The Lefty Critique of #TimesUp Is Tired and Self-Defeating

This was an action organized by and for women of color activists that reached millions. What’s wrong with that?

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This piece of writing got a much bigger response that I could have predicted. It started out as my most popular Facebook post ever, with 1600 likes and more than 600 shares on the original post. Seeing that, my friend Richard Kim, editor of The Nation, asked me to rewrite it with more detail so that a general reader could follow the events. Even that post got almost 600 shares.

I suppose some of this activity might be because it was a high profile event with celebrities. But I've posted about celebrity action before, without similar reaction. I think that the stakes are high right now - higher than they've been in lifetime - and everyone knows it. So tactical questions that used to just involve organizers now involve actors who want to organize. In my book, that can only be a good thing.

Here is the fuller OpEd, from The Nation:

This year’s Golden Globes were the best kind of anomaly, as women artists and activists took it over with #TimesUp, signaling an end to silence and inaction on sexual harassment and abuse. All the women wore black; men sported #TimesUp pins. Seven celebrity actors took women activists of color as their dates to raise the visibility of particular industries and communities. The campaign has raised more than $16 million for a legal defense fund. Several winners spoke to the issue (though none of them were men), and the night ended with Oprah Winfrey’s focused and moving acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

The next morning, I was disappointed to find the specious critiques I’ve come to expect from progressives whenever we manage to pull off something big. These revolved around familiar themes:

  • This is not real action because it involves fancy clothes and a party.
  • Celebrities are not really committed to ending patriarchy/racism/violence/poverty.
  • This changes no policies or conditions on the ground.
  • These women couldn’t possibly be connected to suffering women in actual communities.
  • Why these women? Why do they get all the money/attention/kudos?

Trapped in binaries, we get confusing messages about how social change happens, both from the larger culture and from our own lefty culture. It only takes a few vs. it takes millions. It’s all about policy or it’s all about culture shift. We only need civil disobedience or we only need to win elections. No one knows exactly what formula will ward off the authoritarianism looming over our country and the world, but that formula probably doesn’t include the word “only.” There should and will be many tactical experiments in this period of political, cultural, and spiritual churn. Critique is easy. Actually running such an experiment is hard.

On Sunday night, Alicia Garza asked on her Facebook timeline what we think is required to build a movement in the millions. In my humble 33-year view of social change, I believe that it takes everything. Everything we’ve got. Every member, every leader, every ally, every platform, every tactic and every dime—all directed toward specific goals at specific moments. The moments when your big ideas have the potential to become reality don’t come around that often. When they do, we have to move. We can’t predict what will come out of each tactic, but we move fast and big and on faith.

#TimesUp is grounded in a progressive movement where racial justice, feminism, and workers’ rights meet. For years, organizations have worked to change the national narrative around work, violence, immigration, policing, and many other issues. Understanding that policy and politics were inadequate to the transformational task at hand, they added cultural change to their toolkit. Through praxis, they’ve developed a theory of how to create cultural flash points and forged strong relationships with artists. The National Domestic Workers Alliance, for example, has been doing Golden Globes watch parties for several years and has made a big investment in giving women entertainers like Amy Poehler a chance to support domestic workers. The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United has connected with foodies and celebrity chefs. Tarana Burke, who created the #MeToo hashtag a decade ago, took advantage of the current moment, to historic effect.

Read more here.

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