Earlier this week, down in the depths of an absurdly long thread, a new visitor to this site left a comment that blew me away. So much so, in fact, that I asked the author, Cole, if I could republish it as a post of its own.
Not much background is needed, so I’ll get out of her way.
• • •
I’m a newbie commenter here. I’m white, a gay woman, 25 yrs old, an organizer in my city (Boston) that has been deeply involved in lefty movements locally and nationally and I helped start a left feminist organization. I’m not a Big Name nor do I follow the Big Names (like I only vaguely knew who Freddie deBoer was until all of this). I’m not a student organizer, I got a year of community college under my belt but you know how that shit goes. I am prefacing with all this so people know that where I am coming from. So yea, couple of things:
1. It is completely bizarre to me to see all this concern about people being driven away from the left during a moment where we are seeing one of the largest and most sustained social movements in recent history. How can we have a conversation about the State of the Left without taking into context the Black Lives Matter movement? It is especially bizarre given that queer black women who helped lay the backbone for this movement embody the kind of unapolegtic radicalism that deBoer and friends take issue with. Like you all gotta understand how silly it looks to see a white dude talking about how the left is too mean and driving people away when in the middle of winter in Boston we are still having 1000+ people marches around Black Lives Matter. I frankly don’t even know how to process it.
2. Someone already spoke to this in the thread, but it also is confusing given the scale of the problem. I can’t really say anything publicly, online or in organizing spaces without risking at least threats of violence and attacks. A simple request for men to be please be more aware of talking over women can easily escalate to male leftists screaming in my face and threatening to rape me. Fuck, I have even been shoved in meetings before. And then this has escalated into other forms of violence.
Hell, it was that dynamic that led me to help start the lefty feminist organization. I mean, it was exactly that dynamic in the anti-war movement that lead to the start of the women’s liberation movement and funnily enough, a lot of these critiques of PC/callout culture are incredibly similar to those directed at feminists during that time period. Basically, we have a real serious problem of people (women, black people, trans people but especially trans women) being driven out of moments because of actual violence, but I really have yet to see these Big Names seriously address that dynamic and how it plays into callout culture. I would take a lot of these critiques way more seriously if they actual took in the larger context instead of pretending all this shit came out of nowhere.
3. The idea that PC language is inaccessible to working class people needs to die in a fire. I’m poor, but I ain’t stupid and being poor doesn’t mean I’m more cruel than the cultured academic. If someone tells me that using a certain word hurts them, I stop. I’m perfectly capable of understanding the ideology behind various types of language uses — because in case you didn’t realize this, a lot of this ideology came out of working class movements. Academics chiding each other over inaccessible language has to be one of the most patronizing and belittling things I have experienced in my own organizing.
Beyond the fact that assuming poor people can’t understand this is bullshit, it is also a way for academics to not hold themselves accountable for shitty institutions they are involved in. Like you know what barriers I as a working class organizer actually face? Its not language or callouts — believe me, my family is old school Italian, I can handle people yelling. It’s the fact that for all paid organizer positions, you need a higher degree. It’s that for my org to get money, I need to navigate a grant system that is hostile to young, grassroots organizations and that requires a certain kind of language and presentation. It’s that feeing when you show up to a coalition meeting and you are the only one not dressed in business casual. It’s that private colleges in our city suck up public money, resources, and land to the point where orgs I work with have trouble finding meeting spaces. It’s that student and academic organizers are granted a huge platform and more money and support than I could ever dream of, just by virtue of being part of the academy. So, you know, stop worrying about language so much because that is so not the issue here.
4. I don’t get this conflation of educational and political organizations. A lot of the critiques of PC/callout shit seem to make the assumption that all political organizations should have some sort of education component. I’m gonna use the feminist org I’m a part of again as an example. We are a political organization that works on long term campaigns in order to build a revolutionary women’s liberation movement. There is nothing on our website or in our materials that would suggest that we are a good group to come to learn about the basics of race, class and gender and that was deliberate on our part. If people showed up misgendering Chelsea Manning or lacking in knowledge on basic shit, yea we are going to ask them to leave. Why? Because we all volunteer our time, our budget mostly comes out of our own pockets and we just don’t see how educating random people is a good use of our time and resources. And funnily enough, we have still been able to build a base and do some significant work in our city. We’ve been able to do that by having a clear political platform and being smart with our resources (economic, emotional, etc). We’re not perfect, we’ve had plenty of conflict over tactics and analysis but we have been successful precisely because we have held that basic line.
Also, since when has educating random individuals ever been a successful strategy for the left? Like let’s use one of deBoer’s examples — say this dude shows up to a meeting and claims there are innate gender differences. Okay, so what next? I could spend time, resources and energy educating him but there is no guarantee he’ll listen or how long it will take to get him up to speed and due to past experience, I know this could likely end in violence for me. But let’s say I take this task on. I would first have to figure out the best way to teach him, I would have to research and present materials, maybe I would have to dedicate whole meetings to this project — and if we are being honest, this project could take months to years. And at the end of it, there is still no guarantee he would accept leftist views on gender or that he would then be interested in long term organizing. How exactly is that a good movement-building strategy?
Or let’s say we don’t say anything and just let him organize with us. I’ve been in groups like this and I’ll tell you what happens. Over time, women will leave. Some will leave yelling and screaming and trying to draw attention to the issue while others will leave so quietly that no one notices. And before you know it, your organization has lost membership of people already on board with your message for someone who holds shitty beliefs, all for the sake of movement-building.
And obviously its not always so black and white. But I’m trying to operate on the terms deBoer laid out. Like I can easily see him profiling the groups I’m as part of the problem without ever considering that maybe there is rhyme and reason to what we do.
5. Its pretty ironic that deBoer can act like a jerk and people can give him the benefit of the doubt and still respect his ideas, meanwhile we have a slate of hysterical articles bemoaning the fact that women, trans and queer people are asserting their politics in not-nice tones (because let’s be honest, the vast majority of these examples of angry leftists are almost all feminists and mostly black women, glbq women or trans women).
6. If we are going to talk about the stagnation of the left or start assigning blame to shit, shouldn’t we first look at who controls the resources? The feminist movement is incredibly weak right now. I guess its easy to blame twitter activists (like Michelle Goldberg did) but in reality, it’s organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL and NOW who have access to the most resources and who tend to exert the most control over the direction of the movement. And I mean, that dynamic exists across movements (gltbq rights, labor, etc). And if one has been paying attention the past few years, it’s been the work of these newer, more radicalized activists that have reinvigorated the left. Just to go full circle, we would not have the Black Lives Matter movement if it was not for the uncompromising stance black activists have taken these past few months. Hell, some of the women profiled in the Toxic Twitter Wars artcles have had direct roles in building this current movement.
And this comment turned into a fucking beast. I can be wicked wordy sometimes but hopefully all this made sense.
• • •
Angus again, with just a couple of quick notes on Cole’s post.
First, I asked her how she would like to be credited here, and she requested the same semi-anonymous handle she used on her original comment. She was recently targeted for doxxing, and is laying low. Second, Cole’s original comment sparked considerable discussion, including two sharp followups from Cole herself. You can find those here and here.