I grew up in the nineties, during an economic boom when climate change wasn’t real and everyone was happy.
I mean, nah. Obviously not.
Climate change very much was real. Just distant enough that the powers-that-be could marginalise it and frame it as a ‘fringe’ issue. The chickens had not started coming home to roost in a way they are now which meant the effects of capitalist climate change can no longer be denied. In the nineties, distraction was easier. While activists and scientists were sounding the alarm that our rate of carbon emissions was climbing alarmingly—and that we were on track to produce more greenhouse gases in a few decades than in a few centuries, with predictably dire consequences—fossil fuel industries were busy seeding disinformation, politicians were lost in corporations’ pockets, and the corporate media failed at every stage to reflect in any way the scale of the crisis.
As for the economy, the UK began the nineties with a colossal recession, and though the latter part of the decade—the main part I remember—brought with it a huge atmosphere of hope in the form of one charismatic New Labour politician, it wasn’t long before his charming grin showed revealed itself to be a Thatcherite rictus bringing with it an embedding of the status quo and a priming of the ground for what was to come after. The US may well have experienced a strong economic boom in the decade, but as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz put it in his book, ‘The Roaring Nineties: Why We’re Paying the Price for the Greediest Decade in History’:
[M]uch of the wealth that had been seemingly created in the Roaring Nineties was nothing more than a phantasm, that much of the wealth was “stolen” property, acquired through misleading accounting and tax scams, in an economy where corporate governance had failed, and failed badly. But for the lucky few who had cashed in, there was the basis to found a new set of dynasties. At least the railroad barons of the nineteenth century, who used political influence to attain their riches, left behind a legacy of railroads, of hard capital, which bound the country together and energized its growth. What was the legacy of so many of the dot-com millionaires and billionaires, the executives of Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom, and Adelphi, other than the horror stories which would regale future generations?
When I think of the nineties, the unifying theme seems to be ‘betrayal of hope’. As a child, hope is one of the driving forces of life. The expansion of your horizon appears as if it will on forever, your possibilities multiplying endlessly. This might be true for all eras, but to come of age in the nineties and new Millennium was to see that hope dashed against the rocks of reality in a really stark fashion. Faux progressive politicians from Clinton to Blair to Obama promised new dawns while waging endless wars and enabling capitalism’s destruction of the planet as well as the housing and job markets. It’s almost as if Eomer was speaking directly to those of us coming of age around then: ‘Do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.’
The thing about hope loss of course is that it often comes with an awakening. A political shock that lets you see how the real world works—a ‘squeegeing of your third eye’ as Bill Hicks put it once. There was a Twitter thread the other day that touched on this topic, that asked the question: What radicalised you? ‘Radicalised’ is one choice of word that others might simply call: Awoke. Both are valid. For me and many of my generation, that moment was the Iraq War. Perhaps the supreme crime of the modern era. An obviously illegal and immoral war of racist imperialist aggression and cynical capitalist geopoliticking, opposed by millions of us around the globe, that went ahead despite one of the largest protest events in human history. Even for those of us who had been keeping an eye on the workings of the world before that was a real ‘no going back’ moment. Obviously describing the awakening of one’s political consciousness in terms of a single moment is an inherently reductive act, but nevertheless it provides some food for thought and an interesting insight into different perspectives. Anyway here’s that Twitter thread:
what radicalized you?— Armani (@historyofarmani) August 4, 2020
Obama. I was 17 when he was elected and was excited cause I was starting to really form my own political opinions but then watching him continue the wars, put wall st execs in his cabinet, and just generally not fight for the left slowly pushed me further and further left— Adam (@Insectwarfare9) August 4, 2020
Being born Black— Anthony V. Clark (@anthonyvclark20) August 4, 2020
My parents had paid off their mortgage and home equity loans. Then my mom got cancer. She’s slowly liquidating all the retirement she spent 20 years scraping together while my blue-collar dad works 70 hours a week at his UCFW job—and they don’t see how things could ever change.— A White Burn-Out With An Authentic Taco Truck (@chris_gyurnek) August 4, 2020
The year 2020. Sorry it took so long to fully identify my beliefs and accurately express them. Hardcore Republican father and left leaning centrist mother made me take a sec to get here. Now I proudly say I'm an Eco-Anarchist— The Sweetest Eco-Marxists (@SweetAnarchyy) August 5, 2020
When I was in the military I noticed every country we went to hated us. Really hated us. It made me want to find out why.— Cozca (@KohzKah) August 4, 2020
Everything traced back to White Supremacy and capitalistic greed. I want no part of that.
being extremely online as a teen in the late 90s early 00s and having access to ideas not isolated to the small shitty town I grew up in (also hardcore music)— rachel (@ohhoe) August 4, 2020
Working in a hospital. Before hand I was pretty conservative, raised Evangelical. Once I saw how our healthcare system treated those with no money, I was mortified. Everything dominoed from there until I found myself angry at the injustices so pervasive in the states— Kristie (@Renvere) August 5, 2020
When I was 7 my family was in a car accident in a pretty nice neighborhood. My mom had 4 kids and a toddler alone with her, bleeding on the side of the road. And the only person who helped was a homeless man who spent his last 2 dollars on buying us paper towels— ACAB | BLM (@elijahlane123) August 5, 2020
I was 19 yrs old. I watched a police officer lie in court about an assault by police on protestors that I had witnessed with my own eyes. It was shocking to see how skilled the officer was at lying in such an earnest manner - obviously a finely honed skill.— Drug Policy Alternatives (@MikeDeVillaer) August 5, 2020
During the 2008 housing crisis, my parents had been paying for our home of 5+ years through owner financing. Later we were told he was pocketing our mortgage and our home was being foreclosed. We were forced out of our home within a month.— amanda (@Amanda_ilyssa) August 6, 2020
Never got better. Was sent on D-DAY at Walmart because I had asked for 3 hours if I could go to the bathroom to switch my pad. They wouldn't let me. I finally said fuck them they can't do this and went. The store manager/assist. Blocked the bathroom door and blocked my locker.— tate. (@tillerlindemann) August 6, 2020
Many experiences throughout my life. For example: I remember the moment I realized what it meant to be in the permanent underclass. I was homeless, and desperately needed to pee, but no one would let me use their restroom. I was why they had those locks. I'll never forget that.— Be FolkSkaPunk Ⓐ 🏴 (@HumanistSocial2) August 4, 2020
1992 Fed program funded police presence in the predominantly Black neighborhood I grew up in. They cleared out generations of families, assaulted any and all non-white people, all to make way for upper income white people to buy in for cheap.https://t.co/FOkWPJWf3q— Ugotme Phuqdup: ABOLISH the POLICE (@FatChronic) August 6, 2020
My 7 year old self seeing president Reagan on the news calling people like my mom a welfare queen, and families like ours lazy leeches.— Totally Not a Giant Bug in a Hat (@DannyDoesCode) August 5, 2020
And subdued and how much development and opportunity our colonizers brought us. We definitely need to start teaching kids early how great their African heritage is and how rich their culture and history is. We are beautiful and strong. Africa is everything! 2/2— Angela Manjee (@EfYa_FinDu) August 7, 2020
17 succeeding and struggling to get my mom to leave an abusive marriage (+ financial struggle proceeding) realizing that psychopath and narcissists display a lot of the same traits as fascists. reading marx and silvia federici to connect the personal with the political— mary ☭ (@hammered_sickle) August 4, 2020
Seeing 30 cops in riot gear protect a literal Nazi rally of 20 Nazis. The cops walked them to and from their car to make sure they were safe— possum faerie (@i_am_remy_bot) August 4, 2020
I was 12 when my father and mother told me they were going to downtown Portland to protest in solidarity with striking dock workers. When they got home later that evening, they were bruised and bloody. They were hit with batons. Never arrested or detained. I remember crying.— Kay Bail (@kay_bail) August 7, 2020
Being beaten by 5 cops for standing in the street at my first ever protest— Sara the proud AntiFascist (@SaraStoner13) August 4, 2020
The two biggies were protesting the Iraq war as a teen and my own Congressman laughing at us (I REALLY thought if a teenager could see it was a terrible plan, he would too) and then a friend going DEEP in medical debt because he stepped on a nail between jobs (between insurance).— Leslie J. Anderson (@inkhat) August 7, 2020
Working overtime all summer running a lathe at a car parts factory so that I would have money to eat at college and then having my financial aid package reduced by the exact amount I made— Zoe Keating (@zoecello) August 6, 2020
the realization that the things I consider to be failures of the system "aren't bugs, but features"— Tankarchist-Posadist (@Tankarchist) August 4, 2020
when you stop allowing yourself to be tethered by what "should" be, according to rules set by the discourse, you see how things really are pic.twitter.com/FgCGEIjgiY
Learning of the transatlantic slave trade. It was this horrific history that was the prelude into Critical Theory. pic.twitter.com/vVd423xHrj— 🌹🔻Brandon🕸Edwards🚩🏴 (@MarxianBrando) August 4, 2020
Being born poor in a wealthy nation. Being denied access to almost everything because of my socioeconomic status. Watching my friends and co-workers have much less privilege even than I because they are Black or Brown. Being raised by a divorced mother with no support. Reading.— Iamother.Iteration (@IamotherI) August 4, 2020
Training to be a police officer. I entered Police Explorers in high school and was horrified by the proud, open prejudice. Cops sitting around in uniform talking about how they agreed with George Zimmerman. Blatant abuse of power and overt racism weren’t questioned.— bog body (@ceiling_dweller) August 6, 2020
I did everything my dad did to be middle class. I went to college, grad school, got a good unionized job with healthcare and a retirement package.— Sara Lifschutz (@saralifschutz) August 4, 2020
Realized that the lifestyle he provided for us in the 90s/00s on one salary was unattainable for me and my partner on TWO salaries.
As a young child, watching the White flight when my dad bought our apartment complex. All but one of our tenants moved when they learned a Black man bought the building. White flight happened in our neighborhood, too, once other neighbors learned we'd bought property.— Anita Cameron (@adaptanita) August 7, 2020
A bank error made me miss a mortgage payment even though the money was in my account. Two weeks later the locks were changed by a private company. I needed to pay 2,000$ in "legal fees" in four days to stop the lawyers "Transferring ownership" I had maybe 400$.— Leslie (@Emsrelda) August 6, 2020
I lost my house.
Prior to that, the Iraq war made me a liberal. The collapse, witnessing police killings of unarmed black people, the failure to close Guantanamo or meaningfully end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… Those pushed me further left.— Let’s Get Better Together (@BystanderBill) August 6, 2020
- Seeing the way the establishment circled around war after 9/11, and how Middle Easterners became pariahs— Julia - Trans and Proud (@TomekeeperJulia) August 4, 2020
- Pretty much my entire law school experience
- Specifically, when I spent a month reading 100,000 pages of COINTELPRO files on one Black Panther chapter
watching my dad count out pills and try to figure out which of his necessary for life meds he could skip a few days of. he could not pay for all of his med copays. our shit healthcare system left us in poverty when he got sick. he'd owned his own small business, died penniless.— Nimil (@Nimil) August 6, 2020
When cops literally killed a sleeping kid and basically said "my bad" and the "Justice" system made all the charges go away. pic.twitter.com/N0mnFe6YgP— Justice for Breonna (@piecesofd21) August 6, 2020
The orgy of praise and nationalism surrounding the Iraqi and Afghan invasions.— Comrade Orca, First Delphinid Batallion (@CaniTerrae) August 4, 2020
The sheer…disgusting brutality of my peers. Their hard-ons for murder. Their salivation at the thought of the violation of entire peoples.
The bombing of Baghdad.
growing up in uptown NYC (a predominantly low income, brown/black area) and taking the subway downtown for high school (to a whiter, more affluent area) and comparing the neighborhoods— 𝖆𝖘𝖍𝖑𝖊𝖞 🥀🖤♥️ #StayTheFuckHome (@stayashley) August 5, 2020
before that, i went to a k-8 near my apartment and thought everyone’s block was like mine
Trayvon Martin was confronted and shot walking home from the store. He was about the same age I was when a cop pulled a gun on me in my own home, while I was asleep, cartoons still playing.— John (@A_CommonName) August 4, 2020
I just figured it was 'normal' until then.
I spent two months improving my Spanish and teaching English in Chiapas Mexico, in 1997, in between the Zapatista rebellion of 1994 and the Acteal massacre three months later in Dec. 1997.— Francine McKenna (@retheauditors) August 6, 2020
Hearing family members make jokes about AIDS that managed to straddle racism and homophobia effortlessly. Laughing as people died, smug in their hate and derision.— Lara Schwartz (@Lara_Schwartz) August 5, 2020
The Reagan years weren't a golden age, friends.
teaching in Slovakia and seeing that the overrepresentation of Roma in special education mirrored the overrepresentation of students of color in the US. I am ashamed that I didn't notice it before, but it has impacted all of my work since.— Julia M. White (@jmwhiteSYR) August 7, 2020
mike brown being killed on my birthday. then seeing the character of a 17-year-old kid being drug through the mud in his death. and watching the police and AG circle to wagons to exonerate darren wilson.— Ben Ezugha (@bezugha) August 6, 2020
that flipped a switch.
Our failed healthcare system, systemic racism, militarization of police departments, tactlessness of the Democratic Party, misogynistic norms and laws, anti-immigration laws, the wastefulness and toxicity of post-Brown urban and suburban sprawl, and so so much more pic.twitter.com/iu2e1KkKkL— Woner 🌹 (@rurounifonshin) August 4, 2020
being brown in america post-9/11. https://t.co/aSdgf79ALQ— ✍🏼 roxana | ✊🏼 zivar | ⚒️ hadadi (@roxana_hadadi) August 6, 2020
Mobile Alabama radicalized me. Iowa City radicalized me. DC radicalized me. Playing D1 basketball and witnessing demobilizing power of Black celebrity at the height of the 2014 uprisings radicalized me. Black Feminisms radicalized me. Middle-class contradictions radicalized me.— OK (@ok_beloved) August 6, 2020
Being handcuffed at 12-years old radicalized me. Begining to address the harm I've caused in the name of patriarchy radicalizes me. Navigating the NPIC radicalized me. Working in Homeless services radicalized me. Working with youth continues to radicalize me. Love radicalized me.— OK (@ok_beloved) August 6, 2020
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