Basic Thought: An example of online social justice’s disconnect from offline communities

I live in Alabama. This state has one of the highest poverty rates overall, as well as one of the highest rates of extreme poverty (defined as those making less than $2 a day). The state government of Alabama, in all its beneficence, gives these families a grand total of $215 per month. That’s right: Alabama gives these families just enough to maybe cover a bill or two.

Beyond the stats, though, the pictures of human suffering abound in this state. There’s the girl, who looks no older than 14, smoking a cigarette in front of a dilapidated trailer home in the middle of a weekday. There’s the young men of the Black Belt, sitting out on the stoop shooting the shit because there’s no jobs for miles around. There’s the stray animals, wandering around Tuscaloosa because no one has given them a second thought for weeks, months, or years. There’s the lines of people in front of Chuck’s Fish on Thanksgiving, waiting to partake in the free dinner that their American Lunch program is offering to members of the Tuscaloosa community.

I am familiar with these conditions, because poverty has always been a part of my family. But living in Alabama will radicalize anyone who gives a damn about poverty and the working class.

So when I had heard that some folks within the social justice community on Twitter had simultaneously deleted their accounts, I rolled my eyes. I left Twitter over a month ago because the constant infighting and escalating stupidity of many people in that space became too much to deal with. I knew these people as bullies; folks that would fly off the handle at the slightest of disagreements. I saw them harass someone off Twitter for the crime of being a white woman on a natural hair site. I saw them malign a Black writer for calling out a writer for Colorlines over her defense of catcalling, then malign him for being in an interracial relationship. This same person also queried why Latin@s were “more concerned” about the disappearance and murder of 43 students from a teachers’ college in Mexico than police brutality:



I saw them ask, in the middle of Israel’s bombing of Palestinian women, children, schools, and basic infrastructure needed to live, why they had not tweeted about Marissa Alexander:

Won't anyone think of the celebrities?

Won’t anyone think of the celebrities?

And why was that ridiculous request for support made? Because Palestinian solidarity movements had criticized two celebrities for tweeting their support for Palestine and then quickly deleting them under pressure from Zionist groups. And then there were their bizarre requests for compensation because they freely gave their opinions on a site that is free to join, open to everyone, and non-compulsory.

But then came the letter they wrote detailing their reasons for the deactivation. It was a joke. But it was not a joke because of the completely delusional belief that PhD students are waiting for them to come back so that they can steal their ideas for their dissertations. It was not a joke because of the talk of their frameworks, which are really just basic sociological concepts that have been denuded of meaning for capitalistic consumption. It is not a joke because of the decree that wholly common-sensical acts of compassion and community-building are somehow radical. It is not a joke because simple disagreement has been translated into “abuse” and “triggering” behavior. It is not even a joke because I’Nasah Crockett, Zahira Kelly, Trudy Hamilton, Aura Bogado, Lauren Chief Elk, Sarah Kendzior, and Jessica Luther are all jokes themselves.

No. It is a joke because it is a document that is so removed from the communities that these people claim to represent. It is a joke because such self-centered and narcissistic performances have become a regular part of these “activists” shticks, and the notion that other people suffer in this world is of secondary thought to their mantra of “fuck you, pay me”. It is a joke because for all the discussion of praxis, these petty bourgeois capitalists do not seek radical change and an overturning of our socioeconomic and political systems. It is really incredible to see, actually: capitalists paying members of an oppressed class to write about their real or perceived oppressions, offering solutions that always center on such atomized and individualistic notions of “rhetorical violence” and “spaces” and “privilege-checking”. They are paying these people to maintain the status quo with radical aesthetics, and these writers are completely okay with that. That is a joke.

At some point, though, the joke stops being funny. It starts being a distraction to real movements for change, and it takes up space and energy in offline organizing. At some point, the show has to end, the mic has to be cut off, and people gotta be told to take the no-talent show somewhere else. I am not on Twitter anymore, nor will I ever be again. But my hope is that their screeds may find a few less retweets, a few less favorites, and less enthusiastic displays of solidarity now that their true intentions of capital accumulation and attention-seeking have been revealed.

It is a hope that I expect to be dashed. Here’s hoping I am wrong. Our movements for change depend on it.

The next time someone tells you that voting for Democrats will change things…

Remind them of some key facts:

Gov. Jay Nixon (Democrat): declared state of emergency and has unleashed Highway Patrol and National Guard troops on Ferguson

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (Democrat): told reporters that she wanted media to leave within the first week of protests in Ferguson

County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch (Democrat): spend much of his speech blaming social media for this situation, rather than the police officer who actually killed someone

County Executive Charlie Dooley (Democrat): asks for peace from protestors, but not from the police chief who was appointed by his county commissioners and made violence upon the protestors in August

County Executive-elect Steve Stenger (Democrat): remains silent on Ferguson save for one ad, where he laments “division” and pledges to “bring people together”; no word about how he will be able to do this given that the County Prosecutor is one of his biggest backers

If you actually want systemic change, voting for more Democrats is the last thing that is going to satisfy your desires. After all, it appears that having Democrats running St. Louis County for as long as anyone can remember has not done much good.

The Day After: Ferguson’s aftermath, and the charge laid upon our communities.

Tonight, we found out the news that every Black person sadly expected: Darren Wilson will not be charged in the killing of Michael Brown. In anticipation of the verdict, there have been calls for peaceful protest. Those calls should go unanswered.

We are witnessing a shocking wave of state violence against Black citizens, aided by the same machineries of war that were used to defeat the Taliban and Saddam. In North Carolina, a Black teenager may have been hung, but silence rings out from America’s media and law enforcement. The police chief in Ferguson, in a move that demonstrates a shocking lack of humanity for Michael Brown’s family, has said that Wilson will be reinstated immediately upon the grand jury’s decision. And Gov. Jay Nixon has issued a state of emergency for the entire state of Missouri, giving law enforcement broad powers to “protect civil rights and ensure public safety”. There is something sick about Gov. Nixon (a Democrat, by the way) using a state of emergency that will almost certainly be abused by local and state law enforcement to ensure civil rights, as if the chance of that happening has not completely evaporated with the grand jury’s decision.

When you are up against such shockingly callous institutions showing disregard for human life, why should the protests be peaceful?

To demonstrate peacefully would be to legitimize a state that has done everything in its power to ensure that justice is not served. One that has arrested untold numbers of peaceful protestors already, and one that has rebuffed protestors’ demands for nonviolent means in handling the demonstrations that are certainly on their way. Those demands were rebuffed because law enforcement has no intention of remaining peaceful; they will use the supercharged methods at their disposal to maintain the status quo in Ferguson, no matter what the cost may be. They refuse to go into this situation with any substantive restrictions on their conduct, so why would the protestors do the same?

We are about to witness a struggle for change that it has not seen in nearly fifty years. It is going to play out on computers, iPhones, and television screens across America, and we will be a witness to some gruesome images. This will not be a short struggle; it will carry on indefinitely. It will not be a tidy struggle; property will damaged or lost entirely, and parts of Ferguson, Missouri will surely burn. This struggle will be filled with raw emotion that cannot be easily explained or understood by people who will never have to tell their children how to act around police or fear the worst when their child goes out with friends for the night. And, most importantly, it will not be a peaceful struggle; people will be hurt or possibly even killed in this fight to see our justice system finally resemble that model of Lady Justice that we know all too well: blindfolded and giving equal weight to the humanity of both sides in the court of law.

But whatever form this struggle takes, we should not be afraid. We should stand together, arm-in-arm, marching and fighting for the full promise of America’s democratic ethos. We should never forget that the police, the politicians, and the judges serve us, not the other way around. And we should always remember the spirit of community and solidarity that won us previous battles, be they economic, political, or social. If we cannot put personal issues and differences of opinion aside now, then when will we ever?

We have to remember that the whole damn system is guilty, and has no legitimacy left to police how we express our outrage and grief. Because nothing can be worse than this.

Serially Wrong: Examining the ridiculous identitarian backlash to Serial.

(This has spoilers. Obviously. If you are nitpicky about that kind of thing, probably best not to read this just yet.)

MAJOR CONFESSION HERE: I like Serial. I think that it is, without question, one of the best podcasts I’ve listened to in recent memory.

I am not alone in that, and I think there’s two big reasons why that is: drama by the ton and great storytelling. Additionally, it has something for everybody: people who enjoy the hardcore sleuthing can find communities of people dedicated to sifting through the evidence and drawing conclusions on their own; casual listeners can let Sarah Koenig, the journalist relaying the story, do all the work and listen in while she ruminates, agonizes, and waffles over every piece of evidence that she and her team uncovers. Koenig is a key part of the story not simply because we are seeing all of this through her eyes, but because she does not allow herself to be edited into some perfect figure who is “just about the facts, ma’am”. There are moments where her naïveté gets completely blown up, and she just sits back and says, “damn, I really screwed up on that one”.

It is a complete story and podcast, even if it is not perfect. But what does perfection look like when you are revisiting a fifteen-year old murder where the individuals who are involved are still alive and actively dealing with those memories…and their consequences? How do you tell a perfect story about a murder when the victim’s family refuses to be a part of the production? And most importantly, how do you tell a perfect story about a judicial process that was far from that standard? The defense did not interview key alibis in addition to engaging in some of the most unhelpful cross-examination I have ever heard, and the prosecution and police force put together a case that relied on barely tenuous evidence and racial priming against this seventeen-year old kid from an immigrant community. Where can you make a perfect story out of all that?

And yet, Serial still manages to tell a very compelling story about teenagers who were caught up (justly or unjustly, depending on your view of Adnan Syed) in a horrific murder, in a city that is no stranger to that particular crime, be it real or fiction. But in a world where instant reaction to incomplete events and social media-driven journalism has become the rule rather than the exception, the backlash was bound to come eventually.

I just thought that it would be more….substantive.

Continue reading

Debacle: An Election Night Recap.

WELP. That happened.

  1. Overall, Republicans won the U.S. Senate and gained in House seats.
  2. In Virginia, Mark Warner, the most popular politician in the Commonwealth for over a decade, needed the Fairfax Connection (Fairfax County votes are always counted last, which always manages to put Democrats over the top in tight races) to remain in the U.S. Senate, narrowly beating former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie.
  3. In Maryland, former State Secretary of Appointments Lawrence Hogan shockingly trounced Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown by nearly 10 points to become the state’s governor-elect.
  4. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker similarly cruised to re-election over businesswoman Mary Burke.
  5. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, who was once thought to be guaranteed an eviction from the Governor’s Mansion, survived against former Gov. Charlie Crist, running for the first time as a Democrat.
  6. Illinoisans will have a governor who thinks that the minimum wage should actually be lower than it is now.
  7. In Massachusetts, a Democrat lost statewide. Which must mean that Martha Coakley ran for something in this Year of Our Lord 2014.
  8. In Alabama…..HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

These seem really “bad”, because “Democrats” “lost”. Which is “important” so that our country does not go “backwards”. However, juxtapose that against these:

  1. Minimum wage increases passed in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota, raising it to between $8.50 and $10 per hour.
  2. San Francisco went one step farther, and increased their minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  3. Massachusetts passed a ballot initiative that would allow workers to earn up to 40 hours of sick time per year.
  4. Missouri rejected “merit pay” for teachers.
  5. California reduced most nonviolent crimes to misdemeanors, meaning that state residents will be less likely to see the inside of a prison. Additionally, they approved a massive water infrastructure bond.
  6. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have won re-election, a record number of people voted on the Green Party line, pushing it above the “Working Families” Party on the ballot for the next four years.

Seems weird, right? Minimum wage laws passing in states that were simultaneously going deeply red? Missouri rejecting the tying of teacher pay to evaluations? How is this happening?

I had a friend from my MPA days at Mizzou calling for Democrats to run “more Blue Dogs” and more “moderate” candidates. He’s a great guy, but I have to advise him to see the U.S. Senate election results in Georgia and Kentucky, as well as the gubernatorial elections in Texas and Arkansas, for the verdict on that notion. Gov. Pat Quinn signed a massive statewide pension “reform” that directly hit public sector employees and retirees…and then signed another one for Chicago; he lost. Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke outsourced jobs at Trek Bicycle; she lost. In 2010, the Democratic members of Congress that had the best showings in tough districts were the ones who defended the Affordable Care Act, as tepid a reform as that has been. Shockingly enough, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI), who steadfastly defended his votes in Congress on issues such as the ACA, cruised to an easy victory against Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land in that state’s open U.S. Senate race. U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (DFL-MN), who defended his record in Congress and went on the offensive about the reasons that businessman Stewart Mills III would be a bad deal for the people of the 8th District, beat back millions of dollars in one of the most expensive Congressional races in the state’s history.

The last thing America needs is more Democrats that will serve the needs of Wall Street and the most reactionary forces in our society; the working class is abandoning the party in droves because they are largely doing that already. The working class is tired of being told that they are the problem, rather than unrestrained capital. So when a Republican comes around and makes folks feel that they matter, regardless of whether it is on inane issues like guns or religion, they will choose that person over the focus-grouped Democrat every single time.

Simply put, Democrats need to find their soul. Or at least whatever is left of it after a generation of trying to be better neoliberals than the Republicans.

Morning Links for October 30, 2014.

The South.

  1. Thanks to rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court, the death penalty is being rolled back considerably across the country, according to Matt Ford at The Atlantic. Nowhere is this more evident than Texas, which has executed fewer people this year than it has in the last two decades. While this is a good thing, Texas has still executed ten more people than any government populated by human beings should.
  2. Patrik Jonsson writes in The Christian Science Monitor about the struggles of the Democratic Party in the South, and how the “demography as destiny” argument constantly put forth by strategists is far from reality. The fact remains that you have to put forth policies and rhetoric that suggests you actually care about communities of color before they will consider voting for you. Running candidates that cannot even tell voters whether they supported President Obama in 2012 is not the best way to go about doing that, as small a step as that is.


  1. In one more example of the heartless nature of unrestrained capitalism in the United States, Steven Greenhouse at The New York Times discusses fast food wages in Denmark, and how restaurateurs seemingly find a way to pay their workers enough to live on. Amazing to think about all the things the rest of the West can take for granted that workers in the world’s richest nation have to fight tooth-and-nail for.


  1. Andrew Cuomo is taking his lumps today. Good.
  2. One of my friends once told me that every time Charles Barkley opens his mouth, he sets Black folks back 50 years. With comments like these, it is not hard to understand why.


  1. Two great stories from Ricochet: the first dealing with the increasing circumscription of abortion in New Brunswick, and the second describing the need for dissenting voices in the wake of the Ottawa shooting. Amazing how much these stories sound like they could have been written in the United States; that should scare everyone living north of the border.
  2. All Fired Up In The Big Smoke has a postmortem on the Toronto elections, followed by a post outlining the hopes that the blog has for the next term of the city council, Mayor-elect John Tory, and the future of Toronto politics. The disappointment is palpable; yet another Tory (party, not individual) as Mayor and the return of Rob Ford to his old council seat would give any leftist or progressive heartburn. But, as the post notes, there was a very diverse group of candidates in the running, and maybe this marks the beginning of a new Toronto: one where its communities are not simply seen, but also heard as well.

The World.

  1. The race for leader of the Scottish Labour Party has begun in earnest, reports Libby Brooks in The Guardian. The leadership contest will feature a candidate from the right of the party (Jim Murphy, an MP thought to be favored by Ed Miliband), the center of the party (Sarah Boyack, former transport minister), and the left of the party (Neil Findlay, shadow health secretary and member of the Campaign for Socialism group). This is really a race for the soul of the Labour Party in Scotland, and the stakes could not be higher: if a candidate from the center or right wins, they would have to take on an ascendant Scottish National Party with a new leader and surging popularity. The next Holyrood election could decide whether Labour can make a comeback in Scottish politics, or whether the SNP will cement their domination for a generation. It is hard to see a Scottish Labour Party that is led by Blairites rising to the challenge.
  2. An American diplomat calls Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickenshit”. The rest of the world replies, “Duh.”

Morning Links for October 29, 2014.

The South Lawn now has a Twitter page! Check us out at @TheSouthLawn! And, as always, we can be found on our Facebook page.

The South.

  1. The Advocate features a post from Sarah Young (who also writes for this blog) and Michael Hansen on the ridiculous notion that the South is a “new frontier” for organizing around LGBTQ+ issues.
  2. The latest Texas Tribune/University of Texas Poll shows conditional support for both marriage equality and abortion. A plurality of Texans support marriage equality if there is also an option for civil unions in the poll, while Texans come out narrowly opposed in a Yes/No poll question on marriage equality. Likewise, Texans support abortion if there is medical reasoning behind it, but oppose it based on the personal choices of the woman. The abortion question makes sense, but I do not know that the marriage equality question does. While it shows that there is complexity to opinions on the issue, I do not know that civil unions are, at this point, a realistic policy option that is on the table when LGBTQ+ folks are getting married in Utah and North Carolina.
  3. In the city of New Braunfels, Texas, one city councilwoman is facing backlash over coming out as LGBTQ+. John Wright writes at The Texas Observer about the story of Aja Edwards, who became a target for harassment after she revealed that she was seeking to build a community to support LGBTQ+ youth. New Braunfels is described as a “tea party stronghold”, which is surprising; I only knew it as a water park stronghold.
  4. National Organization for Marriage and James O’Keefe. What could go wrong there?
  5. KnoxViews discusses Amendment 3, a proposal that would ban the Tennessee General Assembly from creating an income tax, and the reasons why it would be a disaster for the Volunteer State were it to pass. State governments in the South seem hellbent on doing all they can to prevent the necessary raising of tax revenue for education, transportation, social welfare, and the like. The only people who will suffer is the working class, who will not only lack the infrastructure needed to improve their lot, but will also bear the burden of ever higher tax inequalities as states look to their paychecks to balance state budgets. It is immoral and wrong.


  1. While the Working Families Party betrayed its entire raison d’etre by endorsing Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) for re-election, it is good to know that there are unions that are still willing to stand up for the best interests of their members. Six teachers unions have endorsed Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s candidate for Governor of New York, including the Buffalo Teachers Federation, reports Kevin Solari at In These Times. UPDATE: Methinks this might be good reason for teachers to endorse Hawkins-Jones in the general election. I mean, does anyone other than Republicans and empty-suit liberals really think this guy deserves four more years in Albany?


  1. Alan Pyke writes about John Arnold, the hedge fund billionaire who is spending millions trying to shrink the pensions of public employees across America, at ThinkProgress. He found a willing partner in Gina Raimondo, the Democratic State Treasurer of Rhode Island. In case you are not up on the nitty-gritty of politics in America’s smallest state, Raimondo is likely to become Rhode Island’s next governor. Then again, considering that it was all Democrats who pushed Voter ID in Rhode Island, perhaps it is not too surprising that the state has one of the most conservative Democratic Party units in the nation.
  2. Laura Clawson blasts Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) new ad on women’s pay at Daily Kos Labor. The ad, featuring Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, is a pretty shameful attempt to cover up the fact that Walker and his Republican Party allies in the Wisconsin State Assembly have worked to roll back equal pay protections since they came to power in 2010.


  1. The always brilliant and incisive Allison Sparling writes on the Jian Ghomeshi controversy at her blog Always Something, as does Toula Dramanis for Ricochet. Ghomeshi, who hosted the popular show Q for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was terminated from his employment at the CBC after allegations of sexual assault and abuse were made by no fewer than four of his former girlfriends. Ghomeshi has chalked this up to “jilted ex-lovers” and is suing the CBC for $50 million. I have to agree with the two aforementioned authors: the whole “they’re all just crazy” line is extremely disappointing coming from Ghomeshi, and people are using their fanhoods to guide them on the merits of this thing rather than just sitting back and waiting to see how it all shakes out. It is always interesting to see how people defend the powerful in moments like this; I just wish we did not have so many examples to choose from.
  2. The Ford era of Toronto politics is over….sorta. John Tory, former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and failed 2003 candidate for Mayor of Toronto, staged a successful comeback bid in his second try for the office. He secured just over 40 percent of the vote, besting City Councillor Doug Ford, who earned 34 percent of the vote, and Olivia Chow, former MP for Trinity-Spadina and widow of former New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, who received 23 percent of the vote. Tory ran ahead in the wealthiest wards in Toronto, Ford ran ahead in the poorest wards, while Chow basically won the area in and around her parliamentary constituency in downtown Toronto. But while Doug Ford failed to create a family dynasty in the Mayor’s Office, there will still be a Ford in City Hall: outgoing Mayor Rob Ford handily outpaced his nearest rival by more than a 5-1 margin in returning to Etobicoke North’s Ward 2 council seat, which he held before becoming Mayor in 2010.

The World.

  1. Zambia now has the first white leader in its history, and the first white leader of an African nation since F.W. de Klerk stepped down following the end of apartheid, after Vice-President Guy Scott was appointed interim President following the death of President Michael Sata at 77, the BBC reports. However, he may not be eligible to run for the office at the next elections due to his not being born in Zambia and his parents being of Scottish descent (Zambian law requires that you be at least a third-generation Zambian to qualify for the office).
  2. Scotland should get veto power over any move by the Conservative Party to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, says incoming First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in a report for The Guardian. The new leader of the Scottish National Party in Holyrood says that the party’s Westminster MPs will place in amendment on the schedule should anyone table a bill that would allow for a referendum on EU membership in 2017, as has been promised by Prime Minister David Cameron. Should be interesting to see how this will affect independence politics in Scotland, as a rejection of the EU in England would certainly give impetus to the feeling that Scotland might not be as Better Together as the Westminster Troika promised they would be.
  3. Jacobin Magazine features a great article on the ways that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela has brought the poor out of the shadows and into political and administrative power. George Ciccariello-Maher’s discussion goes through a history of violent neoliberal suppression of working-class voices in the country, and discusses how the Chavez-Maduro era has worked to overturn the generations of dominance enjoyed by the white elite at the expense of all other Venezuelans. A fantastic read if you are interested in a discussion of Chavismo that is not mediated by multinational media conglomerates.