by Tim Collingwood
January 27, 2020
I have been actively involved with Cleveland DSA for over a year now, and I thought people would appreciate reading about how I became a socialist. I hope this can inspire others to share their own stories. Hopefully readers who are on the fence about being called a “socialist” will hear these stories and start to feel less awkward about the name. I am still owning the name and dealing with ignorance, as it seems to be the case with everyone who identifies with it at some point, but if writing about a shared experience helps, then I hope this can help you.
I was raised in an upper middle class, liberal Democrat home. I was raised by social justice Roman Catholics, but I was one generation from working class Irish Roman Catholics. I did notice class differences, but I kept most of my observations to myself. I was taught through example that we don’t talk about class openly. When I was in fifth grade, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which means that I am naturally passionate and sometimes won’t stop talking about things that I am passionate about.In addition, I won’t always read body language well. I did notice how people treated me after my diagnosis, and how ableism is an expression of capitalism that manifested in people’s perceptions of me. The diagnosis became a class distinction, and the inferior treatment I received, intentionally and unintentionally, made me internalize, compartmentalize, and shrink myself to the size of a thimble. This class distinction, as people with disabilities are seen as lower class, made me want to fight for the humanity I have. It led me towards other pathways to liberation struggles.
In high school, I declared myself feminist, and it was very easy for me to project through feminism a desire to see change in the world. I wasn’t out in the streets, but I also didn’t see equality and didn’t have the courage to activate. I was still “liberal” and my ability status was able to inform my passion for liberation struggles. I went to college at Cleveland State University and got my Bachelor’s, but, unlike my parents and siblings before me, I did not have a sustainable economy to greet me with work, as I thought I would have at the time. Instead, I had a recession, but I still didn’t equate economy with other systems around me. I remained “liberal,” voted blue willingly, asked questions, but accepted answers, and I was learning about experiences that weren’t mine in my public education. I continued private learning through social media forms and my own intellectual pursuits. Things changed in late 2014 and early 2015.
While I was learning about the realities of police violence for black and brown people in America through social media, it took Tamir Rice being murdered by Timothy Loehmmann, a Cleveland police officer, for me to get off the couch and into the street. My initial response was “not in my backyard.” I decided to show up for racial justice, and get involved with local activism around that. However, the more I learned and the more involved I got, the more I started to develop an understanding of systems at play and wanted to do more to challenge them. I began by learning how to be an ally, but eventually grew to be an accomplice towards racial justice.
All this came to a head in 2016, when I watched white supremacy play itself out in the presidential election. On one hand, we had a white nationalist candidate, Donald Trump. On the other, a candidate who upheld white supremacy but was publicly learning racial accountability, Hillary Clinton. But there was also Bernie Sanders, a candidate who challenged white supremacy, challenged white nationalism, and challenged the systemic inequities that made those capitalistic expressions appear stronger. I saw what took place at the Democratic National Convention, and I knew delegates who were there who saw the internal rigging that took place. I followed Bernie’s cue and supported the candidate helping the city I was living in stay blue, even amid my anti-racist activism. Then, on election day, I saw the system that had never failed me fail me. I was angry at the DNC and the entire two-party system.
I was getting emails from our chapter as early as 2017, when I met comrades at a demonstration. After a while, I decided to attend Meet and Greet events our chapter was holding. During this time, I was reading Socialism…Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation by Danny Katch, followed by Socialism: Past and Future by Michael Harrington, just to make sure I was educated as to what I was getting myself into and identifying myself correctly. Since I believe in solidarity and have tried to practice it, I went to a Solidarity Economy Committee meeting. Things clicked and I felt activated. I went to two public meetings, took a few conference calls, and after going to Solidarity Economy functions, I went to my first general meeting and reconnected with the people I had previously met. That was over a year and a half ago.
I am still challenging racism systemically, and am proud that our chapter is working on doing that. My understanding of socialism has grown and continues to grow. I identify as a Democratic Socialist because of this chapter. This is just my story, but I hope reading this can encourage you to share yours.