At a time when many of us were quarantined for months on end, and many more were forced to go back into work in an uncertain, unsafe environment to push the economy forward, I was fortunate enough to have a job that allowed me to continue earning income through teleworking. It also gave me an opportunity to reflect on the way my already left-leaning view of the world was being pushed farther left by seeing how fellow comrades were being treated by their employers: being paid lip service by calling them ‘essential workers’ when they would otherwise be kept out of the spotlight and not giving them the means to actually help their situation. This has been the year that I opened my arms and embraced socialism as a way forward from the barbaric system of capitalism.
I grew up in the relatively small town of Coldwater, a farming community that also boasts a large Mexican and Arabic population which allowed me to converse with cultures that were different from one that I would have had had I grew up in any other small town. My political consciousness came to being in middle school shortly after September 11, 2001 when I saw a clear divide in attitudes towards the minority members of the community, especially my Arabic friends. I saw condescension and expressions of contempt by adults towards students that had nothing to do with the events of that day. I also heard conversations of family members who complained of Mexicans taking their jobs. At the age of 14, I knew that what the way the minority population in my town were being treated was wrong; they were here trying to work as hard as they could to provide for their families, much like my family did. At that age, I knew there was a power structure that was working against not only the minority community, but also my family, a structure that was pitting us against each other.
During my high school years, I attempted to expand my perception of the world through books, music, food and conversing with people of different backgrounds and ethnicities that my small town had to offer. Many of the books and music I consumed helped shape my political leanings for years to come. I fell in love with many of the classic authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. I was also heavy into the punk scene, as much then as I am today; I viewed the DIY nature of punk as having more substance and things to say than much of the music that played on the radio or MTV. At the time, I viewed this type of content as a rebellion against the status quo; but looking at them now, there are many aspects that were inspired by socialism. These aspects include giving a voice to the working class, creating a world where there is more equality and equity for everyone, fighting back against discrimination, fighting against exploitation, and so much more.
Fast forward to 2008, the year I got married and we started our lives in what was probably the worst time economically to branch out into the real world. I listened to and read the news about the housing and financial crisis and how policies were set up by banks to pedal sub-prime mortgages and student loans knowingly to those who did not have the means to pay them back. I listened to my coworkers and supervisors criticize those who took out those loans saying, “They knew what they were getting into.” and “They should have made better decisions.” A catch-22 if I ever saw one. People taking the common first steps to try to better their situation by taking out a loan in order to pay for college to get an education or buy a house to gain equity, some end up falling on hard times through no fault of their own and then get criticized again for making a decision that put them in a dire financial position. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
2008 and onward, I also realized how much of a racket the health insurance business is. Early on in our marriage, my wife secured our health insurance through the hospital she worked at as a nurse for a relatively low fee thanks to the union that fought for it. However, when we changed employers in 2015, we were forced to reckon with the exorbitant cost of health insurance offered that required high premiums and a high deductible.
A couple of years ago, we spent well over $10,000 out-of-pocket on our son’s medical bills in one year on top of our premiums. Our son had been having complications with his bladder for about 4-6 months which caused difficulty urinating. After 10 plus visits to the pediatrician, specialists, and even a couple of traumatic ER visits, he was ultimately being placed on a catheter for a number of weeks before the final diagnosis of bladder stones were determined. Had I not had plenty of sick time built up and a supportive supervisor, I might have lost my job and would be in an even worse spot. That being said, I realize that there are many more who do not have that luxury and do in fact have to make the traumatic decision of either paying for life saving treatment or their rent, or worse, face bankruptcy. This is why Medicare For All (M4A) is so important.
All of these experiences and many more culminated in a solid foundation of anti-corporatist and anti-capitalist sentiment. All of that came to a head when I learned of Bernie Sanders and his 2016 campaign. Bernie’s campaign was the first time that I heard a US politician openly state that they were running on a democratic socialist platform; although later I learned that his tendencies are more of a New Deal-style Social Democracy. The policies of clawing back money from the wealthiest of corporation and citizens to help pay for things like Single Payer Health Insurance, Free or Reduced College Tuition, $15 Minimum Wage were things that really resonated with me and showed me someone who was willing to stand for the majority of us in spite of the pressure from the financial elite. I was also disaffected by the way they shafted Bernie at the height of the campaign. From that moment, Sanders’s campaign planted a seed in the back of my mind and in my heart that wouldn’t really develop until well into Trump’s presidency.
Since 2016, I have been taking more notice of the many ways neoliberalism and austerity politics have increased the wealth gap between the elites and the working class, how wages have stagnated in spite of productivity and profits consistently reaching record levels since the 1970’s. Things that have helped me make these realizations started small such as quick video essays on YouTube, specifically Beau of the Fifth Column, Second Thought, Richard Wolff then progressed to longer form with Shaun, Three Arrows, and Hakim, and many others. When I took the time to watch and listen, I became much more comfortable with seeking out material and reading lists. I started with Michael Parenti’s Against Empire from whom I first heard speaking Choking Victim’s debut album No Gods, No Managers, then branched to Jack London to Chomsky.
It wasn’t until I joined the South Western Michigan chapter of DSA and started participating in the Political Education working group therein that I was able to really start voicing my views and building my experience with socialist theory. By starting off with the basics of The Communist Manifesto and branching off into Rosa Luxembourg, Subcomandante Marcos, and Mao Tse-Tung, we get a variety of theory to expound upon and to learn about the historical context for why their ideas came about and finally how the ideas still resonate today. Since reading Marx and Engels in both the Communist Manifesto and Socialism: Scientific and Utopian, I found it amazing how they were able to not only explain the evolution from feudalism to capitalism, but how they were able to predict the boom-bust cycles every seven to ten years. Tracing back from today, to the housing and financial crisis of 2008-09, back to the dot-com bust in the early 2000’s, so on and so forth. Even though this is one example, the Political Education group is a great way to have great conversations in order to gain deeper understanding of these important texts that can be used in further readings.
My journey towards socialism has been a culmination of the environment I grew up in, my experiences and struggles, and through various critiques I’ve read or watched throughout the years. There have been times in my earlier more impressionable years where I may have humored more libertarian ideas, however seeing the exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie, I have always returned more solidified in my leftist tendencies.
I hope sharing my journey allows you to reflect on your own journey and brings forth new conversations and reinforced solidarity.
Here is some more information on how to get involved:
DSA National – https://www.dsausa.org/
SWMI DSA – https://swmidsa.com/
Events – https://swmidsa.com/events/
SWMI DSA Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/SWMIDSA/
SWMI DSA Political Education Working Group – https://swmidsa.com/education/ – meetings are held bi-weekly.