Serendipitous convergence might be the best way to describe stumbling on to two seemingly unrelated sources both talking about something that has been bothering me for some time.
I’ve been thinking about something for the last few years. I describe myself as an anarchist because so much of my activism and so many of my political positions are outside of a structured activist organization. My activism is also spread widely across many issues which makes it hard for me to feel at home in identity based politics.
Back in the 1980s I was a disgruntled professional nerd working in Silicon Gulch and I answered an ad in one of the Bay Area Newspapers looking for people who were passionate about environmentalism and progressive politics. It offered an opportunity to work as paid activists on a campaign headed by Tom Hayden, a California State Representatives and former SDS leader.
Much to my disappointment I discovered that ads for activists that one finds in papers and on sites like Craig’s List are not looking for people to organize or do the other things I associate with activism. Instead they are ads for people who beg for money either on the phones or going door to door, all in the name of a good cause or causes but demeaning and disillusioning nonetheless.
This was not something I particularly considered activism.
Shit happens or serendipitous convergence. Just as I am thinking about this several things come up that help me illustrate and further define my discomfort with this new form of “activism”.
Documentaries about the slaughter of whales and the decimation of the seas with drift nets that stretch for miles and are the equivalent of clear cutting forests in their environmental destruction caused me to get a couple of books about Earth First and David Foreman. David Foreman and the people of Earth First attacked Greenpeace as corporate accommodationists more interested in professional activism, fund raising and lobbying than direct action. As an alternative to Greenpeace Foreman suggested supporting Sea Shepard, which actually spends much of its energy going out and attacking whalers and the fishing fleets that are strip mining the oceans in an effort to leave no fish behind.
In the 1960s I was part of SDS, an extremely nebulous organization at best, particularly so after about 1966. If you said you were a member then you were a member. Earth First had the same organizational pattern.
I was around for the early days of Gay Liberation, Lesbian Liberation, Second Wave Feminism and yes one of the first real grassroots Transsexual Liberation and Support groups.
By 1975 so much of that was withering away, being replaced by “professionals” with degrees and careers, organizations that had big plans with bright shiny offices with prestigious addresses. Organizations with large budgets. Enter the new role for those at the grassroots, professional beggar. But major organizations with prestigious headquarters do not survive on nickel and dime donations, they require the support of major donors.
At one point AIDS Project LA had a fund raising dinner for major donors and honoring Elizabeth Taylor that was reputed to have cost somewhere in the realm of a half million dollars. It cost more than it raised and needless to say none of the out reach workers who passed out condoms to LGBT/T sex workers doing survival sex on the corners of Santa Monica Blvd were invited.
I’m not going to go into my thoughts regarding “transactivism” except to say it too seems to have strayed from its roots in various bad neighborhoods to a point that much of what we hear about seems out of touch with lumpen prole trannies. The ones doing sex work to survive, or working in underpaid often part-time menial jobs that have come to be the mainstay for many working class people. Transactivism with its calls to go to Washington to lobby your Representatives, come to conferences to discuss and calls to Camp Out outside the MWMF seems to assume a level of affluence beyond that of many trannies, especially those who are part of the trans under classes.
Over the last few days I have been watching the struggle going on over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It is crystal clear that HRC has become an irrelevant organization that is pretty useless when it comes to doing much of anything other than insuring that Joe Solmonese, is the most fashionably well dressed “activist” among the lobbyist set.
Are we really sending our hard earned dollars to HRC to buy Joe Solmonese expensive designer clothes and attend expensive events? It all seems so corporate. Speaking of which. as much as I love Kathy Griffith as a comedian, what the fuck does she have to do with LGBT/T activism other than perhaps entertain us?
From Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/id/235290
Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and fluent Arabist being discharged from the Army for being openly gay, was arrested last week along with former Army captain Jim Pietrangelo II, after handcuffing themselves to the White House gate in protest of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. They were handcuffed with the help of Robin McGehee, a former PTA president turned activist who last week cofounded GetEQUAL, an LGBT activism group inspired by civil-rights organizations and gains made through civil disobedience.
Lt. Choi basically reamed out Solmonese and HRC for their “executive” demonstration at Freedom Plaza and their failure to support him and others who actually took their protests to the the White House fence where they handcuffed themselves to the fence and allowed themselves to be arrested. They languished in jail overnight. Lt. Choi said that HRC failed to give either legal support or bail.
HRC was already on the shit list of many transsexual and transgender people for its willingness to support a non-trans inclusive ENDA. Perhaps we are too lumpen and not fashionable enough for Joe.
Back in the 1990s one of the exciting things about trans-activism was the Transsexual Menace and how it had a lot in common with Act Up and the Lesbian Avengers. Membership and participation could be had for the cost of a t-shirt and the guts to wear it. I sometimes think that what ruined trans-activism was when privileged white late emergers became the face of it and started with all the post-modern theoretical crap.
They were divorced from the reality of prostitution, criminalization, AIDS, addiction and all the murders that were part of the lives of those transsexual and transgender people found in the under classes.
On the other hand a local grass roots organization here in Dallas managed to get numerous demonstrators together to go to a DART meeting and protest the mistreatment of a transsexual DART worker who had some bureaucratic piece of shit in Human Resources decide that they didn’t have to accept that she had SRS as well as jumping through all the hoops to legally change her sex to female. This person decided that she had been born male and should be forever considered male.
The slogan of the IWW, an anarchist labor union back in the early 20th century was “Direct action gets the goods”.
Perhaps instead of all this high level activism that seems to get very little in results from the efforts of the well paid professional activists lobbying in Washington we should at least divide the money and devote more of it to the development of local grass roots activism and less to supporting those who aspire to live the life of the corporate shills of K Street.