Black Lives Matter Rally. Photo by David Geitgey Sierralupe, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Today America is at a crossroads, a turning point…at an intersection of the old imperial order at home and abroad with the birthing of a new order, “a new normal” if you will.
For millions of people in America, the unprecedented street uprisings of the past 10 days offer a glimmer of hope that after 350 years of oppression, meaningful change may actually be on the horizon. Will America finally start to lift its knee off the necks of Black and Brown people? Time will tell, but one thing is certain: the brutal murder of George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis will be recorded by historians as the spark of a mass movement the likes of which have not been seen in modern America.
A “perfect storm” is sweeping through hundreds of cities and towns across all 50 states: a ravaging pandemic, utterly mismanaged by a racist, criminally corrupt and inept administration whose inaction has resulted in the deaths of over 105,000 Americans, 40 % of whom are Black and Brown people, led to tens of millions of unemployed, again with a disproportionate number of Black and Brown people, and to hundreds of thousands being fed by over-stretched food banks all across the nation and capped off by tens of thousands of protestors in the streets of America every day—all converging in the unforgettable Spring of 2020.
Meanwhile, Trump, the pathological narcissist and rage-tweeting little man in the White House becomes more desperate as he confronts a growing uprising in the streets. The “Law and Order President” resorts to the use of state terror as he moves closer to take authoritarian and neo-fascist measures against innocent people exercising their constitutional rights.
We are witnessing a convergence of powerful historical forces and the emergence of visible contradictions in the neoliberal order. The Empire is rotting at its core, and the cancer of violent White Supremacy is eating out the soul of America.
This is, indeed, a watershed moment. We are in the midst of not just another “movement moment” that comes around every two generations or so but one that has the potential to grow into a disciplined, organized mass movement militating for sweeping social and economic transformation.
For the most part, these uprisings started off as spontaneous outpourings, but as they continue to grow we are witnessing the young Black Lives Matter activists becoming the engine and the compass of the uprisings as they morph and evolve from an anti-racist police protest into an anti-systemic racism protest movement.
Hopefully, the protestors will come to a recognition that this deeply sick capitalist system cannot reform itself and thus has to be radically transformed into a functional political and economic democracy that expresses the will of the people and provides the material needs of the working people and the poor.
Playing a key role in documenting this rebellion is the mainstream corporate media narrative and its penchant for sensationalism, for focusing on scenes of confrontation, of looting, of police aggression and yet with too few interviews with the protestors themselves, too little analysis by the various “talking heads” about the underlying structural causes of the rebellion. Corporate media’s emphasis is always on the supremacy of property rights over human rights or on giving the opinions of public policy makers more merit than the views and motivations of the protestors themselves.
We have seen poignant images of white cops “taking a knee”, of protestors embracing and high-fiving with the national guard…..white police chiefs marching hand-in-hand with protestors. One particularly striking image was of a young white woman, nor more than 18, standing defiantly in the faces of the heavily armed police barrier and holding a sign that said simply, “White Silence is Complicit.” These scenes bring hope and optimism to our hearts.
In the faces of the young multi-racial protestors one saw anger, pain, fearlessness, determination, resilience and resolve to stand up for justice and to march in the streets for an end to systemic racism and structural White Supremacy. These young people face daunting job and career prospects in a post-COVID economy that could easily slide into an economic depression as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s. But for now, they are tired of the hatred and bigotry that has made a mockery of the so-called “American Dream” and they are tired of the daily indignities and humiliations meted out to Black and Brown Americans. They are acknowledging that Black and Brown people are humans too and deserve to be treated as such.
Neo-Nazi and white supremacist provocateurs have been spotted all over the country engaging in vandalism, instigating property destruction and appearing at rallies and demonstrations with semi-automatic rifles. These are opportunistic white domestic terrorists hoping to misuse the uprising to ignite a race war, even a second civil war. Their terrorist actions are designed to discredit the peaceful protestors and to whip up a frenzy among Trump’s rabid, racist, death cultists. They must be exposed and expelled from the peaceful protests.
The international protests that have brought thousands of people into the streets of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other “white” countries to show their solidarity with the American protestors and also to condemn acts of racist police violence against Black and Brown people living in those countries, is a very significant development. Demonstrations of solidarity have also been held in Japan, Korea and the Middle East. The world is watching America and the world does not like what it is seeing when peaceful protestors (and even members of the international media) are tear gassed, pepper sprayed and shot at with rubber bullets.
Militarized police forces across the country comprise the containment apparatus of the neoliberal state, functioning like an occupation army in Black and Brown communities, there primarily to suppress rather than to serve and protect. The myth of white supremacy is deeply embedded in the culture of policing in America. And, this bigotry is reinforced by the corrupt police unions and by the so-called “Blue Wall of Silence”. On top of the Covid pandemic we also have to cope with the pandemic of racist policing which tantamounts to a public health crisis for Black and Brown people in America.
There has been much breathless, holier-than-thou condemnations from Fox and other racist, right-wing media entities over the looting that has taken place in several cities, but the demonstrators know the real looters are lier-in-chief Trump, the racist Republican Party, the oligarchs of Wall Street, and the greedy lobbyists on K Street who have funneled hundreds of billions of taxpayers money to the thieving 1 percent under the guise of a “stimulus program” for working Americans.
Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of white ignorance of America’s tortured history of race relations and callous white indifference to the plight of Black and Brown people? In a recent Op-Ed in the Washington Post, author and activist Stacy Patton raised a provocative yet profound question–how do we know that the white protestors mean what they say. “Solidarity can be helpful—or it can be performative”.
Patton asks, “why are so many white people participating in this current uprising, given the long tradition in this country of silent complicity about racist police practices that have terrorized black and brown communities for generations. What are their intentions? Are they protesting because they are in honest solidarity, or because it helps to soothe their own conscience or assuage their guilt.”
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, says that white people for whom black lives truly matter must demonstrate the political will to make substantive changes. This requires radical honesty about how race and privilege intersect.
For Malkia Cyril, founder of the Media Justice Center in Oakland, what white folks need to design is “a vision and a strategy for how to change the rules that are set up to benefit them. It is true that Black and Brown people cannot win alone. White people do have important contributions to make and no one should sit this moment out. But high-tech capitalism creates a real danger of turning rebellion into spectacle, into sport.”
The neoliberal order benefits from the racialized capitalism of North America and Europe, a brutal, super-exploitative socio-economic system built on the foundations of chattel slavery and the systematic theft of Black and Brown labor from abused Black and Brown bodies. Both the COVID virus and police brutality have ripped off the mythical masks to reveal in sharp relief the living legacies of slavery, colonialism and imperialism. Now, more than ever, reparations demands must be high on the agenda of transformations to make Black people whole, to repair the damages done to them by the historical crimes of slavery and segregation. Reparations is a moral imperative that requires the support of all persons of good will. (For more information about the global reparations movement visit the Institute of the Black World’s online Reparations Resource Center at https://ibw21.org/reparations-resource-center/.)
Despairing and depressing as our contemporary realities may be, the left must remain hopeful and cease wallowing in our pain and anger, learn the hard lessons from our setbacks in previous “movement moments” re-gather our strength, coalesce our forces and prepare ourselves for the titanic race and class struggles that lie ahead. Critical thinking and wholesome self-criticism are key to the healing process.
In a recent media interview, Prof. Cornel West, one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals, described America as a “failed social experiment.” He argued that America’s capitalist economy could not generate and deliver in such a way that people could live lives of decency. “The nation-state with its criminal injustice system, its legal system could not generate protection of rights and liberties, And, now our culture, of course is so market-driven –everything for sale, everyone for sale—it can’t deliver the kind of nourishment for soul, for meaning, for purpose.”
Rev. William Barber, leader of the Poor Peoples Campaign and one of America’s great moral voices says, “America must listen to its wounds. They will tell us where to look for hope…only if the screams and tears and protests shake the very conscience of this nation, can we hope for a better society.”
These young multiracial demonstrators must begin to educate themselves in the long history and practice of white supremacy over the past 350 years, from the enslavement of Africans through the lynchings of innocent black men and women, the 100 years of Jim Crow apartheid that followed the abolition of slavery, and racial discrimination in all areas of civil society.
So we have arrived at a seminal moment, a significant milestone in the modern history of America and the world. Leveraging the momentum of the uprising, we progressives and leftists must start planning for a post-Minneapolis and post-COVID world, one that we must shape ourselves, one that prioritizes the needs of people over profits and reorganizes society along the lines of social and economic justice.
This “Movement moment” is also a teaching moment for all who are standing up for peace and justice, an opportunity to learn about the history and practice of enslavement and American apartheid and about the systemic character of institutional racism. This is a good time to probe the “inconvenient truths” of America’s history, to read about the Black Panthers in the 60s and 70s, the Black Power and Civil Rights movements in the US in the 50s, 60s and 70s and the anti-colonial movements in Africa and the Caribbean in the 50s, 60s and 70s. This is a good time to learn how America became an empire with a US military presence in 140 countries today, how Washington invaded and occupied countries in the Caribbean and Latin America and with its “Monroe Doctrine” has arrogantly claimed the right to interfere in the domestic affairs of every country in the larger Americas.
As we move forward into a future that we must build in our own image and likeness, we must also be aware of the risks and dangers of Trumpism, the fascist cult of personality, not unlike those that emerged in the 20th Century under Mussolini and Hitler. Trumpism will continue to scapegoat the left and progressive movement and will not hesitate to unleash state terror and a tidal wave of lies on this movement as it gets stronger in the weeks and months ahead. Be prepared!!
Nonetheless, there will be opportunities, challenges and responsibilities for the movement and reasons for hope and optimism. There is strength in the multiracial unity we see emerging in the streets, a unity of diverse forces that is rooted in our collective hopes and aspirations.
Cornel West is calling for a “nonviolent revolution” for the democratic sharing of power, resources, wealth and respect. “If we don’t get that kind of sharing, we’re going to get more violent explosions.” He’s absolutely correct.
The struggle for justice and social transformation must continue in the weeks and months ahead. This is not a time to pause. Older people and people of faith must join the youth in the streets. Our struggles moving forward must be guided by the principles of “nonviolent revolution” and inspired by all our fallen ancestors who gave their lives in the fight to liberate Black and Brown people here and around the world.
Long Live the memory of George Floyd!!
Forward Ever, Backward Never!!