For most of my adult life, I’ve had one foot in academe and another in politics, realms most people tend to shun. I first went from college to politics because I wanted, like many other young people, to make a difference. I tried politics of all sorts: a youthful emergence as a feminist; a brief dally with conservatism; calling on universities to divest from apartheid regimes; organizing graduate students to take a stand against U.S. intervention in Nicaragua; working for progressive legislation on Capitol Hill; building coalitions; training grassroots activists in how to use the media and lobby Congress; and labor organizing. Holding the notion that politics is war by other means, I fought against the pesticide industry, the tobacco industry, the publishing industry, and the media. I rallied for women, farm workers, writers, student workers, and Greek nationalists. I tried the politics of militance and the politics of compromise, from writing for underground newspapers to lobbying Congress. The result? The whole enterprise disheartened me. All told, I found that whether I took a radical stand or a forgiving one, the outcome was the same: nothing really changed.
This failure was understandable when “the enemy” was industry, powerful corporate interests, entrenched lobbyists, the usual powersthat-be. But it was something else altogether when “the enemy” turned out to be one’s own side, that is, “the people.” How many times have I, with so many other political activists, asked: Why do people do things that aren’t in their own interests? Why do poor