Letters from the Street

Philosophy, theology, and whatever else crosses my mind.

Month: February, 2017

Unity Rally: We’re Not Going Back

(Angela Davis was a key figure in the CPUSA in the 70s and 80s. Glad to see her taking part in this Unity Rally.)

Join the Communist Party and the People Before Profits Education Fund Saturday evening on March 4th. We are gathering to promote a higher level of united mass struggle against racism, sexism, relig…

Source: Unity Rally: We’re Not Going Back

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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.

Moral March in Raleigh, NC draws thousands

RALEIGH, N.C. — On a lovely, sunny mid-February day, thousands of people came to Raleigh Feb. 11 to let their voices be heard in the 11th Annual Moral March on Raleigh.

Source: Moral March in Raleigh, NC draws thousands

An Opening to the Left

Early in the first quarter of Super Bowl 51, Coca Cola had a commercial featuring people of various ethnicities, singing “America the Beautiful” in a variety of languages.

There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when this would have been merely sappy. “Aww, look at Coca Cola, acting like they care about people ‘n’ stuff.”

Today, in the Trump era, it seems sweetly defiant.

It goes to show: since the fall of 2015, space has opened up on the political landscape to the Left in a way I wouldn’t have predicted 18 months ago.

During the Bush years, the scene shifted so far right that there was very little space to maneuver on the Left. The antiwar movement was marginalized and ineffectual. There were very little other than holding actions for racial or economic justice. The events of 9/11 dominated our national consciousness in a remarkable way. Even pacifist and lefty diehards like me were shocked by the destruction of the Twin Towers and at the Pentagon, and were fearfully herded into compliance with decisions that we would not have accepted under any other circumstances.

The Left had already moved way over to the center during the Clinton years. 9/11 completed the process. Efforts to imitate elements that fueled the rise of the Right, such as Air America’s attempt to do what Rush Limbaugh had done, failed miserably. Cringeworthy, to be honest.

When Obama was elected, not much changed. He sort of sucked the air out of the room. He defined liberalism at that time, even though he pursued a strongly neoliberal agenda. The expectations he raised for Hope and Change, the rhetorical charm, and our legitimate pride in having elected the first Black president, kept (and still keep) many from seeing that Barack Obama was not all that liberal. As noted in The Economist, “Mr. Bush’s and Mr. Obama’s agendas were in some ways more similar to each other than Mr. Trump’s is to either.”

Even the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature accomplishment, benefited the large insurance companies as much as the little guy. And yet, most on the Left, from those so close to the center they can hardly be called liberal, clear on out into what I think of as the moderate socialists (groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America), all view the ACA as a major accomplishment. I’m not arguing here that the ACA accomplished nothing worthwhile. I’m saying that it has structural weaknesses, that it could have been much better, that it was not anything like a socialist program, and yet there was so little room to maneuver on the Left that socialist groups were forced into supporting it.

But there have been significant events in the last 5 years that have indicated a notable movement to the Left. First, there was Occupy Wall Street. Despite collapsing under the weight of its own process, nonetheless Occupy got thousands of people, especially people new to radical politics, out on the street. Just as important, it brought awareness of wealth inequality into a lasting focus. When you say “the 1%” and “the 99%”, people understand the significance, in a way that “the proletariat” hasn’t done in ages.

In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement brought racial justice into national awareness as forcefully as Occupy had made people aware of the 1%. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner in particular energized the racial justice movement in a way that has not been seen since the heyday of the Civil Rights crusade.

Although not a national movement, the Moral Monday activities in North Carolina have had significant impact both in the state and elsewhere. The Moral Monday coalition has protested in favor of voting rights, education, environmental protections, and expanding the Medicaid program, which would have allowed thousands of North Carolinians to benefit from Obamacare.

In 2015, Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for the Presidency. Initially seen as a fringe candidate, he put together a campaign that came very close to winning the Democratic nomination. He won more votes than any socialist ever has, including the vastly popular Eugene V. Debs.

Most recently, we saw millions of people pour out into the streets on Jan. 21, 2017. Billed as a Women’s March due to Donald Trump’s misogynistic behavior and policies, women and male allies flooded public spaces across the world. Over 500,000 people descended on Washington, D.C., and an equal number turned out in Los Angeles, astounding figures for this kind of event. More than that, millions of others marched and rallied in cities and towns across the globe, including 30 in Antarctica, making it the first occurrence of its kind to have participants on all 7 continents.

Since then, there have been spontaneous demonstrations against the ban on Muslims entering the US, when people poured into airports to protest this xenophobic action by the Trump administration. There was the Day Without Immigrants on February 16th to highlight the negative effects of the suddenly increased deportations. There is a Day Without A Woman planned for International Women’s Day on March 8th, when women and their allies are asked to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoid shopping in any but women- and minority-owned businesses, and to wear red in a show of solidarity. On Earth Day, April 22nd, there will be a March for Science in Washington, D.C. and over 100 cities worldwide, on behalf of the scientific process and the need for evidence-based public planning and legislation.

All of this points to an important fact: Radicals on the Left no longer have to settle for shoring up the center to prevent the Right from gaining even further ground. While the Right remains a formidable adversary, both in the US and in many other countries in Europe and elsewhere, it is now possible for the Left to be the Left. Genuinely socialist programs, and genuinely socialist candidates, have a chance to win that they have not had in the lifetime of most Americans (the median age in the US was 38 years old in 2016.)

This means that groups on the Left need to make the most of the opening that has taken place. Organizations such as DSA and the IWW, that are making the most of this and stating their program in strong and clear language are growing by leaps and bounds. (DSA has more than doubled its membership since the November 2016 election.) Yes, there is a need to protect what was won in previous years, and yes, there is a need to push back against the ascendancy of the Right. But neither of these will make the most of the opportunity that now exists. Besides sustaining and protecting, it is time for the Left to explain socialism to those who are newly accepting of it, to promote uncompromisingly socialist programs, and to move forward with all the power we can muster.

Do you think there is an opening to the Left that we can make use of?

What Do You Think about Violent Protest?

The post on violent protest generated a lot of interest. Time for reader feedback. Here’s a poll.

Protest: Non-Violent and Violent

Since the election of Donald Trump as President, there have been many demonstrations against his administration. In the case of the Woman’s March on January 21, which took place at sites all over the world, there was record-breaking attendance.

There is a lot of discussion about the appropriateness of these demonstrations. People on the right don’t like progressive rallies in any form. They say that the people organizing and marching in them are just sore losers. “Trump won, get over it.” Naturally, those who are in these events don’t think that is an accurate characterization. “It’s not that we’re sore losers, we just don’t like his policies and it’s our right to say so.”

But the most contentious discussions center around the kinds of protest that have been happening.

In the days after the November elections, protests erupted all over the country. Many of them turned violent and were described by police as “riots.” On November 11, Portland, Oregon police said some marchers were “trying to get anarchist groups to stop destroying property” and that “anarchists” were refusing to do so. Cars were damaged and windows were broken, two common objects of violent behavior at these actions.

On the day of the inauguration itself, groups of what are called the “Black Bloc” erupted in property destruction in Washington, DC (and punched a Nazi, caught on video and viewed millions of times on YouTube.)

On Feb. 1st, an estimated 150 protesters did thousands of dollars’ worth of damage at UC Berkeley, where Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. According to CNN, “Black-clad protesters wearing masks threw commercial-grade fireworks and rocks at police. Some even hurled Molotov cocktails that ignited fires. They also smashed windows of the student union center on the Berkeley campus where the Yiannopoulos event was to be held.”

Naturally, the right has strongly denounced these violent acts. But they are not alone. Many liberal and progressive people have raised objections to the destruction. Quoting again from CNN, “It’s a sad irony in the fact that the Free Speech Movement was founded here and tonight, someone’s free speech got shut down. It might have been hateful speech, but it’s still his right to speak,” said Shivam Patel, a freshman who stood outside of Sproul Plaza.”

This is typical of the kind of comments I’ve been hearing and reading all day, in the printed press and on NPR. We can’t violate free speech, even of someone like Yiannopoulos. There are also those who say that this kind of action detracts from the more legitimate protest mounted by the 1500 non-violent demonstrators who also showed up in dissent over Yiannopoulos’ appearance. Finally, there are some who say that this kind of behavior plays into the hands of the far right, who will respond with repression.

These are all valid points. First, free speech is an important value, regardless of your politics. Second, when you’ve planned a peaceful protest and something like this occurs, it’s easy to understand feeling as though you had been hijacked. Third, this kind of behavior really could lead to further repression by the white nationalists now in control in Washington and 32 states.

But that’s not the only way to look at these events.

First, the free speech argument. It’s settled law that free speech doesn’t apply to saying things that can harm others. There’s the famous “you can’t shout Fire in a crowded theater.” You can’t threaten people. It’s a very bad idea to joke about bombs while boarding a plane. And so forth.

But I’m not very interested in legalisms. Here’s the real deal: Someone who spouts racism, someone who spews misogyny, someone who promotes xenophobia, someone who slurs the LGBTQ community, someone who talks anti-Semitism: none of these falls under the protection of free speech. Not in my book. You don’t get to plead “free speech” when you are planning your white supremacist takeover.

Second, the argument that this distracts from legitimate protest. Hey, the other side doesn’t see your protest as legitimate anyway. But you know that. You’re worried about the undecided people who you would like to rally to your cause. Yes, many of them will be put off by violence. But if someone really shares your concern about refugees, or freedom of choice, they are going to show up anyway. Half-hearted people are of little or no use in social justice movements. If most of us are showing our dissent in a measured way, the right people will find their way to us.

Third, the “more repression” argument. That’s the strongest argument of the three. We don’t need to throw fuel on their fire. They really are just looking for excuses to increase their power. Handing it to them on a silver platter is a bad idea.

However, I’ve got to say this. Those of us on the side of justice and solidarity have to make it uncomfortable for people to be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. Since the rise of Trump, it has gotten way too comfortable. Hate crime is on the increase. The fascists have to learn that there is a price to pay, and that’s not going to be accomplished by tweets about Trump’s silly hair or perma-tan or his tiny hands. It may not be accomplished by me keeping my own hands clean.

I am a pacifist. I am certain that non-violent direct action is more effective for making real change in most situations. But I don’t think that everyone participating in Black Bloc activity must be misguided or immature. Remember that Black Bloc tactics actually did shut down the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in 1999. Remember that in every resistance movement there are disagreements about tactics among people sharing the same ultimate goals. Remember that, whether you agree with their conduct or not, they are putting themselves on the line for a purpose we all believe in.

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