broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the month “January, 2015”

Me and North Korea


In sociology, at least according to Goffman, someone who is a criminal, overweight, disabled, unemployed, addicted, etc might be considered to have a spoiled identity.  That is, there is something about them that isn’t “normal” and which may prevent them from easily passing as normal.  They are stigmatized for being deviant.  People may even avoid that individual for fear that even by association, somehow the stigmatized identity will reflect upon them.  For instance, “good people” don’t befriend drug addicts, so clearly the person who is friends with that individual must also be deviant.

North Korea is a country with a spoiled identity (even though I have not seen this applied to countries).  No one wants to be friends with North Korea or associate too closely.  This is especially true for socialists.  Socialists are already looked upon as deviant…so there is a lot of distancing between “us” and North Korea.  After all, we don’t want to appear crazy, brutal, warped, etc.  Now, people are intelligent enough to differentiate say….the Inquisition and…a Lutheran pot luck.  Both may fall under the umbrella of Christian activities over history, but there is generally a nuanced understanding of Christianity which does not equate the two as equal.  Yet, when it comes to North Korea or communism in general, a lot of very diverse events and ideas get lumped together into the big bad that is Marxism.  This lumping together feels something like the logic of  “So, perhaps the Lutheran Ladies Aid Society serves tater tot hotdish…but Christians are inherently terrorists…as the Lord’s Resistance Army has shown us….therefore they are also evil.”   Logic fail, right? Nevertheless, it seems challenging to elevate public awareness regarding the hundreds of varieties and expressions of socialism. (Which, by the way, North Korea does not consider itself Marxist as this is a western idea and they prefer the homegrown ideology of self-sufficiency, nationalism, and a leader/human based theory of history known as the Juche ideology).

In my observation, there is a fear of too closely associating with North Korea due to the fear of being lumped together with them.  So, how do we talk about North Korea?  How can be move beyond letting fear shape the discourse?

I don’t like when people make jokes about N. Korea.   For one, there is a racist undertone usually.  Like…Team America where Kim Jong Il is a funny looking Asian guy who can’t pronounce “r” and “l.”   Instead of lonely, he sounds horney, which seems to poke fun at Asian masculinity. In real life, it seems to me that the Kim family is depicted as weird and villainous if not occasionally a Fu Manchu enemy from the East.   North Koreans themselves are humorless, robotic, uniformed, brain washed drones.  North Korea is always “the other.”

Speaking of the “other,” I recall a documentary or news program wherein North Koreans were interviewed and didn’t know who Nelson Mandela was. This was used as evidence of how closed off from the world the populace was. Before picking on North Korea, I would like to interview some average Americas. I imagine that there are probably quite a few who would also fail to identify Nelson Mandela…this in a country with the luxury of too much information! I only use this as an example of how North Korea is presented as so dissimilar from us. Which, certainly it is, but it is also politically useful to point out similarities or at the very least…humanize the populace.

Outside of humor and “othering” is some real compassion.  No one wants to see people suffer famine, dictatorship, repression, and prison camps.  But, compassion ends with the idea that something must be done.  The U.S. must do something.  This cry for justice does not consider the fact that TEAM AMERICA world police….tends to make things worse.  It also ignores the fact that the United States has supported dictatorships and undermined democracy when it is of interest to do so. Don’t forget that South Korea was ruled by U.S. supported dictatorships until the late 1980s!

Nevertheless, there seems to be a somewhat popular sentiment that we should just go to war with them and either get rid of the problem or liberate them. Would the lives of North Koreas be improved by a war? Our lives certainly wouldn’t be. Is it the job of the U.S. to liberate North Korea? I think we need to liberate ourselves first. As I have mentioned before, we have the largest prison population in the world. We are our own police state in a way, certainly with domestic spying and the militarization of the police. Certainly, compared to North Korea, we have many things such as the illusion of democracy through two paid off nearly identical parties, consumer goods, a higher standard of living, greater power, legitimacy, and wealth in the world, and (despite well-founded criticisms of attacks on them) a much greater degree of civil liberty. Yet, we still have a lot of work to do and many areas to improve.

But, what do you say to those who want some immediate action to improve the lives of North Koreans? My only answer is if we push for fewer prisons and prisoners here, more equality and justice here, less war-mongering…the world will be better. North Korea can look at us and point out our own hypocrisy. It can look at our human rights and our militarism and use these things to justify their own fears. See, like our government, which built power upon our fear of criminals, terrorists, and communists over history…and harnessed this fear to sell expensive domestic and foreign policies…North Korea is also founded upon fear. Fear makes dictatorship legitimate. If I was a North Korean I would fear the U.S.! Why wouldn’t I? What reason would I have not to? What have we done to appear as a nation of justice, peace, and equality? And, that fear makes their regime all the more legitimate. It is a lame answer. It is one that is perhaps overly simple. But, I will stand by the notion that if we truly want to help them, we must stand for justice, equality, and peace here.

A socialist answer would be to try to build ties of solidarity with North Korean workers or somehow, as workers, aid them in their own liberation. The country is so closed off and the stakes so high, this is tremendously difficult. This is why the locus is organizing within the United States against the various social ills within our own country. However, at some basic reformist level, I am not opposed to cultural exchanges or anything that normalizes relations or gives some immediate relief to the people. While these reformist answers through feel good charities and NGOs may promote a softer form of imperialism, I think that this could play a very small, immediate, and supplementary role in building ties between people or good will.

In 2010, I traveled to North Korea- without telling my family. I studied in South Korea, then went to Beijing to visit my friend Rose. Rose’s friend was a tour guide for trips to North Korea…so I went on a trip that year to North Korea. It was the first year that North Korea allowed American tourists into the country year round.   North Korea…obviously…is really unlike any country in the world. It is a place where you turn your cellphone in at the airport in Pyongyang as it is not allowed in the country. The airport had a blackout when I arrived and was no larger than the Duluth airport, with probably fewer flights each day. Despite hacking controversies, it is a country that almost entirely lacks internet (though Intranet is available at some libraries/universities). The roads are empty of cars and there are no advertisements and few foreign products (except Chinese products). The air is completely clear- quite a change from Beijing-owing to lack of automobile ownership and dire economic times. There is little litter, which is quite striking. In contrast to hyper-modern, technology and image obsessed South Korea, North Korea is folksy and frozen in the 1950s/60s. The differences are sometimes astonishing, but really….in some ways not so different. Rather than propaganda for Coke and plastic surgery, road signs are always propaganda for the leadership of the country. In many industrialized countries, women starve themselves for beauty. There, people have simply starved. All of our grotesque excess is a dictatorship as much as theirs, in a way anyway.   I was told that women there learn how to shoot a gun by the age of 14. Gender is unusual, as women wear drab military clothes or out of date styles. The expression of self through clothes and technology is missing. I was told that everyone can fight and is willing to fight the U.S. (though Japan is sometimes mentioned as well.) A mistrust of Japan is something that both Koreas share. The pervasive militarism is supported by a culture of fear. The U.S. is truly feared there. So, it was interesting to be an American there. I wanted to show that not all Americans are war mongers who would like to intervene in North Korea. I sang the International on the bus with my guides! I hope that maybe they could see Americans differently.

I had a great time and it was a fascinating peek into dictatorship.   This sounds very voyeuristic and hedonistic. Of course, it is. I am the outsider who gets to gaze upon it. I get to leave and have another notch on my belt for interesting adventures. I am sure that there is something unethical about it. Yet, I don’t claim to be an example of ethics or morals. I just wanted to go there and see it.   Three tour guides, a hotel on an island, a bus of Chinese, Australians, Kiwis…and me. We drove across the country to Kaesong. I did see people in parks and at the Mass Games. I saw farmers along the side of the road or soldiers at the demilitarized zone. I saw elderly men fishing. Some were smiling and laughing. At the Mass Games, there appeared to genuine emotion and engagement in the story of their history as told through synchronized gymnastics.   Despite everything, some people do seem to have times of joy. How widespread is it? How enduring? I don’t know, but it was nice to see that it isn’t a monolithic gray misery for everyone at all times.

I don’t wish to come across that I support North Korea’s regime, but I think that the trip was educational and I am certainly sympathetic to North Koreans. I don’t villainize them nor feel they deserve to be “liberated” by force of a foreign intervention.   I don’t idealize their lack of cell phones or lack of advertisement, even though I generally am critical of various aspects of capitalism. Therefore, it is a difficult balancing act to be a critic of capitalism, a supporter of North Korean independence, and a critic of North Korean dictatorship/human rights. I feel that I can never quite convey my feelings or thoughts on this issue properly- as I certainly don’t want to be seen as pro-North Korea.   After all, theirs is a spoiled identity. I can’t besmirch my “good” reputation as a socialist by appearing too close. And I’m not. I was just a visitor.



Wading Through Roe V. Wade


Happy 42 year anniversary abortion rights…

Now, why do I support Abortion Rights?

Because I am female.

Okay, as much as I would like to end it there, I am sure the topic requires a bit more explanation.  To begin with, I personally don’t want to become pregnant.  I feel it would be pretty horrific to become pregnant and then be forced to give birth.  It is hard to imagine.  While on a panel regarding this topic, I related it to Romania.  In 1965, Romania outlawed abortion in most cases.  A woman could only obtain an abortion if she had 4-5 children (depending on the decade) and was over 45 (or 40 depending on the decade)…or was disabled.  The country stopped importing contraceptives and did not teach sex ed.  So, in a very real way, pregnancy was mandatory.  More than this, women were subjected to mandatory gynecological exams.  This occurred every 1-3 months at work places.  If a woman wanted any medical service…she had an exam.  High school girls also were subjected to these exams as well as college applicants.  Now, if a woman wanted to obtain an illegal abortion, she may obtain one at 2-4 months wages from a black market provider.  Worse- by 1989 one out of three people were informants for the secret police.  So, if a woman wanted to obtain an abortion, she was well…unsure who to trust as anyone could potentially turn her in to the police.  Yikes.

Call me crazy, but this does not sound like a society I want to live in.  What was the result?  Women sought abortions, but over 9,000 died from botched illegal abortions between 1965-1989.  They developed home methods of abortion, but generally lived in fear of health institutions.  Even a miscarriage caused fear, as they feared they would get into trouble for what might appear like a botched abortion.  But, as awful as it was for women, it was terrible for children.  Obviously, a lot of unwanted children were born.  Where did they end up?  Oh, in the 700 underfunded understaffed orphanages where children lingered in their own urine, were put in strait jackets, locked in white rooms, and left undernourished and neglected.  About 170,000 orphans lived in such conditions by 1989.  10,000 of them had AIDs from blood transfusions.  Some babies were simply killed.  Infanticide was so rampant that new births weren’t registered for two weeks.  Premature babies or under weight babies were left to die.  The birth rate increased during these years, but the quality of life went down.  So, this is what illegal abortion looks like…at least in its extreme.

Perhaps this seems too extreme to relate to us here.  I think that the elements of the hellish tale are certainly possible.  Illegal abortion requires punishment.  The U.S. already has the highest prison rate in the world.  25% of the world’s prison population live here.  I don’t think we should add doctors and women who seek abortion.  Illegal abortion also requires surveillance.  In the Romanian case, women were subjected to the exams.  However, if we are to enforce illegality, women must be monitored to some degree.  Then there is the issue of unwanted children.  Over half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned.  Obviously, to deal with the influx of new children, we would need a lot more institutions for those unwanted children…unless we are content to let them linger in their waste and waste away without attention.  But, even in Romania, women found a way to have abortions.  Illegality did not stop it, even in the most repressive conditions.  Here, women would find a way.  The women who find a way would be those who can travel or those who are connected to doctors.  So, illegal abortion is war against poor women.

So, I support legal abortion because I don’t want to be forced to be pregnant.  This brings in the issue of fetal rights or the value of fetuses.  This is a sticky issue.  What is the value of a fetus?  To me, I don’t see much value in them.  Early on, embryos, zygotes, blastocysts, and fetuses look like inhuman masses of nothing.  They are tiny, parasitic blobs.  I hardly envision them as human.  What value do they have?  By what criteria should we bestow value upon life?  Any criterion that I develop, or anyone develops, is always a matter of opinion.  I might argue, life has value if has lived a long time, is rare, causes no harm, and is intelligent.  Okay, following this, human lives have little value…but some monkeys have value. How about age?  This would give value to tortoises, corals, clams, and trees.   How about rarity?  This gives value to endangered animals.  To begin, as a human…it follows that I should value human life.  I do, as a value human life enough to want all people to have food, housing, medicine, leisure, equality, and freedom.  Is all human life equal in value?  Well, I would say that not all humans are equal inasmuch as some deserve special rights/accomodations.  Most people agree that children should not be forced to work.  Most people also agree that children should not engage in sexual relations with adults.  We grant some special protections to children.  Children also lack some rights.  They can’t vote or drive…have credit cards….run for public office…join the military…etc.  So, by virtue of their age, children are denied and granted some rights.  At what “age” do humans have a right to life?  How is this determined?  Doctors base this on viability, but this is variable and a medical construct.   I would argue that humans have a right to life when they are born.  However, this value statement comes from a utilitarian sense of what is good for society.  If abortion was illegal at say…the second or third trimester (really, 9 states do outlaw abortion after 20 weeks and most don’t do it after 24ish) there is the case that women could become ill or not be aware of their pregnancy.  I believe that no one should be forced to be pregnant…certainly so if the fetus will harm her or prevent her from obtaining medical care.  I believe that an adult woman (or a pregnant teen) has more value than an unborn fetus.  That is my value hierarchy and why I have no qualms with abortion.  The loss of the unborn has less social impact than the oppression or subjugation of adult women.

Everyone has a life value hierarchy…at least if they stop to think about it.  Let’s think about it.  Does a human embryo have more value than a coral reef?  A coral reef isn’t intelligent, but it is old.  You have a choice, save an embryo or save the Great Barrier Reef.  What do you choose?  Well, this is absurd.  Personally, I think a WHOLE reef is worth more than an embryo.  How about the Brazilian Rainforest?  Abortion can end tomorrow, but we have to destroy the rainforest.  Again, it is silly.  How about something that isn’t even alive?  One two month old fetus will survive…but the Vatican will burn to the ground.  We value many things…and we value them inconsistently.

If this is the case, should we make laws on values?  For instance, although I think that people should eat less meat and that animal life has “value”…I really don’t want laws that make eating meat illegal.  At the end of the day, I think people should have choice.  I may not agree with the choice, but it is up to me to educate and argue my position.  Yet, at the same time, some meats should be outlawed…such as eating tiger meat.  Why?  Well, it is a value judgment…but generally, tigers should not go extinct.  The extinction of an animal has an impact on the environment…plus it is lost forever.  The rarity of the tiger gives it more value in my book of values.

Some may argue that fetal life has value based upon its potential to become an adult human.  I think it is interesting.  Does the future give things value?  Food would have no value because it turns to poop.  OR, maybe poop has value because it could fertilize the soil, thereby creating more food.  I step on a lot of acorns.  I don’t quite value them the same way as a full grown oak.  The sun will one day expand to consume the earth.  In this sense, should the sun be hated for its future destruction of the earth?

In any event, the value arguments only make me go in circles.  There are no easy answers.  I only know that my values are different.  In a pluralistic society, how to we deal with different values?  Those who value the lives of women…want legal abortion.  Those who value privacy want legal abortion.  Those who don’t want more punishment and control of women or doctors, support legal abortion.  I certainly can’t imagine life being better with illegal abortion.   I am not sure how any woman can imagine that this would improve society.

It really seems that life has sucked for women for a long time.  Women couldn’t vote.  Women couldn’t work outside of the home.  Women couldn’t get divorced, even if they were being abused.  Women are abused-but there is more awareness about it…and shelters….women are sexually assaulted… but there is a growing awareness of rape culture.  Women couldn’t pursue higher education.  Women couldn’t wear pants!  I see these increased rights for women as gains.  Not being forced to be pregnant is also a gain.   Maybe some fetuses have perished along the way.   Yeah, it’s flippant, but what is the point of bringing a child into the world when half the world is oppressed?

This brings me back to the example.  We have a pretty good idea that society wherein abortion is illegal tends to be a bad experience for women.  Well, and to children too.  The Romanian orphans had permanent disabilities from the neglect they faced.  Those from pre-1973 also don’t often look at it fondly.  Remember the good old days of back alley abortions, wife beating, and illegal contraceptives?…said no one ever.    Well, some people have said it…but those people are assholes.  So I fight.  I fight for this issue.  I fight because I have been sexually harassed while picketing for this issue!  Even last night (after speaking on the panel and walking back to my car) I was asked by a man in a truck, “Hey baby, want a ride?”    In a world where women are meat and consent is a distant concept-yeah- abortion is needed.



Why Activism?


I have not encountered it that much, but enough to write a blog post.  The thing I am referring to is the idealization of charity and the demonization of activism.  Now, I recall on incident while standing on the corner for an anti-war picket.  During this encounter, a tourist asked us why we bothered picketing.  In her opinion, it was a waste of time.  Our time would better be spent volunteering.  This notion that activism is a waste of time is also expressed through the common remark, “Get a job.”  Of course, beyond the idea that charity is superior and activism is inferior to work, is the closely related idea that activism somehow hurts people.  Perhaps it hurts pedestrians, drivers, or anyone else who simply wants to live their life in quiet denial that social problems exist.   One thing appears certain: activism is not respected.

To address the first issue, I will explore charity versus activism.  Charity is viewed highly as selfless and productive.  People who engage in charity are seen as good people, generally speaking.  Charity isn’t terrible.  Obviously, there are social problems that need immediate responses.  Charity can fill a gap and meet an immediate need.  However, it should be treated as that.  Anything addressed by a charity is a social failing.  Pressure must be put on the government to address this social failure.  No one should go hungry.  No one should go without housing.  Charity to alleviate these things privatizes social problems-leaving them to good will and unpaid labor to resolve.  There are enough unemployed people that it is shameful that they cannot be put to work building society through paid public work.  Beyond the privatization of social problems, charity is flawed because it does not address the causes of social problems or work to change society.  The same soup kitchen could operate for 100 years- with nothing done to change the root cause of hunger.  Of course, some charity can have a social activist orientation, in which it addresses social problems while working to bandage an immediate need.  Therefore, I don’t dismiss charity.  I simply don’t see it as a vehicle for revolutionary change.

Nevertheless, charity is easy to understand.  The average person can see poor people fed a turkey dinner and think it is swell.  There is a small but immediate impact.  It looks and feels good.   Building a social movement is not easy to understand.  To an outsider, it is seven crazy people on the corner with signs.  No one is being fed.  We’re the turkeys.  It looks pointless and disruptive.  It is hard to see the value because people don’t get change.  They don’t understand why and how they can vote…go to k-12 for free….attend the same schools as other races…have a minimum wage….use birth control…get a divorce…have labels on their food….not be enslaved….etc,    Change does not happen because of benevolent politicians.   It is struggle.  It is decades…and centuries of struggle.


Seven people on a corner looks pretty pathetic.  If it was seven thousand, it would be more formidable.  Still, seven people still have a purpose.  In every great struggle, there are decades of doldrums.  There may be long periods where only a few people stand against a social injustice.  They are ridiculed or ignored at best.  What is the point?  I want to say that it is important to stand up for what is right, even when you are alone.  This isn’t a great answer.  I mean, I don’t think that anyone is obligated to be a witness for history.  That in some wonderful eon the street corner yahoos will be vindicated.  Someday….they won’t look so crazy.  Someday everyone will agree with what was viewed as radical or pointless.  Most likely, no one will remember.  History is made, but it is also unmade through broken narratives.  The broken narrative of the future forgets the tireless work of activists.  In this disjointed history, perhaps change falls from the sky…from the asses of imaginary Democrats in the clouds.  Everyone forgets again the process of moving against social injustice.  So, as much as I wish that in the future there will be some, “I told you so” moment, the process of making the future is often forgotten.

If not for future memory, why bother?  Well, there is a belief that it is not pointless.  Even a few people draw attention.  It shows people that an issue exists and that some people are angry about it.  For a brief moment, it reminds people of a problem.  That is fleeting and unrewarding.  The other purpose is that it keeps a movement alive.  A picket or small protest is a way to care for a tiny spark.  Those activists who are involved network with each other.  They build their experiences as organizers and leaders.  Then, if suddenly there is an upsurge of anger or awareness…there are those with experience and knowledge of how to build a larger movement.  I think that this is the most important reason to continue this work.  It keeps alive the capacity to mobilize without having to reinvent the wheel.

Beyond this, something needs to be done.  Of course, there are many things that can be done.  Writing letters, voting, charity, etc., are all options.  However, protest or pickets are things that can be done as a community, together, and visibly.  Once again, it can draw attention to an issue.  Voting and letters are private matters done by individuals.  Beyond their individualism is the investment into a political system that doesn’t offer much variety in the way of politicians. Protest and pickets draw things into the public realm.  Of course, educational events, movies, discussions, and so on are also useful, but the benefit of the protest or picket is that the audience is anyone who drives by or sees it on the news.

So, this is the logic of activism, or at least the picket/protest aspects of activism.  With that said, I feel like it should be highly regarded.  It is a sacrifice of time.  It often isn’t all that fun (for instance, in very cold weather).  And, since most activists actually DO work, I don’t see why they are dismissed as not employed.  Even so, what are others doing that is so grand?  The tourist who critiqued the picket was out shopping.  Why is this considered a good use of time, while standing on a corner is a bad one?  The people driving by are likely going home, perhaps to watch television.  Again, why is activism somehow less legitimate than collapsing in front of a screen?  In the event that someone is unemployed and an activist, why is it assumed that paid labor is the only source of meaning or usefulness in this world?  Many people hate their jobs.   Perhaps the activist on the picket line is organizing their work place…and work is just another form of activism.  Is there any other activity that people engage in where drivers would shout at people to get a job?  When they drive by the beach, do they shout at the swimmers, get a job?  When they go to the movies, do they wait until the credits are done to denounce everyone for not having jobs?  Of course not.  It is ridiculous that activism is viewed as the work of jobless people.  Really, the people who do activism may NOT be at the beach, movies, mall, or any other distraction that others pursue in their free time because they are too busy protesting!

Anyway, so that is the point of it all.  The point of activism is that change can happen, but also a certain hope that others will eventually join in.  Something needs to be done.  Many things can be done.  These strategies are debated among activists and most activists employ many methods of activism (education, protest, petitions, even some charity from time to time).


Another Marxmas



As a socialist, it is hard to get into the holiday season.   The holiday season kicks off with Thanksgiving, which seems like it could be alright.  I mean, being thankful sounds like a good thing.  Only, it is quite hard to be a Thanksgiving enthusiast when you care about indigenous people and don’t think that a holiday marking their genocide should be celebrated.   It is hard to give up Thanksgiving-cold turkey- when there are some minor familial expectations that you will participate.  Also, for most Americans (i.e. white Americans) Thanksgiving doesn’t really have much historical meaning.  It is a routine.  It is a time to get together, eat turkey, watch a parade of floating cartoon characters on television or a dog show, and (I think) football.    While lip service may be given to thankfulness- this too is a routine- as much as stuffing and turkey.   I don’t think that much thought is actually given to Pilgrims or Native Americans.  Now, Thanksgiving is all the weirder because…as an accident of patriarchy, as I like to say….my last name is Bradford.  I’m really not at all English.  Maybe some droplet of blood….but really, I am mostly Finnish with some Czech and Slovene.  I like to point this out because William Bradford was the governor of Plymouth colony for 30 years and generally viewed Native Americans as primitive and that white people had Divine favor.  Besides forcing a peace treaty on already disease decimated  and beleaguered Native Americans, apparently he raided a more communal settlement that was distributing guns to Native Americans (Merrymount).   Well, in any event, Thanksgiving can really only be enjoyed if you don’t think too much about it.

Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday.  I don’t even want to go there.  I can see how this semi-holiday may be a bonding experience between friends or family members, who go through the ritual of an early morning, large lines, and crowds.  People look down at long lines and crowds- in the context of queuing for things in the Soviet Union- but in capitalism, this is somehow a blissful experience.     Beyond the consumerism feeding frenzy is racism as well!  Black Friday was coined by the Philadelphia police to negatively describe the demographics of mass of shoppers/pedestrians.   Retailers have appropriated the meaning to be “in the black” financially, but it certainly isn’t a just  event- as underpaid workers hustle in the pre-dawn hours or night before to provide services to the mob of shoppers.

Really, I worked on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  I slept on New Year’s eve.  The harsh schedule of school and internship, as well as anxiety over the rampaging diseases at my workplace, left me tired and stressed for the month of December.  So, once finals were done, I mostly slept and worked.   I did do some leisure reading, but I mostly hibernated and hid.

However, with the holidays behind me, I feel more energized.  Once I made it through New Year’s, I was ready to celebrate.  As others put their trees and lights away, it was time to decorate and put lights up!

This brings me to Marxmas.   I’ve celebrated Marxmas for over a decade now.  Really, it rips off a lot of Christmas traditions.  Instead of a Christmas tree, we have a red plastic Marxmas tree.  It is hard to invent an entirely new holiday.  I don’t blame Christians for ripping off paganism in this respect.  You work with what you know!  Yes, Marxmas involves some level of consumerism.  However, as it is often AFTER the other holidays, it takes advantage of post-holiday clearance sales.   In the ten years of celebrating, a few traditions have remained staples.  Usually, there is a skit or a song.  Often, there is trivia and “Proletarian Pictionary.”  Food and guests are obvious parts of any party.  Most years there has been a red elephant gift exchange.  In recent years, this exchange occurs during a rendition of the history of Trotskyism.  Often The International is sung.   Pinatas are often a part of this celebration, which are accompanied by a special piñata song.  Finally, in recent years, there has been a theme.  These themes include Cuba, Space Race, 1980 Moscow Olympics, and …this year…Northlandia.



Northlandia was a departure from the degenerated worker state themes of year’s past.  It was based on the TV show Portlandia.  As such, we had pickle jar decorations, a huge tray of interesting pickles, bird decorations, and a “put a bird on it” game.  Beyond this theme, there was a general hipster theme.  This meant that I tried to made hipster-ish foods, appealing to vegan, gluten free, and local food trends.  There were mustache decorations, cupcakes, and gingerbread cookies.  The trivia was generally geared towards hipster trends.  This was not meant to poke fun at the idea of hipsters or even to acknowledge their existence (anything vaguely progressive and alternative seems to get labelled hipster).  Finally, there were prizes for everyone!  Really, that is pretty socialist- as winners and losers in the competitions all came home with a prize and a gift bag.  Not that we don’t believe in competition- but at least I like the idea that we all win together through learning, experiencing, and participation.


Of course, like any celebration, Marxmas could be critiqued.  It is silly, for one thing.  How can we be silly or have fun when there is so much suffering in the world?  Well, I think politics are a part of the celebration.  It is a break from more serious matters, but the serious matters play a role in the celebration.   Pictionary included words like “cultural appropriation” “genetically modified organism” and “rape culture.”   Like Christmas, there is some waste and consumerism.  I buy things for the party.  But, we also make a lot of food and decorations.  It is a matter of time versus money.  Making the prizes or every element of the party from scratch would be quite time consuming.  It could be critiqued as borrowing too heavily from Christmas, but singing, trees, and gifts are not exclusively Christmas elements.  Like anything fun, it is easier to enjoy it if you don’t think too much.

As a whole, it was fun.  I love hosting parties.  I love seeing people having a good time because of something I planned.  I am terribly socially awkward.  I have a hard time with small talk or even big talk.  But, when I host a party- I feel in control.  I have a role to play.  I know what to say and do.  It feels great when there are more people than chairs!  (We had 21 people show up to the party).




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