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Some thoughts on Al Gore and misogynistic “progressive” leadership

July 21, 2010

The Enquirer is reporting that two more massage therapists have claimed that Al Gore sexually assaulted them.

Yesterday, via Kloncke, I read an amazing article, originally published in make/shift magazine, “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements”. The article uses the case of Brandon Darby, an FBI informant who worked as a progressive activist at Common Ground in post-Katrina New Orleans, as an example of how privileged heterosexual men often use misogyny and homophobia to undermine the effectiveness of radical movements, whether they are agents of the government or not.

Author Courtney Desiree Morris explains:

The state has already understood a fact that the Left has struggled to accept: misogynists make great informants. Before or regardless of whether they are ever recruited by the state to disrupt a movement or destabilize an organization, they’ve likely become well versed in practices of disruptive behavior. They require almost no training and can start the work immediately. What’s more paralyzing to our work than when women and/or queer folks leave our movements because they have been repeatedly lied to, humiliated, physically/verbally/emotionally/sexually abused? Or when you have to postpone conversations about the work so that you can devote group meetings to addressing an individual member’s most recent offense? Or when that person spreads misinformation, creating confusion and friction among radical groups? Nothing slows down movement building like a misogynist.

Al Gore is certainly not a member of a radical leftist group; he’s closer to the state than most of the informants hired to infiltrate these groups in the first place. But for me, Morris’ ideas about the prevalent tolerance for misogyny among male leaders in progressive political movements rings true in light of the accusations about Al Gore. How many more women were assaulted by him, but hesitated to speak up because they did not want to bring down an ally? How many individuals – marginalized individuals – were silenced out of fear, self-doubt, or “the good of the movement?”

In this moment, I feel discouraged, saddened, and angry by the latest news about Gore. But I want to echo Morris’s hopeful ending, which explains her vision for more holistic and accountable leadership in progressive movements:

We have a right to be angry when the communities we build that are supposed to be the model for a better, more just world harbor the same kinds of antiqueer, antiwoman, racist violence that pervades society. As radical organizers we must hold each other accountable and not enable misogynists to assert so much power in these spaces. Not allow them to be the faces, voices, and leaders of these movements. Not allow them to rape a compañera and then be on the fucking five o’ clock news… By not allowing misogyny to take root in our communities and movements, we not only protect ourselves from the efforts of the state to destroy our work but also create stronger movements that cannot be destroyed from within.

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