We Hang Together Or We’ll All Hang Separately

After signing the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin summed up the colonists’ situation:“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Those who were intent upon positive change–in that case, separation from England–needed to stick together, or they’d get picked off one by one.

I thought about Franklin’s quote when I attended the Women’s March in Indianapolis on Saturday.

The March began with a rally, and throughout the hour or so of speeches, women–and a considerable number of men–continued to pour into the American Legion Mall. It’s a huge space, but it filled up. There were great signs (my favorites: “We, not Me” and “Haven’t we taken this ‘anyone can be President’ thing a bit too far?”). Most of the speeches were good–if some were a bit long and not entirely relevant. But the weather cooperated, the crowd was large and enthusiastic and the causes being highlighted were all important.

There was one unfortunate discordant note.

The first speech was given by two very young co-presenters representing Black Lives Matter, and they delivered a full-blown attack on the women in attendance–women who were virtually all there as allies. (They reminded me of those pastors who deliver sermons criticizing people who don’t come to church– to the people sitting in church.)

What was so distressing about their diatribe was that most of the points they were making were valid, and could have been made in a way that brought people together rather than dividing and offending them. As my son said, halfway through their very lengthy diatribe, the message should be “let’s all fight White Supremacy,” not “All you white women are White Supremacists.” (And that was before they told an overwhelmingly Democratic crowd that Hillary Clinton was corrupt, privileged and racist, and deserved to lose.)

This is the sort of counterproductive behavior that makes me worry about November.

I have been very critical of the GOP (with good reason), but honesty compels me to recognize that a portion of the Democratic party is also composed of zealots who would rather be right than win elections–who prefer assuming postures of moral superiority to the hard work of coalition-building and persuasion. If theirs are the voices that voters hear–if their tirades drown out the voices of those who are equally passionate but less strident and self-righteous–Democrats could approach November splintered and unable to catch the wave that seems to be building.

Let me make this clear: there are all kinds of injustices that Americans absolutely need to address. There is an ugly history we need to recognize, especially when it comes to the treatment of people of color–African-Americans, Native Americans, immigrants. These issues are critically important–but they will not be addressed, let alone remedied, if Republicans are still in control after the midterms.

You don’t win elections by unnecessarily alienating your friends and allies.

Democrats need to ask themselves what they want: to set themselves apart, cloaked in self-satisfied moral superiority? or to win and be in a position to make things better?

I think we should listen to Ben Franklin.


  1. Who is really being divisive?

    Your concerns are dismissed as a “Discordant” note.Hmmmm,note.

    When you voice your concerns it’s a “Diatribe”.

    To question the selection chosen by the DNC is “Counterproductive”.

    If you have principles and your principles clash against the DNC,you’re a “self-righteous zealot”.

    Not agreeing to the demands of the DNC and its sycophants to get with the program,ergo questioning the motives of the DNC is a “tirade”.

    This demand for everyone to blindly support the DNC is arrogant and smells of privilege.

    Who is actually doing the alienting?

  2. When considering the government shut-down, when considering the DACA legislative issue (totally separate from the budget funding issue), I’m drawn back 20 years in time.

    In the mid-1990’s, I was busy with raising a family and with my career in Virginia Beach. On the other hand, Bill Clinton (voted twice for him in Presidential elections) was busy between 1995 and 1997 with Monica Lewinsky, but more importantly, Bill Clinton was busy in 1996 supporting the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, hereafter known as the IIRIRA. While I and the rest of my contemporaries were busy building careers and raising families, Bill Clinton was busy creating a despicable and massive immigration deportation bill whereby today we’re left cleaning up his mess.

    If there are issues with any of the above statements, read the attached Vox article as per this website link: https://www.vox.com/2016/4/28/11515132/iirira-clinton-immigration

  3. JD @ 3:02 good points. Especially, this comment of yours:

    The number of people participating was in the thousands in Indianapolis. It was disheartening to hear the local NPR affiliate report “about a thousand” marched. It was bad enough that the IndyStar chose to focus (as usual) on Pence and Trump as they signed an executive order allowing the discrimination by healthcare and service providers based on religious grounds, relegating the March to one picture and a short article in a back section. When you cannot depend on local media, no matter their political, bent to report accurately on such details as the number of marchers, it is a cause for distrust and concern.

    Well JD, that is Indianapolis – As I said recently here our local PBS TV Station has had Lawrence Welk, every Saturday Night at 7 PM for as long as I can remember. It is best to keep the mind numbed here in Indiana. The Star is all about Sports, Sports, Sports, or some new brewery opening up.

    I would also agree that verbal assaults are not very constructive toward a goal of building unity.

  4. Watching MSNBC off and on today, hoping for some form of progress, silly me. This entire government is in a shambles with the president in hiding – maybe he isn’t as stupid or mentally unbalanced as we thought and he is hiding the this Congress. If there was any way possible to accomplish it; I would fight to bring back Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew and appoint Charles Manson Chief of Staff. If I had any way to escape this asylum which is being run by the inmates, I would gladly do it and never look back.

  5. Amen Sheila. As several others have said, ‘the perfect should not be the enemy of the good’ and ‘you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar’.

    Martin Luther King Jr. won ever-increasing support for the civil rights movement with non-violence rather than responding in kind to the civilian and law enforcement thugs who hurled deratory comments and threatened, injured, and killed to preserve white supremacy. King extended the non-violence to his words as well as deeds. He lead by inspiration rather than denigration. His efforts succeeded through addition, not subtraction. It’s a good lesson for all who want to make a positive difference.

  6. Thank you to Judy (January 22, 2018 at 7:26 am) for identifying the speakers as members of Indy10 Black Lives Matter, and for mentioning that video of the two speakers (Leah and Kyra) is available on that group’s Facebook page.

    Judy’s post enabled me to listen too, even though I wasn’t at the rally.

    And although I imagine many in attendance were surprised by the tone and certain rhetorical choices the speakers made, I have to agree with Judy: the points they raised were valid. If you listen and feel an urge to rewrite their speech to make it more palatable (as I initially did) take a moment to ask yourself why.

    Thank you Sheila for your blog (which I always enjoy reading) and for creating a space where your commenters can share different points of view.


  7. “I have been very critical of the GOP (with good reason), but honesty compels me to recognize that a portion of the Democratic party is also composed of zealots who would rather be right than win elections–who prefer assuming postures of moral superiority to the hard work of coalition-building and persuasion. If theirs are the voices that voters hear–if their tirades drown out the voices of those who are equally passionate but less strident and self-righteous–Democrats could approach November splintered and unable to catch the wave that seems to be building.”

    OK, I am going to attempt to make a connection between the above copied and pasted paragraph from Sheila on yesterday’s blog about hanging together or hanging separately…bear with me on this. The sample, abbreviated version of USA Today that arrives daily with our Indianapolis Star had this front page headline today (1/23/18); “Spending deal is only a short respite from strife” “In a few weeks, lawmakers will be back at one another’s throats” This is not news to any of us who have been paying attention and who fully understand where “blame” for the government shutdown must be placed. I agree with Senator Schumer’s stand to deal with DACA; repeatedly refused by Trump and the GOP by trying to force that wall be constructed and paid for by you and I and our working family members. The precarious situation of all immigrants in this country was part of the Women’s March on Saturday; it is an issue, like women’s rights, which has been ignored for decades by state and federal government.

    To quote from the USA Today article regarding the true status of the bill “ending” the government shutdown by forestalling the fight to February 8th, and DACA status as it now stands; “Democrats agreed to support the bill after winning a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, to bring up an immigration bill on February 8th – or before then if there’s a bipartisan consensus around a specific proposal.” Trump came out of hiding to sign the bill. We can consider the outcome of this “agreement” by Republicans as a foregone conclusion to continue ignoring the Dreamers and pushing for Trump’s wall.

    One Republican Senator told Republicans yesterday to concentrate on 2020, not on the Primaries. We of the Democratic party MUST concentrate on the upcoming Primaries to strengthen our party before the November general elections. We will all definitely “hang together” otherwise. We can hope that Senator Schumer and other Democrats in the bipartisan meeting yesterday made the correct decision by agreeing to compromise…this action didn’t always work out for President Obama and we are now “hanging in the wind” due to the complete takeover of government by Republicans.

    The marches, rallies and protests must continue; our search for strong Democratic candidates must also continue…we must work together to prevent hanging together or separately.

  8. I have to know about a march in order to attend it. Organizations need to plan and publicize in advance if they want widespread attendance. I scheduled the women’s march–put it on my calendar and planned around it–just like I did for the science march and the pride parade. I would have gladly done the same thing for a march for racial justice and equality. Castigating people who would have shown up, blasting us for “not caring” (with the not-so-subtle implication that we’re racists) doesn’t accomplish anything positive; it actually reduces participation, which I know from some of the conversations I’ve read and heard, because it creates an “us vs. you” mentality, rather than the “we” we need to effect the kind of change we DO want to see in the world.

  9. I will never understand why People of Color asking to be treated with equity, dignity and fairness, regardless the tone, is seen as more divisive than white supremacy. White supremacy is a white people problem, and it seems high time that we white folks started listening to Women of Color without criticizing them for how they scream for their lives about injustice.

    I was there. I listened to every word as I interpreted the speech into ASL. I have listened to it again via a recording. I surely didn’t imagine that they were only speaking about white women, they were just speaking to white women at that moment, so I didn’t feel that I was out of hot water as a white man attending the event. I was not offended one time.

    If people choose to be offended, it’s because “coming together” means for them that People of Color need to walk over to the white folks and do things the way white folks are doing them. White progressives’ refrain of “There’s a seat at the table for everyone,” seems to lack that final phrase, “but don’t forget, we own the table.”

    These women have been fighting against racism their entire lives, because that is what it means to be black in this country. These two women just want white people to fight against the system that we created, continue to support, and that privileges us at the cost of Black lives. If we are more outraged by the words of these black women than we are by the violence against black and brown bodies, then we are the problem, and we deserve to hear about it. Offended? That’s a choice in this instance. Tone policing is just a lower rung on the ladder of white supremacy than the BS we saw in Charlottesville. Tone policing is just a way white people get to say, “I agree that there should be justice, but I can’t support it, because you used hard words and hurt my feelings.” This isn’t about white feelings.

    Leah and Kyra were absolutely spot on, and I am surprised to read this criticism here. I’ve never been anything but a fan of this blog and your work, and I feel like I’ve been punched in the guy by this.

  10. Punched in the gut. Not the guy. For the love of all that’s holy. NOT punched in the guy. o_O

  11. Darren,

    “I’ve never been anything but a fan of this blog and your work, and I feel like I’ve been punched in the guy[t] by this.

    No one that I know of has contributed more to the values of democracy than Sheila. Although I support the actions of the Black Lives Matter speakers, I also understand how disappointed Sheila must have been at witnessing the divisiveness at the March. That reality must have also felt like a “punch to her gut.”

    Just maybe, you were both right in your feelings. Right now no one has presented any answer to the “shitty mess”we’re ALL sitting in.

  12. Marv,

    I can’t say this enough. Those young women didn’t say anything divisive. They spoke the truth. White folks decided it was divisive, because that’s easier than owning up to the truth. White folks evidently only want to “hang together” when we don’t have to move from the comfort of our privilege. And, to be honest, “hang?” Really? That’s some insensitive bs right there.

  13. I will reiterate again what I have been saying on this blog for 2 1/2 years: Our biggest problem is the inadequacies of the major investigative NGO’s serving the pro-democracy communities which are making it impossible to reach common ground.

    Their shallowness is killing us. We’re stuck. We can’t go any deeper to where many of our answers might be found.

  14. Darren,

    You’re probably right. However, truth can be divisive. How can anyone know what the truth is if there are no legitimate fact finders, especially when it involves race? Maybe “white folks” would see things differently if they were presented with all the facts that you apparently can see.

  15. There isn’t much talked about class within the body politic–at least by the New Democrats. I wonder why? Because when one confronts class issues you will also confront race issues,they’re intertwined no matter how much it makes the affluent/Caucasian/McResistance uncomfortable. We’re supposed to move along to get along and continue to vote for a party that has forgotten its ideals and goals in favor of supporting the establishment. This forum is very hostile to inconvenient truths and criticism of the establishment Democrats. It doesn’t surprise me the young women of BLM are accused of being divisive,self righteous and disruptive. Because the establishment really likes the way things are and have been. If Trump wasn’t President and Hillary was in the White House,does anyone really believe the McResistance would be marching across the country demanding why the inequality within this country is expanding? Of course not. It’s posturing to keep us all in line and demanding for our continued support for the DNC.

    When the Democrats have been accusing Trump of being the worst president ever (and an agent of Putin) for an entire year,what do they do? They join many Republicans to willingly and graciously give him more power to spy upon American citizens. In my opinion,they have lost all credibility and the kayfabe has been exposed. We’re expected to act like abused spouses when the Democratic Party keeps promising they’ll do much better if we will only vote for them this next time around. We must forgive them because golly gee,Republicans. Where have they been the previous decades? The Democrats are more offended by the President’s use of the word “shithole” than the decades long rot of systemic institutional racism. Did I mention the rot has been decades long? So,where in the hell was the indignation from the members of the McResistance prior to Trump?

  16. One more thing.

    What is the party-mantra given to those of us tired of the impotence of the party, “You’re a fucking moron” if you don’t continue to support the DNC and candidates such as Joe Donnelly. How do we know this? Because this very forum has many examples of such divisive platitudes by the party faithful.

    Calling for purity? No,we’re calling for candidates that will represent our interests. Obviously,our interests are not as important as those of the McResistance. Animal Farm Values,indeed.

  17. This is so tone deaf. Let black women speak. Honor their truth. Hear what they are saying. Period.

  18. Your comments seem to be based on the premise that that we should remain unified so that our hard-fought-for rights are not eroded. Can I suggest to you that we have never been unified because white people tend not to fully understand the challenges that POC (and women in particular) have faced and that more of our White rights risk erosion than our sisters of color because the cards are tremendously stacked against them? Historically, WOC have been screwed over by group fighting for rights once the group’s stated objective has been met. I’ll have to add that WOC are often eliminated from the discussion about what the stated objective should be. So, you may have been left “uncomfortable” with what was said and you may have left worried about what will happen in November—but that doesn’t compare with how WOC feel all the time. Can I suggest managing this discomfort by remembering that if the recent AL election was left solely to WW, one of the states in our union would have elected a pedophile. Perhaps we need to let someone who makes us a bit uncomfortable lead if we want to win in November.

  19. I’m so disappointed in this, Sheila. This is not the kind of leadership we need. We need leadership that’s sitting down and listening to the concerns of the voiceless, and then giving a platform to those voices like the march did. If you’re uncomfortable with what they said, then you haven’t done the necessary work to be worthy of their trust. No wonder these activists don’t align with the Democratic Party – we might seem to want to help, but our corruptness is just more polite.

  20. Marv,

    These two women shared the facts. Evidently some folks can’t hear them over the sound of their own complaining.

    I’m out.

  21. We white women needed to hear every word they said and then some. Yes it hurts. Think about why that is. Black women are doing us a favor by leading the way. The best sign at the rally (and it was held by a white woman) said this: “Nice White Gals: Are you willing to exercise humility? Will you sacrifice your social capital to achieve COLLECTIVE liberation?” I’ve been posting a pic of that sign all over FB. A woman of color started the pussyhat movement. If we want to keep that symbol, we white women need to redeem it. Sheila, this post is a step backwards.

  22. Tone policing, especially from such a position of privilege, prioritizes your fee-fees over the concerns of people who have to worry about being shot by cops. The divide is already a huge chasm, and your continuing to ignore it is more toxic than any discomfort. Equality isn’t supposed to be nice only for some people.

  23. You completely missed the message. They were standing in front of thousands of white women and expressing their anger at the constant dismissal, censure, and ignorance of WOC in the feminist movement. You want to be a good ally? Great! They literally gave examples of how we as white women have not been and how we could be better. They only mentioned Hillary because just like marching one day a year is not enough to fight oppression, neither was just casting a vote for Hillary (the far better candidate of the two, but still problematic) They were right and they were brave. Your ignorance is showing.

  24. Interesting read..



    Mallory continued: “When you hear these folks tell you to come and join their networks, what they’re saying is their networks are fluffy fun places where you can go and have your tea parties and get registered to vote, but they’re not trying to come and address the issues that matter to you. They don’t care about the issues that are concerning the lives of young, black and brown men and women in the blue states.”

  25. Never even knew about your blog until this debacle caught my attention. Looking through your other posts, it looks like you have some pretty progressive/challenging/informed ideas. But with this post, you just “Steinem’d” yourself. We all (especially us white folks… super especially the men) need to listen to voices of POC, LGBTQ, First People’s, etc. It can hurt, as a progressive/liberal/leftist, to find out that we aren’t as progressive/inclusive as we once thought. But it’s usually true. Trying to belittle the voices of POC/LGBTQ/First People/etc to avoid having to grow and improve ourselves isn’t very “progressive” at all. In fact, it’s a page right out of the republican/conservative/reactionary playbook.

    Instead, think of this challenge (in this case, from the WONDERFUL women of Indy10/BLM) as an opportunity to better ourselves and for a real coalition of progressive ideas and radical inclusion.

    And, side point, Hilary was “corrupt, privileged, and racist”. The dems lost for a reason.

  26. I must fully admit that it took me a good long while to find words to express my disappointment in this column/post. That is not a feeling I am used to. I normally do not struggle to find not just a few words, but many words to express my thoughts and feeling s. But I was, quite frankly, taken aback when a woman whom I have always considered a leader and guiding light in our movement published such tone deaf and unaware words regarding the harsh but critical truths spoken by two women of color. Understand, please. It was not just the words, but the language you use. Intentionally dismissive. Belittling. Defensive. Bottom line; racist.

    This is the harsh truth that every single one of us (the collective of white people) must… MUST… deal with; we are ALL, each and every one of us, racist. Not necessarily evil or bigoted, but racist. Because we benefit every single hour of every single day from the systems that constantly and consistently devalue and silence (at best) persons of color. That is a FACT that we who have the privilege of doing so flat out ignore. If we want even the chance of creating the equitable society we say we want, then we have to own those hard facts. Because you cannot change something until you admit that it exists and it needs to be changed. And that kind of truth SHOULD make you uncomfortable. It MUST make you uncomfortable. And we, as white people, must accept and deal with that discomfort. Because the fact that we are only uncomfortable with that reality and not dying because of it makes it our job to amplify those truths.

    So, when these comments come from a person who is viewed as a leader, come from a person as inarguably brilliant as you, Sheila, it can only be taken as an attack meant to silence. And isn’t that silencing what we are fighting against? I understand the call for unity. Believe me, I do. I sat through the same division you did, division that arguably played a role in putting the current regime in place. But, this is larger than that. This isn’t just one election. This pushes beyond that to the system that wouldn’t allow a black man in a position of power to even discuss race (not in any real capacity) yet turns a blind eye (or worse celebrates) the overt and vocal racism of a white man in the same role. This regime hurts all of us. But we are responsible for putting this regime in place. And unless we accept that fact, and allow it to be called out and named, and examine why, we cannot hope to have any better results in the future. If we are serious about creating that ideal equitable society where all Americans share in the same freedoms regardless of any of the boxes we put each other in, we have to not only hear, understand, and accept our complicity in the current oppressive society, but we also have to amplify the voices of those we’ve helped oppress, and listen to them when they talk about how to fix the damage we’ve done.

  27. To anyone who would invoke the name of Martin Luther King, Jr., to back up their tepid allyship, I leave you with this quote from his letter from Birmingham Jail:

    “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

  28. I’ve provided links to the following site before at this forum and those were met with crickets from the peanut gallery. I’m going to do it again. Another interesting read.


    The political center prevented the illusion of democracy from collapsing by setting aside certain issues that were left open for debate. These issues included the question of women’s reproductive rights, the rights of LGBTQ people, and the degree to which the rich would become richer through the US tax code. To this day, neo-liberals have largely co-opted these issues into tax-deductions in the form of non-profits while the right has strongly opposed any impediment to the white, patriarchal rule of the rich. The last forty years of inter-ruling class debate around these issues has brought little material benefit to the masses. It has, however, allowed so-called centrists to rationalize the exploitation of the poor and oppressed by privileging rationality and reason over justice.


  29. Sheila, I couldn’t be more saddened to read this from you. That you would use that quote to center and title your article with in itself speaks volumes of how tone deaf you are. I’m stunned, to be honest. You don’t speak for me, as a Democrat and as a white woman. I hope you’re taking the time to read Leah DeRae and Kyra Jay’s response. They are the most brave and bold voices out there and we should be amplifying what they’re saying, not criticizing. You’ve got work to do.

  30. I guess the truth hurts and someone is in their feelings. I wasn’t at the March but I saw the video from start to finish of my two beautiful sisters explaining their discontent with how things are going on and what needs to happen in order to change. The other part of white privilege is being so concerned about being scorned by black women that you missed the entire point. What they were saying, and other black women have been saying is that as black women are trying to explain to you the issues that we are faced with every day, you need to shut up and listen. The only way you can truly be an “ally” is if you do as such and educate yourself and show up and do the work that black people have been doing for years and not just for one day out of the year because of the march. Seems like Sheila needs to go back and watch the entire speech of these “very young women” as you have put it. And just because they are “young” this does not take away of the experience and the injustices that many of us have been witnesses to or have had to deal with on a daily basis! I suggest you reach out them and have a conversation and get to know them!

  31. Ms. Kennedy,

    Like many posting here, I was very disappointed in your post. You write very well, and you are an established presence in the Indiana Progressive community.

    However, this post is tone deaf. It’s demeaning to the speakers that you singled out and those they represent. And, it also demeaned you.

    While I was reading your post, I could Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” being recited in my head. Someone else has quoted the relevant portion above, so I won’t do it here. Except to say that it isn’t progressive or fair to ask people who are speaking out against evil and oppression to do it in a way that makes you comfortable. Neither is it progressive or fair to tell people in other communities that they could recruit more allies from the majority community if they did so in a manner that makes us more comfortable … especially not when your recommendations call them away from the center of their argument.

  32. If our activism is not inclusive and intersectional then we are part of the problem. I encourage you to attend an IndySURJ event so that you can learn how to include our sisters of color in your activism. Learn to use you voice and influence for the good of ALL women!
    Sincerely, another white woman who is always learning

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