A couple of months ago I placed an ad in Craigslist, seeking shared housing. In itself, this is unremarkable; what makes this one different, is the character of the ad. Entitled “Lifelong Activist Seeks Permanent Share,” it has produced some interesting responses — and frames some of the issues activists must face.
The emphasis in my ad was on the person(s) with whom I would share, “people who have heart for the world and progressive values,” and also upon seeking a final destination — not “a place,” but home. I accompanied the text with a photo that shows my face, which includes my beard and flowing, curly hair.
Most responses were either priced beyond my Social Security level of resources, or they represented rooming houses. These weren’t, however, the only types of reply; maybe it was the photo, or maybe just ‘activist’ that roused the interest of a couple of people who saw an opportunity to take a shot at an imagined enemy. One fellow, whose photo at Linked In shows him with other members of his military detachment in uniform, wrote twice. The first time, he wrote:
So now the progressive liberal knows now the personal responsibitly [sic]
of being accountable for your own pathetic actions. Rot in hell so far as I am concerned,
enjoy the street life fucking low life.
The second time, when my ad appeared after its first installment, he was brief:
Where the fuck are your liberal progessive [sic] fiends [sic?] when you need them.
Another military-identified respondent wrote just once, as follows:
Do you see what is between Tacoma and Olympia? Sir, the JBLM, Sir. That is Joint Base
Lewis-McCord military installation with over 100,000 military personnel including Special Forces,
Rangers, Strykers and C-130 Globemaster aircraft, Sir.
If you want to be a hippie leftist Liberal, why not go to Olympia, home of Evergreen
College. Seattle is also very politically correct. No one here will allow you to dictate the terms of
I am operating a neighborhood watch and patrol that is pushing the bad guys into King County.
Interesting, isn’t it, to see what a beard, longish hair, and mention of activism, will bring by way of response from some folks. Never mind that they know nothing of what I’ve done, my values, etc. — it’s even possible that some of my past efforts might not entirely meet with their disapproval. The simple reactions of simple reactionaries don’t tell us much, other than the sad ability of people to reduce each other to a label and a stereotype.
However, the first fellow said something that offers a sort of navigational point in the way we do — or don’t do — movement-building, especially with regards to community. Where indeed are we, when we need each other? I’m quite sure I’m far from the only activist from the 60s/70s who has not quite fallen into homelessness (and hopes not to), but who wants to share with others both from activist impulses and those of basic self-preservation. It’s the twining of these two — the aging body’s demands and the desire for community, that define for many of us both necessity and yearning.
My personal political bookmark for this was the sensibility fostered by Liberation magazine, an important voice for the perspective of revolutionary nonviolence. Resistance and community were very much a going concern then, sometimes taking the form of rural farmhouse groups, but more often networks of people sharing houses, apartments, and rooms in urban and core city locations. While I don’t have any copies of that long-gone publication (wish I did), I well remember the spirit of “the beloved community” which we wanted, so far as possible, to embody in our daily lives while striving to create its reality in our broader society. That was the basis of our activism, in a nutshell.
Now, today, what I’ve learned from comrades in Seattle, Portland (OR), and as far east as Vermont, is that things are “tighter than tight,” with lots of homeless people faring in difficult circumstances, and the cost of housing skyrocketing beyond reach of those on fixed incomes such as Social Security. For both personal practical reasons and those I’ve sketched here, the old saw of “the personal is the political” comes once again to the fore, where the demands of bodily maintenance meld with what is needed to sustain communities of resistance. It isn’t mere metaphor but the inescapable necessities of daily life, that summon us to create community.
I hope I find my place with other comrades wherever that proves to be, as part of what needs to occur everywhere — the practice we call solidarity magnifying the modest strength of disconnected individuals.
Who will make it happen, if not us?