Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Demonstrating the relevance of ideas

When I think about the formal political organizations I've been involved in on one hand, and the overwhelming majority of socially aware women in my life on the other, the two just don't fit together very well. The women I know are active doing interesting and constructive things, if not expressly political; while many of the very intelligent "political" types I know are men with whom one can have a very interesting discussion just so long as you both hold the same views in the first place.

Between the two, the political type is always engaged on some level with the broader culture, whether in their "political" capacity they ever bother to admit this (for instance, as an online persona): they participate in mainstream life whether they like it or not; but the women I know don't participate in formal political activity, or eventually move away from it, because they simply don't like it. Why they don't like it has nothing to do with any lack of social awareness on their part, but instead reflects an honest appraisal of their options and a judgment in favor of the kinds of activities that are most fulfilling to them. By and large I have found that the tendency does not draw them toward hanging out with overtly political dudes -- again, my experience -- and the organizations they populate.

And all of this is very healthy I think, because insofar as such organizations fail to demonstrate their relevancy to, say, working class women, why should they deserve to grow? The kinds of social activity that are most meaningful to people, or best meet their needs under the circumstances, are the ones that people are excited to be a part of. If the "one big union" is as relevant an idea today as I believe it has always been throughout the history of industrial capitalism, then surely there is a way of articulating its relevance to women (and other underrepresented workers) in their daily lives. It seems evident to me that we haven't quite hit on this yet in the context of a highly-saturated consumer culture, where commercial distractions can be counted on to obliterate whatever excitement might be found in the lessons of early 20th-century labor struggle. In my view, this is a place to come to, but not the right place to begin, depending on the audiences we want to reach.

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