I have been ruminating lately on how much I am looking forward to school starting up again for Ob, my six year old son, because of how deeply I enjoy my time with other parents picking up their kids after school; how meaningful, powerful, and frankly, political, much of that time is.
Most of us are women. One is a grandfather and one is a stay at home father, married to the only woman he ever dated. We are very different people, religiously, in age, in personality, in class background and country of origin, to some extent, racially. We talk about everything and we have a huge impact on each other’s lives.
We jokingly call ourselves, after the suggestion of one of us, a poet and homeschooling mother, the “Playground Coven.” I usually write for activists, and I am doing it here, despite myself. I think of us sometimes, in that light, as a kind of Bughouse Square.
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We argue and comfort one another about racism, god, marriage and divorce, and abuse in our lives; we correct and guide each other’s children, away from the street and also into confronting new ideas. We talk about everything that matters with humor and with seriousness. If I had a full-time job that took me away, this time would be the time I missed most. I feel like this time is some of the most productive in my life.
I almost never go to any big activist things anymore. I dropped out of professional activism years ago, something I have written much about, but even the rally and the scrappy Leftism eventually went too. I have stopped thinking that one day I will be a therapist and work with activists, primarily, but I have begun to think of myself as a future therapist and writer who deals with solidarity, building it into all of our lives, not just the people who use and often misuse the word. I am done with the narcissism and infantile blaming, the incredible level of anti-life culture often expressed as misogyny and workaholism. Just so done.
I suspect that the revolution will not be snarky, boastful, vain, pig- headed, belligerent, dismissive, or just plain anti-social. Ideas are nice, but decent manners and kindness are what make them go anywhere far.
My friend Laurel sent me a great and timely essay on this theme today. In it Jonathan Matthew Smucker says “Americans have literally been migrating into values-homogeneous social spaces since at least the late 1960s. We have been rearranging our lives to surround ourselves with people who think a lot like we do — phasing out folks who don’t share our opinions and tastes. We’ve chosen our neighborhoods, religious congregations, civic and political organizations, the cultural spaces we frequent, and our friendship circles so that we can experience our worldview reflected back to us and minimize dissonance.”
I disagree with Jonathan slightly, in that, while people who call themselves activists have withdrawn to highly specialized sub-cultures, they have done so, not by minimizing dissonance, but by surrounding ourselves in it. We are wrapped in a whirling cloud of loud and wretched rage, clinging to one another briefly even, often only to strike and bite. I almost feel like an example is unnecessary to back this claim. But I will be asked, probably with teeth gnashing, for one.
I will skip all the examples from my own life this time and move to a macro-example. Factions are a big one, but they are too easy a target. “Identity politics” is one worth chewing on. We fight about them. Damn, we fight about whether or not to fight about them. But what are they about? They come down to affection, fidelity, respect: basic, basic social skills key to ending oppressions big and small. People need and want to be heard. Is that not what we all know to be true? What else are we doing all this important work for?
The people who inspire us inspire us to think well and feel deeply. No big social organization has ever been built on the shoulders of people who cannot even be charming, much less build real relationships.
I certainly love many people who disagree with me and may be offended that I feel this way, that will feel like I am picking on them — and I would like to keep them in my life, and I will be saddened if that is impossible. But I just cannot keep putting myself into the middle of a culture that is so nonsustaining to me as a mother and a whole human being, because I have needs too, to be a functioning person. The more I say it, the more I mean it. I want something real from my life and want to give something real to others.
My activism is to raise my children thoughtfully, to loyally live with the people I love, meaningfully and politically, and to speak that message as it develops, to share myself and hear others.