Connect! Unite! Act! Our best chance to win means acceptance and understanding

Connect! Unite! Act! is a weekly series that seeks to create face-to-face networks in each congressional district. Groups meet regularly to socialize, get out the vote, support candidates, and engage in other local political actions that help our progressive movement grow and exert influence on the powers that be. Visit us every week to see how you can get involved! I don’t often talk directly about what it is I do here at Daily Kos. In the past, I’ve been proud of the organizing efforts we’ve put together to arrange for in-person meetings in New York, San Francisco, Texas, Kansas City, Asheville, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and so many Netroots Nations and partner events. Beyond that, however, was always an effort that would expand our Daily Kos community with new members who can provide their unique voices and experiences. Part of bringing these new voices into our community involves acceptance and understanding—attracting alumni of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, immigrant workers, candidates, and even just advocating for participating in meetings of activists who want a platform to get their message out there. There are, however, complications that I don’t normally get into in a diary on Daily Kos. As we move forward with the new rules of the road and we start to talk frankly about how we treat members and each other, I want to explain exactly why being a more welcoming and understanding community makes all of us better in the end. Understanding our language is not “how we lose”—unless you’re talking about members and opportunities Working to bring in new writers and voices to Daily Kos can be thrilling. I can have a week where several new writers or exciting voices are ready to jump on board and talk about their campaign or a specific issue they want to be addressed. Every time that happens, it represents to me some of the best of Daily Kos, and I feel fantastic that another new voice came into the community to talk about their district, state, or issue.  If all I had to talk about were successes, though, this Connect! Unite! Act! would be a lot easier to write. Instead, I want to take a moment to talk about what we as a community need to do better if we want to bring in voices. Sometimes the way we behave, think, and write can be enough of a turn-off that it can make what I do far more difficult than I ever imagined. You see, when we talk about issues like microaggressions, ableism, insults against faith, blanket denunciations, and unwillingness to listen to LGBTQ individuals, all of the work that I and so many others put into bringing good voices into our community can evaporate instantly. It’s heartbreaking to put a lot of work into something and find in a few days I’m back to square one, trying to encourage someone to be heard—and that I struggle to explain that they will be treated the right way as opposed to what they have just seen. All of this starts with just one phrase. I will not name commenters or writers who say it because it happens so often, but the phrase is simple: “This is how we lose.” Someone will write an article about how we should improve our language, be more thoughtful and accepting, and the first response is always: “This is how conservatives beat us up and this is how we lose.” What absolute and utter nonsense. Hardened conservatives were never going to vote for a Democratic candidate, but when we dismiss the attitude we have to people who are strong Democratic voters and refuse to listen to them, we drive away opportunities by shrinking our coalition. Frankly, we make a less interesting Daily Kos.  It’s time for me to tell a few stories here In the past year, there have been several organizations and candidates as well as elected officials I have worked with to try and get them on board and to write about their experience. In some cases, I worked for weeks or even months to wait out their obligations to their elected position, or for them to get into a healthy mental space because of how taxing things were for them. This was especially true of transgender elected officials, who worked diligently to try and put together their thoughts for the Daily Kos community about how hard it is to be in a position surrounded by some people who hate you—not for your policies, but hate you directly as a human being. It can take me a lot of time and effort, at any and all hours, to help assure, comfort, and assist people to know that our community can offer them a safe space to tell their story. It means a lot to me that we can do this because the moments I point to as successes at Daily Kos are when we as an entire community focused on Ferguson. It’s when I look at the efforts Neeta and I put in to help make our community reach out to new and different audiences. It’s a discussion I still keep up, every single day.  That doesn’t mean those moments are always successful. I can spend a lot of time working with a group or an individual and find that within a

Connect! Unite! Act! Our best chance to win means acceptance and understanding

Connect! Unite! Act! is a weekly series that seeks to create face-to-face networks in each congressional district. Groups meet regularly to socialize, get out the vote, support candidates, and engage in other local political actions that help our progressive movement grow and exert influence on the powers that be. Visit us every week to see how you can get involved!

I don’t often talk directly about what it is I do here at Daily Kos. In the past, I’ve been proud of the organizing efforts we’ve put together to arrange for in-person meetings in New York, San Francisco, Texas, Kansas City, Asheville, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and so many Netroots Nations and partner events. Beyond that, however, was always an effort that would expand our Daily Kos community with new members who can provide their unique voices and experiences. Part of bringing these new voices into our community involves acceptance and understanding—attracting alumni of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, immigrant workers, candidates, and even just advocating for participating in meetings of activists who want a platform to get their message out there. There are, however, complications that I don’t normally get into in a diary on Daily Kos. As we move forward with the new rules of the road and we start to talk frankly about how we treat members and each other, I want to explain exactly why being a more welcoming and understanding community makes all of us better in the end.

Understanding our language is not “how we lose”—unless you’re talking about members and opportunities

Working to bring in new writers and voices to Daily Kos can be thrilling. I can have a week where several new writers or exciting voices are ready to jump on board and talk about their campaign or a specific issue they want to be addressed. Every time that happens, it represents to me some of the best of Daily Kos, and I feel fantastic that another new voice came into the community to talk about their district, state, or issue. 

If all I had to talk about were successes, though, this Connect! Unite! Act! would be a lot easier to write. Instead, I want to take a moment to talk about what we as a community need to do better if we want to bring in voices. Sometimes the way we behave, think, and write can be enough of a turn-off that it can make what I do far more difficult than I ever imagined.

You see, when we talk about issues like microaggressions, ableism, insults against faith, blanket denunciations, and unwillingness to listen to LGBTQ individuals, all of the work that I and so many others put into bringing good voices into our community can evaporate instantly. It’s heartbreaking to put a lot of work into something and find in a few days I’m back to square one, trying to encourage someone to be heard—and that I struggle to explain that they will be treated the right way as opposed to what they have just seen.

All of this starts with just one phrase. I will not name commenters or writers who say it because it happens so often, but the phrase is simple: “This is how we lose.” Someone will write an article about how we should improve our language, be more thoughtful and accepting, and the first response is always: “This is how conservatives beat us up and this is how we lose.” What absolute and utter nonsense. Hardened conservatives were never going to vote for a Democratic candidate, but when we dismiss the attitude we have to people who are strong Democratic voters and refuse to listen to them, we drive away opportunities by shrinking our coalition. Frankly, we make a less interesting Daily Kos. 

It’s time for me to tell a few stories here

In the past year, there have been several organizations and candidates as well as elected officials I have worked with to try and get them on board and to write about their experience. In some cases, I worked for weeks or even months to wait out their obligations to their elected position, or for them to get into a healthy mental space because of how taxing things were for them. This was especially true of transgender elected officials, who worked diligently to try and put together their thoughts for the Daily Kos community about how hard it is to be in a position surrounded by some people who hate you—not for your policies, but hate you directly as a human being.

It can take me a lot of time and effort, at any and all hours, to help assure, comfort, and assist people to know that our community can offer them a safe space to tell their story. It means a lot to me that we can do this because the moments I point to as successes at Daily Kos are when we as an entire community focused on Ferguson. It’s when I look at the efforts Neeta and I put in to help make our community reach out to new and different audiences. It’s a discussion I still keep up, every single day. 

That doesn’t mean those moments are always successful. I can spend a lot of time working with a group or an individual and find that within a matter of a day, all of that work goes away. Why? Because when people feel as though they are not safe to discuss their concerns here, we lose their interest, either out of fear or because they don’t want to dedicate the time. For me, I have personally had weeks where I have felt absolutely gutted because I felt so close to a voice I know our community needs, only to find it ripped away. I want to take a moment to talk about just two instances of exactly that occurring. 

In working with organizations of faith that were looking to highlight how their efforts within churches build a more progressive Christian outlook on why we must look after each other, there was a lot of initial excitement about utilizing our platform. Several groups in this space had an interest in saying, ”There may be a lot of conservative Christians, but there are a lot of us who vote Democratic and are very progressive, too.” I felt such excitement about the story they had to tell about the efforts of priests and ministers to help the poor, to bring forward why faith calls them to not judge one another, to support the refugee, to be a beacon of peace. One organization was interested in talking about nuclear disarmament, something I haven’t seen on Daily Kos in at least a decade. These were all topics I found exciting and positive, and I thought: “Damn! Our community will love this!”

Then what happens? When we talk thoughtlessly about others, use our titles and our content to bash the idea that any faith can be helpful to the Democratic cause, we don’t gain allies, we lose them. Frankly, personally, even just as someone with a friendly nature, for me it’s like a dagger into my gut. I don’t often go into meetings with the head of our department and cry, but it has happened twice that I remember, and both times were the exact same reason: So much time was invested, so much effort was put in, so much excitement was had, a promise for what it would bring to the Daily Kos community, only to see it all go away. Now, before we say: “Well, we can’t guarantee the behavior of one commenter or a troll,” I want to point out that isn’t what happens. No, instead what tends to happen is that organizations will look and see if we as a community reject or approve of the kind of narrative that they want to avoid. When they see commentary like: “This is how we lose” or “bloody Christians” and lots of recommended comments bashing them, why would they stay? Why would they have an interest in participating? What can I say to them that helps them feel assured it will be different?

In some cases, I work as hard as I can to see individuals get a diary together to talk about personal issues—like a transgender legislator—and pull the plug because of the fact there isn’t enough safety or understanding here. This spring, I reached out to legislators and activists in the LGBTQ community to tell their stories, and I received positive words. I consider them to be friends, old friends, who needed to talk about how difficult and toxic things were becoming for them. 

It is crushing to me personally to see friends work so hard with me to try and put things together and then contact me to tell me they are concerned with the way our community behaves. On a Friday before a piece regarding transgender discrimination was set to run, a diary hit the recommended list that was full of the kind of discussion both of these advocates found appalling. Here it was, however, being recommended by our community. Within a matter of eight hours, more than two months' worth of work on my side? Destroyed. I still haven’t managed to get it all put together, and one activist—a personal friend I have known for seven years—was hurt enough that I haven’t heard from them. When we do talk, I can tell things are different.

I walked into my weekly meeting then, and I cried. I felt as though I had been working so hard, but what I do is so difficult to quantify that when it falls apart, I don’t know where to go with the feeling that I could have, or should have, tried to do something different.

When we talk about the rules of the road, and microaggressions, we are talking about bringing in people who are among our strongest supporters who want to talk to us, and they want to be our friends. Making people feel comfortable and safe here by expanding our coalition is how we win. Making more voices feel uncomfortable or unsafe here? That actually is how we lose.

Ableism

From the very beginning of my time here at Daily Kos, I’ve spoken about ableism in different ways. At this point, that’s 17 years’ worth of discussions here on Daily Kos where I’ve shared information about my son’s autism, my TBI, my brother’s physical disability, and friends who passed from cruelty to the disabled. On a very personal note, the way we talk about the disabled means so much to me because I am a member of that community and nothing that will ever happen will undo that status for me. In 2019, as some know, I had to battle my own different personal demons as personal loss led to some really dark moments for me. Frankly, talking about mental health is dangerous. There are people who use it to shame others, to think less of others, and to make fun of others. We use disability in general to mock people or to make them less than us, to imply it means something.

When I see a post about “Diaper Don” mocking Donald Trump, I think to myself: “Why is this funny? If he’s incontinent, that’s a disability.” Lots of people with IBS or who have had colon disorders suffer from this problem. Would we mock any of those people for doing something that is the medically right thing for them to do? 

I can despise Trump on his policy, on what he is doing people. Do I poke fun at him, making fun of more than a million Americans and applying they are all “less than” or “funny” because of a problem that isn’t in their control? I’ve had one disability advocate tell me directly that the way in which the Democratic base talked about Trump created such a struggle for disability advocates because they felt constantly under attack.

There are different ways in which this can be handled. Addressing whether or not Trump had cognitive disabilities that prevented him from serving would be certainly a fair discussion, and no advocate I’ve spoken to thought any less. The terminology used to address the issue? Well, that is a whole other matter. 

I wish I could say I was perfect on this point; at times I’ve fallen into the lazy writing nature of using words and terms that later I really regret. I try to fix it when I notice and apologize accordingly. Why do these words and phrases come to mind so easily? Because we build a community that is accepting of this as a practice. The more we work to help each other stop demeaning Republicans by using disabled people as a standard of “less than,” the quicker we all help make this community welcoming for all.

An exercise for this week:

Before you write something, please think about this, a guide from Marsha Linehan called FAST:

Fair: Be fair to yourself and to the other person. Remember to validate your own feelings and wishes

Apologies: No looking ashamed. No invalidating the valid. Stick to your values.

Stick to the values: Don’t sell out your values or integrity for reasons that just aren’t important.

Truthful: Don’t lie. Don’t act helpless to stop something when you’re not. Don’t make up excuses for why you won’t change or do something different.

Our CUA team is here to provide support and guidance to new and existing volunteer leaders of each regional and state group, helping them with recruiting, organizing and executing social and action events. We invite you to join in this effort to build our community. There are many ways to pitch in. If there isn’t a group to join near you, please start one.

What are you working on in your local area to move our progressive agenda along?