Do You, Boo: A Pro-Woman Rallying Cry


I have a confession to make. I love hanging out with dudes way more than women. I’d rather drink beer than wine or mimosas and I’ll never be caught dead in Chanel. I hate shopping. All of these things are things my favorite girlfriends love to do. As the resident shithead in the bunch, I’m pro-freedom, which just means I’m a horrible enabler, but I’d like to make a case for why we should all be enablers for our fellow sisters so that I can finally hang out with my girls more often. I’m selfish like that.

Repeat after me: “do you, boo!”

Now say it hundreds of times a day to the rest of the women.

Thinking about critiquing another woman’s outfit?

“Do you, boo!”

About to issue some unsolicited feminism rant to your stay at home mom friend?

“Do you, boo!” And then maybe offer to babysit.

Wanna repeat some advice you read in Cosmo about how to get a man by changing everything about yourself.


Then say, “do you, boo!”

If you are a woman, and you were socialized to be female, you’ve probably sat around and had other women tell you all the ways you are inadequate for not being them.

“Well, I did this form of therapy, and you really should try it because you’re not really trying to heal if you don’t!”

Nope. When I tell you I’m gonna make art and hang out at church instead of going to therapy, the only response you should have is “do you, boo!”

“No man is gonna love you dressed like that!”

They have no idea what clothes we are wearing, you guys. They don’t care and we shouldn’t let them dictate that anyway. The new best response to outfit decision making is just, “do you, boo!”

“I heard that if you don’t eat vegan you get fat! You should eat like me!”

The only appropriate response to food choices is now, “do you, boo!”

“Time-outs are oppression, you really should do what I do with your kid.”

Stop projecting your bad advice on to others unless you are willing to learn in exchange. And seriously, you have no idea what you are doing because literally none of us knows what we are doing.

This is the core of the Mommy Wars. It’s the core of women’s magazines and if I had a nickel for every time one of my fellow sisters tried to tell me I shouldn’t stand in my truth, I’d have already invested it and become filthy rich so I could write.

It’s probably the worst part about being socialized female and it’s even worse, if god forbid, you don’t fit a stereotypically feminine mold. I’ve been talking about doing stand up for weeks now only to get more push-back from other women than from the men, which I think is both hilarious and deeply disturbing. I look like a girl but I’m more comfortable in a dive bar playing pool. This doesn’t mean I don’t love my sisters in the wine bar.

I don’t want to turn this into a rant because we all suffer under this regime, so instead, I’d like to remind you that when a friend is doing something differently from you, it in no way invalidates you.

You can just say, “do you boo!”

And be cool with it.

For instance, instead of telling other women what will or won’t get them a man, you could say: “do you boo and if he don’t love you the way you are, fuck that noise.”

This is how my male friends are. They don’t change for anybody. They give no fucks about what other people think. I once had a pair of 17 year old boys tell me that if a woman really loved them, they’d be cool with them sleeping in 2 hour shifts and would have to “just deal with it.” This is why I love hanging out with men so much, they remind me to not give any fucks. We could easily do the same, if we all started reinforcing each other.

So. Do you, boo.

I’m starting to think most of our anxiety can be tied back to the ways we are socialized to gaslight each other and the only people that benefit are the men because we are too busy hating ourselves to organize and get together. Except that most of the men aren’t trying to oppress us either and they suffer from our low self esteem as well. Every time a man mentions his girl’s anxiety problem, I’m just like, “how the hell do you think she got that way. ” This is why women need compliments so much and it’s also why one of the ways I demonstrate my affection is to compliment them constantly, because otherwise we sit around in our heads and listen to every bad voice that has heard us without a counter plot. So join the real feminist conspiracy by being good to each other.

Tearing each other’s self esteem down is the root of so much marginalization. If you are too busy hating yourself to get anything done, you can’t get anything done. It’s been a highly successful tactic and it is a colossal waste of my mental energy and yours. I’m starting to clear out those nasty little voices, by simply saying, “do you, boo.” We need to love each other more than we do. And if the men really loved us, they’d say the same. So tell your man to say, “do you, boo” too.

We’ve gotta stop shitting on each other.

So the next time you are thinking about critiquing your friend, ask yourself, “is this in any way harmful to me or am I just uncomfortable because it is making me question my choices?”

If it’s not harming anyone, hush and then say, “do you boo.”


Community, Community, Community is Going to be my new Mantra


I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we approach community, and each other. This generation feels isolated, disconnected.

Are we really alone in this struggle?

The enormity of the struggle seems real, even my rich friends with good jobs can’t afford rent.

We judge our friends who struggle and whose lives aren’t picture perfect on Facebook. We forget that Facebook is all just an elaborate series of lies.

In college, I tried to look out for everyone. Pass out on the couch? That’s what I keep an extra blanket for. Too drunk to consent, guess who is getting some snacks and a walk home. Need to be put to bed after a rough night? Only after a glass of water.

This is a deeply embedded part of my ethos. WE look after each other to survive, that’s what community is supposed to be and what worries me is that we’ve attempted to replace this with underpaid workers. Love isn’t replaceable. There is no price you can pay that replace the love of someone holding your hair back.

My generation is so starved for actual love, I’m tempted to go around the country taking care of the same people I’ve been taking care of the whole time.

That’s a joke, obviously, but the community I grew up in and built is full of misfits, orphans and some of the brightest and most beautiful minds you’ll ever meet.

And we are drowning.

Sometimes I feel like I’m slipping under water while rocks get thrown at me. Usually I’m trying to also carry others to the shore but lately I’ve just been threading water trying to survive. I wish I had the answers this time but I don’t.

But here’s how I’m coping: I’m trying to spread as much love as I can. And this is the small acts of kindness. It feels good to remind myself that I have the power to do for others but it’s also about building the communities we’ve destroyed. Those communities take work and they take more than one person to build but what comforts me as I talk to others is knowing that everyone else wants this too.

So how?

Just start talking.

Leave the house.

Help where and when you can.

Talk about everything but politics for a while. The trolls can have it out while the rest of us have snacks.

Literally all of us needs to sleep more and eat better. And we need to remember that food used to be a social occasion.

Do frontline service work, on a local level (this means you actually serve people).

Join a civic organization, preferably one with older people involved, so you get reminded that life is long and there are things much bigger than you in the world.

Our generation isn’t so much selfish and narcissistic as we are completely confused as to how to build communities. A bunch of latch-key kids obsessed with performance and success, each of us are running on a hamster wheel going nowhere.

We could get off the wheel, band together and figure out how to escape the cage.

But that means talking to each other and that also means we stop pretending everything is ok.

I tell lies on social media. So do you. And social media can’t replace real community.

How I’m Learning to Fall Back in Love with my Scars


I heard the click of the bic lighter, a sound I would later come to pretend to love and then I saw the flames.

It’s one of those cute stories I used to tell. That time I put a fire in a diaper out. At first I forgot about the lighter. I blamed it on a faulty furnace. I forgot where the burn scars came from, scars that only some of my more observant lovers would notice. They are actually all over my body and I remember now how I treated them myself. A cold shower flushed the plastic down the drain, but the scars remained.

I issued excuses, and then covered those up. It’s all a series of elaborate lies. I could lie so easily, my intelligence and respectability, my pale skin acting as a kind of alibi only I would ever have to live with.

Now it’s all of you who will need the alibis.

Only once did they ever ask questions, my body seems to know how to hide. My body knows how dangerous the truth can be, maybe that’s why I’d fall in love with the truth later as an adult. Maybe that’s why I went looking for it.

And so here I am today, thinking about how best to cover up defensive wounds on my wrist from that Christmas they tried to kill me. I remember how they got there now and I used to be grateful only those with the right background could see they weren’t self inflicted. Pretty clear defensive wounds, kids. I wasn’t kidding about some of my skill sets. I got them from the father in died in prison for selling the same drugs you are now all entrepreneurs for selling.

I lied because I had no choice and you can call that convenient but I know my brain is magic because the truth only came when it started to be safe. All right, I lied again. It came a little sooner than I would have liked but that’s the way my brain handles things. I’m not in control of it and that has turned out to be the greatest miracle of all.

Or so I thought.

Then I got reminded how much pain my scars could cause.

I could lie but the truth should be obvious now. I can play CSI on myself. I change the subject and pretend to be normal. Do the scars or the Stanford degrees come first?

No one seems able to process both.

So from now on you’ll have to listen to those stories about each scar because each and every single one of them is proof that I belonged at Stanford in the first place.

You did extracurriculars. I survived murder attempts and rape.

I’m not going to apologize for that. I won’t be backing down or lying anymore. I’m here because my own brilliance saved me from multuple attempts on my life.

My ability to get back up and laugh after rapes can be called madness all you like but it’s also why I’m an unstoppable force. I refuse to apologize for that either.

I’m going to stop apologizing for my pain. I’m going to start falling back in love with my scars. I know who I am and I’m not going to be told what to hide anymore. Choose to deal with it or don’t. I can’t help you there.

But if you want to know how to survive, how to thrive even, when everyone around you is mad enough to light babies on fire, I’m your girl.

The answer to the question of how I’ve survived seems to be jokes, music and love. Little acts of kindness made by people who didn’t have the power, fallen soldiers in a war we lost before I was even born. I got conscripted before I even had a choice, like my ancestors before never, going further back than I even know. We come by our stubbornness honestly, because what other choice is there? They said give me liberty or give me death, and too many people weren’t given the choice at all. I’ve always been more of a lover but that’s a weapon too when the whole world wants war and the struggle is against anger, pain and hate. They called me stubborn, and I call that still being alive. That stubbornness was all passed down from ancestors who survived long enough to keep me alive.

My body is all the more beautiful because it has been marked by monsters that fell long before they could take me with them and I’m going to fall back in love with it even when no one else can handle it.

It’s not my concern anymore whether or not it hurts you because maybe you need to know discomfort. There is beauty in this kind of madness. I wonder sometimes how much beauty the rest miss out on because they are so afraid of being anything other than normal.

But I can’t make you see what is patently obvious to me.

This is centuries of the human condition. I wasn’t the first fire. I won’t be the last one sold. This isn’t an unfamiliar story, it’s just one that never gets told.

I’m almost bored by it these days. It makes you forget your social graces.

“Oh shit, was it just inappropriate to mention the murders I witnessed. My bad.”

That’s my mundane.

And I’m not sorry about it.

And the reason I’m not sorry is because despite this, I’m still standing, and laughing my ass off at this whole charade.

That’s a choice.

It’s always a choice you have.

So make that choice like your life and the lives of everyone depends on it.

Those scars, they aren’t going anywhere but if they remind you to love they are beautiful, and you should demand love for them.

Actually Teaching Racism to White People is Kind of Like Teaching Anything to Anyone: Hard as Fuck. Here is Some help from ACTUAL Educators.

I’ve been seeing posts about how hard it is to teach racism to white people.
And I just want to validate this: teaching is really hard. Teaching racism is just as hard as teaching anything else, though I’ll take it over teaching math, which is why I was a history teacher and not a math teacher.
There is actually A LOT of great anti-racism curriculum out that has been made. Unsurprisingly, it has been made through churches, small state and private schools that normally don’t get attention, and private organizations that don’t get the backing from big names like Stanford. Here are just four who have resources online which are available to you, IF you CHOOSE to do this work. No one HAS to.
It is a choice and it is work. If you are truly interested in learning about how to teach anti-racist curriculum to white people, I’m always happy to be a resource or direct you to resources. I have watched MANY people across disciplines do this work successfully.
We all understand that it is extra hard to teach adults. Some things calcify overtime and adults are less inclined to sit through lessons given by other adults. The people who choose to do that work are special angels. If that is beyond you, that is ok! Focus on the kids. Try to remember that children are what they are taught and that there is nothing inherent to racism. Children need all the mentors who will tell them the truth that they can get.
Here are those resources (and a big ups to the many grassroots organizers and unsung heroes of the people that put these together, that was work too!)
1) Howard Zinn, the writer of A People’s History of the United States, got his start with SNCC as one of the curriculum designers for Freedom Summer. Before he died, he and his students and disciples started putting that work together and expanding his curriculum. Those resources are here.
2) If you are more interested in teaching through art, Barnard has it’s own curriculum for that. It is pretty comprehensive and has clear lesson plans. A rare blessing indeed. You can find their work here.
3) I’m personally extremely partial to the work done by Teaching for Change. Their resources and readings are some of the best I’ve seen and though they don’t have lesson plans yet, I worked with A LOT of their curriculum and would be happy to share that with anyone because I am a dirty socialist who doesn’t care about getting credit for my work. Their book is beautiful, and they are backed by a lot of really important thinkers around these issues. You can start here.
4) I wanted to find a faith-based organization for those working in more rural and religious areas. Christianity and Catholicism both have deep strands in their ideology that are anti-racist. Christian and Catholic leaders have both been at the forefront of fighting against other people who would claim to do these things in their lord’s name. If you aren’t sure how to put anti-racist curriculum into terms the religious might understand, I suggest that you look for a progressive religious leader in your area. I’m also happy to help with this, because even though I am an atheist, I was fortunate to be surrounded by that strand of Christianity throughout my life. Fortunately, some resources are already online for this work, here is one example.
I hope the comforting news in the midst of what must look like a mountain of work is twofold:
1) There ARE resources and help available and you are not alone in this struggle. You are not new to it and there are people doing this work successfully, even if you don’t know their names.
2) This country already has the basis to convince people not to be racist, we just need to get better at making those arguments.
Which isn’t to say that you will successfully reach everyone, every time. Some people will be too angry to learn. Some will be too hungry to learn. Some will just be enormous douchebags you can’t control, but if all of us are trying our best we’ll make some progress.
That’s how ideological change happens.
That’s how you change hearts and minds.
And remember that if you were lucky enough to encounter anti-racist curriculum in your school experience, that someone had to go through a lot to put it in front of you. Be grateful, and pay it forward.
All my anti-racist teachers deserve a medal and a parade. And ain’t none of them have asked for one.

Stop Letting the College Kids Be in Charge


I got dragged into meetings a lot while I was in college, because if you are really a threat to the status quo, people will try to change your behavior. Fortunately for me, people took the time to help me develop, so as irritating as these meetings were, occasionally I learned something important from attending them.

I was talking to one of the university administrators that dealt with diversity issues and who was also queer identified. Complaining about my classmates and the enormously awful things they used to say in class This isn’t mild microagression stuff where people were being vague in their bigotry either, this is stuff like, “poor people deserve to go to war more often because they are better at killing. ” And stuff like, “don’t you just hate everyone in your neighborhood because they are like, trash, and you aren’t.”I mean, don’t get me wrong, I got the milder stuff too. Except when people asked me where I was from, they were sometimes black. The world was dark for the most outspoken, strongly self-identified working class activist on campus.

But the administration team had high expectations for me, and so they said, “honestly, Heather, a lot of this has to do with your age. Your classmates are still learning. So are you.”

Boy was that administrator right.


You know how radical the current crop of college activists is? Yeah, well, add some actual well-read Marxism, some righteous anger about having been poor and abused, and the influence of punk rock. I probably had a conduct disorder, but I was at Stanford anyway. And I drank, like a fish, to cope. So a typical Friday night involved me making my classmates cry about how privileged they were for sport. All the kids coming up after me who think they do this now are just pretenders.

I talked about incest at actual dinner parties. Freshman year, I made one of my male classmates hate me forever when I made a public performance of my personal protest about his having the Latina girls in my dorm do laundry. I made people break down in class, often. Men feared me, and some would go to parties just to see what crazy stuff they could get me to say.

And I was pissed about really valid shit. Don’t get me wrong or mistake what I am trying to say. I was right to be angry about classism, about sexual violence, racism and I was right to hate everything about that culture. But I had no idea how to express that anger in a constructive way, and I was too angry to see anyone else’s pain even when it was obviously there.

This was partially a function of my age. At 19, no matter how smart you are, or how much life experience you have, or even how talented an activist you are, there are certain things you just don’t know that you still need to learn.

One of those things, impulse control which (as evidenced by the professor that just got beaten by her own students) is a challenge that developmentally comes with time. Another thing is how to not follow a crowd, or not act like a complete asshole just because everyone else is doing it. I learned that one much younger than most, but others tell me that ideally children are supposed to learn that sometime before college. Based on the behavior of the college students who keep having struggle sessions against other marginalized people, this is clearly not a skill many of our college students (who to be honest are almost entirely rich and middle class) currently possess. No one who is getting lectures should be giving lectures.

I was part of the founding team of folks who were working on class and first gen issues. My work at 19 can be traced to the existence of first gen offices and the resurgence of class identity on college campuses. I’m damn proud of what I accomplished as a dumb kid, and my resume is far more stacked than most of the kids that are operating now.

BUT EVEN WITH ALL THAT, I can promise you that I am grateful everyday that an administrator or professor at Stanford encouraged me while keeping my voice on campus.

Freedom Summer participants weren’t given the control over their movements either. They operated, with extensive training, under the direction of activists like Bob Moses and Fannie Lou Hamer. And, frankly, I believe that the entire Civil Right’s movement of the 60s, pretty much got off the rails the minute the rich kids got back to their campuses and started treating activism like a popularity contest and rock concert.

That’s who I blame for the failures of the 60s and so does most of the rest of the country.

The elite college grads don’t have a great track record overseas either: the entire Cultural Revolution can be traced to largely the same phenomena.

Don’t get me wrong, we need their voices and we need their work. And they need to be trained during these years, but I think they’ve demonstrated that they can’t be IN CHARGE OF SETTING THE AGENDA and making the final call about tactics anymore. No one gave me that power at 19 and I had very serious problems, like PTSD, to discuss. I’m not sure why we are allowing them to set the agenda now.

What I am even more grateful for, is that I was raised with an ethos that you respect your elders.

These college kids think they know better than the people who have been doing it longer than them. And here’s the thing, those people are just as smart as them but have more experience, which makes them MORE QUALIFIED TO BE IN CHARGE. The fact that the college kids can’t recognize that makes me worry about the future.

Being in charge is a real and painful responsibility. I know because I never had a childhood, and I’ve been appointed a leader in my community for longer than I can remember.

It is hard. And if it is fun, you are doing it wrong. The responsibility and the the enormity of the task should haunt you.

Playtime is over when lives are at stake, and since I saved my brother from a fire when I was four, I’ve been keenly aware of that responsibility. So it worries me whenever someone wants to be in charge, but what worries me even more is when people lack the self reflection to even recognize when they shouldn’t be in charge.

One of the best classroom teachers I’ve ever met once said to me that the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher was the process of self reflection. We have to instill the belief that people should examine themselves.

All day, everyday.

Not scream about how mean people are when they point out that your tactics are likely to backfire during planning discussions where we are supposed to be professionals who care about others and serving the masses.

But I’ve also been loved by elders, and there’s something special about the people who DON’T HAVE to take an interest in you, who don’t have to deal with your incredibly shitty attitude, and who take aside the time to save you. I’ve got tons of those, and I learned from them.

They taught me that I was no smarter than prostitutes, or my grandparents or my teachers. They taught me that even if I was, I still had things to learn. They taught me about when grown folks was talking and in the process taught me how to be a grown folk.

At 19, I would have been a BAD LEADER for a national movement. I would have been mostly because my rage was still uncontrolled, but also because there are a lot of things that come with life experience. I have gained a lot of empathy and ways of speaking in the last few years just from my relationship with my husband. The fact that I fell so in love with someone with such a different background changed everything about how I approach my work. The fact that I’m now married has forced me to accept responsibility and maturity in a way I otherwise wouldn’t have. Pre-married Heather was likely to light some fires and go out like a crazy person when Trump got elected. Married Heather has responsibilities and has to plan better.

I was a much worse activist before I became a teacher, and I wouldn’t be half the teacher I am if not for the mentoring and wisdom of an veritable army of older men and women who guided me through that process. And I know this because I’ve had the time and distance to reflect on my actions and behaviors. 19 year old Heather was not this smart, reflective and mature, and 19 year old Heather was arguably one of the most qualified college students of that time to be leading a movement.

So here is my plea to the adults: Let’s stop pretending we don’t know this is true because we are afraid of discouraging people. Anyone who is unwilling to put the work in, and listen to other people or reflect on their behavior does not have leadership qualities in the first place.

Anyone who resorts to physical violence or emotional bullying hasn’t learned how to behave like a grown up. They’ve demonstrated that they are not developmentally ready for the task.

Real leaders can control their behavior. These should be baseline qualifications for who gets mentored and handed the microphone. Even Malala had her dad, and Malala has yet to see her best work. I can basically guarantee that.

College is a special time and place, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to argue, debate, and learn from my classmates. I’m a better speaker, writer, and activist because of every white boy who was willing to engage me and learn from me, and I think most of them would say they are better at what they do because of their friendship with me (unless they were traumatized by what I did to them in which case, I’m sorry, I was young).


They were people when they were learning in college, and as awkward as it was to be invited to lunch to talk about my childhood like a token, I’m happy about every lunch I went on. Either they learned something or I learned how to talk to people better. If all of our activists behaved this way, it’d be a lot easier to push an anti-racist, pro-working class and feminist agenda.

So here is my plea: stop treating this struggle like it can be run by a bunch of self-contained and disconnected brats who have no life experience.

There are people who are really truly suffering who need our help and these college kids need to be trained before they are useful. No one should be leading on a national level without some frontline service work behind them. They should have some actual success and the demonstrated commitment to the cause of the suffering of all before they are given a national platform to operate. They need to learn how to do research, and care for kids, and show up and take down chairs, and sweep floors before they can make themselves useful to any of the people they claim to serve.

They need to know what it is to serve.

They need to know who the masses are.

They need to not put their issues at the center of the struggles for people more marginalized than them.

They should be able to recognize those people without their professor’s checklist for what the marginalized are (First of all, most of the professors can’t remember either because they haven’t seen the masses in a long time, but secondly, the word oppressed has meaning and they should be able to recognize it independently without help before the training wheels come off).

The fact is, we aren’t even serving them when we give them as much power as we have over the last few years. We should all be ashamed of ourselves. The adults fucked up real bad by abdicating their responsibility in the name of self esteem.

And like adults, we should roll our sleeves up and get to work.

It’s already too late.

Because Trump is President and the left lost so badly, they still are trying to develop amnesia about it.

But the conservatives may be in power a long time, so the time to be forgetful is over.

Now is only the time to plan and to sweep and to teach.

Some of you must remember what that’s like?

You sure remembered it in my case.

And for that, I am grateful.

Using Political Jiu-Jitsu To Disintegrate Hostile Regimes


In the past decade alone, the deaths of Egyptian Khaled Saeed, Iranian Neda Agha Soltan, and other fatalities caused by repressive governments ignited nation-wide revolutions which were recognized and lauded internationally. A youtube mashup by Andreina Nash of violence against student protests in Venezuela brought international attention and pressure on their government. The massacre of dozens of civilians in Sharpetown by South Africa’s apartheid government crushed their reputation internationally. Same goes for Gandi and the British empire. And today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. who brought “Bloody Sunday” to the nation’s television sets.

These are all considered examples of “political jiu-jitsu,” when activists use a regime’s repressive actions to damage the regime’s own pillars of support. It is arguably the most powerful weapon available to activists in a nonviolent struggle.

Yet when nearly two million Indonesians were slaughtered within a period of months in 1965, the international community shrugged, domestic reaction was muted, and the authoritarian Muhammad Suharto rose to power and reigned for the next thirty years. Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt best summed up the western world’s reaction to this genocide in commenting that he was pleased since “‘with 500,000 to 1,000,000 [of them] knocked off… it is safe to assume a reorientation has taken place.”

The difference in results lies in whether the activists or the opponent are better able to manage the outrage or backfire resulting from repression. While the majority of readers may find the above quote by the then-Prime Minister abhorrent in its current form, more than a few would be pacified if the brackets were replaced with “terrorist sympathizers.” The Prime Minister was talking about “communist sympathizers.”

Political jiu-jitsu can nonviolently coerce opponents or even ignite the disintegration of the opponent’s regime. When properly crafted, even if the regime chooses not to repress activists, activists will still be able to claim a victory. On the other hand, if the regime successfully defends against political jiu-jitsu, they can violently repress dissidents without fear of consequence. To understand how regimes fight political jiu-jitsu, the core assumptions behind nonviolent struggle must be examined.


Perhaps the biggest difference between modern pragmatic theories of nonviolence and Gandi’s beliefs involved explaining the success of this jiu-jitsu. Gandi believed that forcing police to violently repress peaceful civilians would throw off the policeman’s “moral balance” (what Richard Gregg called “moral jiu-jitsu”). This process would be mainly psychological. However, later studies of the Dharasana salt raids found that if the policemens’ moral balance was thrown off, their behavior was certainly not effected. Observers noted that many police became angry at the lack of resistance and even more enraged. Professor Gene Sharp (whose book “From Dictatorship to Democracy” was a guide for several 21st century successful nonviolent revolutions)  , proposed that the effectiveness of Gandi’s acts were due to political, not psychological, processes. Namely, the backlash from Webb Miller’s graphic reporting on the British government’s political, social, and economic pillars of support.

Political jiu-jitsu aims to make repression “backfire” in that it creates more support for activists. This is best done by leveraging the pre-existing beliefs of a regime’s supporters against the regime itself. For instance, the Ukranian student resistance group “Otpor” crafted dilemma demonstrations by identifying regime policies that conflict with widely held beliefs and then forcing the government to choose between doing nothing or applying sanctions that violate those beliefs. If the action goes forward without repression, it accomplishes something worthwhile related to the issue. If the regime represses these actions in a way supporters find intolerable, the regimes pillars of support are eroded and the activists gain even more attention.

If, instead, the action can be ignored or tolerated (such as an antiwar rally on Hiroshima day in Japan) or if the repression does not generate popular concern (such as arresting a protester who punches a policeman), there is no dilemma for the regime. In these cases, the regime will always have the option of avoiding political jiu-jitsu.


Violent suppression does not guarantee political jiu-jitsu will occur. This will only happen if two conditions are met. First, individuals with influence over the regime’s pillars of support must believe the repression is unjust, unfair, wrong, or inappropriate (a receptive audience). Secondly, information about repression must be accurately conveyed to those individuals (a secure communication channel). An empirical study of violent repression against nonviolent protests from 1989-2012 found that regardless of severity of repression, the biggest predictor for the success of political jiu-jitsu was pre-existing campaign or communication infrastructure. For instance, what if Gandi had failed make sure reporters like Miller would cover the march? What if Miller’s newspaper was only read by a handful of British citizens, none of whom could include the relevant pillars of support? This was not the first time police had beaten innocent civilians. It was the first time that these acts were conveyed through a secure communication channel to a receptive audience.

Regimes can prevent backfire by ensuring one of the two above conditions are violated. Brian Martin outlined five such methods: cover ups, devaluing the target, reinterpreting what happened, using official channels to give the appearance of justice, and intimidating or rewarding people involved. Cover-ups involve restricting media access, censoring the media, and discrediting any sources. Devaluing innocent Indonesian women and children as “communist sympathizers” allowed the Australian Prime Minister to condone Indonesian atrocities without so much as an angry letter to the editor. Americans in Guantanamo Bay tortured “terrorists” and “criminals” not “men and women imprisoned without due process.” The fairness of repression can be reinterpreted by lying, minimizing, reframing, and blaming. When first asked about the Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor, the Indonesian government claimed that the protesters were carrying weapons (they weren’t), that only 19 people died (271 people were murdered), and that the protesters instigated violence (they didn’t). The American government claimed it did not engage in torture since waterboarding and stress positions leave no lasting (observable) injury. And even if the American government tortures a few arabs, it is just because the alternative is letting a “ticking bomb” detonate on American soil.

One of the more insidious means for regimes to manage outrage is the use of official channels to give an appearance of justice. Ombudsmen, courts, commissions of inquiry, panels of experts, grievance procedures, and any other formal process for dealing with problems can be exploited to reduce public outrage by creating the perception that the problem is being dealt with. Due to the slow and technical nature of these channels, people’s outrage dies down as time passes. Reports are issued, low level lackeys are sacrificed, charges are dropped as public attention dwindles. When questioned about massacres, the Indonesian government claimed they were investigating the issue of “rogue soldiers” killing civilians. Many committee hearings and investigations occurred into Abu Ghraib, but only a few privates were convicted while the preponderance of evidence showed the abuses were systemic.

Notice how each of these five techniques effect either the secureness/accuracy of a communication channel or the receptivity of the audience. Cover ups prevent either condition from being fulfilled. Devaluing targets lowers the receptivity of the audience by lowering the resulting disgust or outrage. What is unjust about mistreating an inhuman target? Believing the victims were violent or aggressive makes violent repression appear to be a more reasonable (less unfair) reaction. It can even be considered “just” to kill peaceful protesters as long as the audience believes these protesters were a serious threat. Similarly, a sense of unfairness about the repression can be dampened with the appearance of sanction through official channels.

If activists have no control over communication channels, the regime can flood the audience with propaganda aimed at lowering their receptivity or discrediting the very existence of the repression. While the internet has provided an invaluable opening for communication, regimes have equal if not superior access to that channel. If every major newspaper and blogger claims violent repression did not happen, even photographic evidence of the act may not convince the relevant audience. In the future, however, the greatest challenges to the truth will not come from an unified “cover story” but from multiple disinformation narratives that create debates over what should be basic factual information. The recent controversy over “fake news” is a good example of this. What if an activist’s website gets labeled “fake news?” What if a trusted source is secretly turned by the regime and comes out against the activists? What if everyone has a different explanation for what happened because the opponent has purposefully created multiple, contradicting narratives?


Each regime outrage management technique can be countered. Most immediately, the regime’s cover up will fail if activists can expose the actions with video, photographs, eyewitness accounts, and other forms of evidence. In 1991, Indonesia endured yet another massacre, this time two hundred and fifty civilians. The government informed the international community that it was a “misunderstanding” due to protester-instigated violence. Same as they had for decades.

However, these civilians were part of a funeral procession covered by journalists like Amy Goodman and videographers like Max Stahl. The footage was broadcast across television networks inciting international outrage that lead the US Congress to cut off Indonesia’s military aid. However, had this occurred a decade earlier, Suharto’s iron control over media access would have prevented the story from coming out. The cover up would be complete.

Once repression is exposed, activists must be sure to validate the victim. The regime depends on dehumanization to lower the outrage of the public at a perceived injustice. As noted above, simply referring to civilians as “communist sympathizers” allowed the leader of a western nation to condone borderline genocide without raising an eyebrow. However, what if activists had been able to put names and faces on these “communist sympathizers?” At the very least, the Prime Minister’s reaction to the massacres would not have been so flippant.

If the repression cannot be covered up and the victim’s humanity has been acknowledged, the regime must invalidate the injustice itself. The perception of injustice depends on the perception of the government having a disproportionate reaction to the activists. So, the opponent and activist’s struggle is over how the audience perceives the event. The regime’s lying, minimizing, reframing, and blaming must be actively countered. This is why pre-existing procedures and institutions for communicating activist viewpoints was the best predictor for success in political jiu-jitsu.

Only a deep knowledge of the relevant political institutions will protect activists from being entangled in meaningless official channels to give the appearance of justice. The difference between “congressional hearing” and “independent inquiry” could be the difference between a scapegoated bureaucrat and an overthrown dictator. In many cases, no good official channel exists and nonviolent struggle is the only option. Psychological preparations must be made for resisting regime intimidation or bribes.

Successful political jiu-jitsu is not a simple matter of activists encountering repression. Even genocide, carefully reframed, can be stomached by the masses. Every photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. marching depicts the tip of an iceberg: below it are months of planning and the careful crafting of dilemna demonstrations. This means forcing the government to choose between allowing activists to accomplish a protest-related goal or increasing activist support through repression.

If the regime completely dominates the receptive audience’s information channels (ex. news media, AM radio, internet, etc), it can cover-up violent repression, devalue the victims, reinterpret events as not being an injustice, dampening outrage with the appearance of justice, and even bribe or threaten witnesses and sources into recanting. In response, activists must collect the evidence needed to counter official regime statements that the mainstream news media may parrot as truth. They must actively humanize victims that the regime seeks to dehumanize as unworthy of outrage. Careful analysis by relevant experts must be undertaken before allowing regimes to resort to official channels. The longer the regime can drag out an event, the more activists must fight to mobilize people to maintain outrage. Political jiu-jitsu is not a result; it is a process. And when successful, it can crush the world’s most dangerous and most powerful tyrants.

You can Sit-in or Sit out: Nonviolence in the age of Trump


Editorial Addendum 9/8/2017: When I first asked my husband to write this post, he thought he didn’t think it would be necessary. Since this post was written, the need for it has only grown. 

guest post by Ross Raffin

In order to lead a successful movement, it is not sufficient to simply state “I don’t believe in violence.” Activists must be able to explain to their most extreme colleagues why nonviolence will succeed where violence will fail. And make no mistake, violence will fail.

But will nonviolence succeed?


In just the past twenty years, repressive, violent dictatorships were overthrown by nonviolent conflict in the Philippines (1986), Czechoslovakia (1989), Bulgaria (1989), Mongolia (1990), Latvia (1991), Thailand (1992), East Germany (1993), Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), Nepal (2006), Tunisia (2010), Egypt (2011), and Ukraine again (2013). The Global Nonviolent Action Database has recorded nearly 70 successful, nonviolent regime changes in the past 100 years. The same techniques used by Martin Luther King Jr., Gandi, and Harvey Milk lead to the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic (killed major political opponents), Victor Yanukovych (imprisoned one opposition candidate and poisoned another), and Ben Ali (top world contender for freedom of press violations in 2000).

As is evident from above, sympathetic state leaders are not necessary for success. Initial approval from the masses is not necessary either. Under Milosevic, many citizens feared that protests would lead to worse conditions. Because they did not believe they were capable of resisting the state, they tried to stop a nascent group of young Serbians called “Otpor.”

This is a commonly ignored part of nonviolent struggle: empowering the masses to resist on their own terms. Otpor’s strategic use of nonviolence chipped away at the myth of Milosevic’s omnipotence and showed the people how they could resist tyranny. By the time they launched the final round of protests, hundreds of thousands of Serbians participated. However, had they acted violently they would never have attained participation from the masses. This makes more sense when considering the motivation behind violence by the state against activists.


The goal of government repression is to silence and discredit current and potential activists in order to maintain their power. This means state violence not only aims to inhibit activists, it also aims to PROVOKE activists into behaviors which can be used to inhibit their recruitment of potential activists. This is the entire reason for “agent provocateurs.” It is ironic that some activists, then, are preaching the violent doctrine that the repressive state most desires.

Those who see benefits in revolutionary violence do not understand its natural consequences. Violent revolutions depend on secrecy and concentration of power within a core of people with access to weapons and the perceived authority to direct violence. After this new government of killers takes control, the people will remain unempowered against this violent core unless they wish to engage in their own counter-violent revolution.

On its most basic level, violence simply isn’t as effective. A study of conflicts between states and non-state actors found that between 1990 and 2006 violent revolution succeeded only 26% of the time. Nonviolent resistance succeeded 53% of the time. Controlling for level of repression does not change the trend.

The proponents of violent activism also tend to have a tenuous grasp of history. For instance, the American revolution would have been crushed by England’s naval superiority and economic blockades without France’s navy on their side. During the Chinese Revolution, the Nationalists were fighting an invasion by Japan while looting and raping the countryside. Even then, the result was a concentration of power at the expense of the masses. This out-of-touch clique was single-handedly responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of the very people they claimed to represent. The French revolution resulted in the Reign of Terror and Napoleon. The Haitian Revolution was against a distant colonial government; they fought mostly well-armed slave owners who were outnumbered 10:1. France eventually sent in an extra 6,000 soldiers, but Spain invaded mid-way through the revolution and fought alongside Toussaint Louverture. At both stages of the revolution, the rebels firepower matched their opponents.

Considering the on-the-ground experience of most activists, it is entirely understandable that they have bought into the myth of violent revolution. The difference between their experiences and the above campaigns, however, are rooted in differences in how they view a dictator’s power in relation to his subjects.


A campaign of nonviolent struggle aims to produce certain behaviors from opponents (for instance, congress passing a Civil Rights bill or a dictator fleeing the country). These behaviors come about from one of four end results:

1. Conversion – The opponent accepts the views of activists due to rational argumentation or emotional appeals. For a variety of reasons, this is unlikely to work, namely that conversion of the opponent doesn’t happen without changing their worldview and core beliefs. Among hundreds of recorded cases of nonviolent struggle, only a handful of conversions of opponents have ever achieved anything of value.

2. Accommodation – Opponents do not change their beliefs but give in to activist’s demands because it is calculated to be in the opponent’s best interest. Continual nonviolent conflict creates a spectrum of problems for opponents (internal dissent, hurt profits, hurt reputation, etc) which may not be worth the trouble of fighting.

3. Nonviolent coercion – Widespread noncooperation and other methods paralyzes the opponents ability to stop activists from achieving their goals. A dictator faced with a civilian protest may call for his army to open fire, only to find that they refuse to shoot their own people. A trucking company with unethical practices might find itself economically crippled by mass strikes and cross-industry union support.

4. Disintegration – The destruction of the opponent’s entire system to the point where no organization remains even to accept defeat. While this may make sense when dealing with dictatorships and even managed democracies, there has yet to be a good case for disintegrating a constitutional democracy. Any constitutional amendment imaginable can result from conversion, accommodation, and nonviolent coercion.

These four goals can each be achieved through the same set of nonviolent methods. But to understand why these methods lead to the above goals, it is necessary to talk about the relationship between a dictator and his subjects.


A dictator’s ability to suppress dissent depends on maintaining the following myth: “Rulers hold and exercise power, using it to coerce others. The dictator will suppress any who challenge him, and his overwhelming firepower guarantee victory. “

The truth is that no leader, including the most brutal dictator, can rule without the consent of their subjects. That obedience is what gives the dictator power, so power is sapped from a dictator by convincing people to withdraw that consent. The dictator can respond by calling for the army to gun down these activists… except the army happens to be full of “people” as well. The dictator can buy mercenaries… except no tax revenue is coming in because the people refuse to pay, workers are on strike, and bureaucrats refuse to help process existing returns.

Nonviolent struggle, then, aims to sap or sever the sources of the dictator’s power as well as increase the power of the grievance group (those directly effected by the dictator’s oppression) until one of the above four goals is achieved.


Power comes from six main sources. Authority or perceived legitimacy leads people to accept the right of a person or group to lead and be obeyed voluntarily. Even with authority, the ruler cannot turn his desires into a reality without human resources (specialists, labor force, bureaucrats), some of whom must possess the necessary skills and knowledge to keep the country’s infrastructure, equipment, and economy running smoothly. Psychological and ideological factors like habit, feelings of moral obligation, self-interest, cultural attitudes towards obedience and submission, presence of a common faith ideology, and other intangible measures contribute to a ruler’s power. The degree to which the ruler controls a country’s material resources (property, natural resources, financial resources, communication and transportation, etc.) also impacts his power. Perhaps the most important resource available to a dictator is is sanctions, the enforcement of obedience. Sanctions can be violent (stopping a protest with deadly force) or nonviolent (seizure of property for those who do not obey).

In order to increase these sources of power, the dictator must rely on a set of institutions and people such as the army, police, business community, religious leaders, working class laborers, and other pillars of support. If the opponent is a business, pillars of support might be their consumers, their suppliers, regulatory agencies, and legislators. Withdrawal of support from enough pillars will diminish the opponent’s power until they must accept the activist’s demands or risk disintegration.

The purpose of nonviolent methods is to withdraw the consent of an opponent’s pillars of support, weakening the opponent’s relative power until they agree to the activist’s terms. This is not done by alienating or trying to destroy pillars of support. Instead, this is done by eroding the loyalty of those institutions until they withdraw their support from the opponent. This is how Slobodan Milosevic, a genocidal maniac who killed anyone who challenged him, was overthrown nonviolently by a student group call “Otpor.”


When activists are properly disciplined and trained, then any ensuing state repression will drastically erode a dictator’s pillars of support. While Gene Sharp listed nearly 200 different nonviolent methods to erode the opponent’s pillars of support and increase relative power, he grouped these into three overarching categories.

1. Nonviolent Protest and Persuasion – This is what most people think of when they hear “nonviolent activism:” Public speeches, rallies, marches, petitions, symbolic displays, street theater, walk outs, and teach-ins. These are intended to send messages to the opponent as well as shape the perceptions of people the opponent depends on. In democracies, this usually means shaping the perceptions of the voting public.

At the same time, this method aims to empower the grievance group (those most directly oppressed the opponent) to join activists in their efforts. Unfortunately, modern activists have focused almost exclusively on this category. As Gandi learned when fighting for human rights in Africa, the opponent group (oppressors and their core supporters) rarely undergoes conversion. However, if the opponent has vulnerable pillars of support (in the case of the British government, their businesses and the popular support), then protest and persuasion can decrease the opponent’s relative power by eroding the loyalty of those pillars.

2. Noncooperation – This involves people withdrawing consent by choosing not to participate in certain public actions. The most common manifestations are strikes, boycotts, withdrawal of bank deposits, refusal to acknowledge government institutions, nonobedience in absence of supervision, even simple bureacratic footdragging. This is a safer option when struggling against the most repressive dictatorships. Eroding one pillar of support can indirectly erode others. If noncooperation erodes a dictator’s ability to gain tax revenue, he cannot pay his military. The military pillar of support then depends entirely on loyalty to the dictator which depends on the pillar related to perceived legitimacy.

3. Nonviolent Intervention – these methods actively disrupt the normal operations of policies or systems psychologically, physically, socially, economically, or politically. This involves sit-ins, fasts, nonviolent obstruction, guerilla theater, alternative social institutions, overloading facilities and administrative systems, among other active measures. However, they are also the riskiest for whoever is participating.


The risk involved for any given nonviolent method depends on the country’s responses to actions outside their particular range of normal political action. In a constitutional democracy writing letters to politicians, voting, and public campaigning constitute normal political action and will not be repressed. As long as it is not considered a serious “public disturbance” or sense of challenge to authority, many democracies will even permit nonviolent methods technically deemed illegal (majority of 2003 Iraq war protests without permits or in violation of municipal laws.) Those same actions in a ruthless dictatorship could lead to extra-judicial executions.

While no one should seek out high risk situations, violent repression can drastically increase the ACTIVIST’S power. But this only happens if they can manage how they are perceived by constituents of the relevant pillars of support. A single rock thrown through a window can turn a perceived “peaceful march” into an “anarchic riot.” Opponents, especially those with influence over the media, will use any excuse possible to prove that the activists are so dangerous that violent repression is justified. Appealing to the public’s perception is especially important in democracies where the politicians must justify their repression to potential voters. The same applies if a business’ consumers are the average citizen as well as if the business’ suppliers primarily depend on average citizens as a consumer base. For more repressive regimes, perception by the entire country’s populace may less important than the perception of those in charge of economic and military pillars of support. If activists can maintain nonviolence, they have access to one of the most powerful weapons in their arsenal: political jui-jitsu (covered in the next article).

Whether by conversion, accommodation, nonviolent coercion, or disintegration, nonviolent struggle has accomplished incredible things over the centuries. But this will be impossible if all activists not only practice nonviolence but understand why nonviolence is superior. It isn’t a matter of morality of religion; it’s a matter of history, strategy, and power.

Next week, we’ll look at the most powerful weapon in an activist’s arsenal: political jiu-jitsu.

You Gon Learn Ep. 1: Wake Up Call for Leaders on the Left




There are a lot of skill gaps among folks on the left that need to be addressed if we are going to deal with the problems we now face as a result of the fact that the Democratic party can’t get its shit together. Therefore, I am reluctantly coming out of retirement to start addressing those issues since no one else has stepped up to do it and everyone is running around still acting like delusional morons and pretending we didn’t just get our asses handed to us electorally. Instead of spending the last month and a half grieving this loss and coping with the fact that my holiday season involved the unlocking of memories that included my family trying to kill me, I’ve been busy trying to organize and think through the best way to do this. I kept coming back to the fact that we’ve failed to communicate to people in a language they understand. Since text, and especially academic text, is accessible to only a small portion of the population we are now adding a video series on organizing in the age of Trump. Fans of my actual writing will still see long form essays. We are also looking to expand voices that aren’t normally heard by the left. I’m especially interested in giving space to working class writers who can’t get published elsewhere. If that sounds like you, please email Mrs.Raffin at

Wake up and get to work.

For more videos check out the You Gon Learn channel.


Some Coping Mechanisms in the Dark

I’m seeing a lot of posts that make me…. a bit worried about everyone’s ability to cope with what lies in front of us.
If Hilary Clinton had been elected, we still would have had LOTS of work to do. The process of fighting oppression is a lifelong struggle you can’t expect will end. We need to be playing the long game and we need to be able to cope and function under more severe repression and oppression. Because none of these systems are going away in our lifetime. Oppression is much older than us and it will be here long after we’ve turned to dust.
I KNOW everyone is tired. I am too, I’ve never NOT been tired in my life. And its legitimate, I really wish and will put my own life on the line to give people the kind of world where we don’t have to do this stuff, but we don’t live in that world and we never have and now things are about to get much worse.
I’ve endured horrifying conditions in my life. I was starved, beaten and raped as a child and abused throughout my life. I was silenced, beaten down and unsupported after my childhood by the elites. I have had to sustain some coping mechanisms to come out of that functional. I’m not telling you how to feel but I hope I can help make this easier to cope with. Here are some tools I used to cope in the face of evil.
1) I try to find joy in the darkness, so I look for beauty in human beings and art and comedy. I try to laugh constantly.
2) I do the things I CAN do to fight what I can. I don’t expect to win every time, but the fact that I am moving towards a tangible goal makes it easier and over time is how the world gets better.
3) I remember that I come from a long line of sufferers who have continued to pass on beauty despite suffering. We all stand here on the backs of people who endured despite the odds. Existence is an insane and beautiful miracle. I often turn to science, nature and good humans to be reminded of that.
4) I try to turn my emotions into actions. Anger is useful and good, if it propels us to challenge the system, but only if we address that anger effectively and constructively.
5) I continuously try to create; for agency, so that I can make beauty when its hard to see it, and so that I feel I am contributing.
6) I reach out to my community and try to build bridges so that there are support networks.
7) I study history so I can understand the long game and my role in it
8) I accept responsibility for changing the world, even in small ways through my actions.
9) I approach this work with a an ethos of love. Now, we have a misunderstanding about the ethos of love. Real love isn’t about being comfortable or not being challenged, real love is about relentlessly believing in the good of others even when they can’t see it for themselves, it also means working towards continual growth.
10) I am constantly trying to draw strength from the amazingness of those around me and when I can, I try to lift others up.

How Mobilizing the Poor Might Have Changed the Election


The left is trying to figure out how we lost this election to Trump, and it is a worthy and important question. The most common reason that has been proposed is that working class whites voted for Trump because they are racist, but there are several problems with that argument, and it’s reflective of the way we struggle to talk about class in this country. Often when we want to talk about class it is kind of hard to find the raw data because we very rarely study class in this country, and there are lots of reasons for this, including representation in academia and funding issues. Which is to say, that it isn’t anyone’s fault that people are unaware of this but fortunately we have the data now to truly analyze this.

Determining Who Voted for Whom by Social Class

As in previous years, the rich were more likely to vote for the Republican and this is consistent with just about every election in modern history, the rich are more likely to vote Republican. Here are the turnout rates by class for 2012. You are free and welcome to look at previous years, but it won’t change. The Republicans have carried the rich vote for the last 30 years.


Image 1: Turnout Rates by Class 2012

Now, here is the exit poll data by class for 2016. As you will see, the ONLY class groups Clinton carried were the poor.



Image 2: Voting Rates by Class 2016

In 2016, the Democrats carried the working classes, and the Republicans carried the middle and upper classes.

Why Education is NOT a proxy for class

Now, many people have noted that more uneducated whites voted for Trump, and have designated these people “working class.” This is strange for two reasons

  1. The majority of educated whites also voted for Trump.
  2. No other country uses education levels as a proxy for class, and education is not determinative of class in this country.

Only 30 percent of the country has a BA and even attending an Ivy League school doesn’t have an impact on your class UNLESS you are poor. America is in a period of a historic lack of social mobility. In fact, the numbers are so low that economists have been confused by it for years. People who are rich remain rich and the poor remains poor, no amount of education is really successful at changing that. A possible exception is the TINY amount of folks like me that attended an Ivy League school, we do tend to rise up after getting over our handicaps in our 20s, but then we also have worse health outcomes than the people we left behind. And actually most of us don’t rise up at all.   For the poor, college has not been a source of upward mobility. So using education as a proxy for class only makes sense if you have absolutely no understanding of the definition of class AND you weren’t aware of the lack of social mobility. It is fine to admit that you are ignorant of these things, it is not ok to continue to push them after you become aware.

Democratic Turnout is a Better Explanation for What Happened

Now, as far as why the Democrats lost this year, let’s take a look at turnout numbers. Here are the numbers for 2012, when Obama won the Rust Belt


Image 3: Turnout Rates by Year

As you can see, turnout in 2012 was 57.5 percent. Here are the numbers for 2016.


Image 4: Turnout rates for 2016

As you can see, turnout in 2012 was 55%, which is more than 2 percentage points lower than in 2012. That 2 percent is enough to make up the difference of what Clinton lost, without converting any Stein supporters at all. In fact, the Democratic party was short 6 million votes in total from 2012. Many of those votes went to third parties, and the poor were the most likely group to vote third party, but she didn’t need all 6 million to throw her over the edge because she lost by a small amount of votes in key states. In 2016, there was a marked decrease in turnout.

Why Turnout was Lower

So now the question is, why didn’t people vote and who was most unlikely to vote. This data has turnout rates by class.


Image 5: Turnout Rates by Class

As you can see from the data, turnout rates are lower for the poor than they are for other groups. This has pretty much always been true and though I could list the reasons, I’ll let the data speak for itself. Here are the reasons people gave for not voting.


Image 6: Reasons people didn’t vote

The top three reasons are reasons that disproportionately affect the poor. Much of the poor don’t vote for logistical reasons, like their work schedule or their health. Some don’t vote because they either don’t know how or have given up on voting meaning anything. Voter suppression is much more likely to happen to poor people, so many have faced barriers and have subsequently just given up.  We know voter suppression was a major issue this year. In fact, voter suppression was also an issue during the primaries, so those people had been recently disenfranchised.

Note that this is only for REGISTERED VOTERS, most of the poor isn’t even registered at all. It’s been noted that Trump won areas with poor health, and as you can see, poor health was a substantial barrier to the poor voting. Poor whites also have a declining mortality, which goes against the trends for other groups.

In fact, poor whites have lost almost ten years of their life in the last 20. The verdict is still out on all the causes, but the bottom line is that many of these people simply didn’t vote for legitimate reasons.

Enthusiasm Gap for Clinton

Hillary also experienced an enthusiasm gap in 2016. Here is the percentage of registered voters who intended to actually vote in 2016 vs. 2012, and as we can see from image 6, the fourth most common reason for not voting was a distaste for the candidates.


Image 7: Registered voters intention to vote 2012 v. 2016

That’s a pretty significant decline and considering that Sanders carried many of the areas Hilary lost in the primary, it suggests that the people might have turned out for a candidate they believed in. Which is to say that the same people that elites have been blaming and calling racists were more likely to turn out for a Socialist from a working class background.

Conclusions and Some Preliminary Thoughts

Taken all together, it seems pretty clear that the Democrats lost because they failed to mobilize the poor to vote. A slightly higher turnout might have saved us, and the reasons people had for not voting were preventable barriers that the elites could have worked and mobilized around but they didn’t.

In fact, working class whites, seem to have voted mostly like other minority groups. This despite the fact that the left made no efforts to reach them and have been mocking them for years. This demonstrates that there is a strong possibility for the working class whites to associate themselves with the struggle of the rest of the poor. Many of them have an identity based on their class background and have been working actively against racism. They live near more minorities, interracially marry more often, and can identify with the rest of the poor. This means there is amazing potential to turn these people into active and empowered members of the left.

I get why the folks on the right keep pushing this narrative. The only time the elites have been in danger of revolt in this country was during the beginning of this nation when all of the working classes got together and transcended race during Shay’s Rebellion. It scared them so much that they rewrote many laws to ensure that poor whites, first peoples and free and enslaved blacks didn’t work together. This is where anti-miscegenation laws come from. They want to continue to push this narrative to divide and conquer and ensure that we never work together or never try to really change the economic structure of society. It’s important to remember that the segregationists worst fear was that if we all went to school together, we would fall in love with each other. Rebellion in this country, looks a lot like love.

It only works to our advantage to fold poor whites into our movement and they are primed for that co-option. We can do it AND still talk about race without taking away anything from any other group. There is a huge tradition among activists in the United States who have attempted to do just that. In fact, it was part of Martin Luther King’s last campaign before he died. Howard Zinn was talking about this during the 60s, and in what eventually became his book, A People’s History of the United States. If you consider yourself progressive or revolutionary, you’ve been pushing this narrative because you are ignorant and simply didn’t know, which is absolutely fine! We all have to learn. Our school systems, media, and social segregation make it hard to uncover this information.

But if you are really want to scare the elites, you’ll break up this narrative as quickly as you can and start mobilizing the working classes.