July 21, 2013

Progressive White Guys?

I recently moved across the country and upon arrival, I signed up with Tompkins County Workers Center (Ithaca, NY) and began to be active on a Living Wage ordinance sponsored by the TCWC.

So once again, I'm out doing something I've done ad nauseum over the years; that is gathering signatures, this time for a Living Wage project.

Now gathering signatures isn't all bad. It is an opportunity to meet and engage with folks; good political discussions do happen. On the other hand, there's a certain dialogue I seem to be running into all too frequently. This dialogue seems always to occur with white guys, in particular, white guys who might style themselves to be progressive, hold tolerant beliefs about others, and present themselves as engaged in the issues relevant to the day. Yet, with only a little conversation it becomes clear that these guys are walking impediments to any kind of action necessary if we want to change the world.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

A week or so ago, I was collecting signatures at a local food co-op. A guy in maybe his 30s asks me what I'm gathering signatures for, and I tell him. The rest of the dialogue goes like this:

The Guy: The only thing that will work is an international luxury tax!

Me: Well, I like the idea of the luxury tax but things are more complex than just that.

The Guy: No, an international luxury tax! If those CEOs had to pay a 75% tax when they build their 2 million dollar mansions, they'd think twice.

Me: Yeah, well it really is more complex than one single magic bullet act, for instance...

The Guy: (cutting me off).... Oh, you mean it will never pass.... It probably won't...

Me: No, the world is more complex, for instance....

The Guy: Just one thing, the international luxury tax! That's it (as guy walks away towards his car)!

I don't want to knock an international luxury tax; that's not the point. The point is that we have a guy here who seems to understand that wealth inequality is a major global issue. Yet he constructs his views in such a way as to block any follow through actions. The guy goes out of his way to engage with me. He states his position, which is one based on issue sympathy with me. Then however, his puts all his eggs in one basket, the international luxury tax, even while suggesting that it is an impossible program,.Then he walks away, passing up a productive action that might have taken him maybe three seconds, namely signing his name to the petition.

Then, couple of days ago, I run into another guy, and the dialogue goes like this:

The Guy: What is the petition for?

Me: (I explain the Living Wage legislation).

The Guy: That's good! (I figure he'll sign the petition). I don't know though, how about the small business owner?

Me: Yup, know that argument. You know though, the evidence points to communities being more prosperous, with lower needs for food stamps, housing assistance, etc. after Living Wage standards have been adopted. And little businesses don't go belly up. That's a piece of myth concocted and maintained by those who make money off low wages.

The Guy: Well, it just won't work. It's too little and won't have an effect.... Anarchists are saying we need a revolution, I think so....

Me: Look, I'm a communist, but....!

 The Guy: Cool!

Me: But you can't just sit around and wait for the revolution. A movement takes lots of little actions to build up into an effective movement... You've got to be able to engage with even the small things. That's where other people are....


Me: Can I get you to sign the petition?

The Guy: I don't know... It's hard to say.... It (Living Wage) just doesn't do anything... (he is backing off)

I do want to say the point in going over the above two conversations is that these are common conversations. The guys above are examples, not isolated incidents. Interestingly however, these conversations seem only to occur with white guys who are not part of the Right and otherwise have decent political values.

As such, these guys are not the enemy. But they sure are part of the problem!

Capitalism creates a unique mass despair. That nothing can be changed; that all opposition is futile. I don't have the time or background to go into this issue (To see a great discussion of this issue, check out http://www.humaniteinenglish.com/spip.php?article2311 ). Instead, the point I do want to make is that in spite of decent core values, these guys are de facto, acting as the messengers of capitalism's despair. This is why guys, and arguments like the above are a problem.

I don't have any great remedy for the guys who field the above kinds of conversations. But I would suggest this: When you hear positions such a those presented by the two guys above, don't let it go, it needs to be confronted.


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