Friday, November 17, 2017

Cranky Bear Says You Don't Need To Fight With Your Conservative Family This Thanksgiving (Or Find Common Ground, Either)

[Editor's note: my friend Cranky Bear hasn't written here in awhile. His last piece was pretty controversial, and ruffled a few feathers. Anyway, I'm too exhausted to write, so I let him say his piece.]

Cranky Bear here folks, coming at you while having some coffee and chocolate to keep my mind strong.

In the last few years I've kept seeing all these takes on the internet telling liberals and progressives who come from conservative families that they are supposed to fight with their family members at holiday gatherings, or else they are somehow cowards unworthy of the cause. The argument goes like this: if you can't challenge your conservative family members, who can you challenge? And it also goes like this: you're in their family, so you're the kind of person who can change their mind.

These takes are invariably written by people who are not the progressive minority in a conservative family. If they were, they'd know just how ridiculous their arguments are. I know, because I have been pretty openly opposed to the politics of most of my family for the past twenty-five years, and shockingly, I haven't changed anyone's mind by disagreeing with them. A lot of folks don't seem to get that we HAVE BEEN FIGHTING against long odds for a long time. Usually political "conversations" in these contexts involve getting ganged up on by everybody else in the room. Those folks also tend to blend their arguments with a healthy dose of elder condescension. It turns out that a younger family member who perhaps does not live in the same region anymore is the last kind of person able to change their mind. The discussions end with them feeling confirmed in their beliefs, rather than questioning them. In these circumstances avoiding political discussion is a perfectly fine thing to do. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Of course, I do draw the line at openly expressed racism and bigotry, I just won't let that shit slide, and neither should you.

The way I see it, my energy is best spent not getting red-faced and angry while stuffing turkey in my mouth with my beloved family members. I am not interested in "winning" arguments at the dinner table. (Or even having them in the first place. I want to enjoy their presence and be happy!) My efforts are aimed at my neighbors in my own community, and getting them to get out there and vote for the right things and the right people. I save my energy for the streets and for letters and phone calls to politicians. My objection to their malfeasance matters a lot more than getting apoplectic over a relative arguing that tax cuts for the wealthy will bring prosperity for all. In fact, our emphasis on Thanksgiving political fracases and not on the work of everyday political engagement is having a negative effect on us. I don't want to beat my family members in verbal arguments, I want to defeat the politicians and the ideas that they support.

While you should not feel any kind of obligation to fight with your conservative family members, neither should you listen to the takes that say that you need to find "common ground" or "understand where they are coming from." Yet again, the people with those takes don't actually understand the dynamics of how being progressive in a conservative family works. We have been hearing their side of things for our entire lives. In fact, we were raised in their politics, meaning that once upon a time we bought into it to a greater or lesser extent. I "understand where they are coming from" because they used to be me. I know enough to know I can love them and still absolutely despise the people they vote for.

I know that they think their way and I think mine and we aren't going to convince each other otherwise. What I can do is fight hard for the things I believe in, in a variety of contexts. I can teach my students this country's real history. I can organize my neighbors. I can knock on doors for candidates. I can call and put pressure on elected officials. I can get my body in the street and protest. I don't want you to "call out" your reactionary uncle. I want to you to join the general strike when the shit goes down. Because trust me folks, that's the call we are going to be asked to answer pretty soon.

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