The Life and Death of #WeAreTheLeft

deep blue
deep blue
Jul 15, 2016 · 5 min read

It’s a convention of literature rarely visited in real life: bad things die bad deaths. You can’t count on it, but when it happens it’s worth documenting. And so I will.

#WeAreTheLeft, first an open letter, then a hashtag, was intended to scold rude leftists for their behavior toward their liberal peers on Twitter during the 2016 Democratic primary. Over one hundred individuals purportedly signed on to demand better treatment from cruel communists, only to have their incipient movement shattered in less than 24 hours by behavior any reasonable person would’ve predicted after a quick skim of the signature list.

What follows is my best effort at documenting different aspects of the crack-up. It’s organized by event, not chronologically.

I Didn’t Sign That

An early draft of the letter included a reference to Marissa Johnson, a Black activist who disrupted a 2015 Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle. But Johnson asked that the reference to her be removed after it became clear she wasn’t consulted about being “featured” beforehand:

It appears the reference to Johnson was then removed. But then something inexplicable happened: While the reference to Johnson’s protest activity was deleted, her name was added to the list of signatories, again without her consent.

What the fuck indeed.

Sady Doyle was unable to provide an explanation for how Johnson’s name had wound up on the list of signatories without her input, but she did offer to pay her for her, uh, trouble.

Of course, the PayPal RT didn’t go exactly as planned.

1 like, 1 RT. Nice.

It was never really revealed how or why Johnson’s name was signed without her consent. But Imani Gandy, another signatory, provided a truly puzzling explanation.

What’s love but a counterfeit signature emotion?

Sometimes you fall in love and sign people’s names onto documents they’ve never reviewed. It happens.

What remains unclear is exactly how many of the remaining signatures are legitimate.

Trans* Problems

Almost immediately upon publication, the manifesto was found to have problems with its language about transmen and transwomen. Specifically, it stated that transmen are victims of “misogyny.” Backlash was swift.

A correction quickly appeared. It wouldn’t be the last.

Continued Trans* Problems

Being a Twitter-confined phenomenon, the doomed WeAreTheLeft brand came with its own Twitter account, which was destined by way of its audience to be swiftly condemned. And it was, when the account retweeted Cathy Brennan:

Brennan, for those not in-the-know, is what is commonly known as a “TERF”, or a trans-exclusive radical feminist. That is, a feminist who doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of transperson’s gender identities.

Backlash, apology, etc.

The horror, the horror.

In the first apology tweet, the account seems to suggest that the person who RT’d Brennan did so because they didn’t associate the handle with Brennan. In the final tweet, the account seems to suggest that the person who RT’d Brennan did so because they did know who the handle belonged to, but didn’t know Brennan’s history. Apparently whoever was in control of the account in that moment couldn’t put out a sequence of three tweets in two minutes without producing two mutually exclusive stories to excuse one retweet. Remarkable.

Sex Work Correction

The bottom of the document at some point came to bear among its several corrections a note concerning sex work.

In what might be a scathing parody of the tokenizing tendencies of the letter’s whole political enterprise, the term “sex work” appears more in the correction than in the actual article.

The Fallout

After a day of modifications and apologies, some of the letter’s signatories no longer want to be associated with the project, others have apologized for signing, and the hashtag belongs wholly to Trump fans.

It took only about 24 hours for the carefully worded Facebook let-me-distance-myself-from-this posts to appear.

As of now, the demands for corrections, changes, and acknowledgements are still pouring in, and the Left will apparently only be accepting them until Saturday, as you do.

One might wonder why this happened. Why the outrage, why the infighting, why the mounting demands for revisions and repairs. One might then consider the source. If you get some one hundred people together for the sole purpose of demanding they each be respected and acknowledged in their unique individual identities and underwrite the demand with an assertion that any failure to honor such unique individual identities is rank bigotry, you shouldn’t be surprised when your signatories and audience act accordingly. And maybe this Left is even happy to oblige, to “learn,” to “grow”, to “do better,” to “clean its own house.”

But only until Saturday the 16th.

deep blue

Written by

deep blue

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade