On BernieBros

TW: Sexual Assault, Sexual Violence, Julian Assange/AnonUK

There's often a naivety that movements for social justice are inherently full of good people. They aren't. Activist movements often reproduce the same inequalities that they purport to challenge and nowhere is that more visible right now than the rise of the Berniebro.

It was inevitable that the Sanders "revolution" (while things have changed since the 80s, Bookchin's analysis of Bernie Sanders is still essential reading), in addition to mirroring some of the best aspects of radical left social movements, would also emulate their darker side. Manarchists, brocialists and brogressives existed long before Bernie announced his campaign and they will continue to exist long after. MBBs are almost always middle class, white, cishetero men who are interested in social justice and liberation, but only to the point where it does not challenge their privileged status. For pretty much every social movement, dealing with MBBs takes up a considerable amount of emotional energy and labor, labor often performed by people who are already the direct objects of their bigotry.  Show me an anticapitalist meeting composed almost entirely of white guys (or white people, or cis people) and you are showing a space that has driven out the very people who are most impacted by capitalism.

One of the main challenges of the Sanders campaign has been that much of its base is made up of disenfranchised white men. Taking on the misogyny and hidden racism of the Berniebros carries the risk of alienating voters. Meanwhile, the bigotry of many Sanders supporters has made Hillary Clinton's "likeability" a bigger issue to debate than, you know, her actual experience. Much has been said about her relationship with Honduras, but this became news after Berta Caceres was murdered, not before. Many groups fighting deportation and ICE raids have spoken out on Clinton's record, but these conversations get sidelined by rants about "Shrillary". And I think a lot of it has to do with a sexism where Berniebros were being lazy and the liberal commentariat in general that supports him feels like they can just talk about her as hawkish and divisive, without looking into her actual record, which actually gives a lot of reasons to be suspicious of her as president! So not only has sexism caused people to judge Hillary Clinton unfairly as a woman, it's also made her actual accomplishments immaterial to discussions of her candidacy.

At the same time, it's really frustrating now that the toxicity of MBBs has been made more visible, that this behavior is regularly dismissed as just a Bernie Sanders problem when it isn't. In my experience, anything remotely anti-authoritarian is like an open bottle of orange soda for angry WASPs. And MBBs are especially attracted to charismatic white male figureheads who make big speeches about international banking systems (many of this is also related to leftwing antisemitism - Sanders isn't antisemitic but let's not forget the enduring popularity of one of the world's oldest conspiracy theories).

The last time I saw lefties this horrible was during Occupy London, when supporters of AnonUK blocked safer spaces policies or safety patrols from being discussed. On the day that the space outside of Saint Paul's Cathedral was first occupied, Julian Assange made a brief cameo disguised as a Jedi knight to the cheers of many. This was at the height of rape allegations made against him, yet here he was, the patron saint of brocialism received with reverence and applause (with a few "fuck off, no heroes" comments thrown into the mix). As London-based blogger Zetkin noted earlier that year, the need for important men accused of rape to face trial according to prominent socialist groups depended on one's politics. Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Bring him in. Julian Assange? This is a honeypots and we must reveal the identities of the honeypots who charged him (I've included a link to the actual charges, which are disgusting, as is his defense in court arguing not that he didn't do it, but that what he did doesn't count as rape or sexual assault)! A few years later, Malcolm Blackman, the self-appointed leader of AnonUK, was charged of raping a woman protester at Occupy. He was acquitted and given a fine for revealing the name of his accuser.  

There is a relationship here, between the lax standards we give to our own heroes and the unwillingness of activists to hold their friends accountable for their actions. Where accountability structures are set up, it is usually by women and queer people, and the labor they require is also usually performed by women and queer people.

The presence of women and LGBTQ people waned over the course of Occupy London's existence.  I recall visiting a friend who took up residence as the only non-man at Occupy's sister space at Finsbury Square. They told me that many women did feel unsafe and had stopped coming to meetings, but my friend needed a space to stay and wanted to do what they could to educate people (men) about building intentional non-hierarchical occupied spaces. A few years later, this friend burned out. There comes a certain point where people who try to reform the atmosphere of masculinized spaces gets tired of all their radical energy having to be channeled into playing the role of nanny.

We should be outraged at the Berniebros, but we shouldn't be surprised that they exist. This is one of the strongest examples of how white male supremacy tends to reproduce itself within social movements and your vote in the 2016 Democratic primary isn't going to do jack shit at making it go away. And while the Sanders campaign has given a lot of coverage to frontline struggles, it's also had negative impacts. The infighting within existing radical networks over whether to focus on Bernie or to continue organizing as before has been super destructive, again mostly caused by angry cishet white men.

Imagine trying to organize real shit for free on tough issues when you have to work with Berniebros no matter what the issue is. Imagine being made to feel extremely unsafe in the spaces that you yourself helped create. Imagine being called divisive every time you bring up examples of sexism, transphobia, ableism and racism in these spaces. Or being repeatedly scolded for your "identity politics" and told that what you really need to focus on is capitalism because the end of capitalism will take care of all those problems anyway. These people don't really care about full liberation and justice for everyone. They just want to make sure that if a revolution happens, they get to keep their position at the top of the pecking order.


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