This Is a Bully’s Language

I’m 24, and I’m lucky because none of my friends have died. This should not be something anyone has to say, but here we are. Not everyone I know is as fortunate as I am. It’s not every couple months, but a few times friends here in NYC have had a call from back home, saying that someone from the neighborhood or from high school passed away. People get in car wrecks, people OD, and people die from treatable illnesses because they didn’t have healthcare. Or sometimes they even have coverage, but the insurance is so shitty, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes they get sicker and die hoping the problem will clear up on its own because they’re trying to save money. Every story is different, but in another way they’re all the same.

I never know what to do in those moments or how to comfort people who are grieving. The best I can do is try to act like how I’d want other people to respond the day it finally happens to me.

There wasn’t a moment when I started ‘being political,’ whatever that means, but there was a moment when I started calling myself a socialist. In 2016, as I watched Bernie get crushed, I started to realize just how broken our democracy is. But at the same time, I saw just how close we came to actually making some serious change. It was around that time that I got into Chapo and began spending waaay too much time online (I can admit it). I started exploring ideas that were a lot more radical than anything I’d ever been exposed to before, but which also made a lot more sense. Online communities were a kind of antidote to all that hopelessness that came after Bernie lost and Trump won, and the same crushing hopelessness I felt whenever I heard about someone else dying because they didn’t have enough money to buy their own life. But as much fun as it was making new comrades and dunking on chuds I could see how toxic online could be. I could see new patterns of viciousness emerging (or maybe they’d always been there), and I always knew that I was in a way a part of it all too.

I’ve never been an ‘organizer,’ but I don’t think the left can work if everyone in it is only an organizer. I didn’t try to unionize my workplace because my boss is an app and my workplace is the road between pizza joints and people’s front doors. I didn’t join the DSA, because I guess I’m busy enough just making ends meet, and I don’t know what I could really bring to the table. But I did sign up for a Medicare for All canvassing day this month, which I saw on the Chapo Twitter feed, because what I do have is a lot of experience knocking on strangers’ doors, and I’d like to bring something even more important than a pizza.

So today I was disappointed, but not surprised, to get an email from the organizers saying that the event had been cancelled. Disappointed because this is a campaign that means a lot to me. It could save the lives of people who might otherwise die, myself included. I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose my Medicaid, which is starting to look pretty likely, and I fall from my bike or get hit by a car, or if I just get sick. Maybe I’m selfish, but I’m pretty invested in the things that could literally save my life and the lives of the people I love.

But I wasn’t surprised, because I saw the whole damn thing go down online.

If anyone ends up reading this and you haven’t already heard this story then I should apologize, because this is all awful petty bullshit and there’s absolutely no way it won’t leave you dumber and sadder than you were before. But someone’s got to tell it, and someone needs to show exactly how destructive some of the politics I’ve seen in the last couple days can be, and what their affect is on people who are trying to get engaged. Because this is bullshit.

Screenshots via Twitter

The event was to be held at Mayday Space in Brooklyn, which is (according to a later statement) a ‘ a people of color led collective with deep community roots and radical praxis.’ It’s also where NYC DSA hold regular meetings, along with other groups like the Socialist Feminist Working Group. I don’t know the place and I’ve never been, so it’s possible that it might be a disability deathtrap, but I doubt it. On the Facebook page for the event, someone asked (quite reasonably) how it might accommodate people with disabilities, and got a quite reasonable and thorough response from one of the organizers (I couldn’t find a full screenshot online, but it went on for a lot longer than what’s shown). And then it got weird.

Jesus Christ

I challenge anyone to look at this exchange and tell me that this is an open and honest attempt to make sure that an event is accessible to everyone. These are malicious and leading questions (‘What will you do if a Deaf person shows up?’ Oh, shoot them on sight, of course!), and if you think their purpose is anything other than disruptive, I’ve got a bridge for sale. This is an attempted interrogation, under the veneer of ‘it’ll make your job a lot smoother if…’ It’s mendacious and manipulative and it should not be acceptable. Let’s recapitulate:

  1. The event is being held in a space the DSA and associated groups have been using for years without any complaint
  2. The organizers have booked the first floor to make sure it’s accessible to all
  3. They lay out precisely how they plan to be able to include people with disabilities in the event and future M4A canvassing
  4. ????????? No, seriously, ????????????????????
  5. Don’t donate free labor to ableists.

This is not about ableism. Actually I’ll say it louder. THIS IS NOT ABOUT ABLEISM. I have some (pretty minor) disabilities myself, and I’m pretty sure the above exchange was not being carried on in my interests. These are people who, for reasons I don’t understand and don’t want to, have already decided that they don’t want the event I signed up for to have any success. They wanted it to fail, so they set about probing for reasons why they might justifiably claim to oppose it. They decided to deliberately try to disrupt an event designed to get people engaged in saving people’s lives. If they were in the pay of the private healthcare industry, would they be behaving any differently?

Obviously it blew up on Twitter. People scouring around for justifications to shut this thing down eventually found some more. Apparently the workshop was just a stunt for a Jacobin documentary about socialism (the (((media conspiracy))) strikes again folks); apparently it conflicted with the campaign launch for a State Senate candidate. (According to the organizers, they got the go-ahead from leaders in the NYC-DSA and no problems were flagged, so this strikes me as a bureaucratic mixup more than anything.) People started acting as if the suggestion, in the second screenshot above, that disabled volunteers be given priority for buildings with elevators, actually meant — I don’t fucking know, that wheelchair users would only be allowed to do appropriate work after hauling themselves up some stairs by the elbows first? (There’s a bunch of discourse around ‘bad faith reading’ but it still astounds me how people can do this kind of thing and not think that they might be being assholes, and it’s weirder still that others actually applaud it instead of calling it out for the assholery it is.) People started complaining to DSA bodies, furious because a couple dozen people wanted to sit in a room and learn about getting involved with activism. A small but very loud group of people were insisting that by having signed up to this thing I was perpetuating oppression against them (and I guess myself?), and they were doing it with glee. It was astonishing.

I’m not going to try to corral all these thousands of Tweets. I hope I’m not here to police anyone’s discourse or whatever. I’ve been online long enough to know freaking out constantly is just what the bad website does. But this time, it had an actual material effect. It got a small, inoffensive, and open volunteer event shut down for no good reason. And after the event was cancelled, one of them said this:

To her. To her. As if this didn’t also happen to me, to all the other people who volunteered an afternoon in their busy lives to get involved with something, and to the millions of people that stuff like this might materially benefit. I don’t know what happened in January (and I really, really don’t want to), but I don’t understand how 89 people, presumably self-declared socialists, could ‘like’ something so nakedly despicable. This is not politics. THIS IS NOT SOCIALISM. This is someone celebrating — celebrating — that they helped get an event cancelled, and they’re openly admitting that they did it for NO OTHER REASON than that they had a personal vendetta against one of the organizers. I’ve met plenty of bullies before, and this is a bully’s language. ‘None of this would have happened to you if you’d done what we wanted.’ You may as well say ‘stop hitting yourself.’ And there are so many more like this. Well done guys. You did yourselves proud.

I’m not writing this under my name, obviously, because I hope to avoid being a target for any more of this shit. I’m not in the DSA, but a few people on Twitter and in NYC could probably work out who I am. I guess it doesn’t matter, because I’m out. This was basically my first foray into doing something like political organizing, and I won’t be doing it again. I’ll keep on posting political stuff online and talking to my friends about it but if this petty viciousness is what the DSA looks like than I want nothing to do with it. You know what I felt after seeing what went down online, and after seeing the results? I felt hopelessness. I felt the same hopelessness I feel whenever I hear about someone else dying, the same feeling like it’ll just carry on like this and there’s nothing that can be done. I don’t think it should be the job of self-declared socialists to reproduce the same deadening mental helplessness that people suffer at the hands of the healthcare industry, and the Republicans, and the shittiness of capitalism in all its murderous forms. But I guess not all socialists agree.

I don’t have any platforms or any ideas for what to do next or how to fight this. Like I said, I’m out. I still want the future to be better, free healthcare for everyone, an end to systemic oppression, an end to capitalism and all the daily misery it inflicts on people. But I’m back to not knowing at all how to get there. Whatever this bullshit is, it’s not leading us anywhere. And if it doesn’t stop, there are going to be a lot more people like me.