Sunday, February 26, 2017

Notes on looking at activism from the outside....

The last three years of my life have been the first time that I have been without some sort of substantial, collective project for some time in my life.  From my exodus from high school, I've been tied into one of any number of political projects, from helping out at the Emma Center, helping organize protests against the sanctions in Iraq, protesting globalization, participating in the Arise collective, to being a part of Anti-Racist Action.  When I first got to Irvine, California, I was not that politically involved, but grad school was its own collective endeavor, and a few years after, I got involved in first the protests against the fee increases in defense of a public education and later got involved in the efforts to reform our graduate student union.  Through that process, I defined myself within these projects, far more than I defined myself professionally and academically.  We succeeded and failed together.  Even when those groups drove me up a wall, and those points when I drove my comrades up a wall, I defined myself collectively.  I am not currently in such a deliberate community.

This isn't to say that I'm completely caught in a holding pattern. I'm looking for a job, but that largely involves filling out variations on the same form letters, revising them to show how you fit the arbitrary criteria of the job.  In addition, I've also been trying to get my work published, but that's largely the same process, taking material from my dissertation and shaping it into article form.  More significantly, both projects are focused on me as an individual and don't involve a lot of social engagement.  Don't get me wrong.  I've gotten a lot of help from my committee and a number of friends and colleagues in that process, but that help has come over disparate emails, and has been directed towards my own individual goals.  Even if I were a part of some sort of writing group, the goals would not be collective, the rewards or consequences would go to the individual members and not the group.  I'm at a point where I am relatively financially stable, but that stability has no security and I see at least one of my jobs potentially disappearing at the end of the school year.   Within this context, I need to keep on this individualistic trajectory to put myself in a position to get some sort of dependable employment, keeping those goals as a focus. 

To be clear, I'm not meaning to write this with the sense of alienation and frustration that I did a couple years ago.  I'm not burnt out, and despite my frustrations with the disciplinary structures of academic life, I still find the work itself interesting, even if I'm not terribly interested in the trends of that life.  Instead, I find myself in a curious position, looking from the outside in at a flurry of political organization.  I've participated in some of the protests, notably the Women's March and some of the smaller actions, but I haven't organized those events.  I haven't been in that space of anxiety about whether we would succeed or not in our plans and I haven't been within the after parties of such actions, chewing over the successes and defeats of the day.  I miss those spaces even if I don't always miss the strife and conflict that often accompanies them.  To perhaps illustrate the difference, I made the point of stopping by a protest at the flagpoles of University of California, Irvine, the traditional space for protests at the university.  Because of work, I got there after the protest had completed.  There were a few signs remaining and groups of the organizers clustered together, chatting over daily life and the event.  I thought I would see if there was anyone I knew, but the faces were entirely new to me.  Life had moved on.  No doubt, this is a positive thing at an organizing level, meaning that organizing life continued at the university, but it also forced me to recognize the end of a world that I was a part of.

In any case, I'm slipping into the maudlin tedium that I had stated I was going to avoid.  The more significant point is that I've gone from a contributor to the political projects of the the students of the university to an occasional participant in an assorted group of political protests.  It's strange to look at those actions from this vantage angle, one that sees the results, but not the processes.  I'm not sure if I've gained something in this loss, but it's probably the position that is going to define my near future.  I still have some interest in getting involved in some of the Critical Resistance work, but Los Angeles is a lot farther than the forty five miles would indicate, and the Irvine political community outside of the university doesn't seem that interesting.  I'm too disconnected from the Irvine Valley College campus to really get involved, and the other campus that I work at is too small and insulated to really imagined becoming involved.  Perhaps what makes this so strange is that there is so much to do at this moment, which is not new, and there seems to be a lot of people looking to contribute to that work.  This, more than anything else, makes the present moment feel so odd.  There seems to be so much potential, but I've forestalled some of the necessities of life so long that I can't really forestall them anymore to put the work in to rejoining the process.  It's far, far more my loss than the movement's, but it seems like a necessity now.  Hopefully, this will not be the case in the future.

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