For an election that’s more than a year out, this one sure is making a lot of noise. And, like most noise in an election, it’s about 90% (cowpuckey). But if you listen closely, there may be something very big happening just beneath the surface. It’s not very loud yet, but it may reverberate into some beautiful music.
The sound that you may not hear is the progressive left getting its act together.
With the fans of Sen Sanders going after Sec Clinton – and getting a little bit in return – it’s hard to see how this band is going to come together. But after Clinton’s confrontation with Black Lives Matter (BLM) something wonderful has happened – people seem to be listening. If we all start doing more listening and a little less “speaking up”, as the left is wont to do, this may yet come together.
The inability of the progressive left to get a strong movement together has been a long term frustration of mine. I have long joked that the US has shown that we consistently elect Democrats who can reliably add two plus two to get four – and notice that we only win about half of the time. That’s not entirely fair because many of our best candidates have been slaughtered by our own ranks or slowly left to twist in the cold wind by our inability to define and defend what we stand for in unity.
We always have to whip out the quote from Will Rogers about now – “I belong to no organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” And he said that in 1926.
I believe very strongly that years of losing our grip on Congress and frustration at the polls has been largely our own making. But that may be finally coming to an end.
What has changed? Hillary Clinton agreed to meet with representatives of Black Lives matter in private last 11 August during a campaign stop in Keene, New Hampshire. The event was videotaped and made public for everyone to see. In it, the protesters confront Clinton in a rather pointed way and Clinton merely tutters back, “Mmmm Hmmm” in a rather dismissive way. But then she speaks completely from her heart and gives them some stern advice:
… look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them to live up to their own God-given potential, to live safely without fear of violence in their own communities, to have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future.
Daunasia Yancey and Julius Jones of BLM don’t seem to like being lectured to, but the rest of the exchange was equally open and respectful. This wasn’t a confrontation between adversaries, this was the old guard who had been there and won a lot of battles giving advice to the new guard who had many more battles to come. It didn’t go down like that right away but the level of respect, at least at the end, was evident.
Both sides had good reason to respect each other and actually listen. That happened.
It might have ended there until the video was released to an incredibly solid outpouring of support for Clinton. The bottom line was that she spoke from her heart and showed what her many years of experience brings to the table. It’s not Clinton the sellout, it’s Clinton the pragmatic doer, the one who has the chops to be an agent for real change. It took a while to sink in but eventually the focus came back where it needed to be when BLM did something remarkable.
Enter “Campaign Zero”, a platform for real social change based on positive measures that will reign in police brutality.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with every point of this platform, though I do. What’s important here is that there is a solid course of action that politicians can be held accountable to. They have an agenda to unite behind and demand not just awareness but genuine power to make positive change.
A good politician might well add that we need to hold our police to the highest of all professional standards and in return give them the resources they need to do their job – including appropriate pay. We should add in that police should not be the ones doing the job of social workers in struggling communities and that they should not be the only line of defense working for social stability.
But this platform? It’s solid, specific, and will bring about change. This got real. Does everyone see what can happen when progressives listen to each other?
I’m not stupid enough to think that all progressives will suddenly stop and actually listen. As much as Sen Sanders makes a point of never attacking Sec Clinton, his supporters are often full of vitriol and hatred for an experienced politician they see as a sellout. Clinton supporters fire back sometimes, too, and that’s not productive at all.
Progressives, everywhere – supporters of Sanders and Clinton both – just listen. Listen to your own candidates! Listen to what they say about the movement! They aren’t trashing each other for good reasons. Listen!
There are deeper problems within the movement than this, of course. BLM is planning a march and rally outside the Minnesota State Fair in order to raise awareness. Many people are upset by this, claiming it will only hurt the movement to disrupt such a huge event.
The debate spilled over into what should have been safe territory for the movement, the State Central Committee of the DFL (Democratic Farmer-Labor Party). Anishinaabe activist Ashley Fairbanks posted an open letter on her facebook page that such respect was hard to find. Democrats, once again, were fearful of looking bad and disruptive more than actually accomplishing social change. In her letter, Fairbanks called the thread of responses a “hostile and triggering environment”. “The way that Black Lives Matter, as a movement has been spoken about is vile,” she continued. “Many of you should take some time and reflect on your white privilege.”
If you feel uncomfortable, we are doing our job. Take a moment and grow in that discomfort, and know that it is not even close to 1% of the discomfort you would feel if you had to be a black man in America, or to be a mother of an unarmed Native man killed by the police.
Democrats, we need to listen to voices like this. I’m not sure that a protest at the Fair is a good idea, either, but we have to acknowledge how dire the situation is. We have no business calling ourselves a political party or a movement of any kind if we can’t take legitimate concern and even rage and be the agents that help turn it into positive political change.
Sometimes, that means that we have to let those who are legitimately enraged organize and make their statement. And those of us who want to help have to respectfully accept that and help it move forward. If we can’t be respectful and we can’t help move things forward then we better just get out of the way.
Where does it all start? Listening to each other with respect. We are currently blessed with leaders in the Democratic Party that are doing just that and being incredibly respectful to each other. There are also leaders in BLM who are doing it with great courage and style, and they need to be applauded as well.
More to the point, their example needs to be followed.
It’s hard to listen carefully when the volume is cranked up so loud, for sure. But here we are, one year out, organizing ourselves to win a critical election that has a good chance at defining whether or not the great waves of social and economic change washing over us are mastered or become our masters. This is a good time to start learning the skills that are necessary to actually win – not just power, but a legitimate and critical right to power for good.
We have to ignore the noise and listen to even the smallest voices. With enough respect and determination we can do it. We have leaders who are showing us the way. Let’s start by listening to them if we can do nothing else.