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I often have a really hard time trying to understand the attachment to “Capitalism” that people on the left exhibit. When I say “Capitalism” capitalized and in quotes, I am speaking of both the economic system people in the US live with and promote–and the US government’s relationship with corporations.
Even in Feminist circles, when there is any interrogation at all of “Capitalism,” whether it’s to notice that Detroit is struggling because of unfettered “Capitalism” or to point to how “Capitalism” is making life hell for women laborers worldwide, the response is anything from a mocking, “Oh, look at the cute idealistic hippie!” to a nastier, “How on earth is living without capitalism even possible???” Or people immediately jump to the “Prove that communism works” bandwagon (yes, I’ve gotten into plenty of conversations that mimic this right here on Feministe!), as if communism is the only natural answer to “Capitalism.”
And yet, even as so many Feminists (and people on the left in general) are so uncritically attached to “Capitalism,” insisting over and over that “Capitalism” will never change ever–people on the right do not share that attachment. In Michigan, Govenor Rick Snyder meets regularly with the ultra conservative Mackinaw Center, a think tank that helps to create and implement a radical right agenda. As Rachel Maddow shows, Snyder and the Mackinaw Center together are working on the Emergency Financial Manger agenda–which will ultimately be capable of eliminating the right to vote for elected officials and handing city control over to corporations. Call me an naive hippie–but to me, that *sounds* like a dismantling of “Capitalism” as the left understands it and replacing it with a Corporatocracy. Yes, capitalism (the economic system) is present in “Corporatocracy”–but the “Capitalism” that the left clings to is gone.
And of course, the “Capitalism” that the left clings to is based on the idea that with proper monitoring and restrictions, it is a system that works well. But if you look at cities like Detroit and Flint–that system only worked well for the people for a total of about 20-30 years–and that only came after unions forced the relationship between the government and corporations to shift. And when you really start digging around, you start to notice things like corporations murdering union leaders in non-US countries and other horrific worker/environmental abuses. So really, that 20-30 year span only “worked” for a certain segment of people.
So why do people on the left cling to the idea of “Capitalism” so tenaciously?
I don’t believe our only choices are “Capitalism,” “Communism,” or “Socialism.” I believe that working class/poor people are the leaders in reimagining the possibilities of new types of economies and living structures. And I believe that they became leaders not just by being at the head of the line in the war on working people–but by centering working class values like practicality and not leaving anybody behind (think: Chicken Run). We are looking for a practical way to address the needs of our communities–rather than sticking to a strict ideological viewpoint.
And as such, we are leaving open the space to question basic fundamental “givens,” like, “Capitalism will always be around forever.”
Look at the public school system in the US. Yes, the far right is hell fucking bent on destroying the public school system in the US as a part of their grander plan for implementing a corporatocracy. And for the most part–they’re succeeding. The left is fighting to defend public schools, and not having much success.
So what would happen if we would just sit with that for a while? Instead of immediately pointing to what is wrong with stupid people who don’t understand they’re being tricked by a tricky radical right agenda or angrily bemoaning how much more money the right has to implement their ideological agenda, or even just throwing uncritical support behind the public school system, why don’t we sit and reflect on what this situation really exposes?
What is really going on here? Are US citizens really so stupid? Or could it be possible that the public school system in the US is not meeting the needs of the students they are serving? And the left is offering no meaningful alternative to the public school system as it stands–so people are finding it easier to shift over to charter schools?
Let me say clearly before I move on. I am not offering a simplistic “Teachers aren’t doing their job” argument that you will hear from so many far right ideologues. I support teacher’s unions (of which, I was a member of at one time), I support them as workers, and I think the vast majority of the time, public school teachers are giving absolutely everything they can right down to their guts to help their students.
I am instead asking to contemplate the basic foundation of public schools in the US. Why do we have a public school system? What is the point of public schools? Looking at Native American students will give us perhaps the most obvious answer; public schools in the US are used as a way to enforce a cultural identity and to prepare laborers for the work force. More specifically–to prepare laborers for a *particular place* in the work force.
As you move to other populations of people, you see a lot of the same story. Black communities were legally segregated from quality resources, keeping them locked at the bottom of the labor force. There have been efforts for decades to keep undocumented children and even children who are citizens–but whose parents are undocumented–out of public schools altogether. Which only makes sense if you understand that public schools are training future work forces, and undocumented workers are constantly accused of “stealing our jobs.” If women were allowed to go to school at all, they went to learn how to be good unpaid laborers (i.e. wives and mothers) until as recently as the 70s, and while schools are “proud” to make space for military recruitment, they are more often than not, the first place that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is first enforced.
So with all this in mind, it becomes more obvious that the problem with the public school system in the US is not so much that the radical right is destroying it (well, that *is* a problem particularly for those employed by the school system–but for the purposes of this essay, I’m focusing on students), but that they are *replacing* it with a system that heightens and manifests the original problems of public schools. Or; whereas public schools allowed an exceptional few to make it through the system and “win” in the end with a good job–more often than not, public schools are and have been the first sites of injustice and inequality for youth in the US because those schools are servicing the needs of corporations and the government–not the needs of the youth or the communities. The new school system that the far right is implementing serves to continue to limit the labor pool just as public schools did–it’s just doing it in a much harsher manner.
So what do we do with that? What do we do with the idea that public schools maybe weren’t all that great to begin with? And what do we do with that in the context of cities like Detroit and Flint–where the public school system is finding it easier and more profitable to open up a school to prison pipeline, now that all the jobs are gone? What do we do with the idea that *most* public institutions are not servicing the needs of the communities they represent in any meaningful sense?
Do we fight to keep those systems? Or do we start imagining new ones? Or maybe do we do both?
What *would* a school system look like that was youth centered? What would it look like if schools were based on community values rather than corporate values? What would it look like to have teachers accountable to “raising a quality human being” rather than “getting the most students to pass the test”? What would it look like to have an equal pay system between administration and teachers?
If we had 30 years (which is how long the radical right has taken to implement their agenda to this point) could we create more schools like this? Enough to create a legitimate alternative to a radical right agenda? Could Freedom schools be the new normal? What could we do with other public institutions? What would happen if we recognize that time is one of the only resources we have an unending supply of?
Questioning the relationship between capitalism, corporations and the US government does not naturally lead to communism or socialism. It also does not mean a violent overthrow of the government (as the Tea Party is showing us), nor does it mean destruction of “Capitalism” tomorrow. It means demanding the right to decide our own future in a way that centers *our* needs and values. It is making our needs and values the new normal.
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