A political awakening in the age of Trump

Jared Houston speaks at an impromptu rally at a demonstration against the fascist “three percenters,” on Dec. 1, 2018, in Seattle. PHOTO: Kathleen Merrigan / FS
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In the months prior to the 2016 presidential election, I did everything I could to avoid the news cycle. I tried tuning out and assured myself that Trump’s bigotry and sexism would never make it to the White House. But the reality of his victory was too real to ignore. It shattered my apathy. I wanted to get involved right away.

Low-wage worker with ideas. I never considered myself an activist. I grew up in a college town in Idaho that prided itself on being a “Blue” county in a very “Red” state. But apart from voting every two or four years, there were few political opportunities.

Idaho is a right-to-work state, which means labor organizing is practically nonexistent. And Idaho is virtually all-white. Bigotry, racism, and xenophobia are all too common. And the right wing recruits many disaffected youths. In the 1980’s, the Aryan Nations set up shop just an hour’s drive from my house.

Many leave the state after graduation. Those who remain make do on paltry wages and lousy working conditions. My first job in food service paid $3.25 an hour and benefits were out of the question. My bosses were selfish and mean, bringing more than one coworker to tears.

At the time I felt powerless to tackle these injustices. It wasn’t until I discovered Karl Marx and socialism in college that things became clearer. Finally, I could begin to understand this mixed-up world!

Along with radical ideas, I learned a new history of working-class people who saw the same problems I did and took action. Labor leaders like Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn who never blinked when taking on the bosses. Or Denmark Vesey who led a slave rebellion that struck fear into the hearts of Southern plantation owners.

College is also where I discovered feminism and the significance of women’s struggles.

But I still couldn’t connect how the battles of the past were linked to the fights of the present. They felt trapped between the pages of a history book.

After college, I returned to food service work under a pile of student debt. I wanted to fight injustice but going it alone made me cynical, burned out, and depressed.

Birth of a radical organizer. Fast forward to November 2016.

I took to the streets the night after Trump’s “election.” It was exhilarating. And it was my first demonstration. Ever. But I wanted to do more than let off steam. I went to some events but got no answers to the question “What next?” I knew Trump needed to be confronted now and we couldn’t “wait for the next election.”

Luckily for me, I met the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP). A member invited me to a forum on the election’s aftermath. There, I found a group of people willing to tackle both Trump and the system that created him.

I learned that FSP was socialist feminist, and always had been. Members were up front about socialism, stating clearly that only worker-led revolution could rid the world of capitalism. Hearing the rich history of the party’s involvement in labor and social movements connected the dots for me. I was thrilled to learn that FSP instigated the “United Front Against Fascism”, a group that helped drive the Aryan Nations out of Idaho!

The movement I read about in school was right in front of me. Before long I was traveling with comrades to the Inaugural Day Protest in Washington, D.C. for my second demo.

I’ve stopped counting protests now. Since joining the party, I’ve fought fascists, marched in defense of immigrants and picketed with strikers. I was even the assistant campaign manager for Steve Hoffman, a proud unionist and socialist feminist who ran for U.S. Senate.

It is wonderful to have comrades to organize and plan with as well as discuss and debate ideas. It means never facing problems alone.

Now that I’ve joined, I’m in it for the long haul. Trump’s election was certainly the catalyst, but I won’t stop until the system that’s responsible is dealt with. Next stop: Revolution!

Author feedback: hous3681@gmail.com.

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