I’m Writing a Book
If you’re wondering who I am or what gave me the nerve to write a book, let me briefly explain my origin story and my credentials. In 2007, I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography. After serving in AmeriCorps for a year, I began looking for a job in my field of study amid a frenetic financial crisis and the subsequent Great Recession. The job search proved rather difficult and frustrating. Every place I applied to either wasn’t hiring or was actively downsizing. This went on for months. I couldn’t help but partially blame myself, although I later found out that more than 8 million Americans lost their jobs in this economic nightmare.
Eventually I settled for a series of restaurant and manual labor jobs, still applying to countless “better” jobs in my spare time. I was so desperate that I often revised and sent résumés and cover letters to places that weren’t even hiring. You know, just in case.
My inability to find a job in my field was disheartening in its own right, but I also had to worry about how I’d make my exorbitant monthly student loan payments. Despite a few freelance gigs over the years, I never found a full-time job in my field of study, and, due to practically predatory interest rates, my total student loan debt is still about the same as it was when I graduated — around $100,000.
I recently settled down, got married, and adopted two pit bulls. I worked another manual labor job for four years until the pandemic hit. My life certainly hasn’t gone as I expected it to — or as I was told it would. Financial stability may be on the horizon, but it has eluded me more often than not.
My story is by no means unique. In fact, almost 80% of American workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, 44% of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency, and 45 million Americans are burdened with a cumulative $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. As I have personally discovered, these precarious material conditions can often till the soil for political radicalization. The question is whether one will be pushed to the left or to the right.
Writing is probably the one thing in my life that has remained constant. It runs in my family, so it’s practically involuntary. I have kept journals as long as I can remember, and in college I began writing outlandish stories — both fiction and non-fiction — for the school newspaper. I also wrote a polemic called something like, “Jesus Christ vs. George W. Bush.” Thinking back, that may have been my first official written work of political commentary. History and liberal studies professors seemed to give me more positive feedback on my writing than professors in my own field of study. Maybe I should have taken the hint.
Back then I was an anarcho-curious liberal, having previously read Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Moore books during my bookstore gig fresh out of high school. I was vehemently anti-Bush, often incorporating him and his fiendish posse into my visual art projects. I attended many local Iraq War protests, taking photos and chanting with the crowds. I casually chatted with cops who were present, not yet knowing they are enemies of the working class.
Around that time, I interned at an organization called Peace Action, a small, seemingly anti-imperialist outfit staffed by long-haired white folks who raised awareness of the horrors of U.S. foreign policy. Bush was conducting mass murder against innocent civilians and I knew he needed to be stopped. I decided to canvass door-to-door for Kerry/Edwards 2004 in my spare time. The Johns. Sure, both parties sucked, but this was really about defeating Bush — the most dangerous president in our lifetimes.
Fast-forward to 2016. Despite being what I vaguely referred to as a “socialist” for years and years, the election of Donald Trump immediately awakened a dormant radicalism in me. I soon found myself participating in a counter-protest that was confronting a “White Lives Matter” rally, complete with masked antifa warriors, riots police, and armed Maoists. This harsh new hyper-American reality began broadening my political horizons. I knew what I was witnessing around me wasn’t acceptable — but I didn’t quite know the path forward.
Dusting off my most trusty skill, I decided to start writing political commentary. Hell, I had already been doing so for years in the form of vitriolic social media arguments anyway. As I read more and wrote more, my views became more refined. I thought more about the systemic nature of the failures of progressive activism, the tangible barriers to working-class solidary, and the important analyses that were omitted from leftist discourse. My recent political journey is apparent in these pages and is surely relatable to others.
What I have assembled in this volume is a series of essays, op-eds, and polemics written during the four-year period between April 2017 and April 2021. A handful of the pieces featured here were also published by a working-class think tank called The Hampton Institute (named after the famous Black Panther Fred Hampton). This organization was founded “with the purpose of giving a platform to everyday, working-class people to theorize, comment, analyze, and discuss matters that exist outside the confines of their daily lives, yet greatly impact them on a daily basis.” The proletarian framework for The Hampton Institute stuck with me, providing more confidence to continue writing political commentary without feeling as through I lacked the proper credentials.
I am and always have been a working-class Joe. My first job was a paper route at around age 13. I then worked at a local pizza joint for most of high school. My subsequent jobs included forklift driver, warehouse worker, server, coffee roaster, “event operations staff,” circuit board assembler, Uber driver, and shift manager at a sandwich shop. Because of this background, I tend to tell it like it is. I don’t utilize vacuous political rhetoric or hide behind a façade of “objectivity.” I’m no bourgeois pundit or temporarily embarrassed millionaire, polishing the boot of the establishment for a shot at an MSNBC gig. I didn’t get a full ride scholarship to Yale to study journalism because my father was in some macabre secret society.
You’ve heard enough from people like that.