Member Spotlight: Joshua

We often say DSA is a “big tent”. It’s true that we all come from different backgrounds, but every one of our unique experiences has brought us to the same conclusion: A better world is possible, and it is ours to build. The following is the sixth in a series of stories told by our members about the events and experiences that led them to the Left.

I became active in MADSA in January 2020, and since then I’ve probably had more authentic experiences with like-minded people than any previous year (ironic, since we’re all physically isolated). I’ve always struggled with social anxiety, so I’ve had few relationships where I felt I could open up. Having strongly-held political viewpoints as a central part of my personality has not exactly helped me feel closer to others.

I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, in Gwinnett County. My dad, a white American, worked in IT, and my mom, an immigrant from the Philippines, was a nurse. They met through church, and I had a deeply religious upbringing. As a child, I remember listening to taped sermons to fall asleep. I judged my uncle for not converting to Christianity when we talked about it once (I’m pretty sure I told him he would go to hell). We didn’t celebrate Halloween, and scoffed at those who did. My parents’ evangelical beliefs, and my mom’s anti-establishment sentiments, inspired the decision to homeschool my sister and me. I know my mom (it was mainly her decision) believed this was the best decision for us at the time, but looking back, I have to disagree.

My mom left her job as a nurse to homeschool us. We still attended church early on, and my parents did what they could to involve us in other extracurriculars — I was in Cub Scouts, and we joined groups with other homeschooled kids. But my mom’s growing distrust of organized religion lead us to stop attending church, and our household struggled on a single income. My family had a single car for eight years, which my dad used for work. Since a car is required to go anywhere in the suburbs, opportunities to leave the house were few. To make matters worse, my parents had always had a troubled relationship. I witnessed countless fights and internalized my parents’ own worries about their finances and futures, which they couldn’t have hidden from us if they wanted to. While I desperately wished my parents would separate to spare all of us this trauma, their codependency, the remains of their religious beliefs, and my sister and I kept them together. I felt deeply isolated and wanted nothing more than an escape and to feel normal.

I knew the wider world was out there. My own religiosity diminished. There was no going back when I finally learned how natural selection worked (this is why they don’t teach it). I turned to the internet to escape my solitude, and made friends as far-flung as Singapore and Sweden, as well as Canada and across the US. Young and isolated as I was, when one of my best friends revealed to me that he was gay, it may have been the first time I consciously caught a glimpse of — and felt a stake in — a struggle that wasn’t my own. I made a deliberate effort to support the gay rights movement after that.

I felt like my life didn’t start until I finally reached college at Georgia State (I finally got vaccinated!), where I majored in computer science. I relished my newfound freedom despite the ceaseless, nigh-incapacitating anxiety of personally incurring tens of thousands of dollars in student debt in a desperate gamble that working in the software industry might let me drag myself from my parents’ difficult financial situation. The modern gay rights movement was coalescing, Obama (who I was pretty sure Ended Racism when he won in 2008) had just won his second term, and I was entering a field in which I knew women were heavily underrepresented. I was fascinated by these social forces, which I suspected were related, and I enrolled in Intro to Women’s Studies hoping to understand how. The dots connected, and the tapestry of the Left unfolded before me. Oppressions were interrelated, capitalism was the problem, and I could see the Matrix. It was like learning about natural selection all over again. I considered majoring in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) but, scarred as I was by my parents’ financial troubles, I balked due to the unlikelihood of gainful employment. So I minored in it instead.

I felt freedom at GSU, but also isolation. I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t have friends from high school there. I wasn’t Black or white or Asian or anything else. I was too interested in politics and sociology to bond with the computer science majors, but I also felt too white or too male to fully belong in WGSS spaces. I never identified with masculinity and met too many problematic men, so I started identifying as non-binary. And as much as I loved WGSS, I took exclusive identity politics to an extreme which only isolated me further.

After college, putting the theory I learned in school into practice was not an easy transition. I moved in with my partner and landed a job doing safe but meaningless work. By wheedling my way into something resembling a middle-class life, I dodged the bullet of financial hardship that so many millennials haven’t. I still feel survivor’s guilt. I desperately feared sinking into a rote bourgeois existence while the world continued to fall apart around me, but with life changes and social anxiety holding me back, I thought I could only help from afar. I donated to candidates and left organizations. I paid more attention to local politics. I read books and listened to podcasts. I watched and waited until the fear of not doing more outweighed the fear of joining the fight.

The movement born out of Bernie’s first campaign — the resurgence of socialism in the United States — broke the hegemony of capitalism for the first time in my lifetime. Socialism was an alternative to something which, throughout my life, has felt as constant and unquestionable as gravity (and as certain to cause our downfall). To paraphrase Naomi Klein, saying no to capitalism is not enough — there must be an alternative. Socialism is our “yes.” That’s what pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Now I’ve gone from never letting anyone in to sharing my story with all of you. I’ve gone from fear of alienating others with my politics to knocking on strangers’ doors for Medicare For All and defunding police. I’m still surprised about it myself. But other people are the reason we’re in this fight — to win a better world for all of us. The community I’ve found in MADSA has shown me that in this struggle, everyone I meet is a potential comrade.

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