"We're 👏 Holding 👏 You 👏 Accountable"
On #ForceTheVote and what "holding a politician accountable" is.
I’ve noticed an unsettling trend in the discourse.
The trend goes like this: Person X, who considers themselves a left-wing activist (or more often, poster) criticizes a left-wing politician harshly, alleging that they have failed in their duty to represent the interests of working people effectively—through either their abysmal political tactics or even their active malice. You or I might disagree, and argue back, but then Person X hits you with the trump card: “You shouldn’t idolize and make excuses for politicians. They aren’t your friend. It’s our job to hold them 👏 ACCOUNTABLE.”
You’ve all heard phrases like this before. Maybe you’ve even said them. It’s a refrain that is everywhere on the internet left. And there are of course, many legitimate critiques of all politicians we still tend to like. But the oft-tweeted phrase acts as a sort of catch-all to justify any and all demands directed at politicians from whatever corner of the internet you can imagine. And furthermore, it’s fundamentally an expression of powerlessness.
A great real-life example of this is playing out right now via the #ForceTheVote drama on Twitter. If you’re mercifully offline, I can do a recap: a ragtag group of social media influencers, former Bernie staffers, and YouTubers on the left have come to the conclusion that it would be a good idea for the leftmost members of Congress to withhold their votes for Pelosi as Speaker, unless she promises to bring a Medicare For All vote to the House floor. I am of the mind that it’s a poorly-thought through idea, but that fact is only ancillary to this discussion.
I should say that many proponents of #ForceTheVote are arguing for the strategy in very good faith, and simply think the left-wing Congresspeople who refuse to take up this strategy are making a mistake. But many others are using the language of “accountability” to condemn inaction on this strategy, with the insistence that AOC, Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush are refusing to “be accountable” to “us” if they won’t push right now for this specific, doomed House procedural vote. Traitors, all.
You’re idolizing; you’re not holding politicians accountable; you’re doing a no-growth.
So when are we idolizing politicians too much, and making excuses for what they won’t do? When are they “no longer accountable”? Organization can provide the key.
A country with an organized left is one that has primarily sorted its ideological left-wing into various membership organizations. These are often unions, and can also take the form of membership-driven civic and socialist organizations.
A country without an organized left has fewer of these things. Union density is fading and the remaining ones tend towards defensive, conservative political ambitions. Membership orgs on the activist left are small, even if—as in the U.S.—they are growing at a decent rate.
The nice thing about having these unions and membership orgs is that they are capable of doing what many Twitter users profess to do: i.e., “hold politicians accountable”—they can advance demands with a unified, democratic voice, they can attempt to discipline, pressure, or censure politicians, and they can take votes on priorities (like #ForceTheVote) to deem whether this actually is a movement demand, and not an internet hashtag coming from a few thousand media consumers. This doesn’t mean you personally can’t be pissed about a politician’s actions while the rest of the organization is feelin’ fine. Maybe you dissent from the organization’s position! But if you believe the democratic structure is legitimate, it helps give everyone involved a good gauge of where we’re at, accountability-wise.
Most of these perturbed #ForceTheVote advocates are not members of democratic membership organizations, like the Democratic Socialists of America, through which they could gauge if a given politicians is meeting the demands of a (hopefully) mass membership base of left-wingers. DSA and and other left-wing, pro-Medicare For All organizations, like National Nurses United, have not endorsed #ForceTheVote. Time will tell if that will happen, but I feel it’s unlikely. And while these organizations have the small size befitting an unorganized national left-wing, they still influence the Bernie Sanders, AOCs, and Rashida Tlaibs of the country quite a bit.
Instead, most proponents of #ForceTheVote are just posting with their friends on Twitter.com, and consuming media, like Jimmy Dore’s YouTube show. Which is all well and good—Lord knows I love posting and watching YouTube. But only billionaires can individually “hold politicians accountable”. Without the organization I am describing, and the belief that this organization must deepen and expand if the left is ever going to be powerful, they’ll continue to confuse demands made on Twitter with movement demands, and working themselves into an (unjustified) rage that elected officials are not listening to them.
You can certainly feel free to make demands as an individual participating in a ragtag group, since you never know when these groups actions will snowball into something huge—but for the time being, these politicians aren’t failing to be held “accountable” if they choose to ignore you. That’s just not how power and influence works.
We should therefore try to avoid turning “Never idolize politicians! Hold 👏 them 👏 accountable!” into a mantra that actually means selling out and trashing left-wing allies and leaders (who are accountable to small-dollar donations and movement organizations) with *zero* hesitation, whilst laboring under the delusion that our sliver of likeminded media consumers online represent a meaningful constituency.