Politics & Policy

Leftist Protests Don’t Translate to Success at the Ballot Box

DeRay McKesson (left) with singer Anthony Hamilton (image via Twitter)

Last week, organized groups of paid agitators and leftists took to the streets to protest Donald Trump’s speech at the California GOP convention. The anti-Trump disrupters jumped highway barricades and destroyed police cars. Trump couldn’t have asked for better enemies.

News organizations covered the protests sympathetically, though not as romantically as they did in Ferguson and on the one-year anniversary of riots in Baltimore — where rioters burned down local businesses and a senior citizens’ center.

Journalists are all too happy to win awards for their coverage of these “protests,” and an activist president welcomes these acts as some sort of rejuvenation of movements from his own youth.

But these astro-turfed temper tantrums have rarely resulted in any real change for Obama, the political Left, or the activists who try to capitalize on their fame at the ballot box.

Last week, as the results of the Baltimore mayoral race poured in, Black Lives Matter figurehead and frequent White House visitor DeRay Mckesson, who announced his candidacy on Twitter and with the help of a launch profile from the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery, couldn’t manage to garner more than 3 percent of the overall vote in the Democratic primary. Deray had everything going for him that average mayoral candidates don’t: name recognition; White House backing; and a national media willing to peddle his soundbites on MSNBC and in print. In the end, though, all the misconceptions surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray were not enough to carry him into a general election.

A similar result befell birth-control activist Sandra Fluke. Fluke, if you recall, was the heroic damsel in distress who was rescued from the vile misogynistic clutches of Rush Limbaugh and managed to parlay 15 minutes of media fame into congressional testimony, a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, and a 2014 California state senate race — in which she was crushed. She graced cable-news networks and magazine covers, and in the end had nothing to show for it. A parallel can be drawn with state representative Wendy Davis who, like Fluke, became a temporary Democratic hero for just long enough to own a news cycle, but was dismissed in short order by voters. Davis’s run for the Texas governorship was aborted by voters in a landslide defeat.

But unlike in Davis’s case, McKesson’s run in Baltimore and Fluke’s in California were prime, fertile ground for leftists and activist hot spots. And like McKesson, Fluke found herself with the support of a favorable media sewing circle but without much enthusiasm for her candidacy at the local level.

The Occupy Wall Street protests, which spiraled into a cult of drug and sexual abuse in Zuccotti Park, produced no figureheads at the ballot box, yet the spectacle enjoyed a healthy dose of affectionate media coverage for months on end. The argument could be made that Bernie Sanders is the natural old Red Wood that grew out of that anarchist movement’s seeds but Sanders has directly referenced the Occupy movement very little, even if he’s borrowed their rhetoric to line his own pockets, as well as those of establishment Democrat consultants. The Sanders media phenomenon, like the Fluke and Mckesson ones before it, will be winding down shortly without an electoral victory.

For all the yelling, rioting, and sound bites, the progressive Left, while having the loudest microphone in a sympathetic media, has produced little in the way of tangible legislative change. Even Barack Obama is aware of this, and frustrated by it. While in London at a town hall, he took on these waves of activist hissy fits: “You can’t just keep on yelling at them and you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” he said. “The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room, and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved.”

The safe-space generation isn’t interested in tangible grass-roots work beyond hashtags and storming rallies.

Obama’s legacy won’t be his legislative accomplishments, primarily because he doesn’t have any beyond Obamacare. His legacy will be fostering an entire generation of protest-happy social activists, which he had hoped to cultivate into Democratic organizers and a party farm team. But even he knows that, beyond capturing a news cycle, screaming at people during their brunch or blocking them on highways has its limitations in effecting social or legislative change. The safe-space generation isn’t interested in tangible grass-roots work beyond hashtags and storming rallies.

Contrast these movements with the Tea Party wave of 2010. Just after Obama’s swearing in, there was a groundswell of grass-roots conservative activism. The anti-establishment protests were organized, nonviolent, and for the most part geared directly at changing policy, specifically Obama’s stimulus act, the bank bailouts, and Obamacare.

Instead of spawning media-darling activists, the movement fostered candidates with almost zero fanfare. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, all presidential candidates, rose with tea-party support, as did several senators who have grown into leadership positions today. While they were not able to make much headway in advancing an anti-tax, anti-big-government agenda, they were able to stop the Obama administration from realizing his entire agenda — despite being overshadowed on the right by the rise of an angry and unprincipled populism fueled by Donald Trump.

The movement that ushered in one of the largest electoral waves in U.S. history immediately found itself the target of a combative media that called them racists and teabaggers. But none of that mattered. They prevailed at the ballot box – something leftist activists-turned-candidates propped up by social media as celebrity revolutionaries have been unable to do.

As Obama packs his bags and surveys the remnants of his party, which had enjoyed healthy majorities before him, the ultimate irony is that his political opponents were the only ones who managed to take his advice about how to effect social change. For all the romanticizing of the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative by race-happy media, it’s the political Right that turned popular outrage to legislative advantage. It’s the Right that turned its movement into something beyond a trademark blue vest or pair of pink sneakers.


The Latest