This👇 (from @StanGreenberg) matches what I've seen since last summer in right-leaning social media spaces. And it pushes to me ask aloud—as a real question, not a rhetorical one—Why aren't we talking how 'Antifa' cost the Democrats votes? No, really, why?
Put differently, what are the stakes & consequences of taking a summer of protest understood by so many voters as having been driven by "Antifa"—& instead talking as if race+policing entered public debate driven & shaped by a handful of activists messaging "defund the police"?
You're gonna say but Lara, Antifa isn't a real thing, not in the way Greenberg's respondents are talking about it👇. To which I say, yes: correct. That seems like an important thing to be reckoning with?
For many voters in 2020, assertions about Antifa—& images of intentional violence—were central to what they understood racial justice/police reform protests & “Black Lives Matter” to be. Indeed for them, that set the context in which "defund the police"—if heard at all—was heard
I worried that maybe, Google Trends stats👇 aside, "defund the police" had been more pervasive in real-world discussions than I remembered, & antifa/violence claims less so. So I went back to a (nominally non-political) public community Fb group I follow, & counted.
I found a grand total of five (5) references to "defund the police" btwn May-Nov 2020: one pretty neutral, the rest negative/mocking. In contrast, references to antifa became near constant. I stopped counting at 60 with no end in sight. Vivid & detailed. Some copypasta, as here👇
Others authored by group members themselves, capturing how fuzzy the boundary between standard RW media narratives, Trump campaign messaging, & full-on conspiracy theories had become by mid summer
When a GOP elected like Joe Gale refs "lawlessness that destroyed nearly every major city in the nation", for many in his audience this isn't some kind of rhetorical flourish. It's what they heard, saw & believe happened literally. No, not just in Portland
I get it is genuinely hard to talk about this when 1) there really are some black bloc folks out there & 2) CHAZ etc really did become a mess but 3) "BLM+antifa" were NOT paid by Democrats to go destroy the country but *that* is the supposed reality to which many voters responded
My guess is that that epistemological morass is part of why there's been more reporting+punditry on the possible impact of "defund"—something basically real—OTOH, & Qanon—something clearly false—OTOH, than Antifa—which sits in the uncanny valley in between.
But, again, look👇👇
Given all the preceding, to use "defund hurt the Democrats" as a shorthand for "the way that protests over policing & race were perceived hurt the Democrats" is quite the intentional choice: both in what it chooses to naturalize/invisiblize, & for what (& who) it chooses to blame
I care about this not bc I think "defund the police" was or wasn't a "good" slogan, but bc I think fiercely debating messages & ignoring all the infrastructure whose presence (or absence) shapes *what actually reaches voters* is a constant Dem-side mistake
To borrow everyone's favorite after-action metaphor, focusing on "defund" is like looking at Dems' barely-landed plane in 2020 & saying wow, those particular bullets were damaging, or even, wow, better never fly over *that* terrain again.
That's not a serious guide to the future
I mean, it was building defenses for the next war by fetishizing lessons about the specific terrain of the last one that gave us the Maginot Line.
Which, umm did not enter history as a shining example of strategic thinking
(ok there will be more to my It's The Infrastructure tirade but first I have to say: Get you a 9 yr old who wakes up for zoom school, sees you've been tweeting compulsively since dawn & MAKES YOU COFFEE + A BOWL OF CEREAL & BRINGS THEM TO YOU ON THE COUCH đŸ˜‚â˜•ïžđŸ’–)
So a few replies have suggested Google Trend just shows what people find unfamiliar: Antifa was unknown; "defund" was understood. I don't think that's how it works. Minneapolis, riot, looting, & Antifa all spiked far higher than defund ever did. People google what they're hearing
The longer term trends re Antifa are also interesting. The sustained attention from last June onward was new: but there had been pushes before. The first around the Charlottesville/Unite the Right ("both sides"). The second at the start of July 2019. I had to go back & check:
I am grateful (not snarkily! really!) to Matt for engaging & offering the clearest version of his take on this here...
& I am also grateful to Brian for articulating the clearest version of the opposite take here👇... & what I want to argue is that WHICHEVER of these two you find persuasive, focusing on the infrastructure rather than the message is the right takeaway
What theory of change gets us to Dem-side groups choosing "better" slogans, if your analysis is that was the problem? More power to diff pollsters? Centralized screening for local activists? Magic ability to prevent even one incendiary clip: bc all it takes is 1 to viral via Fox?
This one clip👇 of a confrontation between a diner & a Pgh protest leader has been viewed 6.7 MILLION times. 60 seconds out of a summer that saw multi-hour & yes peaceful protests *every day* for six weeks in my city
Corinne points to the two key elements here: the activist networks & the messaging environment. & in each case, I don't see any realistic theory of change that doesn't require building stronger & more broadly grounded infrastructure. Inwards, & outwards
Even if you see ironclad no-envelope-pushing "message discipline" as desirable, please recognize that in a world of decentralized+reintermediated info flows, shaping the words of the 50—or even 500—progressive activists known to TV bookers & Dem funders is not going to create it
(re what on earth I mean by reintermediation please see👇
So if you think "messaging" is the problem, the people whose words you need to shape aren't 50 or 500. It's 5000-50,000 emergent local leaders whose judgment calls you'd like to be different. Welcome: you are now advocating for investmnt in infrastructure!
Along the same lines, for me the actually-resilient strategic response to "unrepresentative activist groups" is not "get funders to guess better" but "build geographically diverse resource-delivery structures that lower bars to entry." More infrastructure!
Okay gotta go get the heroic 9 yr old mentioned upthread up & out of bed in time to recite the v'ahavta at zoom services😂 It's beautiful Saturday: go knock some doors or call some neighbors & I'll finish Infrastructure Week 4 Ever preaching later!
👇Good Q! Tune in tonight for the other part of the political infrastructure cromnibus: overdue investment in Dem-side last-mile communication structures (& no a mailer onto the doorstep does not count: it's receiving the message fr a trusted interlocutor)
You can follow @lara_putnam.
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