Friday, February 10, 2012

Keep the Politics Out Of....

i've read this phrase a thousand times, i'm sure. and each time when i agree with the position of the writer/speaker [pro-choice; stop the wars, etc forever] i nod sagely.  right: the bad guys are politicizing this issue. when it's someone whose position i dislike [right to life, don't make the government support its hungry; give rich capitalists more money], i frown. hypocrites, they're the ones politicizing it. but lately something has been gnawing at me when i see the phrase, and i now realize what it is.

this phrase totally negates what was once, and really needs to be again, a basic tenet of the second wave of feminism.  it's a horrible, terrible, dangerous phrase.  it separates politics from life, and puts it into its own narrow category.

okay, feminists and leftists who remember: THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL.  Everything is political. 'political' is about us, the citizens, and our relations among each other and the state. the polis, the people.  it's not about playing eenie-meanie-miney-moe with the top echelon of the power structure; or rather, that's a small part of of its meaning. it's not about Democrats and Republicans, and casting your ballot for one or the other.  It's about US--we the people.

how much patient time did we invest in the 1970s explaining this? those cute cartoons where the fat old boss chases the busty secretary around the room? that was political. the woman dying in her own blood because the coat hanger didn't do the job right.  that was political.  pretending you were engaged so you and your boyfriend could rent an apartment together.  rape.  rape was a political crime.  beating your wife was a political crime.

such an analysis could only expand to acts that weren't in any narrow sense limited to acts for or against women. your kid gets killed in vietnam in the process of killing another kid in a war we never voted for. [shit, even if we had voted for it, those two kids are just as dead.] from the most grim to the most trivial, what humans did to, with, for each other, was political. in the book i worked with Susan Love on, the second edition, and those editions thereafter, included a chapter on 'the politics of breast cancer.'breast cancer in itself is a disease. how we choose to research the disease, treat it, pay tax and/or charity money to help cure or eliminate or attack it--that is political.

we can, we must, certainly argue that some areas of life shouldn't be controlled by the government. we can and should say that this particular topic isn't about Democrats or Republicans, who represent a small part of the 'people.'  but that is far from meaning they are 'politicizing' it.  they are perhaps seizing on a political situation to support their own power.  they are being political, but no more than any of us involved in the situation.  the brave workers at abortion clinics are being political; so are the fanatics who may decide to kill them; so are those of us who support or oppose abortion rights. so, above all, are the individual women who get or do not get abortions when they face unwanted pregnancy.

if this weren't true, there would never have been an Occupation, and it would never have spread as it did--and continues to, even with camp-ins.  i think at core, though i don't think they used the expression, it has had so much resonance with so many people because the occupiers knew that the political was personal.

i think we need to reclaim that phrase, to acknowledge that we respond in very different political ways to any situation, but that as long as we live in proximity to others, as long as anyone besides me has any control over my actions, my actions and theirs are political. good or bad, banally neutral, right or wrong, worthy of being emulated or avoided, even if necessary stopped because i'm harming others---all that is important;  all that needs to be addressed or at least recognized.  but no matter how clear, how complex, how morally ambiguous, how painful, or how fun: it is political. fate has politicized, it not  us.


Bob Lamm said...

Thanks, Karen. Of course you are completely right. Of course we all need to remember (and honor) the best of the "second wave" of the women's movement, including the view that "the personal is political."

Ken Goldstein said...

I used to get very upset at people who said, "I'm not political." I'd rant at them and say, "Do you breath? Do you use electricity? Do travel on public streets?" I'd inform them that Everything is political!

Then I got older and mellowed quite a bit. I only ranted and raved at people who were being overtly politically complete idiots, not simply clinging to ignorance.

But lately, in the back of mind, a nagging thought keeps jumping up at my brain whenever I hear or read the "ideas" of so-called "conservatives." And that nagging though is, Everything is political!