Recently, Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, wrote an article titled The Decline and Fall of Woke for Front Page Magazine — a right-wing online rag published by David Horowitz.
Walking into the children’s section of a public library, I spotted a copy of ‘Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice’’. Published in 2020, it’s almost a cultural artifact because ‘woke’ has gone from a hip term for leftism to a battered conservative punching bag in the culture war.
By 2023, wokeness has come to mean leftist extremism. It’s most often used by Republicans and hardly ever by Democrats who act baffled at the idea that there was ever such a thing as wokeness. Much like ‘Defund the Police’, a set of sounds that once defined lefty culture, has been flushed down the memory hole and everyone is pretending they never heard of it.
What happened to ‘Woke’ is the same thing that once happened to ‘Liberal’. Conservatives seized on it and used it to sum up everything wrong with leftist extremism. Before long, no one wanted to identify as a liberal because it meant being seen as a lunatic fighting for sex ed for kids, free needles for addicts, political correctness in the office and surrendering to enemies.
Senator Bernie Sanders has spent most of his otherwise useless career trying to redeem the term ‘socialist’ in the United States. And recent polls show a growing approval for socialism among younger people. But, as the example of ‘Woke’ shows, that appreciation may not last long once conservatives turn whatever term the Left uses now into a political scarlet letter.
The destruction of wokeness within a matter of years shows why conservatives should not underestimate their cultural power. Barred by the media, censored by tech companies and shut out by the entertainment industry, conservatives were nevertheless able to take the hip new term that leftists had rebranded as and make it as toxic as yesterday’s radioactive waste.
When people think of wokeness, they no longer envision the BLM activists who used to appear on TV shows and on children’s books, they think of Gov. Ron DeSantis or an episode of FOX News. Republicans went to war on wokeness and in doing so, they appropriated it, they took the word and made it their own. Destroying the brand value of wokeness is not the same thing as defeating woke policies, but marketing is fundamental to leftist recruitment and expansion.
Conservatives, who operate in a counterculture, should remember that they have the power to hurt the Left. The decline and fall of wokeness is a demonstration of the fragility of leftist cultural power which commands budgets in the tens of billions of dollars, controls private and public institutions, yet is deeply resented and vulnerable to some pointed mockery.
Greenfield admits that “conservatives . . .. have the power to hurt the Left.” How can conservatives “hurt” the left? By honestly and openly debating their policies? By meeting them in the public square, armed with evidence and facts? Oh no, that’s not how it’s done, according to Greenfield. Instead, conservatives should hurt liberals/progressives/socialists — woke folk — by misstating and lying about their policies. The goal is not an honest exchange of ideas or an armed battle in the public square. Greenfield encourages disinformation, turning words such as liberal, progressive, socialism, woke, Black Lives Matter, and other terms into disparaging epithets.
Today, Ohioans voted on Issue 1 — an attempt by Republican legislators to send a November vote on legalizing abortion down to defeat. Currently, citizens can successfully pass initiatives or amend the Ohio Constitution by a fifty percent plus one vote. If Issue 1 passes, this percentage will rise to sixty percent. The goal, of course, is to stop the “baby murder” amendment in November.
Greenfield’s fellow conservatives have turned to outright lies to push “Vote Yes on Issue 1.” I’m not talking about little white lies. Big-ass lies meant to not only distort the facts about Issue 1 but also besmirch the character of those who oppose the issue. “Why, all their funding came from outside sources,” conservatives opined. Almost true, but what they don’t want voters to know is this:
Roughly $35 million has flowed to political groups aiming to influence Ohio’s August special election. That includes money for campaigns for or against the ballot measure raising the threshold for constitutional amendments, as well as several closely aligned organizations.
On both sides — those opposing Issue 1, those supporting it, and those technically fighting November’s reproductive rights amendment — the vast majority of funding came from out of state.
Issue 1’s proponents have consistently argued a higher threshold for passing state constitutional amendments will act as a deterrent.
“This is about empowering the people of Ohio to protect their constitution from out of state special interests that want to try to buy their way into our state’s founding document,” Secretary of State Frank LaRose insisted in a televised statewide debate last week. “I’m here to say the Ohio constitution is not for sale.”
Opponents have repeatedly argued back that nothing in the proposal actually limits out-of-state influence.
The yes campaign committee, Protect Our Constitution, raised a little more than $4.85 million according to its filing. Nearly all of it came from a single individual who lives out of state.
Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein donated a total of $4 million to the committee. The right-wing megadonor owns the Uline shipping and office supply company, and his grandfather and great-grandfather ran Schlitz brewing.
The largest contributions aside from Uihlein were $100,000 each from a PAC solely funded by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and another connected with Ohio nursing homes. Other substantial contributions came in from Washington, D.C., Georgia and Tennessee. But less than $700,000, or just 14% of the total, came from Ohio donors.
Issue 1’s opponents are fundraising through a committee called One Person One Vote. The campaign raised a total of $14.8 million, about 16% of it coming from Ohio donors.
The filing doesn’t show anyone giving quite as much as Uihlein did in terms of dollar amount or percentage of the total. Still, the campaign did attract some pretty big fish. Karla Jurvetson, a Silicon Valley psychiatrist and philanthropist, cut checks totaling about $1.1 million.
One Person One Vote also got contributions of $1 million or more from liberal groups including the Sixteen Thirty Fund, among the largest left-leaning dark money groups, the Tides Foundation, Ohio Education Association and the National Education Association.
Alongside its filing, One Person One vote put out a statement describing their pride for “the enormous bipartisan coalition that has come together to defeat Issue 1.”
The (not quite the campaign) campaigns
Although One Person One Vote outraised Protect Our Constitution more than three-to-one, the ‘yes’ campaign was never just one committee. In all, there are four “Protect” organizations including Protect Women Ohio, Protect Women Ohio Action and Protect Our Kids Ohio.
Taken together, they give the yes side of the campaign a financial advantage.
These organizations are chiefly concerned with defeating the reproductive rights amendment that will be on the ballot this November. But because Issue 1 will raise the threshold for that November vote, they’re also deeply invested in its approval.
The first televised ads in favor of Issue 1? Those were paid for by Protect Women Ohio — not Protect our Constitution. Around the state, anti-abortion activists are making explicit appeals for Issue 1 based on undermining the reproductive rights amendment. Seth Drayer, the Vice President for Created Equal, recently warned the Delaware City Republican Club about about a 2022 abortion amendment that passed in Michigan with 56% of the vote.
“If we move to 60% they’re not going to win in Ohio,” he said. “If we win August, we win November. It’s really about that simple.”
And like Protect Our Constitution, these allied groups are getting the vast majority of their funding from out of state.
Protect Women Ohio Action is actually a 501(c)(4) based in Virginia. Five million of its $5.2 million bankroll comes from The Concord Fund, a Washington D.C. based 501(c)(4) known publicly as the Judicial Crisis Network that spends heavily in favor of conservative judges. The other $200,000 comes from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. The organization’s president is Protect Women Ohio Action’s sole board member.
Among Protect Women Ohio’s contributions is a $2 million check from Protect Women Ohio Action reported the same day The Concord Fund made a $2 million donation to the latter.
Of the groups pushing for Issue 1, Protect Women Ohio has by far the biggest piggy bank. But more than $6 million of that $9.7 million total comes from Susan B. Anthony. The only other substantial donations came from the Catholic Church. The Columbus and Cleveland Dioceses gave $200,000 each and the Cincinnati Archdiocese gave $500,000. In all, Protect Women Ohio raised about 16.3% of contributions in-state. The three donations from the Catholic Church make up more than half of that.
The Ohio Capital Journal by Nick Evans
Good luck finding this information on the Front Page Journal website, or any other conservative site, for that matter. You see, their goal is to muddy the water, to own the libs. Facts to them are just tools used to advance their pernicious political, social, religious, and economic agenda. According to Greenfield, the end justifies the means. Anything that hurts the “left” is okay.
I am sure at least one reader is going to remind me that the “left” does it too. Fair enough, but does anyone think the left equally lies and distorts facts? Be honest. MSNBC can be partisan, but do you really think there is no difference between them and Fox News, ONN, and the Daily Wire? I refuse to play the “whataboutism” or “they all do it” game. Understanding the times requires discernment — the ability to differentiate between facts and lies. Stop listening to the Greenfields of the world who only want you to see a strawman and not the truth. In Greenfield’s right-wing MAGA world, “owning the libs” is all that matters.
(Note: According to the New York Times, Issue 1 went down to defeat by a 60-40 percent margin. Evidently, lying doesn’t pay.)
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
Connect with me on social media:
Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.
You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.