“Among [the Utopians] virtue has its rewards, yet everything is shared equally, and all men live in plenty”
-Utopia, Thomas More
Utopia by Thomas Moore was one of the many books I read in my college English class that focused on English literature from Beuwolf to Paradise Lost, works that influence[d] Western storytelling and English curriculum for centuries to come. Written in 1516 by an English lawyer and philosopher, an eighteen year old me was surprised that such radicalism in terms of the concept of equality has been present for so long. In his classic, Moore details a society that is fair and equal. The popular belief in Western Europe at the time was that some men were just more blessed than others (i.e., Monarchs, Aristocrats). One of the most radical attributes in Moore’s Utopia is the concept of an unpaid labor rehabilitation system used in place of a prison system. While the morality of slavery and unpaid work is hardly progressive, the idea of rehabilitation instead of prisons, where those who have committed crimes can work toward living a better life instead of being stuck in the dehumanizing web of crime and punishment, is an idea I thought would have originated in the 1960s as opposed to in the 1500s. The roots of radicalism toward a future of intersectionality and equality run deeper than one might originally expect. The wide variety of college curriculum, from literature and history to sociology, has further shaped my ideologies and beliefs by exposing me to radical texts, ideas, and perspectives.
Today, however, I had a realization while listening to a podcast by Ezra Klein that one of my acquaintances shared on social media. Many people in my life have said it before, and I’ve certainly heard it on T.V.; colleges and universities are often more radicalized institutions compared to other institutions in America. We as college students are often consuming information that a person who wasn’t assigned [insert specific reading that influenced my ideologies on America: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; Class Matters by Bill Keller], might not come across without being in an academic institution or without outright looking for it. As I was listening to “The Ezra Klein Show,” his episode entitled, “an enlightening, frustrating conversation on liberalism (with Adam Gopnik),” I realized my views are still considered radical to many Americans. I’ve surrounded myself with other like-minded college students and young people to the point that I forget what leftists are calling neoliberalism is still popular among many Americans that consider themselves on the left of the political spectrum. I will use the term neoliberal, despite Klein and Gopnik’s distaste for the term for it being divisive among the Democratic National Convention since 2016 when the party split between Bernie Sanders supporters and Hillary Clinton supporters. To myself and many others, this split was between those who vote for war and take bribes and money from big corporations (Clinton), and then those of us who are done with that corrupt political system. Today, I remind myself that not as many American’s feel similarly. Especially as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, popular democratic candidates and neoliberals, join the Democratic Primaries.
June 30, 2019. Queer Liberation March, NYC.
Even in the college atmosphere, I was reminded earlier this year in my poetry class when another student and I vehemently argued for the dismantling of capitalism while the professor and a handful of other students argued that capitalism had its perks. Even in queer theory, specifically Paul B. Preciado’s Testojunkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmapornographic Era, it is suggested that the mix of capitalism, 1970s attitudes, and pornography caused easier access to birth control (estrogen and progesterone supplements) and testosterone because sex wasn’t just about making babies anymore.
Regardless, I am taken out of my leftist bubble and reminded that changing the American attitude toward radical leftism is an upward battle because neoliberals champion themselves for being pragmatic and reasonable. They consider this attribute to be necessary in politics and what gives them the moral high ground against an ever radicalizing, right-winged GOP. Neoliberals not only believe in capitalism with government restriction, if any, but believe in negotiation and incremental change on most occasions. To be honest, even my mother raised me with a temperament to be pragmatic, patient, and negotiable. To quote Michelle Obama, “when they go low, we go high.”
Even though I hold my radical beliefs close to my heart, I often find myself relaxing into liberal temperament to be able to handle American politics and the DNC. I still remain hopeful in politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Their message, even if not widely accepted in American politics, is gaining momentum. This can be shown through the newly elected District attorney for Queens, NY. Tiffany Caban is a queer latinx Queens native who is fighting against mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex (if you haven’t checked her out yet, you should). They are fighting an extremely hard battle against both neoliberals and right-winged America. I can’t help but remember how the DNC rigged the elections for Hillary against Bernie in the Democratic Primaries in 2016. While Sanders was gaining large momentum, the DNC favored Clinton. This event not only highlights voter suppression in America, but shows that it spreads far beyond most Americans perception; even the supposed fair-fighting neoliberals are seemingly against the collective voices of the American people. After a passionate hard fought battle by Sanders’ supporters and Clinton supporters, Trump still won, and our anger and disappointment was palpable.
I fall into neoliberal attitudes to reason through the mess of our government and political system in America. I fall into it when I realize countless Americans weren’t able to take college courses like I did that enlightened my understanding of American history (which lightens the blow because it isn’t all that surprising that we are in this position if you know your history). I take note of this complacency and think of Roxane Gay’s article in The New York Time, “The Case Against Hope.” After her commencement speech for Pratt Institute’s graduating class of 2019, Gay argues that it is time to take action because hope keeps us complacent. Our hopefulness becomes passive in a belief that someone else will handle the problems of the world.
On June 30, 2019 in New York’s Central Park, thousands marched from Christopher St. and others joined along the way to gather for the rally on the Great Lawn. The Queer Liberation March was in protest of corporate pride. This event had thousands of people of all ages, we listened to speakers that made us shiver in the blistering heat turned sweeping rain of the event. I felt emboldened by the presence of such passion, anger, and strength of a community sharing similar sentiments, struggles, and goals.
Angela Davis argues in her book Freedom is a Constant Struggle that optimism is a necessity, “even if it is optimism of the will”, but that hope/optimism need to inspire us into action in this upcoming election season rather than make us complacent. It is time to take to the streets, call our elected officials, speak to our friends and family about the issues that matter to us (if we are so privileged to have family and friends that will listen), and demand for change.
*The entire quote is “Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it’s only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect” (p.49, Freedom is a Constant Struggle),
Antonio Francesco Gramsci was an Italian Marxist philosopher and communist politician.
Image by Veronica Ashwoth