Roe v. Wade: Don’t Mourn, Organize

Amidst all the hand-wringing over Roe v. Wade, here’s the thing: we had 50 years to pass legislation at the state and federal levels to protect the right to abortion and we didn’t. Hard fail.

Instead, the right wing organized and passed laws in the majority of states restricting or outright banning abortion.

If we were that well organized, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Progressives, and Democrats in particular, love moral superiority and self-righteousness. They think showing the right wing for the hateful and oppressive devils they are is enough. They’re wrong. You have to organize and make things happen.  (I am not a Democrat BTW. The Democratic party is hostile to socialism, and I’m a socialist, so…)

You don’t have to organize everybody. You don’t have to have a majority. The right wing is not a majority in the US. They got their people elected to key positions in the executive and legislative branches, who got their people appointed to judgeships. This is how governmental power is done in America.

It’s not just government either. Union organizing helps immensely. It strengthens the working class, and trains many of us to learn to exercise power. It is also a great education in how ugly capitalist business and politics are.

Grass roots organizing is of the utmost importance. LGBTQ groups, climate/environmental groups, racial justice groups, etc., all help to mobilize people for real, effective action.

So, do we start the hard work of organization, or do we wail and gnash our teeth over the end of Roe v. Wade? It remains to be seen.

Police Reform Is Just A Band-Aid

An article in the April 15, 2022 New York Times describes how various cities are trying to staunch the flow of police murders of people of color by restricting the practice of traffic stops for minor violations and technicalities.

The most recent horrendous example is that of Patrick Lyoya, an emigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was shot in the back of the head after being stopped because his license plate didin’t match the vehicle. The officer could argue that Lyoya grabbed his Taser, but that only makes us ask why a simple traffic stop turned into a situation where the officer took his Taser out of its holster in the first place.

Over and over, officers escalate minor encounters into deadly ones. Why is this?

First, we agree that the practice of allowing officers to perform these nuisance stops is likely to result in more violations of citizen’s civil rights, including executions. There is evidence to believe that policies aimed at decreasing these harassments would promote public safety.

But that doesn’t get close to the root of the problem.

Another, more substantial issue is that of police training. They are taught, whether by doctrine or example, that they can issue commands, demand instant compliance, and use physical force if the citizen doesn’t comply. This may be true in the case of an arrest for an actual crime, but not in these more casual encounters.

But that is still superficial.

Another question is, why does joining law enforcement appeal so much to bullies with fragile egos, who must use pain and abuse to make themselves feel better? Some might argue that most cops are good people and that these bullies are the exception. There is no evidence to support this. Using the maxim that for every reported case of police brutality, there are many others that go unreported, one has to conclude that these abusive officers are not that small a minority, and may for all we know be in the majority.

But if these bullies were screened out before hiring, it still wouldn’t solve the problem. We still have to ask, why are blacks, Hispanics, and other people of color assaulted by the police in dramatically higher numbers than whites? If it was just due to policies, training, and character flaws, we’d expect the brutality to be applied across the board. It is not. It is built into the system, and has been since the first enslaved African arrived in America 400 years ago.

Police reform is just putting band-aids on racism that is baked into our institutions.

2020 Election: No Turmoil So Far

In predicting the possibility of widespread civil unrest surrounding the Presidential election, I recognized that it was not a sure thing. In fact, I expressed the hope that my concerns would turn out to be mistaken.  I wanted to be wrong.

So far, so good. While there are sporadic accounts of armed militias showing up at polling places, there has been no real effort at voter intimidation. And it has been almost eerily calm as the slow counting of votes has proceeded.

It may be that having to drag the count out over days and weeks has contributed to a tamping-down of what could have been explosive emotions among the partisans of either side. The pent-up excitement leading into Election Day kind of fizzled in the numbing, drawn-out process.

This gives me hope that we may be able to move forward without rioting, supply chain disruption, or whatever form an angry outburst might have taken.

In a Shrodinger’s cat scenario, prior to Election Day, it could have swung either way. I was certain that the count would be close, and it was. I was not certain which way it would go. Either Trump or Biden could have eked out a win. And the partisans of either side might have refused to accept the results.

Now we see that Biden has enough of a lead, both in the popular vote and in the Electoral College, to succeed to the Presidency. That settles the possibility that the leftward side of the populace would erupt.

There is one possibility that would still be volcanic. There is a slim chance that “faithless electors” would not vote in accordance with the people’s mandate in their individual states and swing the Electoral College vote in Trump’s favor. This is what mathematicians call a “less-than-zero” possibility.

It’s like the outside chance that any one of us might be hit by lightning today. No one can say that it absolutely couldn’t happen, but the probability is so vanishingly small that we just don’t factor it into our daily plans. The flip side of this is that someone, somewhere on the planet today, will in fact be struck by lightning. For that person, the consequences are so abhorrent that it is no comfort to know that it was unlikely to happen.

So in the unlikely event that enough electors switch their vote – an event which gets more unlikely with each additional elector won by Biden – a massive protest with unpredictable consequences would be a near certainty.

On the other side, there is still some concern that the far right will act erratically and trigger some sort of tumult. Trump is doing a lot to advance the notion that his loss must be due to some kind of fraud or rigging. Millions of people buy into that view. It would only take a small percentage of them hitting the streets and causing violence to have far-reaching, negative consequences.

The more time goes by, the less likely this seems. People may be getting used to the idea that their side lost. Still, there are those who firmly believe that a Biden presidency will lead to a “socialist dystopia” or something of that sort. People can do the strangest things when they believe that all is lost.

So, while I see the likelihood of this getting less every day, I believe it is too soon to discount the chance that there may be serious trouble ahead. I still hope I’m wrong.

Preparing For Unrest After The Election (Update)

With the news of President Trump’s infection by the coronavirus, 2020 gets up-ended just that much more.

His condition remains to be seen, despite the obligatory and predictable remarks from the White House that his symptoms are “mild.” Of course they say that. It means nothing. We’ll just have to wait.

What effect this has on the republic also remains to be seen. Certainly it affects his campaign, although at this point there are not a lot of undecideds left to woo. Still, with a race as close as this one, a point either way could make a difference. Will the sympathy vote lift his chances? Will this new evidence that his cavalier approach to the pandemic hurt his support?

Either way, it adds to the commotion that is already roiling the American public. The pandemic, issues of racial justice and white supremacy, a bitterly contentious election, a President who likes nothing more than throwing fuel on the fire, and now this new uncertainty. People are reacting badly already, and this won’t help.

In my previous post, I discussed the potential for unrest, and the necessity for planning. Here’s a link to that post; please go read it.

Bonnie and I have prepared for about a month. Food. Water. (Besides our reverse osmosis unit, I also have a backpacking filter and a few hundred purification tablets.) Medicine — sometime in late October we’ll lay in a 3 month supply of our prescriptions. Cash money, in case banks are closed for any period of time and merchants aren’t accepting plastic. Not a lot, but some. Some people I know are buying silver as well. This might be a good idea and it might be overkill. I’m just mentioning it. Everyone has to make their own risk assessment and I’m not judging anyone else’s calculations.

Reliable people are suggesting that there could be disruptions to the power grid. Well, we live in hurricane country where these things are a fact of life, so we’ve already got battery back-up (big ones, not AAs, although we’ve got those too) and solar panels. We just bought a 40 liter portable refrigerator. Reviews show that it takes very little power. It can be run from the grid, from solar, and has a battery that will last about a day. We’ll use it camping, too, sometime in the indistinct future, so not overkill.

Of course, the usual people are talking about guns. The situations in which that might be needed are pretty far down on my risk assessment. I don’t recommend them for most people for 2 reasons. First, if you haven’t already had training and taken time to practice, it’s too late. Just having a gun is not a magic wand to wave around. You have to know how and when to use them, not just why. If you haven’t already lived around a lot of violence, you need training from someone who knows, and this isn’t going to happen in the next few weeks. You would probably be more dangerous than safe if you buy a firearm on an impulse. The second reason is, too many people are already thinking about violence. We don’t need to stoke that boiler. We need to calm it down.

We need to calm it way down and that’s no joke. Being prepared allows you to face the future with some degree of equanimity, instead of doubt and panic. It’s not about seeing monsters under your bed.

Help your family and friends to get ready. The window is closing soon but there is still time. Any preparation is better than none. Help with physical arrangements, such as food storage, and also help the people in your circle to chill. We will get through this a lot better if we know we will get through this. People react to the uncertainty that’s all around us in different ways. Help them process any concerns they have in a reasonable way. Speculation is not helpful; prudence is.

Preparing for Unrest After the Election

This is a trial balloon. Trump himself said, just yesterday, that he would “negotiate” for a 3rd term if he wins in November.

We are in uncharted territory. Armed protestors at anti-mask rallies. Peaceful protestors shot by a right-wing vigilante in Wisconsin. Conservative protestor shot by a left-winger in Oregon. It doesn’t take a wingnut to see that whichever side wins the election in November, the other side may erupt.

Here’s one analysis:

I’m not being alarmist and I’m not talking about constructing underground bunkers here. But we ought to give this all some thought, and the time is now, not later.

For instance, the food chain could be disrupted again, as it was at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown this spring. We don’t need to stockpile enough rations to last a year, but having 2-4 weeks’ worth of staples tucked away — things you will eat anyway — seems like a prudent thing to do.

What about water? What if there are power shortages? These seem less likely to me — it might be a reflexive thought from living in hurricane country. But in the event of mass unrest, it’s hard to predict what basic necessities might be disrupted.

I’m just asking all my friends to do a sober evaluation of their vulnerabilities and plan accordingly.

On a related topic, there are a number of organizations who are planning for non-violent resistance in the event of a stolen election. Here’s one:

If 50% Unemployment in the Black Community Doesn’t Make You A Socialist, What Will?

50% unemployment in the black community. With existing inequities of income and wealth, it will take generations for African American families to get back to where they were a year ago. Even assuming that there is going to be some kind of “normal” to get back to.

We need systemic change of all kinds. The focus is on racism in policing these days. This cannot be emphasized enough. With people of color being stopped, harassed, beaten, shot, arrested, and imprisoned at horrific rates, there is no more pressing issue on the agenda for change.

But things don’t happen in a vacuum. Racism and poverty go hand-in-hand. Black people are kept in poverty because systemic racism offers them fewer choices, when they are already 400 years in arrears. Keeping white people in poverty sets up a dynamic in which whites think they are in competition with blacks for jobs and services. This stokes the racial conflict and prevents both races from working together. The same thing is true of our Hispanic population.

In capitalism, poverty is necessary. It’s not an unfortunate consequence, it’s part of the design. Marx called it “the reserve army of the unemployed.” Employers can count on having a large number of people who will work for substandard wages because it’s the only job they can get. This puts more money in their pocket.

So racial injustice and economic injustice are two sides of the same coin. We can’t fix one without fixing the other. The pandemic has made this abundantly clear. When so many people have lost their jobs, what are they do do? If you were barely making it before, you are sinking fast now, and nothing is being done to prevent it. Billions to bail out corporations. $1200 for you and me.

Once you understand that the capitalist system is working as designed, even though it doesn’t work for most of society, you have a choice. You are either a socialist, or you don’t care about other people and “I’ve got mine” is your guiding principle. Which will it be?

Individual Rights or Solidarity Rights?

I suppose it goes back to the Enlightenment. The scientific revolution triggered the end of the Middle Ages. Instead of being told what to think, people started to think for themselves. And learn. The old doctrines of church and state began to be replaced by empirical investigation and the rise of reason. Not just in the physical sciences, but also in philosophy, culture — and politics.

The Enlightenment had a huge impact on how people thought about their relationship to government and each other. The revolutions in the US and France were major outcomes of these changes.

One of the things that changed was the concept of what Jefferson called “inalienable rights.” A right is something you’re born with. We all have it. It’s not given or even guaranteed by the government, although it can be taken away by someone stronger than you.

Americans have been raised on the recitation of these rights. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” “Freedom of religion, of assembly, of petition.” “Freedom from unlawful search and seizure.” And so forth.

These freedoms, coming as they did on the heels of millennia of authoritarian government (tribal rulers, kings, princes, emperors, popes and caliphs, etc.), were truly revolutionary in their impact. As the power of the hereditary aristocracy gave way to the power of business tycoons, some of whom like Andrew Carnegie rose from very humble beginnings to the very peaks of success, and as the divine right of kings gave way to the Declaration of the Rights of Man (sic), at last it was possible for individuals to make their own decisions, based not on who their parents were, but on what they could learn, make, think and do.

It was truly liberating. It was an entirely necessary development to create the kind of material wealth that so many of us enjoy today. By “so many of us,” I don’t just mean the 1%. People in the working class in all advanced industrial nations enjoy a standard of living that a king in a dark, dank castle could not have dreamed of. (Except, of course, when it comes to the power to rule.)

Many still consider these rights, these individual rights, to be the height and summation of all that humans can aspire to. Liberty forever! (Equality and fraternity, not so much.)

I’m not writing this to discount the importance of these rights. They are still of the utmost importance to our lives, and will remain so indefinitely. But that is not the end of the story of the development of the concept of rights. There is something else happening. The idea of rights is still expanding. Here’s where I think it is leading.

As important as these individual rights are, they leave large gaps in our ability to provide all people with security, good health, shelter, good nutrition, good education, etc. All of those things remain commodities to be bought and sold on the market. Take health care: you pay for it like you pay to go to a movie or for a Louis Vuitton handbag. But health care is not a luxury, it is something that everyone needs.

Under our concept of individual rights, healthcare will always be a commodity to be bought and sold. Why? Because under individual rights, one person has the right to ask for as much money as the market will bear, and to keep all of it for him or herself, regardless of how that affects anyone else.

Let me repeat that: regardless of how that affects anyone else.

That’s how pollution gets poured into our streams and air. That’s how poor people are evicted from their homes so that some developer can make even more money on the property.

We need another kind of rights, in addition to the individual rights that have done so much for us. We need solidarity rights. These are rights that we hold in common, not ones that each of us has separately. The right to decent shelter, clothing, food or health care is not a personal right. You can’t take these things away from someone else, under our current system, because they own and control them.

Within solidarity rights, things change. The individual doesn’t own something like health care. They can’t use it to extort money out of other people. Same with housing, food, or education. These are rights we have, not rights that have. In sharing good food, for instance, we’re not taking something away from someone else, because it never belonged to them in the first place. They still have a right to be compensated for their labor in producing it, they just don’t get to set the highest rate they can and pocket the profit that they exploited from people who need good food.

When Bernie talks about doing away with college tuition, he’s not talking about “free tuition” as his critics say. He is talking about how we all own education, in common with each other. We’re not trying to take something away from anyone else. That something was taken away from us, when it was made a commodity that someone else could get rich from. Rich off of your back. Rich off of the work you do to provide for yourself and your family. Rich off the choices you have to make, whether to have the good insurance or the car that doesn’t break down.

This idea of solidarity rights will continue to evolve. 50 or 100 years from now, we may realize that there are other solidarity rights that at this time we would not be able to recognize, because in the grand scheme of things, we are still barely out of medieval times and we don’t have the perspective yet.

The expansion of solidarity rights will go hand in hand with the expansion of socialism in our economic and political lives. Without greater economic justice, there will be no development of solidarity rights, and without solidarity rights, economic justice will not last.

Workers of the world, you have your chains to lose and a world to gain — for each other!

Transition to Socialism: Peaceful if Possible, Says Engels

I’ve been posting historical information from the Russian Revolution. At times, the revolution was violent. In nearly every case, this was provoked by the reactionary forces, either of those who were loyal to the Tsar and the old order, or other countries such as Germany, England, and the United States.

The question comes up, must a socialist revolution be violent?

It’s important to remember that the Russian Revolution happened in a particular place, at a particular time, under particular conditions. Those conditions never existed before and never will again. It is not a model for how a revolution has to happen. There are lessons to be learned, for sure, from the failures, from the successes, from the excesses.

Let’s not forget this: while much of the world speaks out in condemnation when the left commits a violent act, or even talks about it (such as the opposition to the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, or the Black Panther Party in the 60s and 70s), the ruling class uses violence against the 99% all the time. Every time they kill a black person on the street, every time they shoot an innocent person on a no-knock warrant, every time they fire someone without cause, every time they use dogs or fire hoses on peaceful protesters such as at the Standing Rock encampment, every time they dump toxic waste in a community, every time they use fake emissions testing, every time they arrest and deport a hard-working immigrant, they assert the ability and will to use violence against us. And every time they do, the rest of us know that we could be next, and that innocence is no shield. So this whole topic is rife with hypocrisy and double standards.

Remember this?

Elian Gonzalex

Deadly enemy of the state right there, requiring the deployment of (I kid you not) over 100 federal agents to bring him down.

Just keep that in mind.

Here’s what Friedrich Engels had to say on the topic, from “The Principles of Communism”, published in 1847, the year before he and Karl Marx wrote “The Communist Manifesto.” I believe that they are as valuable now as they were then:

“Will the peaceful abolition of private property be possible?

“It would be desirable if this could happen, and the communists would certainly be the last to oppose it. Communists know only too well that all conspiracies are not only useless, but even harmful. They know all too well that revolutions are not made intentionally and arbitrarily, but that, everywhere and always, they have been the necessary consequence of conditions which were wholly independent of the will and direction of individual parties and entire classes.

“But they also see that the development of the proletariat in nearly all civilized countries has been violently suppressed, and that in this way the opponents of communism have been working [against] a revolution with all their strength. If the oppressed proletariat is finally driven to revolution, then we communists will defend the interests of the proletarians with deeds as we now defend them with words.”

As a lifelong pacifist, I struggle with this issue as much as anyone. There is so much that can be done with nonviolent direct action, as proved by Gandhi, King, and many others. And yet, in the face of extreme injustice, my own moral purity is not what’s at stake.

We Need Love More Than Ever

I’ve been having these conversations with friends who, like myself, are very concerned about the current social/political situation.

One of them remarked that an acquaintance had said that it would be OK to just run over protesters if they were blocking the street. This caused despair for my friend, who then generalized to “Trump voters.”

Well, you know what? Nearly 63 million people voted for Trump. Most of them people not that different from me. Same worries about jobs and kids and all that. They saw a solution being offered by Trump. I think they were mistaken, gravely and dangerously mistaken, but not evil.

They will regret their choice, and perhaps before too very long at the pace things are going.

Out of 63 million voters, were some of them racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic? Yes. Trump brought those folks out of the woodwork and made them feel stronger. I’m not talking about them. They may be redeemable. I’m not counting on it. A lot of that hate is dyed in the wool. They just need to be opposed.

But I know from the depths of my soul that those mean-spirited types were not the majority. And so there’s the majority, regular working stiffs like you and me, who have been fooled by a con artist, and we don’t need to shame or blame them. We need to win them back.

They are our friends, our neighbors, the parents of the kids our kids sit next to in school. We need them. And so, as strong as I am in opposition to the 1% and the way they treat the rest of us, “the rest of us” is us.  All of us. Let’s act like it. Without giving up our resistance to the train wreck that is taking place in Washington, DC and in statehouses all over the country, let’s act like it.