(Originally posted at On The Left.)
I was not an angelic child.
My mother has retconned her memory of my early years since I became an adult, and my grandmother delicately phrases it as “you were a little troubled”. The truth is I was a terror. When I thought something wasn’t fair, you heard about it. And when I was told “well life isn’t fair, Stephanie” it only made things worse. And louder.
These days, I blog.
It may be that Mum and Grandma only have themselves to blame. They raised me with far too strong a sense of justice, which revolted at any suggestion of accepting unfairness as an immutable fact.
Well before I could put it as eloquently as I hope I’m doing now, I knew it wasn’t good enough to say “that’s just the way things are” or “life isn’t fair”. If something was wrong, it was wrong, and importantly, it didn’t have to stay that way.
All the issues which resonate with me today – like workers’ rights, reproductive justice, poverty – are issues of justice and fairness. Because it isn’t just that workers be expected to exchange their labour for inadequate wages, and it isn’t just that people, predominantly women, are denied the right to choose whether they have children or not and under what circumstances, and it isn’t just that children go to school with empty lunchboxes while the CEO of ANZ gets paid $11,000 per day.
Those things simply are not fair. And I didn’t – and I don’t – care if life isn’t fair.
The structure of our society, the relationships we have with other people, and universal experiences we all go through – none of these things are set in stone, however long we’ve lived with them or how ingrained they are in our psyches.
So that was where I started, with a strong sense of justice and a belief that things can and should change.
That only got worse once I figured out the next step: those unfair structures aren’t accidental. The fact that they reinforce the power of the powerful and keep the oppressed oppressed certainly isn’t.
We live in a world designed so the powerful can maintain their power. And this is unjust.
This is the major reason why I’ve always been confused by the inherent conflict some people on the left see between “class politics” and “identity politics” (the second reason is because I think there’s a good case to be made that class itself is an “identity”, especially in the 21st century.) In the frame of justice, in the context of power structures conspiring to keep the majority down so the minority prosper in extravagance, we are all the same in the eyes of the powers that be. The only difference is that some of us are denied the fruits of our labour, and some of us are denied bodily autonomy (and get even less of the fruits of our labour), and many, many of us are kept hungry and desperate and alienated – far too preoccupied with the necessities of life to give a damn about deeper questions of political philosophy.
(There’s also the issue of intersectionality, i.e. the way the different oppressions and power structures of our society combine/multiply/reinforce themselves against many people.)
At the core, the oppressed are united in their oppression. It just takes different forms (and some of those forms are much worse than others.)
Of course reality is much more complex. The sad reality is that many people who are staunch activists on one axis of oppression can be pretty terrible on another (misogynist leftwing men, my god, you’re a problem.) And as someone who’s relatively privileged myself – Pākehā, cis, hetero, upper-middle-class, university-educated, currently able-bodied – it’s very easy for me to say “we’re all in this together”. So I’m not saying that. A lot of people have very good reasons not to throw their lot in with activists like me.
What I am saying is this: I’m on the Left because I do believe in justice. I know we can fight for it. I know life will always have its ups and downs. But by god, it should be fair.