by Andrew Adjei
I have spent way too much time trying to decide what my first blog post should be about. There is so much happening in the world right now, and so much happening in my own country, the United States. Do I want to talk about politics, or do I want to talk about writing and craft? I actually originally wanted to talk about craft since, in addition to being an editor here at RABBLE REVIEW, I myself am a writer. I love to talk and write about the act of writing, getting into the mood, figuring out what to keep and what to throw out, the messages I want to convey, etc. I love talking to other writers too, comparing notes, comparing processes, even complaining about writing because as all writers know, writing sucks! I love it, I love writing! It sucks, it’s great! But the unnecessary cruelty of capitalism has also been at the front of my mind for the last few days. Well, more so than usual. I guess we can do both. Yeah, let’s do both.
There was a video making the rounds on social media this past week of a Grubhub delivery driver making a delivery in the middle of rising floodwaters and intense downpour in Brooklyn, New York. The effects of climate change, crumbling infrastructure, and good ol’ fashioned exploited labor were all contained within the nearly two minute clip. I wonder if that delivery driver will get the day off on Monday. September 6th in the United States is Labor Day. It may have already passed by the time you are reading this, but just know that so many workers do not actually get this day off. Many laborers working jobs considered, “unskilled,” will be working on Labor Day, despite the fact that Labor Day is a day dedicated to their labor. This unfairness is accepted. That’s right; some people during a dangerous storm still have to go work, all while a few very wealthy people sit in their luxury homes earning millions by the minute. Can you guess which of them can afford to take Monday off?
Okay, let's pause that very depressing thought to talk about writing and art. One aspect of writing that I learned to embrace is my own level of control. Creative writing was always freeing for me, even as a child, but as I continued with it in higher education I started to hit roadblocks of my own making. Part of that was due to my own insecurities and imposter syndrome. Being in a room filled with other talented writers made me feel like I had missed something, because I did not feel like a confident writer. I eventually shook myself of this doubt with a very small realization that I had when I was working on one of my short stories. All of the characters in the story were queer people of color, and I thought to myself, “Well, they can’t all be queer people of color, right?” The thought entered my brain so quickly and so easily for some reason. But there was no rule that stated that there had to be one (or any) heterosexual, or white, or even, *gasp*, heterosexual AND white characters in a story. Still, I paused and asked myself if it was okay. “Is this allowed?” It’s so weird how marginalized groups of people who are already over policed, find ways to police themselves. It was especially silly because this particular short story only had like four characters. Even if I had more, what was I sacrificing by just making the story the way I wanted it?
While freeing, the discovery that I truly did have complete control didn’t end there. Sometimes the choice works; sometimes it needs a bit more work. But my major takeaway is that opening things up made it so that I could go even further and explore even more avenues. Control doesn’t exist in a vacuum, there are still logistical aspects of the story I need to contend with and consider. But that contention should not be a source of tension, because there is value in that decision making that is worth exploring. For instance, making all of my characters black can end with that decision. But if I dig deeper I can explore the ways in which the characters’ blackness inform the story I’m trying to tell, and how the lack of other ethnicities in the story can change things like tone and dialog even further. Even if the story itself is never commenting on blackness overall, the characters’ blackness will still impact the way the characters speak to each other, or how the tension unfolds. That control I exude will continue to ripple out, so even if I decide to go back and make further changes, the earlier decision making I made has still had an impact on what I am putting into the story I’m telling. More than anything, the realization that I am allowed to make the story exactly the way I want it, showed me that the end result that I want won’t be achieved without some degree of personal risk. Writing is constant improvement and process, plus there’s no harm in going in a different direction for a little bit. Just save your work and experiment a little. Why stop writing because the rules you made up for yourself are hindering you when you can just explore the weird idea you just had. And remember, that realization isn’t the final piece of the puzzle, there is still more work to be done, there are still more improvements to be made. The work doesn’t come to an end. But I can begin to take joy in that work because I’m not getting in my own way. It’s all improvement, growth, and love.
My politics was born out of a similar realization, even the part about continued improvement and love. During the presidential elections in the United States, the candidate I favored, Bernie Sanders, would get hit with questions about how realistic, or unrealistic, his policy proposals were. Despite being framed as the far left candidate by the media and his fellow candidates, what he was proposing was never that extreme, and in some cases, didn’t even go far enough. It always bothered me that topics of healthcare, housing, climate change, and wages, were always framed as some extreme far left agenda. I wish it was an extreme far left agenda--, I’d be so happy. The questions would always be about how the country could afford to give everyone in the United States free healthcare, instead of whyof, why a hospital visit puts some people in debt. Some candidates even tried to frame things like free college as unfair because tax payers would also, technically, be paying for education for rich children, and that’s bad for some reason. The current president of the United States, and then candidate, Joe Biden, bragged on the debate stage that he would not ban fracking, even though it is horrible for the environment. We have already seen the damage climate change will have on poor communities, but a ban on fracking is just not realistic to these demons. No one wants to seem unreasonable in their politics, so compromises that hurt poor people become the norm. Again, why the hell is a delivery driver making deliveries in the middle of a hurricane? Are they earning $100,000 off of that delivery, or are they earning a wage, and tip, that will barely help keep the lights on for another month? Haters will say that is realistic. Paid time off though? That’s another story...
One of the most frustrating things about capitalism is that the ruling class does not even follow their own rules. If the ruling class wants something the question of how realistic it is never seems to be raised. The money for their projects will always materialize. You’ll hear excuses about raised taxes, and the deficit, as ways to avoid helping poor people. It’s simply too expensive to stop climate change, sorry. The CEO of Exxon really needed another house for his house. And what if that house gets lonely? It should have a slightly smaller house to keep it company. Is another war in a country the United States destabilized too expensive? I don’t know, did you ask the CEO of Raytheon? That’s right, I didn’t think so! Look at this cool new jet, it can shoot a thousand missiles in 15 seconds, and it has an espresso machine too! The ultra wealthy will always find ways to fund their enterprises, and whether they succeed or fail they will continue to do so, over and over again. They will gamble, and lose big as many times as they want. It’s how you end up with bloated defense budgets, bailouts for banks, and tax cuts for corporations.
I won’t end this post on a down note. This fight is far from over, and we still have so much time to grow and improve. Many people are waking up to the hypocrisy. Folks are getting radicalized every day. I have seen it happen to folks I know. I see it being expressed in the art folks are making. The upcoming issue of RABBLE REVIEW is filled with artists speaking up and out against inequality, through stories of sadness, rage, struggle, and yes, sometimes even joy. The fight is also happening in other places too. Nabisco workers continue to strike for better working conditions, indigenous folks are protesting pipelines being built through their land, and the continued fight for racial injustice continues to wage on. People everywhere are remembering that they control the means of production. So remember, whether you’re working on a work of art, or you are going into work at a job that doesn’t value your labor, you are not a soulless cog for the ruling class to exploit. You have power, and more control than you realize. The struggle continues, it’s all improvement and love from here on out.
by Jer Hurdis
RABBLE REVIEW No. 1
Yes, we start off light on this blog. By now there are so many reasons I am opposed to capitalism that this could be a very long thread, but I don’t have time to go over every reason—and that’s the keystone reason right there. Who has command over their own time anymore?
I was told as a youth that rent should be one third of one’s income. Imagine advising the same to a youth today! Working full time barely makes rent for a single bedroom apartment in the city. The normative forty-hour work week is not enough, and it’s already too much! We ought to redistribute work as well as the profits, but capitalism thrives on unemployment, that surplus population kept desperate enough to accept any low share of the wealth they produce.
Marx and Engels had exhorted in the Manifesto that we should all unite: “You have nothing to lose but your chains!” If conspicuous consumption in the mid 20th Century gave the illusion of something to lose——however tenuous, however dependent on exploitation—-Marx’s original call has, in the 21st Century, regained its full relevance after decades of Neoliberalism and its ever worsening attacks on our quality of living.
We work for the wealth of another, only to return home and reassure our audiences on social media that we’re okay. Better, that we appear happy, that we tend censoriously to our image—our brands. Always seem happy. (Your next employer might look you up.) Worse, it’s a responsibility to appear happy. Being sincere in unhappiness risks feelings of guilt, for infringing upon others’ (seemingly) good day. Worse, we’re encouraged to ‘unfriend’ the unhappy, the anxious, the ones who need their frustrations recognized, and to recognize their frustrations in others too.
But broadly, we share the source of our frustrations in the alienating exploitation we experience under capitalism, even when we don’t give voice to it, or when we can’t find the words to do it. Climate change is easy enough to point out; even liberals do it. We need to share our frustrations with capitalism, to hear our grievances resound with others, to build the clamour for a post-capitalist possibility.
This could go on, of course, but we, all of us, do deserve to be genuinely happy. If, in search of happiness, we must pass through despair, then solidarity will see us through. The 1976 film, Network, gave us the famous scene of people opening their windows and shouting, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” One person might do it and be derided. It’s when neighbours join in, share the frustration, that the burden suffered in private becomes a shared reality, and hope is made, not found nor bought.
It’s not hard to find protests on the streets these days. There is much to oppose. Remember to build, too. Build mutual aid, community projects, avenues for communicating our grievances and networks to alleviate our burdens. Let’s not take it anymore.
The first issue of RABBLE REVIEW releases on 17 September. It’s been a long time coming, as our contributors can attest. Its contents err on the bleaker vision of what capitalism is, and what it is doing to us and the world around us. There are positive visions we need to explore too, of better worlds, equitable societies with real freedom. RR No. 1, however, is that frustrated shout out the window. We’re mad as hell, and we deserve so much better.
Editors of RABBLE REVIEW will take turns posting on this blog, and after RR No. 1 releases the blog will transition to more informative posts on current issues and local movements, as well as the occasional free-form post like this one.
I look forward to hearing who shouts back.