When the housing bubble burst and a full-blown financial crisis developed in 2008 I was ten years old. I lived in an upper-class neighbourhood, so very few people around me were greatly affected by the crisis. 2008, however, would come to bother me for years after the recession ended.
At the time I didn’t know any socialists or truly understand what socialism meant. However, when the newly elected president, one who promised “hope” and “change”, bailed out the very same businesses that caused millions around the world to lose their jobs, something felt wrong. By the time I entered high school, Occupy Wall Street had spread across the country, even making it to my hometown. And while it seemed that the country had barely changed, my family had changed a lot.
In the three years since the initial crisis, our family relocated from a banking town to a university town. My father, having suffered acute anxiety after the collapse, quit his job at a business consulting firm and started to work at a state university. While my parents were finished with the big banks, Occupy served as a reminder of the regressive nature of the world we lived in. I still failed to associate these events with the follies of capitalism, but the movement had radicalised me. I began to question why we would save a system that collapsed under us. Why weren’t the perpetrators of 2008 in jail, while whole cities lost their jobs? If political whiplash is a real affliction, I had it.
The rest of high school proved to widen this void. While my state-funded school was racially and economically diverse, students were visibly divided along these lines in a form of de facto segregation. Shiny new cars occupied the student parking lot, as buses streamed in twice a day on the other side of the school. Only rich white students filled the advanced classes. These students went on to Harvard, Yale, amongst other universities. The other students went to state-funded universities, two-year programmes, work, and the army.
I sat somewhere between these groups. My family was not working class, but we were not the “one per cent”. While all my friends drove new cars and holidayed in Europe, I rode the bus and my family vacations usually meant camping or visiting my grandma. My family was by no means financially struggling; yet even sitting just below my peers’ socio-economic status allowed me develop outside of the neoliberal norms of my school.
The summer after I left high school, I listened to an extended radio piece on desegregating schools. The programme covered not only the busing of students across counties in the 1970s, but the dire need for integration now. To me and many other educators, integration was the clear fix to drastic inequality amongst students. Diverse classrooms proved to be valuable for all students, despite family background. But I found that even though the system was mutually beneficial, the ruling class wouldn’t compromise their unwavering status by uplifting those who sat on the bottom of society. This is where I finally broke.
Here I learned to blame capitalism and turned to socialism. Retrospectively, my path to becoming a socialist was clear, however unclear it may had been in the moment. Now in my daily life — organising campaigns, reading history, watching film — I find it hard to see anything but the greedy hands of capitalism hurting the “little guy”.
I think about 2008 constantly and I wonder when capitalism will fatally hurt us again. These thoughts are arduous, but here I am reminded of Sylvia Pankhurst’s words: “I am going to fight capitalism even if it kills me. It is wrong that people like you should be comfortable and well fed while all around you people are starving.” Being a socialist, I’ve decided, is the only way to be.