The stark national divide between left-wing and right-wing politics was on full display at the College of William and Mary two weeks ago. Two groups from two different ends of the political spectrum — Tribe for Life and the William & Mary Workers’ Union — pursued two very different organizing strategies that week, and we can learn a lot about the state of American politics by examining both groups closely.
When members of the College community look back on that week, the thing they will probably remember most is the back-and-forth over the Integrated Science Center chalkboard. When the anti-abortion group Tribe for Life claimed that the inflammatory and triggering statements they wrote on the ISC chalkboard were erased by pro-choice students overnight, it sparked a campus-wide conversation about free speech and abortion.
Tribe for Life was faced with a unique opportunity to use this conversation to help their cause. As an organization that wants to end abortion, Tribe for Life could have used this moment to promote safe-sex practices and hand out free condoms. As an organization that claims they want to help women, Tribe for Life could have used this moment to raise awareness for the sexism and misogyny faced by female college students. As an organization that has endorsed Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, thereby publicly supporting a conservative politician, Tribe for Life could have used this moment to register first-time voters and help students request absentee ballots for the presidential election.
Needless to say, they did not do any of that. Instead, members of Tribe for Life rewrote their anti-abortion propaganda and spent all day Friday guarding the chalkboard. They sat there for hours, using viciously ignorant words to defend their beliefs, with one member of the organization even comparing reproductive rights to chattel slavery. Tribe for Life used their organizing power to spread hateful messaging and defend — of all things — a chalkboard.
As this was all going on, the William & Mary Workers’ Union was doing something very different. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the College’s downright disdain for protecting workers’ rights. Like Tribe for Life, the William & Mary Workers’ Union was being presented with an opportunity to further their cause.
The Union responded to this unique moment by designing masks that said “Protect W&M Jobs” and “Living Wage Now.” They sold these masks to students on a pay-what-you-can basis, with the funds going toward their organizing efforts. Selling the masks to students also allowed the Union to hand masks out to workers for free. They declared Friday to be “Fair Wage Friday” and asked students and workers to wear their Union masks. The same day that Tribe for Life was standing around a chalkboard and comparing abortion to slavery, the William & Mary Workers’ Union was ensuring that College employees had masks to protect themselves against COVID-19 and was raising awareness for the dangerous conditions in which College employees are being forced to work. While Tribe for Life used their power to grasp for an imaginary moral high ground with symbolic chalk art, the William & Mary Workers’ Union used their power to actively help a marginalized community.
I believe that the contrast between the recent behavior of Tribe for Life and the William & Mary Workers’ Union exemplifies a difference between right-wing and left-wing politics. I am categorizing Tribe for Life as a right-wing political group here because they have openly supported the confirmation of conservative justice Amy Coney Barrett. Right-wing political groups do not care if their words or actions are hurtful as long as they get to feel like they are right. Sometimes, they even brag about hurting people’s feelings and offending members of marginalized groups. Meanwhile, left-wing activists are actually going out into the world, lifting up oppressed groups, and finding ways to help them. Left-wing political groups want to make the world a better place, while right-wing political groups just want to be right.
This divide will not end when this election ends. In fact, the results of this election will probably divide the political spectrum even further. So, we will all be faced with the choice between these brands of politics, and that choice is far more important than just a choice between candidates. The choice between left-wing and right-wing politics is a choice between humanitarian organizing and hateful rhetoric. It is a choice between helping others for the sake of achieving justice and hurting others for your own gain. It is a choice between progressing toward equality and regressing into barbarism. Which will you choose?
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