How to lose a battle

There is a sure fire way for the powerless to lose a political battle.

That’s to do things the right way. I’m talking about the respectable, by the book, way where you define what you think are realistic goals, and then work through the proper channels to appeal to those in power to make the changes you want to achieve.

Sure, with years of effort you might win. And as you are winning your constituency will disintegrate. You will lose your money and your people. Eventually your respectable organizations will be destroyed from the inside. If you are unlucky enough, you will find that the laws you intended to free you are now turned against you..

This is what the alphabet-soup movement did for gay and lesbian rights (mostly gay and trans, but we got to tag along to make coffee and take the  blame). They wanted more medical research for AIDS (check). They wanted gays and lesbians to be able to freely invade other countries  serve in the U.S. Military (check). They wanted gays and lesbians to marry (check and mate).

The problem with realistic goals is that they aren’t. Power, as Saul Alinsky famously observed, goes to two poles: people who have money, and people who have people. Setting realistic goals for social reform will make no one rich. Realistic goals will, however, put entire communities to sleep. People are inspired by dreams, not limited agendas. The only actually- realistic goal for a movement that derives its power from people is “we want it all.”

Realistic means are just as unreal. When you choose realistic means, you choose to try to win your point with the men in power through persuasion. Several things follow from a decision to use realistic means.

First, you make pleasing the men in power your objective. The function of the downtrodden then becomes to give you the money and free labor to support your work to make powerful people happy. Unfortunately for you, the downtrodden are quite familiar with this business of satisfying the powerful. It’s what they’ve been expected to do with every damned breath they take for the entirety of their lives, and it has gotten them nothing..

Second, you must make the case to the men who control things that, not only are you there to speak soothing words and pretty promises.  You, like a serf pleading for mercy from a medieval lord, acknowledge their god-given authority to rule over you, and you pledge your submission and devotion.

The moment a movement built on people moves from caring for itself to prioritizing the feelings of their oppressors and swearing loyalty to them, it has pissed all over its own ammunition, and shat in the field kitchen as well. Do not be surprised if the people through whom you derive your power notice your scheme leaves them worse off. In fact, don’t be surprised if some of them conclude you have switched sides and are now fighting for their enemies.

Assuming your movement does not collapse before you obtain the Holy Grail for the Court of King Arthur your realistic goals, achievement of your objective is apt to be bittersweet. The structure of power is unaltered. Your movement is now some combination of cynical, exhausted, scattered, coopted and feeling betrayed. And you have drawn the attention of men who are much less naive  about power than you are.

They have seen you organize, albeit in a way that placed your skills and understanding  on a scale roughly halfway between a wet dishrag and a banana slug. They understand the name of the game for a sustained monopoly on power is ruthlessness. You have rocked the boat ever so slightly. What you did might just encourage someone (provided there is anyone still awake to notice), and the next one to come along might not be so  laughably naive. To teach us a lesson, they will often use those highly realistic legal changes you had demanded as a bludgeon with which to flog whatever is left of your community.

Men in our bathrooms? Using Title XI to push women out of women’s sports? That’ll teach us.

I am not a believer in realistic failure.  I am an advocate of practical success. Demand the world. Rebuild our communities. The object of our activism should never be to beg for concessions from an all-powerful patriarchy. Our actions should always aim to strengthen our own kind – to build the actual foundations of our genuine power.

The men and their ways can fuck off.





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