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Slogan v. Policy


That the police are nightmarish in this nation is a huge understatement. We hardly need to explain it at this point. Calls to defund or abolish the policy are morally correct. But they are also probably impossible and exist far more at the level of slogan than at policy implementation. The declaration by the Minneapolis City Council to defund the police has, not surprisingly, fallen apart in a maelstrom of no one knowing how to do it, what would replace it, who has authority, what it should look like, etc.

The whole thing is very much worth reading, but to me the end is worth further comment.

To arrive at this point — after all the protests, intense media interest and fierce ideological debates — is an indictment of the politicians, including the City Council, one activist argued at a recent public meeting near Powderhorn Park convened by Communities United Against Police Brutality. The activist, Michelle Gross, who opposes full-scale police abolition, blamed officials and the mayor for not working in concert.

“What I see happening is these council members and these other elected officials all trying to figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle,” she said. “And it’s up to us, in my opinion, to let them know that the genie ain’t going back in the bottle.”

Miski Noor, the activist, who uses they/them pronouns, offered another hypothesis: It is a system working exactly as designed. Everyone, they said, had played their role as intended, stomping out attempts at systemic reform.

“It is the nature of white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy or any of these other systems of oppression to want to do what is necessary to save themselves,” they added. “To adapt. To mutate. To move. To slow progress.”

The shapeshifting of power structures is a fair enough critique. But it only goes so far. You have to be able to implement your ideas. And to implement them, you have to work them out. The reason the New Deal worked is because there were a ton of dedicated people figuring out each little policy problem, many with roots doing so going back 20 or 25 years. Some of the division of the left, writ large since there’s really very little substantive difference between “liberals” and “leftists” in modern politics except for rhetoric, despite what the Extremely Online Left wants to assert, is about visions of change and how to get there. Neither Bernie nor Warren had nearly enough to support to win a majority of Democratic primary voters and the reasons for that are complex and a bit depressing. But all the in-fighting between these two camps kind of came down to the slogan v. policy priorities. The slogans are more inspiring. The policies have the potential to implement and codify the change.

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