When you see a hand that’s held out toward you, give it some love, some day it may be you. – Janis Joplin, Down On Me.
The hot topic of last week was radical librarianship – what it is and what it isn’t. There was a general consensus (in my echo chamber, anyway), that crossing a picket line wasn’t a particularly radical act. There was some discussion about how one comes to know that – it’s not tacit knowledge for a lot of people. This got me pondering my own path along the political spectrum. It goes a little something like this:
I was raised in a pretty (small c) conservative family. My mother fancied herself a flower child and listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and so on. But really … my dad worked for IBM, we had two cars and I was indoctrinated with a libertarian ethos that those who work hard will prevail and those who don’t get what they deserve. Unions were frowned upon and tax bills grumbled about.
Thus, progressive politics were not my default. When I started working at Ryerson, I agreed to take on Rep’s Council duties for my faculty association. It took me a couple of meetings before it dawned on me, “Hey, wait a minute…. this is a union meeting! And, I’m a … union rep?” It was a long time before I wrapped my head around that, never mind how long it took me to able to articulate what the librarian’s role was in the association. If you had asked me even seven years ago if I would cross a picket line to attend an event, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a quick answer. Maybe I’m just a slow learner, but it’s taken me a good ten years, with a fair amount of involvement in the faculty association, to really be able to understand academic labour issues, and in turn, social justice issues and the vocabularies of resistance that accompany them. And, I’m still learning all the time.*
The way I see it, I prefer to be on the side of the argument that is fighting for the greatest good, for the greatest number, regardless of ability, wealth, or class/race/gender. Often, that side tends toward the left. I came to understand that being progressive means looking for ways to champion policy that will make the world last a little longer, and make it a more pleasant place to live in for everyone. Sometimes that means challenging assumptions, asking questions, and being willing to speak out when you see imbalance in power being wielded in an unjust manner. Granted, this is much more in reach for an individual of great privilege – as I have – but we won’t progress as society unless those who do have that privilege recognize it for what it is, and work toward sharing it. Could I do more to become more radicalized? You bet. Am I working toward that? Indeed. There’s always room for development, and it’s okay for you to change your mind. Just because you used to think one way, doesn’t mean you can’t think a different way today, or even tomorrow. You just may help make the world a little bit better for a few more people.
*Major influences include being part of PLG-GTA. You should check them out!