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This is Not About Shame. This is About Democratic Socialism. This is about protest. This is about life and death.

I’m not here to shame anyone, for I grew up on MacDonald's and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. I got cavities from Pop Rocks and Nerds from the corner store before I was ten. I’ve thrown away enough plastic in my life to fill a stadium. My grandfather worked at (and was fired from)every auto plant in Detroit. I am a child of industrial America, of lead pipes and smoke stacks, of Winston cigarettes and Lincoln Continentals, of individually wrapped Halloween candy, of hot dogs, of all processed meats, of hair processed daily through the use of electricity, of the white, capitalist death wish of the 1950's.

My parents are Boomers who tried. I rode to my first environmental protests at Love Canal, New York inside my mother’s uterus and then wrapped on her back in 1977 and 1978. One year, my father gave us sugar cane in our Christmas stockings so that we would understand, through gnawing, where all of the sweetness came from. We did Earth Day. But it’s complicated. We also lived on ketchup and mustard. Sometimes we threw tater tots in the oven in order to survive the work week. Our chemical toothpaste and shampoo came in plastic tubes that would never bio-degrade and we knew and we kept using them. We were trapped in the garbage cycle, trying to survive.

We also knew that we were stuck inside a capitalist dream that was racist and classist at its roots. After a dinner of homemade cheeseburgers and mashed potatoes at our house in Buffalo, NY in 1984 at the age of six, I watched my father and uncle cry when Reagan won the Presidential election. They explained that he was an actor who was re-iterating the myth of America in order to fool the people once again. They knew then that the election meant mass poverty and divestment from public systems in towns and cities exactly like the one we lived in, and they were right.

Here I am today, floating somewhere in the plastic sea dream I both inherited and helped to create. Here I am today, with a seven year old daughter who has grown up in the protest movement. Here I am today, with a child who participated in shutting down the Portland airport at the age of four. Here I am today, having faced police, gasses, and “Kettling” by militarized police vehicles in ongoing protest for years. Here I am today, a teacher with seventeen years in the public system. Here I am today, a protester of the racism and classism in that system. Here I am today, a student of political philosophy, a lover of Anarchist theory, a member of a mutual aid network. Here I am today, not an armchair radical, but one who has hopped fences to escape police, faced snipers, and once, long ago, beat my hands on the windows of the Bush senior limousine.

I am doing it for my grandmother who died after years of smoking those Winstons. I am doing it for my grandfather who was murdered in Detroit after years of chronic alcoholism while struggling in the clutches of industry. I am doing it for my three uncles who died in the grasp of the heroin and opioid pill addiction crisis that has a whole generation in a death grip. I am doing it because while the opioid crisis used to be a “white” issue, rates of addiction are now rising in communities of color. I am doing it because I see the faces of my family in the people who live on the streets. I am doing it because, as a member of the working class, I can see that this system isn’t good for any of us.

See, what I’ve learned as a child of industrialized savage capitalism is that capitalism is trash. Literally. Capitalism does not care about the impact of its products beyond the point of sale, and never will. Let’s me cut it to you straight with no chaser — we must turn to Democratic Socialism if we want to continue to live on Earth.

Capitalism is so intoxicating and comfortable that it is almost impossible to think beyond its constant messaging. Our minds are strewn with yesterday’s advertisements. Our children can sing jingles before they can speak from their hearts. Capitalism makes us believe that consuming massive amounts of plastic packaging is the only way.

There is a connection I am trying to make here. In order to understand it, you will need to be willing to suspend the belief that any other system than capitalism will take away your individuality. Capitalism’s greatest lie is that it enhances our ability for free expression. American political philosophy is deeply rooted in the concept that individual rights supersede just about anything else, especially for white people, who regularly reap the benefits of this concept while simultaneously prospering through racism and white supremacy, which rely on homogeneity rather than individuality. The reality is that capitalism functions with white supremacy to destroy individuality, making all working class people into constant reproducers of its zeitgeists — racism, classism, and environmental destruction.

Capitalism does not care about national public infrastructure, like clean water systems that benefit the people, clean-energy transport systems that are publicly funded and operated, clean water ways or air, or functional public school buildings and systems to serve our communities. In fact, corporations spend millions each year to lobby against all of the above in order to prevent progress that would benefit the public.

Let’s look at the example of the relationship between the bottled water industry and the failure of public water systems due to decades of neglect. Why is Nestle making billions each year in the United States while, from Flint, Michigan to Portland, Oregon, pipes in our public schools make water undrinkable for our children? Am I suggesting that capitalism is an extremely unethical conspiracy aimed at creating wealth for certain people (usually wealthy whites) while all working class people must become consumers and reproducers of its trash, paying for the death wish ourselves? Am I also suggesting that the mythos of American individualism lies beneath the capitalist strategy, making us feel that the pink hair spray we bought enhances our personal expression, so that the packaging that goes with it becomes the byproduct of our own greed? Yes. I am the Bitch who is willing to make that argument. Merry Christmas.

The gift I have to offer is this definition of Democratic Socialism. Honestly, a lot of working class people don’t really know what the hell it is.

Socialism (Democratic Socialism) means we focus on developing systems that serve the people. It also means that by developing systems that serve the people, we can release ourselves from capitalism’s destructive grasp on our lives.

Key priorities of Democratic Socialism:

Public Systems — In socialist countries, public systems like transportation (including both local and national transportation systems), medical care, public education, water, waste, and energy are the core investments of our tax dollars. By fortifying these structures in ways that benefit the working people, we build a stronger society where all members have access to a higher quality of life.

Public Education, not Policing, is the priority in a Democratic Socialist system. Throughout the past twenty years, police forces throughout the United States have experienced major fortification through mass investment in military weapons. Simultaneously, our schools are falling apart. Access to technology in U.S. public schools is nothing short of embarrassing. Democratic Socialism means major investment in public education and divestment from mass policing and militarization of police.

Universal Pre-School — While true Democratic Socialism will provide childcare, medical care, and mental health care to support families and single parents in the first year of a child’s life, Universal Pre-School is a starting place that we can achieve as a short term goal.

Medical Care (Including Mental health Care) for All — Democratic Socialism means that we prioritize human beings. Socialist countries provide free health care. They do this by making price gouging for medicine illegal, confronting unethical practices, and assuring everyone health care, rather than serving only those who are insured by corrupt corporations.

Environmental Protection Laws & Practices — Democratic Socialism means that we place restrictions on plastics and packaging. It means that we deeply invest in our public infrastructure to deal with our waste. It also means that we invest in sustainable fabrics (like Hemp) and outlaw those that destroy our planet. This priority creates jobs in waste management, science, technology, and industry.

What does Democratic Socialism mean for MacDonald’s? What does it mean for the candy from the corner store? It means MacDonald’s pays back in taxes some part of what they put in to filling the ocean with trash and killing our people. It means Nestle (who owns the candy), if they want to exist, pays taxes that support the development of clean, public, water systems that benefit the people. It also means that their current plastic bottles, which pollute the Earth, are outlawed, and all corporations must invest in sustainable products and packaging.

Democratic Socialism is anti-fascist, anti-racist, and working class. We demonstrate this by supporting leaders who are openly willing to confront white supremacy. Black and Indigenous (and those who identify as both) people in this country have every reason not to trust public systems. How do we build trust when bridges themselves hold memories of racism and white supremacy? We do so by celebrating leaders who emerge from our anti-fascist movements. We courageously look for leadership among those who have been willing to face arrest, or at least hit the streets, during the miserable epoch of the current President. We build trust by supporting leaders who put their lives on the line to expose racism as a tool of capitalism at Standing Rock, in Oakland, at the Portland ICE Occupation, in Flint, in San Juan, in Ferguson, and in any other city or town where the people came together and rallied against the beast when it came roaring, guns and gasses drawn. By supporting leaders who take direction from the people, as true public servants who are members of the working class, we can end top-down governance that profits only the rich.

Democratic Socialism must also directly support reparations for Black Americans. Nothing short of this will foster the trust we need as a society moving forward.

To those who will remark that I am living in a dream. Yes. Here I am in Henry Ford’s dream, in John D. Rockefeller’s dream, in Carnegie’s dream. Capitalism is a trashy dream. It’s killing us. I want out. Fortunately, I understand that it isn’t about me (a big realization for an American white woman). We, as members of the working class, want out.

In order to get out, we do need the Boomers to make amends for the sins of their generation. What are those sins? Gluttony, neglect, and denial are their greatest sins. How dare I point fingers? They knowingly continued to indulge in products and systems that destroy the earth and harm the people. They put comfort above the well-being of future generations. In order to make amends, they must, en masse, stop the denial and come out like Jane Fonda to join us on the streets in protest.

We also cannot allow putting the blame on Boomers to be the mask that liberates Wall Street from responsibility. Until Boomers are willing to get out of their comfort zone and face the beast, they are complicit. Big thanks to those who are already with us on the streets and who are showing support in various ways. You are appreciated.

In order to get out, we, everyone who came after them, must also recognize our part. As a child, I didn’t know that Pop Rocks would give me cavities. I didn’t know that I was building my future out of weekly plastic garbage bags. As an adult, I must view myself as a member of the working class who is not here to negotiate with white supremacy and capitalism, but who is genuinely here to fight, dental fillings and all, for that different vision of a healed society.

As a working class community member, I must view myself as one who is here to practice the anarchist principle of mutual aid — working together in an organized fashion to strengthen our support networks in order to fortify ourselves in radical community while we fight for the society we want for our children and our children’s children. As a mother, I must view my role in community, not selfishly hoarding resources and opportunities for my own family, but sharing them with others. As a healer and as a writer, I must find ways to share my gifts outside of the capitalist system, opposing the idea that financial gain should be the result of good work. As a white person, I must view myself not as a savior, but as a soldier, taking direction from those who are living deeper in the nightmare due to the horrible reality of racism that both keeps my unaware (no matter how aware I try to be) and beckons me to celebrate my privilege.

What is your role in the great undoing of all of the above? How has capitalism impacted your life? What role did capitalism play in the mental illness, addiction, incarceration, or deaths of your loved ones? How did racism and capitalism come together to destroy people you loved? Where does it hurt today? How do you remember that you are not alone? If I told you we could fight together, would you believe me?

Written by

Susan Anglada Bartley is a writer and member of the resistance community in Portland, Oregon.

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