Yesterday, Martin and I hosted an online conversation on Nancy Fraser’s The Old is Dying and the New Cannot be Born, and it went spectacularly well. There were ten of us: six from Northeast PA, two in NY, one in Columbus, Ohio, and another in San Diego! Every attendee spoke, and spoke from a place of commitment and curiosity. Several times we shared some of our own experiences, reflecting on whether these aligned with Fraser's analysis.
The essay opened up new ways of viewing our present moment, as attendees noted. Brianna Schunk, a recent English and Dance graduate from Wilkes University, said she appreciated Fraser's distinction between distribution and recognition. Fraser defines "recognition" as the way that "society apportions respect and esteem" and "distribution" as how society " allocates divisible goods, especially income"; Brianna said her parents reject her objections to Trump because they mainly agree with his politics of recognition, though they have nothing to gain from his distributive politics. Dr. Mischelle Anthony, chair of English at Wilkes, said that she saw real evidence of the historical picture painted by Fraser; students in her classes tend to vociferously defend the rights of racial and sexual minorities, but often decline to sympathize with people across class divides. Reminding ourselves that we are all workers with shared interests in capitalist society, we struggled to figure out how--by what rhetoric, by which means--we could unify the white and non-white working class.
Close to the end of the meeting, we wrestled with Fraser's ideas on "progressive populism." Despite the end of Bernie Sanders's campaign--a campaign that embodied an inclusive politics of recognition as well as a re-distributive politics that favored the working class--we felt that Fraser's ideas of populism lived on in the George Floyd uprisings. As the May '68 uprisings have taught us, beauty is in the streets.
We're grateful to partner with Anthracite Unite, a group of activists and organizers working out of Northeastern PA. Check them out here if you haven't already.