The political end of Twitter tends to be a place people go to rhetorically fuss and fight with strangers. Think what you will of that. For some, it’s a positive thing, an opportunity to demonstrate to others how to beat back bad-faith arguments in real time. For others, it becomes little more than an ego-gratifying diversion from real political work, an un-useful expenditure of combative negative energy.
At the same time, political Twitter can be great place for journalists to connect with each other and groups of engaged citizens, to share important information and spread it around. As an independent journalist, I’ve found that aspect of the platform quite valuable, but what I appreciate even more are the fellow citizens, non-journalists, who break stories on their own.
Such was the case this past weekend when Currie Dobson, a non-partisan leftist I’ve been following on Twitter for a year or so, broadcast a video from his car on his way to hear Tulsi Gabbard speak in southern California. In the short clip, he talked about what he decided to ask Gabbard during the Q&A, an explosive question about the rigged 2016 Democratic primary, its continuing impact on voters, and what Gabbard plans to do if the rigging happens again in 2020.
Astonishingly, Dobson managed to get the mic at the end of the Q&A and boldly (as well as respectfully) asked just that question, while live-streaming the whole thing.
Here’s the video of how it went down:
In both art and life, it’s astonishing how small moments, little occurrences, can tell you volumes about the larger picture. As Jane Albrecht, president of the Malibu Democratic Club, commandeered the mic from Dobson and redirected his incendiary question to Tom Perez-DNC-vague-lobotomy territory (unity, values, yada yada), several things were revealed.
Before digging into those revelations, I wanted to check in with Dobson himself and get some context. I reached him at his home in southern California. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.
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Currie, thanks for taking the time. I’ve been curious ever since you streamed your video on Twitter. What inspired you to ask the particular question you did about the 2016 rigged Democratic primary and how Tulsi plans to respond if the 2020 primary is similarly rigged?
It’s the thing that bugs me most about the Democrats and the whole election process. They’ve never acknowledged what they did. They’ve never apologized. They’ve never done anything to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
What was your experience of the 2016 primary? At what point did you come to the conclusion, “Oh God, this is a fraudulent primary. This is being rigged”?
For me it was the California primary. When the Associated Press called it for Hilary before the voting had even started, that’s what did it for me. That’s when I realized, “this is really rigged”. I had also been following what went down in other states like Nevada with its manipulated caucus and New York with its illegal purging of hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls.
I walked away from the whole experience honestly feeling that the Democrats are irredeemable, that they deserve to be destroyed. And I don’t see enough progressives and people on the left saying that we need to destroy them. Frankly, what I did in Malibu needs to be repeated at every single town hall for every Democratic candidate. We shouldn’t let them forget what they did. They screwed over democracy. Democrats are supposed to be the party of the people. They’re supposed to be taking on class issues and fighting for our rights against big corporations, but they’re not. They side with big business consistently. Look at Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. That’s failure right there. It’s sad. I mean, Republicans have a more fair and democratic primary process than the Democrats do.
I’m curious how other attendees of Tulsi’s town hall in Malibu reacted. What was the tenor in the room when you asked your question?
Oh yes, there was this huge cheer when I asked about rigged primaries. What these party officials don’t understand is that a big portion of these audiences, especially for Tulsi and Bernie, are not really Democrats. We’re independents and we’re still raw about all this stuff from 2016. So there was a big cheer when I brought up the issue. And the place was packed.
And what was the tenor of the room once Jane Albrecht, the president of the Malibu Democratic Club that sponsored the event, took the mic back from you and redirected your question?
Yeah, I let her take the mic back after I asked my question. That’s what you normally do in these town halls. But I was surprised when she interjected and started going on about unity and blah blah blah. The audience? They just went dead quiet. Dead quiet.
How do you feel Tulsi handled the situation?
It was okay, but she seemed kind of like a hostage—like she was under the watch of this woman from the Democratic Club who interrupted her just as she was about to answer my question. In fact, she answered a similar question at a non-Democratic Party event recently, a video her campaign shared and then quickly deleted, but was reposted by myself and others. That’s the video I referred to when asking her my question:
So, with the redirect, Tulsi ended up kind of blathering on with a little bit of word salad about tribalism and coming together. I don’t think she could be direct. I got a bit agitated while while she was talking and shouted out “will you stand up to the party?” And she kind of stepped forward and looked me in the eye and said “have you seen me do that before?”
I appreciated that. I’d like to see her at an event that’s not sponsored by the Democrats, where she’d be more free to speak. I still think she has a lot of courage. She stood up to the DNC when she supported Bernie. She’s spoken out about Assange.
This was really helpful context, Currie. Thanks for speaking with me.
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With Currie’s perspective framing our exploration, let’s get back to what this seemingly small event reveals. The first issue to consider is one of institutional control. I recently conducted an extended interview about political strategy with author, journalist, activist and veteran Stan Goff. One of the things Stan took pains to emphasize during our conversation was that large institutions like the Democratic Party operate on a centralized strategic basis—and one thing that falls out of that is the institution’s need to maintain ideological control, to keep a grip on their members through the power of hierarchy, to squash unsanctioned individual initiative, and to focus more squarely on managerial priorities.
When Jennifer Albrecht redirected Currie Dobson’s question, sounding so reminiscent of the head of the DNC Tom Perez, she inadvertently revealed how important it is to the managers of the Democratic Party—and that importance has been communicated from the top all the way down to the local level—that their rigging of the 2016 Democratic Primary not be discussed. Furthermore, when seen in the context of a fraudulent election process that was directed at one specific party member (an extraordinary act of party disunity, if you think about it), it is deeply ironic that party managers find it necessary to call for unity. If the party weren’t fragmenting, this call would be wholly unnecessary.
In light of the 2016 election fraud, the smears directed at Sanders originating from within the party’s managerial structure, and the continuation of those smears with the additional target of Tulsi Gabbard—all of which represent remarkably public acts of inter-party warfare—it is not too difficult to see that Democratic Party calls for unity are not genuine, and certainly not what they appear to be on the surface. They are code. They are, in fact, calls for obedience. And party managers want that obedience from progressive-minded candidates like Sanders and Gabbard, as well as from voters who support their work.
As much as one may bristle or become enraged at such undemocratic demands, this naked exercise of managerial dominance also smacks of desperation.
But why would these powerful people be desperate? This leads us to reveal number two. Media message control is not working any more. There is an informed, skeptical and confident bottom-up energy coming from a growing section of the electorate. This one little event for Gabbard in the largely well-to-do California town of Malibu is instructive. How? Again, context is important. Gabbard has been consistently left out of mainstream polls or shown to be polling at dismal numbers. She has been relentlessly attacked in all of her corporate media appearances, and has been attacked in absentia by online indy media outlets with significant followings (David Pakman, as one example).
Conventional wisdom has it that those attacks should have a chilling effect on her candidacy. Remember, all it took to make voters turn away from Howard Dean in 2004 was an audio-distorted scream. Yet the place in Malibu was packed. In fact, if you look at the majority of events that Gabbard has convened, they have all been extremely well attended. What this tells you is that many voters are simply not listening to what self-appointed cultural authorities are telling them to think.
Let’s go even further. While it may be the case that voters either like what they hear from Gabbard in her corporate media appearances, or like what they hear when they see her with Jimmy Dore, Joe Rogan, Glenn Greenwald, Michael Tracey, Kim Iversen, Niko House and other new school indy media figures, what I suspect is even more powerful is content created and shared on social media by citizens like Currie Dobson.
Google can change its algorithms to engineer search results as often as it wants. Facebook and Twitter can kick disfavored viewpoints off their platforms, and the NSA can collect all of our data and ideas for punitive use when they see fit. But the 21st century Internet continues to end run around the authorities. Bottom up, as challenged as it ever is, still finds a way to climb.
One last connected thought for reveal number three. Secrecy and lack of distributed information is one of the key ways that large organizations ensure the unpopular or illegal activities they engage in don’t have repercussions. But what managers still haven’t fully grasped, even though it gets shoved in their faces again and again (remember when Mitt Romney got caught on video calling half of Americans people who want free stuff?), is that regular people are walking around this country every day with high-definition broadcast devices in their pockets. Secrecy? What secrecy? As much as the populace of this country is subject to unconstitutional surveillance, our ruling elites and their subordinates consistently forget that we have the power to surveil them as well.
How on earth do you maintain plausibly deniable top-down control of something like a political party when A) an increasing number of people aren’t loyal to it, and B) they can publicly out you in real time before you have the chance to talk your way out of it?
A mere week ago, Dobson committed an act of bottom-up disobedience and surveillance against party elites. And the ripples of that act are still expanding, if you care to look.
One thing you may see is unwitting party self-destruction.
As always, thanks for reading.
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