Intercept: Many progressive advocacy groups are at war internally over woke issues

We’ve seen this happen recently at the Washington Post where for about a week there was so much contention inside and outside the paper that it became difficult for people to get any work done. As I pointed out last week, the final turn in the battle was one in which Felicia Sonmez accused those who were asking her to knock off the criticism of being white supremacists. That set up a Robin DiAngelo-style Kafka trap in which any denial of guilt was taken as proof of guilt.

Today Ryan Grim at the Intercept reports the situation is similar but worse at many if not most progressive advocacy groups. They have become paralyzed by infighting between staff and management, often over issues involving anti-racism and equity. He opens the piece by outlining an internal fight that began at the Guttmacher Institute, the pro-abortion movement’s top research group. It happened shortly after the death of George Floyd when management held a Zoom call to hear what employees thought the organization could do to support the BLM movement. Instead of suggestions for making changes out in the world, employees were most interested in talking about how to improve their own work experiences. Eventually, VP of public policy Heather Boonstra tried to get things back on track.

“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 six months since then have only seen a ratcheting up of the tension, with more internal disputes spilling into public and amplified by a well-funded, anonymous operation called ReproJobs, whose Twitter and Instagram feeds have pounded away at the organization’s management. “If your reproductive justice organization isn’t Black and brown it’s white supremacy in heels co-opting a WOC movement,” blared a typical missive from one of its Instagram stories.

According to Grim, Guttmacher isn’t an outlier. In fact, this kind of internal combat between old school managers and younger, woke employees is happening everywhere in the progressive advocacy space. He spoke to several leaders of these left-wing organizations, most of whom spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue. One claimed this was now how 90% of executives’ time was being spent.

“To be honest with you, this is the biggest problem on the left over the last six years,” one concluded. “This is so big. And it’s like abuse in the family — it’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. And you have to be super sensitive about who the messengers are.”…

“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.”…

“My last nine months, I was spending 90 to 95 percent of my time on internal strife. Whereas [before] that would have been 25-30 percent tops,” the former executive director said. He added that the same portion of his deputies’ time was similarly spent on internal reckonings.

One of the people Grim spoke with, an activist named Loretta Ross, even used the “W” word, which is generally forbidden as a term of criticism on the left. “We’re dealing with a workforce that’s becoming younger, more female, more people of color, more politically woke…” she said. And the story makes it clear that the reason we haven’t heard more about this is because the left knows it will play into articles and blog posts (like this one) from people on the right.

The silence stems partly, one senior leader in an organization said, from a fear of feeding right-wing trolls who are working to undermine the left. Adopting their language and framing feels like surrendering to malign forces, but ignoring it has only allowed the issues to fester. “The right has labeled it ‘cancel culture’ or ‘callout culture,’” he said, “so when we talk about our own movement, it’s hard because we’re using the frame of the right. It’s very hard because there’s all these associations and analysis that we disagree with, when we’re using their frame. So it’s like, ‘How do we talk about it?’”…

“I got to a point like three years ago where I had a crisis of faith, like, I don’t even know, most of these spaces on the left are just not — they’re not healthy. Like all these people are just not — they’re not doing well,” he said. “The dynamic, the toxic dynamic of whatever you want to call it — callout culture, cancel culture, whatever — is creating this really intense thing, and no one is able to acknowledge it, no one’s able to talk about it, no one’s able to say how bad it is.”

There’s so much more to this piece. For me the high point comes when former Weather Underground terrorist Mark Rudd describes being thrown out of a left-wing organization recently on account of his racism. “What was my racism? When I tell people things that they didn’t want to hear,” Rudd said.

There’s so much more to say about this but for now I’d just recommend reading all of it. Also, I have to give the Intercept credit for publishing this and Ryan Grim especially deserves credit for reporting on something that really is red meat for people like me who’ve been arguing for years that woke culture was a destructive force that was sweeping its way through society. I think this article represents the death of the kind of leftist denialism that was put forward for years by people like Alex Pareene and many others. For a long time they treated conservative claims about woke extremism on campus as either unfounded or exaggerated. Now that it’s eating their own institutions alive I think it’s clear they were wrong and we were right.

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