Sometimes, I think I horrify younger, aspiring organizers.
I have often found myself standing in front of younger organizers from very privileged backgrounds, similar though distinct from my own, who are trying really hard to do the right things in the right way. I feel like some mean old witch of the west when I open my mouth. Like I'm going to really burst their bubbles.
"Yeah, before a core group of bad ass immigrant rights organizers laid it on hard, unions were notorious for their racism. Did I say, were?"
"If you want to truly understand yourself as an organizer in this country - and you're from the northeast, go to the midwest, move to the south and then - if you can survive all of that as a yankee, then go to california."
"Boston is the most segregated city in America."
"Unions are amazing, AND why did my friend who dedicated hella years of her life to being a union organizer then get dropped by the union when she asked for domestic partner health benefits for her partner who was diagnosed with cancer?"
"I prefer southern racism to northeastern liberalism."
The young babes stare at me, their mouths agape. I feel horrible. Like I've dropped cold water on a hot plate and it's just jumping back all over the place. It's not that I'm being a grump, really it's not. It's just that...well, it's complicated. It's wrong to go into organizing thinking that things are simple. They're not. They are messy. I'm thinking about messiness as an organizing principle. Being willing to deal with the mess. How do we reconcile these histories of disenfranchisement? of selling out the ones who threaten what little we hold onto? How do we enter spaces of practice without the arrogance that is SO characteristic of the northeast that it's a stereotype?
And it's not that I'm burnt. I mean, I am. I was burnt years ago on the whole model of organizing that guides most efforts in this country (read: Alinsky. read: suck the marrow out of the young. read: models that are not sustainable for the long haul). AND, I still think collective action is the most powerful tool we have.
I came into organizing in the northeast, was disturbed by the west and found home in the south. Go figure. It's not that I'm okay with segregation, but I don't like being around racist people. So, if it means that I live with people who hold similar values, yay. I don't like that Texas has five police forces, but I love Texas. I do. I love that Texas is a state of people of color, and even though we do not yet hold all the strings, we are fierce and present and strong, and change is deep and felt when it happens. Take Fuerza Unida as just one example.
The poor babes. I went on a diatribe tonight, about 40 minutes I think, about Texas. I'd had two glasses of Shiraz. It wasn't pretty. The two 20 something union organizers were flabbergasted when I suggested that unions are not the only, nor primary, structure to serve communities of color. And they were equally flabbergasted with my assertion that the northeast is more segregated than the south. Oh, and that unions have a history of anti-LGBT politics. oops.
Layer onto all of this the irony that earlier in the evening, I had been sitting downstairs looking for the gays - I found the theatre party instead, which by the way was full of gays - but I digress...
I was sitting at the bar down stairs looking for the gays. I see two black women with dreds at the counter. I think, maybe? But I watch, listen, observe. No. They are not gay. At all. In fact, they are with the two men on either side of them. Pedro Martinez comes on the screen. The Yankees are playing the Phillies. I text JM as a moment of irony, since she's a die hard Mets fan and actually almost stopped talking to me when she found out I like the Yankees (watching the yankees! thinking of you. lol. just kidding. love you. xo) One of the women goes, "Now where is he from?" Cause, of course, Pedro is sporting the jerry curls (can someone get it out on the APB that even though the 80s came and went and came and went and came and g-d why don't they just GO, jerry curls were ALWAYS a bad a idea???!!), and he sticks out as strictly not...i'm letting you complete this sentence.
So, I assume her partner says, "D.R." cause next thing you know the woman is talking about the D.R.
"D.R.? I've been there. You can buy any girl you want there."
I can't hear the men. Only the women.
"Me, no I wouldn't buy a man, but I'd sure have sex with one if someone else bought him."
So, I just watch, listen, think about the fact that we're in The Study - this upscale hotel with an upscale pretense of a bar in the middle of New Haven on a Thursday night and really I'm just looking for the gays when I know they are down the street at the working class bar called Partners where I've hung out every time I go straight crazy, and listening to two black women talk about how they would sleep with a bought ANYTHING.
I'm not against sex work. Really, truly I'm not. I just think it's intense how casual it can be to talk about buying anyone. And how flesh is once again reduced to sex.
So, I watch the rest of the baseball game, actually enjoying it, and then infiltrate the Yale Rep after party. I feel at home in the midst of all the theatre folks. I am at home. After my brief "What the fuck am I doing in a PhD in Anthro?" moment, cured by the satay and the first glass of Shiraz, I actually start a conversation with one of the theatre folk and have a blast. I could almost believe that I had found the gays, since so many of the theatre folk were of that inclination. Alas.
And then, it's over. And I start heading out the door. And then I see them: the non-theatre gays. They are really there. Turns out, they were in the PENTHOUSE. Of course. How could I have made such a mistake?
So I head upstairs with AL, who has agreed to join me in my debut entrance to Yale gay anything. And there they are. The doors to the Penthouse open, the view is stunning and the room is full of...boys. And then I see them.
And I proceed to horrify them over my second glass of Shiraz. And then say goodnight.
I stumble home across New Haven streets up to my apartment where I text AL. She had to leave for the sake of homework. I stayed, talking about something. Feeling old. Like some drunken organizing veteran sharing war stories.
I think next time, I'll just stick with the theatre gays. Leave the Penthouse organizers to their own conversation. Oh, and talk about something else.