Back in November I started a blog post that ran out of umph and stayed in my drafts. At time time I was reacting to the progressive debates about safety pins as a symbol but it seems we’re are in another round of self-questioning, this time around the Women’s March and other initiatives. As I find myself frequently saying, we need lots of different kinds of people organizing in lots of different styles. So maybe this blog posts’s time has come again.
Maybe this is just another stages of grief but I’ve been noticing a number of online discussions in which progressives are shutting down other progressives for not being progressive enough. Every time I see a positive post, I can predict there’s going to be about three enthusiastic “yes!” comments, followed by a 500-word comment explaining why the idea isn’t radical enough.
Folks, we’ve got bigger problems than trying to figure out who’s the most woke person on our Facebook feed.
Successful social change movements are always a spectrum of more or less politically-correct and radical voices. It’s like a chord in music: strings vibrating on different frequencies sound better together. Sometimes in politics you need the crazy radicals to stir things up and sometimes you need the too-cautious liberals to legitimize the protest message.
Some years ago I was part of an campaign in Philly that targeted what many of us felt was a propaganda push around Columbus Day. An attempt by all of the concerned activists to come together predictably went nowhere. There were too many differences in style and tactics and language and culture. But that breakdown in coördination allowed each subculture to pick a tactic that worked best for them.
The Quakers did their visible agitprop leading and got detained. The anarchists made creative posters and set off surreptitious stink devices. Some anonymous pranksters sent out fake press releases to disrupt media coverage. The resultant news coverage focused on the sheer diversity of the protests.
If protest had indeed come from a single group following a single tactic, the dissent would have been buried in the fourth paragraph of the coverage. But the creativity made it the focus of the coverage. Diversity of tactics works. Mistakes will be made. Some progressives will be clueless – maybe even some of the ones considering themselves the most woke. It’s okay. We’ll learn as we go along. We might laugh at how we used to think wearing safety pins was effective – or we might wonder why we ever thought it was meaningless symbol. Whatever happens, let’s just encourage witness wherever and whenever it’s happening. Let’s be gentler on each other.