Where White Men Have to Lead

Where white men have to lead, so I’ve been told, is in conversations about racial injustice and gender inequality, when the audience for or members of that conversation includes other white men.

(Immediate clarification: white men do not have to lead women, trans people, or people of color in conversations about racial injustice and gender inequality.)

Used to be I’d’ve thought the opposite, that white men needed to sit back and shut up and, ideally, listen in such conversations. But as a colleague once explained to me, calls for justice and equality sound different to white people’s ears when spoken by other white people.

Her unspoken implication was that white people, by virtue of our history of being underchallenged on these topics, have developed a knack, consciously or otherwise, of being deaf to POC voices. Or of granting those voices low priority. Or, worse, of hearing marginalized people’s own arguments for equality as “black people once again making everything about race.”

In other words, when white guys make something about race, other white guys tend to finally listen to the conversation about race.

Oh, I remember thinking. My discomfort is an effect unbefitting my intention. (I was probably less articulate in the moment.) I wasn’t racist, and I may not in my lack of action have been a vehicle for racism, but nor was I in my lack of action putting an end to racism. When another colleague of color later spelled out the burdens I put on my already-burdened students of color by waiting for them to tell me of their discomfort with any racist goings-on in the classroom (goings-on I may have been ignorant of), whereas what they were looking for was for me to call it out, if anything as the person nominally “in charge” of the classroom, that sealed it.

I did not want to have to lead in topics and conversations where I felt ignorant or unskilled, and so because not leading in those conversations is a form of violence, I had to stop being ignorant and learn some skills.

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On Mass Action & Not Doing Enough

What makes me most angry as a member of the public is injustice. Maybe growing up the youngest of three got me attuned to it. I have been angry since watching that asshole cop kneel on George Floyd’s neck last week—sometimes low-level angry, sometimes Unable To Do Anything-level angry—as I imagine you have been.

(If you haven’t been angry, let’s talk, because I can’t understand why and I’d sincerely like to.)

I’ve also been frustrated, and numb, and sad, and confused. My anger at the continuous injustice of cops murdering black people has kept clenching, figuratively, my fists, readying for some fight, but I haven’t been sure what kind of fight. Frankly, I don’t know what to do each day. I wake up mad and unsure.

I haven’t joined in street demonstrations, owing to the virus and a longstanding fear of becoming part of a mass of people. With money to spend right now, I’ve donated to the George Floyd Fund, the Black Visions Collective, and the Bukit Bail Fund of Pittsburgh. I’ve set up a monthly donation to the Anti-Police Terror Project.

And I file my email receipts in the folder I use for tax-deductions and I scroll through Twitter and watch people taking to the streets and I feel once again it’s not enough.

Because it isn’t enough.

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Zainab Mohsini for U.S. House

Now that Joe Biden is the presumptive candidate running against the President, our battle to secure a more equitable and democratic future just got more uphill. In that spirit, I’m focusing on helping candidates committed to progressive policies—universal health care, social justice for all, and fighting income inequality, among others—get elected to Congress. This is the third in a series

Zainab Mohsini is a first-generation Afghan American who came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2003. She’s a progressive Democrat running for the House of Representatives in Virginia’s 11th district, which happens to be where I grew up.

She’s got a tough battle ahead of her.

Mohsini is up against incumbent Gerry Connolly in the primary election happening (possibly) in June. Connolly is much loved in the district. He took 71% of the vote in 2018. Also: my best and longest friend worked for him when he was the chairman of the Board of Supervisors for our home county. It seems impossible that he’ll lose. So why put money behind Mohsini?

The problem is Centrism. Connolly is a Vice Chair of the New Democrat Coalition, which is a centrist caucus of “pro-business”, “fiscally-responsible” congresspeople. It’s the largest Democratic caucus, and it is, you can call it, the base of the party.

Pro-business means anti-worker. It means favoring profit/eers over the well being of the people. It means legislating for more economic growth, such that a proposed pipeline which will destroy the environment and nearby communities becomes a cost-benefit issue to be weighed.

Most people are centrists the way most people are average—it’s how those terms mean what they do. And a democracy is rule by the majority. The problem with centrism as an ideology is that it fails to achieve what the majority wants, given the constant presence of radicals.

Often we think that the “two sides” we see of polarized issues are equally polarized. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Take women’s rights and the ERA.[1] One side says that women are equal to men. The other side says men are superior to women. If you’re a centrist or moderate Democrat on this issue, if you seek to find the middle ground between these positions, where does that leave women?

Politics—the workings of policy-making in government—requires compromise, and when you have a radical rightwing administration in power (fascism is a radical ideology), you do not enact change by taking a middle-of-the-road position. Being in the middle of the road gets you stuck once again in the gutter.

The gutter on the right, I mean, in this shabby metaphor.

If you believe these times are unusual, that having a racist president in the White House who seems fully incapable of caring about the 38,000 deaths (so far) caused by the coronavirus is unusual, we will not make a better future by playing politics as usual. It’s not just a matter of getting “more of us” in Congress, it’s a matter of getting the versions of us with a vision of something different.

So I’m giving my support to Zainab Mohsini. She is committed to the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. She’s in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. I haven’t found her position on Citizens United,[2] that rotten decision, but her Twitter bio indicates she’s taking no corporate PAC money.

And I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating—anti-PAC progressives are immediately at a disadvantage in trying to win elections (thanks, in part, to the Citizens United decision). The game is rigged to handicap such candidates from the start. They need our support more than anybody.

You can read more about Zainab Mohsini here.



Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. I’ve stolen this from Gayle Rubin, who I’m pretty sure got it from somebody else.
  2. UPDATE: Mohsini reached out to me and confirms that she opposes Citizens United.

Betsy Sweet for U.S. Senate

Now that Joe Biden is the presumptive candidate running against the President, our battle to secure a more equitable and democratic future just got more uphill. In that spirit, I’m focusing on helping candidates committed to progressive policies—universal health care, social justice for all, and fighting income inequality, among others—get elected to Congress. This is the second in a series

Betsy Sweet is a political activist and single mother running for a U.S. Senate seat in Maine. If she wins the July primary election, she’ll be going up against Susan Collins, the GOP Senator who made a deciding vote on allowing Brett Kavanaugh to sit on the Supreme Court for life.

Sweet is committed to the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and the DREAM Act. She’s made protecting tribal lands and water rights a priority. I like that her positions on policies like Gun Control and Education Access take Mainers and their needs into account. Which is to say she’s able to mediate pressing national policy needs to suit her constituency without sacrificing her progressive vision for the future.

For now, Sweet is running in Maine’s Democratic primary against Sara Gideon, a State Rep who, on the one hand, has committed to receiving no corporate PAC money but, on the other hand, doesn’t support Medicare for All and has no official positions or policies on improving the lives of queer people or people of color. (She’s got ideas for seniors and veterans, though.)

Gideon is the current frontrunner in terms of money raised.

If you’re reading this, your politics might be different from mine, and you might think that Maine’s Senate seat is winnable if the Right Political Steps are made—in this case, electing a centrist Democrat to run against a weak Republican. I personally don’t agree, but many other news outlets seem to.

My candidate in this race is Sweet, the way my candidate in the presidential race was Sanders. I don’t think you make a better future by playing politics, I think you make a better future by supporting policies, and the people who are most committed to them.

But I know the good fight when I see it. So regardless of who wins Maine’s July Democratic primary, I’ll be supporting whoever’s up against Collins. I hope it’s Betsy Sweet, but either way, the Maine Senate race is worth keeping our eyes (and our donations) on.

And don’t forget there’s more than $4 million waiting for whoever runs against Collins. That crowdfund is still accepting donations.

Vote Kara Eastman for U.S Representative

Now that Joe Biden is the presumptive candidate running against the President, our battle to secure a more equitable and democratic future just got more uphill. In that spirit, I’m focusing on helping candidates committed to progressive policies—universal health care, social justice for all, and fighting income inequality, among others—get elected to Congress. This is the first of a series. 

Kara Eastman is a social worker and community organizer running for the U.S. House in Nebraska’s 2nd District—which chiefly comprises Omaha. NE-02 is the “bluest” part of the state, and this will be the second election in which Eastman has vied for the Congressional seat. In 2018, she lost to the Republican incumbent, Don Bacon, by just 1.9 percent of the vote.

Don Bacon is ex-military, and his campaign his funded by pharmaceutical companies, energy corporations, defense contractors, and the Ricketts Family—the billionaires who own the Chicago Cubs and bought their son, Pete, the Nebraska governorship a few years back. (Of course it’s legal in the U.S. to have the state governor help fund your U.S. representative campaign.)

Eastman rejects corporate PAC money in her campaign. This is why we need more people like her in Congress.

Now—as I imagine I’ll point out every week in this series—committing to reject corporate money puts progressive candidates at a huge disadvantage, because you need money to win elections.

I’ll say it another way: pledging to represent voters over corporations hurts your chances of getting elected to Congress. This is where we are in our elections. And this is why I’ve donated to Eastman’s campaign, and I urge you to give whatever you can as well.

Nebraska is a state I love. I lived there for seven years. I’ve got friends and family and people I care for deeply living there. And Nebraska has a long history of populist/progressive movements. It’s time to bring that ethos, and those policies, back to a state that deserves them.

Given Eastman’s success in 2018, she has a real chance of defeating the incumbent and flipping the district. But she needs help. Here’s a link to donate to her campaign.

Oh, and one more thing about Nebraska—it’s one of 2 states (Maine is the other) that splits its electoral college votes among its congressional districts. Meaning that if Biden wins NE-02, he’ll get 1 of Nebraska’s 5 electoral college votes. In what will likely be another tight election, some are saying this 1 vote could make the difference.