Reporting on Antifa: Nancy Rommelmann
It’s a pleasure to share Nancy Rommelmann’s voice in this 9-part video series.
I interviewed Nancy about the insights she received through her conversations with Antifa/black bloc participants. Nancy is compassionate, plainspoken, and has astute observations about the nature and ambitions of these young extremists.
It is my hope that this brief series will shine light on the problem of extremism that’s gripping many of our youth.
I hope you enjoy and learn from her videos. Without further ado, here's Nancy’s guest post and the first video in the series.
Sun’s on the Horizon. Walk Toward It.
By: Nancy Rommelmann
Most people are lukewarm on the term “woke.” That we use it anyway, the way we might carry around an ugly handbag until we find a better one, I find hopeful. Conferring a name – on a child, a book, a song – requires intimacy and industry. That we’re not willing to put effort into IDing people and ideas whose unifying quality is that we supposedly hate them, seems to me a good thing.
Still, it’s 2021, and hating the woke and the woke hating back has become for some the zest of life. Institutions are formed, lines are drawn, stand over here, fire in that direction.
I’m bored by it and have been since it started, which we can tell ourselves was around 2015 when really, it’s the same fractiousness people have always engaged in. Humans coalesce around things to fight against; they are energized by the fight and draw identity from it. I am not going to change human nature, and neither are you. But I don’t believe it when people say, “But Nancy, the woke are dangerous, their policies will bring down civilization.” As I have written before, anyone who tells you to hate swaths of people has their own agenda. Also, I have been told this about every administration since Reagan.
It is not that I have not been driven batty by the woke, if by woke you mean some of the young people I met while covering the protests-cum-riots in Portland, people whose skillset included fire-setting and window-breaking and sloshing buckets of feces into police stations but who, when asked what they have built or want to build, mostly went silent. They were full of conviction and clumsy and unheeding of consequence, as we likely were at eighteen and twenty. Of the woke who claim victimhood to achieve special status or juke the system: the world will always have its Jussie Smolletts, you are not obliged to pay attention to them. Am I concerned about media we might previously have found solid appearing to cave on the principles we value most? Yes. But I recently had opportunity to check myself here, when the paper of record, of whose editorial choices and inhouse machinations I have been openly critical, asked me to write an opinion piece. That they were interested in other points of view reminded me to properly screw on my own eyepiece.
I sometimes picture the woke and the un-woke (how ridiculous this sounds) trudging onto a soccer field for the daily match. They are splotched with mud and blood. I expect them to be exhausted, but they are not; they go at it again, shredding at each other. Those of us on the sidelines watch for a moment before noticing the sun on the horizon and walking toward it.
It’s Easier to Break Stuff than Build Stuff. It's a lot easier to tear stuff down than it is to build stuff. If I said, “Hey, why don't you come over and help me demo my kitchen?” we could probably do that in an afternoon. But if I said, “Hey, can you come over and help me build a kitchen?” it's going to take a lot longer.
A lot of the “woke,” for lack of a better term, are young. They may not have a gigantic skill set yet, but they have a lot of passion, a lot of feelings for different issues that are going on, things that they don't want to see in the companies they work for, or that they do want to see in the companies they work for. And instead of saying, “Well, you know what, let's add some stuff here, let's discuss things,” it's like, “Nope, we're going to scorch this earth and then we will build anew.”
However, my question, and I'm very sincere in this question, is: what can they build? That's what I have not seen yet. For instance, I've covered Antifa in Portland. I've seen them bust up a lot of stuff and burn a lot of stuff. I haven’t seen them build anything yet.
If that power, that belief that they are going to make things better could be harnessed in productive ways, and if they could be more interested in dialogue about why things were done previously, I think that you have a lot of energy there.
And I think that they can build things. I think that they believe that we’ve done things badly in this country. And you can certainly look to many areas where we have done things badly. Every country, every society has done things badly. And then you try and do things better. I am of the belief that things are better in this country for almost every sector of society than they ever have been. And I think we have data that prove that. It's very easy to say it's somebody else's fault. It's a white dude’s fault. It’s a certain college's fault that we don't like. It's other people's fault, and if we get rid of those people and ideas, we are going to build fresh. Again, that's fine. But you actually have to build things. I haven't seen it.
Maybe people have. People can come back to me and say, “Hey, Nancy, don't you know of this amazing company? Maybe they make tires, but they spend 55% of their time dealing with social issues, and it's been terrific. They've done great things for the community and they've done great things for the company. And they make great tires and they're making a big profit.” I'd love to know about that, but that's a hard thing to do. It's a hard thing to be mission-focused on whatever your work is and then take a good deal of your time to address Social Justice issues. It's tough and it tends to burn things down. And I think that's why you see certain companies (like Coinbase and Basecamp) saying, “You know what? This is what we do at our company. If it doesn't match your values, that's OK. You can work someplace else. But we want to be dealing in crypto.” Or, “We have certain missions that we have to fulfill. And if they don't match yours, then go do something else.” That's where we are right now. People are leaving these companies. People are like, “You know what? It's super important to me to know that my company believes in the things that I believe in and are vocal about it and are going to put their money behind it and going to be public about it. And I feel more comfortable working at a company like that.” Let's see if those companies can fly. I mean, maybe they can.