My personal rEvolution, very much a work in progress, has been a slow creep leftward into the radical. My father and stepmom had a bourgie requirement that when my sisters and I became teenagers, we took on some kind of community service. We were privileged–white, middle class, Catholic kids in New England–and my folx’s response was noblesse oblige. They had know idea how far I would take it.
My first “gig”, you might say, was volunteering for a risk-reduction non-profit to keep kids off drugs. I had friends who were smoking marijuana or doing meth at 13 to ease family or personal trauma, and my response was less than compassionate. I knew they needed support, but didn’t understand how to give it to them without judging. Self-medication was a foreign idea.
By a stroke of luck, I met an amazing sex educator who invited me to work at her reproductive health clinic for teenagers. I worked there for all of high school, and did sex ed for clients who came from as far 3 hours away. We provided everything but abortion services (clinic was 40 minutes away) and it probably saved my life to have education and health care. Besides knowing my body and safer sex techniques, I learned empathy and love. When a sexually assaulted 12 year old asks you how to get an abortion, you either hate the world or decide to be empathetic more often. I learned that shame only keeps us from being real with one another. I wish anarchists hugged each other more.
During college (I love math and wanted formal training), I taught with my school’s rape crisis center for four years. Although it took me a while to see the racism and classism that taints a lot of feminism, I got to teach classes on the porn industry to frat boys, edit a queer column for the student newspaper, model consensual communication with high school kids, explore alternative (non-prosecutorial) justice with survivors and coordinate workshops on sex trafficking. By speaking publicly on so many issues, I processed my own identities as a survivor, queer-female, polyamorist, and slut. Of course, I’m always renegotiating and growing.
I finally understood the effects of capitalism and awakend to my own outrage when I left the States. During my semester in Hungary, I saw people terrified of the instability of the market economy and terrified of old and new state repression. Trade, privilege, community and exploitation were thrown in my face. The communities and land that people depended on were disappearing with an influx of foreign capital and youth emigration was leaving the region without a future. Transylvania is being destroyed as farmers, herders and artisans are forced to low-wage city jobs. Everywhere, it’s the same shit, different corporations.
When I returned to the US, post 9/11, it was hard to reincorporate. I’ve never been into accumulating stuff, but the only “collective” living situations I saw were college kids in rented shit-holes or Christian communes. It took me almost a year to find people who were articulate anarchists and to realize what I was becoming. Some I found through Unitarian young adult networks and others through local justice work. As liberal politics grew less enticing, I felt the urge to be in a community where being different, freakish, ME, was ok.
It took me awhile to distinguish between punk and anarchism. There is such an overlap in the Northeast, that I felt isolated because I liked bluegrass and didn’t know “Against Me.” My longstanding association with punk was a-political, skinny, sex-deprived boys who went to shows and jumped around. That’s never been my scene. I have since met lots of cool punks, anarchists and anarcho-punks, but I felt alienated at first.
Moving to East Oakland has made me acknowledge my racist-nativist acculturation–coming from a state that’s 96% white, and hanging out in Berkeley makes me itch to grow organic vegetables. I’m figuring out how to live my ethics without condemning conservative old friends and simultaneously create a radical future for myself. Big questions still loom for me personally, and I don’t pretend to have answers. How will I eat when I’m old? How do I feel about satiating my inner nerd and getting a PhD? Will I be a radical poly parent some day?
I’m grateful that, for all the shit I say about radical politics, I haven’t lost my family or old friends. When I told my parents about being harassed in Miami at the FTAA protests, they were scared, but they didn’t think I was crazy. For me, revolution is about clean water, allowing people autonomy in education, love and work, and riding a bike cart for Food Not Bombs deliveries. If that makes me crazy, I don’t need any medication.