Recently, a comrade posted bits of a conversation that she had with Gloria Steinem on Facebook, following the Women’s March in Washington:
Her: “How do socialists build power in this moment?”
Steinem: “We have to stop being so elitist. The men refuse to be less scholarly. Remember, The Iroquois nation was decentralized and led by women. That was a model democracy.”
I have been thinking about this ever since, and the more I think about it, the more true it rings. Trying to eliminate elitism from within our ranks is not going to be an easy task, but it’s an absolute necessity for building power. Without tackling this, we truly stand to let this moment pass us by.
Anecdotally, I myself have sat in on meetings with fellow socialists where it’s obvious that those (white males) with academic credentials believe that they should be the ones in charge by default. It’s a shame, really, because I think they are motivated by a desire to work towards the greater good, and don’t perceive themselves as being oppressive, but they are effectively not able to see past their own bullshit (I feel it’s important to note here that Steinem doesn’t say that we don’t need scholarly men in the movement, just that the men refuse to be less scholarly).
At the risk of sounding like a starry-eyed idealist, for socialists to continue building power, we need as wide an array of talents and experiences as we can get. It is critically important that our leaders embrace the idea that “there is no one better than me, and I’m no better than anyone else.”
Good organizing requires leaders who are able to see the talents and desires of others, and then help them find places to apply them. As democratic socialists, in order to make the most of what we have we must all work to actively notice the skills bias we have, which is largely influenced by class and education.