What has now been donned as the ‘mitten meme’ shows a different kind of politics is possible. The inaugarations and campaigns of the past portray a culture of Hollywood and slick photo-finishes. The rise of meme culture in the last decade shows that the things that go viral aren’t perfect, but genuine, catching moments and people at both their most vulnerable but also most relaxed. Moments in history of pure beauty. The recent Bernie Sanders ‘mittens meme’ that went viral is an indicator that the US’ Hollywood-esque nature of politics is fast ending, in the epilogue of Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, and even the duke John Wayne when he used his stardom to support presidential candidates in the Golden Age of Hollywood up to the 1950s. Where once, nice photos and poetry would have been enough, they are now being dwarfed by meme culture.
Amanda Gorman’s poem will go down in history and the Obama-Harris fist bump was a nice touch, but memes have a wide-ranging universal appeal that the Dems need to use if they are to remain relevant and not get left behind, and perhaps lose re-election 2025
The American political left(ish) with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Rep. Cori Bush and The Squad, show the side of the Democratic Party that is forward-thinking and embracing of ideas that some would call radical, or simply ‘socialist’ putting people first. I mean, AOC is on Tik Tok, and engages with her base over videogames. With the exit of Donald Trump, the United States has been restored to its default settings. The more establishment side of the Democratic Party with Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama and their like need to embrace the changes that are fast coming whether they like it or not. This could start with welcoming those more progressive members of the Democrats in a Party that is violently split.
In the UK, Labour also have that split, with Starmer and company on one side and those that supported Corbyn on the other. If Labour is to be relevant, they need to embrace the progressives (like Zara Sultana for example), and be some sort of opposition to the Tories (one would hope). Labour may well be elected at the next election due to the draconian leadership of the Tories this past year, but will Labour keep power if they continue with their omerta? In 2020, Sultana brought her student finance statement into House of Commons, an allegory for a generation that have no problems in being critical of power in a very direct manner. Especially in a time where women, even in politics, are tone-policed for speaking their minds. Imagine being part of an institution, where you have to police outrage as people die by the day from this deadly contagion.
Speaking on things how you see it without repercussion has often always been a privilege exclusive to cishet White men. Progressives, pertinently those that are women of colour, continue to be policed by the Whiteness around them, and I would say Whiteness in this context has as much to do with skin colour as patriarchy has to do with men. In essence, the Whiteness presented by the Black and Brown Tories exhibits the spirit of empire and patriarchy can be reproduced by women as well. Simone de Beavoir (1947) wrote that “the oppressor would not be so strong if he did not have accomplices among the oppressed themselves.” When we talk about privilege, Senator Bernie Sanders scored the jackpot of white, straight man but he also marched with Dr. Martin Luther King on Washington in 1963. Sanders is nearly 80 years old and age is so often scapegoated as a block for doing equality, someone that’s dedicated their life to anti-discriminatory causes.
The Memeification of Bernie Sanders didn’t start with those mittens but earlier. The Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash is not just an honourific but a real Facebook group. I think one of the most forward-thinking things the Biden-Harris Administration could do is embrace the more progressive members of the Democratic Party. If they want to combat things like racism, this also means interrogating capitalism. But these interrogations of capitalism are also what ultimately ended Jimmy Carter’s career in his ‘crisis of confidence.’ If the Biden-Harris administration are serious about about making Black lives matter, perhaps they should take ‘Defund the Police’ more seriously (but Harris is the US’ top cop). Something Cori Bush ran a campaign rallied around. Obama criticised it as a “snappy slogan” but this is a demand to keep Black people alive.
There are many that want reform to policing and prisons, but isn’t reform what got us here? All it does is maintain the status quo. Angela Davis (2020) argues that “movements against racist police violence and against entrenched racial injustices in [America’s] jails and prisons can claim a history that is almost as old as the institutions themselves.” Davis one of the longest-standing advocates of prison abolition, is essentially saying that these movements are as long-standing as the histories of violence within these structures. She continues “…because opposition and protests calling for reform have played such a central role in shaping structures of policing and punishment, the notion of reform has superseded other paths toward change.”
Biden-Harris aren’t radical; yet, post-COVID, more left-leaning politics is going to be the difference between life and death, at least for the working-class and ethnic minorities. Moreover, the power of memes as a campaigning and propaganda tool is still being treated as a millenial/iGen fad, and the Dems/Labour are missing a trick here to assure their legacy for a generation or more, whilst also remaining grounded with the youth.