Image courtesy of Imani Gandy
While at the Democratic National Convention, I did a lot of interviews. I'm still working on a larger piece on my thoughts about the DNC in our Breaking Time, but two interviews in particular stood out — for very different reasons — enough that I felt they deserved to be featured in whole.
The first is with activist and blogger Imani Gandy, who founded the Angry Black Lady Chronicles and the Team Uterati coordinating resource for feminist action. She's advocated an aggressively pragmatic approach to politics, often clashing publicly with other progressives about President Barack Obama's actions and drawing attention to what she perceives as misogyny and racism among some leftists. We talked about divisions among liberals, different approaches to activism, and how race plays into today's politics.
How did the Angry Black Lady Chronicles start?
I started a pop culture blog with a group of women in 2008, and we were tossing around ideas of a column I would do, titled something like “Ask a black lady.” I was just kind of throwing it around, and I don't know why but I just decided my column would be called Angry Black Lady chronicles. I don't really know why, it just sort of came out of nowhere.
Then, when I stopped blogging with them, I decided to move my column onto its own blog, and it just become angryblacklady.com
And then it got contributors, etc...
I started out blogging on my own in 2009. I went on medical leave. I had a pituitary tumor. That's sort of the cause of the anger, because I would have hormonal fluctuations. Have you ever been around a first trimester pregnant woman?
You know how they get real irritable? Flashes of anger for no reason? I'd get that, but at the most ridiculous things, like “that light went out! Goddammit!” So that's kind of where the angry moniker comes from, but I also like to poke at people because of the stereotype of the angry black woman. Then when people meet me they're like “wait, you're not that angry,” and no, I'm very nice person, but I can be pretty strident in my writing and on Twitter. I like to juxtapose those, like a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type thing.
I started blogging on my own in 2009, I picked up my first two contributors in 2010, right around the 2010 elections. It's right around that time that I dropped all the pop culture stuff and became fully political, because I started to get really frustrated with the way progressives on the left were hounding President Obama for stuff that I thought he shouldn't be hounded for, like the public option and “why didn't you close Gitmo?”
I felt like there were facts about how the administration had done things and facts about how he didn't have a Democratic majority for as long as people think that he did. I just began to get really frustrated.
I also began to get really frustrated at what I saw as underlying racism on the left.
What do you mean by “underlying racism?”
Well, for example, someone at Firedoglake wrote a post calling Democrats “house niggers.” I saw that, and I saw people defending it. I was thinking “really? This is where we are, where people think that's appropriate? That's never appropriate.” There are other things too, like telling President Obama he needs to grow balls, this sort of emasculation of black men that goes back to slave days, the Civil War and all that. When you say it about white people it doesn't have that same history, and I felt like there weren't a lot of people talking about that. So I was like “fine, if no one else is going to talk about this I'm going to talk about it.”
That's obviously been a frequent target of yours, and a continuing one. What's the approach you think progressives should take instead?
I think people just need to be more sensible about the sort of criticisms that they're going to lob. For example, I would love for marijuana to be legalized, but I think people need to understand that President Obama can not be the first black president to legalize marijuana, because it would turn into “oh, everyone's smoking blunts in the White House.” There are certain ways in which white progressives don't understand what it's like to be black in America and don't understand the sort of microaggression that's not really racism but are little things that black people catch onto easily and really quickly.
I sort of feel like it's my job to help people understand a little bit what it's like to be black in this country and what it's like to be black having a black President and have people say “well, you only voted for him because he's black.”
Well, no, black people have been voting Democratic practically forever — I mean, how many white Presidents did we vote for? So many. But for some reason, with this President, it's become this sort of lightning rod for all this really ugly racism that's popped up on all sides.
I just want to highlight it, shine a light on it a little bit.
Personally, what do you think the basis of this kind of attack from the left on Obama and the Democratic Party is?
I think it comes from the fact that people were really shellshocked after Bush. There are certain blogs that cut their teeth on just criticizing George Bush and everyone was sort of unified around this “oh my god, Bush sucks” feeling.
I think some of it came because people began to lose traffic. I really think some of it came because the amount of traffic these blogs got used to. It's hard to lose that because there's no common enemy. Half of the left decided “we really like this Obama guy,” but then there were others, especially during the health care debate, that became really strident. You saw certain blogs just go Obama-deranged.
Firedoglake is a perfect example. I used to read Firedoglake all the time, now I look over there and I don't even know what they are doing. What are they talking about?
I think the sort of civil libertarian crowd are really single-minded and single-focused in a way that's unhealthy.
Yeah. I don't think you'll find anyone on the left who's going to applaud drone strikes or who's going to applaud the Afghanistan war. Those are the areas of President Obama's policy that I do not agree with.
But at the same time, I think there's a real discussion to be had about war, the nature of war, the technology of war. I think just screaming about drone strikes and screaming about “how can you be a feminist if you're not screaming about all the Afghan women who are being blown up?”
I feel like I can't do anything about women in other countries until I can fix something about women in this country. What frustrates me to no end is that I cannot get some of these purists to understand how in trouble women in this country are, especially low-income and minority women.
I say all the time: I prioritize my uterus over drones. People think that makes me a monster, in some way. It's usually white women or guys. The Katrina Vanden Heuvels and The Nation types, the limousine liberals who've never struggled in their lives, they've never been in a poor community and talked to the women there.
The women in the 'hood don't give a shit about drones. They're more concerned about defending Planned Parenthood or whether or not they're going to be able to feed their kids. I would like there to be a focus. That's not to say people can't care about drones, but I don't like the way people have made drone strikes, or Wikileaks, or those type of issues the sort of end-all-be-all and “Obama sucks because of this” as opposed to making a sort of “pros and cons” list.
A percentage, almost.
Right, if there's more pros than there are cons, then go with the pros. You can't say that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are the same, and I see a lot of that on the left. It drives me bananas because the people who are saying that are the people who will do fine under Mitt Romney: they have health insurance, they don't need to worry about contraception or abortion if it's necessary or they have the money to go to Canada to get that kind of treatment.
I just feel like there's a disconnect.
Like there's a class divide?
There's a class divide, there's a race divide, and I just think some people are not really that bright. They follow the herd; I think [Glenn] Greenwald fans are a perfect example of that. I don't know what the hell is wrong with them, especially with this Julian Assange/Wikileaks thing, to see this misogyny and rape apology on the left is just so disheartening to me.
These are people who are supposed to be on our side. I'm a lot more cynical about it now, but when I first started out in 2010 writing for balloon juice and got creamed in the comments all the time it really upset me because I thought “these are people who are supposed to be on our side.” If I can't convince these people that you can't call Democrats “House Niggers” then what the hell? What am I supposed to do with this?
Protest culture on the left isn't anything new, and it seems to be where some of the popular support for this group comes from; the rank-and-file who support these figures. Do you think that culture is an impediment to progressive goals?
I think protest culture is very, very helpful, up to a point. But I think it needs to translate into action.
For example, Occupy Wall Street was great for opening up the conversation, but then it just turned into theatre of the absurd. They were trying to do all these things with the mic checks and the general assemblies and they would talk, and talk, and talk and then nothing would get done.
I was really happy to see so many people protesting, walking in the streets and opening up that conversation, but what's come of that?
I remember when that was getting started, I wanted to do a voter registration thing. I thought “well, you know, you have these throngs of progressive leftists, why don't you start setting up tables and registering people to vote?”
They didn't want to do that. “We don't vote, voting is for suckers.” Well, how are you going to change it? What are you protesting for if you're not going to vote? Are you just out there trying to camp in the park? When did this become about camping? I thought it was about Wall Street.
I guess I just don't understand anarchists. I understand wanting to work outside the process, but I don't understand how you get anything done unless you're prepared for a full-on revolution, and let's be frank about it: you're not going to win a full-on revolution. It's this Che pipe dream that you're going to rise up and fight the man.
Do you think it's another manifestation of the purism you were talking about earlier?
Yeah, it really is. I find it kind of insulting when people say “we're not going to vote, voting is for losers” blah blah. Some of my people didn't get to vote until 40 years ago. You don't see a lot of black people saying voting is for suckers, because we weren't allowed to vote for so many years.
There are people in our community who are just enfranchised and they're already being disenfranchised. But you've got these white kids who are sitting in the street crying about camping, saying that voting is for losers. I just don't understand when protest culture translates into action, and that's the problem I have with Occupy Wall Street, because they've not — from what I've seen — translated very well into action.
Speaking of translating into action, can you tell me a bit about Team Uterati?
I started Team Uterati in February as a little spreadsheet on my blog, because I would wake up upset about the amount of anti-women, anti-choice legislation that was just going around. I mean something like 1100 bills were introduced in 2010-11 and they were flying out of these legislatures with such speed that it was impossible to keep a handle on them, to actually go through and figure out what the bills say and how these bills are connected to other bills that are being passed. Who are the people behind them? Is it Americans United for Life, which is basically an ALEC-style organization?
I felt I had a handle on this, until I met Heather [Chase], our WebNinja, who I asked to go build a crowdsourced wiki. A wiki where people can find information in their own state, and put it into a form and have it populate, so people can know what's going on in their own backyards, so the media can start reporting on it in a way that was factual.
She built this wiki, I started promoting it on Twitter, seeing if I could get women involved. I know there are a lot of women in flyover states that feel like they are ignored. I started this thing because I have friends who are activists in Texas who were really pissed off that the issue about transvaginal ultrasounds did come to the forefront of the American consciousness until Virginia, while that had been law for over 300 days in Texas.
It was passed in May 2011, but no one noticed, because “oh, it's Texas, why are you living in Texas anyway? You should move.” Which is really, really nonsensical.
So Team Uterati allows someone to track the laws?
Right. I wanted a way to keep track of it, and I wanted a way to leverage social media into activism, because I think social media is kind of the new frontier of politics. I think the reason Gov. McDonnell had to back away from that because it spread from Twitter into Facebook and people freaked out and were able to mobilize on-the-ground rallies based on connecting with each other.
So I wanted to create an underground vagina army [laughing], so if you see that there's a bill coming out or there's going to be a vote or a signature on a bill, then you can say “we're going to be meeting at this place here” and then ask “are you on Team U?” I just wanted people to make connections.
To emphasize coordination?
Yeah, to coordinate, to make connections. I'm really a fan of online communities. I wanted to create a community where people could commiserate about what was going on and not just feel like they were fighting this stuff alone. It's a social action tool, an organization tool, a media tool.
I'm a lawyer, so I know how to read the bills, I know how to make them understandable and I feel like it's important for the media to get the facts right. There have been incidents like the Arizona bill where people are saying “oh, it says you're pregnant before you conceive.” No, that's not what the bill says.
So I go to a doctor and say “what does this mean? When do you do these ultrasounds” just the basic medical procedures of it, so that people aren't getting false information.
To change topics a bit, what's been your impression of the Democratic convention so far?
I've had a blast. I've never been to a convention before. I think it's so much more positive and less mean-spirited than the RNC. I think it's just really bizarre that the Republicans are running against a strawman. I don't know who they think they're running against, but it's not this President.
Like yesterday, one of Paul Ryan's tweets was “as team obama continues its campaign of fear, hate, and anger.” Did you see Michelle Obama's speech? What are you talking about? Or Reince Preibus was talking about the distortion, pretexts, and attacks in Bill Clinton's speech. He spent half his speech praising the Bushes. I feel like there's a shadow convention going on somewhere, maybe there's Cylons convening to take over. I don't understand.
Would Cylons convene in Charlotte? That's a good question.
They should. I find it really frustrating, the amount of bullshit that's been going on. I can't stand Romney, mostly because he doesn't have the courage of his convictions. If it was Rick Santorum — I can't stand Santorum — at least he believes that crap that he believes with every fiber of his being.
You think he's being genuine?
Yeah, he's genuine. He's a nutbag, but he's genuine. Mitt Romney was pro-choice, he gave money to Planned Parenthood, he started Obamacare. What's going on? I just find it really frustrating. But it's been really fun being here, it's been really fun putting names to faces. I like community, I like interacting to people.
There's a lot of talk about how conventions have changed over the decades. Now it's the primaries, not the delegates that decide who wins. What are you seeing as the purpose of the convention? Is it morale? Is it coordination?
This convention is about morale and I think it's making the case for what President Obama has done. Clinton was overheard at a party the other night saying he can make the case in a manner that won't seem defensive. Obama has to deal with this “oh he's Kenyan, oh he might be a Muslim” crud, so he hasn't done that great a job at making the case for why he should be re-elected, so I think this convention has been about bringing all these people together to make the case for him. I think Clinton did an amazing job, I think Deval Patrick did an amazing job.
I don't really understand the ins and outs of the convention, especially when you're dealing with an incumbent President, I don't really see what the point is except to highlight the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans. I think they've done a great job so far.