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Tuesday, Jun. 22, 2010 at 11:42 AM
General summary re: hypocrisy and double standards of PSL/ANSWER.
(edited for clarity and errors)
This needs a slight explanation just so some things are clear. The majority of this was originally written to a dear friend some time after leaving PSL and ANSWER. This was pared down for general distribution to some other people so I could explain myself more readily about events that occurred with the PSL (Party for Socialism and Liberation) and the ANSWER Coalition largely in Los Angeles.
While this is fundamentally a personal account, the broader political concerns brought up in here should be readily apparent. These issues are varied and include an undemocratic, dogmatic and unaccountable leadership who thinks it is okay to shout people down, stifle open discussion and force people to vote for things they do not agree with. Maybe due to these unaccountable and undemocratic tendencies the PSL has manifested an unsettling number of behaviors. These include the promotion of leadership with a disturbing amount of class privilege and chauvinist tendencies, the cover up of domestic violence and other pathological behaviors and the promotion and protection of people who snitch on fellow comrades for the sake of “loyalty.” The list could go on to include many things like machismo, outright lies, favoritism, elitism, etc, but a main thread that emerges is the hypocrisy and level of double standards. The PSL and ANSWER posit themselves as a progressive group but do not seem capable of holding themselves to any number of progressive principles. When abiding by a principle seems too inconvenient they seem to default to a form of exceptionalism which borders on the ridiculous. For the PSL there are no patterns of behavior, everything is just a mistake or an isolated incident. If anything the converse is put forth when people raise concerns. Your concerns can always be treated as exceptional and thus they have no merit, at which point you can be promptly ignored.
However, I think in gaining some distance and perspective in reviewing things the general character of events has become clearer. If anything it makes one question everything else more.
I have tried to attach or post my original resignation if I can not send it on by email. I have done the same for some threatening and harassing messages I received which clearly implicate the character of PSL and the brand of “leaders” they keep. The major purpose of this general explanation is to summarize broader concerns which did not really fit in a politically cohesive manner when I initially turned in my resignation. Hopefully this will cover the basics and not come out too stilted. (Don't mind the grammar either, this was written mostly train of thought.) Since leaving the PSL I have talked to other people in the movement who had concerns which were not addressed, either internally or externally. In the interests of full disclosure this piece should serve to enlighten the uninformed. I think providing a record of their character and actions can at least serve to shine some light on their patterns of behavior. If nothing else this can serve as warning to people in movements for progressive change to watch out for these types of characters.
First off, my recent departure from the PSL has made me question things more as time passes and I gain more perspective. I start to question why I ever did some things in the first place and why I went along with things that objectively now seem wrong. You can only pin so much on hope and trust. Sometimes it’s difficult to deal with the hard reality of manipulated truths or points of view -- if you can call something manipulated a truth at all. These manipulations can smack you in the face with such force they unnerve you and make you question what you were doing all along. In a way what has happened has soured me on certain views and assumptions and in another way it is liberating to talk about issues that had been suppressed for so long.
Maybe my questioning of events was from the beginning but any doubts were buried inside because it did not feel fair or practicing in good faith to hang on to these doubts. Some of these doubts had a certain natural limit. Certain questions have no answer but even when you do find the answers you may not like what they are.
The PSL for instance has a lot of contradictory and complicated characters who make you question what's going on with them. One main example is the leader of the Los Angeles branch, Ian Thompson, who on the surface might seem impressive, but truth be told any number of activists could organize circles around him. The only thing he has on anyone is money to live in a nice big house in the Los Angeles Hills and not have to work for a living. I don’t think many progressive or working class activists would be much impressed by someone's wealth. Promoting a person with wealth and class privilege as the leader of what is supposed to be a "working class" party seems highly contradictory and hypocritical. Another more contradictory example who shines a light on the PSL's character is this egotistical, abusive, hypocritical person by the name of Carlos Alvarez. The PSL leadership feeding his overgrown ego made him so full of himself he thought he could get away with anything, even domestic abuse. When his former girlfriend, another female comrade, had the audacity to dare break up with him, he assaulted her and later tried to cover it up. He had help covering it up from the PSL leadership, by blaming it on a supposed "mental breakdown." This is highly hypocritical for an organization that pays lip service to fighting for women’s liberation and fighting gender oppression. I always thought to myself what a sad twisted reflection of a person this guy was to the many kind and considerate LGBT activists and people of color I have met. Whereas many other activists were inspiring and generous this person was petty, insulting and demoralizing. The fact that this person presents themselves as an LGBT activist or fighter of gender oppression and is even running as a candidate for governor in the 2010 California elections on the local ballot of an avowed feminist, socialist party like the Peace & Freedom Party makes me sick.
I do not want to give the impression there was always doubts but over time an accumulation of problems manifested themselves. The “leader’s” various behaviors were the main reasons for these doubts. After a time I came to realize that isolated instances were not isolated at all but a pattern of behavior. The character of the PSL relied more and more on the glossing over of abhorrent behavior, a lack of accountability and, coming from the experience of a previous political split, a lot of hypocrisy and double standards. Certain people in PSL could mess up all they wanted, especially if you were a "leader" or in the office. But it was considered negative for anyone to even raise a whimper regarding criticism of said leadership and their violation of central tenets. Some of these violations were in regards to oppression, democratic practices or even as simple a fact as someone's class background and the attendant privileges that flowed from it. This was especially true if the people criticizing were not deemed to be giving enough time or money. As if the merits of your argument depended on elements which might have been out of your control, or that the contribution of time or money was any true measure of someone's political clarity or their character. Considering some of the stuff people have pulled in PSL I can't help but wonder who the hell they are building their party for. They sure aren't building it for any working class I'm familiar with. I'm damn sure the only way anyone would put up with this behavior is by sheer ignorance of the situation which is what the PSL leadership seems to rely on. If anything, you can say silence and ignorance (or maybe just plain lies) seem to be one of their favorite modes of operation. I always heard from PSL a lot of criticism about how the leadership of other parties were ossified or that other groups couldn't cut it and were not as good as PSL. However, all these criticisms pale in comparison because I don't think anyone in these other groups was ever accused of committing domestic violence against a comrade or denigrating them as a human being, especially when they are a person of color. Whatever criticisms existed before become suspect in light of so much hypocritical behavior. I’m pretty sure they don’t care now, but I wonder if they ever cared and stuff like that gives me pause to reflect.
After a while and ever more presently I began to I ask myself, what is the point? All I could end up wondering was what's happening and why am I doing what I am doing. Who wants to build something up with a bullheaded, arrogant, privileged, white male, with a trust fund and a law degree? With someone who is so full of himself he thinks he can shout you down with impunity whenever he simply feels like it and is therefore beyond reproach? Who wants to be around an vitriol spewing, egotistical, serially abusive, almost predatory, hypocrite who is unaccountable for any of his transgressions, least of all assaulting a female comrade. (I mean, hell, the guy used to go around the office calling a woman of short stature a midget as if it was some sly joke.). Perpetuating class privilege, abusive behavior, undemocratic tendencies and making exceptions for those deemed “exceptional” started becoming the norm with PSL and that does not even begin to cover the half of it. For instance, there is this thuggish and generally reprehensible guy named "Marcial Guerra" (aka Pedro Ramirez-Navas) who shared many macho characteristics with Ian. "Marcial" would spread rumors and falsehoods about people behind their back and call for their expulsion. He would get people drunk so he could goad them into saying negative comments, especially about the “leaders.” He would then snitch on these people to the leadership, without any accountability what so ever, because as Ian put it, he was just being "loyal." This type of behavior is injurious to people’s morale and is in total contravention of an open, democratic and egalitarian organization. Snitching on people or fostering the type of environment that promotes this behavior is just plain wrong. If this is at all getting to the point where you just start wondering what the hell was going on, just imagine what I was going through. Sometimes I wonder what was worse, the hypocrisy, double standards and cover ups, the complete lack of accountability or maybe even the whole Alpha male/Beta male group hierarchy fostered by this leadership beyond reproach. The simple fact is after questioning what I was doing and what type of people I was working with I can only say I do not like the answers I have come up with.
I initially started putting down some of these facts because of something disturbing that had bothered me for a while that I had never been able to resolve. It affected me so badly that I actually stopped going to PSL organizing meetings for a while and started to question what I was doing. (Part of this truancy was also a relief from petty criticisms like people talking about my weight, skeptical nature, penchant for critical thinking or other personal characteristics, etc.)
I explained what disturbed me to a friend by going over an issue I used to talk to her about as a person of color. It had to do with whether or not you knew if someone was being racist to you or if you could tell if you were being discriminated against? Some people, like my friend, always said they knew for sure. I some times found one of the hard things was that I didn't always know. Not in the sense that I never know for sure or I never find out, but that, going into some situations, sometimes I am not sure what is initially going and sometimes I have a hard time reading people's cues. Obviously sometimes, and in reality the majority of the times, things are clear. Usually it’s easy to tell if someone is being discriminatory or racist and, maybe sadly, as I have aged and gained more experience it has become even easier so that I am very rarely surprised nowadays. It is better knowing, obviously, because then you can put up your mental defenses. While the manner in which people treat you might be hurtful -- even the most obvious racist still bothers me to some degree -- to a large extent any unpleasantness is mitigated by years of experience and a toughening up of sorts. But, in the process of growing up, learning to navigate the intricate minefield of people's social cues, there have been times I have been surprised or taken off guard, maybe sometimes foolishly or through naiveté. Like the first time a police officer or security guard followed me around in a store and I realized, he's not following me around because he thinks I’m some young punk, he's following me around because I'm Mexican. Or when you are in a conversation with a salesperson or stranger and you realize the tone of the conversation has shifted and you are being treated different because that is what you are to them, some other thing. Along with all these realizations or uncomfortable situations, I have come to know the creeping sensation of what I call "the feeling."
Now, I don't think "the feeling" is anything special to me. I assume, somewhat sadly, many people of color are familiar with it (or any other marginalized groups for that matter). It is a sickening feeling you have in your body, sort of a twisted feeling in the pit of your stomach reaching up into your chest like someone has reached their hands in and ripped out your intestines because suddenly it also feels cold. If you are standing up it becomes a little harder because the oddest assortment of muscles in your legs have decided they don't want to work anymore. It is the feeling of being treated like you are less of a person, it is sickening, nauseating and stomach churning and it makes me feel a little bit ill just thinking about it. A couple times it stands out for me the most is when I went to some job interviews. When I realized I was being treated "differently" I almost felt like I was going to throw up because the feeling made my stomach twist up so bad. It was all I could do to give short clipped responses to get out of the interviews as soon as possible. I think I was caught so off guard in those circumstances because I assumed anyone who sees my name on my resume and invites me in must be okay with a Mexican, but obviously that assumption was wrong. I don't think I have had the feeling many times in my life, as it probably averages to the same amount of years I have been alive or maybe less.
I guess this all a roundabout way of saying that I have had some similar disturbing situations with the PSL leadership. There have been at least 2-3 occasions on which I have heard Ian Thompson talk about a black man named John P., who was a former political compatriot, in such a denigrating and demeaning manner that it made my stomach twist up inside like when I had the feeling on other occasions. (I guess Ian thought since John P. was a political enemy it was okay to talk about him as if he was some bumbling, doddering fool or idiot who was hardly even a man.) In this case it is almost an anomaly that I had that feeling when I was with the PSL at their office in LA, not once but at least twice. Numerically speaking it is about one tenth of the times I can count and the only time I remember it reoccurring in the same place. (I tend to not stick around any place I get this feeling.) It is also unusual because I felt it sort of on behalf of another person. I don't know if I would have felt the same if the denigrating comments would have been about some other human being, or if Ian wasn't white. But I do know this; you don't talk about a black man that way, it's just wrong and in my case I found it sickening, nauseating, stomach churning. Why a privileged, white male like Ian thinks he can talk about a black man that way is hard to explain. Ian’s arrogance and class privilege is certainly a place to start. He's always had this macho, almost privileged frat boy quality to him in regards to his dealings with other people as if he was tone deaf to the implications of his words and actions (you could also call it TWAM). It’s complicated, because Ian talks about supporting national liberation struggles but then turns around and is two steps shy of calling a black man a stupid monkey. Maybe he thinks he has some sort of immunity because of working in proximity with other people of color under him. Who knows – I’m just bouncing these ideas off the wall because it's hard to figure out the mind of such a complicated and conflicted individual.
I think I had started questioning a lot of things earlier because of Ian and the leadership's arrogance. They seemed to fashion themselves infallible, something which was obviously not true, plus they seemed to have a tenuous relationship with the truth at best. Whenever I mentioned being honest for the sake of it their smirks, chortles and derisive looks left very little to the imagination about their position. But, when Ian talked about John P. in that denigrating and demeaning manner it made the gears in my brain start churning. You see, one of the main reasons Ian and some of the leadership had given for splitting away from John P. and not working with him and the WWP was because they had said he tried to hold the racial issue over their heads. Given Ian's remarks I started to wonder what if this happened this way instead of that way and not everything was as it seemed. Ian's comments and general attitude seemed to strengthen the credibility and veracity of John P's original criticisms. I remember trying to talk to Preston Wood, an older member and leader of the Los Angeles branch, about it. It was a hard topic to broach and Preston is so enamored of Ian that anytime I moved in the direction of questioning or criticism he would just bat away my concerns. (It was worse when I actually heard Preston laughing with Ian about John P. one of the times. They were chuckling about it like it was the John P. Comedy Revue. Just for the record it's an extremely disturbing sight, especially for a person of color, to see two white men ridiculing and laughing about a black man like that. It is worse when one of them is the "leader" of the branch and the other one has been around long enough to know better.) But, as you can see, these elements of doubt as they grew were only heading in one direction and they have come to a head with my recent departure from the PSL. These are the type of people promoted for leadership in PSL and they are treated as beyond reproach. Yet they hold other people to a higher standard than they are willing to hold themselves to. The fact that people with such chauvinistic attitudes were promoted and protected is hypocritical for an organization that talks about national liberation and fighting racism. Fighting oppression for these people seems to be okay when it is abstract or somewhere else but it never seems to apply to their own behavior. In this light the squashing of criticism becomes especially undemocratic because you are not allowed to address legitimate concerns.
One of the reasons I initially left the PSL was because I thought it was undemocratic and a violation of my rights when Ian shouted me down at a meeting simply for trying to answer concerns to a political point I had raised. (The fact that he was supported by the branch leadership only made it worse.) How anyone could think that was right and not hold him and the leadership accountable for it is still beyond my understanding. So was the idea of forcing people to vote for unacceptable options, but I will describe that later in brief. Suffice to say I have a greater appreciation and perspective on what counts for justifiable with these people and how arrogant they are. I can only wonder what exactly John P. went through. Given what I know now and how the PSL can justify the most blatant violations of democratic rights, bourgeois or proletariat, it only adds to my sympathy for whatever John P. went through. The PSL always talked about how heavy handed John P. was in talking about race issues and the national question but you haven't met heavy handed until you have met Ian. Given how stubborn and full of themselves Ian and the rest of the PSL leadership are I think John P. probably needed to be a little persistent in getting his point across through their thick skulls.
Among one of the more prominent reasons which gave rise to doubts was the behavior of a young, self fashioned LGBT activist named Carlos Alvarez. This guy used to walk around the office insulting people just to see their response. He would literally call people "asshole" as they walked through the door or mock people with names like midget or any number of general insults meant to make people uncomfortable. This was all demoralizing behavior used by Carlos to stake out his territory. That's not even accounting for the fact that the PSL leadership totally let this Carlos guy get away with it to the point where they enabled his egotistical and abusive behavior. This only helped hype up his inflated sense of self importance to the point that when his girlfriend, a female comrade, decided to break up with him, he snapped and assaulted her. He then tried to cover it up, with the help of the PSL leadership, by trying to pin it on a "mental breakdown." Whenever I think about it in any objective light the balance of hypocrisy and application of double standards makes my head spin. There is no justification for harboring or protecting someone who has committed domestic violence against someone else in your organization. This is especially true for an organization that talks about women’s liberation and fighting gender oppression. It is more galling and hypocritical considering you get more of a criticism of someone like that singer Chris Brown, who I just saw on the news recently, for a domestic violence assault. A pop singer was scrutinized more in general society and the media than someone supposedly fighting gender oppression in a socialist group. I think most people would appreciate the dark irony of this situation but the people I was working with in the PSL do not and that puts things more in relief.
The other thing, sort of related to what I just talked about but more related to leaving the PSL in general, has been their response or lack thereof. While I know a lot of accusations and supplications were thrown around in previous political disputes I am pretty sure no one was ever threatened with physical violence or harassed in such a vile form as what I experienced from the PSL. I already mentioned this guy, Marcial, who is a thuggish enforcer type for the PSL branch who usually does a lot of their dirty work, but is eventually always protected by the leadership. He is quite macho and tried to treat the LA office like his own personal stable and mount every female in sight. I don’t know if you have ever met his type, but he is the kind of guy who is so “revolutionary” and self-righteous that he repeatedly called for the expulsion of (up to 7) people that did not meet his high standards. The hypocritical nature of him trying to get rid of people who could incriminate his behavior or whom he saw as competition, let alone those who did not meet his oh-so-high standards, once again makes my head spin in considering why the people in the PSL ever protected him. Considering how he used to talk about how other people "needed to know their place" this behavior makes more sense. Every time this guy messed up the leadership said the next time would be his last but every time he would just be protected or they would come up with some other excuse to allow his behavior. This gets to one of the main issues with the PSL. If you do not hold people accountable for their behavior then you are condoning it. To give an example, this guy sent me threatening and harassing messages which I will attach or forward so you can get a sense of what people in the PSL are like.
It’s almost absurd to think, but this "Marcial" character has had the most communication with me after I left the PSL of anyone else. Maybe I should take his messages as their official response given his usual role and the way they protect him. The silence and complete lack of a response to my resignation only makes me think this is the PSL's pattern of behavior: to just ignore people when they don’t agree with them either internally or externally. It is all part of a certain method to their actions that speaks of silence and ignorance. They think it is okay to shout down people and shut them up in total contravention of any democratic norms and they think it is okay to force people to vote for things they don’t want, without recourse to a democratic solution. This has been the ultimate rub for me, as stifling discussion and refusing to give someone a decent explanation is something that goes against some of the most central tenets of my character. In the end it all seems like their words of building something better ring hollow – they don't want something better they just want something where they are in charge. I know, for myself, I didn’t get involved in activism and organizing just to play follow the leader.
But I am still left wondering about certain answers or the lack of accountability. People seem to have an amazing ability to absolve themselves of their actions and rationalize their behavior. I am reminded of what someone once told me, that people should at least have a chance to be heard or something to that affect. Maybe I am applying too much of my situation to their words but they practically echo my sentiment exactly. Afterall, who is afraid of a little discussion? Who would be afraid to let people air out their issues and concerns and let them have their due? Without dialogue it is hard to work out anything.
I will attach for you the letter of resignation I sent to the PSL so you have an idea of the initial concerns which brought me to my current situation. Just to recap, with a quick summary -- and to clarify some things which have taken a certain importance based on conversations with people since I left the PSL-- the resignation letter deals with some basic violations of democratic centralism. In brief, I originally raised an issue regarding an undemocratic oversight I thought should be corrected at an internal party meeting. Namely, bylaws possibly forcing people to vote for something they did not want. There were concerns about my corrective proposal but I was not allowed to address those concerns when I raised my hand (as the leadership was trying to ignore me). After about 4-5 responses Ian Thompson, the nominal head of the Los Angeles branch, brought up a claim which I thought seriously misrepresented the effect of the proposal. After he finished, but before he could ignore me and call on someone else, I spoke up of my own accord to try to answer people’s concerns to my corrective proposal. I only got in a couple sentences edgewise before Ian cut me off and raised his voice to drown me out while stammering out “no, no, no, no, no.” (I am pretty sure this is called shouting down but if you can come up with a better term for it let me know.) As I was shocked to what happened, some of the other leaders stepped in to back up Ian and shut down discussion and I was told I could fill out some form to raise the (un)democratic issue at the party congress. When I raised my corrective proposal at the congress I basically reviewed a statement I had submitted. I was opposed by a nonsensical argument addressing a different section of the newly proposed constitution. They basically said forcing people to vote for a full ballot, even with unacceptable options, was part of "full participation." When I tried to respond by asking for time to address the issue I was denied. The only way I could get in a word edgewise was when I asked to at least clarify something. I was allowed to clarify that the argument posited by the PSL did not even address the correct section of the constitution. They then magically lifted the argument whole cloth from one section of the constitution and said it was also applicable to my proposal for another section. I could only look on in stunned disbelief. The gears within my brain grinded to comprehend how anyone could count as fully participatory something that was not fully democratic. It was pretty clear that the argument never mattered, and the outcome was already decided ahead of time. The fact that Ian was on the presiding committee at the congress may have had something to do with that, but who knows, it certainly did not feel impartial. That was the end of the discussion, no one else spoke up and they approved the section as is. If this all seems like some cruel little pretend game of mock democracy for the sake of putting on a show then you share my sentiment, but the letter should provide more detail.
I will just add that Ian and the leadership have made it pretty clear the PSL is not everyone's party, not in any egalitarian sense anyways. It's their party and if you want to be in it you have to follow what they say like good little children and there will not be any room for anything they disagree with ever -- not even room to debate it. This level of paternalism is insulting to any sort of free thinking person and it is apparent it helps foster undemocratic behavior. Now, I don't know about you but if their "democratic participation" is only democratic until they disagree with you, then that isn't very democratic at all. Who needs democratic norms and principles when everyone agrees with one another (or just plays "follows the leader")? Democratic norms and principles are exactly for those occasions when people don't agree, so you can have some sort of system for working things out and making sure that even people in the minority have a fair say. What occurred at the internal party meeting and the following events at the congress did not even approach that level of fairness, it was more a mockery of it.
In the end it is working people’s struggles that matters most and I hope to persevere in future endeavors to contribute to progressive struggles. Watching the immigrants rights march here in LA on May 1st it was apparent how big the struggle of the working class is and how small the PSL is in comparison. They were just another contingent, among many other contingents, in a mass of humanity. There are so many people and groups who have something to contribute to working class struggle and progressive change. Whether as an individual or in collaboration with any number of groups the possibilities for contributing to progressive change are immeasurable. Hopefully people can find some common ground for collaborating with each other on various fronts.
This whole process has been a hard lesson in life about the limits of participating in a political organization, especially one whose leaders have so much class privilege or are willing to ignore it. The idea of trying to build something up with trust fund babies and their hangers on looks unappealing at best when put in perspective. Their class orientation may be that it’s their party and they own it but they don’t own me.
If nothing else this has been a lesson in standing up for your principles, but more importantly your dignity.
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