Growing up, I assumed my family was middle class. We had our own house, and my parents had stable jobs. We never seemed to lack anything. But the Great Recession shattered all illusions my parents had constructed to hide the fact that we were, in fact, poor. Our house was foreclosed on and the collapsing housing market left my Dad frequently unemployed. All of a sudden, the quirky family traditions exposed themselves to be my parents struggling to build a meaningful life for their kids, with hardly any resources to do it.
All of this was exacerbated when my father was diagnosed with cancer and my mother with early onset Alzheimer’s. My family was thrust into the bureaucracy of the healthcare system. Our only saving grace was that unlike many of my friends, we had health insurance. There was no chance we could afford the million dollar treatments my Dad was receiving for an illness he ultimately succumbed to. In the aftermath of this, my sister and I were forced to take financial responsibility for the family. We experienced firsthand what it’s like to manage a household on a minimum wage budget. We were shuffled from social worker to social worker. We filled out forms for any type of government assistance, only to be denied time and time again. At some point we stopped trying to get help. It was clear it wasn’t coming from the government.
These experiences left me deeply dissatisfied with the current way of things. At this point, my political beliefs boiled down to “Republicans bad, Democrats better…sometimes.” I came into Georgetown looking for answers to how I could help make things better. In my freshman spring I read the Communist Manifesto for the first time. Its words, written over 150 years ago, seemed to explain so much about my experiences. I began to study the people and movements I admired. Everyone from Martin Luther King Jr to the Gay Liberation Front to women’s groups to the Black Panthers seemed to be advocating socialism. And the people they looked to were socialists, too. The solidarity-based politics between people of all races, genders, religions, and classes spoke to me in a way that the milquetoast liberalism of the Democratic party never did. I wasn’t just a voter who showed up every 4 years to tick a box for the person I hated the least. I had agency to actually fight for popular control of my community. By the end of my second year at Georgetown, I was a socialist.
However, when I speak of socialism, I’m not referring to the policies of Bernie Sanders. While universal healthcare and tuition-free college are excellent policies that I support, they are not unique to socialism. Many countries in the world offer this yet remain capitalist. When I speak of socialism, I speak of a complete shift in how we organize our society. It isn’t enough to raise taxes to fund healthcare and college while still allowing the same exploitative system to exist. I seek a society in which workers own and decide what they produce, how they produce it, and distribute it on the basis of need, not profit. This requires going beyond the ambitious programs proposed by Sanders and building a working class movement that can wrest state power away from the minority capitalist class that has it.
To many at Georgetown this seems like a radical proposal. It is important to remember, however, that the vast majority of Georgetown students have not had to deal with the oppressions of capitalism. They have not lived one block away from a grocery store and still gone hungry. Most Georgetown students have not had to call a friend and ask to sleep on their couch for a few weeks because they could no longer stay in their apartment. And they haven’t seen those weeks turn into years. Most have never had to sit around the dinner table deciding if they will pay for their medicine, electricity, or groceries this week. The reality is, socialism is only a radical idea to those who have never had to deal with the consequences of capitalism.
The goal of capitalism is not the wellbeing of the greatest number of people in society. It’s goal is the creation of wealth. If it means enslaving Africans, wiping out indigenous people, exploiting and then deporting immigrants, intimidating women on the job–then so be it. Capitalism wields its blade against all people. Although it did not create every oppression in the world, the fact is that struggles against white supremacy, misogyny, imperialism, and all other oppressions are bound up in the economic system which leverages our oppressed state against us. Assata Shakur, a well known member of the Black Panther Party noted, “There was not a single liberation movement in Africa that was not fighting for socialism.” This pattern was and still is seen across Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
I can already hear the furious typing of capitalist defenders yelling at me about Venezuela and Cuba. Most Americans, however, are unaware of the role the capitalist motivations of the United States have played in causing or exacerbating crises in these countries. From talks with Venezuelan generals about orchestrating a coup to supporting an opposition that lynches black people just for looking like they support the Venezuelan government, the U.S. has played a large role in destabilizing socialist states. Despite a half-century long embargo on their socialist state, Cuba still manages have higher levels of human development than some American cities. And while these states have had failures, such as Cuba’s terrible treatment of gay people in the immediate years following the revolution, they are not representations of socialism’s failure as a system. Rather they are historical lessons socialists leaders themselves have acknowledged and corrected. Cuba now offers sex reassignment surgeries to trans people as part of the national health service.
I am a socialist because I believe that only through this economic system can the evils of capitalism be addressed once and for all. The wealthiest country in the world can do better than having a high homeless population, food insecurity, and insulin rationing. No one should have to endure what my family is still enduring to enrich a class that forced us into this position to begin with. We deserve a life free from the oppression of capitalism.