Wars are Won in the Trenches

I’ve been thinking a lot about where I should be if I want to effect social change. We live in a world where travel is easier than ever. I can literally live anywhere and be okay. But, as someone who has a fairly socially progressive view of the world, I think there are some places that I would be better off living. On the surface, it seems like more progressive places like San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Portland would be the ideal place for me, but I actually think those are the worst places for me to move if I want the US to move forward.

Moving to San Francisco would be awesome. I have a ton of friends there, my drug use and views on sexuality would be welcomed, and the close network would make sure I was happy and comfortable. But moving to San Francisco would kind of be like going to Burning Man, except never returning to the default world. It would be a lot of fun, but it would really change things for the better. It would be a like-minded circle jerk, something fun and necessary from time-to-time, but not a good vehicle for social change. My vote and efforts in a place like Los Angeles (no matter how passionate I am about a woman’s right to choose, equality, Black Lives Matter, or ending the drug war) is not going to have a proportional effect on changing society, particularly at the state or national level. Too many people already agree with me in those locations.

I completely understand when people who don’t have my privilege need to leave for a city like San Francisco to be safe, but when progressives who are white, straight-passing, and college educated move to liberal cities their efforts for social change are watered down, and our allies who are queer, people of color, or lack economic means that are stuck in places like Alabama are going to suffer when we leave. It is selfish to move to liberal cities when you have the means and ability to live somewhere else and fight in the trenches. Now, I don’t think there is anything really wrong with being selfish, do what you gotta do to be happy, but maybe if political and social activism is something that is important to you then you should be places where that is actually needed.

So, what happens if privileged progressives move to non-liberal states?

Well, first, you may actually get to know some conservatives and understand where they are coming from. It is easy to just call them all stupid, racist rednecks, but that is simplistic, inaccurate, and helps nobody. When you talk with conservatives and understand their concerns you can better articulate why progressive views on things aren’t a threat to them and might make their lives better. You also humanize liberals in a way that makes it more difficult for people to stereotype and hate. If Rush Limbaugh is ranting about how evil and stupid liberals are but your conservative neighbors have a dozen liberal friends who aren’t like that they might start to realize Limbaugh and his ilk are full of shit. But that won’t happen if liberals flee conservative areas. If we want to live in a country where there is less partisanship we need to actually get to know people with different views (and fighting with your high school classmate on Facebook doesn’t count).

Second, you can provide support to those in need. In the south, there is a much greater need for people to help women get to planned parenthood and volunteers at LGBT centers. If you see voting as an opportunity for social change looks at it this way, President Obama lost North Carolina by 92,000 votes in 2012, but he won California by 3,000,000. If just 3% of the liberals in California alone decided to live in Raleigh-Durham, Wilmington, or Asheville, then Obama would have won that state as well. And, more importantly, if liberals move to conservative places maybe shitty laws like HB-2 can be stopped, and our friends who are unable to leave the state will be treated better. We shouldn’t treat safety as a place… if only you can get to San Francisco you will be okay… we need to take the battle to where people live so that they don’t feel like escape is the only option for prosperity.

Now, you don’t need to move to rural areas to make a difference in state and national elections (though, you might make a greater impact in local ones). You can find cities that have large populations, students, and fun things to do. You can even find places with sizable liberal populations. We don’t need more liberals in San Francisco, what we need is more liberals in Wilmington, Charleston, Atlanta, Birmingham, Tallahassee, Jackson, Dallas, Little Rock, Tulsa, Kansas City, Lexington, Cleveland, Santa Fe, Missoula, and Phoenix.

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How Pure Must Allies Be?

I’ve been active in several different political movements in my life. I was raised conservative, became a libertarian, and am now a “left” libertarian who is passionate about LGBT issues, the drug war, and social justice. One common thread throughout the movements on the left, right, and libertarian is that many people demand a certain amount of purity in their allies. Personally, I think that is destructive. Particularly when that purity is demanded of someone’s past actions. Take Dan Savage, for example.

I like Dan Savage*. He did a lot to open my eyes to gender and sexuality issues and I think he is right a lot of the time. Though, in the past he made some harmful comments about transgender individuals and he contributed to the idea that bisexuality doesn’t really exist (Spoiler: We bisexuals exist). Since making those comments years ago he has become more educated and changed his mind. He has even apologized for making the comments. In reality, Savage has done more for the equality movement than most people… but he is often demonized because he wasn’t perfect in the past. Hell, he probably isn’t perfect now by anyone’s definition, but I’ve seen people say he shouldn’t be supported, his posts shouldn’t be shared, and that he shouldn’t be considered part of the equality movement because of the things he said in the past. It raises the question, how pure must someone be for them to get our support? And how long to we ostracize someone who has since apologized and changed their mind?

I didn’t always believe the things I believe now. I didn’t always support marriage equality. I used to think being gay was a sin and I said many hurtful things in the past. It seems that if I was more famous back in my youth I would be shunned by some of the people that I care about today.

All you have to do is watch the GOP debates or read the thread on a Reason Magazine Facebook post and you will see that most political views are filled with purity tests. You aren’t a “real” libertarian if you think a Basic Income Guarantee might be a pragmatic and beneficial initiative. You aren’t a “real” conservative if you don’t want to kill Muslims. Forget all the ways you might agree with a philosophy, if you don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue you are a phone, a RINO, a fraud, and all your opinions are worthless. If you disagree with some people on one issue you become incapable of contributing anything, even if your contributions are unrelated.

It is sad and really ineffective to destroy allies this way. By focusing on our areas of disagreement we only guarantee our movement will get smaller. Pushing people to the margins and cutting them out of the conversation won’t change their mind. Quite the contrary, it will only shrink their circle until they interact only with the people that you disagree with. If someone is wrong on transgender issues, you don’t decide that they aren’t a feminist, liberal, progressive, libertarian, or whatever and ostracize them, instead if you want to change their mind you bring them into the conversation and celebrate the areas you agree.

It is this pursuit of purity that drove me out of most political activism. My chosen identities of anarchist, feminist, libertarian, etc were constantly under fire until I said “fuck it” and just stopped being active. It wasn’t worth the heartache or headache to try and appease everyone. You destroy allies when you demand purity, and eventually you end up alone.