Monday, December 5, 2011

How I woke up one day and discovered I was a radical

I am a pretty average Finn. All Finns are social democrats, no matter what party they tell you they belong to, because even the right wing in Finland believes in free education, national healthcare, and not letting anyone get too rich lest they think they're better than other people.

My mother's side of my family represents a fairly typical Nordic success story, having gone from starving poverty to comfortable middle class in three generations. It wasn't a free ride on government handouts. My great-grandfather starved to death in a concentration camp after taking part in the 1917 attempt at Communist revolution in Finland. My great-grandmother served two years in prison after killing a baby she couldn't support, and went on to raise five children to productive adulthood, one of them my incredibly hardworking grandmother. Grandma was widowed early, when my war veteran grandfather died after a drunk driving incident, and raised her two surviving kids (one died by drowning at age 7) on her salary as a mail carrier. She brought my mother up to believe in beauty, and made sure there was real art on her walls. My parents both had fulfilling careers without a college education, and are now safely retired. Their health care is taken care of. I count my blessings every day for the free education that made me the first university graduate in my family, and for the freedom I enjoy because I don't have the huge financial burden of elder care and loans that Americans are shouldered with. My stepson has access to a free university degree in Europe. How can anybody say that all this is not worth a 40% tax rate?

What I want for everyone is what my family had: a fighting chance. What I want is for children to be born like me: into countries where labor and the left have selflessly fought the battles that make fairness a fact of life - not sold out to lobbyists and corporate interests. This should be a piece of cake in the industrialized west. We should now be working on how to make equality of opportunity a global right in a globalized world. Not bickering over whether it's fair that a billionaire "job creator" may have to give up on a slightly larger yacht this year.

I am a lucky immigrant for having come to America from a "socialist" country. If I end up destitute after an illness that my insurance won't cover, all I need is to scrounge up enough money for a ticket back to Finland. They'll take care of me there.

With the "mainstream" now pushed so far right in the American political discourse that we have the Democrats passing a watered-down version of a Republican health plan and helping bankers get enormous bonuses for nearly destroying the entire world economy, where the hell do you think that leaves me? With the so-called social democrats "working within" the liberal industrial complex that's been bought by Wall Street, while the Democrats fall all over themselves pretending they don't exist?

By simply acknowledging what I believe - and what apparently a majority of Americans believe, if you don't tell them it's called "socialism" - I have fallen off the political map.

I want to be associated with people who actually give a shit, and aren't looking to use me for something in some campaign that is mainly about their own career or some other interest that's not being mentioned out loud.

And like so many others, I feel like the Occupy movement, started by anarchists, is where I suddenly have space to express my - still, I think, pretty mainstream - opinions, without being branded a loony and a dangerous person.

(It's not the first time I find myself breaking bread with anarchists when I'm trying to express some really very non-extreme opinion. When the G.W. Bush administration was threatening to attack Iraq for having imaginary WMD, I found myself at a protest in Helsinki, marching to the American embassy side by side with anarchists under the red and the black. Laughing at the anarchist jokes - "Come on guys, don't stop in front of other people! Didn't anybody here go to the Army?" - and finding mad respect in my heart for the two guys carrying the nearly passed-out fellow with "Junkies for peace" scrawled in marker on his forehead.)

You don't leave me a choice, oh Political Map of America. I don't necessarily believe that abolishing repressive systems will end repression (I tend to believe that humans secrete repressive systems like spiders poop webs), but I'm starting to think that since our systems are so completely broken and corrupt, and immune to the actual will of the people, hell, maybe we need to smash the whole thing and start over. Maybe the conversation needs to be had entirely outside the existing paradigm, which has been entirely co-opted and is no longer useful. Otherwise all we have left is manufactured consent fueled by emotional masturbation, masking a massive clusterfuck of injustice and greed.
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