Renegade Cut: When were you radicalized?

Leon‘s a couple years older than me, but his look back at the beginning of the 21st century feels very similar to a lot of my own experience. With all the talk about election interference and voter suppression since 2016, I think it’s useful to look back at the 2000 election, and how George W. Bush ended up in the Oval Office. I spent a lot of that era engaged in traditional activism. I went to protests, sent letters and emails to politicians, and even took the time to be lied about the SOA/WHINSEC by an army PR officer. From what I can tell, none of it did a damned thing, because that form of opposition relies on the people in power having at least a little shame, and our leaders lack even that. It was Obama’s time in office that made me realize that it was the whole system that needed to be replaced.

During the Bush years, it was easy to believe that all the problems came from the GOP. My conservative relatives joined in the mockery of the “hopey-changey rhetoric of Obama’s first campaign, but they never seemed to get that the disappointment of Obama’s base wasn’t because the policies we wanted turned out to be bad – it was because Obama and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership are far too much like the Republicans to allow anything like the kinds of change many of us hoped for. I remember being enraged at Joe Liebermann, who was then playing the role currently filled by Joe Manchin and Kristen Sinema. I remember also being angry that – right at the beginning of the healthcare fight – the Democrats decided to start negotiations by preemptively ceding ground, and taking both universal healthcare and a public option off the table.

I thought it was naiveté, caused by too friendly of a relationship with the Republicans. Looking back, and looking at the rhetoric of the 2020 Democratic Party primary, it seems pretty clear that they didn’t even want to risk getting something like a public option. They couldn’t stand to have it in play even as something they could get rid of in exchange for a “better deal” on what they did want. As far as their lives are concerned, the system works great. They’re wealthy, powerful, and surrounded by people whose livelihoods depend on things continuing as they are. It’s no wonder they think that only minor changes are needed, when they live in a fantasy world, and lack the courage to face reality.



  1. says

    I remember reading about an exchange where some reporter asked Obama about a kids-in-cages type situation when he was in office and him responding with straight-up rethugljcan callousness. The way the border was policed on his watch really makes sense in that light. Most of the dems are family to the ultra-rich, defending the ultra-rich. They have stock portfolios that depend on our murderous healthcare system staying as mercenary as possible.

    Even if Obama had closed gitmo, it would have been by creating ten times as many black sites to house the sad sacks from inside it. As is, he didn’t even feel the need to put up that pretense. Radicalizing, and it’s getting worse all the time. As the fire-choked summers of recent years have brought the ongoing climate catastrophe into sharper focus, Biden’s bullshit on that front has been pushing me further all the way.

  2. says

    1992: Portland.

    War had happened in 1991 which put me in touch with a bunch of people who were upset about the war, but I was admittedly less upset than they were. I was young, and Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and the US did not actually pursue Iraqi forces back to Baghdad. But I was talking to people, people who were asking very good questions about why **us**? Why was it the United States that had a globe-spanning military? Even if you supported a world where aggressive war is punished not rewarded, why were **we** spending trillions of $USD on better and better ways to kill people? No, it was distant enough and my thoughts were muddled enough that the war didn’t radicalize me, but it did build bridges between me and the people who would help me through my radicalization later.

    Then 1991 ended and 1992 came, and with it Measure 9: a direct-democracy initiative written and placed on the ballot by the Oregon Citizens’ Alliance and its two hyperventilating, hyper-hateful leaders: Lon Mabon and Scott Lively. It’s purpose was to carve out 2nd class citizenship for queer folks (they would have said “gays” and wouldn’t have even know what being trans was). The very text of this proposed amendment to the Oregon constitution would have labeled me and my besties “abnormal, unnatural, wrong and perverse”. It so affected me that I remember those words to this day, 30 years later, although I admit that if you look it up as I just did to verify my memory, that I’ve switched the order of “unnatural” and “wrong”. But imagine rewriting a constitution specifically to insult people. Yes, they were intending to create 2nd class citizenship, but they didn’t have to insult people to do so. But they weren’t going to be satisfied unless they could use the power of the state to not just carve up legal status this and general regulation that. No, they wanted to use the state to do more than that. They wanted to make us as individuals personally feel bad. They thought that was a legitimate use of the power of the state.

    At the end of 1992 I had come out as trans, marched in my 2nd “gay” pride parade, protested the murders of Hattie Mae Cohens & Brian Mock, and become thoroughly, thoroughly radicalized.

    It would take until mid-1993 before I first ate fire and spit it back out, and before my first time being shoved by riot police. It took until 1994 before I was rammed by the pickup truck of a conservative, anti-queer douchebag trying to force way through a peaceful protest parade in Springfield, Oregon, home of Lon Mabon. But the radicalizing work was done in 1992.

    Thanks, OCA.

  3. Allison says

    For me, it was a gradual process, starting with the Vietnam War. Where I grew up (Virginia), it was simply taken as a given that communism was an evil plot trying to make us all slaves and that anyone who disagreed with the USAan military intervention there was at the very least soft on communism. But then, bit by bit, we found out about all the lying and that the news media (they were all “mainstream media” at that time) had known they were lies when they reported it. I learned never to take what you get from official sources as truth. Then there was Watergate. It was around that time that I got my 1-O draft status (thanks, Daniel Seeger.) Since then, I watched all the military adventures that the USA was carrying out, and learned of the ones from before my time (remember how the Shah of Iran came to power?), and I realized that as far as foreign policy went, the USA wasn’t much better than the USSR. (Remember the USSR?)

    It wasn’t until Clinton that I began to suspect that the Democratic Party wasn’t much better than the Republicans, but Obama clinched it (as described above.)

    On the other hand, my experience of left-wing types in the 1960’s and 1970’s didn’t fill me with a lot of hope that they were going to make things any better, as most of them seemed to be doing it out of youthful rebellion and wanting to have fun, and because leftist ideas were “cool” back then among the college crowd. (And “never trust anyone over 30” seemed stupid to me even at the time.) At one time, I remember saying, “most of these radicals are going to grow up to be just like their parents.” Which is what happened. When “my generation” (I was born in the 1950’s) finally assumed power, they turned out to be no better than the previous generations. These days, I frequently want to say “OK, boomer,” even though I’m part of that generation. We have met the enemy, and they is us.

    I’m still a radical, as I define it, but I also realize that change is slow and requires far more work — and discernment — than you ever imagined it would. I’ve come to see whatever actions I might take as simply a grain of sand, and I have to keep my eyes open and use my judgement as to when to put my grain of sand into the gears of injustice.

  4. says

    I ran into a problem, in high school activism – we were all only there for four years, so by the time someone started to get the hang of it, they were off to college or work. We worked with outside groups and teachers, and they generally tried to let us decide what to focus on, but that meant that the driving passion for any given project would always leave. College was very similar

    There’s a part of me that worries we’re caught in a similar trap at a societal scale – it takes a minimum of three separate presidents to see certain patterns repeating, which can mean that you’re well into your 20s before you have the evidence laid out for your own eyes, and by that point you’ve got a whole lot of other ideological baggage most of which is designed to wave away the problems you might have noticed.

    So really it probably takes till mid life for a lot of people, and it seems like a majority spend their entire lives rejecting that evidence.

    While those against whom we’re fighting have maintained class solidarity for generations, and pass down both plans and the resources to maintain them, so that they can start working on that right away. They can literally afford long-term strategies, because there’s no question of whether they’ll be able to survive in the short term.

    I like a story that has an underdog beating the odds, but it’s rarely as much fun to experience.

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