02 May 2016

planet loser:  a response

It was with much sympathy and a lot of nodding to myself that I read Freddie DeBoer's recent essay "planet loser."  I believe it worth my time to contribute a response -- from the perspective of a non-academic, gay worker bee who has gone through many not-very-creative jobs (although, like DeBoer, I was the son of a tenured professor).

Yesterday, I stood for election as a delegate pledged to Bernie Sanders in Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district "caucus."  This is a party-run meeting in which anyone can vote who showed up at a preliminary Sunday meeting in April and registered; Democratic party affiliation is not required.  (Yes, it is exclusionary because people have jobs and troubles getting to these meetings, but I find many of the criticisms of "oligarchy" leveled at the Democratic Party overblown.  I am grateful to George McGovern and others for getting this participatory primary tradition started in the 1970s.)

In a large, non-smoking conference room in Madison's Labor Temple -- a Magic the Gathering tournament was going on directly below us -- a little over a hundred of us made our decisions.  I, along with about thirty other candidates, gave a one-minute speech before any voting was done.  I was proud to receive four votes (none of whom were relatives) before I was eliminated.  I voted in two additional rounds before leaving the meeting.  Some tempers ran high, but it was on the whole a very civilized process.  (I can only guess at comparisons to the Republican delegate selection process.)

Honestly, I came away from this meeting feeling much better about American democracy and the quality of the society I live in.  I have my worries:  will Wisconsin get its 12 delegates from the LGBT community and thus meet one of its diversity goals? (There were apparently none from my district.)

Those of us who hate our jobs, find them unfulfilling, or have no job may be deemed "losers" in the way DeBoer explains.  A respected polling organization's work suggests that a large majority of those employed are not engaged at work.  The magical marketing and desire machine that is the Donald Trump campaign has been so active because tens of millions of people think they deserve more from their jobs and their lives.  The tragic part, in my view, is that so many of these people reject out of hand the very processes and institutions that would concretely help them to a better standard of living.  Labor unions are too "corrupt," universal health care is a "socialist monstrosity," and the mainline churches that have been a key part of American society for generations, providing what charitable services they can, are tarred as "un-Christian" and "watered-down" by fundamentalists (hello, Ted Cruz!)  The military still enjoys broad respect and popularity, and woe to us if they are really the only institution remaining to hold that prize.  (I wonder if this is what the President was alluding to in his bleak joke about "the end of the Republic.")

My conclusion is simply to say that we can all be winners if we try.  This will of course sound Pollyanna-ish to some and just like more of the same capitalist bullshit to others.  But what I mean by "trying" is getting involved in our communities in whatever way is easiest or most amenable to us.  It is serving without the immediate expectation of reward.  I dare say when Bernie Sanders first ran for mayor in Burlington, Vermont that is exactly what he was doing.



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