practicing politics

by craig willse

My friends and I wrote and produced this zine from a weird moment in life—after finishing college, and before knowing really the shape of our lives ahead. We move apartments, maybe cities, every year. We work two, three, four jobs at a time. Those of us in grad school struggle to maintain integrity in conservative, competitive settings. These days are not always smooth, but they inspire. I take the time I can and think about how I want my life to be, what work I want to do, how and where I want to move the ideas I bounce back and forth with these friends who are allies. In the world, we are lucky ones, having accessed the educations that afford such a range of choices. We know these choices are blessings, and know too they are blessings everyone deserves.

A year or so ago, I ran into this former hippie-poet guy I knew from junior high. He told me about his job as an editor at a big magazine for rich travelers. He asked what I'd been up to since college, and I gave him the political stickers and activist zine my friends and I were making. He joked that he didn't know anyone was still doing activism. Months later, as I prepared to go to Pittsburgh to present a workshop at NGLTF's Creating Change conference, my boss and her girlfriend reminisced fondly about their youths, when they too were idealistic and "involved." As my friends and I go on with the business of building lives, I wonder about these encounters, and similar ones, all the time. What is immature about activist work? Why are good politics something we are supposed to grow out of? Aren't we all "involved," the issue being simply how, and to what ends?

We wrote these articles to pass on some ideas. We wanted to record our efforts to live out our political convictions. We wanted to draft transcripts of our struggled negotiations with the shit we see and hear every day. I wanted us to make this zine because we could, because we think our lives can be filled with the things we desire—feminism, radical race politics, class warfare, gender trouble. As I read the pieces my friends and co-conspirators wrote, I am shocked at how sharp and committed they are, and I want to think and work harder, do more, push on.

When people suggest that one day I will settle down, give up political work for something more practical, compromise my "beliefs," I am weighed down with the heaviness of this lie. This is exactly what systems of regulation and inequality want us to believe: that our convictions are frivolous, untouchable, too much. But compromise is not something that happens at the end of youth and the beginning of reason, it is something we practice every single day, it's how we live and get through our days. Poor people and kids and immigrants and gender outlaws do not need to be schooled in compromise. The ways we work within systems of alienated labor, how we learn in racist, classist schools, what we say to drunk frat boys who shout us down on the street—all of this is a compromise between thought and practice, between what we want and what we can have. We know the trick is bending the terms, working the deal in unsettling ways.

Michel Foucault wrote that all systems of control have modes of resistance built in. Trinh T. Minh-ha tells us that resistance is not a location we move to, but movement itself. We know our modes of resisting are never complete, and that is why we practice our politics—why we do them again and again, getting better, finding some mistakes, moving on. We are learning that the world and its disparities do not exist without our participation. Capitalism doesn't just happen, it surrounds us because people practice it; we make capitalism. We can unmake what we don't like, and we can construct different ways of being. Activism is not fancy, it is not some special set of acts performed by certain people. It is what we do, how we live, what we make.

These are the ideas I try to remember. Sometimes I forget all this, sometimes I am overwhelmed and lose sight of the choices facing me, and this is okay. I try to remember that good politics are not something we hold on to, but something we chase. Sometimes I forget the things I know, but I remember that life is the process of learning them all over again.

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