When Everything Sucks

The fact that things are preventable is a condition of tragedy, but it’s also what reminds us that things do not have to be this way, that what needs to happen can also be what will happen.

By Alhelí H.

Image used with permission of artist. Ring the AlarmDavid Polka, 2020.

I started this thinking I was going to write this really insightful critique about how yet again, Someone With Power Over Others was indeed, a class enemy of the week. Here’s the thing about the capitalist class: they are a class enemy every minute of every hour of every day of every week. Capitalists don’t generate the wealth they hoard: maybe they inherit it, maybe they steal wages, maybe it’s both. Regardless, the folks celebrating Rihanna joining the billionaire class are going to have to negotiate some cognitive dissonance because she certainly had to exploit workers to get that wealthy. So, as I sat down to write this I realized that while it’s useful to pinpoint the specific cruelty of the capitalist class (as many of my comrades have here) their avarice has faded into the constant background noise of this prolonged pandemic. We’ve lost so much, and will continue to lose many of the people and places we love so that a few people can make money. What’s even worth noticing, when the record is so broken?

I feel like many folks have occasional bouts of what feels akin to survivor’s guilt: on the one hand, maybe your day to day life is going pretty well. On the other, how much of yourself can you give when there are so many fires, so many pipelines, the infuriating reality that so much of the taxpayer money the neoliberals said was for Afghanistan lined the pockets of US backed contractors, and oh no the doom spiral of it all… and we haven’t even started on living in Texas! Earlier this month brought us a rainstorm that offered a little bit of schadenfreude as video of the Capitol flooding, uhm, poured forth over social media. However sweet that was for a moment, it’s not the legislature that cleaned up the mess. Another moment rolled in with the news that Gov. Greg “Let Everyone Die of the Plague” Abbott himself contracted Covid… and will be receiving treatment that sounds like it’s out of a sci-fi flick on the taxpayer dime. These instances are sort of like eating a bag of salty potato chips but 95% of the bag is air. You get a brief lick of enjoyment, but you’re left empty, mouth dry, and the dust on your fingers reminds you that it’s not enough, you need more: hot air isn’t nourishing, it can’t sustain you. At this point you might be thinking: yeah, this sucks but what is new about this hellscape? The plainest answer to that is “very little.” Perhaps this is a bit perverse, but I find that the more I reflect on these facts, the more I am able to see just how absurd they are, which helps me laugh at least. Another thing that happens is that it reminds me what I do and don’t have the capacity to change on my own (almost nothing). Over the past year, we’ve heard how so much catastrophe was preventable. The fact that things are preventable is a condition of tragedy, but it’s also what reminds me that things do not have to be this way, that what needs to happen can also be what will happen.

And then there it is: a free community fridge, mutual aid funds, and refusing to forget.

A rising interest in abolition, socialist wins in Latin America and the US, an initial strike against California’s exploitative Prop 22 may seem small. However, I’m here to tell you that they are not. The fact remains that I see how more and more people are refusing to be exploited day in and day out, and this is undeniably political. As the youth say “that’s praxis, baby.” I don’t want to confuse things and imply that doing the bare minimum is worthy of reward. However, the shift in understanding that we are in this life for the long haul is not minor. You wear a mask not for you, but for someone else. You get vaccinated, you refuse the belief that you should be expected to work for nothing, that you should get sick, risk death for a job — that anyone should. These are not automatic realizations, but rather the result of a shift in perspective that is the result of sustained, meaningful organizing efforts of many people. Often, fire is talked about only in terms of destruction. It’s also an opportunity to start anew, and break out of a container that’s been stifling. In many ways, the fires that are devastating North America are the result of years of neglect and the direct byproduct of Indigenous displacement from those same lands. Stifle the forest and it turns into a powerful, uncontainable force. We’ve refused to forget what we learned about the past and how we got here. Nobody who earnestly believes that a better world is possible thinks the fire, be it real or metaphor, is an accident. The past month’s news has tested us, and we’ve refused to forget two decades of lies and violence as the resurrected War on Terror discourse starts to play. Just when it feels so dire, there’s the voices of comrades the world over sounding the alarm. We don’t really have anything without each other. I, for one, believe that what keeps me committed to this struggle are the people that have sprung to each other’s side out of nothing other than the belief that we all deserve a better, more dignified life. Being witness to these communities of care forming (winter storm or shine) sustains my belief that a better way to live is possible now — not a distant future. None of it has to stay this way. How exciting to know I’m not alone.

This is the nineteenth installment of Austin DSA’s “Class Enemy of the Week” series. You can find the eighteenth, on the Olympics, here.