Saturday, November 16, 2013

Positive Thinking: A Socialist Value

Previously Published in The Socialist online
Lately there have been a lot of people in the social justice community putting down “positive psychology.” For example, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America and Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. Many are accusing positive thinking of being “pop” and even “pseudo” psychology.
The claim is that positivity is not factual or scientific, is very individualistic, and is used to eschew collective responsibility for why people are suffering and/or are unhappy (such as systematic oppression and exploitation).
However, there is rigorous scientific research that validates positive psychology as being widely effective. Not in a self-help book sort of way, but more on measurable level through evidence-based practice psychotherapy. Some of these therapeutic techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness based therapy (which is actually based on Buddhist principles and practices). These techniques have helped many suffering with depression and anxiety to recover and feel significant improvement. This disproves the notion that positive psychology is a myth or is unscientific, as it has measurable positive outcomes.
The problem with the naysayers, as I see it, is they tend to swing in the opposite direction of positivity. Many are cynical, and attack positivity in order to make an argument for apathy. The “the world sucks and we’re all going to die anyway so why even try” types are the people I am referring to. Those who think this way create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They believe they cannot change anything so they give up. I argue that it’s self-defeating.
Inherent individual temperament aside, I believe most people can benefit from some degree of optimism; and it has been shown that most can learn techniques to become more optimistic. But in the end no one can force anyone to think differently. My point is not necessarily to convince anyone to utilize positivity if it’s not their cup of tea, but rather to say if it works for people why put it down? We choose to utilize positive thinking, or reframe our perception to either more positive, accurate, or non-judgmental thoughts because it works for us. So let’s call a truce on this one and allow each other to live our lives the in the best way we see fit without judgment.
Yes, deep structural, institutional, and systematic change is needed so that we can alleviate suffering and exploitation on a mass and fundamental level. And there is legitimate reasons for why people are suffering, are depressed, and/or anxious. However, I maintain there can be a synthesis of critical thinking, critical awareness, and positive thinking which will lead to better lives for both individuals and groups. But if we could choose to lessen suffering in the moment, even for an individual, why wouldn’t we do so? Last time I checked individuals make up society. They are members of a family and a community; they are your co-workers, your neighbors, etc. Improving the emotional lives of people will have a wider impact on the world.

Moreover, one argument on the other side seems to be saying there isn’t a way to make things better until “after the revolution.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I can wait! I am here to say there are plenty of ways to make things better now! Will they completely alleviate and ameliorate the problems? No. But can they make us feel better? Yes! The opposition seems to think that happiness will cover up the pain and make us less likely to take social action. But I believe when we feel better we have the capacity to do more. Depression and anxiety are demotivating and debilitating. If positivity can help us to have the energy to put into educating and organizing, not to mention increase the quality of our lives and our mental and physical health, then that in and of itself makes it worth a try!

To me being positive is not being unrealistic or “living in the clouds” so to speak. It is strength-based, rooted in self growth, and about reaching ones fullest potential. Being positive is encouragement and believing in yourself and others. Being positive is knowing your own self-worth, value, and dignity. Being positive is keeping hope alive by choosing to continue in a struggle and having the resiliency to bounce back from setbacks. Being positive helps us to fight on and work together for better days for all people. In fact, being positive is a socialist value!

Being a socialist is rooted in love for oneself and one’s community. Without this positivity we couldn’t possibly continue to sustain the movements that breathe life into our collective futures, which require a lot of hard work. Just believing we have a future and it will be better than today because of our struggle, is being positive. Without optimism, we will accept our fate, instead of resisting and agitating until we make something better of our lives. Positivity means being willing to demand better because we know we deserve better!

It doesn’t mean we don’t have challenging emotions or tough times. It doesn’t mean avoiding challenging things or deny the truth about life’s struggles. It means we choose to face them with a positive mental attitude and know we have what it takes to problem solve our way through it. It’s not like we pretend nothing inhumane or unjust ever happens in the world or that positive thoughts alone can make hardships go away and make us happy. We just believe in the power of positivity to help us make things better. In hard times, it means we can lean on a friend, family member, or comrade for support.

We have each other and that in and of itself is positive. Being positive teaches us to embrace our vulnerabilities in order to make connections with others. Instead of listening to the fear-based narratives of the dominant culture, which makes us shut down in shame, we choose to embrace a life which, although sometimes is uncomfortable, is worth living. It is due in large part to the positive social connections we make with others that improves the quality of our lives, renews our spirits, and keeps us going.

As a socialist we realize that through all the pain and suffering, oppression, dehumanization, and exploitation the world has in store for us, we have so much joy, peace, egalitarianism, and mutual aid to share. In the process of our lives we practice in action what we believe in in theory, breathing life into praxis. It’s through positivity that socialists exist. Because we work together towards our collective liberation every day steadfast in the belief that we make a difference and our lives matter.

So instead of rejecting positivity, let’s embrace what it can do for us! Sure, it can’t do everything, but where it has its usefulness let’s use it. Let positivity not be a reason to become complacent or be content in our own little bubble, but let it be a reason for us to become more pro-active, engaged, and inspired to keep moving forward together in our quest for collective human liberation on both individual and societal levels.

Let's Reject Hard Work

Previously Published in The Socialist online

In America there is a strong undercurrent of protestant work ethic. Americans value hard work. I would even argue there is an obsession with it. People are told that if they don’t work hard that they are worthless. From the image of the “slacker” and “loser” to the stereotype of the “welfare queen,” Americans view people who don’t work hard as undeserving “leaches” and “moochers.” The stigma is thick for those who refuse or reject the idea of hard work, or for reasons out of their own control, are not able to obtain work.
There is also an American myth that hard work equals success and will earn anyone a ticket to the “American Dream.” I call it a myth because most of us know in our hearts that hard work does always not pay off. People work their asses off and what do they have to show for it? The vast majority of our labor value, which we produce through our hard work, gets taken away from us and exploited by our bosses (who, let’s face it, do not work nearly as hard as we do, yet gain nearly all the benefits of our hard work).

The owners, as I call them, pay us a pittance and then reap most of the profits we produce. They own the means of production, which they often purchased with money they accumulated from inheritance, tax shelters/breaks/havens, owning property, or exploiting other people. Essentially they get the money through unethical means.

Since they own the means of production and most property, they own us. And if we don’t work hard for them, they will find someone else who will (we are replaceable and expendable). They have tricked us into believing that hard work is good only so they can keep us working hard for them in the hopes that we make headway someday. But that someday never comes. The lower your wages and benefits the more they can extract from you, and the richer they become.

In fact, Americans are working harder than ever. Productivity today is through the roof. This is occurring as wages are mostly stagnant and remain flat while the cost of living rises exponentially. I would argue that hard work does not pay off and that we actually are being harmed by working so damn hard. Working long hours at a job does not bring about happiness as human beings. Spending our lives at work does not increase our sense of wellbeing. It actually increases our stress and leaves us little time to take care of ourselves or each other. What it actually does is make someone else rich at our expense.

I advocate that we have a right to be lazy! We have the human need to rest our minds, bodies, and spirits. We have the right to play, laugh, sleep, eat, read, write, create, share, dream etc. and be in nature and with each other. Of all human needs, something we spend most of our lives killing ourselves over, money, does not bring us more satisfaction in the end.

In addition, I, for one, am sick of seeing those memes going around on the internet that say something to the effect of, “hold tight, the weekend is almost here.” It has become apparent that people hate work and we really need to ask ourselves if this is how we want to spend our lives given that we have other choices. Furthermore, there are plenty of low social, health, and economic indicators that prove Americans’ happiness and overall wellbeing are suffering due to our backward economic, social, and political structures.
Look no further than this recent study of Denmark for a good example of what is making others happy, and for what we desperately need here in America:

Recently, the government in Switzerland decided to hold a vote on whether to give each citizen $2,800 a month as a guaranteed income per month. Just imagine if Americans had that! We could be a lot freer to be human beings, and not human doings.

A socialist transformation could bring us this sort of life. It’s totally doable, too, if we shift our priorities and defund things like war and prisons; tax the rich and corporations fairly; and socialize healthcare and other industries to make them more cost-effective by removing the profit motive. Collectively, we have the resources to support everyone to live the best lives they can possibly live, despite the lies being perpetuated that we are broke as a country.
We deserve a liberated life truly of our own where hard work is not forced on us just to survive. One where we would own our own means of production, form co-ops, and self-manage our workplaces collectively with fellow workers, if we choose to work. Where life doesn’t come as hard but is actually more purposeful and enjoyable and we can all reach our fullest potential together. We could stop working so hard and start working smart so that we can use our precious time more wisely. Now that’s a future worth working hard for!

I Am Done With Competiton and Force, Sign me up for Socialism!

Previously Published in The Socialist online

You know what sucks? Competing for jobs.

I am looking for a job right now and I was already passed up for one because someone else was “more experienced.” In this tight job market where there are a lot of qualified job applicants and not a lot of jobs, it means that employers get the pick of the litter, but it also means many people will go without jobs.

Without jobs we can’t afford to pay for things. And that means fewer people to buy products, services, etc. It doesn’t help the economy when a lot of people are unemployed. And it sure doesn’t help people, who are struggling. More and more these days, people are slipping below the poverty line as income inequality grows exponentially.

Why do we have to compete for jobs? Well, because capitalism says so. Capitalism says that we should compete for jobs, for housing, and for just about everything in life. Capitalism dictates that competition is good. But last time I checked, it’s not.

In fact, I wish we were a cooperation-based society. That way everyone would get a job doing meaningful work. We’re all hired! And those with more experience would mentor those with less. And everyone would collaborate on a team and would have an equal say in our work and share equally what our labor produced.
You know what else sucks? That capitalism forces us to take jobs we don’t like or don’t want to do. Capitalism says “take whatever job is offered to you and be grateful you have a job!” Even if it’s a job that overworks you and is soul-crushing, physically painful, mind-numbing and unfulfilling.

Capitalism doesn’t care what you are passionate about, what makes you happy, or ignites your inner spirit. Capitalism says if you don’t do this job then you can starve. That’s the bitter taste of force.

Of course capitalism will try to trick you into thinking you have a choice. A choice to work for corporation A or B. A choice to work a job that exploits you in this town or the one next to it. But what kind of choice is that?

Capitalism doesn’t care about your feelings, your talents, skills, or contributions. Capitalism only cares about making money off of you. And if you can’t make someone else money, well capitalism sees you as worthless.

I don’t want to compete for jobs I don’t want. I want to get hired to do a job that I want to do and be paid what I am worth— a living wage. I want to be treated like a human being, not a commodity. If anyone should gain from my labor it should be the people I serve in my community, not a master called a boss.

Forget this! I am ready to trade in this crappy system for one that makes me come alive. And competition and force just ain’t getting it for me. Sign me up for socialism!

People with Mental Ilness are Human Beings, Not a Threat

Previously Published in The Socialist online

Recently a young African-American mother named Miriam Carey (34) was driving erratically close to the Washington DC capitol and police were trying to stop her. Imagining the worst case scenario — that she possibly had a bomb inside her car — they feared she may be a threat. However, the real threat was the police, who shot Miriam dead (even after she exited her car without a weapon), with her one-year-old daughter in the back seat.

It turns out Miriam had a mental illness and had active delusions about President Obama. Many people lack a fundamental understanding of mental illness and how it can operate. As someone who has a major mental illness (bipolar I disorder), and is a social worker, I understand it first-hand.

When someone is psychotic and/or delusional, they often do not have much or any control over their thoughts and actions. It is hard to imagine a person losing touch with reality to that degree, but our brains are very powerful. When a person is in that state of mind, they are very vulnerable. In fact, contrary to popular belief, people with severe mental illness are more likely to harm themselves or be harmed by others, than to be dangerous to other people.

The danger from others is often because of the lack of understanding people about mental illness. Lack of information coupled with the stigma of mental illness keeps people from knowing accurate and important information that could save lives.
It’s important that people know that mental illness is very common. It is estimated that half of all people will develop a mental illness in their lifetime. Currently, 50 million people (1 in 5) have a diagnosed mental illness in America (not to mention all those who are undiagnosed).

So for something seen as so taboo and “weird,” mental illness is actually fairly normal and part of many people’s everyday lives. People tend to not talk about it due to shame, but it’s time we started talking about it. As fellow social worker and shame and resiliency researcher, Brene’ Brown, says, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”

People with mental illnesses do not deserve mistreatment.
The Miriam Carey’s of the world are deserving of respect and should be viewed as having worth and value. I often imagine if I were in the middle of a manic episode and out on the street if any one of these people could be me, and, if so, how I would want people to interact with me. Would I want someone to draw a gun on me and start screaming at me? Would I want someone to threaten me or try to subdue me with force? I imagine those things being very scary and threatening. I imagine, with great dread, being killed, through no fault of my own, simply because I have a mental illness.
I think the police’s approach to people with mental illness needs a lot of work. Their “shoot first, ask questions later” policy leads to excessive force. I understand in emergency situations that police sometimes become panicked due to stress, but that is why proper and extensive training is needed, as well as clear and structured protocols to intervene and diffuse situations properly. Police should protect those with mental illnesses, not view them as suspect and dangerous.

Although mental illness is biological, genetic, environmental, and social-cultural, we know capitalism creates social alienation and enormous amounts of interpersonal, relational, and social stress on individuals and families.

Under socialism we would have a universal single-payer socialized healthcare system, where everyone could get proper mental health care. Under socialism, we would structure society differently so people would no longer work a 40+ hour week, and would have more time to devote to self-care. Under socialism we would provide for each other so no one would live in poverty, violence, be homeless or hungry, and would be less likely to experience trauma or stress, which contribute greatly to mental illness.

I believe if we lived in a democratic socialist society we could see a drastic reduction in mental illness and could even prevent a lot of it. Socialism would treat people with mental illness as human beings, not as a threat to be managed.

The Capitalist Food System is Hurting Us

Previously published in The Socialist online.

I remember a college Republican advisory of mine once said that he didn’t believe there were starving kids in America because, at a school where he worked, he saw children throwing away food. Our individual experiences don’t always paint the complete reality. There may not be children “starving” in America like they are starving in third-world countries. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t go hungry.

Many are getting less food than they need — often being forced to skip meals. And even more often, most people are eating “food” that is processed (filled with added sugar, salt and fat and/or stripped of nutrients); laced with pesticides; genetically modified; filled with hormones and chemicals; and/or factory farmed. Most Americans have little clue how unhealthy their food is.

Poor people often struggle to find healthy food, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, as they live in food deserts —where it’s more common to find a corner liquor store than a grocery store. Most poor people can’t afford organic food, even if they can find it. In addition, many food pantries offer boxed and canned food, which is highly processed. This leads to many disproportionate health consequences for poor people.

Meanwhile, every day in America grocery stores throw away food, simply because it perishes from people not buying it. What kind of society lets people go hungry and throws away food simply because people can’t afford to pay for it?

Some people who struggle to afford food are on food stamps. However, recently the American congress has cut the food stamps program. This makes little sense. Look at this video to see just how important food stamps are:

A socialist America would ensure that all people were fed with healthy organic foods regardless of their income. A socialist America would ensure access to healthy food for everyone. A socialist America would do away with factory farms, harmful pesticides, injecting hormones and chemicals into our food, stripping our food of nutrients, and pumping them with added ingredients that threaten our health. A socialist America would help every American grow locally sourced food.

We must ask ourselves why do we continue to invest in capitalist America’s failing food system, when we can savor a sustainable socialist food system instead? Food shouldn’t be about making money for the few, at the expense of the whole.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Unpaid Work Has Mega Value

As a feminist, I have always thought my relationships should be 50-50 — meaning each person should do 50% of the work in the relationship and pitch in to make things work. That has always been my ideal, but it never seems to work out that way in reality.

Lately, I have taken on a lot of the chores in my home.  My partner has been working a lot, and, right now, I am unemployed. But she also has health issues and it’s hard for her to do chores. (Not like chores are easy for anyone; I don’t know many people who like doing them.)

Chores are often physically demanding, repetitive, and boring. Chores are hard work! If it were up to me, it would be paid work. I always say it’s paid in a different way — in clean clothes, clean dishes, clean litter boxes, and happy people and animals.

One of my political science professors once told our class that the majority of toilets are cleaned by women. My partner is a woman, but I still clean the toilet. It kind of bothers me that she doesn’t do more chores. It has always been a sticking point in our relationship. It is true that more women do housework then men in relationships. Often, women are expected to work and take on a “second shift”— cooking, cleaning, and tending to children, their partners, and maybe even their elderly parents, too. It’s too much to expect from anyone. And it’s not right that our society puts that burden on women, alone.

Part of me wants to straight rebel against that notion. But being in a same-sex relationship didn’t suddenly free me from chores. Unfortunately, chores don’t get done by themselves. I have had to shift my perspective on chores dramatically in order to accept my situation.

Instead of resenting my partner for not doing many chores, I had to see that she just isn’t physically capable. And for now, although I loathe them, I am capable. Furthermore, the satisfaction I get is from having a functional home is immense. I contribute by using my labor to keep my home running well.  I value my family and doing chores is a way to take care of them.

Unpaid work is very important and should be valued more by our society. Think what would happen if no one did chores! We need to recognize how important our unpaid labor is and be proud of the work we accomplish inside our homes. Reframing chores from a degrading role to one of purpose has been key for me. Once I started realizing this, it became easier for me to do chores, and I let go of much of the resistance I had. Chores have to get done, and I am proud to be the one doing them.

My partner appreciates my efforts, too. She also helps make meals — and she’s a great cook. Together we are making it work. It may not be 50-50 in every way, but it’s working well enough for us.

*Previously published in The Socialist online on August 26, 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Growing a Revolution in Your Own Backyard

Recently, my partner, Rachel, and I have been trying to add to our garden in our backyard. We really lucked out when we moved into our current home, an above-ground basement unit of a duplex house. Our backyard currently includes many fruit trees (apples, lemons, oranges, and persimmons), grape vines, and a blackberry patch. We have enjoyed and appreciated what those plants have brought to our lives. So we decided to add to it by starting a veggie and herb garden. We purchased our non-genetically modified seeds from Seeds of Change ( We planted tomato, carrots, cabbage, cucumber, beats, cilantro, basil, and flat leaf parsley.

The main reason we started a garden is to have relatively inexpensive healthy food grown in our very own backyard. These veggies and herbs are as local as it gets — right outside our door. So far, it has been a very positive experience to plant our little seedlings, water them, and watch them grow. I feel like a proud mama. It takes a little work to make a garden grow, but it’s also good to get out in the sun and dig in the dirt. Gardening has actually been shown to have positive benefits such as providing relaxation, stress-relief, nutrition, and physical and mental health. Besides these benefits, I feel that a garden is socialist. And as a Socialist it feels like a good fit for me and something I want to be part of my life.

A garden is socialist because it’s local, organic, small-scale, sustainable, and community-based. The food we grow will not require a carbon footprint, as it won’t travel in a truck to a supermarket or in a car to our home. The garden we grow will be totally under our own control, we have the means of production at our finger tips, and our own hands and efforts will make it happen. We will also have more than we can eat ourselves, so we plan to share our bounty with others. We are also doing this as partners, working together and cooperating to feed ourselves and others. I feel the time we are spending doing this together has been very worthwhile and gratifying. There is nothing like the pride you feel in growing your own food, gathering it, eating it, and giving it to others to enjoy. It is satisfying and fulfilling, and it has brought us closer together as a family.

I believe if everyone started a garden it would be revolutionary. If we want a different society we need to start in our own backyards, literally from the ground up. We could also start more community gardens and gardens at schools. Gardens are a renewable source of energy to fuel our bodies and souls. Let’s remake America one garden at a time.

*Originally published in The Socialist on August 3, 2013

Barely Surviving in Capialist America

As a recently unemployed person, I am feeling the stress of income insecurity. The thoughts of how I will pay for my rent, bills, or for food come to mind. I am lucky, for now, to have unemployment insurance, but it’s not much. Being let go from my job was shock enough, but trying to get another job with that on my record is daunting. How do you convince people to give you a chance when they think you’re a liability?

On top of that, the job market sucks. There aren’t a lot of good jobs, and the ones that exist are very competitive — which means the employers can afford to be picky. Although I have a Master’s degree, I often feel insecure, as if I am not qualified or as experienced as other candidates. I don’t want to take a job that’s not a good fit for me, but as long as I don’t have a job, I struggle.

I don’t have health insurance without a job. I don’t have money to fix my broken down car. I am over 40K in debt from student loans, which I was forced to defer, adding $70 of interest every month. Our only saving grace is my parents, who live on a fixed income; a meager amount of social security. They can sometimes help us make it from one month to the next, if we are short. But what about people who have no one they can turn to?

I know it could be worse for us; but couldn’t it also be better? Shouldn’t it be better for most of us? Social programs are being cut back, including food stamps. Whatever happened to that supposed social safety net the vast majority of us feel is a moral imperative? If people cannot get good jobs, they will need help if they are going to survive. I believe we need both: good jobs and support. That is what a community should provide to each other.

Socialists believe we are mutually dependent on each other and that our society must reflect that. That means our jobs should be co-ops where workers own their own means of production and share in the fruits of their labor equally, as well as have an equal say in their work. That means social programs that support people, from public health care to fully funded tax-paid college education. It means the hungry get fed, the homeless get housed, everyone gets a good job who wants to work, and no one struggles to survive.

Check out this article below that paints the bleak picture of where we are right now:

Right now, people are suffering more and more every day, instead of living the lives of our dreams. As a community we owe it to ourselves and each other to make those dreams a reality, together. Admittedly, there is a lot standing in our way. The rich are, no doubt, a very powerful adversary. However, the challenge they represent is nothing compared to our collective will to start truly living, instead of barely surviving.

*Originally published in The Socialist on August 2, 2013 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Striving and Thriving: Mental Health on the Radical Left

I am a person with lived experience with mental illness, diagnosed bipolar since I was fourteen years old, as well as a mental health professional-- as a trained social worker with a master’s degree in social work. I know firsthand how mental illness impacts individuals and our community.
Mental illness is very common. It is estimated half of all people will develop a mental illness in their life time. Currently 50 million people (1 in 5) have a diagnosed mental illness in America (not to mention all those who are undiagnosed). These mental illnesses range anywhere from depression and anxiety to serious psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Mental illness is biological, genetic, environmental, and social-cultural. However, I believe if we lived in a democratic socialist society we could see a drastic reduction in mental illness and could even prevent it. This article is written more as a here and now guide to coping, but we need to look at long term solutions as well.
In our society with these mental illnesses comes a lot of stigma. Social stigma is when others treat us as differently and as inferior due to our mental illness. This often leads to shame and makes people not want to talk about it, seek help, nor help others. As activists we need to fight social stigma. The best way to do that is to talk about it. As fellow social worker and shame and resiliency researcher, Brene’ Brown, says, “shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” As people with mental illness we need to tell people our stories and help normalize it. It takes courage and bravery to put ourselves out there, but it is necessary. As people in general we need to educate ourselves about various mental health issues and diagnoses, so that we can be more aware and informed. This would also help us to become familiarized with and thus recognize symptoms in others and aid them in getting the help they need. Also as we talk about these issues more we make it okay and not like a dirty secret, and thus the shame and taboo nature dissipates. We all need to become mental health advocates who combat social stigma if we want this situation to get better.
In the radical left, mental illness may be higher, due to stress, anxiety, being overworked, lack of support, burnout, what type of person is drawn to the radical left etc. A life-long commitment to social justice can be a serious undertaking and means a literal struggle, with many sacrifices along the way, both personally and politically speaking, which comes with psychological and emotional consequences. Of course there are positive mental and emotional benefits of being an activist as well, but the commitment to the movement comes with both rewards and challenges.
Furthermore, we know capitalism creates social alienation and enormous amounts of interpersonal, relational, and social stress on individuals and families. Not only must we work hard, often low paying, jobs way too many hours just to survive, we have so many other responsibilities on top of it. We often have families, partners and children, parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, co-workers, etc. we need to help take care of. We have to do chores, feed ourselves and others, and run errands. Some of us barely survive on a daily basis due to being so poor, let alone have the time, money, or energy to take care of ourselves. There is so much to do; we often neglect our own health. Not to mention that the stress causes huge impacts on our health to begin with—both physical and emotional. All we can do in the immediate is try to manage the stress, by finding coping skills and decompressing activities (long term we are all working on transforming the material conditions of life so that this stress doesn’t occur to begin with). The coping skills can include art, exercise, sleep/naps, socializing with friends and family, eating a slow cooked meal, reading a book, yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques such as progressive relaxation (tightening and releasing muscles), deep breathing, focusing activities, taking a long walk or hike, going swimming, among other things. But not everyone has time to incorporate enough of these de-stressing activities. So it can be very challenging to overcome the pressures of everyday life, let alone those of being part of an activist movement and community.
It is important as an activist that one takes care of oneself and that our community supports us. Burnout is common due to folks working very hard for long periods of time. In addition, a lot of work can be put towards our efforts but little to no tangible results could be seen. This can lead to feeling great disappointment, discouragement, and frustration. We have to celebrate often and recognize people’s efforts. Appreciation of others is so important in creating self-esteem and maintaining long term commitment. We can also stave off burnout by taking breaks from our activism and supporting each other through hard times.

Moreover, sometimes our society creates a lot of anger in people, as we witness oppression, abuse, and exploitation and many who perpetuate it get away with it. Often we ourselves are subjected to trauma and crisis. They say anger repressed and turned inward becomes depression. In my own experience I have met many left radicals who have anger issues and are prone to infighting. Unchecked toxic anger, which is not expressed in effective and health ways, can poison a person as well as an organization.
So what is to be done? One thing I advocate is therapy, but it is often cost prohibitive. If one cannot find low cost/sliding scale/income-based therapy, I always recommend workbooks. Workbooks are like a guide book to learning techniques that help people with mental health issues. Workbooks can be purchased online and are generally under $20.

Here is just one example:

They are often written by mental health professionals and teach people step by step about the condition which they may have. They also teach techniques and strategies to help increase the quality of life for folks. Some of the workbooks address topics such as depression and anxiety, and teach techniques such as cognitive-behavioral approaches (mind/feelings-actions), dialectal behavioral approaches (looking at extremes in emotions and thinking and trying to find acceptance and balance), mindfulness based approaches (combining feelings and thoughts in a harmonious way in order to act from a centered place and practicing non-judgment of self and others), among others. These strategies have been proven effective through research testing their effectiveness on people (we call this evidence-based practice). If one technique doesn't work for you, try another. There are so many to choose from. Most therapists would teach these techniques in therapy but you can learn them on your own for a fraction of the cost. Implementing them into your daily life takes work, practice, and time but it's worth the effort to try, as they have been shown effective in helping people to cope with their mental health struggles, decrease anxiety and depression, reduce stress, as well as improve the quality of their daily lives.
Another thing therapists provide that is helpful is the time and space devoted solely to you and a time to talk/vent and be listened to and validated. You can't find this in a book. But you can find this in other people-- friends, family, co-workers, and comrades alike. Find some trusted individuals who are willing to hear you out, use reflective listening skills (repeat back what they heard you say so you know you were heard), provide empathy (relating to a person based on common feelings or experiences, feel "with" a you and put themselves in your shoes, which goes beyond feeling sorry for you--sympathy), and validate (telling you what you are feeling and thinking is real and true). Just by providing a sounding board of unconditional support can make a world of difference for people.
I always recommend the rule of threes. Find three reliable people you can go to in a crisis or when something happens that brings you down. Tell your story and process it with those three people, three different times. At the end, you will have released and expressed those feelings and thoughts, most likely feel better, have come up with some solutions to work through your issue and problem-solve, and be ready to move forward with life.
Of course there is one thing a therapist can provide others can't-- and that is education, training, and experience in treating and healing major trauma and psychiatric challenges. There really is no substitute for this. So if you need this, try your best to get it. Oftentimes the expense paid to get this is worth the necessary sacrifices.
Another avenue to increase mental health is using medication. There is much debate about the use of psychotropic medication. As someone who has bipolar disorder, I know my medication saves my life, both literal and quality-wise. Every individual has to make their own choice whether to try medication and see if it helps. Not everyone has to take medication long term, but some do. I have to take mine the rest of my life, but I am glad there is something out there that profoundly helps me. Yes, medications are often over-prescribed and developed by big pharmaceutical companies, which are profit-motivated. Yes, doctors can sometimes be pushers because they are getting kick-backs. That is why finding a good doctor to prescribe the right medication for you is important. This would often be a psychiatrist, who usually does not come cheap. If you can try to find a lower cost psychiatrist, but if you can't a general practitioner can prescribe lots of the same medications. The caution is they are not trained as well in psychiatric conditions and would not be able to monitor you as well as a psychiatrist could.

Our mental health system is far from perfect and is overburdened and too expensive for most people. That is part of why we work as left radicals to change this system into one that works for all people. Unfortunately, in the meantime we have to deal with how things are now. Another thing to look at, that can often be a less expensive way to help, is herbal remedies and Eastern/alternative medicine. There are many helpful remedies out there worth looking into from vitamins, supplements, teas, essential oils, to acupuncture, acupressure, bio-feedback etc. As well as looking at changes in diet, sleep, and exercise.
Individuals also need social support. If you're in a left radical organization develop internal systems to provide this support. Some people think this is "touchy-feely stuff" and they are a "serious" organization “above” that sort of thing. That attitude is grave mistake. We are doing what we do to better all humanity and we better be prepared to walk the talk right now and practice what we preach in our everyday lives with fellow activists. This means we need to be able to turn to each other in times of need. This prevents burnout and can be a powerful source of intervention in times of crisis. We need to get more involved in people's lives, pay more attention, and be willing to have, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations with people. We need to focus most on compassion, understanding, and empathy. But we must always remember that people ultimately have their own self-determination and thus they alone get to make decisions for their own lives. This may mean if a person is very disruptive to the group and will not seek help, they may be asked to leave the group. This is a hard and painful decision but people need to know there are consequences for their actions and their choices. All we can do is provide support and encouragement and hope that motivates people.
Another possible strategy radical left organizations can implement is conflict-management, non-violent communication, and peer counseling. If our organizations used these techniques and taught these skills to all of their members they would be better served by doing so. Learning how to communicate assertively and not passively, passive-aggressively, or aggressively is very important for any individual or organization. Our success is wrapped up in our ability to resolve conflicts and reconcile differences.

We can help each other to survive and get through the day, and combined with all of the above I have described, an individual can begin to improve their functioning. The hope is recovery. 60% of all those with mental illness recover and we can increase that number by working as individuals and as groups towards increased mental health and well being. We need each other if we are to begin to strive and thrive.
No one gets through this life on their own—we are all interdependent social beings. So let’s live our radical values in the here and now and transform ourselves and our organizations to serve each others needs. Our organizations can become a model going forward for society and be a source of strength to make us more effective activists. Indeed this can be a protective factor for those with many risk factors for self-harm, homelessness, and suicide. We can be the difference and we are responsible for starting to implement these suggestions now. I hope this helps individuals and groups going forward.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Impressions and Thoughts from Attending Talk by Rachel Maddow at Stanford University

I went to see Rachel Maddow speak at Standford, her Alma Mater, last night, Saturday, March 16th. She stated she had not been back to Standford since she graduated 19 years ago. Maddow turns 40 next week. She grew up in Castro Valley and graduated from Castro Valley High. During high school she stated she was a jock and an outcast. After Standford she went on to become a prestigious Rhode Scholar earning a PhD from Oxford University. She went on to do HIV activism work for several years until she started doing radio. She had her own show on AirAmerica for a couple of years and then started contributing to MSNBC, later scoring her own one hour show, The Rachel Maddow Show, which has won Emmy's and is critically acclaimed. She has quite a popular and passionate fan base, of which I include myself, but not without reservations.
Here is a link to the Standford article about the talk... A good read:

Overall, it was worth going to see her speak. Rachel Maddow is funny, intelligent, full of wit, is inspiring, knowledgeable, has a great personality, and is not bad on the eyes either. I have had a crush on her from the first moment I watched her on Tucker Carlson's show, back when he was on MSNBC. My Dad told me about her one day. He said, I think you might like this person. Well, he was right.

I think the reason I like Rachel Maddow, besides her being an out and proud butch lesbian and looking quite dapper, geeky, and boyish, (which is not only daring in breaking with social convention, is quite adorable), is she reminds me of myself. This talk at Stanford confirmed that more so. Although we also have stark differences.

I would be remiss to not state clearly that although I have to admit my affection for Miss Maddow, I have serious criticisms of her as well. I am not the type of fan that gushes at her mere presence and then lets her get away with bloody hell. I have major reservations about her political stances and I intend to lay those out here....

Her talk about her days of queer and HIV activism in college and her commitment to ethics and doing what is right, was touching. She stated when she figured out she was gay and part of he gay community she felt an obligation to help end the HIV crisis, which she described as a "genocide" of the gay community in the early 90's. So although she noted she felt, isolated from the Standford community, as she was "one of only two out gay people" in her freshmen class, she decided to take advantage of what Standford could offer her. Later she talked about how much society has changed on LGBT acceptance-- so much so that anti-gay ideas are now seen as our of fashion and a no-no among young people. She also talked about the importance of being out, which resonated with me personally. But I digress...

So she decided to use a university full of privilege to try and help those without it. She took public policy classes, classes in statistics, and did an honor's thesis in ethics and society, on the dehumanization of those living with HIV. Which has been read by every senior thesis student in ethics and society for the past ten years, among other papers.

Rachel spoke of the "bad activism" she did in college. One demonstration she participated in she described as holding up signs outside of a talk by William F. Buckley. She stated she later got internships doing HIV activist and policy work and became active in Act Up! Rachel noted she is the type to pick battles she thinks she can win-- choosing to concentrate on equal and just treatment for those with HIV living inside prisons. She used Standford to learn how to effectively debate, and win over those in power to her own positions in order to persuade people to come to the side of social justice. She encouraged everyone in the audience, no matter what discipline they are in, to learn how to make an effective argument. She also encouraged people to become good writers... as writing matters and can persuade. She inspired me more to continue to write!

Her start as a queer campus activist and learning the ropes on how to speak truth to power, really reminded me of myself. I would not be who I am today if it were not for my activism in college and what it taught me. That was the foundation upon which I created a deep understanding of the history of the struggles for civil, social, and human rights, social injustice, and developed a life-long commitment to the movement for liberation of all people. I got the feeling that Rachel was much more radical in her college days.. but moderated her positions as she hit the "real world."

Rachel Maddow describes herself as a "national security liberal." Whereas, I describe myself as a socialist. Although we started in similar enough places, our paths diverged. She went on to be a political commentator and de facto celebrity on TV, while I became a social worker.

I must confess a few things about Rachel Maddow irk me. One is she dresses in what I would call drag, for her show and MSNBC appearances. She wears make up, puts a bunch of goopy product in her hair, and wears women's business suits. But in all other aspects of her life she effectively a nerdy dykey masculine woman who wears men's clothes. She doesn't wear makeup or do anything special to her hair in "real life." She wears low key t-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes. Not to mention her big nerdy glasses-- she must wear contacts on her show. I do not respect those who conform and change who they are to mold themselves to society's stupid standards-- in this case of beauty for women. I wish she were more authentically herself on TV.

It is very odd to me when she shows up on late night talk shows looking like herself, but on her show she looks like someone trying too hard to be feminine. The pressure on female news anchors is enormous.. and maybe she thinks this is just what you do to get this really cool job. But I think she has some bargaining power now and could start to integrate her own look. Chris Hayes wears glasses on his show. It just bothers me that someone who states they are out and proud about being gay would compromise who they are-- their gender expression etc. And I think this is a good example about how Rachel Maddow and I differ. I am very uncompromising and radical, whereas she is perfectly willing to moderate  her looks and positions if they are politically or otherwise expedient. That leads me to have less respect for her, but alas, no one is perfect.

Another large part of the night was her talking about her book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. She starts out with the premises that we need to go to war and we need a military. Right there she loses me. You can tell in her heart of hearts she wishes we could get rid of war, but doesn't think it's possible. So she accepts war as an unfortunate but necessary evil. Whereas, I believe war is a choice.

She also heaped lots of praise on the military, stating that Americans are not doing enough to support our troops. She stated they are fighting our wars for us and making all the sacrifices while not even our taxes have gone up to pay for the war. While I agree military personnel deserve good treatment when they return from war, I would go a step further. I say bring them home from war NOW, close up all military bases around the world, and do what is ultimately respecting our troop's humanity-- END WAR PERMANENTLY.

We need to put an indefinite moratorium on military conflict. War is not good for human beings-- it wrecks them physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Rachel highlighted the cost of war on the soldiers and their families, but failed to mention that it's war itself that creates this trauma. And the only way to stop it is to end all war. She did warn us that she picks battles she thinks she can win. She said those who work for world peace she wishes luck to because she essentially sees that as an unwinnable issue. Sadly, I believe when you write something off as impossible you never try to achieve it, and thus that is a self-fulfilling prophecy and it won't be achieved.

Rachel went on to speak of how alienated we are from soldiers and how alienated they are from us. Stating we treat soldiers with combination of pity, hero worship, and fear, which makes them the "other." That we don't understand them and they don't understand us. It's true that military and civilian culture differ starkly. But that makes sense given war is hell, the military culture is destructive, and combat is dehumanizing. It does a good job at systematically destroying the human soul. Many come back with PTSD, clinical depression, and chronic anxiety. This often leads to soldiers to killing others (often times their loved ones) and taking their own lives-- in fact more soldiers have died by suicide after they returned from Iraq and Afghanistan than in those wars themselves.

When people come back from war they are different people because they had very difference experiences-- experiences no one should have. It would be hard for anyone to relate to that. While we do need increased empathy for soldiers...I would argue we need to focus on a longer term root solution-- ending war so no one has to ever go through that ever again.

Rachel wants us to feel the collective pain of war and the social consequences-- in part so that the soldiers feel we are with them and in part because then maybe we will think twice before entering into wars. She stated we are not sacrificing as a nation for the war effort. I have to disagree with her about that. We have given tax dollars... which took away from lots of other things we could have funded-- more important things I would argue. In addition, I know personally I spent several years of life dedicated to ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing the troops home. I marched in several large demonstrations, did campus peace organizing, wrote letters to the editor, and protested military recruiters who came to campus. I call that doing something. Something called trying to bring peace instead of war. In addition, many of my Masters in Social Work colleagues since graduation have been working with vets who are homeless and suffer mental illness. Lots of Americans support the military in a lot of ways that not many people are not aware of. But it's happening. My point is why should we be trying to repair broken human beings, when we can prevent it from happening to begin with??? Is that not the most ethical thing to do?
She stated she wrote the book to try to bring solidarity to soldiers and shine more of a light on how Americans are not feeling the true impact of war and not contributing to the war effort. Sorry Rachel, I will not contribute to wars I feel are unjust. There is a large difference between supporting human beings fighting in war and supporting the war they are in. I support troops in the best way I know how-- I call for their humane treatment while in the military (an end to sexism, racism, and homophobia-- including harassment and rape), for comprehensive medical, psychological, and all other services for all military personnel, and I demand their immediate draw down from all military conflicts. 

The truth is it is our foreign policy that gets us into this mess to begin with. We take a very aggressive foreign policy.. a scorch and burn.. shock and awe.. imperialist empire-building hegemony might makes right tactic. We act as if that is our only choice-- to "defend ourselves"-- not our lives in actuality (although the war propaganda machine tells us different-- that we should be scared of another 9/11 at any given moment) so much as America's "interests." Which translates into the interests of rich and powerful Americans. If war didn't make people money the wars would become meaningless. Rachel Maddow never uttered the words "military industrial complex." But I know that is what drives the madness. The truth is war is not in the best interest of Americans. War, torture, and drones make us less safe. They make people more angry with us, more fearful, and more likely to want to retaliate and seek revenge.

We have another choice. Which is an ironic choice given Maddow's original topic of discussion-- persuasion. She stated she took advantage of Stanford's education to learn how to be persuasive and win people over. That's exactly the type of work we should be doing around the world. It's called diplomacy. It's hard work but has a big pay off. Diplomacy takes time and it takes money. But the results would be so much greater than anything positive war could ever give us.

Everyone has an unmet need and if we helped others meet those needs we would see less animosity from others. For instance, with just a fraction of the money we spend on war we could eliminate hunger in the entire world. When people live in a society that is less stratified they feel more secure and less desperate. They are less likely to be depressed, anxious, and looking to survive by any means necessary. They are going to be less susceptible to being easily seduced into a fundamentalist belief systems. Research has proven that stress leads to violence and hierarchy leads to powerless people abusing others.

We could help free the world from this crap, but we choose not to. We have enough resources in the world at this point to give people what they need. But it would mean we would have to redistribute the resources that people in power have horded. That is the hitch. Our society cannot fundamentally change unless we take the power back from the owners-- the dictators of our lives. These are the exact same people who perpetuate wars to begin with for their own greedy ends. Rachel, when we do an ethical gut check, things like war, torture, and drones simply don't pass muster.

Rachel's argument is much more toned down than my own. She believes we just need to go back to the founding framers conceptions and make war very hard to get into. She believes in congressional oversight and the War Powers Act. She thinks that the country should decide to go to war realizing the full consequences and willing to make the sacrifices necessary. The problem is once the government decides to go to war, they convince the country to support it via propaganda in the media.

She also believes there are just wars. Whereas, I don't. Rachel is hoping we just have fewer wars. However, any war is wrong. Furthermore, we have gotten very far away from self-defense. We now start "pre-emptive" wars that no one knows about. We can't even be sure there is supposed "just cause" or actual reason to believe we are in "imminent danger." The president is doing lots of things behind our backs and there are no checks and balances, no oversight, no transparency, and no accountability. We are just supposed to trust that whatever they are doing it must be the right thing to do. I don't know about you, but I don't trust this government. And I wouldn't trust any government that I did not have a true say in.

Rachel said that we spend way too much money on defense and on that much I can agree. She asked how many nuclear weapons we really need and I held up my hand in a big fat ZERO. She stated that one is 10 times the strength of Hiroshima and we have 5,000. Overkill much? She said the same goes for all kinds of military technology and equipment we don't actually need. She said since it's lying around it sometimes gives people an excuse to use it.... which is a dangerous slippery slope. The government takes my tax dollars and uses it to kill people. That has got to end.

"And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is pre-existent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends."
~Martin Luther King, Jr., "A CHRISTMAS SERMON" 24 December 1967

In the end as eloquent and charming as Rachel Maddow is, in some ways she is an apologist for some of the exact policies she claims she is against. Which smacks of hypocrisy. That is what pragmatism and incrementalism does. It leeches into your soul and corrupts you. It whispers in your ear that mere reforms are good enough and the best you can get. You start to settle for it and accept that it's "just life" and "life is unfair." Well, I am sick of people making excuses for why we cannot become the country and the world I know we are capable of becoming. We have to have higher expectations for ourselves and our potential.

The name of Rachel's book is "Drift" but we did not drift into the military policy we have now. It was designed that way on purpose. The amping up of the military industrial complex is a deliberate phenomenon propelled by greed, arrogance, superiority, and hunger for power, control, and dominance. The rich are to blame, but not solely. All of us contribute in some way to this system's continual existence. Most of us are complicit in it because we do nothing to stop it.

Maddow was not forthcoming about the fact that her father is former military-- a former Air Force Captain. My feeling is Maddow has always wanted to follow in her family's legacy and secretly wanted to join the military herself. Only because of the don't ask, don't tell policy she couldn't because she was an out lesbian. So Drift is her way of somehow contributing to the war effort and helping national security.

She argues for more sane military policy. Which is ironic, because war is insane. And the idea that we are just doing what we have to do to protect ourselves, is insane. We don't have to do anything. It's a choice. An inhumane and unethical one. And Rachel Maddow of all people, given her intellectually rigorous philosophical and ethical education and background, should know this. Yet she has somehow talked herself out of that... because it seems an unwinnable pipe dream. We need more dreamers in this world who take risks and push for systematic change... and less folks who play it safe and resign themselves to accepting injustice.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
~Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Queer Feminism: United by Difference

Queer Feminism: United by Difference
Originally Printed in The Socialist, Magazine of the Socialist Party USA
2013 Issue #1
 Lesbians and other queer people have played a central and integral role within the feminist movement. This has not always been recognized, nor have queer folks’ contributions been appreciated. Queer people have been invisible to many. However, as socialist feminists we believe in the intersection of identities and of oppression. There are multiple layers of oppression that intersect along identity lines. Long have we seen the impact that capitalism has on minorities. Yet, queer folks are undervalued even among some socialist feminists. Some believe that class is the only factor socialists should organize around. Many disregard identity as a factor; but it remains an important part of who we are and a central focus of the onslaught against all people.
In the past, lesbians were unwelcome in the feminist movement. They were told that their sexual orientation had nothing to do with the goals of feminism, and that being open about their queer identity would harm the movement and be a “distraction.” Some lesbians continued to openly organize within the movement but were often treated as pariahs; attempts were made to silence them. While lesbians are included in the modern day mainstream feminist movement, their needs are often ignored.
Within socialist feminist circles, queer issues are considered backburner issues to more pressing issues. However, queer women have been central to many movements and organizations, even though their queerness is not usually a focus.
The good thing about socialist feminism is it focuses on inclusion. Socialist feminists recognize the fluidity of gender, sexuality, and the complexity of human beings. We also see that there is worth and value in feelings and personal experiences as well as rationale and logic. We value that the personal is political; and we see the connections between the everyday struggle of queer people and that of other marginalized groups. Many socialist feminists do recognize that identity matters.
Capitalism uses any perceived difference in identity and labels it as a weakness. Capitalism uses difference to exploit and oppress the “other.” The recognition of these exploitations unites us all in a common struggle for social and economic justice. Furthermore, as much as patriarchy impacts both women and men, queer people are further impacted and threatened by its constricting, limiting, and controlling ways. I believe the destiny of all people is bound up in the liberation of queer people.
 While some feel feminism or queer culture has little to do with socialism, others have a critical and radical critique that combines feminism, queer theory, and a socialist perspective. Third-wave feminism has queered feminism. Third-wave feminism includes the rejection of gender essentialism and the gender binary, makes queer theory central in its analysis, and is sex-positive. Although there are some biological aspects of gender, much of it is socially constructed -- which means it can be deconstructed. It is the aim of many socialist feminists to deconstruct gender and highlight and expand the ability of all human beings to experience all life has to offer (feminine, masculine, and everywhere in-between).
As socialist feminists, we need to examine and dissect gender, patriarchy, sexism, strict gender roles, misogyny, and male chauvinism, among other barriers, to achieve full liberation for all people. We believe the capitalist and patriarchal systems benefit from and perpetuate the social constructions of gender, which bind us and control us. In addition, we believe that socialist feminism can be practiced in our everyday lives through engaging in feminist process and consciously creating socialist feminism as well as within the workplace and our organizations. This can look different ways to different people, and there are also various different kinds of feminists too. So it is very complex. However, I encourage people to look up these terms, ideas, and concepts through books and online as well as asking feminist people what they mean to them. Individuals must take initiative to learn about feminist concepts themselves as they recognize the importance of doing so.
Most importantly, as socialist feminists we believe systemic, institutional, and structural changes must be made through reforms and revolutionary means so that a socialist feminist society can be realized. This is what divides us from the mainstream “liberal” feminist movement. The liberal feminist movement believes that reforms are the tools we need to employ to help women compete in a capitalist society, and do not encourage we use reform or revolutionary means/ideas to transcend gender constructs, redefine gender, or create a truly egalitarian, non-hierarchal society. 
            Another aspect I believe is important to a queer critique of feminism is that feminism cannot be realized without the participation of all people of all genders and all sexes. For many, feminism is something for, of, and by women. This excludes transwomen, transmen, men, genderqueer individuals, etc. In the first wave of feminism, lesbians were excluded, and in the current wave of feminism, many are excluding transwomen, transmen, and queer people who do not fit the gender binary. Many feminists also exclude anyone who self-identifies as a man. I see this as a barrier to progress.
            I believe minorities need allies and allies need minorities. This is how unity is achieved --and how solidarity is formed. Partnership and collaboration is necessary for us to build the society we need and will thrive in together. When patriarchal structures, socially constructed and strict gender roles, and the power dynamic integrated into these structures, are dismantled and abolished, it will directly benefit everyone. Whereas some believe men benefit from a patriarchal capitalist society, socialist feminists know that men suffer much more than they gain from capitalism and patriarchy. 
            Socialist feminist queers advocate for a non-hierarchical egalitarian society that is free from homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, internalized forms of the later, heterosexism, and heteronormatively. We call on all people to be united in class struggle to realize a classless socialist feminist society.
Marriage equality is a modern day example of the clash between class and sexuality. Within the queer community a lot of energy, money, and activism has been directed at winning marriage equality. Although I see marriage equality as an important civil and human right, there are more fundamentally important and immediate issues the LGBT community must focus upon. These include: homophobia, bullying, hate crimes, murders and rapes, homelessness, sexually transmitted infections, alcoholism and substance abuse, sexual exploitation, discrimination in housing and employment, and heteropatriachy. Not to mention mental illness, which disproportionately impacts the LGBT community due to the factors above. These are pressing concerns that are all too often ignored and under-funded by government, non-profits, and even grassroots organizations and individual activists. 
Furthermore, there is an argument to be made that marriage equality further privileges Euro-American men. Whereas, the rest of us would not receive the benefits of marriage rights or it would not make that much of a different to the quality of our lives should we choose to marry, given the opposition and adversity we face in society at large. To me, all people deserve the protections and benefits of marriage, regardless if they are in a relationship, are single, or have a different family arrangement (such as three people). Personally, I see marriage equality as a steppingstone to greater rights for everyone, although I acknowledge not everyone even within the queer community agrees on this. To me this is not an either/or issue. We need to organize and fight for a better quality of life for all queer people on every front and take every opportunity to do so.
We must remember that for many people marriage is about deep emotions, love, and other intangible complexities that cannot be simply brushed aside. As socialists, we recognize that human needs are critical, and, thus, I believe there is room at the table for all human needs to be addressed. This issue may very well be decided upon by the U.S. Supreme Court soon. In the meantime and after marriage equality is won, we have to recommit ourselves to fighting for justice for queer people of every stripe who may be facing life and death struggles along class lines. This will require a class analysis and socialist organizing.
Socialist feminism is a great equalizer. We clearly see the intersection of all types of oppression and the disproportionate impact on queer people of color, the disabled, mothers and fathers, fat queer folks, youth, seniors etc. Any form of “difference” adds to the chance of further strife and marginalization. However, we should also remember that our lives and differences are worth celebrating. We are all worthy of living amazing lives, and we can all realize our own potential for happiness. Part of that realization takes work. We must unify our approach to ending oppression on every level, both by organizing inside self-identified groups and by working together as human beings.
Moving forward, having our own identity groups (such as the Women’s Commission or Queer Commission) is not enough; we need entire organizations, such as the SPUSA and all segments of our society (not just feminists or queer people) to find common reasons to ban together, for our destiny is inextricably tied together. We need each other if we are going to overcome capitalism and heteropatriachy, which impacts us all. There is hope for a different world, filled with acceptance and appreciation of differences. But this will only happen if we recognize our common vision that links us all together now. It will only happen if we start working together to actualize that vision and take action, and not despite our diverse individual identities—but because of them. We are united by difference. My hope is that this realization will lead us to unified goals and solidarity in action moving forward.

*I encourage folks to look up any concepts and/or terms used here not defined due to space/time.