We Walk Together: Thoughts on the Women's Convention

The week after the Women's March in January 2017, I wrote that participating in what was the largest protest in US history gave me my first small glimmer of hope since the 2016 election.

Despite our differences, I believe more than ever that it's vitally important for the left, by which I mean both Clinton and Sanders progressives, to unite against the Republican Administration.

1) On "Relitigating the Primaries"

Many commentators, with a weary exasperation, have begun framing all disagreements on the left as a relitigation of the 2016 primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I question that framing. Many of the conflicts that were prominent during the primary are longstanding disagreements that the left has been litigating for decades.

Even going back to just the 1960s, those on the left were debating pragmatism vs. idealism and critiquing misogyny, racism, and homophobia within leftist political movements. In the 1980s, radical feminist Andrea Dworkin argued that misogyny and rape culture on the left helps push women into rightwing movements. (She's right). Black feminists, such as bell hooks, have critiqued the marginalization of non-white feminist voices. (Also right). Trans feminists, like Julia Serano, have critiqued trans-exclusionary radical feminism. (Also right). Just within my political blogging lifetime, I have been in conflict with some of the cis white gay men in the LGBT rights movement who center, and direct the bulk of community resources towards, the concerns most affecting them.

The introduction of a Democratic Primary between a pragmatic progressive white woman and an idealist progressive white man was bound to both reignite these conflicts and bring them to a wider audience.

I don't claim to be unbiased, but I try to always be fair-minded. I am a progressive feminist who supported Hillary Clinton in both the primary and general elections. From this perspective, I believe Bernie Sanders ran a campaign which, at best, allowed cultural misogyny to do a lot of heavy lifting against Hillary Clinton (and her supporters) and that falsely presented the resolution of economic inequality as a means of universal liberation. Since the election, at a most dangerous moment for marginalized populations, Sanders has also at times gaslit us about the very existence of bigotry in the United States.

These conflicts are also not new, on the left.

And, as a matter of conflict resolution, conflicts aren't usually resolved by demanding that people stop talking about them. Telling people who have been wronged, even if you don't think they actually have been, to get over something doesn't make them get over it. It makes them feel gaslit, silenced, and erased. Oftentimes, the people being scolded to shut up are people who are already marginalized in some way. Going forward, telling people who bring up legitimate concerns that they need to "stop re-litigating the primary" needs to stop.

2) On Misogyny

That brings me to misogyny.

I woke up on November 9, 2016, fearing that the electoral college win of Donald Trump was the beginning of the end of women's rights in the US. I hoped then, and still hope, that that is not the case. But that was my fear, nonetheless.

The reasons we marched in January 2017 were varied, but given the role that misogyny played in the 2016 election and that an admitted sexual predator won the electoral vote, many of us marched quite specifically to offer a massive show of resistance to both misogyny and rape culture. Remember: many people wore the pink "pussy" hats* in direct response to the released Access Hollywood tape in which Donald Trump admitted to grabbing women's genitals without their consent. (*And yes, "not all pussies are pink, and not all women have pussies").

If we marched only for the reasons of opposing misogyny and rape culture, those would have been reasons enough for the largest protest in US history. But, many of us also marched in support of the admirably-progressive Women's March platform.

You might also remember that a song went viral during this march. The title of this song was "Quiet," the lyrics of which were an attempt to shed light on many women's feelings about how they don't have a voice that is heard or respected in the current political climate.

Flash forward to September 2017. Hillary Clinton has written a book about the 2016 election. Despite the fact that many people, especially women, want to hear what she has to say, as evidenced by the fact that it's a best-seller, commentators and pundits across the political spectrum have found various ways of telling her to shut up and go away.

Now, it's October 2017.  Harvey Weinstein has been revealed as a serial sexual predator, something which was apparently an "open secret" for decades in Hollywood. As Melissa McEwan, who has written extensively about rape culture for more than a decade, noted:
"The reason [Weinstein's predation] was allowed to go on for so long is because powerful men retaining their power is more important than women's safety or peace or self-worth or very lives, and it's unfathomably easy to protect those men because the purveyors of the rape culture have cultivated and nurture an impenetrable culture of disbelief, used to silence and discredit and revictimize survivors."
Also, October 2017: political commentators across the political spectrum are finding various ways of trying to hold Hillary Clinton responsible for the horrendous actions of a man.

For those following the "wins" for rape culture, the recurring theme here is the silencing of women and holding women responsible for men's garbage behavior. So, in addition to the daily atrocities of the Republican Administration, 2017 has shaped up to be a real dose of diarrhea sauce on a shit sandwich.

3) On the Women's Convention and Bernie Sanders

For months, I have been following, mostly via Twitter, the announcements made about the upcoming Women's Convention in Detroit 2017. It sounded like something I would be interested in, given how meaningful the Women's March was to me. I also recently read Marjorie Spruill's Divided We Stand, about the (politically-divided) National Women's Conference in 1977, and knew that this conference could be historic.

Yet, because panel and speaker details only came out very recently and because of pre-existing financial, work, and caregiving obligations, I doubted I'd be able to attend. I nonetheless looked forward to hearing reports about it.

Last week, like many, I was disappointed to see the Women's March tweet an embedded USA Today article that announced Bernie Sanders as the deliverer of "an opening-night speech" for the conference:

To me, this tweet and the embedded article suggested a sort of center-stage role for Bernie.

Women absolutely need male allies. But, given the full context of Bernie, Hillary, the 2016 election, the predator in the Oval Office, and the political climate in which women are silenced daily for speaking political and personal truths, this stung. It would have stung if any man had been put in this role, but Bernie ("would have won") Sanders in particular was salt in the wound. Also, for the record, I think Hillary Clinton would have been a divisive choice for this particular event, given the ongoing divide between Sanders and Clinton progressives. Having one without the other, even if both were invited, lent the appearance of taking sides in the divide.

Thus, a Twitter backlash began.

As Clinton progressives expressed disappointment and outrage, some prominent people on the Bernie left began tweeting about how "stupid" the outrage was. Jane O'Meara Sanders suggested we were being reverse sexist against Bernie. Another said those complaining were "neoliberal feminists." Bernie himself, who accepted the invite, has been completely silent.

A few hours after the Bernie announcement, someone tweeting on behalf of the Women's March offered a subsequent tweet linking to a full listing of the speakers (the vast majority of which are women), but that seemed to make things worse. The optics were that, for awhile, the Twitter feed was showing a stand-alone, center-stage-like announcement expressing excitement for Bernie Sanders and then a subsequent tweet bundling all the women together, unnamed, into one tweet, as if to say: Bernie, and as an afterthought, a bunch of women!

The feed then later included a retweet by one of the organizers, Tamika Mallory, stating that Maxine Waters was actually the "headliner" and claimed that this had been announced "weeks ago," although I was not able to find a previous announcement referring specifically to Waters as the "headliner." The feed then began retweeting articles and tweets supportive of the organizers' decision and dismissive of those who were upset. (Mashable: "The outrage about the Women's Convention is missing one key point.")

Watching it unfold, it felt like gaslighting. It also felt like more of the attacks that women on the Clinton left have been subjected to for the past two years: implications that we are hysterical, that we aren't true progressives, that we only care about stupid things, and that we need to shut up and let the real left — led by a white man — take over.

And also, this: I have had an ongoing, until now, unspoken fear that the Women's March organizers might be trying to channel the resurgent feminist energy from the March into support for Bernie Sanders, a man whose evidence for having engaged feminist thought is, as Aphra noted over the weekend, lacking.

Nonetheless, two days after the Sanders announcement, someone from the Women's March tweeted an apology that, in my opinion, is good.

The apology acknowledged the hurt and confusion that the announcement had caused and clarified that Bernie was not occupying a central role at the event. While I still think it would be difficult for someone of Bernie's stature, particularly as a white man, to not take up too much space at a women's event, had this statement been the initial response, I think at least some of the anger and disappointment could have been avoided.

More to the point, events that spark larger conversations about the divides on the left will, in our current political environment, happen very fast and on social media. Yet, we have to keep these conversations on the left going, as difficult as it sometimes is. And, as I wrote in January 2017:
"I am grateful to the women who organized the March on Washington, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour. I acknowledge their work even as I disagree with the decision to not list Hillary Clinton's name as one of women who has inspired the March, even as the website used Clinton's "Women's Rights Are Human Rights" quote without attribution."
My point here is not that we quietly endure or overlook attacks, harassment, or rape threats from those on the left (or anywhere else). I freely block or mute people on Twitter who I see engaging unconstructively or abusing others. I want to be clear about that.

But, we on the left sometimes have a tendency to portray people as "ruined forever" for making human mistakes or sometimes showing (what we believe to be) bad judgment. Meanwhile, flawed men are granted chance after chance after chance in the public sphere, thus retaining their power.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, both within the left and looking outward at resisting the Republican Administration. We walk together, Clinton and Sanders progressives, but there are no guarantees the path will always be an easy one.

[Update: The mainstream media feeds into the divide, as they have today, tweeting text that erroneously states that Bernie is headlining the Convention:

The article itself is a good illustration of a longstanding divide on the left, about the extent to which marginalized populations should talk about their marginalization in favor of talking about purportedly more universal issues, like class. I think y'all know where I stand on that.]

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