Editor’s Note: In recognition of the season, I offer this New Year’s piece of my own originally published in the January 2013 issue. We all can practice socialism in our daily lives even away from meetings, protests, and canvassing. We can start by recycling — as I’m doing with this article. For everyday practices of socialism, 2013 and 2020 have remarkably few differences.
(Relating to point three below, Walmart did eventually open in DC at several locations. Shunning it is still the best practice).
Many of us enter a new year with a commitment to turn over a new leaf, to usher in a new and improved “us” to accompany the change in the calendar. For many, New Year’s resolutions may include losing weight, spending more time with the family, spending more time at work, spending less time at work, etc.
But as socialists, shouldn’t the changes we envision in ourselves revolve around the goal of creating a more just and egalitarian society? We can’t exactly “resolve” social change — saying “I resolve to bring about a single-payer health care system” doesn’t make it so. Real social change requires being part of an organization or movement of like-minded individuals over a lifetime of struggle.
Nevertheless, there are numerous changes in our individual behaviors and practices that can help move the struggle forward, if only a little, by injecting a little socialism at the grass roots. After all, virtually every important social change started with an individual taking action.
So, following is my (very incomplete) list of “revolutions” that individual DSA members can take to make 2013 a more “socialist” year than any other in U.S. history (at least since 1912):
- Come out of the socialist closet — Do you identify yourself as a socialist outside of DSA meetings or other progressive gatherings? If not, try displaying the “rose and hands” at unusual venues. Wear your DSA button at the supermarket; show up at a family reunion in a DSA T-shirt. Drop quotations from Michael Harrington or Joe Schwartz where least expected. Think about showing the colors at work, especially if you work in a lefty/progressive organization, and even if you don’t.
- Patronize small, local businesses — Seek out the true Mom and Pop businesses in your neighborhood and shun the giant corporations whenever possible. Buy your produce at farmers’ markets instead of Safeway. Seek out your local co-ops.
- Especially — in a corollary to 2 — don’t EVER shop at Walmart. The world’s most hegemonic corporation hasn’t broken ground in DC — yet — but it’s ensconced in the suburbs and online. I don’t need to go into detail here about its abuse of its workers, its destruction of local businesses, its contribution to sprawl, its shameless exploitation of near-slave labor abroad. Think what would happen if everyone adopted this “revolution.”
- Create more, consume less — As David Byrne writes in How Music Works, “[T]hose in power don’t want us to enjoy making things for ourselves — they’d prefer to establish a cultural hierarchy that devalues our amateur efforts and encourages consumption rather than creation . . . Capitalism tends toward the creation of passive consumers.” Instead of buying a CD or downloading an MP3, why not spend an hour playing an instrument (or learning one if you don’t know how)? Reading a book or article is fine; but why not occasionally write something instead (like an article for the Washington Socialist)? Instead of watching football, go out and toss a ball with a friend. Instead of watching a commercial movie, put on a puppet show (especially if you have kids, but even if you don’t)!
- Subvert advertising — Just because a product is being pushed online, on TV, or in print doesn’t mean it’s any good but only that someone wants to make a profit by selling it to you. I’ve adopted this “revolution” for several years running: I make a note of the products advertisers are most aggressively pushing at me and will make a point of NOT buying any of those things. (I may not be the only one: I recently bought “No-Ad” sunblock whose very name touts its refusal to advertise — and implies that at least some shoppers are attracted to the idea).
- Be a “Pistachio Socialist” — Mix some green with your red! Any just, egalitarian future must include protection of the environment as a central cause. We can’t save the Brazilian rainforest in a day, but there are lots of things we can do: If you drive, do so as little as possible; walk, cycle and use transit; recycle and use recycled materials; turn off the lights when you leave a room; plant a tree.
None of these ideas substitutes for the basics: being active in political work, paying dues, and making financial contributions to the extent you can. But being a socialist should be more than checking the right boxes — it should be a way of life. Try working more of the “S-word” into your daily life in 2013.