Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Politics, Activism, and Identity (Part III: Activism)

Continued from Part II: Identity

Trump's election compelled me to recall my identity as an activist. Oh joy, I get to wander down the memory lane of young adulthood, something I'm doing a lot lately, so at least there's that economy of self-inquiry.

From my late teens through my late thirties, I was outraged about prejudice and discrimination in every possible form. The big systemic social inequality "isms" for sure, but that's not all. During the mid-1980s I was, for example, also enraged by things like pitiful menu choices for vegans. Equal opportunity outrage! When it came to activism, I was at times simultaneously fearless and naive but nevertheless coachable...about activism. Maybe not so naive, given what I learned from my parents.

For one thing, I was raised to support labor strikes. My father's grandfather, Rabbi Moses Gold, was a founder of the Workmen's Circle. My mother boycotted grapes from 1965 through 1971, even though the Delano Grape Strike was settled in 1970. Looking back, I'm surprised we didn't have a portrait of Cesar Chavez in our dining room. Crossing a line of picketing workers was unthinkable. Of course, I became the only clerical worker to ever walk with AT&T linemen during a wildcat strike in 1973. I also discovered Saul Alinsky.

You didn't have to persuade me that black lives mattered, either during the 1960s or in 2013 when the #blacklivesmatter Movement was founded. The coalition between blacks and Jews was strong and seemingly unbreakable during the 1950s and for much of the 1960s. My parents belonged to the NAACP which, in case you don't already know, had long worked in coalition with the ADL (aka, Jewish Anti-Defamation League). Looking back, I'm surprised we didn't have a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in our living room. Of course, I became a non-voting member of my (first) college's Black Student Union in 1971.

Long before Trump arrived on the political scene with his white nationalist storm troopers, I'd realized this history of shared causes and activism, not to mention the resurgence of black antisemitism during the late 1960s, was either lost or being studiously ignored. What, if anything, did I want to do about that? Or, more accurately, what would I need to do before I could do anything about that?

Next on my list of activist passions? The Vietnam War. Like everyone else in my generational cohort, the Vietnam War was intensely personal. Protests at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, draft number lotteries in 1969, and the Kent State Massacre in 1970 contributed to my formation as a student activist. Of course, I organized a teach-in instead of blowing up buildings on my (first) college campus.

By the time I returned to another college after dropping out of the first one, Nixon had been elected, his impeachment hearings had begun, and he had resigned the presidency. Like so many outraged Sociology majors and wannabe Leftist intellectual-activists, I went from liberal Democrat to Marxist, with a side helping of Bakunin.

Women's rights and gay rights* arrived on my personal radar through the gateway of employment discrimination. Getting fired for organizing women clerical workers and suing a small multinational company was one glorious wake-up call in 1976. Of course, that involved the New York District Office of the EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Of course, I handled the case pro se for the first two years.

The focus of my scholarly work during and after graduate school would provide another wake-up call. Like so many women in graduate school at that time, I went from Marxist to Socialist Feminist to Radical Feminist to Lesbian Feminist to something I couldn't and wouldn't shove into a category. Later, in response to anyone's shock and awe, I'd quip that my intellectual-activist world was zoned for lavender. Of course, I was denied tenure in 1985.**  I didn't fight it. I was exhausted and would eventually ditch everything to focus on my nascent spiritual life. 

Ah, memories...those memories. Lots of righteous anger but also lots of exuberance and joyful exhaustion, especially after protest marches monitored by SWAT teams. All great and groovy, but now it's 2017. Now what? 

There will always be more for me to remember and think about, but I'm having T(hat)F(eeling)W(hen) time is of the essence. It's time to brush-up hard-learned and hard-earned skills. Time to infuse activism with faith and what I discovered during the spiritual journey of middle adulthood. While I'm ready to tell more stories and believe storytelling is necessary, I'm also aware that it's insufficient. Storytelling must inspire actionstarting with mine, of course. 

Posted to Twitter by @CarolSnowBooks


*Do not send hate mail, that's what it was called during the 1970s. Also, transgender people were called transsexuals; "dyke" and "queer" were considered epithets with the "n" word and "lipstick lesbians" were regarded with disdain. Do feel free to ask me about in-group bickering among organizers of the NYC Gay Pride March 1976.

** I literally laugh-snorted when, circa 1998, I stumbled upon a paper copy of my curriculum vitae. How had I ever imagined I'd receive academic tenure? Almost every publication had some combination of the words sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, and patriarchy in its title.