TITANIC: The Democratic Primary 2016

Susan Saxe
6 min readAug 10, 2019


So, here we are on the Titanic, headed for the iceberg. The small minority of people in First Class are partying like it’s 1912 and are only interested in having a good time and making it to New York as fast as possible. The Crew works for the First Class passengers and their livelihoods depend on pleasing them. The middle class in Tourist just wants to get to New York, as do the multitudes below decks in Steerage.

A growing group of people in Tourist and Steerage are aware of some very interesting information about the ship, including that it is proceeding at a very dangerous speed through waters awash with icebergs, and that there are not enough lifeboats on board for everyone. They are becoming restive and demanding that the Crew slow down as quickly as possible to a safe speed and turn the boat on a new course. They call themselves the Turners.

The Turners’ questions and demands are met with patient explanations about the history and finances of the passenger liner business, and why it is important for people to get to New York as quickly as possible. The First Class passengers have important business to attend to and after all, it is their high fares that make the whole business profitable. The people in Steerage will also be better served getting to New York faster because they will be more comfortable on land and will be able to start their new lives sooner to reach the American Dream.

But the Turners persist. Getting to New York a few days earlier does not justify taking an enormous risk of catastrophe. Sighing, the Crew listens some more, and gives them a tour of the engine room, as well as a detailed itinerary, map and business plan of the shipping line, to show how much thought and effort has gone into this voyage. They consider it very immature and inappropriate that these upstart passengers should presume to tell them how to run a ship. It is also very unreasonable of the Turners to not care that the shipping line runs on a very tight profit margin and any delay that would be caused by slowing down or changing course dramatically would result in lost profits, lost jobs and maybe even worse. What is the matter with these people?

Some of the Turners’ leaders point out that they have degrees in Maritime Engineering and/or have worked in the shipping industry for decades, some even for this very shipping company. They are met with blank stares or accusations of disloyalty.

The Turners continue to assert their argument, more insistently than ever. The Crew grows increasingly exasperated, feeling like they are not being listened to and respected. They are tired of being distracted from their jobs, asked to risk their reputations and livelihoods by going against their bosses and second guessed by these obstreperous landlubbers who have no regard for their experience and professionalism. The ship, after all, is unsinkable.

The Turners continue working below decks to educate their fellow passengers about ship construction and safety, revealing that the shipping line has a very bad safety record. Due to deregulation, there were no inspections in place when the welding was done, and it is likely that inferior rivets were used. Also, there are flaws in the hull plan. The ship is indeed sinkable. And then there is that thing about the lifeboats. They go back to the Crew, a larger crowd and more alarmed than ever.

Meanwhile the First Class passengers have gotten wind of the discontent and have started rumors among the Tourist and Steerage passengers that a band of malcontents are plotting to slow them down, turn them off course and sabotage the voyage. Things quickly get out of control and a faction arises, largely among the Tourist class, blaming the Steerage passengers for being a threat. They say the poor people are foreigners and troublemakers who should be dumped overboard. They call themselves the Dumpers. Bands of Dumpers begin drawing up plans to take over the ship and chop holes in the hull with the intention of drowning the people in Steerage. They categorically deny that we are all in the same boat.

Meanwhile, the Turners are growing more frustrated and urgent in their demands. The clock is ticking, the ship is entering icy waters; small icebergs have been sighted. Voices are raised. Tempers flare. Now the conversations about the course of the ship and the dangers of the waters are replaced with long conversations about tone of voice, the relative needs of various classes of passengers in regard to getting to New York on time, and more details of how the shipping industry is run, financed and regulated. The Turners, for some incomprehensible reason, are not impressed by all this information. People who say they once sympathized with them are now claiming to be so turned off by their attitude that they would rather risk drowning in the North Atlantic (which at this point seems rather abstract) than put up with the persistent unpleasantness, which is in their faces right now.

It’s getting colder. Medium sized icebergs are sighted with greater frequency. The seas are choppy and the First Class passengers are pressuring the Captain to turn up the steam and go faster. The Turners find out that this is happening and start threatening mutiny. They are met with an even angrier explanation of how things are done in the real world and stern warnings about the history of past failed maritime mutinies. They are also told that they had better side with the Crew to defeat the Dumpers who are now out with axes trying to chop through the hull. And they are graciously offered input into the arrangement of the deck chairs, dinner menus and evening entertainment.

The Turners persist, continue to educate and organize, and continue to gain traction. A vote is taken. Everyone over the age of 18 in Tourist is allowed to vote. Everyone in Steerage over the age of 18 who meets certain requirements that only about half of them can meet is also allowed to vote. The First Class Passengers are given veto power. The Turners, while growing more numerous, feel that the deck is stacked against them. They object strenuously at every stage. They complain that the system is rigged and are told that they agreed to this system when they booked passage. If they wanted different rules they should have gone into the shipping business years ago and worked their way into management. Now it is too late. No chairs are thrown yet, but people start to believe that they have been, and that manufactured controversy now drives the conversation…

So by now we all get the “drift,” no? There are two different universes trying to communicate here. The Turners believe that we are all in the same boat and in urgent danger that requires unprecedented and immediate action. The Crew and some of the other passengers believe that we are all in the same boat, with somewhat different ideas as to whether we should be going a few degrees to the left or right, but we should all just come together under the direction of the Crew and Captain, to overcome the crazy Dumpers, and if the Turners don’t agree, why they are no better than the Dumpers. The Dumpers, of course, are in a third universe where we are each in our own boat, at war with each other. They are not even trying to communicate with the rest of us.

Is this starting to make sense? So, if you were a Turner, believing that we are headed for an iceberg of epic proportions, would you just quit? Would you respond well to complaints that you were rude or immature because you are not being “reasonable” and insisting on “having things your own way?” Would you trust leaders who are telling us that we are essentially on the right course and that our greatest danger is pirates, not icebergs? Not bloody likely if you understand that even though there are some pirates, the people steering our ship into the path of the iceberg are a greater danger to us in the end. Add to that that they clearly intend to hog all the lifeboats when the ship sinks and yeah, we’re mad as hell and not going to take it any more. Does that help



Susan Saxe

I’m a lifelong radical activist, intersectional in outlook since back in the day when we just expressed it as the idea that “everything is connected.” It is.