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Personal Politics

The Personal is Political we always said, and I believe it. Life experience has shown me that the reverse is also true, that The Political is Personal. By this I mean that politics affects our lives, and in deeply profound ways. When I talk about politics I’m not talking about who got elected last Tuesday, but about the distribution of power and wealth – the two being synonymous in our culture.  The degree to which we each have power shapes our life’s circumstances in almost every conceivable area. For nobody is this more true than it is for those with little or none.

One reason it’s so hard to get people to look clearly at the way things work is that nobody wants to identify themselves as powerless – it’s a creepy feeling; who’d want to confess to it? I don’t like saying so, believe me, but in order to talk about personal politics I must. During the course of my lifetime I’ve experienced a steady diminishment of power – after childhood, that is, when we have absolutely none (other than what we can manipulate with tantrums and other devious methods). As an adult I’ve gone from being young, sexy/pretty, and upper-middle-class to being old and poor (also un-pretty and un-sexy as an elder according to social standards). Having taken this backwards journey — we used to call it “downward mobility,”  I know a thing or two about power, or lack of same. Armed with this perspective, I’ve been thinking I want to do more political analysis, as I did back in the days of feminism. Not that I haven’t done any of it since, but the fact that my blog was rejected from inclusion in a list of women political bloggers tells you something.

The state of politics today is what’s compelling me to focus more attention on it. We’ve moved so far right that Barack Obama, the ultimate capitalist advocate, is labeled socialist. We almost put a gal into the House of Reps whose platform includes ending masturbation. Okay, that’s a joke, sort of;  but it’s undisputed fact that everything’s moved rightward.

Chris Hedges, author of Death of the Liberal Class, was on Talk of the Nation the other day, blaming liberals for the current state of affairs. A proud lifelong liberal himself, he says that liberals have basically dropped out, that there aren’t any great liberal groups and institutions around anymore to keep our capitalist democracy in balance. Hedges sees the liberal class as a necessary element of our democracy, one that should be respected for having brought us the five-day work week and minimum wage, among other humanizing practices, but instead it’s become a dirty word. Hedges believes that if things continue going in the same direction we’re facing a barbaric future; barbarism is his exact word, and he doesn’t toss it around lightly. If we don’t address “the ecological emergency,” (another great phrase) which is tied to the economic emergency, if we keep on exploiting people and the planet to exhaustion, he warns, we’re facing willful suicide.

What he’s saying makes sense to me. Recently I read Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood and am now reading Oryx and Crake, a sort of prequel. Atwood describes a dystopia in which the failure to address the ecological emergency, plus scientific experimentation gone amok, lead directly to utter barbarism. My worldview has been immersed in Atwood’s since I began reading these books, and everywhere I see the seeds of her envisioned future. It’s scary as hell, but I can’t shake it: Atwood’s world is materializing before my eyes. That more than half the Republicans in power do not “believe in” the ecological emergency fills me with despair.

I see global climate change in every incident, from mudslides to forest fires to the BP oil spill, and I see it moving faster all the time. Change seems to be increasing exponentially: instead of just one change happening and then another, each change affects the whole organism, so that many changes occur, one on top of the other. I used to think the apocolypse wasn’t going to come in my lifetime, but I’m not so sure anymore, given that it’s already happening. For some in particular – those evacuating low-lying islands as the warming ocean rises and erodes their homeland; those driven off their lands by floods or erupting volcanoes – the worst is happening right now. For those with very little power, like me, survival becomes more and more difficult as resources become more and more scarce. Meanwhile, the people with more power, and certainly those with all the power, aren’t yet being affected.

I try not to debate people about politics, because I tend to get overly emotional, and sometimes even cry, as I dissolve into incoherence. That’s because this stuff is personal to me. When someone declares that only losers need government help, they are saying I’m a loser. I take that very personally.

One example illustrates everything I’m talking about: Hurricane Katrina was an emblematic event that revealed everything about what’s happening to our country. The people who got through nearly unscathed left New Orleans before the hurricane by turning the ignition key in their dependable cars. Those who had no way of leaving either perished or went through hell, and many still have not recovered. We all saw the crowds in the SuperDome, saw the color of the people’s skin, the conditions of their lives writ large upon their tired faces, in their broken and missing teeth. These were powerless people. Many of them survived but lost their homes, were “relocated,” and still have not been able to get where they want to be: back home. I understand the pain of being unable to go home: I long for New York and would go back if I could, but I don’t have the resources – and it takes a shitload of resources. I well remember how easy it was to move around 40 or 50 years ago. As things have gone increasingly dog-eat-dog it takes more and more money and power to move around, to make changes, to shape and control the circumstances of our lives. It’s all about power. It’s all about politics. The personal is still political – and the political is very, very personal.

2 responses »

  1. Marcy, I just heard Paul Cienfuegos’s recent speech in Portland, “Corporations versus People” (, and I recommend you listen to it. We are not helpless, activism still works as it did (albeit slowly) decades ago with the civil rights movement and the antiwar protests–but the problem is that so many activist campaigns are isolated from one another. All the problems you cite, leading us toward Atwood’s dystopia, are related, and they all have to do with corporate power. Do not resign yourself; make hell.

  2. Hi Marcy

    Thanks for your comment on my Atwood post – I can see how her “vision” is all around us as well. I speculate that maybe we each prefer the different works, because we somehow invest emotionally so much in the one we reach first?

    Actually, that makes sense. Thanks for the insight.–MS

    Readers: Go read Marilyn’s review of Atwood’s books!

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