Fallout from the storm of rage activism in SF

Deep breath. This is a SFF insider post, so if you aren’t in that world, a lot of this won’t mean much to you. Additionally, I know that I have Facebook followers who are right of center/white/male, and if you jump in on this post to bash ideology, make arch and to-you witty statements about political correctness (in most cases about things in which you have little to no knowledge and I KNOW IT), you WILL get blocked. By me. This is NOT for your discussion. You know who you are. This isn’t for you. Mean Former Middle School Teacher will enforce proper polite behavior. You have been warned. That includes comments about tone policing, censorship and #notall…whatever.

So. Second deep breath. Onward.

I have been deeply distressed by the progression of the Requires Hate/Benjanun Sriduangkaew explosion and what it reveals about social justice ideals, concepts and thinking as a tool to bash others. Rage activism as a tool of silencing.

As a former political activist of the left persuasion, I’m not unfamiliar with the tactics used–they were very common during my activist days in the late 20th/early 21st century. Mobbing, friending only to turn on you when you either challenge the established order or seek to advance above the leader of the pack, making ideological mistakes because one is still learning…oh yeah, seen them used in the name of political advancement and climbing up the political ladder. There are people in Oregon politics who have lost my support forever due to their behavior at the lower levels of activism, though most of those who have used those techniques of silencing opponent voices have, ironically, ended up being silenced themselves. I’ve been an occasional rage activist myself, trying to be an ally in the political world, but never had the stomach to carry it far enough to destroy someone else’s political career or silence their voice. That was a line I did not want to cross. I simply wanted people to understand that they had made a mistake and needed to reconsider. I didn’t want to destroy or silence my opposition.

And that is at stake here. I read comments and worry from people of color who have been silenced. From people with non-traditional sexuality who have been silenced. From alter-abled people. From older people, specifically women, who have been silenced. That isn’t right. Repeat: that isn’t right.

When did correction become silencing?

We all make mistakes. When did a mistake or misunderstanding become grounds to destroy or silence someone? When did destruction instead of education become the goal?

When did the ideals of social justice become tools to destroy or silence someone? Yes, the opponents of social justice have no qualms about using these techniques, and to be honest, if the RH/BS thing had happened in the political world, I’d be thinking agent provocateur, because that’s how agents provocateur destroy movements. I’ve seen it done. It’s a major tell for me in a social justice movement. But does such rage activism justify counter-tactics that are identical?

Anger and frustration at being repressed, throttled, and minimalized are necessary and real emotions. That’s what drives activism and keeps people going in order to change unjust situations. You need to be angry when injustice appears. But turning those emotions on those who would be allies, on those who are oppressed rather than the oppressors, is not the appropriate use of rage in activism. It doesn’t create a movement. It is not a tool of creation but a tool of destruction. It doesn’t change the world. The world does not usually change overnight with forceful intervention, and when it does, what results isn’t usually better. Change is frustratingly incrementalist, and it’s a long game. I have my own personal examples of some changes I’ve seen happen, but it’s taken damn near thirty years of persistent and steady activism to create those circumstances.

It doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be nicey-nicey sweety-sweety all the time. But being aware of that line between correction and destruction needs to exist. Being aware of the ultimate goal–changing hearts and minds–needs to exist. Being aware of the need to wrench the face of SF away from those who would keep it European white male with token women, people of color, and people of alternative sexualities needs to exist. The bottom line is that if it destroys, if it tears down, without the option to rebuild…then perhaps it needs to be reconsidered.

It is possible to critique fairly without resorting to the techniques of personal destruction. It is possible to speak the truth to power without being destructive.  It is possible to say “Your presumptions are wrong and here is why” without lashing out and attacking. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, that means constant repetition. Yes, that means gritting teeth and repeating the 101 education courses.

But rage does not justify the excesses of hyperbole. Eventually, such hyperbole can and will turn back on you, whether professional, political, or personal.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I would ask that we create safe spaces for those who feel threatened. That we allow newer writers to grow and find their voices with appropriate criticism without nuking their mistakes. That we look carefully at those who use the language of destruction to critique those with whom they disagree, even when we agree with the substance but not the tone of their commentary.

It all starts with the individual. Let’s go from there. And that’s my statement.

(reminder, I can and will block, edit, or otherwise manage those who will be destructive in my spaces. Former middle school teacher here. I’ve dealt with these issues IRL, and have no qualm about doing so in virtual in order to maintain civil discourse–and it’s MY definition which counts)


Filed under sf politics

3 Responses to Fallout from the storm of rage activism in SF

  1. Joyce, thanks very much for this post.

    Your sentiments deeply resonate with mine. RH/BeeS/et al. exploited progressive anger at injustices against disenfranchised people. We are all human, and capable of being led astray by skilled manipulators. (Your thought about an agent provocateur was very much in my mind as well. ) I ache for the people she targeted, and for the people she tricked into supporting her. She betrayed them, too.

    And for whatever reason she/they did it–personal gain, the power thrill, a targeted attack on progressive ideals–all I can say is, I am resolute in helping my community recover from this blow.

    Again, my deepest thanks for being willing to speak up on this matter.

  2. Joyce, thank you for making the vital historical connections. The narcissism of small differences can destroy even the best intent. Maintaining civilizations and being human(e) to each other requires endless, unglamorous work; not self-serving flourishes.