I’m going to be speaking at BAMN‘s public hearing on campus climate on Wednesday, March 11.  The event will start at 6:00 pm and take place in Auditorium D in Angell Hall.

In general, I like to keep progressive political organizations at arm’s length because I think the change we need can be made through education and outreach, without having to ascribe a political message to our actions, but I’m starting to question that.  While focusing on education means focusing on broad-based systemic change, we need to alleviate conditions now, for our generation, as well as serve future generations.  I’m also experiencing a change of heart toward activism in general, especially activist outlets where I can actually present a thesis that’s more complex than “I want equality now.”

Moreover, I think this is going to be a great opportunity to sound a call to arms to end the limiting, alienating identity politics that plagues so many progressive movements.  In the final chapter of her book Whipping Girl, Julia Serano calls for reform in the queer/trans rights movement.  Her vision of equality doesn’t rest on our specific identities — in other words, how “queer” we are — but rather on the idea that we need to form an alliance to work toward the common goal of eliminating second-class citizenship in this country.  This is an important idea, because, as she writes, alliances require the understanding that there will be disagreements within the movement and that those disagreements are simply to be worked with and dealt with as they arise.  There isn’t the assumption that any identity group is a monolith.

In fact, I think visioning movements as alliances are, in general, more beneficial, because it also prevents individuals from scapegoating their oppressed identities while ignoring their privileged identities.  One of my biggest pet peeves in the world of social justice activism are people who don’t check their privilege, and presenting a view of inequality and resistance that rests exclusively on our formulations of our identities allows people to ignore those parts of them that do give them privilege in society.  It’s people like this who are often the targets of conservative ridicule because they ignore the fact they’ve got privileges because they’re white or upper class or straight.  It’s important that we don’t forget that we’re complex individuals and those identities influence our interactions with others.

I’m actually pretty excited about an alliance with BAMN.  As part of my alliance with BAMN, I’ve been invited to run for Michigan Student Assembly on the Defend Affirmative Action Party ticket.  I’m still debating it, but the application for candidacy is due tomorrow, and it seems like a good move.  They need more LSA candidates and I have some star power.  Even though I doubt I’ll win and even though I’m leaving the U next year, I think it will send the right message.  And why not capitalize on the press I’ve gotten?

I also am ready to throw my previous caution to the wind regarding being a public figure on campus.  Maybe I waited too long, but also maybe I wasn’t ready yet.  I have long had an uncomfortable relationship with activism at U-M and in general.  Recently I’ve been coming to terms with the idea of activism, both in terms of practice and theory of the past, and developing practices and theory for the future.  I’ve been reading work by other gender, sexual and race radicals who are more complex than a slogan on a banner, and whose conceptions of activism resist the stereotypes and attitudes that dominate mainstream thinking about who activists are and what they stand for.  And this has all brought me to realizations about myself and my responsibilities to the causes I care about as someone who refuses to be put into a box as a true progressive, and someone who wants a sea change in identity politics in general.

This is important work and I’d like anybody who’s at U-M to join us on March 11 for the public hearing.  Anyone can walk in and testify, and we hope to be able to pass some resolutions and build some momentum that we will bring to MSA.  I’m kind of reluctant to run for MSA, but I do think that I can and should make a commitment to making a call for action.  I want to encourage you to make a similar commitment, even if you don’t want to speak at the hearing, your presence will be valuable.  See you on the 11th.

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