How do I come out of the Red closet?

So you’ve decided to oppose capitalism and join the struggle for socialism. Awesome! You’ve read some theory, joined a community organization, listened to the voices of oppressed peoples fighting for dignity and liberation, and you want to help out. That’s great.

Now, how do you tell people?

Socialism is still a scary, triggering word to so many. (That’s why we started this project) So, casually dropping it into conversation by the water-cooler or on the bus – “This weekend, I did some laundry, went to a socialist organization meeting, and saw Drive.” – probably won’t fly. Likewise, announcing, “I’m a socialist now,” might freak people out a little bit, if they aren’t familiar with what that means. When our political views shift or evolve, our friends and families may have common fears such as:

    • “You’re joining a cult. You’ll be brainwashed.”
    • “If you’re rejecting my worldviews, you’re rejecting me.”
    • “You’re joining a violent movement and will end up arrested for terrorism.”

Or you may get a condescending response that you’re going through a phase, that you’re being too idealistic or irrational, or that the only reason you like socialism is because you don’t have a real job yet. (To which you respond, “Duh? Capitalism isn’t helping me get a job!”)

"After reading some Marx and Engels, I agree! I think the Occupy people should rush our offices. I'll unlock the doors and join them!"

I wish I could say that paranoid or belittling responses are the worst reactions you’ll face, but some people have faced negative consequences at their jobs or in their schools. If this happens to you, seek legal advice (the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild are great resources) and report discrimination.

So what’s the best way to talk to your friends, co-workers, and family about socialism? If you think they’ll be receptive, start with current events. Almost everyone has an opinion on the jobs crisis, the Occupy Movement, the financial system, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, education, healthcare, etc. Find common ground. Unless the person you’re conversing with is extremely wealthy and fortunate, chances are they feel frustrated about the current state of the world. Lead with that. Ask them what they think should be done to change things, and then tell them what you think. If they know and respect your values, they’ll be more receptive to hearing you explain why you’re a socialist and what that means.

Many socialists call this “the mass line.” It’s a way to connect with people who, for whatever reason, are anti-socialist, but have progressive views on social issues. If you end up having a rewarding conversation with someone who understands your perspective on the need for economic democracy, you can follow up with the kicker, “That’s what socialism proposes, and that’s why I’m a socialist.”

Even LOLcats agree.

Socialism is, at its heart, about building community and reaching out to others. Etymologically, it’s rooted in the Latin word for companion or ally. So even if you’re afraid of being judged, make that leap to foster companionship. Send your friend to this website. Show them some resources where they can learn more. Keep talking. Talk about shared experiences. Build dialogue. Be proud of your beliefs. Recognize when someone is being dismissive and call them on it. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers but that you believe in the learning process, and you’ve been inspired by what you’ve learned so far.

You may be met with snide remarks or unfounded fears. But you may also find allies who are interested in what you have to say, who also want to work for a world without poverty and war. You may even find you’re talking to one of the 36% of Americans who support the idea of a socialist economy. And the more we talk to each other, and to others, the more that number will grow.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Lefty Lucy

About Lefty Lucy

Lefty Lucy is the managing editor of Ask A Socialist. She came to revolutionary politics through campus organizing in opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Since then, she has worked in United Students Against Sweatshops and various immigrant rights and anti-racism groups. She believes it's crucial for white, middle class people like herself to become allies in the struggle against all forms of oppression, to examine privilege and work towards liberation for all. She's also a musician, dancer, and poet - every revolution's gotta have art!
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