The "Second Wednesday Friends of the People's Weekly World" discussion in North Texas brought together a lot of different views. Only a few of us were dues-paying communists, with the rest leaning toward socialism. It seems that almost everybody is questioning capitalism these days.
As soon as people arrived, they joined in hearty discussion with everybody within earshot. Earshot started becoming a problem because everybody had so much to say that it seemed almost as if we were all talking at once. I could only hear the people closest to me. One of them seemed to have bought into the common idea that all leadership is necessarily corrupt or soon will be. I could see that he was resisting the obvious conclusion to this line of thinking -- that it's pointless to do anything at all, because it will eventually lead to nothing. The guy arguing with him was saying that democracy, though difficult, will solve problems sooner or later. Also, he maintained that the difficulties experienced by anybody who stands up against capitalism are primarily the fault of the capitalists.
Down at the other end of the table, I thought somebody was explaining what the North Korean government should be doing. That was too much for me, so I jumped in and said that we needed to be looking a little closer to home to figure out what we could do and that, if other organizations and other countries don't do as well as we would like, that we need to think about how we could help. I have thought for a long time that we talk about more general problems in order to avoid talking about things we can actually do.
Still, I had to appreciate how enthusiastic everybody was. A new guy finally spoke up and thanked everybody just for giving him an opportunity to stop feeling so horribly isolated. He was really grateful, he said, to be with people who didn't make him feel crazy for questioning the crappy system we live in. I think that was pretty general. I probably know more progressive people than most North Texans, but being in a socialist discussion group with genuine activists gives me a feeling of relief, too. We don't realize how uptight our daily society makes us.
People were really enjoying their conversations with the people close by, but, after an hour or so, I began to feel that we were missing an opportunity for coherent collective thinking. Being the oldest person there, and the loudest, I stood up and asked if we could just take at least one turn around the group and let each person have a turn. Everybody went along and contributed to the theme, "What should we be working on?"
The Employee Free Choice Act, which would restore workers' right to organize, was the most popular item. Health care was next, brought up appropriately by one of the sisters. she added another really good suggestion: "Be the media." In other words, the capitalist information sources are inadequate and often misleading. A guy made the point that the internet can go a long way toward rectifying all the misinformation coming from corporate sources.
I introduced the topic of organizing the unemployed. Losing our jobs is the main way we experience an economic crisis. Several people liked the idea and mentioned the important role that the unemployed councils of the 1930s contributed to the union organization later on. As we went around the room a second time, I remembered that the reactionary Governor of Texas was still posturing against taking $550 million in federal stimulus money that would go to improving unemployment benefits. The Texas Legislature would have to change the rules so that more people would be eligible, and there's a lot of resistance from the corporate-owned right wing.
I told the group that we ought to consider working on a project to pressure the governor and legislature to give the unemployed a break. Hopefully, it might lead to some meaningful improvements in the situation of Texas' unemployed. The rate is supposed to go over 8% this year! That was kind of an exciting idea.
Finally, the people with the longest drive decided to go home. One of them told me, "I'll never miss one of these discussions again!" I think everybody felt that way. We were energized.
At last I got a chance to talk to the new guy, so I asked him to drive me around a bit. We went over to the tiny little monument that marks the spot where the utopian socialists had their headquarters in the 1850s. I told him that the difference between armchair socialists, utopians, knee-jerk activists, and communists is that communists actually think out our work and try to put our resources into the most effective activity. I told him he should join, and he said he'd think about it.
It was a good evening.
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