Over the past couple of days I had several chances to hear Rebecca Walker speak and speak to her. I was grateful for these three opportunities -- her talk on Thursday night, a student discussion, and a luncheon on Friday -- because they gave me a more complete understanding of her ideas about not just the election but also feminism and activism.
To be honest, after the first talk, I wasn't convinced by everything she said. I agreed with some of her critiques but felt there were convincing alternatives or ways to achieve the alternatives she proposed.
AGREE: I agreed with her critique of the election, that identity politics continues to play an undeserved role in influencing voters. She used this presidential election to illustrate that our lens of seeing the world in terms of race, class, and gender is used against us, by ourselves and by others. We remain locked in identity politics. Some people will not vote for Barack Obama because he's black. Some people will not vote for Sarah Palin because she is a woman. Some people will vote for her because she is a woman. Voters are being manipulated by the strategists who understand their weakness. Thus Palin was picked to win the votes of white women. I agree with all this.
CONFUSED: But I was lost on her alternative: to practice "openness", to reject race, class, gender, and history. She encouraged us to be human, to let go of the histories of the bitterness of the oppression suffered by ancestors belonging to our race, class, and gender. I wasn't sure how to achieve openness or how to spread this idea of openness to others once I achieved it myself. Of course Walker would just call this "disbelief" and tell me to "stamp it out", but I wasn't sure how to stamp it out. I needed some steps to take, some plan.
CONFUSION RESOLVED: On Friday, Walker explained that she believed we still should participate in interpersonal dialogue about openness, resolved my confusion about what I thought was the private nature of "openness". The better way to reach other to people is to share our ideas through education and dialogue.
DISAGREE: In addition, it seemed to me that she talked about openness in conjunction with a critique of America's political system. Politics is a not a way to achieve progress because politics is civic warfare. Engaging in warfare for peace is impossible, like planting corn and expecting to harvest wheat. I do agree that American politics has its flaws. But I also believe that a liberal democracy is far from the worst system of government one could have, not only because I study this government and politics so I naturally want to feel that my studies aren't for naught, but also because having lived in not-democratic places, I rather like the rights we have in America.
I don't disagree with all of Walker's criticism, I just don't think we need to be unduly alarmist about it. She said that the presidential candidates should calm the public about the financial crisis. I think we also need to be calm over the state of this country.
Yes, these rights are being eroded, which is why Walker no longer believes America is as safe and free as it used to be. Indeed, the US has dropped to a "moderate" country in the Failed States Index from a "sustainable" one, but we're joined by countries such as the UK, France, Germany, South Korea. There are only 15 sustainable countries, mostly Scandinavian ones, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. (I think Iceland won't be "sustainable" on next year's list.) But try giving this same criticism of the government in say, Burma or China. I guarantee you a much better chance of being hauled away by the government and never seen again.
I'm running the risk of sounding like a deluded lunatic "patriot" (Republican) by lauding some aspects of America but I feel this attitude that America is the Titanic going down seems arrogant in the face of people who do live in failed or nearly failing states. It's like saying, I understand extreme poverty in the global south because I'm below the poverty line, I live in the housing projects, and I drive a crappy old car. You don't. America still has a lot of power and influence in the world, not the most power and influence, but a lot.