This piece is going to break a rule that I set out for this blog about two years ago, which is that none of the pieces here will be based on things that happen on social media.
That rule is there for numerous reasons, with the biggest one being that producing content that is Terminally Online can distort the real-world reach of certain people, events, and statements. Because the world of social media can be all-encompassing, it is easy to forget that the person with the terrible opinions that you hate is probably unknown to well over 90 percent of your neighbors.
But for Markos Moulitsas and Joy-Ann Reid, I am willing to make an exception.
I am going to leave the whole “white people should not criticize the politics of people of color” premise aside because a) I do not agree with it and b) people of color and their political choices are not infallible, nor is it impossible for white people to have a critique rooted in solidarity and furthering the goals of liberation. I am also going to leave aside — for the most part — the argument that people of color did not vote because of rampant disenfranchisement and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.
I am setting the latter part aside not because it is unimportant (it is extremely important), but rather because a focus on institutional barriers to voting with regards to the 2016 election obscures a simple fact: no candidate in the presidential election last year gave people of color a reason to support them. This would have been doubly important last year, of course, because the absence of Barack Obama on the ballot meant that a drop in turnout for people of color in general — and Black people in particular — was always a given.
The openly bilious nature of the Trump campaign’s discussions of people of color makes that obvious. But if you were actually paying attention, Hillary Clinton’s campaign did little to show marginalized communities that her administration would be a defender of their rights.
She ran two general election television ads that centered on images of people of color. Neither of them discussed issues of concern to the communities in question. Neither talked about the challenges that communities of color might have faced in the last eight years and how Clinton would make them better. Neither discussed the violence being wreaked by the state against its own citizens, nor did they discuss how we might prevent more names from being added to an already-too-long list of those gunned down because police officers saw them not as humans, but rather as monsters that needed to be put down. Hell, they did not even discuss the thing that might have attracted more people of color to the polls: the Affordable Care Act (flawed and incomplete as it is).
No. Instead you have stoic (and silent) Latino voters reduced to a number and a series of banalities about “strength”, “character”, and, of course, “making HER president”. Black voters are at least given the opportunity to speak in their commercial, but their talking points are reduced to “Hillary is experienced”, “she respects everyone”, and “is Obama voting for Hillary? Then I am voting for Hillary”. Their concerns about labor rights, a quality and equal education, police violence, or health care are simply snatched from their voices and replaced with a Hillary Clinton campaign slogan generator.
From a cynical perspective, it almost makes sense. After all, her record on these issues is, well, poor.
But undergirding these discussions is a pretty disturbing notion: that Hillary Clinton was owed votes from people of color for simply existing with the “Democratic” label on our ballots. That, somehow, it was people of color who failed Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, and not the other way around. If you take this narrative to its logical conclusion — and really, y’all, this ain’t that much of a leap — you end up blaming the targets of this administration for its existence in the first place.
That is nothing short of vile in a time where Native people are having dangerous oil pipelines criss-crossing their lands, undocumented immigrants are being detained at courthouses while filing protection orders from abusive partners, and Black students are being murdered on college campuses. It is vile in a political milieu where Shelby County v. Holder has dismantled the Voting Rights Act and enabled all kinds of voting restrictions to flourish in its wake.
But in addition to being vile, it also robs Democrats of any agency in their decisionmaking. When Democratic leaders say that reproductive rights are negotiable, it should be noted that those in the ruling class will always have access to abortions and other means of reproductive health. But for those living in the Mississippi Delta or the colonias along the Rio Grande, securing such services will be nigh on impossible. When Nancy Pelosi proudly states that “we’re capitalists, and that’s just the way it is”, it should be made clear that those who suffer the most from such sentiment will not be the Hillblazers, but the working class communities of color who are crushed under the many instruments of neoliberalism. It took a riot in Ferguson to get America’s first Black president to understand that local police departments — particularly one that has been described as a “violent klepto-state” — should not have access to the same machineries of death that we have used to obliterate Iraq and Afghanistan.
And then, of course, it is ahistorical.
When the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement is used to implore people of color that they have some kind of sacred duty to cast a ballot, it is troubling….and wrong. The freedom fighters that were beaten and murdered working to secure the crafting and eventual passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 fought so that we may have the choice to cast a ballot. And not just that, but also to cast a ballot for whomever we would like.
It is easy to forget now, but there was a time when people of color gave their votes to third parties on a regular basis. The La Raza Unida Party in southwest Texas. The National Democratic Party in Alabama. The United Citizens Party in South Carolina. In Detroit, Black voters sent communists like Ken Cockrel, Sr. to the Detroit City Council. This is, of course, to say nothing of more radical groups like the Black Panthers, Young Lords, and Young Patriots, all of whom demonstrated that democracy is not limited to increasingly hollow political rituals held every four years. These political formations stand as the truest testament to the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, because they show that communities of marginalized people will use their right to vote — as well as their rights to assembly and to demand the redressing of grievances — to pursue a politics of solidarity and liberation on their own when mainstream political avenues refused to allow them to do so.
In the present day, the growth of political organizations across the Left is positioning them to become vehicles to a new politics of emancipation. The political power of America’s dispossessed and disenfranchised is not some point that you can score for the blue team; it is a potentially society-transforming force that is done being taken for granted. It is a force that has pushed back against fascists attempting to recruit on college campuses and rally their base in America’s cities and towns. It has defended the undocumented from attempts to place them in danger. It has demanded that we construct a vision that sees the sun set on mass incarceration and prisons altogether. It has stood in solidarity and support with the Water Protectors. And, of course, it has chanted that from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free. It is something that people like Markos Moulitsas and Joy-Ann Reid will never, ever understand.
The tree of liberation is tall, and its plentiful fruits have ripened. The season of the harvest has begun, and no amount of soul-deadening hackery will change that.