photo: askaleftist

ABOUT

WHAT'S A LEFTIST?

Wikipedia can fill you in on the history of the terms Left/Right, but it doesn't answer your question.

In American politics, the Left is the Democratic Party and the Right is the Republican Party. Saying 'Democrat Party' or a variation of it is an intentional slight against the Democratic Party - while it may be tongue-in-cheek, it is used to discredit progressive views from the get-go. It's also used to group everyone who isn't a Republican.

Leftists aren't Democrats.

Leftists aren't liberals. We are left of liberal.

Leftists are often seen as wet blankets. Everything is fine and dandy until a Leftist raises its hand and says, "Hey, we're not doing police brutality anymore." Keeping us in check, or 'owning the libs' on the issues we raise is a way of maintaining the status quo even if that puts someone (or everyone) at a disadvantage. The problem is there are a lot of problems, and Leftists are raising their hands high.

Neoliberal is not an apt name for a Leftist. If you think neoliberal means leftist/socialist/radical-left, then the constant messaging used to disparage all things not-Republican has worked - we must all be one in the same. Liberalism is the classic name for free-market Capitalism. Republicans are liberals. Democrats are liberals. If you want to get down to brass-tacks, Trumpist Republicans are neoliberals, even if they don't know it. Congratulations if you learned something today, and congratulations if you feel kind of icky.

'Progressive' is an apt name for a Leftist. Everything should be fine and dandy, but when it's not we expect social or political values to progress to the point of being fine and dandy. In fact, in this very moment, things are not okay and we're pushing for progress.

So why 'Ask a Leftist' instead of 'Ask a Progressive'? Because 'Leftist' lumps all the -ists together: Socialist, Communist, Marxist, Maoist, which helps the Right portray us as radicals and associate our ideas with something dangerous. Socialist, Communist, and Marxist phrasing is regularly used to conjure images of Maoist China, the USSR, and Nazi Germany, or: brutal fascist dictatorships. Leftists are anti-fascist and are vocal about it wherever it pops up. Trump fits the category of an elite fascist who's hijacked a major political party using populist rhetoric. While some Leftists may well be socialist, communist, Marxist, anti-capitalist, or anarchist, these terms are neither interchangeable nor are they synonymous with fascism. So, on this site Leftist is a buffer term that separates progressive action from moderate or centrist inaction.

Leftist ideals are inclusive rather than exclusive, and maligning those ideals through the fear of radicalism makes them toxic to the public. Inclusiveness is not toxic. It also isn't radical.

WHAT DO LEFTISTS BELIEVE?

Like I mentioned above, Leftists believe in Inclusion rather than Exclusion. This means marginalized groups deserve representation, respect, and consideration through public policy. It also means is that me, you, and everyone we know all have the same fundamental human rights. You probably already believe that (most people do), but political discourse does a great job separating us along individual differences.

Individualism is great. That's what makes you, You (as corny as that sounds). But our individualism is often exploited so that we actively work against a common good. It's called Us v. Them. You've heard of it. That's a whole topic unto itself.

That is Leftism in the abstract. Maybe you want to know about specific policies and beliefs, and that's why we made this website. But here's a quick rundown:

  • Racial Justice - Black, Brown, and Indigenous People are the experts on their experience, and they are telling the world it's time for change. It's time to listen.

  • Gender and Sexuality - The only person in the world you have to love is yourself, and no one can tell you who that is. When you love someone else (or no one, or everyone) that's a good thing.

  • Immigration - Non-residents who enter the USA are subject to American laws, as such they deserve equal Constitutional protection. Immigrants are not criminals.

  • Women's Rights -Equity pay; reproductive rights; harassment-free employment; protection for abused women...you know what? We're just going to leave this here. And this over here.

  • Climate Change - The most pressing issue on human survival is not up for debate. Scientists know it. Oil companies know it. Politicians know it.

  • Worker's Rights - The right to form unions, the right to a living wage, the right to social programs that protect citizens like healthcare, education, and a welfare system for vulnerable citizens.

Traditionally, the Leftist view is that worker's rights lift up all people and naturally solve all the other problems labeled identity politics. Perhaps in any other country, in any other timeline or alternate reality this would ring true, but America is one-of-a-kind with a cultural history steeped in racism, sexism, and exclusion. We cannot be so naive to think that these issues would disappear without direct action against them.

This also isn't an exhaustive list or a comprehensive explanation of Leftist views. Fun Fact: Leftists disagree with each other a lot. So, if you are a Leftist and you're reading something you disagree with, that's cool! Send us an email and share your Leftist interpretation. We might change our minds.

If you're not a Leftist and you're still here, that's cool, too! Ask us a question! Read some answers! Be good to people!

WHO ARE THE LEFTISTS?

Contributors to askaleftist.com are activists, experts, politicians, and writers whose opinions are trusted to be thoughtful, informed, and pertinent to the topics on which they write. Their writings are solicited directly by the owners of this site.

Questions featured on askaleftist.com come from you, the reader! Sometimes we can answer them directly based on our own opinions or beliefs, and sometimes we feel it's best to listen to someone who knows the topic better than we do. We can't reply to all questions, and we might not choose your specific question because someone else may have asked sooner, so check out the FAQs to see if we've already answered!

AREN'T YOU REALLY JUST [INSERT CONSPIRACY THEORY]?

Nope! We're well-versed in conspiracy theories, and while skepticism is important for meaningful conversation, political conspiracy theories rely on paranoia, spite, and deliberate disinformation to sow distrust among a nation's citizens.

In spite of what you may have heard, there is no secret group controlling us. George Soros does not write checks to Antifa, Bill Gates does not want to implant tracking chips into Americans, and Democrats are not Satan-worshiping pedophiles who drink their victims' blood. I know what you're thinking: That's exactly what a Soros-funded Satan-worshiper would say.

I invite you to exercise your natural skepticism here by reading a few paragraphs and entertaining another perspective.

Bernard Bailyn, an American historian, wrote The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution in 1967. Bailyn read and transcribed American pamphlets written between 1760 and 1776 - in essence, a discovery of the colonists' shared fears, convictions, and skepticism about the growing call for independence. The Loyalist Reverend John Boucher's sermon, On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Nonresistance, is representative of the skeptic's perspective. An excerpt:

To argue that all men were equal would not make them so; it would only help justify and perpetuate that spirit of defiance, that refusal to concede to authority whose ultimate resolution could only be anarchy, demagoguery, and tyranny. If such ideas prevailed year after year, generation after generation, the "latent spark" in the breasts of even the most humble of men would be kindled again and again by entrepreneurs of discontent who would remind the people "of the elevated rank they hold in the universe, as men; that all men by nature are equal; that kings are but the ministers of the people; that their authority is delegated to them by the people for their good, and they have a right to resume it, and place it in other hands, or keep it themselves, whenever it is made use of to oppress them." Seeds of sedition would thus constantly be sown, and harvests of licentiousness reaped.

Boucher's sermon calls not for revolution but for obedience to the king. He calls the American Experiment an exercise in anarchy and tyranny. Boucher, an educated member of the clergy, held a position of authority in his community. He used that position of power to lobby for the King of England, attempting to persuade colonists to remain subject to British rule. For his loyalty, Boucher was given a British pension. Was Boucher a true skeptic or a pawn for the King?

In Boucher's sermon, the "entrepreneurs of discontent" were the colonists seeking liberty. I ask you to consider who issues warnings about the "entrepreneurs of discontent" in modern politics. They are in positions of authority, either perceived or real - politicians, pundits, influencers. They speak on behalf of power, urging us to reject those calling for liberty. The anarchists they warn you about are grassroots organizations of real people - the most humble of men (and women) - demanding social and political change of those in power. They refuse to concede their bodies and their liberties to authority.

I ask if you want Americans to concede to authority. I ask if you stand behind a would-be king who uses the fear of "Law and Order" to impose passive obedience, if you are willing to let Trump or other Republicans demand of you what they demand of the Left - a willingness to be ruled without your liberty in tact.

Lastly, I ask you to be skeptical of the Language of Liberty. Liberty is used in Right-wing language to exploit its supporters, most notably through the 2nd Amendment. In very real terms, Republicans know they cannot convince Americans to give up their weapons, their sole means of defense against a tyrannical government. It would be blatant tyranny to use the military to impose domestic control, but the next best thing is to empower its citizens to turn on dissenters using the Language of Liberty. It is easier for citizens to turn on themselves when distrust is sown among them, when shadow figures concocting evil plots become more real than the tyranny taking place before us. When armed militias of private citizens travel to American cities to intimidate other private citizens for demanding liberty and justice, those in power have succeeded in ruling them all. Are you a true skeptic?

POLITICS IN PERSPECTIVE

ABOVE: PERCEIVED POLITICAL SPECTRUM

Image: askaleftist.com

The Left/Right narrative is clean and cleft: Red v Blue. Every four years, Americans turn out by the tens of millions to cast votes for essentially two parties. Call it the duopoly, call it an exercise in futility. We are told, and we believe, this is a matter of Us and Them. Which "side" can convince the mythical center that their interests will be best represented remains the quadrennial contest - it's why some people register as independents (one candidate must 'earn' their hard-won vote), it's why Republicans sometimes vote Democrat, it's why some Democrats vote Republican, it's why the falsehood of electing "The Lesser of Two Evils" persists. We are told that voters on the other end of the spectrum are beyond reaching - it's why we're told the olive branch of unity must be extended after a divisive presidency. It is why we are told not to reach too far - don't go to "extremes" in your policy expectations or else you will frighten the mythical center into voting for the other side. It's why so much emphasis is placed on the 'swing state.' Elections have drama, theatrics, carefully planned to ensure that their outcomes, Red or Blue, have emotional consequences and nothing more. When Joe Biden said that nothing much would change under his presidency, he wasn't kidding, and he wasn't out of touch. Biden is very much in touch, at least as much as Trump is. When Klaus Schwab praises you for the success of your economy, what he's really saying is, "Thank you for the money."

ABOVE: AMERICAN POLICY, OBSCURED AND BUFFERED

Image: askaleftist.com

We're not crazy when we say mainstream media perpetrates the cycles of crisis, scandal, and division that so often make up public discourse. And we're not naive enough to think that we live in a crisis-, scandal-, and division-free world. But we are sold an obfuscating narrative, and we are indeed sold this narrative. We pay for subscription services - satellite, cable, streaming media, websites - which collect demographic data, conduct focus groups and surveys, and interact with us via targeted advertisements and carefully curated content. Social media is unique in that we willingly provide platforms with extreme levels of intimate data - our contacts, our images, our browsing history, our faces, our messages, our movements - and we agree to let them sell that data so that we can, in turn, be sold a more tailored media narrative. Information is disseminated to us not from independent outlets, but from conglomerates with the intention of standardizing the narrative.

It is important to note that this media consolidation did not happen in a vacuum. It has a long, intertwined history with the expansion of Corporate rights under the 14th Amendment - essentially granting the Corporation the rights of an individual, including extensive 1st Amendment privileges. The Supreme Court ruling in The First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978) established the recognition of the Corporation's 1st Amendment rights specific to political contributions - but in the majority opinion, Justice Powell carved out a significant stance for the Corporation: "A commercial advertisement is constitutionally protected [...] because it furthers the societal interest in the'free flow of commercial information.'" That 'Free Flow' is only one-way: media flows information to us, the consumer. When companies are consolidated, when they merge, when they are bought outright, that flow becomes more concentrated, less diverse. The Corporation can, at once, run advertisements for candidates, run news stories for or against candidates, interview their preferred candidates, run stories that fit the interests of their preferred demographics (Left- or Right-leaning), sell user data for targeted advertising, and set pricing for its subscription services.

Corporate free-speech does nothing for consumers except sell us a version of reality that fits our demographic. The control of information 'Free Flow' has few limits. Poor families who can't afford internet or media access through a corporate provider simply don't get access to information, except perhaps local news stations (bought and controlled by large corporations) and public access (whose existence is in constant peril), and those on lower-tiered plans often have data caps. Cellphone service providers impose yet more limitations on information access: AT&T/Time Warner owns CNN and CBS, for example; Comcast owns Verizon, NBC, and Sky (Europe's largest media company).

Social media has enjoyed a position akin to benevolent overlord, providing relatively open communication channels in exchange for heaps of user data. It enjoys this position thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, enacted as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which absolves providers and users of interactive computer services of publisher liability. That is, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok cannot be held liable for things posted within those domains. And this is where things get tricky. We at Ask a Leftist find the collection and sale of user data grotesque, but the Republican push to repeal Section 230 is, it should be noted, an attempt to strip social media companies of the singular legislative component whose benefits are not enjoyed by the other major media corporations. The pursuit of information 'Free Flow' simply does not apply when the consumer makes contributions to that flow. The false cries of censorship against efforts by Twitter and Facebook to parse out false election claims in 2020 (however trustworthy or not the source may be) is, perversely, an effort to further isolate the consumer from the flow of information. In other words, the Corporate voice has made its stance: internet companies must act as publisher and be liable for their content, the people must be censored.

The Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act introduced in September 2020 was backed by Marsha Blackburn (R-TN - whose campaign contributors include DISH, AT&T, Comcast, and CenturyLink), Lindsey Graham (R-SC - whose campaign contributors include Comcast, News Corp, and the National Association of Broadcasters), and Roger Wicker (R-MISS - whose campaign contributors include the National Association of Broadcasters, Charter Communications, Comcast, DISH, and Telapex). It should be noted that this legislation seems to be homegrown within the Republican party, though it would be a boon to their corporate backers. Indeed, the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014, a bipartisan bill that originally intended to keep local broadcasting available to local audiences, was in fact a boon to the major media corporations backing the new provisions, which prohibited broadcast networks (local radio signal broadcasts) from entering into joint contracts with Corporate carriers (like Comcast) to split costs and secure local ad revenues, while Corporate carriers (like Comcast and DISH) could negotiate jointly to sell local advertising. In short, Comcast and DISH don't have to carry local television broadcasts if the local station can't afford it, and if the local stations don't get ad revenue, they can't afford it. So local advertising gets sold to Corporate carriers (like Comcast and DISH).

While advertising revenue is the focus of this bill, it's important to note that all media programming is advertisement. The stuff they put between the advertising - the reality shows, the game shows, the news - is literally filler, put in place to hold your attention to last you through the commercials. Breaking news, often not actually breaking, is broken up with talking head segments to offer Corporate-approved 'insight' or tailored 'opposing viewpoints' to neatly place you in the Us v. Them mindset, while at the same time being sold that the news being presented to you is the news you're supposed to be watching.

So, if you can be sold local advertising by an international media corporation, and if the international media corporation owns the news networks you watch, and uses your demographic data to curate its programming, and hires and fires the reporters and pundits of their own news networks, focuses its programming on divisive issues while crowding out local issues, systemic and ongoing issues, owns your cellphone network, offers you information bundles to bring you their services, at what point have you made a truly conscious decision, and at what point have you formed a truly unique, unbiased opinion on literally anything?


CORPORATISM; GLOBALISM; CAPITAL-IMPERIALISM:

The Corporation is a top-down structure, where the relative few command the livelihoods (and therefore the lives) of the many below who make up the workforce. This structure is so ingrained in us - basic economics courses focus on labor in terms of production as an expenditure to be controlled - that small businesses overwhelmingly adopt the Corporate model as opposed to union-run syndicates, cooperatives, or even stakeholder-centric models. This trio: Corporatism/Globalism/Capital-Imperialism is more or less the capitalist model as viewed through a wide-angle lens - top-down organizations that impose restrictions on their workers (with relative freedom - Amazon's constant surveillance and time-restricted restroom breaks being one example), amass wealth and property (to the betterment of a few), consolidate Corporate power and expand internationally to gain market share, and, with political backing through military means, exploit cheaper resources - labor, raw materials, means of production - outside of their geopolitical boundaries.

This is a Leninist perspective, to be sure, but it is accurate (and there's a reason people still read Lenin). Imperialism is the final stage of capitalism - preceded by Finance Capital (the consolidation of banks) - which has as a concurrent feature the oppression of the working class in the Corporation's homeland to maintain power. Globalization doesn't have to be exploitative, and businesses don't have to control their workers (the workers should, in fact, control their businesses), and the Corporation has no right to political or military support.

But political and military support are where we find ourselves, and the media narrative suits this. For anyone watching news coverage of the Summer 2020 protests happening across the country, the focus was invariably narrow: rioting and looting. The impetus for these protests - police brutality - is a universal concern. No one can watch the George Floyd footage without being outraged. But. We can be divided on the outcomes of those protests. Yes, police brutality is abhorrent, but they shouldn't be looting. Perhaps nowhere is the Buffer Zone better represented than by the looting narrative. We agree on police brutality, we're divided on looting, so the media focuses on the looting/rioting. The majority consensus became diluted and obscured, buffered by the negative aspects of social unrest. Anyone watching internet livestreams of the protests saw a completely different set of events.

The individuals streaming protests from within the protests exercised a level of journalistic bravery that no news corporation possesses. This can't be understated. The people - those directly injected into the protests - gave the world a first-hand view of protests, with walls of national guard troops and unidentified government officers squaring off in silence against walls of unarmed protesters, the most common refrain - other than protest chants - was the constant vocalization by protesters wishing the troops stationed against them would see them as the people they pledged to protect.

No news station covered this. Commentary and visuals were filtered by intermediaries, and the narrative time and again went back to the 'real' victims of social unrest: the businesses. Businesses looted, set on fire, boarded up - whose legal rights as people are limited in that they cannot exercise their rights on the street, but rather in the courtroom. The Corporation is no match for social unrest. In the name of Law and Order, the people were confronted by military action, paramilitaries, and heavily armed law enforcement officers in an effort to protect businesses that couldn't protect themselves.

Should we allow protesters free-run to loot and burn and riot? This is a false narrative. It presupposes criminal intent, it undermines the rights of protesters from the start. How did this narrative spiral out of control? From they shouldn't be looting to they shouldn't be blocking the streets to they shouldn't be out past curfew. In essence, the rights of the people degraded right away: the only way to protest peacefully is ultimately not to protest.

This is the same narrative around COVID-19. The right of the people to shop, to prop up businesses through patronage, precedes your right to public health and safety. The same law enforcement officers praised for publicly beating protesters have since been demonized for enforcing mask mandates and arresting business owners. Suddenly, it is the mark of a true patriot to defy curfews, to defy stay-at-home orders, to endanger the general public because when the economy is threatened it is a graver risk to society than its systemic issues of brutality and racism.

The same is true for climate change. Oil companies have long acknowledged - long confirmed - the effects of carbon emissions on the global climate. But major polluters have taken a side road through a concerted effort to offer something like alternative facts on climate change, as well as digging in on oil production by hedging bets against a reduction in fuel consumption by ramping up plastic production.

Healthcare, immigration, workers' rights, women's rights, trans-rights, and essentially all identity politics follow this very narrow path that is meant to divide us on specific issues rather than reaching consensus on the big picture. Should healthcare only be available to the wealthy? A resounding NO. Universal consensus. Does [insert demographic] deserve free healthcare or certain provisions for healthcare? Muddy waters, muddied further by constant disinformation (or abject ignorance) on the financial capabilities of the federal government.

In short, the Buffer Zone is where social divisiveness is born. It protects corporate interests by narrowing down our political ideologies to easily digestible bits. If you're on the Left, you believe [x], if you're on the Right, you believe [y]. When politicians emerge discussing [x] and [y], we immediately know who's getting our votes because we have been following the established discourse and our long-term needs/wants have been buffered by short-sightedness and constant repetition and ubiquity.

ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX push the same local news stories on broadcasters, an absurdity that has become a comic bit for Conan O'Brien, which loses its humor after you realize this is what information free-flow looks like, and this was the broadcast landscape prior to the STELA reauthorization in 2014. The landscape now is more bleak.

EQUITY:

What means are available to the general public if we want to have even the remotest chance of gaining traction against the huge, well-funded opposition of media, Corporate pervasiveness, and their divisive strategies? The answer is in the Union - a practical as well as ideological step - ideological in the sense that only when we agree to work together can anything be done; practical in the sense that the Union is, indeed, an effort for the working class to group together. One Big Union as proposed by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) fills the gap left by the near total destruction of American labor unions by offering a universal union for the working class - literally open to all workers across all sectors, with the only limitation being that you must be a worker, not an employer.

Every effort has been made to break up unions, taint their reputations as inevitably corrupt institutions, and prevent workplace organizing, and Americans remain divided on the idea of unity. Consider this in its most basic form: American workers have successfully been sold the idea that we can go the battle alone, on our own, and that grouping our collective interests together is bad. And should you think this is a done deal, corporations are still hard at work attempting to make unionizing nearly impossible for employees and enjoyed robust support from Trump during his presidency, while earning silence from Democratic presidential hopefuls in 2019.

The only plausible metric for a candidate's support of workers' rights is their position on unions - do the people have the right to unionize in order to gain equity in exchange for labor? That's it. There's no long-winded debate on trade deals and GDP and inflation or any of the economic polysyllables thrown at us to make us feel inadequate on the topic. Can we collectively demand a fair share for our labor? This is no radical notion.

DISSENT OF THE DISAFFECTED:

The inevitable breakdown of political and social discourse is a descent into desperation. Individuals take out their frustrations, their paranoia, their anger on society-at-large. Not surprisingly, the most violent are the ones where personal beliefs demand retribution - mass shootings, acts of terrorism - while systemic issues result in mass unrest. There is a certain equilibrium here - each are extreme responses to something unjust. After all, it is no small thing to assemble hundreds or thousands of protesters in support of a cause, that is an extreme response to a social issue - it commands attention. But neither is it a small thing for a lone-actor, an ideological extremist, to engage in violence against the public. If riots are the voice of the unheard, mass shootings and homemade bombs are a different language altogether - rageful and incoherent. How mass-murder is meant to advance an ideological belief remains unclear to those of us who don't speak that language. It is an act of desperation and helplessness. Riots are not that. Protests are not that.

Protests and riots are indeed the dissent of the disaffected - those whose rights are undermined by the State. The language used is evident and understandable to all: we are the people, we are fed up. It is meant to provoke attention to a cause, to clear a path for discourse.

Extremist violence is also the dissent of the disaffected, though framed selfishly: you are the problem, I am the solution. It is often a sweeping punitive rebuke of the general public or a specific population. It is, perversely, self-righteous vigilantism. We devote a portion of this website to the topic of hate - to extremist violence and hate-centric values, because when the Left and Right reach their extremes, the language used on both ends is virtually indistinguishable - fears of media, government, and corporations echo one another, but the divisiveness fostered within the buffer zone breeds the extreme reactions of the disaffected. White supremacy, separatist movements, and violent conspiracies pit the general population against itself, rather than focusing on the factors driving up inequalities of wealth, race, sex and gender. These ideologies see the other as the true enemy, which is entirely predictable considering the focus on otherness in public discourse. Pushing the issue of the other while focusing on its negative outcomes is a self-feeding news cycle. At best, it keeps us in our ideological spheres and alienates us, and at its worst it drives individuals to commit violence within their communities.

SEXY SOURCES

Who Owns the Media_2018 Data.xlsx
One-Big-Union (1).pdf
Trump Unions.pdf
Social Media and Hate.pdf