Life in the 22nd Century

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I’m 11 days into my two month stay in Rotterdam and it feels like a lifetime. Laura, Bernadette, and I returned from our trans-European road trip on the 16th, but from then it was Amsterdam, Utrecht, and then back to Amsterdam before I got into Rotterdam for good last Monday. A week and a half later, and I still feel like I’m catching my breath! There is so much to reflect on, including all of the beautiful things I got to see on our road trip. But for now I’m thinking a lot about what brought me here and what I hope for my time in the Netherlands.

 

A Tinder match asked me if I was getting the inspiration I had hoped from Rotterdam. The answer is hell to the yes, every single second of the day! That is precisely the reason I came to this magical place. I have spent the majority of my adulthood working toward creating a more beautiful and just world through community organizing and political activism. It’s been an incredible journey! I have seen so many victories, friendships, projects, and events develop from the work I have done. But outside of small circles like my own, the American government continues to fail its people miserably in simply providing basic needs and a decent quality of life with any equality across its population. And in this same world, at the very same time, there is a country that is incredibly organized, efficient, and sustainable. The government largely provides for its people economically, socially, and culturally. The Netherlands is a living example of functioning Democratic Socialism, the type of world Bernie Sanders champions. My politics differ quite a bit from Bernie’s, but this is about as socialist as a country can get in this capitalist world, so I enjoy coming here to be viscerally reminded that the world I am fighting for is within reach.

 

I came here for the first time to do a WWOOFing stint on a vegetable and berry farm in Lelystad with my partner in 2010. The moment I stepped foot on an NS train, I fell in love with the Netherlands. We had such an amazing time with the Dutch family we became a part of at the farm. We learned so much from their clean and organized style of growing too. We visited Amsterdam and fell in love with the canals and the tiny row houses. We had our first experience on the Dutch bike paths in Groningen, and got invited to a family-style dinner with 4 old Dutch lesbians. It was a big deal for us because we were new gays and the two of us faced serious discrimination at home for our sexuality. It was painfully shocking but also wonderful to learn how normalized it was in the Netherlands.

 

Then in 2011, an exchange student from the Netherlands landed in an open room in my house in Gainesville, FL my last semester of undergrad. We became instant best friends and have kept in touch ever since. I came back to the Netherlands to visit Laura in April 2015, and then again in April 2017 and May 2018. WOW Air, an international budget airline, opened a hub in Pittsburgh in 2016 and has made our long-distance friendship so much easier! The first two times I visited, I got to know Utrecht, a super old and quaint university city, and also visited some other places like Amsterdam, Texel, and Den Haag. I loved it all, especially the highly functional transit system that is centered around bicycles and trains. With those two modes of transport you can get almost anywhere in this entire country. There is so much to love about the Netherlands: how dense and accessible the cities are by foot, how clean and organized it is, how community is designed into public space, the lively art and event scene, the delicious bread and cheese…

 

The last time I came to visit in May of this year, Laura had moved to Rotterdam so I came to visit her here, expecting to see just another cool Dutch city like the ones I had previously visited. Instead, my mind was blown. I have never been so inspired by a city in my whole life! Seeing Rotterdam was an absolute game changer for me. I have been visiting cities all over the US for years to see if any of them would move me more than Pittsburgh. I went to Nashville, Portland, Denver, LA, New York, Philly, Baltimore, DC, Seattle, Chicago, Burlington, and Detroit, and none of them did to me what Rotterdam did. In Pittsburgh and many other places in the US, there seem to be so many barriers to reaching your dreams. In Rotterdam, I felt like the world was full of possibility. I knew I had to come back to really soak in that feeling, so I spent the last few months setting my life up to materialize that reality.

 

Language learning has been a hobby of mine since I was 10 and living a stint in Europe has been a goal since age 16. I have studied many languages in my life and reached a highly proficient level in a few, but have lacked the opportunity to fully immerse, which I always believed was necessary to level up to fluency. I have been studying Dutch for fun on and off for about 3 years and have always hoped for the chance to immerse myself through a more extended stay in the Netherlands. So this is my moment to work on a very long-term goal! I’ve been getting some lessons from my friend Meghan, an American expat who taught Dutch in Indiana and now teaches high school English here. I also signed up for an intensive Dutch course at a language school that will last most of September. Very excited to challenge myself and see how much progress I can make toward this goal!

 

Most of all, I am excited to take a long, deep steep in the Dutch way of life and research in books and in the streets just how it got to be so good here! Almost all of the justice issues I have organized protests for, marched in the streets for, and led political meetings about in the last three years have already been achieved here. It’s quite shocking to be in a place that has everything you ever dreamed of for your society and more. The biking infrastructure alone is enough to make a Pittsburgh cyclist cry. I’m still getting used to drinking water from the tap. Almost every one of my peers here has a career-type job with excellent benefits and job protection. No one here could truly understand the level of poverty that exists just within a one mile radius of my home in Highland Park. In many ways, the Netherlands makes Pittsburgh look like the third world. This is not to suggest that problems don’t exist here — they do. The Netherlands has a complicated colonial history and has plenty of responsibility to take for its past and present. There is also a strong conservative current here represented by popular right-wing politician Geert Wilders whose politics reflect those of Trump in the US and Le Pen in France. Still, the quality of life of the average Dutch citizen is decades ahead of the average American.

 

So as an organizer and an activist, I stand in the center of Rotterdam in front of the most modern train station I’ve ever seen with my jaw on the pavement wondering, “Howwwww is all of this possible?! They are living in the 22nd century, while we fight for scraps in the US!” I believe in the power of the working class, and I believe the American people can act collectively to radically change the system. This has to be done by relearning how to organize the way our ancestors did for the last many hundred years to win the rights we do have. My years of research and experience in political activism and organizing have taught me that the only way positive progress has been made for working and oppressed people is by organized collective action. Our leaders will have us believe that over time, they have realized their wrongs, and they have offered us the chance to vote justice into being. This is false. Every victory in justice — be it racial, political, environmental — has an organized social movement behind it. This is true in histories from all over the world: Apartheid would never have been voted out without the decades of struggle the South African people led against their oppressors. India would never have gained independence if not for the radical countrywide actions and international support that finally threw off the British Empire. Haiti was a slave colony that revolted against France for its independence and has spent the last 200 years defending its sovereignty against every capitalist country in the world. Justice is fought for, not freely given.

 

These are big examples, but it travels all the way down to smaller victories. President Obama was opposed to gay marriage when he took office. He didn’t suddenly change his mind and grant gays and lesbians the right to marry. The LGBTQ community had been fighting since the 70s (with roots even earlier) to get to the tipping point that happened in 2015, near the very end of Obama’s two terms in office. Marriage equality is a huge victory, but it is only a small part of what the queer community has been fighting for since Stonewall. Today, transpeople lack basic rights in most states and face incredible violence and discrimination at work, at home, and in the system. So despite the defeat of DOMA and the victory of marriage equality, the fight must continue until rights are won for the entire queer community. This is how change is won.

 

If social progress really does happen as a result of collective action, that means the Netherlands must have an incredibly dense history of organizing. This is the history I hope to dig into during my time here! And maybe this will reveal why there is so much more inequality in my home country than there is here. So here I am in Rotterdam for my self-directed study abroad at 29: exploring a new way of life, soaking in inspiration, learning Dutch, working on my many life projects, and¬†expanding my network and realm of possibilities. I hope to meet with folks who run community-based projects like the ones I’m involved in, visit lots of museums, get to know the queer scene, and see what goes on in my field here. The Dutch are known pioneers in sustainable agriculture and I’ve seen tons of evidence of it already…! Follow along if you please! I hope to be updating regularly on more shocking cultural differences and my musings on history, politics, and the world.

 

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Organize! Organize! Organize!

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The history of oppression and the history of struggle go hand in hand. No people in any part of history have been a willing victim to the stripping of their liberties. Regardless of identity, our truly collective history as working people is one of struggle against the ruling class. Black, white, African, poor, queer, disabled, Muslim, no matter the identity, we have all risen up time and time again to try and throw off our oppressors and reclaim our liberties. Our greatest successes have been when we have joined forces across those boundaries in solidarity, both within cultures nationally and between cultures internationally.

It is extremely important to study the history of social movements and to study it with the proper lens. Only through this study can we learn what tactics will help us end oppression once and for all! Because we are intentionally NOT taught this history in our formal education, we are apt to believe that the struggle we are experiencing in this age is new. This is a very disempowering belief because it seems absolutely terrifying to learn about all of the injustice in the world all of the sudden and be confronted to deal with it every single day. We are all going through an extremely trying emotional time with the escalation of the Trump regime’s attacks and an information age that is dropping new horrifying realities that shake our world view on a regular basis. Many of us go through this emotional turmoil alone! No wonder we all feel so exhausted and immobilized! We want to fight, we want to learn, but how????? The ruling class has very intentionally kept this information from us by dictating public school curriculum for many decades. It’s going to take time to relearn!

This is why I enjoy being a part of a real fighting organization like Socialist Alternative. Instead of going through this scary time alone, I get to meet weekly with my comrades to discuss current events, politics, and methods of action. Then, during the week, we go out into the world and put our work into practice by going to political meetings and hosting actions like tabling, public meetings, or protests. We also read A LOT. We are literally studying the 10,000 year global struggle of working people against oppressors. There is soooo much to learn! I read political material and current events every single week, and instead of processing it alone, I get to hang out with people who are smarter than me and can help me to better understand the information. It’s humbling, challenging, and incredibly empowering.

Over the last year of my serious involvement in this organization, I have built relationships with this group of 15 or so and we have challenged our trust in each other many times. We expect A LOT from each other, often because our safety is at risk because of the work we do. I have complete faith in my comrades – we put our bodies out in traffic for one another, we risk arrest with one another, we come through when serious shit goes down with cops or violent people, we challenge ourselves to do things we are scared of, like speaking in front of a protest crowd or preparing a 25 minute political presentation. We have become an incredible team. And the beautiful part about SA is its national AND international community that connects us to struggle all around the world in real time. In the last 6 months, we have had comrades come speak to us from Belgium, Ireland, and other national branches, and we have sent comrades to political meetings, trainings, and campaigns in Ohio, Minnesota (twice), and even Germany. As an individual member, I am up to date on the national and international actions of my organization on a weekly basis. This is what democracy looks like, my friends.

Every week, one of us has the task of deepreading a political article, doing background research on the topic, and preparing a 15 minute presentation before a 30 minute group discussion. I do this once every three months or so and it’s a joy more than a burden honestly. Every other week, I just read and show up for discussion. This week, I gave a presentation on Marxist Feminism from an excellent pamphlet by Socialist Alternative. We have been studying this topic for a month and it’s been really exciting for me as the radical queer feminist I am. I’m always excited to push my theory and understanding further. There were two major lessons that I learned from this study as a whole:

  1. Women have been an absolutely instrumental force in the global struggle for all 10,000 years of human civilization. Because of our double oppression as women (from Capitalism as workers and from Patriarchy as women), we have been at the forefront of struggle for a long time. In fact, women sparked the earliest worker uprisings in England post-industrial revolution (early 1800s) and a women’s strike sparked the February Revolution in Russia in 1917, which led to the only successful socialist revolution in history. We have the power. We need to organize and get into the fight. We have incredible women to look up to!
  2. Our success in this fight historically has always hinged on our strength in solidarity with men and other identities within the working class. Enhancing identity divisions within the struggle has always damaged the movement at large. This is true not only for men and women working together but also for blacks and whites in the U.S. and intercultural solidarity between thousands of different identities all over the world. We need to keep our eye on the common enemy: the ruling class, which oppresses us all in unique and unacceptable ways! We, the united working class, have the power. We need to organize and get into the fight, supporting the specific needs of ALL oppressed people.

Years ago when I was first getting involved with activism through the Black Lives Matter movement, I had a lot of local organizers I looked up to and learned from: Julia Johnson, Bekezela Mguni, Joy KMT, Celeste Smith, Etta Cetera, and many many more. I learned how to put my body in the streets from these women. I learned how to chant. I learned how to fight. I learned how to face cops. I learned how to yell. I learned that it was my duty to keep showing up. Once I learned these basic tools, I took it upon myself to continue my training by joining Socialist Alternative and combining my political action with studying political theory. Etta once led a song chant at a protest that I still echoes in my mind. The lyrics are simply “Organize! Organize! Organize!” but the song has so much power when sung by a crowd. Three years later, I know why this one has stuck with me so magnetically: you learn through studying the struggle that organizing the working class as a unified body is the only way to win the fight against ALL oppression. There is no place for division. None are free until all are free. Our strength is in solidarity, and we have proved this as a global people time and time again. We must learn from our radical ancestors! We must follow our radical leaders!

As Americans at large, 2017 was our year of shock and awakening. Let’s make 2018 the year of organizing and action!

Join me in the fight! https://www.socialistalternative.org/