What Cara Jennings and Black Lives Matter Protesters Don’t Get
FlaglerLive | April 11, 2016
By Catherine Durkin Robinson
Last week, Cara Jennings sat in Starbucks and berated Gov. Rick Scott when he arrived to purchase a cup of coffee.
She called him an asshole and yelled about her limited health-care options. Black Lives Matter activists did something similar at a rally where Bill Clinton spoke. They screamed about a bill Clinton passed in the 1990s, angry it led to mass incarceration of minorities for non-violent crimes.
Millions have seen videos of these events.
Cue up the typical Jezebel, Mother Jones pro-pieces and the opposing but ever-reliable conservative hate machine. Liberals love Jennings; conservatives defend Scott. Moderate liberals love the Clintons while those more to the left support BLM.
Meanwhile, those of us in the trenches continue to shake our heads. Both Jennings and the BLM protesters had salient points and a rare opportunity to raise awareness.
Both Jennings and the BLM protesters failed. Miserably.
My 16-year-old sons know if they yell or call names during an argument or debate, they’ve lost. It’s over. Pack it up and go home.
That rule applies to everyone, but unlike teenagers or students who make such mistakes, when activists publicly shout or resort to ad hominem attacks, they not only lose, they make the rest of us look bad.
Losing your shit on-camera diminishes you and those who share your concerns.
The fact that Jennings was justifiably upset about being denied health care and the BLM folks were justifiably critical of the Clinton crime bill does not register. Media reports do not focus on the merits of any policy discussion and legitimate concerns get limited coverage.
What gets coverage instead? Tactics.
When methods overshadow the message, none of us win.
What is the goal of an activist? As a 25-year veteran, for most of my career the goal has and continues to be multi-fold. Successful advocates raise awareness, generate understanding and mobilize grassroots support. The ultimate goal: policy change.
It’s a proven formula. It’s how we win.
Too many activists today seem to have no such goals. They do not raise awareness. Instead, they leave opponents bitter, defensive and frustrated. A negative experience with an adversary doesn’t encourage anyone to reconsider their point of view. Apathy or anger rules the day.
Rather than generate understanding, loudmouth advocates alienate and cement already thickening opposition to their cause.
Mobilizing grassroots support isn’t even a remote possibility. If anything, tantrums motivate like-minded people to literally lift one finger in support. A “retweet” or “like” is action enough.
And please, a change in policy? Are you kidding? Screaming in Starbucks or at a popular ex-president — who, by the way, is on your side — does not lead to any substantive change.
Anyone familiar with Facebook cannot be surprised. That’s our culture now. People post diatribes from one narrow point of view or experience and, if someone dares to interject, point out the other side to an argument, or attempt meaningful dialogue, they are shouted down, unfriended, blocked. This trend is shifting from computers to college campuses, rallies and coffee shops.
If the goal is to get a video to go viral or get more publicity for your “brand” — congratulations. Jezebel writers know your name! Woo Hoo!
Meanwhile, you’re making it more difficult for those of us who get off our asses, those of us who put down the cleverly worded signs and think beyond incendiary sound bites to actually form consensus and get things done.
Liberals who applaud Jennings don’t stop to wonder why they’re approving tactics they’d surely despise if roles were reversed. These same pundits would be mortified if Hillary went into a coffee shop and someone called her a bitch.
Why is one OK and the other not?
Because critical thinking is as outdated as self-awareness.
Jennings requested a conversation with Scott, but he’s not going to sit down and talk to someone more interested in shouting than listening. Clinton apologized, but the video shows he responded with facts, never once inciting the crowd to violence, and afforded his protesters more respect than they displayed. More respect than they deserved.
If you believe your greatest contribution to the complex world of social justice advocacy is to make a fool of yourself, please stop being on our side. Progressive ideals and values are strong, they don’t need to be shouted or paired with epitaphs to pack a punch. Our jobs are already challenging, and you are making them worse.
But enjoy those Facebook likes.
Catherine Durkin Robinson’s award-winning columns have appeared in The Tampa Times, The Tampa Tribune, and Creative Loafing as well as several national magazines and newspapers. She is a mom, writer, advocate, political organizer, and runner. Reach her by email here.