David Iscoe newsletter, Weekly Update #4

I Guess It’s Already Fucking Friday, and I’m pretty tired because I worked yesterday at the polls for the state primary from a little before 5:00 am to some time around 10:30pm, a 17.5+ work hour day, and the poll site was way up in Bushwick about an hour from my home. Today’s been a little rough because I’m eager to do a whole bunch of things I’d been putting off during the lead-up to the primary–write, do temp work, send emails, plan meetings and events, work out, organize info for the general election, get my phone repaired, clean my cluttered home, put away the 40 pounds of groceries I brought back from Trader Joe’s, and just read over election coverage–but my body just tells me it’s tired, and I’m doing everything pretty slowly and not really much at all today.

I’m pretty happy about the results of the State Senate elections, where six of eight former members of the IDC (a group of Democrats who cooperated with Republicans for personal and district perks) lost to generally excellent progressive challengers (especially excited to see what Zellnor Myrie does for tenants), and another candidate, Julia Salazar, who had some real problems with her personal narrative but generally an excellent platform and strong door-to-door campaign, beat a legislator who wasn’t doing much good and was backed mostly by real estate money, and I think she and the anti-IDC challengers will do some good work on a lot of issues and get people involved. Meanwhile the statewide executive races didn’t go the way I would have wished, but the challenge helped make the returning incumbents more accountable and got people tuned into state politics, and I hope it continues into November and beyond.

As I mentioned earlier in the week to some folks, I’m glad a lot of people are talking about politics. Getting things out in the open helps us figure things out, learn what’s working for others, figure out how we can fit in, get energized, and improve our habits. I like thinking about politics - and other kinds of performed identities - as a set of things we do, not things we are. It always leaves open the possibility of doing things better, and it helps frame intense political discussions not as attacks on people’s immutable essence but as guidance on action. People are not condemned for being Trump supporters, they are condemned for intentionally doing things to help someone who is intentionally doing things that hurt people. That’s a bad thing to do, dude.

(One thing that entertains me internally is deconstructing identities into behaviors, and then reconstructing them observationally in the voice of Jerry Seinfeld. “He’s supporting Donald Trump - he’s a Trump Supporter!” I dunno, I have Seinfeld baked deep into my brain, and I like how the show’s classifications of people are behavior-derived rather than identity-derived, so rebuilding a political identity in a Seinfeldian way always helps frame why those behaviors are annoying. Of course everybody already knows this and that’s why people coin all sorts of phrases for microaggressions and microaggressors, but I’m an East Coast white Jewish comedic dude who came of age in the era of frequent Seinfeld reruns and not that many other great shows, so that particular model is statistically likely to be one of my go-tos and it turns out it is (of course the show’s politics aren’t always great - but that structure, it works)).

On the other side of the political spectrum, I grew up in an environment of people who were generally proud of our liberal identity, though often times our practices were short-sighted or contradictory. To some degree we wanted to create environments in which it was easy to perform or signal progressive merit, while building walls to these environments with regressive tools that we didn’t have to touch, and neglecting work outside these walls. It felt like politics in a simulated environment, and our politics were often bad because we did not care to practice them. Eventually our bad politics lost out to some even worse politics and now we’re mad about it and learning a little bit, but learning doesn’t mean learnt.

The more we look at politics as a thing we do, the more we can see it pop up different places–jobs, spending habits, conversations, stories, jokes, personal relationships, group dynamics, hobbies–and we often won’t like what we see. We’re always fucking up. This can be scary if we take our behavior-derived identities too seriously. But if we identify basically as flawed but improving humans, and look at the things we do as the kind of things that these humans do, it’s just another thing we want to learn to do better, wherever we are in our practice. It’s part of life. There will always be gaps between what we say and believe and what we’re able to do at the moment, but the ability to perceive these gaps and work toward the correction of them while living within the messy present is part of what makes humans interesting, and capable of good things, and if we can fucking laugh at ourselves for our bullshit and actually do a lil better next time instead of just laughing shit off like it doesn’t matter, we’re more likely to be fine for a little before we’re all dead eventually anyway.

Gotta leave some room for life, too. The connection between formal politics and personal practice goes both ways. If we need personal practice to make our formal politics real, we also have a formal politics that can only be realized by personal practice. And that means the things we say and plan and wish for politically, and our engines of change themselves, have to always give people room to have their needs taken care of, from material survival basics to mental health to self-actualization and the pursuit of happiness. If we’re out here building systems of change that run on the same models of deprivation, exploitation, crazymaking, and joylessness that a lot of our world does, we’ll fuck ourselves up.

Anyway, that’s my Friday preaching before sleeping. It’s not much of an actual update, though I hope to be back on my comedic bullshit soon as I can be. Take of yourself out there. Always interesting to talk about different ways power works and whatnot. We’ve got an election coming up November 6th, and for us Americans right now any political work in the electoral arena has a chance to pay off extra big. Doesn’t mean there’s any one thing a person’s got to do (though voting on the damn day if you do have the franchise is a pretty big gimme to the point that if you pass it up I gotta wonder about you) but tis the season if you got the time and inclination, and if you gotta rest up or take care of other stuff, that kind of stuff can be good politics too as long as you’re not fucking other people’s shit up to do it or supporting those who are.

You already knew that though.