June 14, 2022

ANNALS OF LEFTIST AUTOPHAGY: Elephant in the Zoom: Meltdowns Have Brought Progressive Advocacy Groups to a Standstill at a Critical Moment in World History.

In the eyes of group leaders dealing with similar moments, staff were ignoring the mission and focusing only on themselves, using a moment of public awakening to smuggle through standard grievances cloaked in the language of social justice. Often, as was the case at Guttmacher, they played into the very dynamics they were fighting against, directing their complaints at leaders of color. Guttmacher was run at the time, and still is today, by an Afro Latina woman, Dr. Herminia Palacio. “The most zealous ones at my organization when it comes to race are white,” said one Black executive director at a different organization, asking for anonymity so as not to provoke a response from that staff.

These starkly divergent views would produce dramatic schisms throughout the progressive world in the coming year. At Guttmacher, this process would rip the organization apart. Boonstra, unlike many managers at the time, didn’t sugarcoat how she felt about the staff’s response to the killing.

“I’m here to talk about George Floyd and the other African American men who have been beaten up by society,” she told her staff, not “workplace problems.” Boonstra told them she was “disappointed,” that they were being “self-centered.” The staff was appalled enough by the exchange to relay it to Prism.

The human resources department and board of directors, in consultation with outside counsel, were brought in to investigate complaints that flowed from the meeting, including accusations that certain staff members had been tokenized, promoted, and then demoted on the basis of race. The resulting report was unsatisfying to many of the staff.

Perhaps satisfying the staff isn’t the key to an effective organization. Plus:

For progressive movement organizations, 2021 promised to be the year they turned power into policy, with a Democratic trifecta and the Biden administration broadcasting a bold vision of “transformational change.” . . .

And then, sometime in the summer, the forward momentum stalled, and many of the progressive gains lapsed or were reversed. Instead of fueling a groundswell of public support to reinvigorate the party’s ambitious agenda, most of the foundation-backed organizations that make up the backbone of the party’s ideological infrastructure were still spending their time locked in virtual retreats, Slack wars, and healing sessions, grappling with tensions over hierarchy, patriarchy, race, gender, and power.

“So much energy has been devoted to the internal strife and internal bullshit that it’s had a real impact on the ability for groups to deliver,” said one organization leader who departed his position. “It’s been huge, particularly over the last year and a half or so, the ability for groups to focus on their mission, whether it’s reproductive justice, or jobs, or fighting climate change.”

Woke white people are annoying, stupid, and frequently vicious. Fortunately they’re also usually self-destructive and incompetent. But ultimately, this is just Trump exercising a magical power to destroy his enemies via their own ideology:

Sooner or later, each interview for this story landed on the election of Trump in 2016 as a catalyst. Whatever internal tension had been pulling at the seams of organizations in the years prior, Trump’s shock victory sharpened the focus of activists and regular people alike. The institutional progressive world based in Washington, D.C., reacted slowly, shell-shocked and unsure of its place, but people outside those institutions raced ahead of them. A period of mourning turned into fierce determination to resist. Spontaneous women’s marches were called in scores of cities, drawing as many as 5 million people, a shocking display of force. (Their collapse in a heap of identitarian recriminations is its own parable for this moment.)

Heh. Richly deserved.

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