I am thrilled to join the Red Pepper editorial collective. A new resident of Durham, I am originally from the Detroit area and have also lived on the US West Coast. There, I became passionately involved in my postgraduate labour union, which added not only to my paltry teaching wages, but also to the conversation about the need for democracy in higher education. In the past, I’ve contributed to student anti-sweatshop activism, Occupy and the founding of an IWW branch, which has helped to unite a broad spectrum of workers in my former community, Corvallis, Oregon. I hold a MFA in creative writing, and in addition to rabble-rousing, I write fiction that depicts women characters pushing against the bounds of gender roles.
Part of my excitement about joining Red Pepper comes from my view that this is a critical time for people on the left to get to know each other. I grew up with the narrative that ‘civilisation’ marches steadily toward progress, discovering more humane solutions to the world’s troubles thanks to new technologies and the benevolence of our leaders. In my youth, I became terrified that this was a lie. Gradually, I understood that as banks, corporations and drones cross borders, power consolidates its assets; elites worldwide are exchanging ‘best practice’ in organised oppression. Bitter-sweetly, disparate people find ourselves, more than ever, stuck together—fighting similar degrading laws and official lies—even if the differences remain vast among us. Austerity, poverty, rape, state surveillance and so much else are global phenomena.
And yet, I’m encouraged, because the truth never works in the favour of those who would abuse and control us. Such people need to purchase every newspaper and airwave; it takes constant effort to justify an unjust status quo and to deaden people’s spirits. By contrast, there is permanence to radical consciousness. It outlives the news cycle, because what we see, we cannot unsee. In 1971, discussing how patriarchy had influenced Western literature, poet Adrienne Rich said, ‘We need to know the writing of the past, and know it differently than we have ever known it; not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us.’ She was advocating for ‘re-vision’: changing the dominant narratives and re-casting ourselves in meaningful roles that have yet to be fully imagined. Only then, I think, can we head toward a better future than the one capitalism has charted for us.
What are the counter-narratives we can use? What are the alternatives to stories of an undeserving poor or the supposed necessity of nuclear arms? As we work, organise our communities and care for each other, how do we understand what we do every day and where we’re headed? The thread, I think, can only be discovered when we habitually speak across borders, not just the borders of political states but of age, life experience, separate households and separate uniforms.
For me, Red Pepper has provided such a space for cross-border learning. I’ve read it from one corner of the world and seen how the dot of my own work connects to other dots on the map. That knowledge makes me a better organiser: more equipped to explain to my neighbours how our groundwork is part of a living, breathing thing. Our progress, our solidarity, will never be reflected back to us by the corporate media, perhaps in part because that would fuel our motivation to keep going. But the void they leave, through their exclusion of the stories of poor and working people, cannot be left as a void. We need to see our own stories and talk about them in order to shape a future.
I hope to continue Red Pepper’s history of asking honest questions and bringing the left together to debate the way forward. I hope, also, to connect with readers in the north of England and learn about the challenges, interests and desires of my new neighbours in the UK. Thanks for reading.
– Michelle Zellers
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