Guardian Voices: On losing


I’m turning 43 today and feeling glad to be alive. I would love to be writing about the joy of raising children and the mysteries of the universe. But instead, today I’m thinking about last week’s elections, about losing and the nature of long-term struggle. I’m thinking about being born black in 1969, and how, in fact, our side has been losing my whole life. And while this sobering reality about the balance of forces in the nation could make a sane person completely despondent, today I’m considering it a challenge to radically rethink the way we progressives try to change the world. 

The truth is that despite historic victories and truly incredible grassroots organizing over the last several decades, we’ve been getting our asses kicked for a long, long time. Since the right and the state got together to crush people’s movements of the 1960s. Since the Republicans built this rightwing coalition, began pushing wedge politics, winning the hearts and minds of white working people, and winning elections all over the country. And since capitalism shifted gears in the 1970s – we call it neoliberalism now -- and the war on poverty was pushed aside to make way for the war on poor people specifically and working people generally. Since then, our cities have lost good jobs, union members, safety net services, and in San Francisco, more than half of the entire black population.

Thanks to Fox News, billionaire Republicans, and fragmentation on the left, conservative ideas about government, about individual vs. institutional responsibility, and about the supposed virtues of free markets have taken a powerful hold over the thinking of most Americans. One result: Last week in Wisconsin, despite the truly historic mobilization against the right’s Scott Walker, labor and social justice forces lost a big one. And here in San Francisco, in the heart of the “left coast,” progressives lost control of the Democratic Party to that special brand of “moderate” big-business Democrats who are socially liberal but have been making me embarrassed to be a registered Democrat since – well, since Bill Clinton was in the White House.

Clinton’s “ending welfare as we know it” third-way politics made it ok to talk about ending poverty while at the same time helping people get rich at the expense of poor people all over the world. Gavin Newsom was our local version – more socially liberal, and therefore successfully confusing to a lot of people, but he was nonetheless made of the same cloth.

Are you ready for the good news? Well, not quite yet. I didn’t mention the economic crisis.

If this were a boxing match, I don’t think the referees would have trouble judging this one. The current economic crisis was indeed once a crisis for capitalists -- some financial institutions were forced to close shop, other lost billions and Wall Street seemed for a while to be in complete disarray. At one point, one third of Americans supported the Occupy movement and thought socialism was something to consider.

But even taking the ongoing Eurozone crisis into account, the US corporate elites in 2012 are more like a dazed prize fighter momentarily wobbly on his feet than a boxer who’s down for the count. Now, four years after the financial crash, the crisis is primarily a crisis for the rest of us, and our suffering is real. Even the middle class has taken serious punches, and our communities are badly bruised.

Good political spin will not change these real conditions. And the problem is not that organizers and activists, here in the Bay and around the country, aren’t brave and brilliant and working just remarkably hard. And even creating new forms of activism and alliances for the 21st century. But we have to think differently about how we do politics.

Most fundamentally, after so many years of losing in one way or another, too many social justice activists have lost hope of ever winning a truly more just society. Too many of us have settled for short-term gains, defensive fights, and building organizational power.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m deeply committed to local organizing that builds leadership and political power and win’s concrete improvements in people’s lives. But we will certainly never see the society we hold in our dreams without a bold, audacious belief that we can in fact win and govern our city, our state, and the entire country. Like the right – which was, objectively speaking, once weak and playing defense -- progressive forces have to share a common belief that we too can build a majority, that we can govern the entire country based on values of racial justice, equity, sustainability and the collective good.  There’s a big difference between losing and feeling, en masse, like losers.

There is so much already in motion to build upon, so much potential to seize the opportunities that this historic moment provides. Inspired by Arab Spring, we too can be bold and audacious in our visions of what's possible. After we rally against what's wrong, let's make plans for how we are really going to solve the crises of the 21st century and make the world a better place. Local political battles are essential opportunities to build new leadership (especially in communities of color), to change everyday people's consciousness, and defend the ground we've already won. Across the nation, more organizations should take lessons from efforts like the National Domestic Workers Alliance, San Francisco Rising, CA Calls, and the national Unity Alliance that are breaking the fragmentation of progressive forces, moving beyond organizational ego, and consolidating people power. But above all, we have to let go of the idea that it's someone else's role to run the world or that having power is just for self-serving politicians. Unafraid of power and determined to slug it out, let's make my next forty years about how we turned it around, had the Right on the run, built a movement and a society that we are proud to leave our children.

We are not down for the count. We are still in the ring swinging. Our opponent is powerful, and we’re already weak from a long fight, but we have the capacity to regroup, take advantage of our opponent’s weaknesses and make the most of our strengths, plot a new offensive strategy, and win -- and win decisively. Losing is part of political struggle, it’s part of history, but there are more rounds to go. And what’s even better, unlike boxing, in the real world of building a movement for social justice, we engage in the struggle together. What happens next is up for grabs, and history is ours to make.

N'Tanya Lee was formerly the director of Coleman Advocates and one of the founding members of San Francisco Rising. She's a veteran organizer with racial justice and LGBT and youth movement struggles in New York City, Michigan and the Bay. She now works on national movement building projects, advises local social justice leaders and is raising a son with her wife in Southeastern San Francisco.


Insightful and inspiring! Thanks, N'Tanya.

Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 11:37 am

I stumbled here a little while back and I seriously
cannot get enough! Please keep writing!

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Posted by essential oil blends on Jul. 09, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

It is never one's opponents' fault when one is unable to organize to beat them and one loses.

Now, who failed to organize to contest corporate power over the past few decades, are any of them still paid to organize to contest corporate power, are any of them trying anything different to contest corporate power?

For those who are still getting paid to do the same failed organizing, then why are they still getting paid to organize to not contest corporate power?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 11:44 am

I'm not sure why suppressing free speech is a core SFBG value.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 12:37 pm
Posted by marke on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

render the two posts that you suppressed and censored as being invalid.

Or should the policy be amended to state that no criticism of a SFBG article writer is ever allowed?

You're on thin ice here if you want credibility.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

Those comments were racist and sexist personal attacks that had little to do with the substance of N'Tanya's post. If you want credibility -- and for your posts to remain -- stop acting like Neanderthals.

Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

same type of comments made here about, say, a wealthy white male republican would be censored in the exact same way as those of an allegedly oppressed black woman?

With a straight face?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

time so are you effectively saying that there's a double standard here?

That being a rich white male makes you a legitimate target but being a poor black female does not?

You know, that political correctness thing that liberals are so in love with?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

Steven occasionally becomes bug-eyed with rage and deletes scores of comments but it's rare. Caitlin is the thinnest-skinned of the bunch depending on the time of the month. Marke handles criticism pretty well and generally writes fun, cool things which don't get much criticism anyway. And Tim never deletes comments. Say what you will about Tim but he's free speech absolutist here and I think that's a nice thing about him.

But when it comes to "guest" writers they're pretty protective. My guess is that most of these "guests" write expecting their views to be echoed back to them and became pretty shaken when they're not. Remember - most progressives live in an echo chamber where everything they say and think is said and thought by everyone else in their immediate orbit. So stepping into the lion's den of The Guardian comment section can be a bit, well, frightening.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

Actually, I didn't delete those comments (and I've never deleted "scores" of comments), Tim did, a decision I wholeheartedly agreed with. It wasn't because they were criticizing a black woman, it was because she was being criticized in a ridiculously regressive way simply for being a black woman, which is not acceptable. The handful of you nasty trolls who hate everything we do -- yet still spend hours a day on this site, for reasons that baffle me -- sully and derail the dialogue in a way that many more thoughtful people rightfully criticize. You can be your hateful conservative selves, but please, try to confine your arguments to the subject matter of the posts or we will only get more aggressive in deleting your comments or banning specific commenters.

Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

Well clearly neither I nor anyone else can see deleted comments so I don't know what they said. But there's plenty of room for criticism of someone's views without attacking them personally - so I don't think that's an unfair policy at all. It's your site - you and the other writers can do with it what they want.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

"But there's plenty of room for criticism of someone's views without attacking them personally..."

Yet the other day you called one of the writers "skank" and the next morning that comment was gone. So you say one thing and do the opposite.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

To whom are you addressing your comment? No comment is attributable to anyone or any moniker here because anyone can post under anything. So your accusation is false and without any evidence to back it up. And for the record - I posted the comment to which I'm replying here. I am "Guest." I am also Marcos, Troll, Troll II, Troll XV, Anonymous, Patrick Monk RN, h. Brownnose, Patty Hearst, Tania and many others.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

hung, drawn and quartered.

Political correctness writ large and nasty.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

mouthpiece and no one got all up in my grill.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

straight rich white male republicans and that doesn't seem to both you at all.

The issue here isn't your posting guidelines - it's the hypocritical and biased way they are applied.

If a black woman posts here, you get scared shitless about allowing any criticism that you wouldn't bat an eyelid at if it were directed at GeorgeBush.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

the fact you all spend more time on comments and less on news reporting is why your paper got sold to the corporation, and now you're hired help on their plantation.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

powerful members. She's mouthing the same gobbledygook we've been hearing for over 40 years now. Nothing to see here folks.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

"Nothing to see here folks."

THEN LEAVE, Troll! Why do you live on a site that you can't stand? A sane and well-adjusted person would live on a site that they like.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

week, feeble minds believe this drivel.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

Seven days is a week, weak is what your mind is, troll guardian of the Guardian.

Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

I love Marke's party pieces - because I'm a big partier. I'll never leave - Trolls never do. We're immortal.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

I am amending our comments policy for the politics blog, to wit: I am no longer allowing assholism.

You can disagree with policies all you want. But -- on my own initiative and my own judgment -- I'm going to eliminate asshole comments that make these discussions personal. Be civil; we all know that vicious attacks and general assholism drive out intelligent discussion. I won't stand for it any more.


Posted by tim on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

so long as it is directed at your political enemies, and yet are all over the same thing when it just happens to be a black woman?


Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

I have been posting on The Internet as long as there has been an Internet and I agree that moderation of blatant stupidity is warranted. Nuke Ad Homenim attacks please.

Posted by Troll666 on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 11:54 pm

Censorship should be used very rarely. Only for vile, depraved speech. Or anything that would get SFBG sued.

The rest can stand - I'm a big boy and can handle free speech. It's censorship I hate more.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 16, 2012 @ 8:32 am
Posted by marcos on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

,,,we'll never take control again without being aggressive, assertive and sometimes just downright as brazen and unapologeticly as nasty as those we fight. Yes,,,no assholism here but just as mean and ornery when our opposition needs taken to task. Forget being nice,,,it won't get you anywhere with the wingnuts. Use diplomacy only with the civilised.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

I put up with it for too long. My default assumption is to allow vigorous debate. But a few bad actors are ruining it for everyone. Sorry, folks; you can have policy disagreements but not nastiness. If you don't like it, don't post.

Posted by tim on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

And I should add, it's about time. The trolls have enjoyed a free-for-all on this site for far too long. The change in policy is refreshing and long overdue.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

"trollism" as an excuse to avoid critical commentary on his most misguided views.

That's what he wants you to say.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

Hateful, personal attacks are hardly critical commentary. So Tim is finally cracking down on your racist, sexist cant. Bout time, I say.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

avoid all "nasty" comments about republicans?

If so, my journey has been worthwhile. Neutrality and objectivity is all a reasonable reader can ask for.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

"So, Tim, can we take that statement as your commitment to avoid all "nasty" comments about republicans?"

Thick. And that's not a personal attack. It's an accurate description of someone who is determined to keep baiting and trolling. Yes, deliberately keep missing the point the way trolls do. Tim is free to say whatever he wants about Republicans or anybody else because it's "his" website. He's made it quite clear what he was talking about to those with brainwave activity: the nasty comments from the trolls (including the person I'm responding to). That's what this is about. It is not about the BG's content. It's about the comments and the trolls. I suppose he could draw you a picture if he has time to make it clearer for you if you still don't understand. But if one has a problem with "nasty" comments about Republicans, then I suggest that one go elsewhere. Go to a site that loves Republicans. You shouldn't have trouble finding one. Isn't that where most of you trolls come from anyway?

"Neutrality and objectivity is all a reasonable reader can ask for."

Pardon me, but what exactly would you know about any of that?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

Share and care. Not tell each other where to go but share out views in a manner befitting decency and respect for one another.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

Oh give it rest. Man, that's rich coming from you.

So you're flipping out again and doing a 180 again with your smug and parental "Let's try and be harmonious and productive" heavy-cling syrup. (Tim and Steven haven't named you moderator, so you're out of line....again).

Lucretia Snapples/Troll II, you did that heavy-cling syrupy routine last year but it didn't last long. You tired of it pretty quickly---it was pretty nauseating---and then you went right back to your usual nasty self.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 9:52 pm

As has been noted - anyone can post under any moniker at any time on this site. Drawing parallels between ghosts is difficult for even the best medium and you're not even close.

On a side note - I posted the reply to which I'm replying now. I do that sometimes - just to stir things up. I am Guest, Lucretia Snapples, Troll, Troll II, Marcos, h. Brownnose, Anonymous and more. I am you, me and everyone else.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 10:21 pm


And that does explain the insane behavior of the trolls.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 11:02 pm

Go take your psych meds.

Posted by Troll666 on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 11:56 pm

I don't really know what happened here...I didn't find the article to be helpful in spirit but it didn't have any of the material representations of fact that many other articles here do. But regarding the comments I found a personal attack that you forgot to delete:

Weak minds
Seven days is a week, weak is what your mind is, troll guardian of the Guardian.

Posted by steven on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

I think the change in policy is great though. Now I can point out inconsistencies without having to worry that people will respond by calling me 'lying filth' or whatever out of frustration.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 5:30 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

you are a black woman, preferably gay or disabled.

The rest of us are being discriminated against.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

Do you have trouble finding a job because employers don't like to hire white males? Are you being discriminated against by landlords when hunting for an apartment in SF? Are you being forced out of San Francisco due to gentrification and the (primarily white ) techies driving up your rents? Are you being racially profiled as you drive or walk down the street as a matter of course? Do you have a hard time getting justice from the criminal "justice" system? Are your sons being murdered by cops (a la Oscar Grant and too many to name)? If so, you have my sympathy. Tell me who you are so I can champion your cause.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

The problem with the tone of the OP, and her apologists, is that they ignore that because they are too vested in victimhood. There are far poor poor, unemployed, underhoused whites than any other race. But they can't complain here because they're "white", while this chick gets a stage ehre because she dressed up just the right stereotypes to play a card.

This "guest" piece shows everything that is wrong with liberalism - political correctness, card-playing, stereotyping and victimhood. You're being manipulated and you don't even know it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 6:43 am


2 problems here:

I think Ntanya is great and agree with her ideologically etc.

I always looked forwards to wednesdays when the guardian came out...

But why is the guardian comment section even more pathetic than sfgate s? The sad fact is that all these people are responding to an unfortunate reality that over the past number of years the guardian has shifted from something that gives us information, into a publication that just says, *hey, im tim redmond, here is my oppinion and so you should agree with me.*

This article really says nothing. Seriously. I mean the last paragraph is so vague / empty of achievements examples that it makes me want to give up. Steven, it is not inspiring. What have the organizations named above (in the second to last paragraph) actually achieved? Honestly. A change in organizational structure? The ones im familiar with are still young and so im not saying they are doomed, but its kind of a bummer to use these as the best examples that we have.

I hate loosing too. And Im not trying to sound like Marc Solomon (marcos) because he is nuts... but lets get real. Give us some information to take away from this... not saying that history is in our favor... but giving some examples of when it has been... using examples of orgs that have achieved tangible things... or just admiting that we havent figured it out yet... not a vague declaration for social justice... but some real shit.

honestly. the sad fact is that san francisco is no longer a place where many people are hearing you in this echo chamber. I agree with the sentiment of this article but its the same tired way of saying it, and I think that this failure to adapt is a significant part of why we are loosing.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 13, 2012 @ 9:40 pm

What you've got here are careerists who have no inclination to win, have lost the killer instinct, and are just marking time, win or lose, it is all time that they clock in and get paid for.

We, the 99%, have been losing pretty steadily for 30 years now. Either we go back and root out the defects that led to 30 years of failure, or we will continue to fail.

The rate of loss correlates directly to the degree of cooption of unions by the Democrat Party and the rise of the nonprofiteer class financed by government and the grant making foundations of the 1%.

There is no romance in the struggle, it is something to be finished not permanent, but all this piece does is romanticize it.

I fucking swear, the nonprofiteer poverty activists would sell out the entire east side if the City would just put up a gigantic bronze statue of Eric Quezada in Potrero del Sol Park, as their own interpersonal relationships, feelings and self esteem are more important than substantive policy wins.

The moment that any nonprofiteer or union worker, the professional wing of the progressive movement, (progressifessionals?) is fired based on failing to meet elements of their job description, as in achieving a policy win, I'll shut up. That is not going to happen precisely because there is no imperative to win.

Between the progressifessionals and progocialites, we're fucked.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 5:56 am

If a middle-aged white guy had written it, SFBG would not have published it. And that is even sadder.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 6:45 am

The Bay Guardian has always championed the poor, whether black or white, male or female. But somehow y'all get a burr up your ass if the person speaking out just happens to be black or hispanic. Then you're quick to opine that that's somehow "playing the race card." In other words, if the writer is a person of color, they're not even supposed to open their mouth because you don't want people of color to have a voice. I've seen this time and again. The white guys (mostly trolls, but also some progs) are quick to jump down a black or brown person's throat simply BECAUSE THEY ARE BLACK, brown or whatever. That's your so-called "race card."

Posted by Guest on Jun. 14, 2012 @ 5:10 pm