BMDC Public Statement Against Cancel Culture

Boston May Day Coalition denounces cancel culture and the ongoing attack on BMDC!

The Boston May Day Coalition (BMDC) was founded 17 years ago during the rising movement and huge mobilizations defending migrants and demanding legal permanent residence for all undocumented immigrants. BMDC is currently the target of a boycott campaign based on false narratives with the intention of destroying the organization. Seven longtime activists who disagree with these attacks, both members and nonmembers, are being targeted, slandered, labeled “transphobes”, and subjected to online doxing of their full names and personal information.

In June, a Boston May Day Coalition meeting was subjected to a hostile intervention by a large group trying to shut down its activities and with the main purpose of expelling multiple members of the coalition. A leading participant described the effort as a “hostile takeover”. Some claimed that BMDC needed to be shut down and had no right to exist. At subsequent BMDC meetings this grouping demanded that "the keys to the office", meaning all passcodes to BMDC online accounts, be handed over to them immediately, and if not, no further meetings would be permitted to take place. The group participating in the hostile intervention claimed to be “fighting transphobia” as justification for their attack and their attempt to demolish BMDC. Later actions included posting publicly the names of seven activists, including members and non-members of BMDC, including women, peace, and labor solidarity activists. On the page of one group boycotting BMDC, pictures of bricks meant for "local transphobes" were posted!

BMDC is a diverse group of folks having different political views but who come together to work on various struggles where there is agreement. On 2/26/23 BMDC voted to clarify its position on trans rights after a dispute between 2 members over work in the antiwar movement, one member being a trans woman. BMDC voted unanimously to approve the following:

“Trans folks are an oppressed social layer in this oppressive imperialist nation who are fighting back through a wide social campaign demanding to be treated equally and asserting rights that should be protected by the constitution… BMDC has had a longstanding position in solidarity with trans rights and members have participated in different actions supporting trans folks…We value the contributions of trans members both in recent times and in years past… We consider the gender identity of anyone in BMDC to be a settled question determined by the trans member who belongs to BMDC.” BMDC made a commitment to reject expletive outbursts or the denial of any member's gender identity.

Those involved in the hostile intervention comprise an unholy alliance of people who in the main have long standing political differences with BMDC going back many months and in some cases, even years. They have been boycotting BMDC for a long time now for reasons having nothing to do with trans rights. A broad debate is unfolding, across the country and beyond, about trans rights. This debate is unfolding among millions whether we like it or not. Conservative politicians are pushing this debate in order to hustle votes. They have no desire to defend women, children, or anyone else in the working class. These politicians are getting big exposure in the major media outlets. Cancel culture does nothing to help win millions of working people over to the cause of defending trans folks who are under attack from conservative politicians and the fascist movement.

Trying to resolve political disagreements by closing down political space is an abomination and repulsive to working people in their big majority. Today and historically, it is the employers, their government, and their police who seek to shut down political space for working people and the oppressed. Cancel culture is an element of this reactionary tradition and this political trend points in the direction of shutting down democratic political space for working people in general. Having a policy of summary expulsions and shutting down debates never resolves anything but seeks to short circuit needed political discussion which is necessary for folks to arrive at their own opinions based on facts and logic. Popularizing this tool from the reactionary tool kit is an obstacle to building a social movement defending workers and the oppressed.

After an armed struggle, the US constitution was amended to defend the right of anyone to express unpopular opinions and that a fair process was due to every person before that individual could be sanctioned by the state. Norms in practice on the left very often fall far short of basic concepts of fairness enshrined as entitlements in the US Constitution. Activists are often sanctioned based on falsehoods and rumors without being able to present their point of view on the matter. Dissenting opinions are at times raised against an arbitrary norm, one that is not based on facts, but on whims, or gossip, or out and out lies. Often folks are framed up on false charges and removed from so called “safe spaces” without the opportunity to express an opposing view. This practice of "canceling" or mass shaming often occurs on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

In recent years, conservatives were given an opening to defend ultra-rightists and fascists because of cancel culture coming from the left. They framed the debate as an issue of “free speech”. This helped send Trump to the US presidency. Cancel culture, in the form of shutting down protests and vilification of antiwar activists from rightist politicians, produced revulsion, and helped mobilize millions in the effort to end the war in Vietnam. The same vilification campaign against women and the massive, sustained backlash helped win abortion rights in the US. The vilification and repression of lesbians and gays eventually produced a massive, and visible, response over decades leading to the civil rights victories for LGBT folks. Mass movements have generally been able to break through the reactionary campaigns to shut them down and the necessary debates have taken place for advancing the interests of working people, resulting in victories.

In the context of social movements, cancel culture means expulsion or removal from organizations fighting for social justice or attempting to shut down the political space of those with different views, thus denying the ability to have an open and honest debate. The right to have a political debate and tolerance of conflicting opinions while maintaining agreement on central issues has been an important hallmark of successful social movements delivering concrete social and economic advances for working class people and the oppressed. As working people face an unfolding climate catastrophe, the rise of a fascist movement, denial of abortion rights, and the growing prospect of nuclear war, all too many on the left are caught up in canceling each other, seeking safe spaces and trigger warnings.

There is no safe space in a nuclear war, no safe space in a fascist America living under a police state dictatorship. There is no safe space for most people in the world as it exists today. Cancel culture provides cover for those who seek to shut us down and defeat our struggles for a better world. We are determined to continue our work and stand against the slanderous attacks, and we will continue to denounce cancel culture. The attack on BMDC is a challenge to the democratic right of activists to meet together, and to the project of building inclusive mass actions defending working people and the oppressed in solidarity. Join us!