Friday Philosophy: Issues and Coalition Building

There are so many ills tainting our world.  People’s inhumanity towards one another expresses itself in so many different ways.

Pick one.  Work on it.  Make it your Cause.  Commit the rest of your life to it.  Commit to bring it to an end.  Do anything you can to advance that issue, including working on other issues…so that maybe when the time comes someone might have learned enough about you and your issues that they might actually care about them as well as their own.

What?  What was that last part?  Work on other people’s issues?  Why would anyone ever do that?  Isn’t that, like, a colossal waste of time and effort?

Actually, no.  It’s how something…anything…gets accomplished.

Down here at the bottom of the issue food chain, the only way anyone is going to notice us is if we push other people forward, people who are and issues which are obscuring our existence.

We try, as much as anyone will let us, to work with feminist causes.  That’s a no brainer.  Whether leaving or joining the gender, we know, maybe more than most, how unfairly this society treats women.  So you’ll find us working against genital mutilation (no, not the kind which interests Reality Bytes).  You’ll find us working against gender inequity in the workplace.  We have to if we want any of our coworkers to extend any sort of respect towards us and understand understand just how far that inequity extends.  We have some unique views on that subject.  

We work on freedom of choice, because ultimately we want people to understand that maybe freedom of choice should extend to us as well.  

We work against racism because we see how the racial divide affects people like us unfairly as much as, probably more than, any other group.

Some of us work for candidates.  Some of us think that’s not a productive approach.  Candidates are told to ignore us.  We’ve gotten used to that.  We can’t progress with our backs to the people, talking to the candidates.  Our only chance is to turn around and speak to the people, hoping that someone will listen.

Sometimes people do.  And the people who are most likely to listen are the people who we have helped along the way.  And sometimes enough of them will listen that we can have a success, like when PFLAG decided to extend their mission statement to supporting the parents, friends and family of transgender people as well as just gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.  Or when some organization like NOW speaks out on our behalf or the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force created the Transgender Civil Rights Project.

Every step along the way, when we brought up how an issue under discussion might affect us…as a group…and how we might feel about that, there have been people who have said, “Oh, God, these people are so self-absorbed.”  Right.  That’s why we are here working on your issues, struggling to push forward, adding our strength to the push for your progress:  because we are self-absorbed.

For those who didn’t stop reading before I got to here (you know, because of that self-absorption thing), there is a deeper message, the above few paragraphs included mostly for the sake of establishing bona fides.  That deeper message is about building coalitions…or at least, trying to do so.

And I’d love to give advice about how to do that from the point of view of someone more advanced than us.  But I don’t have that experience.  We bottom feeders have had to make do with whatever we get.  And helping upward is all we can do because upward is the only direction there seems to be from here.

I have stories about how building upwards progresses.  I’ll reserve them for now because sharing them is the sort of thing that brings that self-obsessed thing forward once again, my stories strangely involving me and all.  But I would like to point out that the only way that anyone from outside my community ever shows up to work on our isses is because someone has stepped in front of them and said their piece…and found someone who would listen.  It’s rare.  Super rare.

Build coalitions horizontally?  With whom?  Reach back to help those who trail behind?  Who would that be?

So we only can reach out upwards.  Unfortunately that results in some of the people we have tried to join with wondering why in the hell they should be reaching backwards.

Trying to join with others has sometimes caused those others to split over whether we deserve to be there trying to help, over whether our very presence harms their issues.  I can’t tell you how painful it is to see that happen.  But it has.  Ask a lesbian separatist if you know one.  Or ask those who think GLBT has one too many letters.  Or ask someone who can say in all seriousness (quote is from the Orange, but similar gets said just about everywhere):

for the next 6-7 yrs GLBT is on the back burner. (3+ / 0-)

we’re in a fight for survival of the constitution. we really are headed for Big Brother.

Back burner?

This is how coalitions are destroyed.  This is how principles are sacrificed for expediency.  This is how we lose…not only us bottom feeding social pariahs but all of us.  This is how we got into this place we’re at.

Society advances if we lock arms and step forward together, all of us in this pyramid scheme of black marks on human society.  Insisting we weigh those issues on some sort of cosmic justice scale before we decide which ones are important enough to work on is how we keep the divisions between us.

And no, it doesn’t help to think you are reaching back to say something like, “I’m in favor of equal rights for everyone,” when someone asks for consideration of their particular group, even if only to the point of asking you to listen once in awhile, without even bothering to find out what those people’s issues are.  One might think that would end divisiveness, but it only ignores it.  Because when push comes to shove, you won’t be able to help those people if you do not understand their issues and your rhetoric will be empty.

Your Cause is most important to you.  That’s as it should be.  Insisting that it should be most important for everyone else…or anyone else…displays arrogant disregard for the humanity of those others.

But that’s just my opinion, from way down below.  It is easily ignored if you choose to do so.  I’d love to hear how coalitions are built between people who matter, interlocking issues that matter.  Maybe someday I’ll have that knowledge to share with someone else when our turn comes to matter.

Standing in the Back

Remaining Behind


Let me give you a boost

a leg up as it were

as you try to scramble

over that wall

a shoulder to stand on

to crack that ceiling

a helping hand in breaking

through that barrier

I’m sure your life

will be so much better

over there, up there,

out there

while we wait here

trying to find

someone else

to help

There are no limits

to the barriers, ceilings, walls

that we humans encounter

and no end to those

which can be surmounted

if we work together

…no limits

except not mattering

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–July 18, 2008


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    • Robyn on August 22, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Because of the moving, I’m providing a rerun of an essay written thirteen months ago.  One observation?  Change is slow.

    Back to work packing boxes of books.

    • Alma on August 22, 2009 at 1:25 am

    causes to my list since I’ve been online.  Immigration, more GLBT issues than I knew about before, etc. I think the internet has helped to inform people of what someone else might be facing.

    Its unfortunate that some people don’t really think about what they are reading, or skip over things they don’t think concern them.

    I try to spread what I learn online through my meat world community.  Its not a lot, but at least it gets people thinking.

  1. … after proclaiming you the Angel Queen of the left of the left … I have to say, being “down here” with you is far more an honor than being in some drafty palace of a nation state’s elite ruler, lol.

    This is a great essay.

    • Robyn on August 22, 2009 at 1:43 am

    …in Orange.

  2.  Yes. Yes. Yes. (2+ / 0-)

    Precisely. That is how we make a powerful coalition.

    I don’t expect folks to get excited in isolation about my issues: death penalty abolition, prison industrial complex, immigration, Latin American policy.  I keep putting it out so that what emerges ultimately is a recognition that we’re all in all of these struggles together, and that we can lift each other up, and that they’re all reflections of what needs to be taken care of.

    Thanks for writing.

  3. I’m not seeing much in the blogosphere right now, but maybe that will change after the Honeymoon is over.

  4. and all variations on the same theme. Each effort you put out for all/any the manifestations of our ignorance and inhumanity affect the core affliction. Thanks Roybn, a very good essay one thats needed at this time. What we do is never really ineffective, it moves the energy, it creates waves.    

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