How Facebook groups bring people closer together neo-Nazis included

Mark Zuckerbergs new mission is to bring the world closer together. But Facebook groups can unite extremists as easily as they serve hobbyists

Ricky Caya was looking for something. A 43-year-old postal service worker and father of two in Quebec, he felt unsettled and unconnected. The great social movements of the 1960s, the American civil rights movement, flower power, the big trade union movements people today dont have that, he said.

So when a Facebook post crossed his news feed promoting a new organization that sought to bring together good people without a voice to finally allow them to have strength in numbers, Caya requested membership to the group and quickly became an active participant and leader.

In many ways, Caya could be a poster child for Mark Zuckerbergs new mission for Facebook to bring the world closer together through the power of meaningful Facebook groups.

But its unlikely that Zuckerberg will be touting Caya and his Facebook friends in a branded video anytime soon. Because Caya is a member of La Meute, a virulently anti-Islam Facebook group with 50,000 members.

On 16 July, La Meute, whose founders express a political affinity with Frances Marine Le Pen, notched a real-world victory when voters rejected the establishment of a Muslim cemetery in a small town near Quebec City. The burial ground had been proposed after the families of six people massacred at a Quebec City mosque in January had nowhere nearby to bury their loved ones. La Meute (it means the Wolf Pack in French) helped lead a campaign to force a referendum, prompting many Qubcois to blame the group for the votes failure. (The organizations leaders did not respond to a request for comment.)

In the end, what people want is to be united in something bigger than them, said Caya. A sense of belonging.

Or, as Zuckerberg said in a June speech when he announced Facebookss new mission statement: When you bring people together, you never know where it will lead.

As Facebook has grown to more than 2 billion users, and as Zuckerberg has embarked on a post-2016 election attempt to understand the social impact of his creation, Facebook groups have become the centerpiece of his messaging around the companys ability to change the world for the better.

In a lengthy manifesto published in February, Zuckerberg revealed a preoccupation with Americans well-documented decline in membership in local organizations such as churches, unions, parent-teacher associations and sports teams an idea apparently cribbed from Robert Putnams classic sociology text, Bowling Alone.

Such groups provide all of us with a sense of purpose and hope; moral validation that we are needed and part of something bigger than ourselves; comfort that we are not alone and a community is looking out for us, Zuckerberg wrote. It is possible many of our challenges are at least as much social as they are economic related to a lack of community and connection to something greater than ourselves.

In June, at the inaugural Facebook Communities Summit, Zuckerberg returned to the theme: For decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter, he said. Thats a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else. This is our challenge.

Zuckerbergs solution to the decline in what he calls social infrastructure and Putnam calls social capital is, perhaps unsurprisingly: more Facebook. Specifically, more Facebook groups.

Setting a goal of helping 1 billion people join meaningful groups, he told a cheering crowd of Facebook group administrators: If we can do this, it will not only turn around the decline in community membership weve seen for decades, it will start to strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together.

Its impossible to say whether Zuckerbergs stated belief in the transformative ability of his own products is naive or cynical. It is undoubtedly true that many Facebook groups are meaningful to many people.In his speech, Zuckerberg singled out for praise audience members who had founded groups for disabled veterans, adopted children, lonely locksmiths and black fathers in Baltimore.

But Facebook groups like any social capital can just as easily be used for ill as good. And social capital is not an unalloyed good. A 2013 study by New York University political scientist Shanker Satyanath, Bowling for Fascism, found that dense networks of social organizations and clubs in Germany helped promote the spread of nazism. And even a cursory search of Facebook unearths networks of extremists using groups to recruit and organize.

Take the Soldiers of Odin, a far-right, anti-refugee organization founded by Finnish white supremacist Mika Ranta in late 2015. The vigilante groups anti-Muslim message spread from Scandinavia to the Americas quickly, with a network of Facebook groups developing in the US and Canada by early 2016, according to separate studies by the Anti-Defamation League and Yannick Veilleux-Lepage of the University of St Andrews Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.

In many ways, these organizations are entirely dependent on social media, said Veilleux-Lepage, who used social network analysis to find extensive ties between the Canadian and Finnish groups, despite the fact that the Canadian chapters have distanced themselves publicly from the Finnish extremists. Veilleux-Lepage pointed out that the same feature that has made social media a powerful force in democratic movements the fact that it lowers the barrier for political participation is also what makes it useful to extremists. The barrier to engage with these groups is much lower than it ever was, he said.

Many far-right groups appear to use a combination of public groups, which anyone can join, closed groups, which anyone can search for but which require approval to join, and secret groups, which are invite-only. Prospective members request entry to a closed group, then are required to go through a vetting process, such as uploading a video pledging ones allegiance to the cause or submitting to an interview over Skype.

That process makes it easier for extremist organizations to evade Facebooks moderators, said Keegan Hankes, an intelligence analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

A lot of Facebooks moderation revolves around users flagging content, Hankes said. When you have this kind of vetting process, you dont run the risk of getting thrown off Facebook.

Facebook has been working on developing technology to complement its human moderators, and is already using artificial intelligence to crack down on terrorist content. But the sheer volume of content on the platform and complexity of deciphering meaning and intent make combating hate on the platform a herculean task.

Most groups on Facebook are connecting for good from addiction recovery to support for new moms but if any group does violate our community standards, we will remove it, Facebook vice-president Justin Osofsky said in a statement.

But many groups appear to be aware of Facebooks rules for hate speech, so they enforce their own rules against offensive language despite espousing hateful ideologies. Facebook will only remove groups if it finds they are dedicated to promoting hate against protected characteristics such as gender or race, a bar that apparently is not cleared by Soldiers of Odin or La Meute.

Still, getting kicked off Facebook can be a critical blow to such organizations, Hankes noted, because they rely on social networks to find new members.

These are the spaces where you talk to people who arent already in your movement, Hankes said of social media sites. Recruitment is always at the center of this. The alt-right and white nationalists are extremely conscious of the fact that they are in the minority, and they are always trying to get more members.

Hankes also argued that Facebook has shown considerably less commitment to policing its platform for domestic extremist groups than it has to cracking down on Isis and al-Qaida.

In 2016, the SPLC sent Facebook a list with links to more than 200 pages, profiles and groups affiliated with SPLC-designated hate groups. A Guardian audit this month found that at least 175 of those links remain active, including closed groups for neo-Nazi, white nationalist and neo-Confederate organizations. After being contacted by the Guardian, Facebook removed nine additional groups.

Theyre not using [Facebook] just to send each other nice notes, Hankes said. Were talking about hate groups who are taking the work of creating a white ethno-nationalist state very seriously, and theyre doing it all on the platform.

Mark Zuckerbergs 2017 personal challenge to visit and meet people in all 50 states has triggered an avalanche of speculation that the CEO is considering running for political office. How else to explain the billionaires decision to break bread with a steelworkers family in Ohio, attend services at a black church in South Carolina or discuss public safety with Dallas police officers?

But whats striking about the newly political Zuckerberg is precisely how un-political he manages to be. I used to think that if we just gave people a voice and helped them connect, that would make the world better by itself. In many ways it has, but our society is still divided, he said at the communities summit. Now I believe we have a responsibility to do even more. Its not enough to simply connect the world, we must also work to bring the world closer together.

Both versions of this mission statement lack any kind of political framework to discern that, actually, the world might be better off if some people remain disconnected and far apart.

Zuckerbergs skill at ignoring these complexities makes him better fitted as an evangelist for the Church of Facebook than a political candidate. I know we can do this, he pledged to the crowd at the communities summit. We can reverse this decline, rebuild our communities, start new ones, and bring the whole world closer together.

Or, as Ricky Caya put it in a Facebook message: Facebook helps connect people, and those people can use it to organize themselves. It is also a tool of choice for the Islamic State, and thousands of other groups, on subjects from macrame to cycling to politics, to extremism.

Everyone is there!!

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/31/extremists-neo-nazis-facebook-groups-social-media-islam

How Paul Robeson found his political voice in the Welsh valleys

African American star Robeson built his singing career in the teeth of racism in the early 1900s. But his radicalism was spurred on in Britain by a chance meeting with a group of Welsh miners

Paul Robeson possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century. He was an acclaimed stage actor. He could sing in more than 20 different languages; he held a law degree; he won prizes for oratory. He was widely acknowledged as the greatest American footballer of his generation. But he was also a political activist, who, in the 1930s and 1940s, exerted an influence comparable to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in a later era.

The son of an escaped slave, Robeson built his career despite the segregation of the Jim Crow laws basically, an American apartheid system that controlled every aspect of African American life. He came to London with his wife Eslanda known as Essie partly to escape the crushing racism of his homeland. Yet later in life he always insisted that he became a radical as much because of his experiences in Britain as in America. In particular, he developed a deep bond with the labour movement particularly with the miners of Wales. That was why, in 2016, I travelled from my home in Australia to visit the landscape that shaped Robesons politics.

Pontypridd was a village carved out of stone. Grey terraced cottages, grey cobbled streets, and an ancient grey bridge arching across the River Taff.

The sky was slate, too, a stark contrast with the surrounding hills, which were streaked with seasonal russet, teal and laurel.

I was accustomed to towns that sprawled, as white settlers stretched themselves out to occupy a newly colonised land. Pontypridd, I realised, huddled. Its pubs and churches and old-fashioned stores were clutched tightly in the valley, in a cosy snugness that left me feeling a long way from home. Id come here to see Beverley Humphreys, a singer and the host of Beverleys World of Music on BBC Wales.

I have a strong feeling that we might meet in October! shed written, when Id emailed her about the Paul Robeson exhibition she was organising. I know from personal experience that once you start delving into Paul Robesons life, he just wont leave you alone.

In that correspondence, shed described Pontypridd as the ideal place to grasp Pauls rich relationship with Wales and its people. I knew that, in the winter of 1929, Paul had been returning from a matinee performance of Show Boat [in London] when he heard male voices wafting from the street. He stopped, startled by the perfect harmonisation and then by the realisation that the singers, when they came into view, were working men, carrying protest banners as they sang.

By accident, hed encountered a party of Welsh miners from the Rhondda valley. They were stragglers from the great working-class army routed during what the poet Idris Davies called the summer of soups and speeches the general strike of 1926. Blacklisted by their employers after the unions defeat, they had walked all the way to London searching for ways to feed their families. By then, Robesons stardom and wealth were sufficient to insulate him from the immiseration facing many British workers, as the industrialised world sank into the economic downturn known as the Great Depression.

Singing
Singing with a choir in a scene from The Proud Valley. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Yet he remembered his fathers dependence on charity, and he was temperamentally sympathetic to the underdog. Without hesitation, he joined the march.

Some 50 years later, [his son] Pauli Robeson visited the Talygarn Miners Rehabilitation Centre and met an elderly man whod been present on that day in 1929. The old miner talked of how stunned the marchers had been when Robeson attached himself to their procession: a huge African American stranger in formal attire incongruous next to the half-starved Welshmen in their rough-hewn clothes and mining boots.

But Robeson had a talent for friendship, and the men were grateful for his support. He had remained with the protest until they stopped outside a city building, and then he leaped on to the stone steps to sing Ol Man River and a selection of spirituals chosen to entertain his new comrades but also because sorrow songs, with their blend of pain and hope, expressed emotions that he thought desperate men far from home might be feeling.

Afterwards, he gave a donation so the miners could ride the train back to Wales, in a carriage crammed with clothing and food.

That was how it began. Before the year was out, hed contributed the proceeds of a concert to the Welsh miners relief fund; on his subsequent tour, he sang for the men and their families in Cardiff, Neath, and Aberdare, and visited the Talygarn miners rest home in Pontyclun.

From then on, his ties with Wales only grew.

Robeson remained [living] in Buckingham Street, London. He and Essie maintained a public profile as a celebrity couple, still mixing easily with polite society and the intelligentsia. But Robeson was now aware of the labour movement, and began to pay attention to its victories and defeats. His frequent visits to mining towns in Wales were part of that newfound political orientation.

You can see why hes remembered around here, Humphreys said. He was so famous when he made those connections, and the Welsh mining community was so very cowed. In the wake of the general strike, people felt pretty hopeless.

A Robeson exhibition opened in Pontypridd in October 2015 and was an echo of a much grander presentation from 2001, which Humphreys had assembled with Hywel Francis, then Labour MP for Aberavon, and Paul Robeson Jr [Robesons son died in 2014]. It was first shown at the National Museum in Cardiff and then toured the country.

Staging that event had been a revelation for Humphreys. Shed known that memories of Robeson ran deep in Wales, but shed still been astonished by the response. Every day of the exhibit, people shared their recollections, speaking with a hushed fervour about encounters with Paul that had stayed with them for ever.

Robeson
Robeson at Waterloo Station in London in 1935. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Pauls interactions with Wales were shaped by the violence of mining life: the everyday hardship of long hours and low wages, but also the sudden spectacular catastrophes that decimated communities. In 1934, hed been performing in Caernarfon when news arrived of a disaster in the Gresford colliery. The mine there had caught fire, creating an inferno so intense that most of the 266 men who died underground, in darkness and smoke, were never brought to the surface for burial. At once, Robeson offered his fees for the Caernarfon concert to the fund established for the orphans and children of the dead an important donation materially, but far more meaningful as a moral and political gesture.

That was part, Humphreys said, of why Wales remembered him. He was by then among the most famous stars of the day, the recording artist whose songs many hummed, and yet he was showing an impoverished and struggling community people who felt themselves isolated and abandoned that he cared deeply about them.

And the continuing affection for Robeson was more than a recollection of generosity. The Welsh sensed the relationship was reciprocal, said Humphreys. That he was deriving something from their friendships, from seeing how people in the mining communities supported one another and cared for one another. He later said he learned more from the white working class in Wales than from anyone..

Certainly, Robeson discovered Wales and the British working class in general at just the right time. Hed signed up, with great hopes, for a film version of [Eugene ONeills play] The Emperor Jones in 1933 the first commercial film with a black man in the lead. But the process played out according to a familiar and dispiriting pattern. Robesons contract stipulated that, during his return to America, he wouldnt be asked to film in Jim Crow states. Star or not, it was impossible to be shielded from institutional racism. At the end of his stay, as he arrived at a swanky New York function, he was directed to the servants entrance rather than the elevator. One witness said he had to be dissuaded from punching out the doorman, in a manifestation of anger hed never have revealed in the past.

The Emperor Jones itself was still very much shaped by conservative sensibilities: among other humiliations, the studio darkened the skin of his co-star, lest audiences thought Robeson was kissing a white woman. Not surprisingly, while white critics loved the film and Robesons performance, he was again attacked in the African American press for presenting a demeaning stereotype.

A few years earlier, he might have found refuge in London from the impossible dilemmas confronting a black artist in America. But hed learned to see respectable England as disconcertingly similar, albeit with its prejudices expressed through nicely graduated hierarchies of social class. To friends, he spoke of his dismay at how the British upper orders related to those below them. He was ready, both intellectually and emotionally, for the encounter with the Welsh labour movement.

There was just something, Humphreys said, that drew Welsh people and Paul Robeson together. I think it was like a love affair, in a way. And that seemed entirely right.

In
In the 1940 film The Proud Valley, about a Welsh community that takes in a black unemployed seaman. Photograph: Getty Images

The next morning, Humphreys and I walked down the hill, beneath a sky that warned constantly of rain. We made our way to St Davids Uniting Church on Gelliwastad Road. From the outside, it seemed like a typically stern embodiment of Victorian religiosity: a grey, rather grim legacy of the 1880s.

Inside, though, the traditional church interior the pews, the pulpit, the altar was supplemented by a huge banner from the Abercrave lodge of the National Union of Mineworkers, hanging just below the stained-glass windows. Workers of the world unite for peace and socialism, it proclaimed, with an image of a black miner holding a lamp out to his white comrade in front of a globe of the world.

The walls held huge photos of Paul Robeson: in his football helmet on the field at Rutgers [University]; on a concert stage, his mouth open in song; marching on a picket line. These were the displays extracted from the 2001 exhibition.

We chatted with parishioners, who were taking turns to keep the Robeson display open during the day for black history month.

The service itself reminded me of my morning in the Witherspoon Street church, except that, while in Princeton [where Robeson was born] Id marvelled at the worshippers command of the black vocal tradition, here I was confronted by the harmonic power of Welsh choristers: the old hymns voiced in a great wall of sound resonating and reverberating throughout the interior.

Robeson, of course, had made that comparison many times. Both the Wesleyan chapels of the Welsh miners and the churches in which hed worshipped with his father were, he said, places where a weary and oppressed people drew succour from prayer and song.

His movie The Proud Valley (released as The Tunnel in the US), which had brought him to Pontypridd in 1939, rested on precisely that conceit. In the film (the only one of his movies in which he took much pride), Robeson played David Goliath, an unemployed seaman who wanders into the Welsh valley and is embraced by the miners when the choir leader hears him sing.

Throughout the 1930s, the analogy between African Americans and workers in Britain (and especially Wales) helped reorient Robeson, both aesthetically and politically, after his disillusionment with the English establishment.

His contact with working-class communities in Britain provided him with an important reassurance. He told his friend Marie Seton about a letter he received from a cotton-spinner during one of his tours. This man said he understood my singing, for while my father was working as a slave, his own father was working as a wage slave in the mills of Manchester.

That was in northern England, but he experienced a similar commonality everywhere, and it pleased and intrigued him. If the slave songs of the US were worth celebrating, what about the music emerging from other oppressed communities? What connections might the exploration of distinctive cultural traditions forge between different peoples?

Significantly, it was in Wales where Robeson first articulated this new perspective. In 1934, he gave a concert in Wrexham, in north Wales, between the Welsh mountains and the lower Dee valley alongside the border with England. Yet again it was a charity performance, staged at the Majestic Cinema for the benefit of the St John Ambulance Association.

During the visit, Robeson was interviewed by the local paper, and he told the writer he was no longer wedded to a classical repertoire. Hed come to regard himself as a folk singer, devoted to what he called the eternal music of common humanity. To that end, he was studying languages, working his way haphazardly through Russian, German, French, Dutch, Hungarian, Turkish, Hebrew, and sundry other tongues so as to perform the songs of different cultures in the tongues in which they had been written. He had become, he said, a singer for the people.

Movie
Movie star: Robeson, right, with Sir Cedric Hardwicke in the 1937 film King Solomons Mines. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

The confidence of that statement reflected another lesson drawn primarily from Wales. In African American life, the black church had mattered so much because religion provided almost the only institutional stability for people buffeted by racial oppression. In particular, because Jim Crow segregated the workplace, black communities struggled to form and maintain trade unions. Wales, though, was different. The miners found consolation in religion, with every village dotted with chapels. But they believed just as fervently in trade unionism.

The Gresford disaster showed why. In an industry such as mining, you relied on your workmates both to get the job done safely and to stand up for your rights. The battle was necessarily collective. A single miner possessed no power at all; the miners as a whole, however, could shut down the entire nation, as theyd demonstrated in 1926.

In particular, the cooperation mandated by modern industry might, at least in theory, break down the prejudices that divided workers even, perhaps, the stigma attached to race. That was the point Robeson dramatised in The Proud Valley, a film in which the solidarity of the workplace overcomes the miners suspicion about a dark-skinned stranger. Arent we all black down that pit? asks one of the men.

Its from the miners in Wales, Robeson explained, [that] I first understood the struggle of Negro and white together.

To understand Pauls relationship with Wales, Humphreys told me the following day, you need to understand Tiger Bay.

She introduced me to Lesley Clarke and to Harry Ernest and his son Ian. The three of them came from Tiger Bay, the centre of Waless black community. Theyd worked on the original exhibition in Cardiff, after Humphreys had insisted that the National Gallery employ black guides, and now theyd come to Pontypridd to witness the new display.

At 82, Lesley Clarke was thin but sprightly and alert. She spoke slowly and carefully. I hadnt realised there was a colour bar until I left Tiger Bay. When I went to grammar school, I realised for the first time that there were people who just didnt like coloured people. Didnt know anything about us, but didnt like us. I didnt know I was poor and I didnt know I was black: all I knew was that I was me.

Tiger Bay was forged by some of the worst racial attacks in British history. In June 1919, returning soldiers encountered a group of black men walking with white women. Outraged, the troops, led by colonials (mostly Australians), rampaged throughout Butetown, attacking people of colour, destroying houses, and leaving four dead.

For Clarke and Ernests generation, the colour bar was very real, especially in employment. Ernest was impish and bald, and his eyes crinkled as he spoke, almost as if he took a perverse humour in the recollection. Wed ask if a job was open, he said, and soon as they said yes, wed say, Can I come for an interview right now? To narrow the gap, because the minute you got there they would say, Oh, the job is gone.

The minute they saw you were black, that was it, said Clarke. You just took it for granted that it was going to happen. There were very few outlets, especially for girls. You either worked in the brush factory or you worked in Ziggys, selling rags and whatnot, or there was a place just over the bridge that did uniforms.

I worked in the brush factory for a while, Ernest said. Oh, Jesus!

He shook his head and laughed in dismay. Jesus.

Addressing
Addressing the National Eisteddfod of Wales, Ebbw Vale, 1958.

Robeson had reached out to the Welsh miners when his career was at its height. They came back to him at his lowest ebb, almost two decades later, at a time when all hed achieved seemed to have been taken from him. In the midst of the cold war, the FBI prevented Robeson from performing at home. [Hed proclaimed his sympathy for the Soviet Union ever since the mid-30s. That leftism now made him a target. He became, in Pete Seegers words, the most blacklisted performer in America, effectively silenced in his home country,] Worse still, the US state department confiscated his passport, so he could not travel abroad. He was left in a kind of limbo: silenced, isolated, and increasingly despairing.

On 5 October 1957, the Porthcawl Grand Pavilion filled with perhaps 5,000 people for the miners eisteddfod. Will Painter, the union leader, took to the microphone. After welcoming the delegates, he announced that they would soon hear from Paul Robeson, whod be joining them via a transatlantic telephone line.

When Painter spoke again, he was addressing Robeson directly. We are happy that it has been possible for us to arrange that you speak and sing to us today, he said. We would be far happier if you were with us in person.

Miraculously, Robesons deep voice crackled out of the speakers in response. My warmest greetings to the people of my beloved Wales, and a special hello to the miners of south Wales at your great festival. It is a privilege to be participating in this historic festival.

He was seated in a studio in New York. Down the telephone line, he performed a selection of his songs, dedicating them to their joint struggle for what he called a world where we can live abundant and dignified lives.

The musical reply came from the mighty Treorchy Male Choir, the winners of that years eisteddfod, and a group that traces its history back to 1883. Robeson joined the choir in a performance of the Welsh national anthem, Land of My Fathers, before the entire audience all 5,000 of them serenaded him with Well Keep a Welcome. This land you knew will still be singing, they chorused. When you come home again to Wales.

This is an edited extract from No Way But This by Jeff Sparrow, published by Scribe (14.99). To order a copy for 12.74 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/02/how-paul-robeson-found-political-voice-in-welsh-valleys

The destruction of Hillary Clinton: sexism, Sanders, and the millennial feminists | Susan Bordo

In this extract from her book, Susan Bordo asks how the most qualified candidate ever to run for president lost the seemingly unloseable election

Many books have been written about the way racial differences among feminists both divided and pushed feminist thinking and practice forward over the past several decades. In the 2016 election, however, it was not race but generation that was the dynamic factor among left-leaning women. Women like me, who experienced many cultural battles in the gender wars firsthand from the first scornful comments that journalists had heaped on womens libbers, to the public shaming of Anita Hill, to the renewed threats to bodily rights that we thought we had won decades earlier brought to the 2016 campaign a personal knowledge of the fragility of feminist accomplishments and an identification with Hillary that was deeper and longer than any current headlines.

We may have winced as I did when Madeleine Albright quoted a coffee-cup version of feminism or Hillary said deal me in. But we understood that behind every seeming appeal to sisterhood was the history of what was indeed a revolution and one that was far from over. We knew the role Hillary had played in that revolution, and the price she had paid for it. Many of us, too, had followed Clinton through the course of her public career, had read her autobiography, and knew very well that the accusation that she had come to issues concerning racial and economic justice late and for political purposes was among the most extraordinary fabrications of the campaign.

Many younger women, on the other hand no less feminist, no less committed to gender equality had formed their ideas about the Clintons, as Savannah Barker reminds us, in the shadow of 20 years of relentless personal and political attacks. Few of them as I know from decades of teaching courses on feminism, gender issues, and the social movements of the 60s were aware of the living history (to borrow Hillarys phrase) that shaped the woman herself.

Former
Former US secretary of state Madeleine with Clinton at a campaign stop.
Photograph: Adrees Latif/Reuters

These young women werent around when the GOP, appalled that liberals like the Clintons had somehow grabbed political power, began a series of witchhunts that have never ended. (Hillary was correct: it has been a vast rightwing conspiracy, from the Spectatormagazines Arkansas Project, designed specifically to take Bill Clinton down, to Kenneth Starrs relentless digging into Bills private life, to the Benghazi and email investigations.)

They hadnt experienced a decade of culture wars in which feminists efforts to bring histories of gender and race struggle into the educational curriculum were reduced to a species of political correctness. They didnt witness the complicated story of how the 1994 crime bill came to be passed or the origins of the super-predator label (not coined by Hillary and not referring to black youth, but rather to powerful, older drug dealers).

It isnt necessary, of course, to have firsthand knowledge of history in order to have an informed idea of events and issues. When it came to Hillary Clinton, however, sorting out fact from politically motivated fiction was a difficult task, particularly if ones knowledge was filtered through the medium of election-year battles.

The 2016 election was no academically rigorous history course; it was dominated by versions of Hillary Clinton constructed by her political opponents and transmitted by reporters who usually dont see offering context as their job and dont have the time (or, for some, the inclination) to sort fact from fiction. And then, too, after decades of harsh schooling in the ways of politics and the media, Hillary herself was no longer the outspoken feminist who chastised reporters when they questioned her life choices, but a cautious campaigner who measured her words with care.

I knew just what one of my graduate students meant when I asked her how millennial feminists saw Hillary and she said a white lady. A white woman herself, she wasnt referring to the colour of Hillarys skin, or even her racial politics, but rather what was perceived as her membership in the dominant class, all cleaned up and normalised, aligned with establishment power rather than the forces of resistance, and stylistically coded (her tightly coiffed hair; her neat, boring pantsuits; her circumspection) with her membership in that class. When I looked at Hillary, I saw someone very different but I understood the basis for my students perception.

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Any rift between feminist generations, however, would almost certainly have been healed by Donald Trumps outrageous comments and behavior, had younger progressives not become bonded, during the primary, to a Democratic male hero who both supported the issues they were most passionate about and offered young women independence from the stale and, in their view, defunct feminist past. These young women werent going to rush to order a plastic woman card for a candidate that had been portrayed by their hero as a hack of the establishment. They didnt believe in sisterhood a relic of a time when, as they had been told (often in womens studies courses) privileged, white feminists clasped hands in imagined gender solidarity, ignoring racial injustice and the problems of the working class.

They didnt want to be dealt any cards at a bridge game organised by Gloria Steinem or Madeleine Albright or Hillary Clinton. They wanted Bernie Sanders.

Sanders brands Hillary as establishment

Before I go any further, let me put my own cards on the table. The destruction of Hillary Clinton, I firmly believe, while propelled by a perfect storm of sexism, partisan politics and media madness, was bookended by two immensely powerful assaults. One was the inappropriate, inaccurate and inflammatory interference in the general election by FBI director James Comey. The other occurred much earlier, during the primaries, but its consequences are felt even today. I know I will make some of my younger feminist colleagues (and other left leaners) furious, which was distressing to me then, and still is.

Clinton
Clinton and Sanders in the first official Democratic debate. He had said he was sick of hearing about the damned emails. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

These people, in so many ways, are my natural colleagues, and most are as upset as I am by Trumps victory. But they played a big role in the thin edge (not a landslide, as Trump would have us believe) that gave Trump the election. For while Trump supporters hooted and cheered for their candidate, forgiving him every lie, every crime, every bit of disgusting behaviour, too many young Democrats made it very clear (in newspaper and internet interviews, in polls, and in the mainstream media) that they were only voting for Hillary Clinton as the lesser of two evils, holding their noses, tears still streaming down their faces over the primary defeat of the person they felt truly deserved their votes. Some didnt vote at all. And as much as I am in agreement with many of his ideas, Bernie Sanders splintered and ultimately sabotaged the Democratic party not because he chose to run against Hillary Clinton, but because of howhe ran against her.

Sanders often boasted about the importance of the issues rather than individuals, of not playing dirty politics or running nasty ads in his campaign. And its certainly true that he didnt slime Hillary by bringing Bills sexual accusers forward or by recommending that she be put in jail, as Trump did. He also seemed, at the beginning of the primary season, to be refreshingly dismissive about the email scandal: Enough already about the damned emails! he shouted at the first debate, and I remember thinking Good man, Bernie! Way to go! But within months, taking advantage of justified frustration with politics as usual (a frustration more appropriately aimed at GOP stonewalling of Democratic legislation), Sanders was taking Hillary down in a different way: as an establishment tool and creature of Wall Street.

I think, frankly, he said in January, campaigning in New Hampshire, its hard to be a real progressive and to take on the establishment in a way that I think [it] has to be taken on, when you come as dependent as she has through her super PAC and in other ways on Wall Street and drug-company money.

Progressive. Its a term with a long, twisty history. In the 19th century, it was associated with those who argued for the moral cleansing of the nation. A century ago, both racist Southern Democrats and the founders of the NAACP claimed it for their purposes. The Communist party has described itself as progressive. By the time Sanders argued that Clinton was not a true progressive, the word was not very useful descriptively one can be progressive in some ways and not so progressive in others, and no politician that I know of has ever struck every progressive chord. Context matters, too. As Jonathan Cohn wrote, in May: If Sanders is the standard by which youre going to decide whether a politician is a progressive, then almost nobody from the Democratic party would qualify. Take Sanders out of the equation, and suddenly Clinton looks an awful lot like a mainstream progressive.

For Sanders supporters, however, progressive wasnt an ill-defined, historically malleable label, but rather a badge of honor, a magical talisman for those who considered themselves anti-establishment. It may have been a fallback identifier for pretty much anyone The Nationand its journalistic kin smiled upon (as Michael Kazin described it), but it was an identifier with a great deal of potency, particularly for a younger generation longing for lives organised around something other than job hunting. When Sanders denied that badge of honour to Clinton he wasnt distinguishing his agenda from hers (their positions on most issues were, in reality, pretty similar), he was excluding her from the company of the good and pure and in the process, limiting what counted as progressive causes, too. His list didnt include the struggle for reproductive rights or affordable child care. Nor, at the beginning of his campaign, was there much emphasis on racial justice.

***

As I watched Sanders enchant the crowds, it was something of a deja vu experience to see a charismatic male politician on stage telling women which issues are and arent progressive. Cultural histories of the 60s rarely acknowledge what a sexist decade it was. We imagine that breaking through the suburban 50s fantasy meant that old-fashioned gender roles and attitudes had been discarded. Far from it.

Supporter
Sanders supporter holds placard outside Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Photograph: Adrees Latif/Reuters

In fact, in many ways the decade was more male-centric than the 50s; it just privileged a different sort of male. Those men loved having us as uninhibited sexual partners and helpers in their political protests, but they never let us forget who was in charge of creating the platforms or who belonged in the political spotlight.

Working in the south for voting rights, young activists such as Casey Hayden and Mary King had gained sophisticated organising experience and found strong female role models they could respect in the older black women who were such a central part of the civil rights movement. But by the mid-60s, as black nationalism, the student movement and antiwar protests moved to the centre of cultural prominence, white activist women found themselves both unwelcome within black identity politics and demoted within the other movements.

Charged with making coffee while the male politicos speechified, shouted down and humiliated for daring to bring up the issue of gender inequality during rallies and leftist gatherings, their early calls for sexual equality were seen as trivial, hormonally inspired, and counter-revolutionary. Inspired by the Black Panthers to look to their own oppression, women began to speak up about what came to be known as personal politics. But unlike the Panthers, women were told over and over that they had to subordinate their demands to larger causes in the interests of the movement. They found themselves simmering and stewing as boyfriends and husbands defined what was revolutionary, what was worthy, and what was progressive.

It was both an exhilarating and a frustrating time to be an activist woman. Some, like me, dropped out of the fight for a time. Others became more violently countercultural and joined the Weather Underground. Others still became leaders of the emerging womens movement. In 2016, however, many activists saw that movement as part of establishment politics and no longer requiring their revolutionary fervour. As one Sanders supporter wrote:

Yes, equal rights for women and minorities are critically important. To consider these ideals progressive, however, seems pass. At this point, its more fair to suggest they are traditional. Gender and civil rights and equality may remain under attack from the right, but these ideals are positively engrained in two generations of Americans. Progressive voters, at this stage in our young countrys political history, want to challenge corrupt systems. The prison-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, the financial-industrial complex, and the other lobbies that control our politicians and our government, for example.

Im fairly certain that Sanders himself doesnt see equal rights for women and minorities as so firmly inscribed in our culture as to be traditional or pass. Nonetheless, Sanders gave Clinton no credit for her longstanding progressivism in these areas, while identifying her with the corruption he was dedicated to cleaning up. Organising against the abuses that he made his signature causes was indeed a worthy progressive agenda. Portraying Clinton as the enemy of systemic change, on the other hand, was not only factually incorrect, but proved politically disastrous in the general election.

Sanders was the perfect vehicle to revive political passion both among the older left, revitalised by being on the side of the revolution again, and a younger generation who had yet to experience the sense of rightness, community, and belief in the possibility of radical change that nourished us in the 60s. Here was this guy who had lived through it all, who looked like a grandfather but spoke like a union organiser, who was making it seem possible again but in terms that spoke to the present, to their issues. He was fierce, he was uncompromising, and he wasnt afraid to call out clear enemies, which revolutions always need to rally around. Wall Street. Greed. Big Money. Super PACS. The establishment.

US
Donald Trump greets Clinton following his inauguration. Photograph: Molly Riley/AFP/Getty Images

***

Initially, I liked Bernie Sanders a lot, and identified with him. In terms of class, geography, and religion, I actually have much more in common with him than I do with Hillary Clinton, whose background was solidly middle class, Methodist, and Midwestern. Sanders and I share the same immigrant, working-class Jewish roots. The neighborhood he grew up in in Brooklyn looked very much like the one Id grown up in in Newark, New Jersey. Although Sanders was a few years older than me, we had belonged to the same leftwing groups Sanders while in college, I while in high school. We even went to the same college University of Chicago and I sometimes wondered whether Id seen him on campus when I was a freshman and he a senior. As his campaign took off, and despite my support for Hillary, it made me smile to hear someone who sounded like he could have been a relative deliver speeches to mass audiences.

Sanderss branding of Hillary as establishment, however, seemed vastly unjust and corrosively divisive to me, especially when delivered to a generation that knew very little about her beyond what Bernie told them. Like progressive, establishment is a pretty meaningless term, particularly when lobbed at one Washington politician by another. Neither Sanders nor Clinton had been working outside the system.

Appearances to the contrary, Sanders was not a union organizer, but rather a longtime member of the Senate. And if Clinton had more support from the Democratic party, that was due in large part to the relationships she had cultivated over the years, working with others something Sanders was not particularly good at. Nonetheless, for weeks during the early months of the primary, I listened to 19-year-olds and media pundits alike lavish praise on Bernie Sanders for his bold, revolutionary message, and scorn Hillary for being a part of the establishment.

They described him as heart and her as head a bitter irony for those of us familiar with the long history of philosophical, religious, and medical diatribes disqualifying women from leadership positions on the basis of our less-disciplined emotions. He was seen as authentic in his progressivism while she was pushed to the left by political expediency as though a lifetime of fighting for equality and childrens rights meant nothing. He was the champion of the working class (conveniently ignoring that black and white women were members, and that their issues were also working class issues), but her longstanding commitments to universal health care, child care, paid sick leave, racial justice, the repeal of the Hyde amendment, and narrowing the wage gap between working men and women apparently evaporated because shed accepted well-paid invitations to speak at Goldman Sachs.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2017/apr/03/the-destruction-of-hillary-clinton-sexism-sanders-and-the-millennial-feminists

Trump’s Black History Month speech a ‘dire forecast’ for black community

Rev Al Sharpton called the presidents self-referential Black History Month welcome event at the White House tantamount to an insult

On Monday Donald Trump marked the first day of black history month with a so-called listening session, culling together about a dozen black Americans, virtually all campaign supporters or administration staffers, to inaugurate the month. The meeting, which was only open to the press for about 12 minutes, resembled most of Trumps interactions with the black community to date: self-referential and placing style ahead of substance, to the chagrin of civil rights advocates.

It is a total reduction of the White House level of celebrating black history month, the Rev Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network, told the Guardian. Our last three presidents, at a minimum, would have a celebration where they would have black culture, artists, and invited people that represent established civil rights groups.

To reduce that to a listening session at the Roosevelt Room with people who basically all agree with you, to me is tantamount to an insult, Sharpton continued.

The event follows a familiar trend for the president. Between the election and inauguration, Trump spent much of his time hosting meetings with representatives on a slew of topics and interest groups. On black issues Trump dialed up retired football stars Ray Lewis and Jim Brown, as well as entertainer and talk show host Steve Harvey, rather than community activists, civil rights leaders or policy specialists. He also posed for a photo op with Kanye West in the lobby of Trump Tower after the rapper had pledged his support to Trump during several live shows.

It shows an intellectual insecurity and the reality TV-ization of the White House which is really unhealthy for the country, Sharpton said. Black conservative thinkers and constituency leaders have been as isolated as civil rights leaders, Sharpton added in reference to Trumps celebrity-centered engagements with black America.

Mondays meeting was unofficially led by Omarosa Manigault, who was a star of several iterations of Donald Trumps The Apprentice TV show and is now a communications director in Trumps White House.

Donald
Donald Trump and Kanye West at Trump Tower. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Trump began Monday with brief remarks lauding himself for his success earning the black vote in November (he received 8%), and accusing the media of fake news for reports that he had removed a bust of Martin Luther King from the Oval Office upon moving in.

Last month, we celebrated the life of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, whose incredible example is unique in American history, he said. You read all about Dr Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office, and it turned out that that was fake news … The statue is cherished. Its one of the favorite things in the and we have some good ones. We have Lincoln and we have Jefferson and we have Dr Martin Luther King, and we have but they said the statue, the bust of Dr Martin Luther King was taken out of the office. And it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace, but thats the way the press is. Very unfortunate. I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things.

Trump also commended his guests along self-interested lines, calling them great friends and supporters.

I met [Pastor Darrell Scott] when he was defending me on television. And the people that were on the other side of the argument didnt have a chance, Trump said, referring to the pastors appearances on various news shows to back Trump during the election. The pastor was one of two invites who served on the board of the National Diversity Coalition For Trump.

The meeting, at least the portion open to the press, was void of any cultural celebration or references to history beyond Trumps vague name dropping of a few well known black American icons. Even these references raised eyebrows. Trump called 19th century activist, writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass an example of somebody whos done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.

Later in the day, Trumps press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the comment, but shed little light on exactly what Trump meant. Through the actions and the statements [Trump is] going to make, the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more, he said.

Its not surprising that Trumps listening session eschewed the voices of young activists or members of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Trump has been openly hostile to the movement since before his election, even encouraging physical violence against BLM protesters at his rallies. During his presidential transition, Trump seemed to put BLM on notice as part of his concerted emphasis on the rhetoric of law and order.

But for older and more established civil rights organizations the snub is far more of a break in tradition. Sharpton said that Trump called him during the presidential transition and asked him for a meeting, which Sharpton declined. Im not going to be part of some red carpet photo op, he said. I told him you need to meet with all of the the leaders of national civil rights organizations. There were seven groups that met quarterly with president Obama, he said, including the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Black Womens Roundtable.

The character of the White House black history month celebration was bound to lose some of its luster no matter who took over for Obama. For eight years the nations first black president not only celebrated black history and culture each February, he was in fact, creating it by his mere presence in the office. But Sharpton called the level of decline a dire forecast for what lies ahead for the black community as it relates to getting an ear in the Trump White House.

This should not be a meeting of cheerleaders of the president, it should be a meeting celebrating the culture even if there are those that disagree with you, Sharpton said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/02/donald-trump-black-history-month-speech