Here are full transcripts from examples discussed in the book
Transcript source 1 (Parenti conference)
Michael Parenti. Conference: How I Became an Activist. Berkeley, California, June 6th 2003
When people speak about how they became what they are, they usually refer to a mélange of influences and issues. “There was the teacher who did this, and then there was someone who did that,” and so forth. I'll do the same. But I'd like us to keep something in mind. And that is, we're not just a mixture of these influences that impact on us. We aren't just passive receptors. What's often left out is the individual himself or herself. The receptor, the person speaking, is not at all passive. He or she would be an active synthesizer. You take these influences and things that impact on you, and you're not just an empty vessel that gets filled by them. Instead, you actually work with these influences. You bring additives of your own to them: you bring your own mental labor power, your own emotive concern. You bring your own innate energy and insight to an issue and a cause. And this adds to our collective impact and our collective empowerment.
People sometimes say to me – they don't ask, they say – “You were a Red diaper baby, right?”. I guess assuming that since I hold so fast to these views I must have got them through my mother's milk. And I say, “No, I'm not Red Diaper. My consciousness and my activism were arrived at through a very circuitous process, mostly self-education, mostly undoing my miseducation.” Quite often the most important dialogue we have is with ourselves. So remember that. It's an interior dialogue, at least on a lot of occasions. At least it is for me. We do have evidence of people who have never had an interior dialogue. They're all in power right now.
My home was politically relatively impoverished. It was blue-collar, Italian-American, working-class, low income. We were really poor. Money was a constant problem and a concern, which itself is a political lesson that one kind of learns, in this society, in one's gut really, not that much in your head. There were some good knockdown, drag-out fights about Mussolini and the war – I remember those – between my uncles and various people. And then there was the Depression and the poverty and the great fear of that Depression.
But generally mine was a rather provincial existence. There was a candy store and a handball court and the backyards and the streets. I was a street kid. I hung around in the streets. I learned to fight. There were a lot of fist fights. We used to beat the brains out of each other. We had gangs, but they weren't with switchblades or anything serious usually, although there is a story or two there I could tell, but I don't want to start. It was very much like what Herbert Gans called the urban villagers. Gans did a study of an Italian-American neighborhood in North End Boston. And it's a very interesting theory, which is that in the midst of large, cosmopolitan cities you have these ethnic enclaves that are recreated sort of from the Old World, and where people live in a very kind of clustered way. Everyone knows each other, and if a strange face appeared, one might ask, “Who's that guy? We live on 118th Street. He's from 119th Street. What is he doing there?”. You could walk pretty much freely down the streets, unless you were a kid, because there was the other gang who remembered how you beat up their guy. They might want to beat you up.
To show you how provincial I was, one year we moved to the Bronx for just that one year. It was a temporary thing. Then we went back to East Harlem in New York. And most of the kids in the class were Jewish. And here I was – what was it? – 7, 8 years-old. And I was struck by the strangeness and the foreignness of their names – Rosenberg, Rosenblatt, Feingold. I said, “What funny, strange names. Why didn't they have ordinary, regular American names like Puzzafiore, Baciagalupe, Mazziato?”. Strange names. But the Bronx kids were nice kids. They were nice kids even though they had funny names.
So when people ask me, “How did you get from a East Harlem slum all the way up to Yale,” I always say, “I didn't get all the way up to Yale. I don't think it was an ascent. I got across to Yale,” as I put it. But I can sum it in one word, and that's dogs. That is, my grandfather had a brown dog and he named him Brownie. My uncle Nick got a white dog, big, fluffy, white dog, and he named him Whitey. And we got a dog that had spots on it, and everybody called him Spotty. And that was the level of imagination in my family. And that's when I knew I had to get the hell out and go to school. The other explanation is, I didn't do it all on my own. How did you do this all on your own? I didn't.
The other explanation is that it wasn't self-made. This society is full of mythologies about the magnificent self-made man. But in truth, nobody is self-made. I could never have gotten close to getting any kind of education if there hadn't been for generations, untold numbers of people, like a lot of the people in this room, whose names I don't even know, who fought for the principle of public education. I was just three generations back from -- not only a grade school education but a public education at the college level. That was the only way I went to college. In fact, I couldn't even go to college at first, I'll get to that in a minute, and then even pressuring for the stipends and the fellowships at Yale. I couldn't have gone to Yale if I hadn't gotten support from them.
So there are two things we've got to keep in mind here. First, in anybody's socialization process there is a self-generated component to all accomplishment. There is a certain thing that the person is doing, synthesizing everything, as I said before, and putting some creative input into it. And there are other times when we so focus on the individual accomplishment that we overlook this collective effort and the social context that it takes place in. All individual human endeavor is also a collective social endeavor.
Take, for instance, skiing, which is a very individualized sport. They always focus on the skier. That great skier would never be skiing if it weren't for generations of people who designed skis and then redesigned them, people who cleared that trail for him, people who designed clothing that was warm enough but light enough to wear, people who built and invented the chair lifts and all that. So every human endeavor also is a collective and social endeavor. The reactionaries who control the government today want us to forget this, of course. Nothing we do is purely an amalgam of environmental influences, and, conversely, nothing we do is purely our own achievement. Give some of the credit to all those other people.
When I was in high school, I began to get vaguely interested in politics, and I thought of myself as a Republican. (I thought you would give that a real laugh, but I guess not.) I leaned toward the Republicans because the only thing I read was the New York Daily News, which was a Republican right-wing rag, and the New York Journal American, which was another Republican rag. I was very afraid that Communism was going to be taking over the whole world.
Politics in our house, I guess, was electoral, as it is in most houses. People start giving it attention when an election is coming around. And the first presidential election I can remember in some detail and clarity, the one I followed and read about, was the 1948 election between Harry Truman and Tom Dewey and Henry Wallace. Henry Wallace was running as a third-party candidate on the Progressive Party ticket. My cousin Micky Luciano was the only one in my family who voted for Henry Wallace, as far as I know. I remember one day my father saying – it was just I and my mother sitting there – “Truman is finished. Truman, he's gotten kicked up one side, down the other. He's falling apart. He'll never get reelected. He's a loser. We might as well vote for Dewey who's been governor of the state. If we've got to make a change, Dewey isn't so bad.” And my mother started nodding in agreement.
And then on election day, she came back from the polls, and she took me aside, and she said, “Michael, don't tell your daddy, but I voted for Truman.” And I know what it was. Everybody predicted that Truman was going to lose, and hers was a compassion vote. My mother was very compassionate. She was afraid that maybe nobody in America would vote for Truman, so she wanted to make sure that Truman got a vote, or at least some votes. So a little while later I saw my father, and I said, “Dad, who did you vote for?” And he said “Aaeegh.” And I said, “I didn't know he was on the ballot. Who did you vote for?” “The goddam Republicans, you know, if they get in, we'll have another depression. I voted for Truman. But don't tell your mother.” You give a teenager this kind of weaponry? The very first chance I could, at dinner when they're both sitting there, I told the both of them what they had done. And they wore sort of embarrassed grins.
So that was my first memory of an election. The point I wanted to make there was, when Truman got reelected, I found myself, despite all my Republican leanings, feeling very happy about that, that it wasn't Dewey. So that my inchoate class experience was stronger in me than the crap that I was filling my head with from the major media. Luckily, it's not that way anymore, because the media are now free and independent and objective [laughter].
I didn't go to college after high school. I graduated high school a couple years after that election. And my mother was dying. We had terrible medical expenses. We had never heard of health insurance, and a lot of people today still haven't heard of health insurance. So I went to work. I don't want to go into all that. There were interesting things about work and where and all that, but we don't have time. Let me just say that when I got into college (City College of New York), my first year, I remember reading something that had a big impact on me. It's very strange that I remembered it as I was jotting down these notes. I was sitting in the subway. I think it was a literature or speech class, and there were these little readings. And the reading was an article on beauticians and saleswomen. They were all talking about the affronts that they suffered at the hands of their upper-income clientele. The working girls talked about how their clientele "think they're better than we are" and how they will talk and say things to each other "as if we're not even there, and the way they treated us with disregard. These working girls were talking about the hidden injuries of class. I remember reading this one little piece and feeling a surge go through me and like a weight was being lifted off my chest, because it spoke right to the class resentment that I felt, a deeply, deeply felt but inchoate feeling – the hidden injuries of class that are seldom expressed, but there are all sorts of subtle slights.
I remember one time being someplace out of East Harlem. It was somewhere in a suburban area. We were visiting somebody, and there were all these kids. And I said to someone, “Hey, trow da ball.” And the other kids said, “Trow da ball; hey, trow da ball.” And they started imitating “Trow da ball” to me. And I didn't start swinging, but I remembered that. My diction was even rougher than it is now, and here these other kids were making fun of me. They were middle-class kids, by the way. And to actually read about an experience that others had had in a college course, where the readings are usually dismal, I can't tell you. That was a very interesting feeling.
In college I met students who were in their own ways just as provincial as I, but some of them had exposure to music and literature and politics. And I really began to enjoy that. I would go down to the gym on 23rd Street and box, because, as I say, East Harlem, if you're going to walk the streets with your head up, you had to know how to fight. And here I was at City College, and I would go down to box. And I never tried for the team. Just sparring, you know. And after that I would meet my girlfriend and we would go to the Irving Burton modern dance studio, and I would do modern dance with her and other people. And I said, “Boy, these are two very different worlds. I'm not sure I fit in either of them. I don't quite know what's going on.” But it was kind of interesting to see all these kind of new and different things and to hear some of these kids talk about things, including their political experiences.
By then I actively supported Adlai Stevenson for president in 1952. I was a liberal. I worked for the Liberal Party in New York. But I was still an anti-Communist. The religion of that was still there. One of the real crucibles in my life was the civil rights movement. It was really one of the great political struggles that moved me, as it did so many other people. I would take nonviolent workshops with CORE, Congress of Racial Equality. And those were interesting experiences for me, to actually sit there at a table and someone whacks you across the face or smacks you or hits you with a rolled-up newspaper. A whole different way of reacting. In East Harlem you would have gotten up swinging but in the nonviolent workshop you had to just sit and contain yourself. Inside, you might be saying, “I can't wait until it's my turn.” Because there was a change of places and roles, and I would check out that whoever hit me the hardest got it back. So you can take the kid out of Harlem, but you can't, whatever, etc.
I knew very few African Americans. I had one African American buddy in high school. We lost track of each other, though. It wasn't that I had some personal connection with the black community. It was a question of justice. It was the injustice of this racism and this separatism, the injustice of it. I just knew then and I know now that the thing I love most, more than beauty or love or happiness itself, is justice, to see justice in the world. That was the feeling I had.
In college, I guess the couple closest friends of mine were Jewish guys who had pretty interesting political backgrounds, and one or two of them actually remained friends for many years later. On rare occasions I'm mistaken for Jewish. I think that's because I read books and I write books and I'm politically progressive and I have a New York accent and I have a Mediterranean face.
Audience: And you’re short.
And I'm short. Yes, thanks a lot. You’re Jewish, aren’t you? Ball breaker. One time I was at the Berkshire Forum giving a talk, and there was a roomful of old lefties, mostly Jewish. And one of the guys came up to me afterwards and he said, “You're such a smart young fellow. You're Jewish, aren't you?" His face was so beaming with ethnic pride, I almost lied about it. I didn't want to hurt this old guy. But then the truth, since I speak only the truth, I said, “Parenti. You know, it's an Italian name.” He said, “Italian?” And his face got befuddled, confused. And then the lights came on again, and he was beaming. He says, “Oh, of course. You're a Sephardic Jew.” That's what Festinger called cognitive dissonance. I think it was Festinger. It's 40 years ago since I read his work. But cognitive dissonance is when there is a disparity between what you expect reality to be and what seems to be the evidence that's coming in to you. So what you do is you create cognitions that will diminish that dissonance or disparity, that explain it away. And that was a perfect example of it, I thought, very creative. Again, you see people are creative in their perceptions. Sometimes too creative.
I became and I remained a liberal academic right up until the Vietnam era. I had already become an activist over the civil rights issue. I had gone out on the picket line against Woolworth's in support of the boycott against Woolworth's, because they weren't hiring African American workers, Our task was to try to persuade people not to cross the picket line and support the boycott. I did the same kind of support work for the UFW (farm workers) boycott of supermarkets. And of course I started going on peace demonstrations against the Vietnam war.
Academia was a very stuffy place. I was so naïve. I went into it with an idealized notion, a romanticized notion that academe's inhabitants were all principled and bright and dedicated to learning and concerned with problems of peace and justice and concerned with the university's role in the society. I mean, how naive can you get? That there was a community of scholars, a universe of discourse that we would do something about. By the way, to this day, thank goodness, there are still some very good – there were then and there still are, very good, intelligent, dedicated people in academia, who carry on a very valiant and valuable struggle. I'm not painting one brush stroke on everybody.
But I found that generally I began to get a little disillusioned with intellectuals. I gradually discovered that they were often ill-informed, which is okay, because I'm ill-informed on any number of things. Nobody knows everything about everything. But they would pretend to speak beyond their knowledge. And I would catch this sometimes. I remember doing an intensive reading of Freud. And I would bring things up or something would come up, and I would get these facile comments about Freud from people who were intellectuals, who didn't know what they were talking about, I realized, but who had to have an opinion. Wilhelm Reich I remember reading Reich's work and people saying, “People die in orgone boxes.” Nobody ever died. But this was all said with kind of a superior, knowing, dismissive air. But the need to feel that you had an in-the-know opinion about something when in fact you didn't know what the hell you were talking about. It's no sin to not know what the hell you're talking about if you don't talk about it, okay? So remember that.
I'll tell you, one of the worst things in academia was the academic administrators. These were often the people who really had no regard for learning of any kind. Their primary dedication was to their careers, not to the students, not to the higher values, certainly not to any kind of democracy. The university was a hierarchical, topdown rule. There was a lot of talk about the academic community, there was a lot of talk about democratic values, but life there was really not all that much different from a corporation in some respects. It was very topdown.
I've got a story about corporations. There is the Harvard M.B.A. intern who joins a big multinational corporation, and he goes in to see the CEO, and he says, “Sir, that was a wonderful talk you gave us about we're all one, big, happy community here and it's important that we communicate all the time. That was really good. But there was something you said. You talked about criticism from above and criticism from below. What exactly is the difference between criticism from above and criticism from below?” So the CEO says, “Kid, I'm not going to tell you. I'm going to demonstrate it. Get on that elevator, go all the way downstairs, and stand outside our office building.” So the M.B.A. does that. The CEO goes into his office, opens his window, looks out, says, “Is that you there?” “Yes, sir, yes, sir, here I am.” So he starts spitting at him. Ptooey, ptooey, ptooey. He says, “Sir, what are you doing? Please, sir, sir, sir.” Ptooey. He says, “That's criticism from above. Now, criticism from below? You spit at me.”
Along with the civil rights movement and the anti- McCarthyism – I was right there at the height of McCarthyism, and we did fight all that stuff – later on was the Vietnam War. And that became the other impact on me. One of the first acts I did in the Vietnam War, after being out on some of the earliest demonstrations, I wrote a letter to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had been sort of a hero to me because he had led a lot of the civil rights stuff in the Senate and all that. Humphrey issued a statement saying the people who were out on this demonstration were the tools of Hanoi, the puppets of Hanoi. And I was shocked. So I wrote him this rather long letter saying, “As one who looks forward to the day when you occupy a still higher office, Mr. Vice President, I can't understand why you would say that." We sincerely wanted, the people wanted peace.” And he wrote me back an even longer letter - he was never short of words, Hubert Humphrey – and he was saying, “The people on those demonstrations were no more Communist than you or I, but they were the dupes of Hanoi. We have to be alert.” And it suddenly struck me as a shock. Well, he's not confused, he's not all mixed up. He really believes this stuff, he's really pursuing this thing.
And that was a kind of an interesting insight. That is, I began to question the war. And then I began to question the leaders who produced this war. And then I began to question the system that produced these leaders. And that's when you cross the line and you say, “What is this about?” I demonstrated, I picketed, I blocked a draft board. I remember demonstrating at a draft board center in New Haven, Connecticut, and the police grabbed me and pulled me through this hallway, one cop holding me here, one cop there. The one menacing me the most was saying, “I'm going to kill you, you dirty Communist bastard. I'm going to kill you.” And the third cop was coming and hitting me in the stomach with his club. And I suddenly appreciated all that training at the Boys' Club and at the City College downtown gym. They used to have a medicine ball for boxing, and they would slam it into your stomach. Toughen up, toughen up. So I would do that every time he hit me, so it wasn't too bad. But they threw us in the paddywagon. And I said, “Wow, it's good to really firsthand experience democracy in action.”
I, with just three other people, organized the largest peace demonstration in New Haven up to that point. We had William Sloane Coffin speak, to whom I dedicated my first book, by the way. We got Arthur Miller to speak. Somebody said, “We should get Arthur Miller. We’ve got to get Arthur Miller.” I called Arthur Miller, the great playwright, Death of a Salesman and all that, much admired. And he said, “I don't know. I'm a playwright.” I said, “No, you will do wonderful.” I suddenly was a Jewish mama here. I was saying, “You will do fine. Don't worry. The people want you.” He said, “I don't know. It’s outdoors.” I said, “Don't worry. It won't rain, you will be okay.” He came and he spoke. He loved it. He had a great time and people appreciated him being there.
I went on later to Champaign-Urbana, and during the Kent State days we had huge demonstrations. People always think because of all those documentaries on Berkeley or Madison or Columbia that those were the only places where there were protests. There were schools all over the country where things were happening. And you couldn't predict it. It was a really remarkable, exciting time. All sorts of people. In Urbana, the fraternity guys were having special teach-ins against the war. Some of them were jocks. I remember Sandy Levinson saying to me, I went out and spoke at Ohio State, “Well, you know, these things can happen in places like” -- he made a very brilliant analysis of why these things happen in places like Michigan, Madison, Berkeley. He said, “It can't happen at Ohio State.” And I gave my talk. Four days later Ohio State blew open, and people were out on the streets fighting the cops. So it's a very interesting thing. You can't really predict. There is something about people where they synthesize and electrify and mobilize each other and begin to do all sorts of things that weren't expected.
It was in Champaign-Urbana where my academic career pretty much ended, because I got beaten up by the police. We were blocking a driveway. I was badly beaten. I was hit, bloodied, my whole head covered in blood. The state troopers had clubs that were enormous in size, longer and thicker than baseball bats. They were up on the side, and one of them came right down to hit me right here on the top of the head, which would have killed me, but someone else, another trooper, hit me on the other side here. That tilted my head, so the first man's blow hit the corner of my head. And later in jail I heard him say, “If I had gotten a good, first, clean lick on that guy, he would be a dead man now.” And then I heard a couple of other people standing there in civvie clothing saying, “That's Parenti. Now the Chancellor will want us to throw the book at him. Let's hit him with everything.” Plus, when you’re that badly beaten, they have to justify the beating by trumped-up charges - mob action, felonious assault, blah, blah, blah. And the Chancellor who wanted the book thrown at me was Jack Peltason. When I moved out here to Berkeley, the Chancellor at Cal here was Jack Peltason. I said, “Am I having a recurrent nightmare? What is this about?”
So I was found guilty. I didn't get a jury trial. My lawyer, who thought he was so smart, said, “No, we'll go for a judge.” I said, “Are you really sure? You know, 12 as opposed to 1.” I didn't know that much. I was just being radicalized, you see. He said, “Well, Morgan” - that was the judge's name; the judge's name was Birch Morgan – “Morgan is a fascist, but he's fair.” I said, “How the hell does that work?” But, you see, then again, he's your lawyer. You learn to defer. You think these guys really know what they're talking about. No lawyer jokes; I won’t start. And Morgan was fair. He was fair on all procedural things. And then he just wrote an opinion that was the prosecution's case completely. They brought in state troopers who said that I had punched out this state trooper, who was 6 foot 2. Three conflicting stories about how they hit me – and Morgam believed all three. So I was sentenced to two years in prison. What saved me was I got probation. I was already out of the state and teaching at the University of Vermont. There was a big flap there. I'm not going to go into all the war stories, but there was a constant struggle and a constant fight.
And what the system does is, they attack ad hominemly. They attack the protesters. So they make the protester the issue rather than the things we're protesting. Which is often why I don't like to talk about myself.
So to make it a long story of struggle, those were very hard, lean years. It wasn't that easy, as radicalized and liberal as you had become, to see colleagues, fellow graduate students you knew at Yale now getting their sabbaticals at Oxford and their chairs at Cornell and here and there and their big houses. There I was, living in a little co-op with five other people so that I could pay child support. It wasn't easy. They were very hard years, which I didn't put in the essay, because I don't want to give our enemies the satisfaction, the bastards.
To make that whole long story short, I've been kicked out of some of the best universities in America. And all those years I also went on doing support work and boycotting, and more and more speaking and writing. That takes a lot of time and energy. To travel really knocks it out of you.
I remember that I was considered a wild man by some of my academic colleagues. “That Parenti, he’s a wild man.”. “Stop that anarchist agitation.” But it wasn't that I was so wild; it was that they were so tame, I think. I was considered a radical. I didn't feel I was so radical. I was coming to these things with all the innocence of a child, almost. I said, “Wait a minute. I think the Vietnam just isn't...” People would say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” I realized only in retrospect that I was becoming a Marxist without having read Marx. I would say things like, “You know, I think a lot of liberals are evading the whole issue of class power. There is class power, and that class power plays a role in foreign policy. This is really an imperialistic kind of thing we're looking at.” And people would say, “That's Marx. Whoa, whoa, that's Marx.” Or I would say, “I don't think the police are neutral. We always hear they're neutral, they support the law here and there. I don't think they're neutral at all. You look at strikes. The police are always defending the factory against the factory worker. Why don't they favor the factory worker against the factory owners?” “Whoa, that's Marx. That's Marx, isn't it?” And I say, “I don't think racism is just an attitude that people learn. It's that, too, but I think it's a social force that's used and instigated and mobilized to divide people, to divide workers.” And, “Oh, that's Marx, isn't it? That's Marx.” I started saying, “This guy Marx must really be something. Here I am knocking myself out to get an analysis, and they're giving him the credit all the time. And he's been dead for how long?” Well, as I say, I was considered a radical. I still am. But I don't think I'm so radical. It's that they're so conservative, all those other people.
I still run into this with people on the left. I can take that stuff from the center and the right. It's when people who say they're on the left come up. At the American Political Science Convention, which I've got to go to in August because I'm getting an award – see, there are some good people in academia. But the other 95% - when you're walking around the hall, and somebody says, “Parenti, Parenti, still causing trouble?” “Parenti, staying out of trouble? You still causing trouble?” From now on, when I hear that, I'm going to say, “And you, you still kissing the ass of the ruling class?” “Hey, Parenti, you old codger, you still rabble-rousing?” What is that, rabble-rousing? That's a ruling-class term.
They paid five bucks to hear me talk about my problems. That's a great switch. Two times I'm going to tell you about. The first time I was at, I'm not going to tell you the people's names, the University of Colorado, Boulder. I had just given a talk. A lot of us went down to the cafeteria, and behind there were the big tables with the glass thing. And there was a guy working with the food. And I was standing there with this colleague from that university, a progressive named Ed Greenberg. He even at certain times of the year called himself a Marxist, depending on the situation. When he was trying for the deanship, he dropped that, but when he wasn't trying for the deanship or he was talking to people like me, he might say he was a Marxist or at least a progressive of some sort. Greenberg turns to the guy who was handing out the food, who was a Latino, and he said, “Watch out for this guy. He's dangerous. Watch out for him. He'll take over everywhere. He'll lead the rabble,” or whatever, making those kind of comments. I said, “What the hell is the matter with you? What are you doing?” Greenberg just started saying these crazy things. You know what the Latino guy behind the counter did? He waved away my money and let me have the food plate for free. He said, “Go ahead, take it.” And I thought that was great. He saw me as a friend thanks to the way Greenberg was carrying on about me.
About a year later I was speaking in Los Angeles. I just spoke for FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. I did a fund-raiser for them. They must have made a mint on me. After the event we all went to - is there a Bolshevik Cafe in L.A.? What’s it called? The Russian Cafe?
Gorky's. That's it. And he's ahead of me. This is one of the people in FAIR. A totally different person now. He’s wellknown, writes criticisms about the media. And he turns to the young lady who was adding up our stuff and taking our money at the end of the line, and he says, “Watch out for this guy. He's dangerous. He's a troublemaker. He stirs up all the people. Watch out for him.” You know what she did? She waived part of my bill. She said, “Forget the drinks, forget the dessert. That's okay.” I said to myself, “Gee, I should be taking these assholes with me more often.” And I made a mistake. I wanted to go back and ask her, “Why did you do that?” Maybe it might have been just that she felt so embarrassed or annoyed about the way this FAIR acquaintance was being so stupid toward me or something, and the free drink was just a courtesy from her to me. Or maybe there was that inchoate class consciousness. I don't know.
What we do know is that there are left, progressive, supposedly literate intellectuals who do not see how much the dominant paradigm has seeped into their political consciousness, like so much dry rot. And by the way, it's a constant struggle for all of us. All of us. We live in a political culture that is quite insidious, quite resourceful. It has propaganda, but it's not called propaganda. It has images that are paraded constantly. It has duplicity. And so we have to consciously arm ourselves against it. So I was called a wild man, I was called an extremist. Let me ask you the question, and you can all answer together. Is it extremist to want peace and social justice?
Audience: Yes. No.
You see, you have to guard against it. Some of you have to learn the English language again. I can say it again. Is it extremist to want peace and social justice? I see why the funny guys said yes. Because it has become, hasn't it? It's been treated as an extremist position to want peace and social justice. Is it extremist and radical and crazy and all that to want a clean, ecological, sound environment? No. No, it isn't. The extremists are already in power. These guys are not conservatives, they are reactionaries. They are reactionaries. A conservative was someone who resisted change and wanted to keep his privileges and interests intact. A reactionary is someone who wanted to unturn all these things and go back to a yet more retrograde position. These guys are reactionaries. They want to bring us back to 1900. They want to destroy all the gains we've made in the social net and human services, the conditions of labor. They want to destroy that. They want everything for themselves. They are ruthless reactionaries who play for real and for keeps.
Also in my later life, after I became radicalized, anti-Communism again took hold of me, but in a quite different way. First, I had become less hostile. I just didn't think the Communist countries were the most evil, repressive things in the world. I saw that people had enough to eat in them, they had jobs, education, health care. Vietnam was a Communist country, and what was it doing? It was fighting against an imperialist power. And there was a kind of democracy in the way people were mobilized, in the way opinions were discussed and policy was developed through the cadres and the party. There was something to that. And the Communist countries, I began to realize even more, were not the ones that were aiding and arming the death squads in Central America. They were not the ones supporting the rich landlords, the big corporations that raped the land, the corrupt generals. That was the CIA. That was the capitalist "democracy" that was doing all that.
I really like what Dick Gregory said once in 1980- something. Dick Gregory got up and he said, “Why don't they blame something bad on the Communists? We get the civil rights movement going and hear people saying, ‘Those are Communists behind that.’ We've got this peace movement and nuclear freeze, and you hear people saying, ‘There are Communists behind that.’ We're organizing industrial unions. They say, ‘The Communists are behind doing that.’ Fighting segregation, all these other things, ‘The Communists are doing that.’” So Dick Gregory said, “Why don't they blame something bad on the Communists?”
I'm going to wind it down here. In 1992, the Committees of Correspondence held a convention here in Berkeley, their founding convention. The purpose of the convention was to decide when to hold another convention. It really was. I couldn't believe it. I said, “No, I'm not joining this organization.” But it was very interesting, because they were putting together a platform of what the organization would stand for. And somebody got up to the microphone and said, “You don't have anything in there about the rights of gays.” “That's right. We should have something about the rights of gays.” And then a woman got up and she said, “Excuse me. It should be the rights of gays and lesbians.” They said, “Right, that's right.” Then a third person – I think he was a guy – got up. And transgender and transsexual were not terms yet in vogue. But what was it then that he said? Oh, bisexual. He said, “No, it should be gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.” At this point there was an old trade union lefty sitting behind me. He said it just loud enough for the people around him to hear. He said, “Yeah. How about putting something in there for the people who are too tired to have sex when they get home from work?”
Ladies and gentlemen, that's who I speak for, the people who are too tired to have sex when they get home from work. Luckily, I don't have a taxing commute. I work at home, so I have a little bit of energy to fight for these people. But I'm saying it allegorically. It's all of us who are too tired for the way our society and the good things that we want and our environment have been pulverized. The struggle is between those who are dedicated to maximizing economic inequality, those who are dedicated to making the world safe for inequality, as opposed to those who are dedicated to minimizing inequalities, when they can be. The struggle is between those who want to use the world's land, labor, technology, natural resources, and markets for a capital accumulation process that increasingly enriches the few as opposed to those who want to use these things for collective betterment for the well-being of the many.
Does it make any difference what we do? It makes all the difference in the world. If we did nothing, the reactionaries would have already had us back to 1900 in their program to third-world-ize the United States. Unless we resist and keep resisting and build our numbers, they will grind us into the dust. Does it really matter what we think or say? They ignore it anyway? They don't care what we think? Oh, they care all the time. Oh, boy, do they pay attention. Oh, boy, are they watching. They're crafting every statement they make. They're crafting and manipulating and watching all the time. They're surveiling and doing all that. They know that they stand on our shoulders, and if we ever give a collective shrug, they will be off. Ultimately, if we can change the minds of masses of people, there will be no armies for the ruling elite, there will be no taxes, there will be no instruments of repression. So we've got to keep fighting.
Antonio Gramsci said, “We must always have a pessimism of the mind” - realize how tough and how bad things can be – “but an optimism of the will.” So let's have an optimism of the will because victories can be won. Thank you so much for your kind attention.
Transcript source 1 (Parenti list of repertoires)
Discourse analysis through interpretative repertoire
Complete list of repertoires generated from Parenti’s speech analysis
After many trials and errors, and still hesitant, we ended up with the following definition for the six interpretative repertoires we identified from the analysis of the ‘experiential’ excerpts. For each, a short description is proposed; a series of excerpts belonging to the repertoire is listed, and a short analytical memo on the repertoire is presented.
Emphasizing fight or struggle: the repertoire is mobilizing the semantic network of war, fights and struggles not only to describe the instances of physical combat but also of political activities: e.g. ‘They were very hard years, which I didn't put in the essay, because I don't want to give our enemies the satisfaction, the bastards.’; ‘I'm not going to go into all the war stories, but there was a constant struggle and a constant fight.’
The language is often rich, using slang, showing an insider knowledge of the boxing world: e.g. ‘There were some good knockdown, drag-out fights’; ‘…and someone whacks you across the face or smacks you or hits you…’; ‘And I didn't start swinging’. A more abstract feature of the fight repertoire is also noticeable in the speech that is the dichotomy us/we versus them/they. That polarizes the narrative and builds social participation into an antagonizing activity. The actions taken are against them, the often unnamed ‘reactionaries’ in power, the ‘system’.
That the instances of physical combat are described in this way is not surprising. There is a seeming connection between the roughness of the childhood neighborhood and class experience (a place where you had to be capable of defending yourself physically) and the adult political involvement. That creates a biographical line of continuity, coherence: he is a fighter in all the senses of the word. Telling his story using the war repertoire and telling his ‘war stories’ gives his involvement seriousness, gravitas. The participant is on the front line of important and life-threatening events. He put himself at risk for his beliefs. He is a true and persistent fighter.
Invoking nature: Through the speech, references are made to one’s intuition, gut, embodied experience, the physicality of emotions: e.g. ‘So that my inchoate class experience was stronger in me than the crap that I was filling my head with from the major media.’; ‘I remember reading this one little piece and feeling a surge go through me and like a weight was being lifted off my chest, because it spoke right to the class resentment that I felt, a deeply, deeply felt but inchoate feeling – the hidden injuries of class that are seldom expressed, but there are all sorts of subtle slights.’; ‘The point I wanted to make there was, when Truman got reelected, I found myself, despite all my Republican leanings, feeling very happy about that, that it wasn't Dewey’; ‘So you can take the kid out of Harlem, but you can't, whatever, etc.’
The excerpts that invoked nature are all used as part of Parenti’s self-description. They use sensual ways of depicting the personal experience with terms such as ‘surge’, ‘a weight was being lifted off my chest’, ‘I hold so fast to these views I must have got them through my mother's milk’, ‘a political lesson that one kind of learns, in this society, in one's gut really, not that much in your head’, etc.
The interspersed references to nature or one’s essence instill a feeling of genuineness, truthfulness and, we would venture, confidence, toward Parenti.
Building connections to ethnic groups (racializing): Many instances of the speech accomplish explicitly or implicitly the work of labeling one’s ethnic background or of appropriating the characteristics associated to an ethnic group: e.g.: ‘My home was politically relatively impoverished. It was blue-collar, Italian-American, working-class, low income.’; ‘In college, I guess the couple closest friends of mine were Jewish guys who had pretty interesting political backgrounds...’; ‘On rare occasions I'm mistaken for Jewish. One time I was at the Berkshire Forum giving a talk, and there was a roomful of old lefties, mostly Jewish. And one of the guys came up to me afterward and he said, "You're such a smart young fellow. You're Jewish, aren't you?"’; ‘I suddenly was a Jewish mama here’; ‘Greenberg turns to the guy who was handing out the food, who was a Latino, and he said, "Watch out for this guy. He's dangerous. Watch out for him. He'll take over everywhere. He'll lead the rabble," or whatever, making those kind of comments. I said, "What the hell is the matter with you? What are you doing?" Greenberg just started saying these crazy things. You know what the Latino guy behind the counter did? He waved away my money and let me have the food plate for free.’
The occurrence of this discursive action is hardly surprising for a member of a minority in a multicultural society telling his life story. Being aware of one’s difference is central to building one’s identity. It is especially so, we presume, for somebody who fights injustices experienced by economic or ethnic minorities such as the working class or the African-American. However, building those connections to the Italian-Americans and to the Latinos might also evoke the image of hard-working immigrants. The fact that the server is referred to as the Latino guy rather than the server is noteworthy for this anecdote talks about immigrant working class solidarity or at least the sensitivity of marginalized ethnic groups for unfairness or abuse. On the other hand, the reference to Jewish people and the fact of being mistaken for one helps to create the association between our interlocutor and some characteristics such as being politically aware and intelligent that he associates with the Jewish people… along with being a ‘ball-breaker’ as he reproaches affectionately to a member of his audience whom he suspects of being Jewish.
Constructing himself as underprivileged: Especially at the beginning of the speech, our participant underlines the financial poverty that marks his background. For example: ‘We were really poor. Money was a constant problem and a concern…’; ‘I didn't go to college after high school. I graduated high school a couple years after that election. And my mother was dying. We had terrible medical expenses. We had never heard of health insurance, and a lot of people today still haven't heard of health insurance. So I went to work.’; ‘There I was, living in a little co-op with five other people so that I could pay child support. It wasn't easy. They were very hard years…’
The economic hardship is also associated with cultural poverty, at least in the childhood section of the narrative: ‘My home was politically relatively impoverished.’; ‘But generally mine was a rather provincial existence. There was a candy store and a handball court and the backyards and the streets. I was a street kid. I hung around in the streets.’; ‘To show you how provincial I was, one year we moved to the Bronx for just that one year. It was a temporary thing… And most of the kids in the class were Jewish. And here I was – what was it? – 7, 8 years-old. And I was struck by the strangeness and the foreignness of their names – Rosenberg, Rosenblatt, Feingold. I said, "What funny, strange names. Why didn't they have ordinary, regular American names like Puzzafiore, Baciagalupe, Mazziato?"’; ‘But I can sum it in one word, and that's dogs. That is, my grandfather had a brown dog and he named him Brownie. My uncle Nick got a white dog, big, fluffy, white dog, and he named him Whitey. And we got a dog that had spots on it, and everybody called him Spotty. And that was the level of imagination in my family.’
The segments about economic poverty are imbued with seriousness whereas most of the segments relating to cultural scarcity are told with some lightness, with a smile, almost making fun at himself. That might be because the first one left permanent scars that are proof of his legitimacy as an activist fighting injustices. Whereas the second, cultural scarcity, was overcome by socialization and formal education to the point where he became a professor in ‘some of the best universities in America’.
Putting forth the financial hardship and cultural deprivation that marked his life, especially his early life, is contributing to branding him with the seal of authenticity. He suffered from the economic inequalities he is now fighting and was affected by its very material and cultural consequences. In the same breath, emphasizing his humble origins has the effect of making his trajectory and achievements even more remarkable.
Showing resourcefulness: The narrative that Parenti builds about the way he became an activist is a story of effectiveness. It is a narrative of, at least partial, victories of agency. He is a doer. He sees things done and he has an impact. For example: ‘I had already become an activist over the civil rights issue. I had gone out on the picket line against Woolworth's in support of the boycott against Woolworth's, because they weren't hiring African American workers, our task was to try to persuade people not to cross the picket line and support the boycott. I did the same kind of support work for the UFW (farm workers) boycott of supermarkets. And of course I started going on peace demonstrations against the Vietnam war.’; ‘I, with just three other people, organized the largest peace demonstration in New Haven up to that point. We had William Sloane Coffin speak, to whom I dedicated my first book, by the way. We got Arthur Miller to speak. Somebody said, "We should get Arthur Miller. We've got to get Arthur Miller." I called Arthur Miller, the great playwright, Death of a Salesman and all that, much admired. And he said, "I don't know. I'm a playwright." I said, "No, you will do wonderful." I suddenly was a Jewish mama here. I was saying, "You will do fine. Don't worry. The people want you." He said, "I don't know. It's outdoors." I said, "Don't worry. It won't rain, you will be okay." He came and he spoke. He loved it.’; ‘I remember Sandy Levinson saying to me, I went out and spoke at Ohio State, "Well, you know, these things can happen in places like" – he made a very brilliant analysis of why these things happen in places like Michigan, Madison, Berkeley. He said, "It can't happen at Ohio State." And I gave my talk. Four days later Ohio State blew open, and people were out on the streets fighting the cops.’
This repertoire is characterized by the use of the first person pronouns (I, we), active verbs and an enthusiastic tone. Showing resourcefulness uses the proactive mode and most often than not relates to positive outcomes. It is not much to go on, but it seems that this discursive action is given relief by the narrative of the adverse events that are told using a passive mode. For example: ‘It was in Champaign-Urbana where my academic career pretty much ended, because I got beaten up by the police’. This important life event was suffered by him, he was the object rather than the subject of the action; the event is told in a way that downplays Parenti’s part in his loss of employment. Losing his job was something that happened to him, not something that he did.
Moreover, ‘Showing resourcefulness’ is all the more noteworthy that the participant emphasizes, elsewhere in the narrative, his humble roots, something we capture in the previous repertoire ‘Constructing himself as underprivileged’. Those two are linked to accomplish the same function of building agency.
Discrediting powers: In a very explicit manner, in many instances, either collective actors or individual ones are depicted as untrustworthy. This is the case of the ‘Right-wing rags’ he read as a youth; Vice-President Hubert Humphrey who held irrational beliefs about the Vietnam war; the police force that ‘threw the book’ at him; the lawyer who represented him at his trial and to whom he ‘deferred’ despite his doubts; the judge who presided at his trial; and it is also the case of many intellectuals and academic administrators he rubbed shoulders with during his academic and activist career: ‘I didn't get a jury trial. My lawyer, who thought he was so smart, said, "No, we'll go for a judge." I said, "Are you really sure? You know, 12 as opposed to 1." I didn't know that much. I was just being radicalized, you see. He said, "Well, Morgan" – that was the judge's name; the judge's name was Birch Morgan – "Morgan is a fascist, but he's fair." I said, "How the hell does that work?" But, you see, then again, he's your lawyer. You learn to defer. You think these guys really know what they're talking about’; ‘And Morgan was fair. He was fair on all procedural things. And then he just wrote an opinion that was the prosecution's case completely. They brought in state troopers who said that I had punched out this state trooper, who was 6 foot 2. Three conflicting stories about how they hit me – and Morgan believed all three.’; ‘But I found that generally I began to get a little disillusioned with intellectuals. I gradually discovered that they were often ill-informed, which is okay, because I'm ill-informed on any number of things. Nobody knows everything about everything. But they would pretend to speak beyond their knowledge. And I would catch this sometimes. […] But this was all said with kind of a superior, knowing, dismissive air. But the need to feel that you had an in-the-know opinion about something when in fact you didn't know what the hell you were talking about.’
The collective and individual actors hence depicted show an unreliable character: they are supposed to uphold democracy but they don’t respect it; they are supposed to know how to protect their client but they don’t; they are supposed to be just but they act unjustly; they are supposed to be concerned with problems of peace and justice but it is just talk; they are supposed to be dedicated to learning but they have opinions on subject they don’t know; they are supposed to fend for peace and social justice but they treat people who do as extremists; they are supposed to be principled but they change their political leanings depending on the situation. Something that is anti-thesis to him: ‘It wasn't that I had some personal connection with the black community. It was a question of justice’. While they are held to higher moral standards, they fail to meet them. It is especially disappointing if not irritating because they occupy positions of authority, either in the government, in the justice system or academia. People in position of power are depicted as untrustworthy.
While it is not exclusive to this one, many excerpts in this repertoire are characterized by emotional language (‘assholes’, ‘what the hell!’, ‘how the hell’, ‘kissing the ass of the ruling class’). A tone of bitterness can be seen explicitly in some of these passages: ‘I mean, how naive can you get?’; When beaten by the police: ‘"Wow, it's good to really firsthand experience democracy in action."’; ‘Luckily, it's not that way anymore, because the media are now free and independent and objective [laughter]’.
The participant is quite conscious of his negativity, especially toward academics, and nuances his portrayal by insisting that: ‘there are still some very good – there were then and there still are, very good, intelligent, dedicated people in academia, who carry on a very valiant and valuable struggle. I'm not painting one brush stroke on everybody’. He later reinforces this statement by sharing the fact he will receive an award at the upcoming American Political Science Convention. It is implied that they are good, intelligent, dedicated people because they celebrate his work. However, the praise for some academics does not counterbalance the construction of academia in general (‘the other 95%’) as a top-down corporation, where people are protecting their own interest. ‘Discrediting powers’ acts in tandem with previous repertoires, namely ‘Invoking nature’ and ‘Depicting himself as underprivileged’. The latter two naturalize the justice seeker vocation of the participant, they construct his authenticity. Along this line, depicting the powers as deceiving contributes to establishing fundamental dichotomy in his narrative between the genuine and the pretend; a dichotomy that organizes all the identities in his narrative.
Theorizing experience: Parenti’s speech is sprinkled with academic references when he talks about his own trajectory. He sometimes makes explicit references to scientists. For example, he describes his childhood neighborhood as an urban village as conceptualized by Herbert Gans. He explains the mistake people make identifying him as a Jewish person by using Leon Festigner’s theory of cognitive dissonance. He calls to follow Antonio Gramsci’s suggestion to have pessimism of the mind (sic) and optimism of the will. Without referring to precise authors, he reads his experience through social sciences concepts. He borrows from the critical theory repertoire by using terms such as capitalist accumulation, class power, inchoate injuries of class, etc. He explains his own thought development following the micro-macro progression: from questioning a topic (war), to questioning individuals (leaders who produce the war) to end up questioning the social structures (the system that produces these leaders). These are markers of social science training and influence in the narrative of his life story.
This is hardly surprising from somebody who obtained his Ph.D. in political science. It is also likely a language and a set of values (knowledge, learning) he has in common with his audience who came to attend his speech at The University of California, Berkley. The narrative might have been tailored differently, consciously or not, if he was addressing an audience from the neighborhood community center. We would venture that those references to social science concepts have the effect of lending credibility to his analysis of the situation of injustice in America and to his actions as an activist. He does not demonstrate, picket, block draft boards in spite; these actions are the rational outcomes of learned understanding of the world. It is also a testimony to the large breath of the world he inhabits.
Individualizing/collectivizing: The experience of activism is expressed, if not justified, by a vision of how social change unfolds. From the start, he states that people are not ‘self-made’ and that each owes to the generations that came before. He acknowledges the power of history and social context. However, while he openly identifies with the political left and shares a Marxist understanding of the world, there is no structural determinism in his narrative. The power of individual agency is clearly stated. Individual actions aggregate to form a collective dynamic. Hence, what individuals think and do matters to the state of the collective: ‘You take these influences and things that impact on you, and you're not just an empty vessel that gets filled by them. Instead, you actually work with these influences. You bring additives of your own to them: you bring your own mental labor power, your own emotive concern. You bring your own innate energy and insight to an issue and a cause. And this adds to our collective impact and our collective empowerment’.
Moreover, the powers he is talking about are more often than not individualized if not personalized: ‘those who are dedicated to making the world safe for inequality’; ‘those who want to use the world's land, labor, technology, natural resources, and markets for a capital accumulation process that increasingly enriches the few as opposed to those who want to use these things for collective betterment for the well-being of the many’; ‘We do have evidence of people who have never had an interior dialogue. They're all in power right now’. The powers he targets is embodied in a series of people, not structural powers. In fact, in the overall speech, there is no mention of the structure. There are however two mentions of the ‘system’: ‘And then I began to question the system that produced these leaders.’ and ‘And what the system does is, they attack ad hominemely. They attack the protesters. So they make the protester the issue rather than the things we're protesting.’ In the last instance, the system is an aggregate of identifiable individuals: ‘they’. It is not an abstract force. There is also a mention of an intangible surrounding culture: ‘We live in a political culture that is quite insidious, quite resourceful. It has propaganda, but it's not called propaganda. It has images that are paraded constantly. It has duplicity. And so we have to consciously harm ourselves against it.’ While the political culture is a faceless entity, it is still possible, at the individual level, to see it coming and resist it.
Such a view of social change, so strongly anchored in individual consciousness and actions, allows for the distribution of blame and worthiness. This is something that is quite pervasive in the speech. We caricature a bit but, in the narrative of how he became an activist, there are good guys and bad guys, authentic justice seekers and pseudo justice seekers who are on the side of the powerful people when it suits their interests. Some characters are praised, others are disapproved. There is a strong moral tone to this life story.
Playing on the continuum of individualization and collectivization reconciles the possibilities of making specific people into a hero while still acknowledging the force of the masses and history.
Transcript source 2 (Jodi interview)
Interview with Jodi on her experience of social participation
[Recorder - On]
Interviewer: Can you give me a specific example of the type of volunteering in work related activity?
Jodi: Communications strategies, Media Relations strategies, Political Advocacy strategies, Website Development. I mean, I'm not a technician, but I would say I spend a lot of time thinking about how to package and promote something on the Internet. And then, I do writing. So I would say a good portion of my time is spent as a writer, writing anything from press releases all the way to brochures and lobbying material, advocacy material, text for the Internet for the website. And even just internal writing, like, you know, the actual strategy document or the planning document or whatever. Does that…
Interviewer: Yes. And all these tasks--
Jodi: Okay. I developed, with a friend, a website campaign regarding the cuts to status of living in Canada. And so no one paid us to do it. We just decided it would be interesting to collect all the information regarding this. And just follow the development and then, keep it all on one website. And then, specifically encourage young women to pay attention and get involved. And so it felt very similar to something that a paid contract would ask me to do; right? That's a good example. And then, at another role, like, I try to do as much as I can too. So it's hard when you live in the National Capital, because so much of the work is at the national level. And I don't do a good enough job of maintaining activity on the ground. So one of the examples would be, like, for example, in some involvement that I've had with a political organization. You know, I sit as communications person with Quebec. And so, you know, developing contacts. And, sort of, developing networks or something. And helping the association develop their own capacity on communications. So it's the same work, nobody pays me for that. So I feel like a lot of my skills are brought back and forth.
Interviewer: Okay. That's interesting. And what are your activities that you like the most in your spare time?
Jodi: Well, I'm really focusing lately on creativity. Which is interesting, because, you know, I think that a lot of communications work is creative work. However, it has been very important to me, especially in the last couple of years, to create more-- what's the word-- boundaries in my schedule. So that there is specific time blocked off to do my writing. So instead of writing for other people all the time, and it had felt particularly urgent. And I can't explain it better than that. There just seems to be the feeling of urgency that, like, I just really need to write. But I'm just now figuring out how to make time to then, figure it out. You know what I mean?
Jodi: So when I pick the activity, I'm including writing, but I'm also including music. Because I've recently returned to music, which was one of my first loves. And I left music, you know, oh, ten or so years ago. And I have felt, again, a similar sense of urgency around returning to music. So I try to make that more of a priority in my free time.
Interviewer: Okay. And you said that creativity was now important in your life, but probably always has been important. But when did you first notice that it had become really important for you?
Jodi: When I started to-- okay. Because before I declared myself a competent consultant, it felt more like I was taking more jobs that were, like, longer contracts. You know, six-month contracts followed by a twelve-month contract, followed by a two-year contract. And so you didn't really feel like-- felt it, even though, you know, whatever. You file your income tax <inaudible>, but you don't work like. And so it's only been three years, so years where I've worked in what I call a freelance mode, which is multiple contracts at the same time. Where you're, sort of…
Interviewer: Working with…
Jodi: It's feeling new to me. I feel like I've had to relearn time management. Because I always thought I was excellent at time management. And I always had control of everything-- I always knew what was going on. And I was on top of everything. But this is, I think, a whole new set of skills that I'm trying to develop, in order to be able to keep track of multiple obligations. And make decisions every day on my schedule and whether or not I want to do that. Because you always feel like I can't say no to any contracts, because one day there will be no offer. But then, I have to make career decisions about I can't deliver what you're asking for. Anyway, you know what I'm talking. So I really think that once I started to have to organize my life differently, that's when I started to really feel like, "Okay. What about me?" Like-- but I also think it comes with maturity, too. Like, I really feel like my entire 20's are a blur and a haze. Because I think that-- I mean, especially somebody with political interests, I just think you're just so easily consumed by activity. And it's, like, you know, we hear the classic stories about activist burnout. And I feel like a lot of younger activists have to go through that to figure out what it is they want to do. But what they really want to spend their time on. Because everything is important, and everything is urgent, like it's an emergency. Like, the world is going to collapse tomorrow, so we have to save it today. And I really feel like, you know, once I got into my 30's, I was, like, okay. You know, like, that's interesting. And I'll never stop caring, but, like, you know, what else is going on? And I also started to pay more attention and care more about my own mental health, and my own creative health, and my own time. And I just really started to miss music. I was, like, I just can't think of a single reason why music isn't in my life. So what's wrong with me? So I- I think it's a lot to do with maturity, too. But there wasn't one particular event. Because even during those ten years, every time I went to a live concert, you know, I feel like, "Oh, I should've done that." You know, so that never changed. But then, why during those ten years did I not pursue anything? But now, I feel like, yeah, there's time.
Interviewer: And would you say that you are an activist?
Jodi: Um-hum. Even in my 20s, yeah.
Interviewer: And what field of activism were you?
Jodi: Back then? Everything. Back then, I felt like it was everything. I mean, I'm not trying to be funny. I just really feel like I was all over the map. But I was sincere, you know? I guess, I spent-- I think, my initial politicization would have been around women's issues at a very early age. So as soon as I arrived, actually, even in before, I was involved somewhat in-- I started a couple of groups in high school and whatever. But then, when I got to the University, I became involved in the Women's Center. So I think that was one of my very initial politicizations. The other ones I think that was natural for me was the antiracism work. My parents are immigrants. I grew up in a household that, you know, was fairly conscientious about race and class issues. And it's not necessarily the case that my parents are, you know, political people. But they're definitely conscientious people. So I think antiracism and women's stuff were first. Later, I ended up spending quite a bit of time in the student movement. And then, after the student movement, I would say, a lot of my time was spent on women's issues, but touching on labor issues. And then, obviously, the World March of Women was pivotal for me. But underneath all of those things, I was still doing things like, I was involved in the inner city community group in Regina. So the downtown urban core was poverty and violence and racism. Because Regina has a high Aboriginal population. And, you know, we did things like put in a park. You know, like, just community projects, a lot around environmentalism. It was crazy. And then, after the Women's March, I would say that my work, paid and unpaid work, has primarily centered around, I would say, the Women's Movement and Human Rights. So having done a good amount of work with Amnesty International and the National Antipoverty Organization.
Interviewer: Are you still involved in these movements right now?
Jodi: Well, yeah, because most of my work is generated from organizations in those movements. So often, I call myself a paid activist. Because I feel like, I mean, one of the things I've been very careful to do since the beginning, was I never wanted to take for granted the fact that somebody was willing to pay me money to do what I would have done anyway. You know, and so every time, even in the '90s when I was young and a little bit crazy, was my time decisions. You know, I'd be sitting in the Saskatchewan Federation of Labor in a small ugly office. You know, being paid to organize a protest or organize a conference. And sometimes, I would just sit there thinking, "Oh, my God. Like, I would've done this for free." You know? And I got paid a wage. And that felt really, like, you know, instead of always-- even when I got to the national level and then, these national organizations are asking me to do these really fun and interesting things. I was, like, "Okay. You want to pay me?" So I think that's why my degree felt so unimportant. Because I felt so lucky that I was building a job path from the work that had more to do with my politics than my training. And I don't think a BA trains you for anything anyway. Well, I mean, unless you want to be an academic.
Interviewer: Did you have any important people helping you at that time? Earlier you said that you had three mentors?
Jodi: It's more, like... Like, I feel, when I say "mentor," I'm talking about, you know, people whose example motivates me to be a better person. Not an arrangement or anything.
Interviewer: …mentoring relationship.
Jodi: No. These particular women I mentioned know that that's one of the dynamics between us. Although I'm sure all of them would also just call it a friendship. You know, so it's not-- there's no power relationship, necessarily, I think. And I think there's a certain equality and respect. But I, definitely, look up to them in a way that I think makes them uncomfortable.
Interviewer: And what do you admire in each of them?
Jodi: I think that's an excellent question. Dedication and commitment and leadership and humility and brains. You know, you just always hope to be as smart and strong a woman as some of these people are. And I think, you know, I feel like, you know, I know nothing. You know, it's just so humbling; right? You just feel like if I can only get my shit together and be half as strong as you, like, I will be in good shape. And by strong, I also mean, like, politically strong, and not aggressive, either; right? That's cool to me.
Interviewer: And you said you had three women. Were there some men in your…
Jodi: Yeah, I know. It's funny. Like, when I said, "women," I thought, "Oh, she's going to pick up on that." But I mean, there's definitely been men whose leadership has taught me things, I mean, for sure. But probably just because, also, on a personal level, you know, it's just such a struggle to just figure out who you are. And, like, for me, I just feel like it's a constant thing about, like, also the woman I want to be. So I'm just probably more drawn to the leadership and strength of certain women. Only because there's a personal component to that, that I also learned. Where the men in my life, I think, you know, who have inspired me have done so in much more of an intellectual way or a political way. You know, just their leadership. But, you know, the women are special because of that connection.
Interviewer: You said that because of the personal connection, the women are different. But is there a difference between a man and woman's leadership?
Jodi: Yes. And that's a whole other interview. That's three separate hours.
Jodi: No, really, it's huge.
Interviewer: But, maybe, the most important difference between a man and a woman leadership, because we're talking about social participation. And, you know, the women that you identified are women that inspired you in social engagement, leadership, political involvement. So there must be something.
Jodi: You're good. You're good. No. I guess, the reason that that question has a bit of a dangerous feeling to it is because I've thought about it a lot over the years. But I haven't thought out how I talk about it. So as a feminist, I get nervous when I start to reach for words like nurturing or whatever, even though that's partly true. I just haven't figured out how to frame it. So I mean, briefly, you know, I would say, you know, there's a certain component to those women mentors that have to do with nurturing young women to carry on-- see, it all just sounds so silly when I say it.
Interviewer: No, no, no.
Jodi: Yeah, it does, to me. Like, it's not-- I don't want to flower it up with those softy, softy words, either; right? And I, also, don't want it to sound like certain men aren't capable of that. So I just feel like it really has to be clear that in my experience, personally, I have not necessarily, seen some men-- I also work in communications. I haven't necessarily come into contact with men who are as giving or as generous or as more with sharing and nurturing and mentoring young activists. And that also goes for the paid experiences, too. So not just in my activist circle, but also, in specific organizations and employer settings, my experience with male leadership has not necessarily shown me that men are as effective leaders. But I guess that also begs the question, then, how do you define leadership? Because I think leadership means different things to different people, too. And for me, when I'm looking for-- when I talk about the leadership that I'm looking for in somebody, it has a lot to do with-- there was a quote, I mean, it was, like, "A star is somebody who's looking forward and asking people to follow. And a leader is somebody who's actually turned around, you know, looking at the people." So when I say male leadership was different for me, I just haven't felt like they're necessarily that interested. I’m not sure. I need to think more about it.
Interviewer: Okay. Are there moments in your life where organizations or people ask for help? Like friends for example?
Jodi: I didn't know you were going to ask me about friends. I don't have a lot of friends. So I was just talking about this recently. I would say-- okay. I'll say it better. I have a lot of friends, but I don't have a lot of friendships. So I've been really thinking about that distinction. Because, you know, a person can have, you know, an address book that's big… So what does that mean, you know? If I would say there's a lot of people who feel comfortable enough to phone and ask me for help or advice. But are they necessarily-- you know? But I think I only have, like, a small handful of what I would call, like, really good friendships. And then, the rest is just-- plus, I think, because of the work I do and the background I have, it's a very weird world, you know? Where you feel like you're friends with these people. But you don't really know each other. You know, so you go for a beer after a meeting or, you know, somebody throws a party at the end of a protest or, you know, some sort of after and you all get together. And so there's a lot of socializing that happens. And I think it lures people into this idea that these are my friends. But, you know, every now and again, some political disagreement demonstrates to everybody, like, oh, well. You know, where you can't repair it afterwards, because now, they're political enemies. And it's, like, but I thought we were friends. And as I think people learn over time not to necessarily trust those social circles as, you know, intimate circles; right? So I know tons of fantastic people, but that doesn't mean I'll invite them for dinner, you know, or send a gift for Christmas. So I feel like when you ask, "How many times do friends call you?" I guess, I needed to just clarify who they are.
Interviewer: No, it's important. Yes.
Jodi: Because if a real friend calls me, I don't count it; right? Because you don’t even notice. It's not, like, you have a tally sheet; right? This is different, two people who love each other and deal with, like, "I'm having a crisis. Can you come over?" "Sure." And it doesn't count. But when she calls me and says, "I'm having trouble finding entertainment for my event, you know, can you help me?" That feels like something you keep track of, not formally. So I would say people call, instead of friends call. And I don't mean to correct your wording. But, like, people call me a lot. People call me a lot. But I don’t really call out to them. Well maybe, I should try to be more fair. There are super, super close friends that I've-- yeah, I could call on them. I guess, my answer, honestly, is, like, kind of, like, a bit of a life policy, where I just try not to-- I try to keep my expectations low. I don’t like to feel disappointed in people. And they always disappoint you. You know what I mean? You know what? I don't think you would find a single activist who isn't a little bit screwed up in the head, to be fair. I just think we're all a little bit, you know-- but I'm fascinated by that very distinction that you just talked about. Like, I know a lot of activists that don't really like people. You know what I mean? Who are loners. I'm a total loner, now. I used to be this social animal, and now, I just-- I don't even go to dinner parties. And I think a lot of people are like that. It's really weird. And I would also blame, a little bit, the new world of the Internet, which has this very tricky-- you feel like you're engaged all day long with people. But you're still in your pajamas, and you've never left your house for a week, you know? And you just have this feeling like “I’m talking to people.” You know, and you have to be very careful. Anyways.
Interviewer: Okay. I will ask you some questions, now, on your neighborhood. And then, we'll go back to your social engagement, because sometimes, it's interrelated. I'm curious to know why did you move here?
Jodi: Because of a lot of what we just talked about. I really felt like I needed to close the distance a little bit between me and-- like, geographic distance between me and downtown, like, me and the center of the action. And because I work in such an isolated way, I was feeling like that was only exacerbating the situation. Where, you know, it's harder to visit people or hang out with friends. Or a lot of the people I know don't have cars. And then, they make a big fucking deal about coming all the way over by bus, like it's the other side of the planet. So I wanted to move closer. And also, I found that town a bit boring, in terms of community stuff. It’s not a place—it’s a better place for, you know, families and when you have kids in school and all those sorts of things, and so for people in a different phase of life. And also, I just feel more comfortable in this type of neighborhood.
Interviewer: What is this type of neighborhood?
Jodi: I would call it, you know, inner city. Like, urban, diversity, mixed income, low income, real people. No offense to that city, because I did get involved there. And I met a lot of very great people, but I didn't feel a sense of community there.
Interviewer: And why did you decide to live on the Quebec side?
Jodi: How do you say? There's more opportunity to live a life in French, which was very important to me. And I adore Quebec politics. I prefer what the Quebec government does with my money, in terms of my taxes. And I couldn't afford a house in Ottawa. And I don't want to go back to being a renter, so that was important to me. Like, I just feel like once you buy a house it's hard to go back. And the only thing I could've afforded over there would be an apartment or something. And I couldn't go back to that.
Interviewer: Okay. And which neighborhood-- because you lived in many neighborhoods in your life, which one did you like the most?
Jodi: I love that question. I think I really like this one, but I've only been here a year. So I will answer by saying when I lived in Regina in the inner city that was my favorite. That was my favorite…
Interviewer: And can you describe to me a little bit? Because I never been to Regina.
Jodi: Yeah, well, it has this flavor to it. Where it's very mixed or low income, and there's always stuff happening. And I don't mean good stuff. Like, you know, I want to call it crime, but you know, it's the life of a city to me. I hate suburbs for many, many reasons. And in that particular neighborhood there's just this amazing network of people who were committed to making the community better. And so I really felt excited by what I was seeing and learning and then, becoming a part of. So, you know, the little projects we did. And I call them little now, but I don't think they're that little. You know, I think, you know, creating after school programs for poor children. And, you know, putting in green space where none exists, and trying to improve a community that the city and the governments ignored has real inspiration there. And so I just feel more comfortable in a weird way. My dad doesn't understand that at all. But I feel more comfortable in a place where there's likely to be, you know, a crime committed down the street than some sleepy suburb, where all the houses look the same. And anyway, it's a weird comfort for me. They're real people. It's real life. That's all.
Interviewer: More like you?
Jodi: Maybe. Maybe, yeah.
Interviewer: You don't feel that you are like the people living in the suburbs?
Jodi: Yeah, like, I would much rather have a conversation with the guy across the street, you know, who sits there drinking Coors Light, you know, on a Tuesday morning, with his socks and sandals and no shirt. I have better conversations with him than my mom and dad's neighbor in a Regina suburb. You know what I mean? Like, I just—- they’re more interesting people to me.
Interviewer: Okay. And what type of social engagement or implication would you like to do in this neighborhood? Have you been dating anyone?
Jodi: Not yet. But I've been really thinking about that. Because like I said earlier, you know, I need to feel more connected with guys. So I guess, I need to just check out what some of the organizations are. Which I haven't done enough research to know who's doing what. I mean, I know some of the names of the groups. But I think you're right. I think it's more about what do I want to do. I've been thinking about stuff around-- how do you call it? Like, community development? So not the things economic development. So, like, some of the stuff that I was involved with in Regina still really interests me. Neighborhood, beautification, safety, creating more common spaces, that kind of stuff. And I know that a lot of that stuff is already happening. So it's just a matter of getting…
Interviewer: It's the type of engagement that you would like, to be involved?
Jodi: Yeah, I think so. Because I mean, when you don't have kids, that automatically eliminates this whole, you know, encyclopedia full of volunteer work you could do. And I'm not really that interested in those issues. So it's really much more of a community development.
Interviewer: And we're talking about community. What does it mean for you, community?
Jodi: That's a good question. Well, I guess, some of it is geography, where there is a region that identifies itself, either, by name or less formally. And there's one way of looking at it. And then, inside of that geographic-- well, it's not even geography. When I talk about neighborhood community, I am talking about geography. And then, the people inside that boundary who connect with one another and work toward the common goal or common interest. But I shouldn't even put the word work in there, because a community doesn't necessarily mean it's people working on something. It just is. A community just is. So then, we look for adjectives like organized community, or driving community, or active community, or sleepy community. And then, further, inside of that for me, community means people I connect with. So people I would feel networked to or linked to in some fashion.
Interviewer: I'll ask you some questions on social events that have had an impact on your personal life. First of all, in your neighborhood, or in previous neighborhoods, is there an event, political, social, historic events that changed your life or your outlook on life? It can be, influenced your family life, when you were young, or your adult life.
Jodi: Oh, that's a good question. You know, I guess, it would be-- or it's interesting because I would say I was already, you know, aware or conscientious. But I guess, when I was involved in the Regina Inner City Community group, it really was eye opening, I suppose. It's one thing to understand things academically; right? And then, as with anything, once you get involved, you see it from a different perspective. So it was, I think, quite eye opening for me in terms of just how neglected certain parts of any city are. We all know this. But then to just see it in action, to see refusals of grant proposals or, you know, just utter lack of interest in some of the problems that were identified in those communities, just to see how, even within the school board system, how some schools have ten computers in every classroom and, in our inner-city schools, a teacher couldn’t even get a new bulletin board, you know, for her classroom. So just, on a dayto-day level, I think that was very informative for me, just coming face-to-face with the realities of what I already knew to be the, you know, the inequities. That was informative. I would say maybe something similar happened in the campus community, you know, where, again, something I already understood existed was just made clear to me through action, right, like, where the more I got involved with student politics the more I came to understand-- because I think a campus is a community, right?
Interviewer: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Jodi: So I came to understand how the problems played out, on a day-to-day basis, on the campus.
Interviewer: Do you have a specific example?
Jodi: I’m just trying to think. Yeah, because, I mean, we, in Regina, we were involved in a couple of, I guess you’d call them, campaigns, where a lot of money, some of it a lot of private money, was being spent on developing a new section of the campus that was going to be devoted to technology. And so, of course, there were a lot of corporate sponsors and all of these very VIP, you know, people involved with this development. And the generation of economic benefits to the campus and the whole city was being too much more important than, you know, the support that was needed for the rest of the campus, you know. That was not, like, ignored but certainly not given the attention. And so just understanding how, you know, some of the upper-level decision making had day-to-day effects on the students and the life of the students and the success of the students. We opposed the closing of a couple of programs, you know. Well, if the university can no longer offer those programs, how can it possibly afford to do that, that and that, you know? So inequities there were really interesting.
Interviewer: And at the provincial level, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Quebec, is there any political or social event that had a significant influence on your way of looking at life and politics?
Jodi: That’s a good question. I was changed after-- that’s what you’re looking for. I was changed pivotally after-- what year was it? Trying to remember the-- it all happened in one-- okay. So there’s this gun control legislation that was being proposed and developed at the federal level.
Interviewer: After ’89.
Jodi: Yeah, well, mid-‘90s I would say. And it began earlier than that, but then it became more public in the mid-‘90s. And at the time, I was in Saskatchewan. I was coordinator of a women’s center, and we were very pro gun control obviously. And we had worked closely with the National Coalition for Gun Control. At the time, I was also involved in an association in Saskatchewan. There was a very intense internal debate on gun control, which shocked me. And because of our geographic identity of Saskatchewan and a very large percentage of the population who were opposed to gun control, it was a real problem for the provincial party I was involved with to figure out what it was going to do and say about gun control. So not only in my role as coordinator of the women’s center but then also as, you know, an activist within the party, you know, it just for me was a very-- I remember feeling so g-- your question is so awesome. Because I do remember feeling like this changes what I think. Like, but then that sentence is different for many things. This changes what I think about the party. This changes what I think about politics. This changes what I think about my identity as somebody with a certain set of values and beliefs but who obviously needs to reassess alliances, you know. So that was really interesting to me. I mean, I try to forget about it. But there was this one-party convention where, I mean, like, people were crying on the floor, very emotional. You know, elected people, who obviously were at the convention, were also emotional, saying you don’t know what it’s like, you know, to be a member of the legislation, have to take certain positions on certain things. It’s all very internal party business. But at the same time, I left that whole experience very changed. Really interesting. And then the other provincial issue that I think really marked me was the Mike Harris Government of Ontario in the mid-’90s undertaking it’s slash-and-burn policies. And at the time, I was involved with the student movement. And so although not an Ontario resident, very compelled by what was going on. And I was actually fortunate enough to be able to be a part of and attend, in person, a lot of the one-year-long protests that happened. And so I think it became different for me because I attended, even though I was still emotionally involved as an observer in Saskatchewan. But it’s a very different feeling when you’re standing in the middle of, you know, half a million people. And then I attended the rally in Hamilton. I attended the rally in Windsor. I mean, like, days of action everywhere. And I attended a few. And I have changed. Like, I’ve absolutely changed. But differently than the gun control story. I guess I’m telling this one because, even though we ended up losing a lot of those battles, I was changed because, at the time, it reaffirmed, for me, the power of mobilization, the power of people coming together around a cause. Like, maybe, at the time, I was feeling more disappointment because we’ve already lost. I really needed, at that time, to feel that, you know, to feel like, oh, my god, people can come together en masse like this and do something. So that was really important to me. I just felt reaffirmed. I mean, the loss afterwards was horrifying. Did all the stuff anyway. But something quite positive came from all of those. There is also the referendum in Quebec in 1995. And, I mean, it’s pretty interesting, you know, for some small-town chick from Saskatchewan to give that big of an announcement. But it was so, first of all, it was academically fascinating. I had always been fascinated by Quebec, Quebec politics, Quebec culture, Quebec history. And so, even from past school, I had studied, studied, studied quite a bit of it. So then when all of that stuff was happening, it just kind of brought to life everything you’ve just read about in textbooks or heard your teachers talk about. And at the moment, I think where I was in my development, as a political thinker-- I was really torn. I was so emotionally torn. In a conversation about Quebec’s independence movement, I’ll have one opinion and another. And it was just so clean for everybody, but it wasn’t for me. And so I felt like, in every conversation I had, I was struggling. I was struggling. And neither of my two sides were developed enough that I could make a strong case for either, and so I felt left out of every fucking conversation and turned off by every conversation. Because on the one hand, I felt like I was almost like a psycho separatist. And then on the other hand, I was like, of course, I’m not, you know. And it was so emotional. And actually, at the time, there was something I was involved with. I don’t even remember what. And I was asked to speak at a rally, a rally. I had to go there and bullshit my speech at this rally, you know. I tried to say no. They wouldn’t let me say no or whatever. Maybe it was because of the Canadian Federation of Students... Anyway, I felt so disingenuous doing the rally. And all these fucking flags everywhere, and I hate flags in the first place, you know. It was crazy. And it was the closest, I felt, that Canada ever came to the kind of mindless, overzealous patriotism that is actually programmed in the U.S. Like, we don’t have that. When you’re there, you’re born. They put a bottle in your mouth with a flag on it. You just grow up-- it’s crazy propaganda, like, brainwashing. But we don’t have that here. And then all of a sudden, you look around. You’re like who are these people, what does that sign mean.
Interviewer: Where are you living at that time?
Jodi: Regina. I was a psycho separatist in Regina, had no ally, no ally. It was, like, Latin, whatever people. Like, we’d have quiet conversations over dinner, whatever. Didn’t understand me at all. Like, but I think nobody I knew in my life circle had spent as much time as I had understanding or loving Quebec. So I didn’t blame them. You can’t challenge your own ideology if you don’t have a basis to do it. And so I didn’t brain them for it, but I did feel very alienated.
Interviewer: I’m sure that you’ve witnessed a lot of injustice, inequality. Can you identify a fundamental one?
Jodi: You’re just so good at what you do. It’s lovely.
Interviewer: Thank you.
Jodi: Like, I thought I knew what you meant. But, I mean, it just means so many things to people. Like, I mean, how many times are we going to hear a white guy talk about how he didn’t get the job bec-- well, he would call it injustice. I would call it you’re an asshole, right? So I want to be careful with that. There’s something that I call injustice by osmosis. And it’s been a very interesting part of my whole self exploration around identity because of the informational adoption. So I feel like so much of the racism experienced by my family, my dad and my mom individually as well as my brother, feels like mine. That’s been really interesting. And then there’s this strange sort of subtle racism that happens even just when I’m challenged about my name and, you know, how people feel some great entitlement to want to know everything about me because they don’t understand why my name is Gupta. And for many years, not knowing what my own racial heritage was made that even more complicated. And then, now that I do know more about my own racial heritage, it just feels like even more of a personal story. But it’s offensive to be asked about. And I find all of that unjust. Like, I just find the whole setup of society, with labels and-- we need to under-- I need to understand you and how you look and your name and everything, I need to be able to-- that needs to feel unconfusing for me. And I think a lot of my, what’s the word, well, anger, like, I guess a lot of my reactive anger is about stuff to do with external judgment, right? So you’re judged and treated unjustly as a woman all the time, whether it’s professionally or within organizations or in general. Like, as a independent, self-efficient woman dealing with mortgage brokers and financial agencies and mechanics and the world, I feel that every day. And I feel that I’ve not been given many opportunities, I think, because of gender. I feel like, I felt a certain amount of grave, grave personal injustice in dealing at a young age with the personal trauma. And I felt injustice around class issues. And I guess lastly I would say on a personal level like sometimes it feels-- this is really strange, this answer because I’m still thinking it through. I think it’s a form of injustice like sometimes how I get treated or related to by, how do you call them, a potential partner. Because I didn’t want to say “by men” because it’s too general, but I think it’s a form of injustice. Like the pattern seems to be that “you’re just too much for me.” So certain parts of who I am feel like at first they are intriguing or compelling, you know? But then they actually end up being the parts of me that are too much, you know? And so that’s been really interesting to explore how men, how straight men, how straight men who think they like strong women, actually might not really like strong women, you know, or at least not in a long-term way. That’s something I’m also thinking about and possibly writing about like it’s been fascinating to me. And I don’t take lightly the term “injustice” so I don’t want to seem like I’m attributing a big important term to something that might not feel that way, but I’m trying to see it in a kind of a broader way, like what does that mean, that incompatibility, and if it’s there, to the women who we all seem to want to encourage to become this thing. But then at the end of the day there are certain things not available to her, and we’ve made it that way. Like so how, I mean I’m not a parent but I also think how do we do a better job of raising better men and all these sorts of things that contribute to the observation. It’s about social because I think of this one guy in particular, god help him. You know, raised in this house with all women, most of them feminists. Not one but two but a few of his sisters turned out to be a lesbians. Like he looks at himself like you have all this very interesting influence and he thinks, and many people think he’s grown to be a very interesting man, you know, but once they leave the house, they have this whole other world to contend with that doesn’t sound like the house, and doesn’t feel like the house, and doesn’t treat him like the house. And I mean that’s been very interesting to watch. You know, I think I want to be there, but I don’t know how to be this out here. But I can be at my mom’s house. That’s really interesting stuff.
Interviewer: We talked a lot about community, government, a bit on family, but I’ll come back on family but I would like to ask what is the role of government? Community can give a type of help. Family can give a type of help. But what is the role of government, the type of help that a government gives to a citizen?
Jodi: I would imagine it would be a hard question for people who don’t work in politics or think about politics. Like even my mom who is this volunteer extraordinaire person which you’re going to ask me about anyway, like I imagine there are a lot of volunteers who just don’t think about those levels. My mom doesn’t have any analysis whatsoever. Anyway, what is government? Government, government is- I feel like I’m in high school. Let me start by answering what I don’t think government is. When I get upset by people who says things like “It’s government’s job to follow the will of the people.” “Polls indicate that 67 percent of Canadians are unsure about abortion.” You know, these sorts of things, if we look at the whole debate recently around same sex marriage. I do not think it is the government’s job to implement polling results. You know? Or to govern by opinion based on simple majority. I do see the role of government as leading towards a vision of the type of society we aspire to be, and not necessarily the type of society that the people who happen to be alive today think would be best. Would be okay, right? So there has to be some vision. There has to be some forward looking set of ideas that aren’t all about [inaudible] social or you know, what other people would call “fluffy” issues either, I mean so that includes a vision of an economic future and a vision of you know, a certain infrastructure and a set of institutions and systems, but also ideal right, and ideas and values. So I think it is the job of government to govern, meaning oversee the administration of a country or a province or city; but beyond administration it’s to lead, and I worry when some people think of the concept of “to lead” as simply to maintain the status quo. So that bothers me. I also think it’s the job of the role of government to inspire other countries to do the same thing, and so to lead by example and not say well, because we do it this way that’s our business, but it’s okay whatever way you want to do it. And I personally find that more and more important given the international landscape and the way we are more and more a global community. And I think the risk we run of people are starting to think about what government is, is becoming subsumed into this international mantra of globalization instead of really being clear on what we want as a particular confederation and run how we want to champion our values in spite of the international. That’s my humble opinion.
Interviewer: Very interesting. I’ll jump to questions on your family and your personal network. Which life stage did you prefer in your life?
Jodi: So cute. Are you writing down that I said it’s cute? I thought that was cute. Oh that’s so good because I’m really enjoying now. It’s got its problems for one, and I was trying not to- I really don’t like it when people get nostalgic about like even just in terms of a book, you know, when they go “Oh, back in the 50s life was.” Anyway so that is a big level but even personally, “Oh, when I was a kid.” I try to avoid nostalgia, but objectively speaking, I mean, of course it’s going to be better for some people when they were kids because those who had healthy childhoods because you don’t know as much. You know? When I feel nostalgic about my childhood it’s only because I was so innocent and I didn’t have to pay bills, and I didn’t know the world was quite this troubling. So I try to put the proviso there that people who had relatively healthy childhoods would probably appreciate some of the innocence of that time. But I really enjoyed high school too. Huge social life, I was in the band and drama and student council and-
Interviewer: Very involved. Is there a person in your family like you said your mother was an example of social participation and social...
Jodi: Yeah, it was my mom. Is my mom. She has done a little bit of everything, but growing up I most remember her being involved with the she was on the board of the YWCA, she- oh, she did a lot of work with the India-Canada Association and sat on a lot of boards. She was involved for quite a while with the Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers. Social worker, and she now I notice more that she’s somehow moved into much more like charity organizations like the Osteoporosis Society, and the Cancer Society or whatever. Like a lot of health kind of charities. I can’t think of others that she’s doing.
Interviewer: Would you say that her involvement changed in relation to her life stage? You said health, and she’s older.
Jodi: I think so.
Interviewer: And before was she involved in school-age related active on the school boards?
Jodi: No, interestingly, but you know what I think the other shift that happened too for her was over time as a volunteer she began to notice a particular strength in fund-raising, and so I thought of her in one of your other questions because she gets approached a lot by groups to come into a fund raising campaign. Like she over time has become really good at it, so sometimes I don’t think she picks a project based on the organization but on the job. Like I think she also enjoys putting together a whole fund-raising event. She loves from start t finish, and she likes I think- I understand this about her. It’s such an obvious goal, right? So I think for her what’s really tidy and clean about it is you decide how much you want to raise. You go raise it. You can measure it. She likes that sort of stuff.
Interviewer: Do you have a religious life or a spiritual life?
Jodi: No, I’m not- I’m non-religious, but I like exploring spirituality of my own that has nothing to do with religion, but I don’t believe in God.
Interviewer: Does your spirituality influence your way of participating in society?
Jodi: It’s starting to. It’s very new.
Interviewer: Can you give me an example? Because most of the time spirituality is closely linked to how a person behaves in his social environment. That’s why I asked the question.
Jodi: That’s very interesting and I can see how that would be true. I think for me when I say that spirituality is affecting my involvement, what I mean is I’m aware of- I’m- I’m trying to make better choices about my time so it’s really not necessarily about the ideals or the ideology, or the organizations that attract me. So it’s still very new to me, trying to understand what I’m going to do with-- how do I explain? Because I don’t mean spirituality in terms of any kind of new belief. I don’t have any new belief. I guess when I talk about spirituality it isn’t even the right word. It’s more like having to have a better awareness and then a better practice of the self and then the continuing care of the self. And so meditation might help to do that. But reading also helps to do that. And I also think writing and, like, my return to music, and then, you know, finding time to write, I think is also part of that new, to be more spirituality with yourself. So I mean, if I have any kind of spiritual inclination, it’s much more New Age-y. It’s much more like-- or, old age, when you think of some Aboriginal cultures. But I have a very-- I’m curious about our connectedness, so that kind of stuff. But I think the direct impact it has really, is just around the choices I’m making around the time and my energy, and who gets it and who doesn’t get it anymore. That’s why I just connected with the political party for example. Because when I needed to make a choice, okay, first I needed to appreciate there was a choice that had to be made. That was a fact. Then okay, which one needs to go? And I’m just done, I’m just done with giving time, especially free time, to anything. If I’m not having fun anymore, I’m not going to do it. And that doesn’t mean fun as in, like, bowling and ice cream. I mean like I’m happy to be involved in something where there’s disaccord or political discussion. And not everybody has to get along. That’s fine, if it’s healthy, if it’s going somewhere. If we’re all sort of moving somewhere with it, and I don’t want to be-- I’m just trying to be more clear with how I spend my time. And then if I lose an certain amount-- like, as soon as I leave, did I feel good about that meeting or that conference? No, I didn’t. Okay, well then, let’s look at that. And I really do think that this whole spirituality thing must be part of why I’m thinking this way more than I was before.
Interviewer: Because of the connectedness?
Jodi: Yes. I’m trying to. Like when we talked about my 20s and we laughed because everybody was involved with everything, and you’re willing to be exploited by groups that just need the help, and “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” And, you know, that’s fine when you’re younger. And then if you don’t reach a point where, you know, you start to realize wait a minute, what more is there? That’s a problem. Because you just get tired, tired.
Interviewer: At last, and the last question I will ask you. What is your motivation when you get involved?
Jodi: I always pick paid or unpaid work where I think some kind of change is possible because of this project or because of this campaign. And it’s different kinds of change. Would you like me to tell you which? So for example, when I decided to become a campaign manager for a candidate who was running last year in the municipal election, or was it two years ago already? It was. Okay. Can you believe this? It’s been over a year. 2000 and I don’t remember. For God’s sake. It had to have been two years. So when I decided to run that campaign, as I deal with any candidate who comes and says, “Will you help me?” I just think, things will be better if you are elected. You know, like I believe in what you want to do and what you’re working towards, and so yes. You know, that’s worthy of my time. But it’s the same of any campaign. So when that person said “Will you come and work on developing the communication strategy for our new project on women’s rights?” You know, I guess I sort of always look at something of what change is possible if we accomplish those goals. So it could be big measureless, immeasurable change, or just very concrete change, right? I mean, part of working in public awareness is that you never really know your success. But, you know, I often say if we’ve changed one mind, we’ve done good work, you know? It’s about changing attitudes and minds instead of numeric totals.
Interviewer: Yeah. What stopped you?
Jodi: Oh, self-doubt, and fatigue, and time, finances.
Jodi: Like, if I need to find more paid work instead of that. And sometimes, it’s just laziness, like a lack of follow through, you know. It’s been three years since I’ve been saying I’m going to touch up the local SPCA and see if I can volunteer there or something. I still haven’t called. You know, but we all do that. Follow through.
Interviewer: Is there some question that I did not ask that I should have asked? Or is there a subject or something that you would like to add to improve our comprehension of social participation?
Jodi: Well, I mean, my first reaction is to say no, because social participation is so broad that I’m sure you tailor your conversations based on what you learn about the person in the first ten minutes. But I think it could be interesting to know more about a person’s-- well, how do you call it? Opinions on children. I know that sounds-- opinions doesn’t work. Like, I think that a person’s motivations can be very-- well, you know this. You’re motivated very differently when you have either children of your own or a deep, even a mild interest in the welfare of children. And I don’t really.
Interviewer: You don’t have an interest?
Jodi: Yeah, I don’t mean to, you know, I appreciate those who do. I just think it might be bigger than we think. Because I think it’s how people see the world, right? You know, the children are the future or whatever kind of stuff. Again, I’m not trying to make fun of it. But my brain doesn’t work that way, like at all. And we know that once you’re a parent, you start to kind of pay attention to stuff like, “oh, there should be a stop sign there,” or, “God, that arena is falling apart, we should do something about that,” or “better food at my kid’s school,” or whatever how people think about it. But I never think about those things, because it doesn’t come to mind. They think about that sort of stuff. Or you heard all the stories lately about the recall of toys. Yeah, so there’s just a whole other world of <inaudible> that I don’t belong to, but I think it must have a lot to do with the choices they make about their volunteer time. So, you know, they’re selling chocolate covered almonds and stuff. And that’s volunteer work, right? And people like my mom make choices about her volunteer time that have nothing to do with political analysis. You know, and I ask her questions, mostly teasing her, like, “Well why are you involved with the CIBC, Run for the Cure for breast cancer, but I never hear you talk about the amount of funding that isn’t given to women’s health.” Like, why don’t we talk about why we need to do private fundraising for women’s cancer? You know? Anyway. And I just think children are a huge part of people’s identity and then they politicize the issue. That’s the only one I was waiting for. Do you want kids, or do you spend time with kids?
Interviewer: I asked a question, when a person has children, it comes naturally. But do you want kids?
Jodi: No, but--
Interviewer: You think that it increases, our views on social engagement?
Jodi: Yeah. Both at a political and philosophical level, but also at a practical level. I have the luxury of spending money on certain things. Like, you were like, “Oh, you donate to the-- oh, that many organizations?” Well I don’t have-- I’m not saving money for childcare or a kid’s education or whatever. But that may not even be conscious on my part, but yeah, sure, I think there’s a lot of impact on my choices because I don’t want kids. Where I live. Am I close to school? Do I make friendships with people who have children, or do I prefer to make friendships with people who don’t? I think you now know the answer. Like it’s a different kind of friendship when we have to schedule our time around piano lessons and soccer and hockey, right? Or I can’t have a conversation on the phone with a fried, and <imitates child yelling> in the background. I’m not saying-- you know, I’m not degrading that, I’m just I’m aware of it. It’s a different way of living, and I think I’m a part of a whole generation, I think we’re the first generation that is, A-- oh, that was the other thing I was going to ask you about. Questions around career styles, right? Like, I think ours is the first generation, I include you, of people who are not looking at a 40-year career in the same job. I can’t remember the statistic I read once where people my age are looking at probably an average of six careers in a lifetime. We telecommute, we live on the net, we work from home, we don’t really know what a pension is, you know, a lot of consultants in the world. I’ve never had a dental plan. You know, it’s just stuff like that. And I think that has a lot of impact on the way we do social engagement. Like, and it’s not as simple as just money, right? Where I need to save money for my teeth or my eye glasses in a way that somebody with coverage doesn’t have to worry about. Although I think that’s a big part of it. But then I also just think that that has an impact then on what we think is important. Different things are important to our generation than our parents’ generation. That kind of stuff fascinates me.
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