Aug 9, 2007

What's in a Label?

I've been stuck in my own headspace for a while - haven't craned my neck outside of my cave long enough to take a look and see what else is going on, or has been going on.  I think while I want to get away from just focusing on the humdrum of ordinary life, I also don't want to go too negative on groups in the community (unless they're being stupid). After all, there's plenty of work to do, people are generally well-meaning, and the thing about blogging is, it's easy to write something scathing without doing adequate "real reporting." In other words, really interviewing people, getting more sides to the story than my own casual view (askance?) in their general direction, yadda yadda.

That doesn't mean I don't have opinions, or that they aren't valid, but it's also true that it just takes a few forwards and suddenly one person's opinion (with the added benefit of relative anonymity) becomes an unnecessary fire that a group has to put out. What's the point in all of this? Is it really the role of opinion vigilantes to take up the bandwidth with their marginal viewpoints and take away from people who are actually doing the work? Ultimately: not important enough. I recognize that I'd much rather be doing work than criticizing others. So... with all of that (a little bit of a reflection on where I may be going with my own orientation to community - school has taken me out of the mix long enough to remind me how much I want to be back in it - and that I don't want to cut down, I want to build up, as I think I've been repeating ad naseum lately).

Anyway - I've been thinking about what it means to be "progressive" in the Asian American community. Do I really want to use the word "progressive" to define my politics? What does that mean? Is it beyond "liberal," which in itself is getting pushed to the margins of where American political life (or at least what's on display) wants to be?

Want to mark a Democrat? Call them a liberal and laugh as they try madly to dash off the label like it was a mad hornet. But "liberal" doesn't seem appropriate for me. What's the next step from there? Is it "progressive"? Is there something beyond these terms that isn't quite at "radical" - not because I don't want to be there, but because I think it may be presumptive to put it out there that I consider myself closer to radical than "liberal"? Or is "radical" where I am, and "revolutionary" is where I'm headed? Who knows. But in this land of pre-pre-election chatter, I wonder what the political landscape of left-o-center Asian America looks like, at least on the net.

Let's take a look...

South Asians for (insert candidate here). Still working/worked by the system. Middle of the aisle all the way. Not that it's particularly wrong. It's just not my thing. I mean, let's not all be tools now. But I covered this already.

APAs for Progress. This group seems like it's got some good ideas - I really like the 25th anniversary of Vincent Chin idea. But they're also playing the whole "participation = voting/election power" thing. I don't really agree with that as the angle - focusing on legal constructs of citizenship cuts out more than 60% of our community which is non-citizen. Following that up with "we should naturalize them all!" is also not helpful, given that a lot of people have their own reasons for not naturalizing, and really, should our rights flow from legal status with the nation-state, or status as individuals or members of groups within the nation? Citizenship can be taken from you just as easily as it's given, but your personhood is yours. So, I have issues with this focus. And isn't this just some other side of the 80-20 coin? I mean, you say progressive, I say liberal, the other guy says "whoever will listen to us" - what's the difference?

I'm not going to go into the other groups right now, because I'm shooting for shorter pieces that people can actually read. But this question of what constitutes "radical", "progressive", "liberal", and "revolutionary" was around for me for a while. I'm come to just toss the labels, as many people claim to do, because they aren't that helpful, especially when so many people have different thoughts about what they mean anyway. But I get sick to tears of people buying into electoral politics as the saving grace for our communities and the work that should be prioritized. It seems like such a top-down, privileged way of looking at what's important and what people care about.

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