It’s a bad time to be a progressive in India. The tide has truly turned against you.
You watch helplessly as Kashmiris are made ‘prisoners’ in their own homes, as mobs that lynch people for transporting cattle are garlanded by central government ministers and let free by the courts, as laws are brazenly changed in the Parliament that will put freedom of speech at risk.
You sigh as online mobs drown out sane voices, as mainstream politicians use the language of genocide (“termites”) against immigrants, as the media fuels bigotry, and deviates from developmental issues, as hate speeches and songs advocating murder on communal grounds go viral, as mythology creeps its way into science curriculum — and as your ‘progressive cause’ goes leaderless in this challenging time.
Indeed, you’re feeling a little broken and drained.
We live in a world where you need money — to take care of yourself, to take care of people around you, to pay for your domestic worker’s healthcare and their children’s education.
First, Seek — Then Distribute — Wealth
While you feel strongly about progressive causes – broadly, fighting for greater individual rights, social equality, justice, environmental protection and international peace – you don’t nearly have the means to turn the aggressive right-wing nationalist tide in the country. You don’t have the access to funds, the oratory, the network, the energy, or the intent to plunge into full time politics or activism. You have a job, or perhaps are on the lookout for one. Perhaps you have a loan to pay. You’re in no position to go out onto the streets, but your progressive politics is also very personal. What then do you do?
You will need money, and you sure as hell need to pursue it – and give it away when you can.
It’s a thought I’ve heard from people with the privilege and ability to do so. It’s often a sigh of helplessness rather than a statement of serious intent. If you cared for progressive causes, you’d be troubled by what is happening regardless of what geography you’re in. And you’ll find deep fractures in whichever geography you move to.
Here’s what you – an urban middle class professional – should do instead.
First, seek (and distribute) wealth.
You should research what the highest earning people in your positions are paid, and negotiate hard for that.
Ditch Your Ideas Of ‘Greater Good’ — Your Progressive Cause Needs Money
Far too many progressive people I know work pro bono for people who are not out to do any social good. Far too many progressive people I know are underpaid because they don’t negotiate their salaries hard. Far too many progressive people I know work in underpaid sectors because they feel virtuous working there. They’re talented, but swim in pools full of imposter syndrome or ideas of ‘greater good’, when none is in sight.
If this is you, then you should research what the highest earning people in your positions are paid, and negotiate hard for that. Work on your skills if you have to. Change your field of work slightly if you have to.
Focus on issues where you’ll have the most influence.
This is a progressive cause because we live in a world where you need money — to take care of yourself, to take care of people around you, to pay for your domestic worker’s healthcare and their children’s education, to pay for platforms that fight fake news, to pay for the subscriptions to independent media that report what mainstream media won’t, to donate to causes and politicians who represent you, to buy emergency plane tickets for stranded Kashmiri students in your city, and to rent houses to those other people won’t — and much more. You will need money, and you sure as hell need to pursue it – and give it away when you can.
Seek Leadership Positions at Work — Take One for the Team
Two, seek leadership positions at work and elsewhere.
The best way to ensure employees at your workplace are not discriminated against, or that the management does not encourage bigotry in any form, is to be the management in the first place. Again, far too many talented progressive people I know don’t volunteer or pursue managerial roles because they dislike the paperwork and long administrative meetings. Time to take one for the team and do the right thing. You are needed in the offices and positions where you can influence others. Where people look up to you. Where you make the unpopular decisions. Make this your progressive cause.
Three, focus on issues where you’ll have the most influence.
Focusing on one or two issues will bring you more success.
Since you have progressive values, you’re probably bothered by a lot of things – caste, gender, sexuality, access to housing, racism, microaggression, what have you. Progressive friends and acquaintances of mine often fall into the same trap: they spread themselves too thin in their engagements with people and causes around them. This is especially true when conservatives and nationalists find ways to distract you with yet another micro social media outrage on a daily basis, and most progressive people end up in a reactionary cycle they’re unable to break out from.
Focus, Focus, Focus. Pick Issues that Matter MOST to YOU
Focus, focus, focus. Don’t let others set the agenda. Pick the issues that matter most to you and develop expertise in them. Don’t react to everything – react to a few things authoritatively. Importantly, don’t get exhausted online, because the battle for ideas that matter, and one that you can most influence, is the one in real life. Everyone only has a certain limited amount of social and political capital that we can exploit most effectively, so it is important to focus on a few things.
I say this from personal successes in engaging with acquaintances and making them take 180 degree turns on a few key issues: focusing on one or two issues will bring you more success. And trust me, in a world where the tide is strongly against you, you need a few ideological wins occasionally. It’ll help you keep you calm, help you focus, and encourage you to persist.
You may feel like you’re not being true to your beliefs by not voicing your opinion on everything that affects you, but this discipline will take you a longer way ahead. And when the time comes, you will be ready. When the occasion arises, when your personal life is stable, when a mass movement seems to be gathering momentum, when mainstream opposition leaders find their voice, you’ll be ready. With money, with social capital, with expertise, and with the energy to persist.
You better be.
(S Siddhartha works at an international policy organisation. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)