Who’s Mapping Who: Civitas’s “Mapping the Left Project”

Switching it up with a Broadly Speaking weekend edition, y’all.  This time with a meditation on what it means to be extreme.


Dots, blotchy and disease-like, covered the page. The “map” I was looking at more resembled a terribly complicated STI transmission web or a bad case of chiggers than anything else. As my biologist roommate passed by, she offered, “What is that? A shitty illustration of blood cells?” As I hovered my mouse over each red blemish, a person’s name appeared alongside the name of an organization.

Some examples:

Catherine Maxwell, NC Center for Voter Education

Mary Lee, NC Advocates for Justice Foundation

Greg Lytle, NC Conservation Network

Katherine Selvage, Appalachian Voices

Sketched out yet?

Mapping the Left” supposedly “combines data, research and news articles to show the magnitude of the radical Left’s infrastructure in North Carolina.”

                                       Data. Magnitude. Radical. Cooties.

I suppose you could expect something like this from Civitas, an organization whose slogan is “The Conservative Voice of North Carolina.”

I would say that the map was poorly designed and executed; it provides a very user un-friendly experience, but it seems like it’s not about being able to use at all. Why would anyone want to look at more than five or so dots? Unlike the Hate Map that the Southern Poverty Law Center puts out every year, something Civitas seems to be attempting to emulate here, the Mapping the Left Project is unsynthesized and largely uninformative.  Other than perpetuating the conflation of and confusion about the terms “radical” and “liberal,” what is this map intended to do?

It almost reads ironically. Despite the visually over stimulating and icky impression (especially for those of us who have trypophobia, ahem) the map gives off initially, I found my repugnance quickly replaced by the warm-and-fuzzies. “What a great resource!” I began to think. But, given how things are going in North Carolina right now, it seems this is a good example of a watered-down neo-conservative scare tactic. One that serves as a warning: you too can be “added to the list.”

One thing is for certain: this shit ain’t new.

“In North Carolina, left-wing nonprofit advocacy groups for decades have wielded an alarming amount of power in the media, state politics, and government. They work together, both in loose coalitions and organized networks, to influence and control public policy.

Only now, however, is there a user-friendly online database that sheds light on this vast, shadowy network”-excerpt from intro page.

Just ‘cause you wrap up old slop in an “online” package with rudimentary graphic design doesn’t make it new. Civitas claims that the map is their attempt to report on the “extreme, liberal/progressive agenda,” that the media has failed to address.

                                        Extreme. Agenda. Terrorist.

The rhetoric the website’s authors employed oddly reminded me of the beautiful and prescient “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. which I had the pleasure of recently rereading. After laying out a thorough response to a letter 8 white Christian leaders in Birmingham had written about MLK, civil rights activists and organizers during their effective Birmingham Campaign, Martin Luther King speaks to their use of the word “extremist.” I implore you to read the whole letter again, but here’s a piece:

“I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

Black Studies scholar, George Lipsitz, points out that neo-conservative media outlets seem unable to address context and power.* Here, Dr. King eloquently pulls the concept of extremism back into its proper context. In the spirit of his words, I ask: Who and what does this “map” actually map? Even if any of the organizations and people included on Civitas’s map were extreme, what kind of extreme are they? For hate or for love?



*”Precious and Communicable,” Chapter 2 from George Lipsitz’s book Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture

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