This is the text of a speech given at the GEO May 1 rally on the UIUC Main Quad.
Thanks to the GEO for having me. Not just because May Day is truly and historically a celebration of anarchist labor organizing, but also because I usually feel very left out of May Day, despite being an anarchist. So I figure I’m going to talk about why that is, and about the kinds of labor that a lot of folks don’t care about and what it does to us.
My name is Kristina. I have three young children, all under the age of ten, and I have three part-time jobs. I currently have no health insurance, and a disaster or big emergency would likely destroy me financially or seriously injure my extended family should they offer to help. I have trouble with my eyesight, a natural part of aging, as well as needing regular dental visits; but I can’t attend to either. It’s too expensive.
Now, I’m lucky in a lot of ways. I really like my jobs. I get to work with people who are wonderful and treat me with respect. A lot of workers can’t say the same. My main employer owns a small business with only a handful of employees, but is trying to get me and my family health insurance. Like I said, I’m lucky. Because a lot of folks in this country work multiple jobs with assholes for bosses who could care less if they had health insurance, got sick, suffer from mental illness, or had to take care of their children or other family members in an emergency.
My financial precarity is incredibly stressful. It can cause panic attacks, depression, and never-ending anxiety. I know I’m far from alone. There are numerous articles out there now about this, but I don’t need those to see my peers also struggling with the stress of getting by. Shit is real.
As I get older I lose more and more friends to suicide, and I’ve had my own suicide attempts interrupted by loved ones.
I know I’m not the only one here who has had late-night text conversations with friends who want to escape the brutality of life. A lot of us have talked a friend off a cliff at two a.m. And as long as I’ve been alive this has been in large part a private conversation, hushed exchanges with only the most trusted around us, because aren’t we so weak and what is wrong with us? Why can’t we just make it? Why can’t we just have enough to get by? Why are we worth so little?
Why are we worth so little? Who puts that thought in our heads? Who says what we are worth or not worth? Who defines worthiness?
After I had my first baby I had family members who thought I’d just thrown my life away. They thought I was “smarter than that” and could have done “greater things”; and by “greater things” they really meant go down a career path that could have elevated me beyond my family’s working-class history. I couldn’t help but feel they were disappointed, and yet here I was holding this little person that I would die or kill for—that’s just the truth. He was the world, the stars, and the sun. And I had never had a harder job in my life. I’ve worked in retail and service industries, but nothing was this hard. And guess how much I got paid?
Yeah that’s right, nothing.
Despite spending every waking minute taking care of other humans and a home, I felt unproductive and I said it. I said it to myself and I said it to others, because deep down I didn’t think caring for other people was work. I’ve heard other parents say the same. That’s when my anxiety and depression grew into the beast I now am very familiar with. Hell, May Day in large part celebrates the history of the Chicago anarchists, one of whom is Lucy Parsons. Most people don’t talk about the fact that she was also a parent. If you think she was out organizing without thinking about her children every day, you’re mistaken.
What would happen if we valued the work of caring for each other? If that care and love was seen as productive? Might we care more about the well-being of one another and in turn ourselves?
Oh, but what would that do for capitalism?
We see scraping by and enduring shitty bosses as love for the mouths we have to feed. And that’s valid. It absolutely is. But it’s not sustainable and it does not produce the happiness required to live lives with deep personal meaning. Capitalism doesn’t value our relationships with one another. Because when we’re together we leave the big bully of capitalism out of our plans, and without that jerk we start dreaming up better things for one another and ourselves. We start dreaming up a world where everyone has value, including ourselves. Where we are free from the torture of anxiety and live in a world free from fear.
And the truth is that there are more of us than them. More working-class folks than rich. More workers than bosses. The question is: are we willing to say and believe that we are worth something better?
Kristina Khan is a local activist, mother of three, and the primary author of “Young Fascists on Campus: Turning Point USA and its Far-Right Connections” on Truthout.org.