News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.
Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.
December 24, 2020
Brought to you by East Bay DSA
Why Talk Politics at the Table?
Families are all different, but they’re often the people we know best. Studies show the better you know someone, the more they value your opinions, and the more likely you are to persuade them in conversation. At a time when people have fewer real-life ties to talk about politics and are more likely to get their political info through the swamp of social media or the polarized lenses of commercial news, it’s more important than ever to talk through what you really think and be exposed to new ideas through the people you care about.
Take a breath before you speak
There’s no rush, and slowing down to gather your thoughts can help you stay calm and confident. It can also help cool any tension in others.
Be aware of power dynamics
Family members who are older, more conventionally successful, and/or men often feel entitled to set the tone for the rest of the family. If the dynamics in your family lead some people to disrespect you or disregard your opinions, know it’s not your fault and give yourself the space you need to stand up for your beliefs or pick your battles. If the power dynamics in your family give you outsized influence, take extra care to listen to others.
Pick your battles
You know your family better than we do, and it’s your call. If you know you’re the odd one out and bringing up your beliefs would just make everyone unhappy, talk about the weather and save your energy for canvassing or phonebanking people who want to get politically activated.
Ask lots of questions and listen
Good organizers spend more time listening than talking. To effectively ask someone to reconsider their beliefs, or do something like volunteer for a campaign for the first time, you need to do your best to really understand where they’re coming from. Asking questions—about what they think of a news story, why they have a particular opinion, or asking to clarify something unclear—shows you care about them and respect their opinions. It will also give you some guidance about where to take the conversation next.
Speak to shared values
Oftentimes people come to opposing political commitments while trying to live up to the same values. If a relative says they’re worried free college is unfair because it gives people something they didn’t earn, try talking about how the current system unfairly lets wealthy families purchase access to elite educations, while working-class students with the same grades have to choose between passing on an opportunity they earned and the burden of massive debt.
Appeal to material interests
Socialism isn’t about sharing an identity or rooting for the right team; it’s a way to demand that we all get our fair share of the things we need to live and thrive. Pointing out how socialist policies would help your family makes abstract political point-scoring seem irrelevant. Would immigration reforms make your grandparents safe? Would Medicare for All let your sister quit the job she keeps for the insurance? Maybe the financial security of a jobs guarantee would make it possible for you to bring some new grandkids to the holidays in a couple years.
Remember families aren’t just the loudest person
Many families have at least one devoted contrarian who will draw you into an argument in bad faith. That may not be the person you want to talk to the most. Talk and listen to the people who don’t get as much of a chance to speak. Avoid your garrulous uncle and talk to your cousin who’s not really into politics but is stressed about how to make ends meet.
People don’t change their mind all at once
Our opinions tend to change gradually, and it takes even longer to admit we were wrong, so set your expectations accordingly. Pushing someone to concede can make them dig in their heels; it may be better for them to just come away understanding your views and ready to mull it over.
Don’t argue against people who aren’t there
If you spend enough time thinking and talking about politics, especially online, you hear the same arguments over and over. But this might all be new to your grandpa who uses a flip-phone. Take a breath, ask a clarifying question, and make sure you’re responding to the people in front of you, not re-hashing a fight you had with someone else.
Trust in your own expertise
If you’ve been out canvassing voters, taking part in protests or getting active in your union, you have first-hand experience with political change. Talking about what you’ve done and why it matters to you can be more meaningful to your family than talking about abstract ideas.
Q: The world is dangerous enough already, how could anyone think we should defund to police!
A: The news likes to make it sound scary, but this stuff is really pretty common sense. We send police out for every emergency even when an ambulance or a crisis counselor makes more sense–when there’s not even a crime, we send police to try to find a crime. Police budgets eat up a huge chunk of every city budget, to the point that we can’t spend money on things that keep crime from happening in the first place–stable food and shelter, counselling, etc. We know that theft and interpersonal violence go up when people are stressed or desperate, and go down when our lives are stable with the promise of a better future. We should do all we can to make that a realty for everyone first.
Q: Shouldn’t we just reform the police instead? Give them more training or something?
A: When the Black Lives Matter movement got started, there were a lot of calls for police reform: body cameras, better training, and so on. Police departments around the country did those things, yet police killings of Black people go on, and the perpetrators are rarely arrested or prosecuted. Instead of giving the police more money to keep doing the same damage, it’s time to disempower them and use other strategies to prevent and repair harm.
Q: Socialism doesn’t work. Look at Venezuela/Stalin/Cuba!
A: There’s two seperate fears people are usually invoking with these types of questions, and both are rooted in complex global histories. The first is political repression—the fear that a socialist government would curtail civil liberties. That’s the opposite of the democratic socialist tradition — we fight to expand democracy to more walks of life — through unions in the workplace, in our neighborhoods and community organizations, etc., against voter suppression, and against the use of wealth to ride roughshod over democratic decision-making.
The second is fear of economic collapse. Venezuela’s economy suffered enormously when the price of oil fell in the global market. Cuba is a small island nation which has been under economic sanction for decades, yet still manages longer life spans, less extreme poverty, and higher rates of education than other Carribean nations with similar resources and history of colonization. Both countries have suffered shortages of medications and other vital supplies due to US sanctions designed to punish civilians into overthrowing their governments. Meanwhile the US has vast resources alongside growing homelessness, but we never talk about that as meaning capitalism is a failure.
Q: How will we pay for it?
A: America is the wealthiest society in the history of the world, but half of that wealth is held by a tiny number of super-rich, who make their money from interest and dividends on things they own rather than for doing work. Since the pandemic started, billionaires like Jeff Bezos have raked in billions more in wealth, while their employees risk Covid working on the front lines to keep society running. On top of that, every year our government spends as much on the military as the next 7 countries — China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the UK, India, France and Japan — combined. If we make the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, and focus government spending on the things we actually need, there’s more than enough to cover all our needs.
Q: But what about my taxes?!
A: I’m so sorry, but you’re probably not rich enough to pay any of the taxes socialist candidates have proposed in the last few years. You have to have $32 million dollars before you start paying the wealth tax, which is a property tax on all the ways the very rich store their money. The lowest bracket for the estate tax is $3.5 million. You have to make over $250,000 in a single year to even pay an extra 3% in income taxes.
But taxes aren’t just about what you pay, they’re about what you get for your money. Socialist proposals shift spending to things that we need, and either can’t get or have to buy from corporations now. The average family of four pays about $10,000 for healthcare every year when you add up premiums, co-pays and deductibles. The Medicare for All plan from Bernie Sanders and Pramila Jayapal would cover all of that, by combining $900 of your tax money with funding from wealth taxes and the cost savings that come from cutting out for-profit middlemen. A wealth tax would cover universal childcare for every family in America. We desperately need a Green New Deal to front the costs of moving off fossil fuels. Pick an example that means something personal and go with it.
Q: Change isn’t possible
A: At one time, ending segregation didn’t seem possible. Experts said cutting the work day from 12 hours to 8 would destroy the whole economy. But ordinary people understood that they deserved a better world, got organized, and kept the pressure on until they won. It’s not always easy, or fast, but now’s the time to start building. We can’t make the world perfect but surely we could make it a little better than this.
Q: Let’s not talk about politics. When are you going to bring home some grandkids?
A: On average, childcare now costs almost $10,000/yr, an in-state public college education averages $20,770 every year for 4 years, and the average family of four spends $28,166 a year on healthcare. All those costs are going up fast as public budgets get slashed over and over to pay for corporate tax breaks. Lots of us just can’t afford to have kids — on top of the costs, there’s no paid leave for parents, and no guarantee we’ll even be able to find a spot in a daycare while we work. The tax on Wall Street Bernie Sanders proposed last year would fund universal childcare and free college. Medicare for All and paid parental leave would let us raise healthy kids and care for ourselves. If you want grandchildren, it’s time to get involved in politics.