Abu-Jamal and the Costs of Reflexive Anti-Leftism

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Freddie

Freddie deBoer used to blog at lhote.blogspot.com, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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  1. Avatar talboito
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    says:

    As Allen Ginsburg said: “and poets should stay out of politics or become monsters/I have become monstrous with politics/”.

    They’ve made their monsters. If only just to slay them.Report

  2. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Freddie:

    Just to be clear – in context, I was invoking it because of the fact that it is so utterly non-germane to 99% of the protests in which it is invoked.

    Look – carrying a “Free Mumia” sign (or, as I hypothesized, an even-more ridiculous “Pardon Scooter” sign) not only marginally distracts from the intended message of a protest – it is in fact intended to do so. You don’t carry such a sign unless your primary purpose in attending the protest is to use the protest as a vehicle for promoting your pet issue.

    That’s why I think most protest movements are ultimately exercises in futility – they are going to attract people who, while perhaps sympathetic to the underlying goal of the protest, are more interested in advancing some broader agenda that may or may not be germane to that goal. Those people will also, inevitably, be the ones most interested in getting their message across – they’re going to be the people who fight hardest for camera time and for reporters’ notebooks.

    I’d also add that I find it absolutely tragic that Mumia has become perhaps the most prominent face of complaints against our justice system. Whatever the problems with his case, they were absolutely nothing compared to the problems that occur on a daily basis in courtrooms across the country; even if he was ever just a poster-child for anti-death penalty activism, there are at least dozens, if not hundreds, of far more worthy candidates for that slot.Report

  3. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    I was a poet and against the Iraq war, but felt it would be intolerable to join any unified “poets against the war” coalition, as poets should remain independent and, if poetry is what they’re after, as apolitical as possible. Now that I’m more blogger than poet I still make sure to try my best to never mix the two…

    Which is really an aside, but still…Report

  4. Avatar scott
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    says:

    “most protest movements are ultimately exercises in futility – they are going to attract people who, while perhaps sympathetic to the underlying goal of the protest, are more interested in advancing some broader agenda that may or may not be germane to that goal. Those people will also, inevitably, be the ones most interested in getting their message across – they’re going to be the people who fight hardest for camera time and for reporters’ notebooks.”

    A convenient blanket argument for the established order against fundamental protests, and one that sweeps broadly. In this view, being against the Iraq War or the Vietnam War, marching for civil rights, protesting against economic injustice is reduced to whining and looking for media face time. This is also the kind of argument that illustrates Freddie’s point – we’re simply unwilling to entertain fundamental critiques of The Way Things Are and instead name-call the participants or question their motivations. So the narrowly defined concensus blunders on merrily from disaster to disaster, unchallenged by folks who are just too rude, DFH, or heterodox to be listened to.Report

  5. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Shorter me:

    If you’re going to protest the war or, in the case of the Tea Parties, government spending, then protest the war or government spending. But if your protest of the war or government spending includes a multitude of protests of all sorts of other issues, don’t be surprised if people (including the media) get confused as to what it is you are actually protesting and, perhaps more importantly, why.

    It’s not that taking issue with the Mumia case makes you an “unserious person” – it’s that using a war protest as a forum to take issue with the Mumia case makes you unserious about protesting the war.Report

  6. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Scott:

    No. See my follow-up comment. If you want to protest economic injustice – then protest economic injustice, just not in the middle of an anti-war rally. One thing at a time.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    There’s a guy you know. He recently became an atheist.

    Somehow, he manages to work it into every conversation.

    “Oh, you did an easter egg hunt this weekend? I don’t celebrate easter. I’m an atheist.”

    “You don’t have to say ‘god bless you’ when I sneeze. No demons left my body. There’s no such thing!”

    You’ve met this guy. You might have even been this guy for a couple of weeks.

    The Mumia folks are variations of this guy. It’s not that Mumia isn’t a kick’n topic, it’s that we weren’t talking about Mumia and, as a matter of fact, were deliberately going out of our way to talk about something else entirely. We’re trying to raise awareness about Breast Cancer Research (or whatever) and here you are explaining to us that we should not, in fact, open with a non-denominational prayer (or whatever).

    This ain’t about you.Report

  8. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Thank you, Jaybird, as usual.Report

  9. Avatar William Brafford
    Ignored
    says:

    “I just don’t think in being wrong I’m somehow handing away my membership card to the ‘To Be Taken Seriously’ club.”

    I wouldn’t take seriously any “To Be Taken Seriously” club that would have me as a member. So I hope that group blogs don’t count as TBTS clubs.

    On topic: Why is the Left unable to overcome its marginalization? Why was it marginalized in the first place? Could it be said that the Left’s exile was preceded by a rhetorically decadent phase? There’s so many ways to tell this story…Report

  10. Avatar Barry
    Ignored
    says:

    Ross: “I supported the war at the time, and it was a popular war, backed by liberals as well as conservatives … It was critiqued, of course, but mainly by left-wing shouters like the ‘poets against the war,’ and what seem in hindsight like the best arguments against the invasion—the conservative arguments against it—were often conspicuous in their absence.””

    Ross, as usual, is wrong. IIRC, from 1/3-2/3 of the American public opposed the war (again IIRC, support numbers went up when it appeared to be both imminent and a certainty, not a potential war).Report

  11. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    It was a weird time. I couldn’t believe we were actually going to war, or that the media was so silent on it, so supportive of it, that so few responsible voices were coming out in opposition. It was pretty scary to see how quickly a nation could change their tune, from not really thinking about Saddam at all to fully supporting an invasion.Report

  12. Avatar Barry
    Ignored
    says:

    E.D., there’s good points you raised – the elite MSM, those Evul Librulz, for the most part eagerly carried the administration’s water. And this was less than 2 years after 9/11. Given those two factors, the level of public support should be discounted even more, by any competant, honest columnist. Which leaves Ross out, of course.Report

  13. Avatar Barry
    Ignored
    says:

    Mark: “Look – carrying a “Free Mumia” sign (or, as I hypothesized, an even-more ridiculous “Pardon Scooter” sign) not only marginally distracts from the intended message of a protest – it is in fact intended to do so. You don’t carry such a sign unless your primary purpose in attending the protest is to use the protest as a vehicle for promoting your pet issue. ”

    Yes. The problem is, of course, that’s really hard to keep such people away.Report

  14. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Barry:

    Exactly – and that’s why I’m so skeptical of the ability of most protests to ultimately achieve any good.Report

  15. Avatar Bob
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    says:

    “In the interests of showing that I will disagree as loudly with my friends as with my foes….”

    Upon reading that opening line I was expecting a real smack-down. Along the lines of the bitch-slap you handed Robert Stacy McCain weeks back.

    Instead this twee, “affectedly or excessively dainty,” dish is offered.Report

  16. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “The problem is, of course, that’s really hard to keep such people away.”

    Doubly so when there is (always) a significant minority explaining that, yes, this is a fundraiser for raising awareness of breast cancer, but maybe we are being hurtful to the faith impaired by opening with a non-denominational prayer and perhaps we could be more inclusive by exploring other, different, groupthink activities at the beginning of the session.Report

  17. Avatar Pete
    Ignored
    says:

    It is interesting that our friends on the Right were substantially more interested in venting for months on end about the Duke Lacrosse players, but mention Mumia…whoa Nelly, then you see how interested the pundits were about justice. Just sayin’.Report

  18. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    From my studies of the Mumia phenomenon, it is a case where the justice system railroaded a guilty man.

    Leonard Peltier would make a far better poster child, if you ask me. You could even get the G Gordon Liddy types on board. Bipartisanship at its finest!Report

  19. Avatar Pete
    Ignored
    says:

    Peltier probably won’t get freed because a) the Republicans honestly don’t care and b) the Democrats are hypersensitive to the “soft on crime” charge.Report

  20. Avatar jake
    Ignored
    says:

    Fast forward to the 2:40 mark for why I can’t take the Mumia movement seriously.

    Report

  21. Avatar individualfrog
    Ignored
    says:

    Similarly, you’ll be hard pressed to find any political commentor, in the MSM or in a blog or anywhere, willing to say “I’m a pacifist”, lest they be excommunicated from the ranks of The Serious. It’s sort of like how you aren’t allowed to be on the jury of a death penalty case unless you agree that the death penalty is a fine idea.Report

  22. Avatar Mark
    Ignored
    says:

    Freddie –

    Two thoughts:

    1) The problem I find with the “Free Mumia-ites” is not Mumia (who I perceive to have been dealt with unjustly), but what comes next. Ten years in Berkeley and San Francisco have taught me that I’ll likely soon be hearing about AIPAC, a couple of “Palestine: from the river to the sea” chants, and if I’m lucky, about how “teh Jews” control the banking system. So I cut it off.

    2) Was A.N.S.W.E.R. really counseling discretion and restraint? As far as I can tell, the “Pacifica Left” merely favors American Imperialism in a different form. They want a shifting of USAID money, different people labeled terrorists and extradited to the US, and support for a different group of dictators. But discretion and restraint are generally not part of their program. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that the process by which they arrived at their policy program was unserious and not one that’s likely to produce good policy in the future.Report

  23. Avatar Freddie
    Ignored
    says:

    One thing I’m sure of is that a judge who was member of the Fraternal Order of Police should never have presided over a cop killing case.Report

  24. Avatar Michael Drew
    Ignored
    says:

    This was a great post, and it’s a shame that whoever this Mark Thompson is has ransacked the comments about it with his pointless defense of his particular instance of liberal stereotyping, rather than allowing a discussion about the substance of the post to occur.

    The only thing I would add to, actually amend, Freddie’s points is to say that he weakens his powerful argument by summing the axiom of the Serious as follows:

    Better to be wrong for the right reasons than right for the wrong reasons!

    When what he actually demonstrates is that the axiom is more accurately described this way:

    Better to be wrong for the right reasons than right for the right reasons!

    After all did the poets arrive at their conclusion through some invalid or misinformed reasoning? I guess Freddie isn’t perfectly clear, but he comes pretty close to saying their reasoning (he calls it “discretion and predictive ability”) was “correct”:

    Never mind that these hypothetical poets were able to come to the correct conclusion about the Iraq War, an achievement which eluded Ross Douthat. No, that discretion and predictive ability is of course of little value when married to the wrong kind of politics, and more importantly, the wrong kind of cultural branding.

    The fact is, in our current media environment merely expressing certain opinions makes a person unserious, thus ipso facto rendering the argument being made summarily dismissible. If you were against the war, you were “Against the War,” and so didn’t have to be taken seriously, even listened to. You needn’t have held any sign at all, on that topic or regarding anyone on death row — you were simply categorized as like those who might and accordingly written-off. Thus did we close our eyes, sing Mary Had A Little Lamb together, hold onto each other’s dicks, and skippingly prance into a strategic and moral fiasco.

    But let’s be sure we can all agree that anyone who cares whether Mumia Abu-Jamal did the crime is not to be taken seriously.Report

  25. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Michael Drew:

    I’m not sure how clarifying and defending the remarks that Freddie was replying to are “ransacking the comments,” seeing as they were my remarks. Lampooning the “Free Mumia” activists is not reflexive anti-leftism if the reason I’m lampooning them is that they interject Mumia into issues that have nothing to do with Mumia, and thereby confuse those issues.Report

  26. Avatar Scott H. Payne
    Ignored
    says:

    Michael Drew, “this Mark Thompson” is one of the key architects of and contributors to this site. Disagree with his ideas all you want, but don’t question his right to participate in the discussion like anyone else who happens to stop by.Report

  27. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “The fact is, in our current media environment merely expressing certain opinions makes a person unserious, thus ipso facto rendering the argument being made summarily dismissible.”

    Dude! That is *TOTALLY* happening with the Tea Parties too!!!

    Anyway, I’d say that the problem is not whether Mumia is a topic worth discussing but whether a guy who shows up to an anti-war protest carrying a Mumia sign is protesting in something approaching good faith or whether he’s protesting as a form of therapy.

    In far, far too many cases, the folks who show up to anti-war protests dressed up in outfits designed to have newspeople come up to them, carrying signs designed to provoke, and doing all sorts of wacky stuff are, in fact, people who are protesting as recreation.

    This undercuts the entire protest in the same way that the people who show up to tea party protests and scream about burning books undercut the people who just want the government to quit spending so much goddam money.

    Also, you and I both know very well that there are opinions that, when stated, scream “I Am Not A Serious Person!”… and doubly so when one uses a protest designed for Something Else Entirely as a staging area for them.Report

  28. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Anyway, I’d say that the problem is not whether Mumia is a topic worth discussing but whether a guy who shows up to an anti-war protest carrying a Mumia sign is protesting in something approaching good faith or whether he’s protesting as a form of therapy.

    That’s pretty damn funny, actually. Therapy indeed….Report

  29. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    That’s not intended to (overly) denegrate protesting as therapy, mind.

    Everybody needs a hobby and I cannot recommend Dungeons and Dragons to more than a handful of people.

    But the at which you find yourself having to scream “THIS IS SERIOUS” is usually a good indicator of how helpful to your cause you are being.

    If the point is to go out, hold a sign, have a drum circle, meet some chicks, and engage in some primal screaming… mission accomplished. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.

    If, on the other hand, you are trying to Free Mumia…Report

  30. Avatar Michael Drew
    Ignored
    says:

    I didn’t question Mr. Thompson’s right to comment here, and it is absurd to suggest I did. It’s also fairly humorous to suggest I should know or care who the architects of this site are. That said, I was in fact aware of who he is. I think it reflects poorly on you all to jam up comments sections on your own site, thus very considerably influencing the direction of the discussions there. If it were my site, I would want to hear more of what my readers have to say. If I was in Mark Thompson’s spot, with a desire to continue on a topic with another blogger, I would avail myself of my ability to do so as another entry. So the ‘whoever Thompson is’ quip was tongue in cheek.

    My view was that Freddie’s entire point was that, whatever their shortcomings, public protest (in his view, especially on the left) is essential to the functioning of our democracy, and such fippant dismissals as are routinely accomplished by reference to marginal but persistent causes such as Mumia are really destructive and in bad faith. That was his larger point, but Thompson continued to pursue the specific question of Mumia in the comments, beyond just an initial clarification that it wasn’t his central point either (though Freddie’s point is that it doesn’t need to be; it can just be used as a throwaway to devastating effect in producing real marginalization of important dissent). He continued to pursue the Mumia inquiry for several more interchanges, thus essentially taking over the thread and preventing Freddie’s points from being explored. This, of course, would be fine if it was one of your readers doing this, but I found it quite striking behavior for an official contributor to a site of self- described Gentlemen. I would have thought that one of the principal values of Gentlemanly discourse to be preserved in such a place would be an exquisite sensitivity to the full meaning and intent of the arguments of one’s interlocutors, and a desire for those to be clearly understood and discussed in their best possible light. I thought Mr. Thompson’s treatment of Mr. Freddie’s arguments to fall substantially short of that aim, and my comment was a reaction to that.Report

  31. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Uhh….my follow-up comments were all direct response to questions directed at me, except my initial follow-up comment, which I wrote immediately after my first entry, and which was intended solely to summarize my first comment. I’m sorry if you think I was thread-jacking a comments thread on a site to which I am a primary contributor; but the notion that I am trying to direct the comments away from Freddie’s point is, frankly, absurd, and indeed I have no more ability to direct the flow of comments than any other commenter. If you’re not interested in my comments, that’s your prerogative; if you want the comments to deal primarily with something else, then the solution to that is just to make a comment pertaining to that something else.Report

  32. Avatar William Brafford
    Ignored
    says:

    Maybe we can start a new thread to talk about the Threshold of Seriousness thing?Report

  33. Avatar Michael Drew
    Ignored
    says:

    Fair enough. I wasn’t charging intentional threadjacking, merely pointing to the effect as I saw it. Freddie’s non-Mumia points were profound, and his main point is that Mumia is an unfair distraction. So too much talk of Mumia merely perpetuates the problem as Freddie sees it. I would hold myself to the standard of being fair to the initial post if I were a priamry architect here; like I said if outside commenters steered the discussion awau from the author’s main point; that’s the game, and then you’re right about the solution — other commenters stepping up.

    I have a thing about bloggers posing as “just commenters” on their own sites, though, I admit that. So you discount my view by a bit.Report

  34. Avatar James
    Ignored
    says:

    A perfect post, besides an apparent confusion of “disinterested” with “uninterested”. A vital distinction to make!Report

  35. Avatar James
    Ignored
    says:

    “The problem I find with the “Free Mumia-ites” is not Mumia (who I perceive to have been dealt with unjustly), but what comes next. Ten years in Berkeley and San Francisco have taught me that I’ll likely soon be hearing about AIPAC, a couple of “Palestine: from the river to the sea” chants, ”

    Yeah, heaven forfend that anyone be aware of the Israeli Lobby’s sway or advocate a united, non-racist, secular Palestine along the lines of, oh, South Africa. That would be totally un-serious, of course.Report

  36. One thing I’m sure of is that a judge who was member of the Fraternal Order of Police should never have presided over a cop killing case.

    Aren’t most judges members? Or at least honorary? At the least, they are super sympathetic to cops no matter what.Report

  37. Avatar Michael Drew
    Ignored
    says:

    Thoughts on this?:

    The Tea Parties

    They resemble nothing so much as the anti-war protests during Bush’s first term. The claim that they don’t have an organizing premise strikes me as obviously wrong: They’re anti-bailout, anti-stimulus, anti-deficit, and anti- the tax increases that will eventually be required to pay for the current spending spree, and complaining that they don’t also have a ten-point plan for reforming Medicare and Social Security reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of protest marches, I think. The claim that they’re hypocritical and partisan is a bit stronger – where were they when Bush was running up the deficit, etc. – but in fairness, many of the organizing figures were anti-TARP from the beginning, and there’s something slightly odd about saying that if you didn’t take to the streets to protests a $300 billion deficit you aren’t allowed to protest a $1 trillion deficit. The numbers matter, surely …

    But they do have all of the weaknesses of the anti-war marches: Their message is intertwined with a sense of disenfranchisement and all kinds of inchoate cultural resentments, they’ve brought various wacky extremists out of the woodwork (you know, like Glenn Beck), and just as George W. Bush benefited from having opposition to his policies identified with peacenik marchers in Berkeley and Ann Arbor, so Barack Obama probably benefits from having the opposition (such as it is) associated with a bunch of Fox News fans marching through the streets on Tax Day, parroting talk radio tropes and shouting about socialism.

    –Ross Douthat

    Perhaps folks here buy this comparison, find the situations perfect analogues. But regardless of the extent that is true, this is where a focus on style and theatrics over substance, merit, and relative weight of the matters being protested leads us. If any demonstration is rendered unserious by the presence of a few off-message sign-carriers, we might as well discard it as a mode of public communication. That would be a bad outcome for those citizens wishing to communicate opposition to future unjust wars, as well as for future expressions of the sentiment behind our current ersatz tax uprising (though I’d like to suggest those two results are not of equal consequence for the country at large). I don’t think we want to go out of our way to marginalize political demonstrations more than they already have been in the culture. They have played an essential role throughout our history, and to downplay the significance of protests that in the main (discounting for the inevitable static in gatherings of any significant size) carry a clear political message and evidence of any considerable level of support for it is really just to downplay the seriousness of the issues we face in todays world vis-a-vis previous generations.Report

  38. Avatar individualfrog
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    says:

    A perfect post, besides an apparent confusion of “disinterested” with “uninterested”. A vital distinction to make!

    If you are a fan of slangy neologisms, I suppose.Report

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