Saturday, May 5, 2012

Everything is Political; Politics is Everything

By William Richardson

As one of the newest writers for the Rouge Scholar Society, I feel that my first article should be on my philosophy on politics and activism since my writing focus will be on politics, applied academics, and activism, and I think you guys should know what makes me tick. Politics, for most people, is some game that politicians play far away from the real world where we “regular” people live
. Along with it being seen as some game, most people “know” that the game is corrupt and that we as “regular” people have no hold over how it’s played. Worse still, most of the regular people who decide they want to get involved in politics think the barrier for entry is too high for them to try and that the only politicians are the rich ones. God forbid they don’t think this is right and want to change the political game. People who want to change the game often look at the power politicians wield and conclude we just have too little power and/or money to challenge them in any way. At that point, most of us decide to just keep our heads down in hope that no one will punch us. The fact that politics may seem impossible for us normal people to understand, let alone get involved in,  is all that more reason we should.

In the beginning I mentioned what most people think of when they think about politics. We tend to frame politics in a way where voting for the Democrats or Republicans is the highest form of political action that most of us can hope to achieve. Even if we dislike the mainstream parties we still vote for either of them or not at all because, well, what else can we do? We can do a lot more, but people are kept from seeing all the other possibilities mostly because we don’t understand what politics actually is to be able to affect it.

Now that is a great question, what IS politics? Most people couldn't give you a concrete definition like they would be able to do for religion as an example. This is a major part of the problem our society faces; we talk about politics but we don’t know what it really is. Let’s walk through it:
-          People are…well people who want to eat, drink, have children and not die in the process!
-          Society is a collection of people who get together to share resources, labor, and ideas in the hope of providing a safe and stable environment to eat, drink, and have children in.
-          Society and the people in it produce things with their collective labor and ideas so there has to be a way of deciding how to divide up the goods of society. That is the purpose of politics and political systems.
-          Politics is then the totality of the relationships and institutions that decide who gets what in society.
-          The stability of these relationships and institutions depend on the use of power by those on the top to keep order.

By this logic, everything is political: from who you vote for to what you eat. And that’s an important point to remember because many of us think the political game ends after the election of the President, Mayor, or Senator. Quite to the contrary, the majority of politics happen after the election when lobbyist money is being divvied out to senators and before elections when candidates are getting they campaign dollars from different corporations and organizations.  The real politics of race doesn't happen when a young black man is shot by a cop, it happens in the minds of Americans who associate “black male” with “criminal”. The recent War on Women didn’t begin with anti-abortion laws: it likely began with a bunch of “make me a sandwich” jokes. Politics, and thus the decisions of who can and cannot control society and reap its benefits, don’t begin with political candidates, bills, and laws but with ideas, conversation between people, and our own lived experiences. Everything is political because politics involves everything.

Because, for me, every social interaction between people and our own individual actions are political acts then to understand politics we need to understand ourselves: why we hang with the people we do, why we go to the places we do and why we look at the world the way we do. This also means, unlike how most people look at politics, there is possibility for people to actually understand it and do something about changing the world; all you have to do is question yourself and those around you. When you being to question the things around you a whole bunch of things pop out at you that you would not otherwise see. For instance, think about why only guys talk about being banished to the “friend zone”. Or think about why there is a NFL team named the Washington Redskins, “redskins” being an old racist term for Native Americans. What other political questions and observations can you make out of your lived experience and that of the rest of us?

No comments: