When I think of role models, activists I respect, and new organizations with which I want to be involved, it’s important that their politics are in line with mine. But when I say “politics,” I mean it in a very particular way. I’m not talking about politicians or Democrats versus Republicans. I don’t mean politics in the sense of “playing the game.” For me, the real kind of politics involves how we live our lives, how we treat others, and how we approach the world. CrimethInc calls it “the politics of our everyday lives.”
Are you aware of your privilege? If so, what do you do about it, and how do you react when someone brings it up? (And don’t deny that it exists because we pretty much all have some form of privilege or another, even if it doesn’t play out in the same way.) Do you believe in the status quo? What are your thoughts about policing, capitalism, sex work, the prison industrial complex, marriage, the government, sexuality, the criminal legal system, academia, immigration, poverty, prisoners? How about socio-economic class, monogamy, power, gender, the existence of racism and sexism in U.S. society, kink, ability, education, body size, the role of religion, sex? What do you consider to be mainstream, radical, conservative, or liberal? What do you think is your purpose in the world?
To me, all of that (and so much more) is deeply tied to one’s personal politics. Politics plays a huge role in determining my relationship to someone. What we talk about, what I will share with someone, how close I feel to someone — a lot of it has to do with that person’s politics. If I don’t censor myself, will I sound like a wingnut? Will that person’s beliefs make me feel alienated or alone? Will I need to explain every other sentence I say?
Oftentimes, this kind of politics is left out of the discussion when I’m engaging in conversation on a superficial level (on the bus, during break at work, with someone with whom I’m not likely to interact much) because it’s so much less complicated that way. Additionally, my politics — continuously evolving as they are — are not always the same as the politics of family and friends I love very much. And that’s okay: sometimes, there is time for discussion and education, and sometimes, we simply accept that we are important to each other for other reasons.
Occasionally, however, I find people whose politics are in line with mine. I find people with whom I share a common knowledge, and I don’t need to explain my line of reasoning because they’re right there with me. I find people from whom I can learn, people who challenge me to expand and develop my own personal politics. In that kind of company, I feel as though I am utterly thriving. I don’t need to be on the defensive. I don’t need to carefully gauge people’s reactions to my words so as not to offend or outrage. And beyond that, I can grow.
I am quite conscious that there are gaps in my knowledge and that my politics don’t always have exactly the stable foundations that they should. I may not always be able to explain things that I intuitively know to be true; I don’t always see every angle to a situation; I am not an expert in recognizing all (or any) forms of privilege.
I do know, however, that there is value in recognizing when my knowledge is lacking. There is value in being open to constantly learning. And there is great value in discussing politics — or at least, in discussing this kind of politics.