I’m uploading this essay in the hopes that I can get some feedback from those who have been involved in the process of putting together the protest against the Knights of Columbus. It is not finalized, as you will see, I did this on purpose because I know that on the majority of these issues I am not an expert and really I have no right to directly speak for the communities involved. I’m not sure if this is any good or if it even says what needs to be said, I also hesitate to post it in a public forum because I know that it is not done yet, however, since we have done very little publicity on this particular cause I suspect that there won’t be much traffic on this page, secondly, the communication has been very slow and I have no direct way of getting this out to everyone at this time, so here it is and if anyone has any objection feel free to take it back down:
We Are Losing!
Why, and Why It Does Not Need To Be This Way.
In the story of the American culture war conservatives are winning. Just to name a few ways in which we see this manifested: the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the flood gates of corporate wealth into our already weak political system; FOX continues to pump conservative propaganda into our lives under the veil of ‘news;’ and the Democratic Party, supposedly the progressive half of our two-party system, continues to sit by and give lip service to our concerns while either continuing Bush policies, or in some cases making them worse: people are still rotting in Guantanamo Bay with little hope of release, and we have entered a fourth war in Libya. Iraq is now a ‘democracy’ (meaning that they have a government that is friendly to our corporate sponsored foreign policy, not that anything has substantively changed for the Iraqi people.) They passed a health-care ‘reform’ bill that consists of little more than a massive handout to the insurance companies. De-regulation, which caused the financial crisis, has not been in any way substantively reversed (and let us be reminded that it was a lack of regulation that caused the Great Depression.) And while it was imperative that we bail out the Wall Street blackjack dealers, loan-sharks, and con-men; people are losing their homes, cannot feed their families and are getting sick because the only food they can afford is laden with government subsidized corn syrup, preservatives, and God-knows what else.
The institutional construction that allows these things come to pass so easily is rather simple and should not come as a surprise to anyone: the Republicans have a very outspoken organized conservative base that continually pushes them to the right, the Democrats have a disorganized collaboration of concerns that push them in many different directions, but never in one direction at the same time. The big Crux of the issue here is that the GOP base has many different interests, many of them in conflict1 yet they rally around the grand-old-flag every time on every issue. Let us pretend for a moment that GOP is a logically cohesive bunch with interests that all converge nicely, is it the case that this is not true for progressives?
It is a common and unfortunate thing that the oppressed internalize the logic of the oppressor. Let me explain: the logic of the oppressor says, “black people are slaves, they are less than human, and they should be treated as such.” Poor whites who are no better off in many ways than the black slaves internalize this logic, and a divide is created where the poor see themselves as separate communities of suffering.2 Theoretically speaking this is the current state of the progressive movement in the United States: we are divided into different categories, sectionalized and dissected into different groups that have completely unrelated grievances. This is coupled with the logic that the world is a winner-take-all system: that there is only so much justice to go around and that each of us must fight our own battle to win what few scraps we can get from the oppressor’s table.
This is a false dichotomy: the claims of progressive groups are not separate but rather pieces of one holistic reality; justice is not a pie that can only be distributed only once, but the combination of all of the experiences, and physical manifestations in our reality, and they can be changed, but we have to fight for it, and at present we have been separated, but let us come together in our causes because in spite of the logic of the oppressor we are not separated in our struggles!
Why the focus on women’s reproductive rights? Why the animosity toward public sector unions whose members include “nurses, teachers and other pink-collar workers who are disproportionately women”?4 Why the obsession with migrant workers from our southern neighbors? Why is there so much venom directed toward the GLBTQ community ? What is so terrible about having a frank discussion about global climate change? For that matter, why is there so much anger toward people who care about the rights of animals and our natural environment? These may seem like a disparate set of questions to which there is no one simple answer, but again recall the logic of the oppressor, these are not separate issues, but what logic drives all of them?
There is one group that has historically been dominant in our society and that dominance, indeed this group’s very identity is deeply threatened by all of these issues. White women in America are having less babies, they are marrying later and are more integrated into the work force than ever, while their Chicano counterparts have one of the highest fertility rates in the country. 4 Illegalizing reproductive rights, getting rid of basic health-care services, and attacking women’s jobs can be seen as part of an effort to force women back into the home in a child rearing capacity. There is a rather overt message coming from the right that immigration is also about this issue: that ‘illegals’ are coming here to have babies and breed the white population out of existence (anchor babies anyone?)
The GLBTQ community threatens the existence of the status quo in two major ways: the first is bluntly articulated time and again; that this community questions and thus threatens the traditional notion of marriage as being between a man and a woman, and the normality of the nuclear family. The second seems obvious but is less subtle than at first it appears: this community threatens sexual identity. Actually what is threatened is the definition of what it is to be a ‘man:’ consider that gay male sex in the lurid imagination of the heterosexual ‘man’ effectively turns a ‘man’ into a ‘woman.’
War is another issue that defines what it is to be a man: here not only do we see the revulsion that a ‘man’ might have toward the GLBTQ community, but we also find the machismo that underlies our inability to question our government when it comes to matters of defense spending, or our ‘national interest,’ that is to say American Imperialism. A real ‘man’ goes off to war and kills brown people to protect his country, thus not only can homosexual men not fight in our military, (as we have seen they are not ‘men,’) but we cannot question what our military does overseas. After all, these are the real ‘men’ in our society !
Finally, the paradigm in which we live is entirely anthropocentric: this is to say that human beings are the only animal that counts. The rest of the natural world exists purely for our exploitation. The very idea that animals have rights fundamentally questions this world-view. This paradigm sees animals, plants, water, air, weather, and minerals as being individual objects, like the mechanisms in a clock: each separate part is interchangeable and unrelated to the other parts. This paradigm is questioned when assertions are made that each member of the natural world is an important part of the biological organization of our world, and that when any one member is brought out of its organic homeostasis it effects the rest of the system in ways that ripple throughout all levels of the environment. Hence when the Delta smelt was threatened with extinction and the EPA stepped in to protect the tiny fish, there were cries of outrage on the right about the life of a tiny fish being put ahead of the progress of man, with no concern nor understanding for the larger implications of letting a member of a larger environmental story die off.
When we raise concerns about women’s reproductive rights, GLBTQ rights, immigrants rights, war and peace, and environmental justice we are questioning fundamentally from many different angles the role and definition of what it is to be a ‘man’ in our society. More to the point, we are questioning an age old paradigm that places the strait-white-Christian male at the center of the universe; at the head of our society. We on the left need to recognize that our struggles are not separate, that they are connected in meaningful ways. We don’t come together to struggle for each other’s causes because each of these issues put together as a whole is the struggle in which each of us is engaged.
This is not to say that heterosexual-white-Christian men don’t get a seat at the table, it means that they don’t get the only seat! Contrary to the likely retort to the argument presented here, this is not about putting anyone above anyone else, this is about everyone, the natural world included getting a say in how we do things. To conclude
I think this paper is way too long, it would be nice at the very least to create a shorter version, maybe 3-4 paragraphs tops, people don’t have the patience to read this much.
1 For example, what do anti-choice advocates have in common with tax cuts for corporations? See also, What’s The Matter With Kansas, by Thomas Frank for a good discussion on the natural splits in the GOP and how they make it all work.
2 See Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
3 And I don’t mean the Obama brand of change: we still torture people, progressives are just silent about it now because it’s our guy that’s doing it.
4 Special thanks to Melissa Harris-Perry for her article which inspired my thinking in this essay which you can find here.