The editorial board of the Bangor Daily News (BDN) this week joined calls for the working class to be polite and calm while the rich rob us and our politicians fail us. They quoted a post we made on Facebook that poked fun at the Portland City Councilors who voted against the right of their constituents to earn paid sick leave. They decried our lack of “civility,” and even compared us to Trump.
For them and other media outlets, it’s not about substantial issues like whether Trump deserves impeachment; it’s about the swear-word Congresswoman Tlaib used when she called for it. It isn’t about the horrors of the Israeli apartheid against Palestinians; it’s that even mentioning it is somehow anti-semitic. And now it’s not about how denying paid sick leave will affect families struggling to make ends meet; what’s important is that the DSA called these heartless councilors names. In all of this, the media misses the point. And if a lack of civility is all that we, the public, are actually resisting from the Trump administration (and the one percent who hold his puppet strings) we’re missing the point, too. When we focus on how “civil,” “electable” and “well-spoken” a public figure is, we gloss over what really matters: their policies.
We understand that people do have a knee-jerk reaction to name-calling, but as working people, we’re angry that a modest bill, which held so much promise for working people like us, was shot down by those in power. We’re angry and hurt that our city government chose profit over people, labeling us “outsiders” and telling us to “stand down” when we object to this denial of workers’ human rights. The Council’s decision will in no uncertain terms sicken and kill working people and our families. And so we punched up because we can’t afford to respect leaders in business and government who continue to show us none.
The state of politics in this country reflects the level of frustration felt by poor and working people from all political walks. Politicians, financial elites, and their captive media disenfranchise us and belittle us for daring to speak the truth with emotion. Demanding decorum around political discourse is designed to prevent meaningful reform by sanitizing the voices of the oppressed. Most of us don’t have the money to run for office or the free time to organize against oppression. All we have is our voice. The working class is uniting; we will not be silent, we will speak from our lived experience, from every identity that we claim, while rejecting the vocabulary of the ruling class.
We say it’s “uncivil” to force a parent to choose between staying home with their sick kid and making rent, to destroy our planet in search of profit, to tell us what we’re allowed to do with our bodies. On the scale of civility, being rude to elected officials on social media should barely register, and yet the editorial board rushed to their defense. Asking us now to return to a pre-Trump era of false civility is like trying to put a lid on a boiling pot. The pot is already overflowing and heat is on high.
Respectability politics will not solve the problem of wealth inequality. The Democrats have followed these rules for decades and all it got us was Trump. We followed these rules for 18 months while the Council slow-walked this ordinance through two flu seasons, all the while getting chummy with the Chamber of Commerce and the CEOs of Maine’s largest corporations who opposed it. We have been civil while the news media gave preferential treatment to billionaires and refused to even publish Southern Maine DSA’s involvement as a strategic partner in the Keep Portland Healthy coalition.
The BDN’s editorial asks us to make a choice, “will we push back against the slide into gutter politics, or will we be part of it?” Our response recalls a famous quote by American socialist Eugene V. Debs who was sent to prison for speaking out against American imperialism: “while there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” We in the DSA can now add that “while there’s a gutter, we will fight from it.”
If you’re angry that your boss can force you to come in sick, that your landlord can jack your rent, that our schools are underfunded, or that billionaires like Bezos and Zuckerberg make more in a day than most make in a lifetime, join us in the DSA. We fight from the working class, with the working class, and for the working class, because we’re angry too. We’re not concerned about being rude, and we refuse to apologize to our oppressors.