People have stopped thinking about the consequences of their actions, and that includes journalist Charles M. Blow and his Anti-Inauguration column.
One thing I learned after working on countless political campaigns is that there’s only one good job for volunteers who are there because they are angry or negative – stuffing envelopes. No kidding. Disgruntled people should never be seen as even a small portion of the public face of a political campaign, period. That applies to election campaigns, and general issue activism. I’m not of the school of thought that just warm bodies matter. Motives matter, because it’s impossible to divorce them from the people who go out there to preach about your candidate or cause. If your workers are just a rabble of pitchfork bearing miscreants, you deserve to fail – and usually you will.
This is why yesterday’s New York Times column from Charles M. Blow disturbed me. Sure, I get what he was trying to do, but at the same time, I could physically feel the cringing across the community of grassroots activists as I read it. I know I’m not alone in the belief that one positive worker is worth ten (or more) negative ones.
Blow simply doesn’t get it, and it was obvious from the level of hubris he engaged in during the day. For a short time yesterday “#Anti-Inauguration” trended on Twitter, and he apparently thought it was all about him. I’m sure he had some part in that trend, but it certainly wasn’t just him. Many of the posts with that tag also touted a fake flyer about a star studded concert that was supposedly going to offer people an alternative to watching the inaugural festivities on television. That snowballed into more rumors about people actually trying to cause the fake event to really happen, and is probably still chugging along in the social media pipes even though it’s not likely to yield an actual concert. So no, Blow wasn’t the only impetus to the whole “anti-inauguration” meme, no matter how much he might want to convince himself that he was.
The saddest part is that he’s undoubtedly not self-aware enough to realize that by promoting the concept of people engaging in political activism for negative reasons, he’s putting himself in the middle of a firestorm. Trump supporters made fun of Blow, adding him to their growing list of “cry-babies” who they love to ridicule for not taking defeat well. But, he’s also not making friends with the leaders of the activist organizations who might see at least a few more disgruntled volunteers in the coming weeks and months. Throw in that some people tweeted about him promoting violence in the streets – one reason why his column was retweeted so much – and Blow probably isn’t well-loved by municipal leaders and law enforcement either. That last one might come back to bite him, if there actually is violence in the streets.
Since we focus on practical matters in politics around here, I’ll point out a few things you should consider before deciding to start volunteering for causes. While we wholeheartedly encourage engagement in the political process around here, we also want that to be a positive choice through and through. Ask yourself why you want to help promoted a particular cause. If you can’t spout off on at least five positive things you want to support, think twice about doing it. With few exceptions, activist organizations want people who can talk about positive actions, not negative ones. If you’re there because you hate a politician or group, your hatred will show in your work. Organizations don’t tend to turn away volunteers, but that doesn’t mean they really want all their volunteers either. They don’t want people who portray them as hateful, unless that’s the entire point of their group.
So, focus on the positive. What do you want to accomplish? Don’t leap into the political game because you hate someone or something. Do it because you want to do something positive in spite of them. And, if you like, drop Blow a line and tell him he’s doing it wrong.