I enter the coffeeshop, and see my old boss from six years ago. He still remembers my name, and they are still making vegetarian biscuits and gravy.
Brian walks in a few minutes later, and I pull out my notebook around the ten minute mark of our reunion. He isn’t bothered.
Brian was a semester away from graduating with a social work degree years ago, but gave it up because he was skeptical of the system. If he couldn’t be a social worker that challenged social work as a profession, he didn’t want to get a degree.
Today he is still critically thinking about everything, and has made his own career as kitchen manager at the local homeless shelter in Lawrence. I am really proud of him.
I told him about my past year. There was pause. And then we dove into the world at large, as we used to do.
We immediately jumped into Bernie Sanders, and the idea of protesting the people who have your “best interests” at heart, to push them further and to vocalize the issues. And to stand up and step back, letting others speak.
Is there a downside to talking more about racial inequality in this country? Brian questions the die hard “rah rah” democrats who are upset with the Black Lives Matter protestors for shaking Bernie. They’re worried that he’ll lose support by talking too much about race, alienate voters. But, radical idea, maybe not? Maybe it’s alienating voters when we don’t talk about it. Maybe you’re a part of the class of dinosaurs, white middle class democrats. A little too involved in getting that blue vote, and not questioning what your party actually stands for, and how they enact that change you believe in.
“I don’t want Donald Trump so Bernie needs to calm the fuck down about race, or else we all need to buckle down and vote for Hillary.” Fuck that, how about opening vibrant dialogue and critiquing the current social and political narrative?
“The issue is really about being open to critical analysis of ourselves and our country. Or not,” Brian states, opening the door for a new narrative, and a new way of politics. Not the die hard nationalism, but actually questioning what we are doing as a country, and then as far as international policy goes, acknowledging that we don’t always know what’s right. And when we push for our own interests exclusively, we wreak havoc on countries. And don’t they have the same rights as us as American citizens? Or do we think they are lesser than us?
People are scared of questioning, Brian states simply- ramping up the pace of the conversation. The people around us get quieter as we get louder, and listen to our conversation in the little back corner of Aimee’s cafe. “Just like the social work program, they didn’t want anyone questioning the flaws in the profession, trying to find a better way. Old school politics, old school hiding from change. Whether positive or negative, it’s at least starting something new, and empowering more opportunities and ideas. It’s going to take a lot of experimenting to get to where we want to go. You can’t just say ‘it’s hopeless,’ you’ve got to be the person to start shaking things up.”
I tell him about my experience this past year with my kick ass ladies from California. How I thought they were beautiful and “normal” when I first met them. I tried to tone down my feminism, my ideas, my passions. I thought they would be turned off by it all, but slowly over the year we all came out to one another. And I realized that we all had radical ideas, we were just waiting for someone else to say it out loud, too. We helped radicalize each other even further with our ideas, and supported each other in whatever we wanted to run with.
This experience opened my eyes to the power of collaboration- I learned and grew so much in practice this year, and I can say with confidence that we did it together.
I also learned that just because someone doesn’t look like you, or immediately share your viewpoints, doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for beautiful dialogue, and the chance for words and ideas to resonate between you. Both growing in understanding, and creating that intersectionality that is essential for social change. For any kind of revolution.
We talked about immigration, and redefining how we look at immigration as a country. And how it’s one thing for your votes to say it, but vocalizing a reframing of issues is challenging politics as we know it. And is America ready for it? Let’s try it out and see. In contrast to the usual patriotism during election time, let’s acknowledge that other countries are doing education, health care, criminal justice systems better than us.
Brian hit on some fucking awesome points, connecting Black Lives Matter with Occupy. The mainstream arguments against both movements having to do with “no real focus,” “no real solutions.” Well, the point of protests is to draw attention to problems that need fixed, not to lay out policy plans. Protesters are working full time jobs, and have many other things consuming their day to day life. They are not getting paid to figure out policy, they are attempting to grab the attention of the ones getting paid to do it. And get them to actually do their job, addressing the dialogue happening within the American people.
Did Occupy actually do anything? Is Black Lives Matter actually doing anything?
Of course, because people are talking about it. It’s reaching social dialogue, and that trickles over to politics and the discussions being had at the top.
These movements do not always get credit by the mainstream media, or by politicians for the change and dialogue they are creating, but they are having the most direct action you can possibly have: conversation and putting issues in the population’s heads.
If Sanders is really to get elected and enact real change, he’s going to have to play on the stand up, step back approach. He is qualified to talk about social justice issues, but what we really need is someone who is going to give the single mom from the Bronx the microphone. And I hope he’s going to continue to be the candidate learning how to do that.
That’s how we’re really going to change America’s political system. By getting over our insecurities and breaking that traditional model of leadership. And learning that we don’t always know best. We need to listen and learn from one another.
The world is a complex ecosystem, so when we only listen to a few voices, we are not allowing the entire environment to flourish. This goes for domestic policy as well as international policy. By letting go of one track minded and selfish initiatives, we are actually helping ourselves reach our goals more than we would alone.
Just like my radical ladies from California, I didn’t know if we had much in common in the beginning. But by opening up to each other and listening to one another, we found out we had much the same goals, and we could do so much more together. By valuing each others opinions and thoughts and actions.
“We need to open the floor for the people of the world to make their own decisions. We need to shake off this “American interest” validation that we give ourselves. The world is not just about us.”
What if decisions that other countries make without us affect us negatively, or are not in our interests?
“So be it.”
Brian and I would spend hours late into the night discussing human nature. It was what was holding me back from joining him in local activism and social work. I thought humans were just inherently shitty in regards to cooperation and caring for one another. If we’re naturally selfish, who are we to change that?
What I think I’ve learned since I’ve seen Brian last is that it doesn’t matter where humans “naturally” start. It’s not our essence that matters, but our potential for restructuring the way we think about things, our ability to redefine narratives and empower one another.
And reach out to other groups.
And take what we see before us by storm, and create a new view.
We are built for it.
It’s what gets us up in the morning.
Don’t force it on anyone, but never hide who you are, and your growing ideas. Be that outlet for others to grab onto and add to if it resonates with them.
You don’t have to convince Governor Brownback of anything. But you might be surprised just how many people who are living relatively conventional lives have relatively radical ideas locked away.
Leave the door open.
During our conversation our old housemate Noah from the coop walks in. We catch up on the past few years. He tells me his parents live right by mine in Lenexa. He’s headed there tomorrow.
Walking down Massachusetts street after Brian goes to work I see another housemate, I cannot remember his name. But he had the huge beard and was looked up to like a radical prophet in the house.
That is why I didn’t talk to him very much.
Two years later however, we make eye contact, and he’s about to walk on by. But I smile, and then he smiles a genuine smile in acknowledgement and surprise.
And I’m in love with Lawrence and it’s weird vibes and weird people for the day.