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Even though today's conservatism is a farce, you still don't get to be progressive by doing nothing

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Image: Twitter/@M_Tol

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If several months of Trump sound bytes haven't made it clear by now, conservatism as it's depicted in the mainstream media has become a farce, a caricature rooted in oppression. Rather than communicating concrete economic, social, and environmental policies, conservatism has now become synonymous with overt racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia.

Against this backdrop of intense bigotry, being progressive has become fairly easy. Rather than actively committing to the fight for justice, many "progressives" are now simply progressive by default -- progressive because they are not conservative.

The problem with this stance is that opposing Trump, Harper, Ford or whomever is not the same as choosing to support marginalized people. They often converge but they are not the same.  As a result of conflating non-conservatism and progressivism, many "progressives" have overlooked problems within our movements. We've been scoffing at the absurdity of the right's science-denying, border wall-building ways but have failed to notice that the left has become its own caricature, frequently confusing self-interest and covert oppression with progressivism. This hollowed-out progressivism lacks an understanding of intersectionality and a deeper commitment to justice.

Many men on the left have been progressive by default for years. They oppose economic inequality --check! -- but remain committed to reinforcing patriarchy and misogyny. In practice, this looks like is activist organizations where men assume highly visible leadership positions while relegate others to less visible and less celebrated work.

When the people doing less visible work (which is often more physically and emotionally demanding) communicate their exhaustion and their need for self-care, their commitment to "the cause" is called into question by men in the group. Some activists use the terms "manarchist" and "brocialist" to describe these "progressive" men. These terms are great for shedding light on the problem but falls short of of highlighting its pervasiveness.

Black Lives Matter's disruption of the Pride Parade earlier this summer elicited racist responses from some in attendance. The responses, which included jeering, taunting and, later, scores of hate mail, highlighted the limits of our current idea of progressivism. While many in attendance where more that happy to make visible their support for the LGBTQIAA community, the support appeared to stop at Black Queer Youth, Black deaf and hearing sign language interpreters, Toronto's South Asian community, Black trans women, Indigenous people and others represent in BLMTO's list of demands.

Two weeks ago, activists Ashleigh Shackelford, Bri Carter, and Erica Michelle suspended a banner from a highway bridge the U.S. in response to the apathy (and in many cases antagonism) that many Black men have shown toward murdered black women.

 

 Facebook

 

The banner read: "Dear Black Men,* (cisgender and straight) While you're busy NOT fighting for us remember that YOU'RE killing us too!"

The banner was part of an extended letter that Shackelford posted on her Facebook page. In this letter, Shakelford also wrote

"We hung this over the highway today to remind Black cisgender-straight men of the truth. You don't shut shit down for us when we're murdered by the police, by this system, or by our community. While you spend all this time justifying our deaths, don't forget that you're on the list of things we fear the most. The biggest threat to black women and femmes safety is not just white and non-Black people, it's you."

As Shackelford's words suggest, we are long overdue for some real conversations about oppression within progressive movements. If we're going to continue using the terms "progressive," "liberal" and "radical" we need to start holding people accountable for their actions rather than simply allowing them to be progressive by default. Attending Pride doesn't make you progressive; just like being a Black man doesn't make you progressive, even though Black men are being beaten killed in the streets. If your vision of progress doesn't extend justice to all oppressed peoples, it's time to re-evaluate your definition of progressivism.

The vision I'm communicating is not free from error or oversight but it is one in which people remain committed to reflection, adaptation and accountability. We cannot allow our movements to grow content with pursuing self-interest or with ridiculing conservatives. There is too much work that needs to be done. 

Lead image: Twitter/@M_Tol

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