Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How Politics Gets a Bad Name

I had the misfortune to attend the general membership meeting of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club last night. I had gone because of a contentious issue on the agenda: whether the club should hold a "special meeting" in December to vote on an early endorsement in the California State Senate race.

A little background first. Two queer progressive Democrats are running in the June 2008 primary: Carole Migden, who currently holds the seat, and Mark Leno, a current State Assemblymember who will term out in 2009. When Leno announced that he was running, I thought, "Wow! How exciting! We actually have enough progressive queer politicians coming up through the ranks that we'll get to choose between two strong candidates." Democracy and progress in action.

Not everyone felt the same way. In fact, many Midgen supporters were absolutely outraged; the overriding sentiment was, "How dare he!" As though the seat had her name engraved on it, and this upstart was trying to steal something she'd been bequeathed. Unfortunately, I'm not overstating it.

In the interests of full disclosure, I'm supporting Leno. I'd had some concerns about how he'd do when he first ran for Assembly -- in fact, I'd campaigned for his opponent -- but I have been consistently impressed with him from his first day in office. He has been an outstanding and effective leader on progressive issues, and I believe he'll continue to do great work.

But that's not the point of this post.

Without getting into the minutiae, the effect of the issue before the Milk Club last night would be to stack the membership in Midgen's favor for the endorsement vote while deliberately disenfranchising Leno supporters. For more details on the utter chaos of the meeting, there's a fantastic article on Beyond Chron.

This vote wasn't about debate or democracy -- it was about winning at all costs. And it turned my stomach. The level of bullying and hypocrisy in the room was unbelievable. I heard one person accuse Leno of "ripping the club apart," even though it was Midgen supporters trying to shut down debate and steamroll the membership.

Is this what queer politics is about now? We've tasted enough power that we use our gains to be assholes to each other? Don't we have better -- and infinitely more important -- things to do with our limited energy and resources than rip each other to shreds?

It occurred to me that their behavior was very much like the current Republican regime: cherry-pick the rules you like, change the ones that don't suit your needs, shout down dissenting opinions, give lip service to the power of the people (but lip service only), assign malevolent motives to anyone who disagrees with you, and defame the loyalty of anyone who dares question the process through which you're exercising power.

I'm sure they won't like the analogy. But I'll stop comparing them to Republicans when they stop acting like them.

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