Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Our Politics, Their Politics

I have been wondering: Do we spend so much time thinking, reading, writing, and responding to their politics that we neglect our politics? I ask this after thinking about what we talk about when we are at actions, what political activities we actually engage in, and particularly what our print and broadcast media produce, as well as what the progressive section of the blogosphere blogs about. I'll talk about it mostly in terms of media but it applies, as I've said, to thought, talk, and action as well.

That paragraph above needs a lot of unpacking, of course. Any time you start from a premise based on a simplistic "us" and "them", you're asking for trouble. In this instance, I think "them" is somewhat more stable as a category. Its edges are blurry and it is heterogeneous and encompasses contradictions, but the heart of the system that organizes power and those who inhabit its pinnacle are fairly clearly identifiable. Others among us, perhaps many, may participate often or always, but "their politics" belongs first and foremost to that clearly identifiable them.

"We", "us", and "our" are much less clear. Even at this early stage of analysis, "their" influence enters the equation -- part of what creates the variegated landscape of all that is "not them" is the ways that "their" system deprives or rewards us, causes trauma or blindness to trauma, based on who we are. "They" don't determine who we are in any complete deterministic way and the various "wes" mobilize and force change in the social meaning of who we are and how the power structure treats us. But even from this elemental stage of understanding the querstion above, their politics are present in ours -- theirs makes ours necessary, in a way.

So keeping in mind the provisional, even artificial nature of "we" and "our" as I'm using them -- the fact that attempts to widen "us" in practice to even close to the extent to which I am doing so in rhetoric in this particular instance can only ever be part of a concrete, difficult, painful, and incomple process of political work -- it is still meaningful to ask how "we" or the various "wes" allow their politics to take up our spaces.

So: Why is so much that I read and see in independent and alternative media and chat about with other activists and see in the progressive blogosphere about them?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against material about their politics produced from the diverse perspectives I'm grouping as "ours". Even the small differences possible within the constraints of their politics can cost or save lives, reduce or increase trauma. It is essential we understand the structures of power we are trying to reform and/or transform. In fact, a realization of the nearly absolute lack of such material on a local scale in Hamilton, Ontario, played a big part in shaping my productive life for several years.

At the same time, I want to hear more about us. Yes, we need to read/hear/talk about how awful it is that Alberto Gonzales will be Attorney General, but do we need to read/hear/talk about it so much? Of course it is important to identify the role of elite think-tanks in the world's current direction, but is the Project for New American Century really worth so much ink and hot air? I also agree that it's important to spread the word about the latest crazy-right attempt to chip away at reproductive freedom, the latest American boondoggle contract scandal in Iraq, the latest creationist lunacy, but in so doing are we sacrificing limited space that could be used to put ourselves at the centre of our own politics?

I want to read a blog from someone in a worker co-operative about the rewards and challenges of creating a liberatory work environment. I want to hear a roundtable of women working in anti-male violence institutions about how they balance direct support of women escaping abuse with other kinds of political action to achieve their objectives. I want to read the week-to-week experiences of a peace movement organizer in Mississippi. I want to hear the reflections on tactics by women and men doing community-based AIDS activism in communities of colour in Oakland. I want to get the sense that the world we want to build and the nitty gritty of how we build it -- one quiet conversation, one blocked freeway, one leaflet, one fundraiser, one community pot-luck at a time -- is important enough to grab our interest in the same way as an election or a piece of awful legislation or which retired general said what.

If you look and listen you can find some of that, and I'm not saying that is all we need. What we need is some kind of balance, and I don't think we have it at the moment.

I don't think I want to get too far into speculating about why this is the case. I think there are issues related to the fragmented nature of "we", issues of safety and confidentiality. I think it has to do with where in strikingly power-imbalanced landscape that I am folding together into "we" the power lies for creating collective priorities and narratives that get heard. I think it has something to do with the fact that "they" have held the initiative, at least on a global scale, since about the time I was born, and it's all the various "wes" can do to cope with what's thrown at us.

But I don't think it has to be that way. At the very least, all it takes to change that with respect to the blogosphere is the decision by individuals to do so. Bloggers, don't just talk about them. Talk about us! Tell us about the collective efforts at change which you are a part of. Tell us about what has worked and what has failed. Tell us about how the dynamics of oppression are functioning in your collective (like this great post from feministe), about how you're mobilizing the rank-and-file against a reactionary union local executive, about the cop-watch group that you started. Use the anonymity that the internet can provide and contribute to creating bodies of knowledge that focus on us. Only by doing so can we learn from each other, find new ways of acting in the world, build new shared narratives, and do so in a way that is doesn't let the lessons of one struggle get lost when it's over. Only by doing so can we ever grow as a movement of movements, can we ever turn "we" from a rhetorical device (and/or delusion of privileged progressives) into the unified but not uniform political force that "they" most fear.

1 comment:

angela said...

the problem with the blogosphere is that it basically parallels the mainstream media. most 'political' bloggers (myself included) tend to focus on reactionary bullshit instigated by annoying news stories... i know that in doing this, i am helping the msm form public opinion by fencing us into little topics where we can safely beat eachother with ideological nerf bats.