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Marching, Civil Disobedience, and Looting are All Different Things

We should make an effort to differentiate between marching, civil disobedience, and looting. They are different things, in the same way that admirable policing and excessive force are different things. After all, our arguments are only as strong as our ability to distinguish and analyze facts, instead of lumping generalizations together. To complain about marching, civil disobedience (i.e., blocking traffic) and looting all in one breath is imprecise.

Most would agree that peacefully marching in designated areas is appropriate and sometimes effective, because no one is breaking the law and sometimes people in power listen to marchers. Most would agree that looting is inappropriate because it is breaking the law, specifically committing an intentional tort or crime against another individual, and nobody listens to looters (because they are not asking for anything, and they have no credibility regarding laws).

Non-violent civil disobedience is a bit more controversial. It usually involves breaking the law or at least societal rules. Examples include 1) blocking traffic, 2) placing yourself where authorities say you should not be, 3) boycotting segregated busses, 4) sitting-in in a segregated restaurant. However, civil disobedience does not involve an intentional tort or crime against an individual. Civil disobedience does involve inconveniencing others. A current complaint I hear about protesters blocking streets is that it inconveniences white and black people alike. The inconveniences are often frustrating. Sometimes, they have serious consequences. A black or white person stuck in traffic on a blocked road could be late to work and get fired. An emergency responder might be delayed from responding to a black or white person’s medical emergencies. These consequences are real. They are also unintentional. But people bring up these consequences and say, “see, your civil disobedience is not helping. You’re hurting your own people and your own cause.” This sentiment ignores the fact that the very reason people are protesting right now is because of widespread, deeply felt injustices that result in systematic oppression and an epidemic of deaths in black communities.

Even if you don’t think racism is a problem, enough people do that they will stand on the freeway and risk arrest, tear gas, and death themselves to tell others that it is a problem, so maybe we should listen. During the Montgomery bus boycott, which went on for months, many black people complained, Many lost jobs. Many were harassed on the streets as they walked. Many yelled at their leaders and said they should quit. When protesters staged sit-ins at segregated restaurants, it was all kinds of inconvenient to black and white people. It increased racial tensions a lot. People got hurt and died. However, large groups of people decided then that it was important to interrupt the day-to-day lives of white and black people in an inconvenient way to call attention to the enormous problem of racism that is largely ignored by those who don’t suffer its consequences.

Though looting has never produced any societal changes, civil disobedience has produced just about ALL of the societal change for people who are in positions of low power. To say that protestors should not march in or block the streets because a large number of them ARE experiencing oppression, injury, and death, just because a few people MIGHT indirectly suffer unintended consequences really ignores the legitimate concerns of the oppressed.

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Why it doesn’t bother me that Hillary rolls in dough like a boss.

Bernie Sanders himself, and Bernie Sanders’ fans get very worked up about the amount of money in politics. As a result, his campaign is focused on big-money-related issues: overturning Citizens United, limiting the power of Wall St/big banks, universal healthcare (to eliminate profits from insurers/pharma companies), and millionaires and billionaires in general. What follows as the biggest liberal criticism about Hillary is that her well-funded campaign has received contributions from some of these entities (big banks) that Bernie rails against. She has even received hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal speaking fees from some of these companies. Bernie fans are appalled about that money, and then are appalled at the fact that I and other liberals are not similarly appalled. I know many of my FB friends are very passionate about Bernie (you know who you are), and I don’t mean to pick a fight. I would just like to explain why I am NOT appalled that Hillary Clinton gets so much cheddar and why the charts and infographs about how much money she gets are not persuasive to me (or to many other Hillary supporters).
Look, I agree that the amount of money spent in politics for campaigns to get elected, and for lobbying once politicians are elected is excessive, a waste, and a big problem, but I do not think it is the biggest or most consequential problem in politics. I also do not think money in politics is the single root of all the problems in our democracy. I don’t tend to believe that any one factor is a single root of problems in a complex system. Money and power are often quite intertwined, and it is unlikely that money will ever be completely extricated from political power or democracy. And though money itself is powerful, but it is not supremely powerful. It has its limits, just like other forms of power.

As an example of the limits of the power of money, in 2012, the Koch brothers spent hundreds of millions of dollars to elect far-right politicians in races across the country. Though they had some success, they certainly weren’t able to buy the election across the board. They failed so hard at taking down their biggest target, Barack Obama. All the money of these right-wing Super PACs funded by Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelstein, the RNC, and other favorite bogeymen of Democratic fundraisers couldn’t buy the election. As another example, Jeb Bush was by far the best-funded Republican primary candidate this year, and has spent over $100 million on ads to win the primary. He has been drowned out by at least four other candidates with less political spending money because they have some kind of appeal to Republican voters that he does not.
Money in politics does cause problems, but those problems can be overcome by other factors, such as grassroots activism, media coverage, a large volunteer force, a well-organized campaign that appeals to individual voters, and the spread of information on the internet and from person to person. The best example of that phenomenon—of other power factors overcoming money—is Bernie Sanders’ campaign itself. Look at all the people moved by his ideas and the grassroots spread of that information. As much as money has increased as a source of political power, so has social media technology and the internet in general. A very similar example is Donald Trump’s campaign. Though he is individually very rich, his actual campaign spending is minimal in comparison to Jeb Bush’s.

I think that for people who regularly deal in plenty of power and/or money, there is a limit to how much large campaign contributions can influence them. That is, I don’t think they are “bribed” or “owned” or “bought” in proportion to how many dollars they receive. For us ordinary citizens, if Goldman Sachs paid us $600,000 out of the blue for speaking to them, we might feel quite obligated to do whatever they wanted at any time, especially if we lived paycheck to paycheck prior to that fortuitous event. However, someone like Hillary, or Obama, hasn’t had to worry about money in a while, and actually will never have to in the future. Further, $600,000, in comparison to the $1 Billion in total contributions modern presidential campaigns raise and spend, isn’t enough for a company or industry to buy whatever influence they want on a single candidate. Many organizations with competing interests donate to the same candidates; just as insurance companies and banks donate money to Hillary, Obama, and every other candidate, so too do teachers unions, factory worker unions, and environmental groups. If an oil company contributes $1M and an environmental group contributes $200,000 to the same candidate, does that candidate ensure that the oil company receives five times more favor when that candidate is in power? I submit that it is impossible for a single politician in any position to quantify and then dole out favors in proportion to all the hundreds or thousands of interest groups that he or she has received money from. When you have hundreds of slightly varying interests competing for your attention as a politician, I think you have to weigh things other than money—such as the overall impact of a given policy on all your various constituents–and make judgments as best you can.

A common complaint of Bernie’s camp is that “BIG” money interests spend tons of money on lobbying and therefore control our political process. These days, it’s “Big Pharma,” “Big Health Insurance,” “Big Banks,” and “Big Oil.” (In the old days, it used to be “Big Steel,” and “Big Rail.” Money only keeps you in power so long).I wholeheartedly agree that big companies in these industries do many shitty things that affect society and individuals badly. When those companies do things that hurt us, they should be reined in and heavily regulated. Like when the pharmaceutical and health insurance industry drive up healthcare costs, something like the Affordable Care Act should cap their excesses. When the banking industry causes harm to individual families and our economic system, something like the Dodd-Frank act should move in to protect consumers. When the fossil fuel industry causes harm to the environment such that our whole planet is in jeopardy, they should be left on the sidelines to fade away as governments promote cleaner energy industries.
And speaking as a liberal, I still can’t say “I agree with everything Bernie say, but…” because I don’t agree with the drastic nature of changes he wants to implement. For example, I don’t think we should try to shift the country to single-payer health insurance in one fell swoop, eliminating the private insurance system and the entire healthcare industry setup all at once. I prefer changes to be targeted, precise, and incremental, Obamacare-style, not “throw away the whole thing and start over” revolution-style, because revolution-style changes tend to bring about unwanted side effects and casualties.

Obama implemented lots of meaningful change through his style of governing. As much money as these “Big” companies spent on lobbying congress and donating to Obama’s campaign, other concerns—the concerns of the people– drove Obama and Congress to implement new regulations in their industries. These Obama policies supremely pissed off pharma, health insurers, banks, and oil companies. These are policies that Hillary supports and wants to continue to improve.
So I don’t buy the line that Hillary is a “corporate puppet” or whatever. That’s too simplistic of a way to consider how presidents make decisions. Hillary has been one of the most powerful women in the country for a couple of decades now. She should be getting paid for speaking like the baller she is. She’s also the most qualified person to run for president ever, which is what you gotta do when you’re a lady trying to get a job only men have ever held (see, e.g., female NFL referees, coaches; all CEO positions ever). For this reason, it is not surprising that all major newspapers, members of Congress, and many highly effective liberal organizations (Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign) have all endorsed Hillary. It’s not because they are all similarly “paid” or “bought” by big bad corporations. I was not paid by any corporations to write this in support of Hillary. We’ve considered things other than money, as Hillary does.

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“It’s Tradition” is not a very good reason to do something

“Tradition” is the least persuasive rationale for continuing to do something. Tradition as a reason is weak because its purpose is basically 1) to remind you of something positive you associate with the past and 2) to free you from having to think of a new way to do something. It is easily trumped by other reasons. Now, if tradition is the reason you do something, and there are no other compelling reasons NOT to do that thing, tradition may stand uninterrupted for a long time and be harmless. For example, why do I put up a Christmas tree in my house and decorate it with ornaments every year? Because it is a tradition, and there are no more compelling reasons why I do not. It’s pretty, it reminds me of past Christmases which I also enjoyed, and I don’t have to think about what to decorate my house with. It is even an artificial tree, so it literally doesn’t impact anyone other than the people in my house. It’s a different story if we are talking about a Christmas tree put up by city hall. In that case, you may now have different compelling reasons other than tradition. For example, it excludes people from other religions, or it violates the Constitution. Those other reasons are more important than tradition.

Other traditions can and should be easily trumped. Traditionally, brides wear white and grooms wear black. If you are a bride and groom and you like that, and have no reason to change, then great. Tradition it is. Again, it’s pretty, it reminds you of other weddings, and you don’t have to think about it. But really, any reason is a good enough reason to buck that tradition. For example, what if the bride or groom just likes tan suits better than black tuxedos? Tan suit wins, and out the door tradition goes. There may be other even more compelling reasons to buck wedding traditions. Traditionally, a bride marries a groom. Fine if you are a woman that wants to marry a man. But what if you are a woman that doesn’t want to marry a man, but want to marry a woman? Then that reason is more important than tradition. The tradeoff is that you have to think about how and why you are doing things differently. What should we wear? Two dresses? Two different color dresses? A dress and a suit? Two suits? What color suit, and why? It might be hard to have to think of new ways, but for a woman who wants to marry a woman, it is far more preferable to think about new things to wear than to throw up her hands and just marry a man because that is an existing tradition.
Same thing for team names. Tradition is a fine enough reason for the Giants and Dodgers, because there are no other compelling reasons for those not to be the names. No need to change the name of the Dodgers every year. However, for the Washington Football team, the argument is “it’s tradition” vs. “it’s racist.” Guess what? “It’s racist” is a much more compelling reason than tradition.

Same thing for the Confederate Flag. “It’s tradition,” which can be similarly expressed as “it represents pride for Southern history” loses out to other far more compelling reasons, the main one being that most black people see it as a continuing endorsement of the side that fought to keep black people slaves. Because of its connotations, racists still use it as a code identifier to other racists, and black people often feel threatened by those who fly it. Tradition should lose so hard on this one.