I’m going to go across the street to vote in about ten minutes. I’m voting pro-monorail. I’m really really really hoping it wins. I’m hoping a lot of lefty stuff wins, and not just in these mid-term elections, either. In general. I want us not to go to capital-W War With Iraq. I want alternative energy solutions, and I want education and social services and health care for everyone…and I do mean everyone, even poor people. I want the next president to be the dude who won the election. I want to end welfare-to-work. I want corporations to be treated as such and not as individuals with rights. I want public transportation and workers’ rights and real working wages. I want everyone to get their pension plans back. I want to rebuild Afghanistan if we ever decide to stop bombing there, and I want fair trade and locally grown organic produce. I want gun control and affordable housing and mandated maternity leave. I want my own flying unicorn with a rainbow colored horn that I can ride whenever I want to.
It was in this mood that I went to see Bowling for Columbine over the weekend. Like I wasn’t going to see it. You know. Liberalism, Michael Moore, gun control , Nader in 2000, the left, the right, the middle, kids these days, Canada, the media, the music, the suburbs, the slums. I went expecting to be deeply affected, and I was, sort of. I cried a little. I laughed some. I thought Michael Moore was a bit of a drama queen when he pulled out the little girl who was shot by her classmate and brandished it in Charlton Heston’s face. I never expected to be moved by Marilyn Manson’s thoughtful political commentary. Thinking about the issues in the movie got to be so painful that I had to stop and have some more excellent fries at Julia’s on Broadway. They had a lounge singer that night AND a drag queen, and I reflected that I probably would not be a promising candidate for either of those positions. I tried to have a conversation about what I was thinking about and wasn’t able to do it very well.
So, I identify as politically liberal. I wouldn’t call myself a leftist, neccesarily, and although my resume does indicate some flirtation with socialism, I would have to say I’m actually fairly moderate. Not a libertarian. Not a revolutionary. I did march a little in the whole WTO thing a couple of years ago (remember that?), and I learned a lot about globalism and free trade vs. fair trade and corporate influence in politics and so on and so forth, but I’ve usually been more concerned with the minutiae of my life than with Big Issues. For me, Big Issues have usually been stuff like Oh My Goodness, I Am Late For Work Again! and Heavens To Betsy, Can You Believe What My Boyfriend Just Did? and What In The World Will I Do About My Family of Origin Issues? Stuff like that. Self-centered, I believe, is the term you’re looking for.time elapses while I run down the street to vote
Goooooooo monorail! I can’t wait to see if it goes through tomorrow.
What was I talking about? Being politically liberal, right? Yeah. Well, here’s my question, the question I’ve been thinking about since my first year of grad school, in which all us idealistic social-workers-in-training were debating two questions: which population and what level were for you? Child welfare? Geriatric medical social work? Policy and lobbying? The population with which one works is pretty personal. I mean, some people like working with juvenile sex offenders, and some like working with Alzheimer’s patients, and that’s all there is to it. Tomato tomahto. But which level one works on, macro versus micro…that’s the real question. Where can you be most effective? Micro people will argue that you can do the best work on the most personal level: you and your client(s). Using the self as the tool to effect positive change in someone else’s life, right? And macro people will counter with the assertion that it’s only on the level of law and policy that any real change can be effectively wrought, because it doesn’t matter how much of a bleeding heart you are, and how much you want to help your client. Ultimately, it’s laws that make the biggest differences in folks’ experience. My question remains: what’s the best way to change the world?
I’m mostly a micro person, as my clinical predilections will evidence. When I got to grad school I started writing letters to my senators and going to the abovementioned protests, but I still believed as a social worker that personal experience with clients was the most valuable kind of work you could do. I’m all about relationships. I really am.
Where this micro perspective breaks down though, and where this all ties in with the movie I saw, is with that terrible sense of disenfranchisement you sometimes get. I guess that’s what it’s called. That sense that you can keep seeing clients or volunteering your time or writing letters to the powers-that-be or reading sort of liberal online media outlets and getting outraged and talking with other liberals at parties about how messed up everything is, man, and disparaging the right and the left and the moderates, from the comfort of your car and your apartment and your white-collar desk job…you can do all these things, and you can be as intellectual as you want or as impassioned as you want…and somehow it doesn’t matter. You’re just an ordinary person who likes TV and your cats and has a student loan and a car you leased even though you should have just bought used. Donate to the ACLU all you want, but it’s still going to be the rich white men who run the show. It makes me want to curl up in the fetal position, frankly. Sometimes. I see something like Bowling for Columbine and it fills me, simultaneously, with all this self-righteous rage and with all this crushing despair.
and getting outraged and talking with other liberals at parties about how messed up everything is, man, and disparaging the right and the left and the moderates, from the comfort of your car and your apartment and your white-collar desk job…you can do all these things, and you can be as intellectual as you want or as impassioned as you want…and somehow it doesn’t You’re just an ordinary person who likes TV and your cats and has a student loan and a car you leased even though you should have just bought used. Donate to the all you want, but it’s still going to be the rich white men who run the show. It makes me want to curl up in the fetal position, frankly. Sometimes. I see something like and it fills me, simultaneously, with all this self-righteous rage and with all this crushing despair.And so now I’m thinking that maybe I should be a little more macro in how I do things. I’ve generally thought I’d try to be the best person I can be first, and then just act according to my well-honed conscience? Except that doesn’t seem to be working very well, and I don’t think I can wait to be totally grown up and mature and wise and thoughtful. I don’t even know where I would start…I mean, I voted today, right? Do I join a special-interest group next? Go down to Olympia and lobby for issues I care about? Volunteer for a campaign? Will that help? I guess I really could do all those things. They’re not hard. People do them all the time. Does it count, though, if I mostly do it to counter my own anxiety and liberal guilt? Sure it does. Probably.
How do you work to change the world? Micro or macro? How do you decide how to live?