Catching Fire: The Propane Jane Interview

The inaugural interview of The Confab is an exciting one. Most #Majority60 readers know me from Twitter and during this past election year, like many of you, I saw a few voices really break through. The tweeter known as Propane Jane is the one I most kept up with. She is a psychiatrist and (eventually became) a contributor to the liberal-leaning Daily Kos website. She is known for pulling few punches in her criticism of the new regime in Washington and has little patience for the Bernie Sanders personality cult that ruptured the Democratic Party in 2016. It’s worth noting that we had our virtual sit-down prior to the firing of NSA Michael Flynn and the withdrawal from nomination for Labor Secretary of Andrew Puzder. Our interview is below. Please, grab a cup of your favorite drink. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

AJ: I have watched as you really caught fire on Twitter and become a powerful voice for POC in the Democratic Party (many of whom make up the base of the Democratic Party). Do you think it’s important to have strong advocates for the party who aren’t necessarily a part of the party apparatus?

PJ: Yes, I do think it’s important for people to hear from everyday people who aren’t “establishment” figures. In a climate where so many people are distrustful of the status quo and tired of the same insider politics, it definitely helped that I was speaking out as a private citizen advocating for the Democratic policies I personally feel are essential, rather than someone who is being paid to spout a message from people in the ivory tower. Beyond that, I think the message resonated because, though Black women are the most reliable Democratic constituency, the Beltway media continues to rely on voices from the White working class that aren’t even reflective of who actually votes Democratic most consistently.

AJ: How do you weigh decisions to hold your fire or criticize Democratic politicians when they fall short-perhaps out of concern that you might help their opponents?

PJ: I very strongly believe that much of the Democrats’ struggle in messaging is shying away from the topics of bigotry and misogyny for the sake of not alienating WWC (White working class) voters who consistently vote in majority for the GOP despite Democratic efforts to court them over the last fifty years. I think that their GOP opponents are helped by them not drawing a clear enough distinction from Republican candidates on issues pertaining to civil rights, and it is essential for marginalized groups in the Democratic party to hold our representatives accountable for acquiescing to the ugliest impulses of the right wing simply for the sake of remaining attractive to the WWC that hasn’t actually shown an interest in joining a multicultural tent for the last fifty years of American politics.

AJ: Where did Bernie Sanders lose you, and do you find his presence to be a net positive or a net negative for the Democrats? Are you endorsing a candidate to lead the DNC?

PJ: Bernie lost me when he threatened to primary President Obama in 2012, and I feel that he was a gigantic negative for the Democratic party from the moment he announced his candidacy. My distrust was only affirmed by the dismissive response to the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly as was displayed at Netroots Nation in 2015. I think he also stoked the same exact White male rage and resentment that Trump did, and that he muddied the waters to the extent that his most fervent supporters grew to despise and distrust Hillary Clinton. I also found it extremely insulting that he appropriated the civil rights movement for his own purposes despite having no real record of outreach to marginalized communities and performing so poorly with voters of color. Ultimately, Bernie isn’t a Democrat and I think it was a terrible mistake allowing him to hijack the party apparatus to further his own personal agenda. I haven’t endorsed a candidate for DNC, but I unequivocally oppose anyone who adopts Bernie’s vision because I think his agenda has a terminal blind spot for human rights.

“Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country.” -Bernie Sanders April 2016

AJ: In regard to Bernie Sanders’ “blind spot for human rights” you mention, would you attribute that “blind spot” to the demographics of his home state of Vermont or something more nefarious?

PJ: I think the blind spot is a virtue of identity first and foremost. Due to not only his geography but just also his identity as a White male, he has tunnel vision for a point of view that isn’t shared by the multifaceted coalition of the Democratic party. He knows what it’s like to have lived his own life in a 98% White, left leaning state. He’s worked decades in government, but the Black leaders in Vermont adamantly stated he never reached out to them, and he hadn’t ever hired any staffers of color until his bid for president. These are meaningful relationships and perspectives that he lacks exposure to, and as a result he is unable to craft a message or policy agenda for people who don’t look and think like him or live in ethnically homogeneous places like he does. This was evident in his positions on gun rights, which are consistent with the leanings of White males but diametrically opposed by majorities of women and ethnic minorities who are the most reliable Democratic voters. Anecdotally, things really came to a head with many Black Democratic voters during the primaries when Bernie was so dismissive of the South that is home to over 55% of America’s Black population. It didn’t get much play in the beltway media, but Hillary had decades long relationships with Black Southern voters (Black women) in particular, and we didn’t appreciate being dismissed and insulted when our votes have been the backbone of this party for 50 years.

AJ: When you’re raising the alarm bell about race issues in 2017 America, how do you engage your White readers?

PJ: I engage White readers the same way I do readers of all ethnicities; I just speak my mind with no filter. I don’t tailor my message to certain groups, and I find that basic honesty resonates with people from all walks of life. As with other topics, I provide facts that support my opinion, and there is no shortage of objective data that illustrates the institutionalized racism in our society. I find that the vast majority of White people who follow my feed are just as incensed by the same issues that I am, and are often relieved to see someone discussing the topic in explicit terms because they too see how it plays out in their daily lives.

AJ: So glad to see you mention “institutionalized racism.” There seems to be a real breakdown in understanding. Those who push for economic equality don’t seem to understand that a Black man and a White man, each making identical salaries, are still likely to be treated differently in a court of law. So, my fear is, the split between the left wing and most Democratic loyalists boils down to; those who recognize this complex problem and those who intentionally-or-unintentionally avoid it.

PJ: I think the biggest obstacle is again lack of exposure and empathy for the plight of people who are on the receiving end of racism. If you haven’t lived in marginalized skin you really just don’t have any clue how pervasive and insidious racism is and how it affects all of us in various ways on a daily basis. It isn’t confined to criminal justice, and is evident in everything from hiring practices, to healthcare, to housing. The same is true for homophobia and transphobia, people who are heterosexual and cisgender simply just don’t have an appreciation for the obstacles these communities face unless they or someone they know has experienced discrimination because of who they are/who they love. Likewise, many men don’t have a good appreciation of reproductive health issues unless they’ve learned about the obstacles to obtaining contraception and abortion, or the importance of family planning from a woman. It all comes down to the pesky “identity politics” that Bernie and countless White men on the Republican side of the aisle continue to denounce. The reflexive tendency to center everything on the White working class, and White cisgender, heterosexual males in particular, is what alienates such large swaths of the Democratic coalition from these candidates, no matter how popular they become with White voters. That’s basically the lesson of the 2016 election.

AJ: Can you offer a crash course on being a good ally?

PJ: The crash course in being an ally is as simple as being a friend. Above all else, racism is propagated by insidious prejudice and bias that thrives on segregation. In other words; bigots hate and fear what they don’t know, and are unable to empathize with the plight of people who don’t look like them or share their same cultural values. I grew up in one of the most diverse communities in America, and have been discussing racism with my White friends since I was a little girl. I’ve been fortunate enough to be very close to people from all walks of life, who are able to validate and affirm my experiences with racism because they know me personally and can empathize with my plight. In that sense, my twitter feed is merely an extension of the conversations I have with people every day in my personal and professional relationships. Being a good ally means integration, and taking the time to listen to and learn from people who’ve waked in a different pair of shoes, ultimately it’s just the Golden Rule.

AJ: Donald Trump has become the embodiment of what I’d call a privileged victim. Worse, he causes outrages like he’s a wood chipper. There’s so much to resist, where do you think his deepest vulnerabilities lie (e.g.-his relationship with Russia, no tax returns, business conflicts)?

PJ: I think his deepest vulnerability is his lack of mental/behavioral stability, and that every corrupt or illegitimate thing he does is merely an extension of his lack of fitness to serve. Beyond that, I think his ties to Russia in the context of confirmed Russian hacking and interference in our election is the most pressing vulnerability for not just Trump, but the entire Republican party.

AJ: Do you consider yourself a journalist (any particular background), an opinion writer or concerned citizen?

PJ: I definitely don’t consider myself a journalist and have absolutely no formal journalistic training, so you can put me in the concerned citizen category for sure. I’m really just a lady who got fed up with the mainstream media, and took to twitter to yell and scream about all of the issues that are important to me. I’m still the same rabble rouser at 58K followers as I was when I had 100, I’ve just been fortunate in that I’ve recently been afforded the unique opportunity to put much of that fire into print. I still just think of myself as a doctor because that’s what I spend most of my time doing, so it’s funny that even my editors have to remind me that I’m actually a writer now too. Maybe it will grow on me.

AJ: Do you have a personal game plan to keep this new administration accountable?

PJ: My game plan is always starting proverbial fires, and I fully intend to keep it up for however long the current occupants remain in the White House.

AJ: Finally, credible journalists are on Twitter and I see them respond defensively to accounts that are either fake or managed by someone who is miles away from being convincible, how do you decide who to get combative with on social media?

PJ: Honestly it just depends on my emotions at any given moment. Whether the person is a troll or a pundit, I confront if I think the comment deserves a rebuttal for my own personal gratification or as a lesson for everyone else. I’m not just a scientist, but a Scorpio too, so I feel compelled to challenge nonsense and falsehoods whenever I see them. Moreover, I don’t like bullies or willful ignorance, and I firmly believe that we have to set proper boundaries via confrontation and furtherance of factual information in order to bring about a change in our society.

Like seeing more than 140 characters from Propane Jane? Visit her Diary at the Daily Kos. Follow her on Twitter @docrocktex26

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