Sunday, February 27, 2011

Songs of hope: Dreams from you baba...

Growing up as a child, I remember the stories my father taught me...stories of the First International, American Federation of Labor (AFL), and of May Day. These were stories of the American working classes, their struggles, and their organizing to secure eight hour workdays for workers. The stories of 1877, the mass action of the American working classes, the Chicago strikes, and the Haymarket Affair were stories of inspiration. The stories of Joe Hill and worker organizing were stories that were uniquely American in the seeds of hope, solidarity, and global organizing they sowed.

The stories of labor however were hidden from much of the mainstream discourses when I came to the US in the 1990s. The images of malls, shopping, advertising, abundance were images that made these stories of workers seem redudant and irrelevant. In fact, I found it difficult to relate any of the stories I had grown up listening to with the images of the US in the 1990s, surrounded by songs of nationalist progress, Christian conservatism, and corporate achievements. Organizing seemed like a communist conspiracy to most Americans, and May Day had now become a day for relaxation, enjoyment, and celebration. And stories of worker's seemed absent from any public discourse. The chauvinism of American-style modernity and progress seemed to be the only stories that occupied US mainstream discourse. AFL seemed to turn more and more into a fascist organization that served the interests of the power structures. Iraq and Afghanistan became the markers of the new American imperialism, rife again with the stories of crusade and conquest.

I became an US citizen in 2007, and hadn't been really sure since as to the reasons for this move beyond the functionalism of making things convenient as I carried out my international fieldwork, traveled around, and lived in different parts of the world. US citizenship seemed like a convenient way for living my life. I couldn't say that I felt the pride of becoming a US citizen, but then I couldn't say that I felt that pride in carrying an Indian passport either for a very long time. So this choice of citizenship to me seemed like the choice of convenience for a middle class Academic who needed easy access to spaces. It is however amidst this general pessimism I felt that I remember you baba always reminding me that Americans will rise and will transcend the greed and individualism of neoliberalism, that Americans will one day once again show the spirit of the Haymarket Affair.

In the recent past though, I have felt more and more sense of ownership in being a US citizen as I have witnessed these promises of the Haymarket Affair. As I have seen more Americans break through their stupor in speaking out against the systems of oppression they live amidst, I have felt a lot of joy! I have felt a connection in what it means to be an American as more and more stories of the working classes have entered into the discursive spaces, offering us hope once again for a global solidarity.

I have felt joy in exploring the roots of working class organizing in America as these stories once again connect in their calls for solidarity with working classes across the globe. Cairo is no longer a Third World subject of Orientalism, but all of a sudden, a beacon of hope for American workers standing in solidarity. I have been amazed at my colleagues in Schools, Colleges, and Universities in Wisconsin who have stepped out of their comfort zones to speak out as a collective. They offer inspirations for us all. As the organizing narratives of Egypt and Libya have entered into the frames of organizing in WI, I have once again seen the hopes for tomorrow. These hopes for tomorrow push me toward revising the very scripts about America that I have constructed in my postcolonial work; the story of America as labor, as solidarity, as working class collectives is one that begins to once again offer some inspirations. The hopes in a global working class solidarity that raises its head in the protests in Wisconsin are the hopes for tomorrow! Thank you baba for always believing and for teaching me to dream.

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