Thursday, December 23, 2010

DADT and Economic Justice

Sometimes acts of justice move in the same normative direction even though they may not be fully consistent with one another.  Activists negotiate their movement around these acts in different ways.  While millions of people are celebrating the impending demise of the ban on openly GLBT military personnel, a few organizations, and many individuals, have questioned the appropriateness of progressives celebrating a policy which, foundationally, is a victory for the military-industrial complex, a route for more smoothely escorting people into the imperialist death machine.

While it is important to note that the public justification for lifting the ban drips with the rhetoric of imperialism, there's not a lot of new information to discover there.  The U.S. military is simultaneously the oppressive arm of multinational capital, and home to millions of working class people, many of whom are economically dependant on the military and, of those, many who discover, too late in some instances, that much of the solidarity, honor, and valor they may initially have sought in their jobs has been hijacked by the imperialist-mercenary role of U.S. forces. 

One terse dismissal of the DADT victory came from Queers for Economic Justice, who seamlessly tie the struggle for economic justice to the overall struggle against militarism:
QEJ believes military service is not economic justice, and it is immoral that the military is the nation’s de facto jobs program for poor and working-class people. And since QEJ organizes LGBTQ homeless people in New York City, we wanted to remind the LGBT community and progressive anti-war allies that militarism and war profiteering do not serve the interests of LGBT people.
When I posted QEJ's statement on the Shared Sacrifice FB fan page, one reader responded that it was shameful QEJ seemed incapable of distinguishing between doing one good thing and solving every systemic problem.   I agree, but I'm trying to understand their argument better. They needed to better articulate how, precisely, this is a setback or a distraction--the only two warrants, as I see it, for their conclusion. It is true that, as presently constructed, "military service is not economic justice." But neither are most jobs where we're demanding an end to discrimination. What I do agree with, vehemently, is the need to prioritize the struggle for economic justice.

Last Saturday, Jason & Annette & I had a good discussion on the Shared Sacrifice Weekend podcast about the tension between equal rights within existing institutions, and the true argument that this is all just more human beings being thrown into the grinder. Several arguments emerged, of which the following are the general types, and I am not necessarily endorsing any of them as I list them: (1) Gays already serve, always have, so kind of a "non-unique, only a risk you increase people's dignity" argument. (2) Equal opportunity: Serving in the military is often a pathway to getting good jobs, paying for education, and other benefits. Saying "f--- the war machine!" doesn't answer back the equality argument, it just makes you sound like a hippie who has nothing to offer the working class. (3) The "it's not militarism itself, it's the bourgeois fat cats who start the illegal wars" argument. Essentially: the military can be used for good ends such as fighting the Nazis, disaster response, space exploration, anything good requiring major amounts of discipline, comaradery and collective will. Don't knock the military--reform society and end the corporate colonization of all aspects of American life, and institutions will invariably change for the better. (4) Don't insult people in the military by reducing the entirety of their existence and their values to "dying for oil" or whatever.

Personally I see no more contradiction fighting imperialism while promoting equality in the military, than I see fighting wage slavery while promoting equality in the workplace.  In a sense, these are inconsistent, because the social and material conditions under which we live are themselves inconsistent.  But like I said at the outset, they move in the same normative direction.  Controversial, even uncomfortable conversations like those sparked by QEJ, help us forge that normative space, important in the long view.  And while we argue, we can fight for common goals (think ENDA, since even after DADT is repealed, bosses all over the country will still be able to fire workers for being gay). 

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