Today I shared this story, about Oberlin students complaining that bad cafeteria food is cultural appropriation. The story blew up, because it seems to confirm so many of the stereotypes of college students. (Among other things, even if you buy into the idea that food that was intentionally spread by members of other cultures into the wider world can be appropriated – I don’t – a type of chicken that was invented in the United States and a sandwich that comes in a French baguette are really bad examples.)
But check out this other story about student protesters at Oberlin going after the dining halls. In this piece, if starts off with complaints about food quality, which is asking to be dismissed. (I’m really sorry to tell college students this, but shitty food is a fact of life.) But it goes on to mention that there’s also a complaint about better working conditions for the cafeteria staff. That’s what you should be protesting about! That’s what could work! That could actually win people over to your side. I think it’s OK for me to say so. More: I think it’s my responsibility to say so.
But a lot of people on Twitter today yelled at me for criticizing the first story. They think I should keep my mouth shut. They think my job, as a leftist, is not to say when I think a movement, argument, or action has gone wrong. They think the point of left wing politics is to defer to those making certain kinds of complaints.
Well, I don’t defer to anybody, when it comes to politics. My goal isn’t to be on a team. My goal is to build a left wing movement that can win. And Oberlin students complaining about bad chicken will never, ever grow the coalition of the left. Those tactics cannot possibly win, and so people who defend them are hurting the effort to make the world a more just place. Anybody who’s about winning is my ally. Anybody who isn’t is my enemy. And I think everyone who’s genuinely committed to real world justice should feel the same.