The silver lining of the Trump administration is that millions of people are getting involved in politics for the first time to fight back.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) April 19, 2017
That is just a real thing that Bernie Sanders tweeted last night.
I have a number of problems with that sentiment, starting with this:
Let's all take a moment to appreciate that he is literally commending people who had the luxury to remain disengaged until now AND DID. https://t.co/McBvyKxTMy— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) April 19, 2017
A number of people responded to that tweet by letting me know that I'm an asshole for not being grateful that people are getting engaged. I mean, sure, better late than never—but, no, I am not grateful.
I have zero ounces of gratitude for people who weren't moved to "fight back" by police brutality, or an unprecedented erosion of reproductive rights, or a legislative assault on trans people, or mass incarceration, or the rollback of voting rights, or ICE raids, or environmental racism, or pay inequality, or housing discrimination, or predatory lending, or the death penalty, or rape culture, or school privatization, or the racial wealth gap, or endemic food insecurity, or drug testing welfare recipients, or disablist "wellness" programs, or lead contamination, or LGBTQ employment discrimination, or deadly fat hatred in healthcare, or any one of eleventy-seven other social justice issues that did not directly affect them so inescapably that they had no choice but to be politically active and "fight back."
If my insufficient gratitude to people who only decided to get in the game once a fascist was elected makes me an asshole, so be it. I'm an asshole.
I am also an asshole who is willing to work with people who are only now joining the fight.
But I'm never going to be grateful to people whose indifference until this point abetted the very horrors that now move them to action.
Especially since, in my experience so far, many of these newly-activated folks are: 1. Willing to compromise on many of the above-listed issues, dismissing them as "identity politics"; 2. Practicing purity politics using metrics that deprioritize commitment to social justice; 3. Uninterested in listening to activists and advocates who have been engaged for a very long time, and whose expertise includes best practices and tested strategies, particularly on the local level, where what works somewhere else may be counterproductive in another place.
The ubiquitous certitude of many of the newly-activated that they know best, the shocking willingness to shout down and lecture and dismiss out of hand people who have been here a minute, is not neutral. It is actively harmful to progress.
There has been very little public conversation about supporting existing organizations and communities, who have long been in the trenches. To the absolute contrary, Sanders has said that leadership of major existing advocacy groups are part of "the establishment" which has failed to achieve meaningful progress and must be upended. Suggesting that these groups are ineffective, as opposed to acknowledging that progress can take decades of dedicated and inglorious work, misdirects newly engaged people.
A number of existing local organizations across the country have suddenly found themselves in competition for resources with newly-formed orgs being run by people who don't know what they're doing and didn't bother to reach out to seasoned advocates to find out where they could be most helpful, instead assuming that, since progress hasn't been achieved yet, no one must be doing anything, or doing anything effective.
I am grateful for people who have become activated and take the time to find out how they can best support existing activism, before assuming it doesn't exist. I am not grateful for people who have been "woke" for a hot second, are armed with a hatred of some nebulous "establishment," and thus disdain anyone who has been engaged for a very long time.
And I'm certainly not going to agree that the Trump administration's visible and relentless assault on vulnerable people and our very democracy has some value in activating people who I'm meant to understand wouldn't have found inspiration in a female president breaking down the barriers Trump is busily reinforcing.
I don't find anything good in the message that harm is motivating, while harm mitigation is a fucking snooze.
That is a particularly curious message coming from Sanders, whose central argument for how he would govern, had he been elected, in spite of Republican obstructionism, was that he would bring with him a movement of millions of engaged supporters:
"I don't have any illusion that I'm going to walk in—and I certainly hope it is not the case, but if there is a Republican House and a Republican Senate—that I'm going to walk in there and say, 'Hey guys, listen. I'd like you to work with me on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.' It ain't gonna happen, I have no illusion about that. The only way that I believe that change takes place…is that tens of millions of people are going to have to stand up and be involved in the political process the day after the election."If Sanders believes that he could have and would have inspired millions of people to "stand up and be involved" after the election, then there is, quite literally, no silver lining to Trump doing the same.
If it would have happened either way, then the fact it is egregious abuses underwriting increased political engagement is a terrible shame, not a silver lining.