Socialism 2010

This last weekend I went to the ISO’s Socialism 2010 in Oakland. I went with four friends of mine, in one person’s car. Two sat in front, and three of us crammed into the back seat. It takes about seven hours to drive from Eugene to Oakland. This experience taught me a lesson I will always remember: never cram three people into a car seat for a seven-hour drive. It didn’t help that we drove through California’s broiling hot Central Valley. (We could have gone down the coast, but it would have taken a lot longer.) Even with the air conditioner on, we were sweating.

I’ve driven through Oakland many times, but I’d never really looked at the place before. I found it to be a very charming and pleasant city, one that has been unfairly overshadowed by its neighbor, San Francisco. The convention center was right on the edge of the city’s Chinatown neighborhood. Only a couple of blocks away from my (over-priced) hotel was a Vietnamese restaurant that served delicious sandwiches for $2.75 each. (I swear, I’m not making this up.)

One of the speakers I saw was Chris Hedges. I was surprised when I first learned that Hedges would be speaking at this event. I recall him making disparaging remarks about Trotsky in one of his books. (I guess this just shows that we shouldn’t immediately dismiss people just because they have some disagreements with us.) He attracted a larger audience than anyone else at this event. (Poor Josh Frank was scheduled to speak at the same time as Hedges. Boy, he must have been pissed.) Hedges’s talk was mostly good. He gave an absolutely devastating criticism of capitalism. (And this guy used to work for the New York Times!) However, he ended his talk by basically saying that revolution is impossible and there’s nothing we can do. (As Jerry Garcia famously said, “Bummer”.) Not surprisingly, during the discussion section, the speakers all took him to task for this. In his wrap-up, Hedges’s response to this was very interesting. He said he had been a reporter in war zones, and that he had learned that in a war zone it makes no difference whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

One other thing I didn’t like about Hedges’s talk is that he spent a lot of time talking about Michael Jackson’s funeral. Hedges apparently regards this event as a metaphor for all the false values in our society. Perhaps so, but did he need to spend almost 15 minutes talking about it?

I also saw the environmentalist, Heather Rogers, speak. She criticized the idea that it’s enough to have people making “green” choices. This is an idea that’s quite popular in Eugene, so it was interesting to hear a critique of it. Rogers emphasized the fact that it is capitalism and the need for profit that ultimately decide what choices we are allowed to make.

Wallace Shawn also spoke. He read an essay titled “Why I Became a Socialist”. It is a simple, non-political argument for socialism. It was also rather poignant. He talked about how our current society wastes people’s potential. I think this shows we can talk to people about socialism without having to quote Marx and Lenin.

After his talk, Shawn signed books for people. A friend of mine wanted to get Shawn’s autograph, so he grabbed a book that was one of Shawn’s earlier works and brought it to the table. Shawn looked at the book and said, “God help you if you read this. It’s such a depressing book.”

On the drive back, I immediately fell asleep, because I had gotten no sleep the night before. (I was coming down with a cold.) I woke up suddenly and found that we had left the highway. We were in a town that was nestled in those amazingly beautiful rolling hills that surround San Francisco Bay. My friends had decided that they wanted to sample free wine at a wine cooperative. The man who waited on us at the counter owned one of the local wineries. He told us that his great-grandfather had started making wine in the nineteenth century. The wine was very good. My friends bought some bottles, but, since my financial situation is tight right now, I declined to do so.

Next to the cooperative was a trailer, where a Black family sold barbecue. Their only sign was a board that had “Bar-B-Q” written in magic marker on it. It looked a little incongruous sitting next to this upscale wine place. After buying wine, my friends and I went over there to order some food. They advertised their barbecue as “Alabama style”. I don’t know enough about regional barbecue styles to be able to say whether or not that was simply a gimmick. It was quite good though. So there I was with my friends, sitting at a picnic table under a warm late afternoon sun, eating good barbecue and drinking good wine, surrounded by a beautiful landscape. I have to admit, there are times when I do miss living in California.

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2 Responses to “Socialism 2010”

  1. purple Says:

    My old neighborhood.

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