particular experiences of sexist exploitative labor why hasn’t it been taken up enough by our revolutionary movements and labor movements? This must change and we must build women power as well as worker power in order to fight the boss with stronger and more advanced strategy. Marxist revolutionaries understand the importance of struggle for human emancipation, as Marx pushes in the above quote, and we understand that the people must feel their agency. A huge part of that is bringing clarity to the people about the truth of the system and how it is designed to exploit and oppress. It is not that you aren’t working hard enough, which is why you didn’t get that raise; and it’s not about the clothes you are wearing that solicit unwanted and often violent attention. Our exploitation and oppression as women and as workers is not our faults! It is the system that relies on an oppressive division of labor that privileges rich men, and that disciplines us and keeps us in positions of inferiority and powerlessness. But these aren’t fixed positions. As we learn the truth, together, we can build networks of women and of workers who can take the power back for ourselves and hopefully smash this system and its oppressive social relations that come in many forms and places.
There are many reasons why I am drawn to Marxism and see the agency and empowerment within it. An important aspect of Marxism is the role of human beings in history. Marxism reveals the ways that history and different historical epochs are the result of the movement and development of the people. In the Communist Manifesto he writes,
“The history of all hitherto existing society(2) is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master(3) and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
Marx is demonstrating that the history of the world is a history of human interaction. It is the struggle and actions between people that propels societies forward; destroys and reconstructs and destroys again. A revolutionary’s purpose is to make history by participating, as a part of the oppressed, in the shaping of a new society that will emancipate humanity. Like the famous slogan from the Manifesto, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” A huge part of the road to that struggle is effecting people’s consciousness so that they see their role in struggle, and identify with the social fabric that connects revolutionaries throughout history from different places and time periods. Demonstrating that through out time there is this tradition of radicals sharing the same principles and goals of liberation and revolutionary struggle.
A huge barrier to that process of connecting with people is the alienation (another important Marxist concept) that disconnects us from our collectivity (our species), and ourselves. Our existence under capital is reduced to individualistic acts of survival. Capitalism relies on coerced labor; it forces us to work, because we need a wage to survive and pay for all the things the people don’t own or control (food, shelter, clothing, ect.). Instead of spending our time building relationships and community and working together for the common survival of our communities it is spent working for a wage that barely pays the bills and puts food on the table, meanwhile the rich get richer off of this exploitation. Not that there aren’t healthy, supportive communities that exist out there, but I believe that the individualistic and exploitative nature of capital makes it very difficult to build with each other. One, of many things, that stood out to me in Assata Shakur’s biography, Assata, is when she speaks to the difficulties and messiness of her parents marriage in a very humanizing way that puts it in the context of the de-humanizing system we live in. She asserts that it is a wonder that any Black couple can stay together happy and healthy, when your life and mind is constantly consumed in work and survival. It is true. How can we build emotionally healthy, sane, loving relationships when we are so disconnected from ourselves and each other due to this alienating system.
The importance of history and sense of self, despite the tremendous amount of societal alienation was very present on my mind throughout my new years celebrating and reflections of 2010. My New Years Eve was spent with my close friend Mai, with lovely sprinklings of other close friends and comrades throughout the night. Mai is a never ending source of inspiration, strength and sisterhood for me. I often find myself relating to her and her own journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Before we went out to usher in the new year at El Rio, we sat in her kitchen, as we often do, sharing delicious chai tea hot n totty’s (yes chai tea with whiskey!), and reflections and stories of our lives. It is in these moments where I feel the alienation is dissolving, and I am able to freely connect with myself through my connection with others. Mai shared with me her beautiful altar that she has been continually working on. She showed me pictures of her grandparents on both her parents sides, and shared with me her efforts to connect with these historical lineages that she had been disconnected from growing up. I can completely relate to the desire to discover a history that you are a part of, which is greater than you. Understanding your past, and having a community to connect to is incredibly empowering, and helps fight the alienation that rips communities apart and isolates us from each other.
Growing up in an unstable home, as most of us have, I learned that both of my parents came from unstable and abusive homes as well. This prevented large family gatherings from happening, which shrouded my family history in mystery for me. I had no regular contact with grandparents, who could pass down stories and traditions that gave me a sense of my own history. I think that is why I was so obsessed with my musician great grandfather, even though I never met him. He played a role in the development of Black society in Kansas City, as well as Black music. I saw myself in that; I wanted to play a role in society as well. At first I decided to follow in his footsteps and play alto saxophone, but after failing I realized I didn’t have to copy him to share his history. I was already doing it In my own way through art and struggle.
Besides the importance of identifying and connecting with a history, whether it be your families, or revolutionaries, women, ect., I think it is also important to be active in building community with people who also identify with these histories so you feel collectively empowered. It also helps maintain a stronger sense of self that you see represented in the relationships you have around you. I thought about this during the second half of my evening on New Years when Mai and I met up with friends at Mango, a queer women party at El Rio in SF. This past year has marked a huge step in me embracing my queerness and becoming more grounded in general. A huge part of that has been identifying with other queer women of color and sharing a community and history that demonstrates we have been here throughout the ages fighting for a truly free sexuality; one that doesn’t have built in power relations that reflect the division of labor within society. That said, it felt good to be surrounded by queer women of all shapes, colors, gender expressions, and ages.
This past year has been a very difficult process of healing, reflecting, and transforming. It has been painful, but has resulted in amazing growth. I feel like I have been able to connect with myself to do positive internal work that has allowed me connect with people in a healthier way. I feel eager to continue down this path of intellectual and emotional development; I want to build healthy, strong, loving revolutionary communities; and I want to continue to go through healing with my family. I also feel much more open to the possibilities of healthy, earth shattering, love and partnership. As I reflect on this past year and its long, sometimes messy, journey of emotional growth, I enter 2011 with a strong sense of excitement for the changes the new year brings. Here’s to you 2010…you served your purpose, made your points, and now its time to move on. 2011 I welcome you with open arms and positivity. ❤