Anna Breslaw’s 600-Word Sprint: Introducing My Sister, Beth
TakePart is stoked (to coin a term) to present the inaugural issue of “Anna Breslaw’s 600-Word Sprint,” a weekly column of social justice insight, provocation and solution. Look for Anna’s Sprint every Thursday on the homepage of TakePart.
There are three ways you can come out when you were raised in the kind of lower-middle class family that is suspicious enough of the system to label it “the system”—active and idealistic, passive and defeatist, or intentionally unaware in order to avoid becoming one of the previous two.
I am ashamed to say that up until this point I’ve mostly been the third. When my sister Beth was 12, she began volunteering at animal shelters and was organizing them within the year. Before this, she worked at a nonprofit to end prison violence and spent a semester carrying federal prisoners’ letters in her purse so that she could read them on bus rides.
Last year she was in The New York Times when she led a protest at Rutgers. I was also in the Times last year, with an essay about dating.This should give you an idea of how different our Google search results come out.
Now, recently graduated from college, Beth’s working 14-hour days on behalf of the Newark Airport labor union and thinks that organizing gets a bad rep: “When people think of unions they picture an old corrupt white guy, like in Season 2 of The Wire,” she tells me on the phone, explaining that she left the prison justice system because she was drawn to organizing over advocating, helping people realize they have a voice rather than speaking on their behalf.
The organizer’s credo, something like the Hippocratic oath, is “Never do for others what they should be able to do for themselves.” She tells me that Chris Christie, the governor of my home state of New Jersey, like many fiscal conservatives in office, has been busting unions Reagan-style even though only 7 percent of American workers are actually unionized.
The Daily Show’s successful because it’s easier and more fun to marinate in disgruntled self-righteousness over the stupidly obvious social and policy problems being lampooned by Stewart than it is to try to fix said problems.
Why she and I turned out so different is hard to say. I have never felt inclined to follow politics because it’s difficult for me to visualize the hard lines required for real conviction; as I get older, things feel increasingly bottomless, with a different conclusion reached the harder I think about it, like the Doom Slide in Ghostbusters that never ends and leaves you sliding forever.
It also seems to me that most people my age in New York with any political opinions have really just watched The Daily Show the night before for the CliffsNotes of how they were supposed to feel, forgetting that Jon Stewart is primarily a performer (and furthermore, was a performer in both Big Daddy and The Faculty) before he found his real talent, which is to play a fake reporter who turns the news into easily digestible bits. The Daily Show’s successful because it’s easier and more fun to marinate in disgruntled self-righteousness over the stupidly obvious social and policy problems being lampooned by Stewart than it is to try to fix said problems.
That being said, what I’d like to do here is discover, research and tackle issues of interest or concern with no predetermined political agenda whatsoever—starting with the small stories of lives lived under the strain of unpaid overtime and lost Social Security contributions, minimum wage, sexism, racism, child labor—and broadening into a larger picture as I gain more perspective.
Ultimately, to move closer to the hope of a just society, one must look as closely at the people as they do the politics, and this is where my area of interest lies.