Monday, September 21, 2020

Shame Me Once, Shame on You; Shame Me Twice, Shame on Me!

2020 is turning out to be a replay of 2016, campaign-wise.  Specifically, the Democrats are running another superannuated party hack whose main selling point is that he isn't Donald Trump, and they're furious that voters aren't as enthusiastic about him as they think we ought to be.  Even more than last time, though, they're on the attack against anyone who declares his or her lack of enthusiasm and criticizes the candidate or the party for running a lackluster campaign.  They accuse the dissenters of wanting Trump to win, and their venomous attacks again lack factual truth, rationality, and even good political sense.  Among their targets are Susan Sarandon, Bernie Sanders, former Sanders staffers such Brianna Joy Gray, the journalist David Sirota, and the podcaster and organizer Ryan Knight.  I've been spending more time than I should on Twitter, just for the pleasure of attacking the attackers in turn.  

One thing that has begun to bother me is the term commonly used for the attacks: "voter shaming."  I suppose it fairly captures what they're trying to do, but I don't think it's an effective epithet if, as I've been seeing, they see it as a valid strategy:

Calling it "vote-shaming" lets them know they've scored a hit, and that you don't know how to fight back.  It's another version of the liberal standby, "Oh, how can you say such an awful thing, you're an awful person!"  This never works, and one would think liberals would have figured that out by now, if one didn't know better.

I think that if you want to get the "vote-shamers" to back off, if you want to defeat them, you need to find ways to put them on the defensive.  And I feel a bit uneasy about telling people to grow a spine, but I really think they need to grow a spine.  Why should you be ashamed of doing what you believe to be right?  If you are ashamed of not liking Biden and Harris more, if you are ashamed of wanting substantive policies rather than platitudes, if you're ashamed of being angry at the Democratic Party establishment for waging an inadequate campaign against the most dangerous President of the past century and possibly ever, then maybe you need to pause and take stock.

My preferred term for what these people are doing is "voter suppression."  They clearly are less interested in winning over undecided, let alone opposed, voters than in getting their licks in against people they blame for Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016: Sarandon, Sanders, and the like.  If you really want to persuade people to vote for your candidate, hurling abuse at them is exactly what you shouldn't be doing.  It's not as if this is some extreme-left, avant-garde, postmodern idea: it's the basic principle of canvassing and organizing.  Yet I'm seeing a lot of (admittedly anecdotal) reports of people telling Biden phonebankers that they're undecided, and being blown off, no attempt made to find out why they're undecided and persuade them to vote Biden/Harris.

I have to remember that people feel isolated and so find it hard to stand up to attacks from any direction, and I don't want to attack them myself.  I must have felt much the same way fifty years ago when I was just coming out and forming a left political stance, but although I did get attacked, from the left as well as from the right at times, I somehow kept bouncing back.  I know that within a year or two of coming out I was enjoying attempts by homophobes to try to shame me for being queer, even though there was in those days precious little solidarity from other gay people.  Somehow I felt that I was part of something larger than myself, a network of people who rejected bigotry and bit back at it, even if I knew few of them in my own locale.  I later learned that some of the writers and thinkers I felt connected to didn't live out their own rhetoric very well.  No matter: they gave me the courage to do it. The same was true of politics, though that took me longer to develop.

It just occurred to me that when I tried to get involved in local politics, the local party organization had nothing for me to do.  I left my name and phone number at the local Democratic Party office, but no one called me.  Maybe I should have tried harder, but why?  (Part of the problem was that I had an odd, irregular work schedule, and the local party was oriented to people who worked 9 to 5, Monday through Friday.)  The same happened in the 1990s when I volunteered for a new LGBT organization in town: I signed up, no one got back to me.  That organization, as I recall, didn't last very long anyway -- I wonder why!  One of the ongoing problems with left organizing is that it is more oriented to getting media attention, which the groups don't know how to exploit even if they get it, than to welcoming new members.

Then too, even if I'm not a joiner I'm still enmeshed in a network of left media that keeps me informed.  I don't sit around surrounded by hordes of the conventionally political, the inhabitants and devotees of the two-party system, without any sources of information to buttress me against corporate media propaganda.  I tend to forget that most people don't know about alternative media, which is why so many people are flocking to follow Ryan Knight's Twitter account.  But we've been there before: I'm seeing echoes of the exaltation many people expressed to Michael Moore, or Noam Chomsky: At last somebody dares to tell the truth!  They're looking for someone to follow, a hero or heroine who'll tell them what to think; and when they find out that their hero has feet of clay or, worse, doesn't want to tell what to think, he or she would rather they think for themselves, they'll fall resentfully away, looking for the next hero.  I went through something like this myself when I was younger, though I didn't usually reject those who'd taught me: I honored and cherished what I'd learned from them, and added on more teachers.

What to do, then?  I don't know, and I'm not optimistic.  But for now, I'd like people to stop using the term "vote-shaming."  They have nothing to be ashamed of, only the vote-suppressors do.  They also need to remember that you don't learn to do politics, winning politics at any rate, while standing on one foot.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the more inspiring success stories of late, didn't just stand on a street corner, give a speech, win a primary, and then win an election and go to Congress.  She got involved with Justice Democrats, who welcomed her (along with others), trained her, and supported her.  And then she defeated an entrenched, complacent incumbent and won the general and went to Congress.  Ignore the vote-suppressors, don't let them get to you; you aren't alone.  Look at how others are answering them, and work out your own response.