Remember By Doing

Personal transformative politics

Posted in Art, Personal Politics, Uncategorized by rememberbydoing on October 19, 2009

Warning: the follow is very live-journal.

I grew up loving art and caring about design.  I still do.  And I guess my love for art/design perfectly expresses my struggle to IMG_2418establish personal transformative politics.

My family is Swedish, and Swedish textile and ceramic design mean a lot to me.  The problem with them is, they’re just things.  And usually they are things produced commercially, and shipped across the world, and I have no idea who made them or how much they were paid and what the factory is like, and the desire to create them felt so separate from my political development.   I grew up thinking how much I would love to be a textile designer, or a maker of beautiful things, but felt ambivalent, as I couldn’t see how I could be a textile designer and also be invested in social change.  I know that it would have be compartmentalized: textile designer by day, struggling to break into a competitive environment, and social activist on the weekends.  Sounds hypocritical and crazy-making.  But the idea of living a “dry” political life, which I had no idea how it looked or could be, feels unsustainable as well.  I am afraid of giving up privilege and feel too invested in beautiful things.

Today I went to a talk put on by Catalyst called “Visionary Politics: Another World is Possible”.  A panel of organizers/movement builders/kick-ass women spoke to how their organizations built their politics and movements.  Much of the conversation was about a transformative narrative, and how important it is to integrate a vision of a different world into your work.  A woman from Critical Resistance talked about how you have to ask for what you want, and not what you need, and how this allows for an agenda and ideology that moves forward and is able to unite the material and ideological.  A question was asked as well about self-care and how the organizers make sure they don’t burn out.  One of the organizers responded by pointing out how often this emphasis comes from white organizers, and while it is important, it can’t be compartmentalized (a little breather in Hawaii or an expensive massage are great, but need to be seen as what they are: they still have the same consequences as any choice you make).  She said that her politics are what sustain her; that by practicing her politics well helps her visualize a better material world.  Other organizers spoke about the importance of a collective and how that sustains the work.

This spoke to me as I try to figure out what the hell I’m doing and how to unite that ideological with the material.  I am redistribute shirtconstantly frustrated by trying to take in a wage, sustain my spirit, and navigate the world, as they never seem to match up.  This wears me down.  Even if I was doing textile design, which nurtures one part of my soul, it is such an energy and time commitment that I know that without it integrating my politics, I wouldn’t do them.  I’m not sure how deep my accountability goes.  But I don’t think this is a reason to shy away from building a narrative that unites my ideologies into all practices.  And, I don’t think its a reason to shy away from art.  Visual communication is huge in building an alternative vision.

Seeing those organizers up there, talking both about heady brain ideas and practical on-the-ground manifestations of those ideas, helped me believe too that the radical, organizing Left isn’t for insane, dried-up people that the media may have us believe.  To be a radical is practical and bodily.  It is growth and life and love.  It’s real.

Arm the Spirit

Posted in Art, Personal Politics by rememberbydoing on October 3, 2009

I just finished Arm the Spirit: A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back from AK Press and really enjoyed it.  Diana Block’s chronicles of political awakening, committment, and vulnerabilities really appealed to me.

One section in particular that was pertinent was her return to SF after she comes up from underground.  She is shocked by the political climate and the Left’s fracturing.  Here’s what she says:

“As I walked around the streets of the Mission, I could still feel the insistent presence of progressive politics…Yet, as I began to investigate their programs and activities, it seemed that each one operated separately from the others, pursuing projects and goals that I supported, but without the breadth of vision or ideological orientation that was necessary to build a more unified political movement.  In fact, the burgeoning non-profit industrial complex seemed, in many ways, to have taken over the spirit and structure of the left.

The positive missions and programs of the non-profits were distorted by the competitive drive for funds and marketable agenda, which too often seemed to mirror rather than challenge corporate templates.  In the seventies, we had funded our political activities through salaries from ‘straight’ jobs, a multitude of benefit events, and individual donors who supported our goals…Now the situation had flipped and young progressive people searched for jobs with non-profit organizations that could fulfill their desire to do meaningful, social change work.  But jobs were tied to funding and funding was tied to the thousands of foundations that had mushroomed in the past twenty years, efficiently modeling the corporate mentality for the well-intentioned non-profit sector.  Instead of working together, each non-profit was fragmented to its own track, scurrying competitively to procure grants and recruit the youthful, passionate, hardworking personnel who would ensure its survival.  I couldn’t prove it, but it seemed like a deliberate, systemic plan to co-opt and disorganize the left under the guise of working for social justice.”

Damn. I am only recently starting to see myself as a member of the left, which is weird.  The sense of the “left” among my friends/classmates seemed to be more that it was a thing of the past, a funny mix of communists/organizers that had turned into rich Democrats that put on house parties for non-profits they like, or that they have been defeated and are now doing their small and quiet projects. This can’t help but seem deliberate to me, or at least a by-product of deliberate action against the revolutionary left (COINTELPRO, etc).  Without this historical context, the young leftists I know feel lost. As a white, middleclass college educated person, I know I keep finding jobs in non-profits that I believe in only partially (it’s mostly a distrust of the non-profit foundation system), and keep getting shuffled along into a professional career path while I’m not really looking.  Which is a privilege, of course.  I am getting used to making compromises in my politics in order to find work, instead of making it work.  And what contributes to that is fear (of not making money, of being a white anti-racist, of not owning my politics).