I was once a part of you, and we were pretty good together. Solid. But now I’m feeling like there’s no space for me unless I hack it out myself with a pick-axe, so here it goes. I think we need to start seeing other people, or you need to get your shit together. Or I need to find someone like you but who’s been to therapy, someone who has some ability to self-reflect.
You’re going to denounce me as a liberal sell-out, but you can’t. I’m saying this as someone who not only felt “socialist” but acted on it, went to conferences, served as chair for a local branch, paid dues. I’m going to get attacked for posting this but I’m ready to take that heat from the Left because I care about its future. You can out me as not radical enough anymore if you want. And you will want — I know you. This is not about third-party voting. I don’t want to argue about Jill Stein. I want to argue about a very airless space you have created in our relationship.
I am sick to death of your purity. I am disabled. I need healthcare. I can’t keep up with your purity Olympics. I am a woman. I am exhausted. I need a membership organization I can believe in.
Right now your excuse for leadership is to say over and over, “The DNC should have gone with Bernie.” This is gas-lighting. We all would have LOVED to have Bernie as our candidate, but then that didn’t happen for complicated reasons we as individual human beings who voted for him couldn’t control. All you want to do is punish and go back in time, to shame anyone who disagrees as well as people who actually agree with you. You want to actually make us question the nature of time and space by telling us we have the power to go back to that point and somehow force the DNC (through what avenues other than the primaries, which we were active in?) to choose Bernie. We did choose Bernie — but then reality happened, and time moved forward, and now it is NOT OUR FAULT. We voted for Bernie. Stop holding us hostage.
What happened in real time is that the DNC didn’t go with Bernie. And time moves only in a forward line, and causes and effects happened, and we had to deal with post-Bernie. But in your rage at losing, you sought to punish us all, and your response to losing has been to put so many people in danger.
This is not about Bernie: he is a rad guy but he made some mistakes and I’ll argue he ran a negative campaign that played into sexist narratives about Hillary. Hillary made many mistakes too, and yes, she’s neoliberal, which is awful. Neither one of them pivoted forcefully enough after the primaries.
But this is not about the candidates. This is about the left. This is about you, and what space you have made or not made for people who might want to approach the left from the middle. You’ve created a forest fire, a clear cut — and it affected things in the Midwest, and it affected the vote.
Here’s what happened. You got super-rigid with your Bernie fervor, and I get that you wanted to take the Democratic Party down. We all hate neoliberalism, but you made Clinton the actual human embodiment of neoliberalism. You did it. Congratulations. People got it very clearly.
In the aftermath of winning a huge audience for your ideas through the figure of Bernie Sanders, you squandered that all by basically saying “No Thank you. Supporters, we don’t have any leadership to offer.” Instead there was a very uncomfortable void in which anyone who considered voting for Hillary Clinton was going to activist hell and denounced as a liberal, and there was no positive choice on offer that people could feel good about. None. You were afraid to be inconsistent, and let’s be honest — you thought people were too dumb to get that sometimes we have to make practical choices to survive. You worried more about your image.
People going on gut instinct listened to you — and you had much more influence that you were comfortable with. You have to own that you had a wide audience, and with that comes some responsibility. People liked Bernie, and then you told them that Hillary was a corporate shill. People were at a state of interest and radical activation and wanted to take strong actions — good or bad, reasonable or completely racist and horrifying. I’m not excusing their choices, and you are not to blame for Trump or for racism. But think about what you could have done, and your part. People in the middle of the country voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. In 2016, people were sick of everything, and what they heard from you was that there was no meaningful way to voice opposition to that whole set-up besides voting for Trump, going back in time with Michael J. Fox, or staying home.
What you could have said but didn’t is, “Hey cool, we’ll try after this election hellscape, because this is actually serious and affects people’s lives.” There was no space in your praxis for a middle point, a stepping stone.
Instead, as we sweep up the rubble and watch the Klan ride into DC, this is literally all we are getting in terms of leadership: “shoulda gone with Bernie.” For example, Sarah Churchwell tried to say this in the Guardian, and the top comment that everyone loved and voted for is just that: shoulda gone with Bernie. We KNOW, and we did vote for him. And now, that response is condescending infantile bullshit. That is simply not enough.
Here is what I need from a relationship with a progressive or socialist membership organization: something much much more than “shoulda gone with Bernie.” If Rebecca Solnit were a Party, I would join it in a second, because she gets it. How about: “Where we are is at a state of national and international tragedy, and we messed up. We, too, are re-assessing everything.”