Umm, what? Who the f… I mean who are you? V-Van…Drew?
Well. I see you’re running for congress. That’s pretty much all the information I need, to be fair. Now, Van Drew, don’t take this personally, but I trust politicians just about as much as I trust data viruses, so I won’t click your link, because I’m afraid I might get one.
But, tell you what, Van Drew. I’ll make it up to you by giving you more than you bargained for. You called me a “principled” and “commited” New Jerseyan, after all, which is flattering. But you know what, Van Drew? The part that most caught me off guard in that sentence was “New Jerseyan”.
I’ve lived here for almost two years now, but haven’t thought of myself as one. I’m definitely not the typical one, Van Drew, that’s for sure – I don’t even have a car, for crying out loud. But, damn it, Van Drew, you are right. I am a New Jerseyan. Huh.
Now, before you get your hopes up, Van Drew, just let me tell you that I won’t be voting for you. Because I can’t, even if I wanted to. Not a citizen (not that that always helps, though). Albeit white and privileged, I’m one of those New Jerseyans without a voice in politics. Or, so it would seem. In fact, I don’t see it that way. Truth is, Van Drew, if I could, I probably wouldn’t vote anyway. Not out of spite, not out of principle – I’m not that principled in this regard, despite your kind words. Just.. out of the sheer feeling of how meaningless it is. But no, it’s not that I’ve given up. I’ll explain in a while.
Some say that my attitude here is in itself a privilege. That I am disrespecting the struggle of many fine people that fought hard for the right to vote. And to be sure, Van Drew, I’m totally against the discrimination of people in terms of refusing them their right to vote, if others have that same right. Be they indigenous peoples, black, women, working class people, or, like today, prisoners… but also those some call undocumented or even “illegal” (you’re not one of those a-holes, are you, Van Drew?) immigrants. So yes, people say it is privileged not to vote. But the thing is, I don’t mind people voting. This is not me telling people not to vote.
And the fact of the matter is, Van Drew, that those who predominantly don’t vote, even if we discount all the ways in which politicians and those with economic power try to prevent them, are poor and marginalized people. Rich, privileged people generally vote. You know why, Van Drew? Because if you’re well off, you both tend to think you deserve it, and that you actually have a say. The first part is self-delusion, but the second part is true, Van Drew. Those on the economic and social margins of this society, though, they know that their voices – votes or no votes, don’t matter. Because no matter who they vote for, the government and the capitalists always win.
This is the thing, Van Drew. You know what I believe in? I believe in freedom and in a society where everyone’s needs are met. That might sound simple, it might sound utopian, but, by god, Van Drew, with the resources we have today, do you know how easy that would be to implement? That’s why, to be honest with you, I am not that fuzzed about voting or the question you ask. “Should members of congress work across the aisle?”. I mean, what the actual… heck, Van Drew. That’s like asking someone in a burning house whether they prefer rice or pasta. That’s like asking people to vote on the color of traffic lights while their homes are commodities on a market. That’s like asking someone to recycle plastics in a world economy based on mass production and consumption, governed by infinite exponential growth.
I don’t know how you did at math, Van Drew, but let me tell you something about “exponential”. Picture a curve. It’s not one of those rather straight lines, or even slightly bent ones, this sucker is curving upwards – like hell. It’s one of those where, pretty soon, the line looks like it’s heading straight up, in fact. Imagine if that means resources over time. That is, plainly speaking, a hella lot of resources over very short time.
But, I digress. Suffice to say, Van Drew, your question sort of misses the point. Voting sort of misses the point. With all due respect, I think the problems in our society actually have a lot to do with most of us being told that the only way we can change society is voting for people like you. Now, ok, Van Drew, calm down, don’t take this personally. The problem isn’t you as an individual, or even all politicians. The problem is a society where we supposedly are free but yet can’t decide anything about most of the things in our everyday life without either having to defer to politicians, or simply abdicate to bosses and business owners that rule over our places of work and preside over our homes with the apparent authority of modern day feudal lords.
But as I said, Van Drew, I believe in freedom and in a society where everyone’s needs are met. Now, it is easier said than done to just “be free”, right? We can choose what we think, what we believe in, and how we act in the world, but we don’t exactly choose our conditions. And as little as we can choose our conditions, we can choose to simply “become” better or different people overnight.
But don’t get me wrong here, Van Drew. A lot of people like to talk about human nature. Human nature, this, human nature that. Humans are naturally greedy, naturally competitive. It’s a dog eat dog world, and so on. I don’t buy that crap, Van Drew, do you? Like, as I said about you and the rest of your politician friends, I don’t think y’all are bad people. Really. I don’t think you for some reason lack character or moral backbone, and thus I don’t think that the solution is to replace you with other, supposedly better people.
The problem, Van Drew, is that you and your politician friends, are placed in a situation within a definite set of conditions with certain clear cut incentives, that, pretty much like gravity makes an apple fall, make you and your politician friends “fall” from grace and time after time turn out to serve the interests not of the people, but of vested powerful interests, both political and economic. So it’s not that we’re not good enough to be free, Van Drew, it’s that we, if anything, are not good enough to rule over others.
What’s more, we humans don’t have a rigidly fixed human nature, we have all sort of tendencies and propensities. Egoistic ones, as well as altruistic ones. Peaceful and harmonious ones, as well as violent and unpleasant ones. So the question, Van Drew, is not what kind of humans we are, but what kind of conditions that bring out the best out of us, that bring out those qualities which enable us to live together, free, in a society where everyone’s needs are met.
And true, we can’t choose the conditions we try to realize this under, Van Drew. We can’t change ourselves by snapping our fingers. But do you know, Van Drew, how we humans evolve as social beings? By acting on our conditions, and changing them, we change ourselves. And if we want a free society where everyone’s needs are met, we can’t expect to accomplish that by social forms that are everything but free. Freedom cannot be given, Van Drew, it can only be taken. We can only become free and realize our aspirations for a different society, by directly acting for it ourselves. Despite certain appearances and narratives, that’s always how social change has come about.
That is why, Van Drew, I don’t care much for politicians and voting. That is why I instead see hope where people organize directly in their everyday lives to change their conditions there and then. In grassroots-organized unions, in tenant associations, in neighborhood assemblies, in social centers and book cafes, in study groups, in migrant sanctuaries, in mutual aid associations that help feed people or perform disaster relief, in autonomous art spaces and community gardens, and in a thousand other places that provide us with the means to change, but also with beautiful radiant things.
And where we struggle for dignified working conditions today, tomorrow we want to control and transform our places of work without any bosses or owners. Where we fight against gentrification and rent hikes we want communities to cooperatively manage the neighborhoods, and homes being a matter of needs instead of a commodity on a market. Where we fight with undocumented migrants, colonized peoples and people of color, against state repression and racist violence, we want a world without states and borders, divided and united only by the intricate social relationships we build as individuals, groups and communities, always fluctuating and morphing into something new, while respecting each others autonomy.
Where we do prison support we want to abolish prisons together with the economic and social roots for most so-called crimes, and otherwise use methods of restorative justice and mediation to resolve inevitable conflicts and hurtful behaviors. Where we fight for food security and decent access to basic supplies we want to let a thousand gardens grow under the control of those communities they concern, and turn them into wonderful flowering commons, while in the process creating independent, resilient communities where we contribute what we can and take what we need.
By starting to change the things around us, directly, as equals, in solidarity both because we care for each other and because we realize that our freedoms are inextricably linked, we also start to change ourselves. This is why the things I describe are not utopian, Van Drew, but a practical and open ended road map, an inspiring glimpse of what could be and a rough sketch of how to get there.
Do you see now, Van Drew, why your question washes off me like the New Jersey dirt when I hop into the shower in the morning? The aisle you speak of is a mirage. Bipartisanship is not open minded or pragmatic, but incredibly narrow and hopelessly far away from anything meaningful. The gulf between what is and what could be is an ocean, wide, uncrossed and untamed, and you’re sitting at the beach of reality, thinking pragmatism is using all the wood to make a bonfire instead of building boats to get to the other side.
We’re builders, Van Drew, but we’re also pirates. We will build our boats and sail off, with no regards for your laws and regulations, for the sanctity of property or borders. We will not sit around and wait for you or someone else to deliver us to the world we dream of. We’re dreamers, it is true, but what we dream of is a greater reality where we ourselves are the heroes of our story.
That is why, Van Drew, you have nothing to offer me, and why I now bid you farewell. Good luck with the questionnaire, which undoubtedly will provide invaluable information for your campaign team when it is time to decide the correct slogans to win back your seat. And, as soon as you’ve done that, I’m sure our lives will improve immediately. But, really, joke aside Van Drew, that’s not what it is about, is it. That, my friend, would be utopian thinking.