What does it mean to live a political life?
In this issue, we profile Kim Jin-suk in South Korea and Nodeep Kaur in India, militant labor activists who have been fired from their jobs, beaten by police, and responded with months-long pickets against their exploitative bosses. In the United States, we learn from the experience of ACT UP and its unheralded origins in the Women’s Health Movement, and from abolitionists whose work is rooted in community care. We meet Planned Parenthood workers in Texas, fired after attempting a union when they found themselves crushed between dangerous pandemic work conditions and new statewide abortion restrictions. Each of these lives burns with the desire to bring about a new world.
But these are not just the stories of heroic individuals. They also reflect the communities that sustain everyone on the front lines, and which make us braver. They remind us that even when our political work is life-consuming, it must also be life-sustaining. When cops keep killing, when Israeli airstrikes slaughter Palestinian children, when an unfolding pandemic leaves lives broken and workers behind, we need ways to get through the horror and defeats.
We must have relationships, we must have conversation, we must have art. We are more than our labor — even while we organize around it — and we must resist turning our political engagement into just another kind of slog. Getting through the daily tedium of online meetings and organizing admin should be motivated not only by a belief in justice, but also because the process is satisfying and fun. Politics is at heart about how we should live, and what sort of people we want to be, together.
Organizing is, of course, also about being in conversation with people who aren’t like you. Labor unites people across a thousand divides: as a young Planned Parenthood worker told Amy Littlefield, whose piece on Texas appears in this issue, “My dad and I disagree on pretty much everything but he taught me that unions are good.” When she shared the news that her workplace had voted to unionize, he set aside his anti-abortion politics in solidarity. At the same time, an increasing number of young people who may have been politicized through identity politics now see a path forward in addressing economic injustice. They recognize that initiatives such as promoting “diversity” on corporate boards does not speak to their real concerns.
Between the corporate cooptation of self-care (which commodifies care, and transforms it into a cynical strategy to placate employees) and the sometimes shallow politics of social media (where “socialism” trends as shareable text on Instagram or an in-crowd joke on Twitter), it can be easy to dismiss the “social” in socialism, and the idea of building a vibrant left-wing culture for its own sake.
Yet we know from our own experience that organizing builds solidarity, and with solidarity comes community, comes dancing, comes shared meals, comes laughter, comes friendship. After more than a year of isolation, we hunger for that more than ever.
Disregarding the slanderous claim that feminists are no fun, this politics of joy is deeply embedded in the feminist tradition. As Vicky Osterweil writes in her essay on feminist satire, “revolutionary feminism at its best ignores patriarchal standards of seriousness.” Instead, it embraces “the queer, the marginal, the disabled, the elderly and children, and valuing pleasure, freedom and mutual understanding.”
We’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Black communist Claudia Jones, who founded the Notting Hill Carnival, an famously fun West Indian gathering. (You can watch the short documentary Claudia Jones: A Woman of Our Times on YouTube; a biopic is also reportedly in the works.) Originally from Trinidad, Jones was deported to the U.K. from the United States in 1955 for her political beliefs. She created the Carnival in 1959, a moment in which Black immigrants in the U.K. were the targets of race riots. The Carnival helped the Caribbean and African diaspora construct a pan-African identity in England and, more importantly, a community space for creativity and joy. Jones did not intend Carnival to be a respite from the difficulties of political organizing; rather, it grew out of her political commitments. The BBC televised the first one with a title attributed to Jones: “A People’s Art Is the Genesis of Their Freedom.” In her, we see a model of how to live our politics — with joy and in community.
Our lives cannot easily be dissected into the political and the personal, life and lifestyle. To admit that is not to embrace an individualist, ethical-consumption mode of politics. Instead, we’re fighting for collective abundance — for leisure, time, and beauty to be enjoyed by all. “How should I live” becomes “how should we live.” With this magazine, we’re working together to find joy in the struggle.
See you out there,
Illustration by Colleen Tighe.