After the Love Has Gone: Some Thoughts on Radical Community After the Election

8 Nov

If you’re like me you’re probably geeked that the election is finally over.  I mean, now I can turn all of my attention back to Parks and Recreation, Scandal, and the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Finally!

Welcome back to the Wig Crypt, Crunkadelic!

But, seriously. I’m glad the election and the election coverage is over. Sure, I love a giddy Rachel Maddow gushing on MSNBC. Sure, I like the idea of chastened, sullen, defensive conservatives whining and licking their wounds, embarrassing themselves by saying increasingly stupid, pitiful, and asinine things, while all the while revealing to anyone with good sense that their ideology and policies are out of touch, retrograde, wack, and shamtastic. Their tears are delicious. So, yes, I’m not above putting the shade back in schadenfreude.

Mostly though, I’m really ready to be done with the in-fighting among the Radical Left. If you feel that Barack Obama is the antichrist because he has initiated moderate health care reform but are cool with his policies on Guantanamo and drones, I am yet lifting you up in prayer and inviting you to take a stadium of seats. Just sit this one out, boo.

Some folks voted for President Obama, albeit in a range from enthusiastic to reluctant support. Some voted for progressive third party candidates like Jill Stein, choosing to give the side eye to the binary of the prevailing two party system. Others abstained altogether, rejecting the notion that voting for the lesser of two evils is any choice at all.  The Radical Left is not a monolithic entity, but rather a diverse set of communities that approach the realization of justice in a variety of ways. I’m not suggesting that we become more alike, but I am concerned that the way we talk about our differences is not only unproductive but oftentimes a violent distraction from our shared goals.

While some folks are still popping bottles and dropping it like it’s hot to Jeezy’s My President is Black, others are shaking their heads at the complicity of supposedly progressive folks with the imperialism of the State, and, because of Sandy and now Athena, still more are just trying to get electricity and heat on in their homes permanently and aren’t exactly studying this ongoing family drama at the moment.

The past two years have been like a family reunion gone terribly wrong. Folks get drunk and start arguing, secrets get exposed, proverbial dirty laundry gets aired, people choose sides, and nothing gets solved. Then we do it all again in a couple of years. It’s not that we don’t love each other—we just got some major ish to work through. So let’s work through it. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but a few ideas to the get the conversation started.

  1. Let’s reject binaries: good/bad, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, revolutionary/uncle Tom. I think we experience and engage politics on a spectrum and trying to take a snapshot of someone’s beliefs from one action (e.g., voting and not voting) and then running around being like, “Aha! You’re not quite right because you believe in xyz!” is neither cute nor productive.
  2. Along those lines, let’s rebuke authenticity wars. I think the most recent fissures in the Radical Left should invite us to consider the ways in which the organizing and ideology coming out of the Liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s challenge/inform/undermine our current work. I see some folks wanting to eschew the call to honor the legacy of the civil rights movement, finding such calls often mean shutting up about their concerns in order to appear legitimate. Other folks warn that if you completely abandon the ideology and action of what came before us we are doing a disservice to history and not wanting to authentically connect to the struggle. I don’t think these conversations are completely at odds, but reducing the convo down to one about legitimacy just doesn’t serve us well.
  3. Let’s reject elitism and navel gazing. We are a part of complex communities and we don’t deserve to be leaders simple because we have degrees or work at certain organizations. Yet some of us treat our family, friends, and neighbors with condescension and disdain, acting like we are radical evangelists among ignorant heathens (h/t crunkonia). That’s why sometimes the folks we work with and serve don’t like and, more importantly, don’t trust many of us.
  4. Let’s be nuanced in our discussion of respectability politics. I’m all about calling out investments in dominant notions of what is normal and acceptable as a way to harness power, especially in communities of color and among queer folk. (I’ve spent the last few years writing a book about this very thing). But, sometimes the zeal in calling out respectability politics fails to recognize the complicated, ambivalent ways in which folks adhere to and/or reject what it means to be respectable. Also, see #3.
  5. Let’s recognize that pretty much all of us have some type of privilege and we should make pains to interrogate our ish and really listen to one another. Also, being an expert on racism, for example, doesn’t mean you always get the nuances of, say, ableism. But, thankfully, you—we—can learn. Our brains are awesome like that.
  6. Let’s passionately disagree with one another without eviscerating each other’s humanity. For real.

Ultimately, my thoughts are that we need to have difficult dialogues without cannibalizing each other. Let’s embrace our diversity in the movement and not call for a unity that steamrolls over dissension. We see how the Far Right is imploding, but the difference between us and them is that they have boatloads of cash and no scruples whatsoever and we have an abundance of ethical concerns, passion, and student loans we cannot ask our parents to pay for. They will rise again, but if we become too fractured it might be a different story for us. This is a call to keep our eyes on the prize—it’s not just about being right, it’s about working together for justice.

What are your thoughts on radical communities in the wake of the election? Please share in the comments.

12 Responses to “After the Love Has Gone: Some Thoughts on Radical Community After the Election”

  1. Jo Foy November 8, 2012 at 12:16 PM #

    I especially agree with your #5 and #6. Each of us is complicated, if we respect our varied selves, then we have to at least make an effort to respect the complicated person in front of us–friend, lover, spouse, advisor, supervisor, co-worker…

  2. authorextraordinaire Gwendoline Y. Fortune November 8, 2012 at 3:52 PM #

    What I would like most of all is to have my house re-assessed at something near its price in 2006, sell it, leave the good old USA–and die somewhere else–maybe a hurricane prone Caribbean country.

  3. hmmmmm November 9, 2012 at 8:55 AM #

    This was brilliant. I’d like to think that retrograde is indeed the way many of the things I have seen this election/the last four years/during my lifetime but I am not convinced. Things tend to to come in and out of fashion in America.

    #3 and #5 are what I have been thinking about for a long time but do not have the skill or intelligence to communicate. I sat this election out for many reasons that are real to me. But if you present an agenda that calls people to task on these two things I would vote your ticket for President. Keep up the good work. Please.

  4. smhll November 10, 2012 at 9:44 AM #

    Since, in my personal life, I am dreading Thanksgiving, your dysfunctional family reunion metaphor really works for me as a way of looking at the in-fighting we do with people we might/should be close to. “Cannibalism” is also striking. I agree that progressive people can be intensely zealous. I guess for myself I need to try to spend the next three years listening and making peace. Then, after three years of moving towards getting along, swing back to one year of fighting the opposition. I know I need to take my hilarious mockery of Mitt Romney out of my vocabulary for awhile and not inflict that kind of contempt on any other human being.

  5. Ariel Meadow Stallings November 10, 2012 at 3:49 PM #

    #5: YES!!!

  6. stachio November 11, 2012 at 6:46 AM #

    wow, thank you… i think this election really brought out radical left’s issues with admitting one of the most formative privileges of all, american citizenship, obama has pretty much lined up completely w/ the republicans on foreign policy issues yet that doesn’t seem to matter to a lot of progressives, who don’t need to worry about how people get oppressed and erased elsewhere in the world due in large part to our govt’s actions.

  7. Trista November 11, 2012 at 6:00 PM #

    There is no end to how much I love this post!!

  8. Focsimama November 12, 2012 at 8:55 AM #

    Interesting perspective. I am one of the very people who abstained from voting. The decision was not made lightly or with carelessness or disregard. I simply realized that a slip of paper, push of a button, or tap on a screen was not going to affect change and be society’s saving grace; and in thinking back about Hurrican Katrina in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and before: we knew that you must learn to save yourself, save your family, and save your community, because the local, state, nor federal governement is going to do it for you.

    We truly need to get back to the idea and practice of community and caring for each other collectively. Why not spend out energy learning, sharing, and preparing while building sustainable communities, creating new vocabularies and language to reflect this new reality/society/culture of this here United States.

  9. tlfk November 13, 2012 at 7:29 AM #

    “….but the difference between us and them is that they have boatloads of cash…” Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, that the conservatives may be defeated now, but their seemingly greater access to cash will make it easier for them to rebound; whereas all we have is our passion and energy, and we need to put both to good use right now while there is still a little election momentum on the side of the progressives. So if the left is going to have some of those difficult conversations, that’s fine and necessary – we just need to keep them productive. I feel (and hope) that what I have learned from these different communities outside the mainstream progressive movement has helped inform my activism work over the past few years, and I like to think that working together on common issues can be a way to introduce these concerns into the mainstream progressive movement. But one needs to be intentional about addressing these issues in the movement – it’s not enough to know about it, acknowledge it, and then hope it resolves itself as you all work towards a common goal (hint: it will generally not resolve itself).

    While the overall election provided much relief and good news, the election here in NC did not turn out so well for progressives. Starting with the tea party take over of the general assembly in 2010, to completing the southern block of states with “marriage amendments” in the spring, we now have a “super majority” of Repubs in the general assembly and a Repub governor ready to take us back in time to an America only ever imagined by them. As we anticipate what the next legislative session may bring – attempts to dismantle public education, further enshrinement of racism/sexism/homophobia, rejection of health care reform, further erosion of worker and immigrant rights, and an impotent state government only as good as how much it can enrich those at the top of it – people I know who do legislative advocacy are wondering if there is even a viable Dem party here any more (although shedding some of the conservative Dems that serve us here in NC is not necessarily a bad thing). It certainly feels a little bleak here in NC at the moment, but I and others are hopeful that this will also provide an opportunity to build a more active, wiser and more cohesive progressive movement. There was the start of it in the fight to stop the marriage amendment earlier this year, and it will hopefully continue; b/c it has to.

    And #1 – NC may not be deep south but it is the South, and I’ve worked with women here on women’s rights issues and said “wait, you’re a registered R?”. It’s the way they were brought up. And while they may have a fair amount to learn about how the policies of the Rs may be going against the work they are doing, I figure if they are willing to meet me this far along the road, we can have discussions to move them further down…..

  10. silentlyheardonce November 14, 2012 at 7:43 AM #

    Well said!!


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