01 May Those Days Are Over, Guys
Reminder! Today, Monday, May 1, is Rise Up day—with nationwide activities in which hundreds of thousands of Americans are planning to rise up for immigrant and refugee families in at least 100 cities across the country. One site to go to for specifics in your area is IndivisibleGuide.com.
It continues to amaze and delight that Rise Up comes just two days after the huge demonstrations cross-country and global on Saturday, that focus having been on environmental survival and justice. This is becoming a way of life, producing a wholly new engaged citizenry in this country! Hell, yes! A march a day keeps dictatorship away!
That’s all the more crucial, because the real vision and action remain with us at the grassroots, not with the top-down folks—certainly not those from the Right, and, infuriatingly, not those from the Left, either. I’m referring to the recent so-called “Unity Tour,” with the Mutt and Jeff duo of Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez and Senator Bernie Sanders–two straight guys telling the rest of us to shut up because only the issues they pronounce important are important. Say what?
It’s classic, this depressing recurrence of assaults against feminist, truly progressive priorities, zinged at us by boys on the Left as well as the Right, especially when extremes of the Left and Right go so far they curve around in a circle to meet each other and overlap, bonding on anti-globalization and the supposed triviality of sexism and racism. We see it playing out in France right now. After the first-round elections left Centrist, pro-European Union candidate Emmanuel Macron and extreme Rightist Marine Le Pen standing, all the Centrist and Leftist parties united to throw their support behind Macron to stop fascism from returning to their country. All, that is, with the exception of Luc Mélenchon, leader of his own ultra Left movement. (Sorry, but two of the reasons we wound up with Trump, after all, are named Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.)
Look, by now we really truly truly do know Bernie’s one-note message—the millionaire and billionaire class, economics economics economics. Perez, who comes across as even more than usually ineffectual and deadly dull when contrasted with the irascible old uncle shouting at his side, went along for the “Unity” ride in order to get his paws on that massive mailing list that Sanders, unlike Hillary, still refuses to share with the DNC. Perez then backed-and-forthed about abortion, trying to clean up the shambles Sanders left behind when he refused to endorse Jon Ossoff, the pro-choice candidate who surprisingly (because of grass-roots organizing) almost won the first round election in Georgia. Yet Sanders approvingly dubbed a guy running for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska—whose record is openly anti-choice—”a progressive.”
Sanders then tried to backpedal, and sure, he himself has a good record on reproductive rights. But he still doesn’t get the connections between economics and everything he dismisses as secondary “social issues” (a term as offensive as when homophobes trivialize same-sex love as “a life-style choice”).
In an excellent New York Magazine piece, Rebecca Traister reminds us that in 2015 Sanders spoke carelessly about a populist strategy that exchanges core Democratic beliefs for the set of issues most important to him: “[O]nce you get off the social issues—abortion, gay rights, guns—and into the economic issues, there’s a lot more agreement then the pundits understand.” Hey Bernie, tell the woman dead in a back-alley abortion, the gay kid in the ICU after a frat beating, the Sandy Hook mourning parent, that these are “social [for which read secondary] issues.”
Sanders doesn’t grasp—never has and I doubt ever will–that control of one’s own reproductive life is THE core issue in all the social, professional, and economic realities of women—who happen to be the majority of Americans. Nor does he listen when told that the women most likely to need abortion services and most disastrously affected by restricted access are poor and low-income women, and disproportionately women of color. That’s not economics?
Women who are unsuccessful in obtaining the procedure are three times as likely to fall into poverty over the following two years as women able to abort—despite starting out in comparable financial situations. They’re also more likely to wind up unemployed. Contrarily, women who can get the pregnancy terminations they need are statistically much more likely to follow through on employment or education plans. This country offers precious little or no paid leave, childcare help, or other supports common throughout the developed world. All this doesn’t qualify as economics?
The Left has made this mistake over and over—jettisoning what they consider “women’s issues” and downplaying racial issues, in favor of a washed-out version of a 19th-century-sort-of-once-was-Marxian political analysis, which emanated from white males and so was comfortingly familiar (though unacknowledged as such). They assume that women and that men of color have no place else to go, anyway—so we can be insultingly patronized or flat-out ignored while Democrats scramble after white male votes that are defecting from them anyway. When Sanders says about anti-choicers, “You can’t just exclude people who disagree with us on one issue,” we know he would not dare say that if they were anti-labor protections, anti-climate change, anti-healthcare, anti-immigration reform, or pro-corporate power. When Perez agrees but then, under pressure from women, flip-flops, he’s not inspiring a whole lot of confidence, either.
Worse, when they claim that compromising on abortion is central to a “pragmatic” political path forward, they are willfully uninformed. So we have to forcefully remind them of two forgotten facts:
First, polls show that seven in 10 voters, including Independents (and even in Kansas) support safe and accessible abortion and are willing to vote based on that support. A post-election Pew study reported support for Roe v Wade at an all-time high of 69 percent.
Second, all the grassroots activism—marches, town halls, email and phone and boycott campaigns that are sustaining, even building, energy and clout, and are demonstrably working—are being conceived, led, staffed, and activated by women, who literally are the organized Resistance. Traister cites a recent poll showing that 86 percent of daily calls to Senate and House offices are from women, and a record number of women are training and already filing to run for office.
If the Democratic Party regards those women as useful for doing scut work but not for determining party priorities, I have news for them: Those Days Are Over, Guys.
If the Democratic Party chooses to ignore this dynamic, energized base outright, then we’ll take our power elsewhere, even if we have to form a new party, the Indivisible Party. I profoundly hope that’s not necessary, because third parties at the national level have, to say the least, a checkered history in this country—and also take a long, long time to build, time we don’t have, given the climate-change clock ominously ticking away. But whatever the Dems decide, this shortsightedness from them can no longer be tolerated.
It’s obvious that Bernie persists in his rant because economics are visceral to him, the one oppression he has experienced, growing up poor. For example, he’s experienced an ancestral history of not owning things; women and men of color have experienced an ancestral history of being owned. Nor does he seem able to muster the imagination for experiencing true empathy, except superficially.
Not that he’s alone. He’s supported by far too many fact-free analyses of the election that still claim economic issues were the only or primary explanation for Trump’s seizure-and-occupation of The White House. This, in the teeth of more research emerging every day, proving the opposite. Another recent paper from researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found that sexism and racism predicted support for Trump better than economic dissatisfaction—something feminists, including me, have been saying for months.
It’s not brain science, guys. You might say it’s simple grammar.
Think of it this way. Sure, economics are one of the the means, the metaphors, through which deeper issues get expressed. Economics are the adjectives and sometimes even the verbs. But those other compartments into which humanity so painfully stuffs itself—sex, race, class, ethnicity, age, and tribalism/nationalism/nativism—those are the nouns.