“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” — Aristotle
It has been an extraordinary week. On the heels of a pandemic and months-long lockdown, a nationwide uprising erupted in response to the brutal killing of George Floyd. In some 75 cities across at least 16 states, and around the world, militant, multiracial gatherings of thousands of rightfully-enraged people overwhelmed police forces, prevented arrests, forced the evacuation of, and burned, a police precinct, and damaged and burned dozens of buildings. Mainstream news reporters from around the world were arrested and fired upon with rubber bullets on live television. Police SUVs drove into crowds of people. It has been the most extensive, and the most threatening, explosion of popular rage against the machine since the uprisings of 1967-8.
In the midst of this mass uprising, and marking a turning point in the establishment’s attitude, there came the press conference of Minnesota’s Democratic governor Tim Walz—accompanied by Minneapolis’s young Democratic mayor, Jacob Frey, by St. Paul’s young, black, Democratic mayor, Melvin Carter, by the state’s black Commissioner of Public Safety, John Harrington, by the state’s black, Muslim Attorney General (and former progressive-favorite candidate for DNC chair), Keith Ellison, and by Minnesota National Guard commander, General Jon Jensen—where all waxed apoplectic about the damage caused by “tens of thousands” of George-Floyd protestors who “grossly outnumbered” the police.
It was a scene repeated throughout the country, as in Atlanta, where Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Police Chief Erika Shields spoke on the same themes, accompanied by rappers Killer Mike and T. I.
What disturbed me in these tableaux?
First, let me state my understanding that we are in the midst of a political fight to end the disproportionately racialized social inequality and desperation U.S. capitalism produces, and the inevitably racist policing and criminal justice practices that sustain it. There are tens of thousands of people coming out all around the country to change that, and it’s a fight that will involve confrontation with and damage to the repressive apparatus that defends it, including police cars and police stations and resistance to police officers. If you think that’s a legitimate political fight, these are political targets.
If some subset of the victims of the social devastation that has been visited on communities across the country for decades wants to use the occasion to grab a free TV, or to smash some shit they see as representing an alien, thieving, or condescending force in their lives—well, that’s unavoidable as well as understandable. No politician or media should be allowed to present such opportunistic actions, in their own opportunistic way, as the element that defines either what the protests are about or what the state’s reaction is about. They are both about the legitimacy of the present social order. Or they are about nothing.
But let’s acknowledge that there has been, as there always is, a lot of damage that’s tenuously, or even contradictorily, related to the desired political ends—a level of damage to which the political leaders of any such affected cities must respond. The issue is how they respond—what they say, and do, and in what direction they move.
I do not disagree with Governor Walz’s and his colleagues’ observation that it’s ultimately self-destructive to loot and burn “infrastructure and nonprofits that have served a struggling community” and small businesses “that took generations to build.” It’s certainly true, as Mayor Bottoms put it, that “running out with brown liquor in your hands and breaking windows” is not a very effective political strategy.
It was non-politician, non-cop, son and cousin of police officers, rapper Killer Mike, who made the point quite correctly and eloquently: “We don’t want to see Targets burning, we want to see the system that sets up for systemic racism burnt to the ground…. Your duty [is] not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house, so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization. And now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize.”
Really, it’s a moving speech, and I recommend watching it. Exactly as Killer Mike suggests, by all means encourage the movement to avoid gratuitous destruction of institutions and small businesses that knit together the life of the community, and instead to organize and plan more effective strategies. An effective political movement has to define its targets with some care as to the effects on a community. They may be indistinguishable to the enraged, but, politically, burning a police car is not the same as trashing the local nail salon.
It is also an axiom of history that such movements—not rational expressions of opinion, but non-rational struggles for power—always begin as “riots,” spontaneous and excessive actions. As the great philosopher, Donald Rumsfeld, said about the “pent-up feelings” that make looting “the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom”: “Stuff happens!” What’s good for the Iraqi goose….
History is changed by movements that begin with people as they are, not as they should be, or even must become, to make them politically effective. The Shark Tank social economy of U.S. capitalism, where the acquisitive instinct is celebrated and the prevailing ethic is every incipient entrepreneur for him or herself, produces plenty of hungry and predatory creatures at all social levels, from the boardroom to the street.
For this case—in which, by the way, looting has been a diverse, multi-racial activity—Joshua Frank put it somewhat better than Rumsfeld: “The looting of stores is inherently a class issue… [W]hile wealthy people don’t loot strip malls, they are adept at looting natural resources and labor, from the coalfields of West Virginia to Jeff Bezo’s Amazon warehouses. The poor, exerting their nominal power—even in a destructive and violent manner—display an entirely natural reaction to a continually powerless state of being.”
So, sure, finding themselves with some power for a couple of days—the power of their numbers and rage—black and white working-class people are going to enact, in the streets, their version of “I’ll take mine!” (and “I’ll destroy what’s yours!”) that celebrated capitalist harks enact, with the power of their money, in boardrooms every day, deciding which businesses and communities they’re going to prey on and drain of their wealth. There’s nothing rational about any of it. Capitalism produces social inequality, social injustice, and social pathologies to which no one is immune, but whose destructive effects are only visited upon the owning class on very rare and special occasions.
And, yes, leadership and organization either will or won’t develop that more effectively focuses legitimate rage, and moves the struggle forward in rationally-grounded and politically-effective ways, directed at seizing rather than destroying wealth and the instruments of its creation. If such organization does develop, the movement will have a chance of winning substantive victories; if it doesn’t, defeat—via repression and co-optation—are inevitable.
So, accompanied by his friend, Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. (T.I.), Michael Santiago Render, who has been a positive political voice in many ways, was spot on in his advice to “plot, plan, strategize, and organize” rather than loot and burn. He is also, having done quite well with his “Killer” branding, implicated in this dynamic from the inside out, as Mayor Keisha Bottoms makes clear in this fuller version of her quote:
“You’re not protesting anything running out with brown liquor in your hands and breaking windows in this city. T.I., Killer Mike own half the Westside.
“So when you burn down this city, you’re burning down our community!”
Keisha scolds those brown-liquored-up rioters for not respecting Messrs. Harris’s and Render’s property as “our community.” But doesn’t capitalism mean that the wealth of “our community” drains into Killer’s and T.I.’s pockets just as it does into the pockets of Target shareholders? Yup, there’s a lot of plotting and planning to do to see that “the system that sets up for systemic racism [is] burnt to the ground.”
My point here is not to diss Killer Mike. He won’t change the capitalist system by becoming poor any more than he did he by becoming rich, won’t help his working-class brothers and sisters anymore by abandoning his personal capitalist status than he did by achieving it. Individual altruism, let alone asceticism, does not change the system. Mike is a winner in the American Shark Tank. His giving away his prizes and pulling his teeth will leave all the other sharks and their feeding frenzy intact.
Really, from my perspective, a guy like Mike doesn’t have to relinquish his class status. He does have to recognize it, and act in ways that help extinguish it. Everyone has to acknowledge that a guy like Mike, wherever he came from, is in the same relation to the larger black working-class community that Jeff Bezos is to the white. It’s the same relation that all black and white would-be Mikes and Jeffs have to the native and adopted neighborhoods they now own half of, and are collecting rents and profits from. And the bigger they are, the more diverse is their pool of tenants and workers.
The question is what it would take, not to burn Killer Mike’s own house down in a gesture of self-sacrifice, but, in his perfect phrasing, to “burn to the ground” “the system that sets up for systemic racism,” the system that extracts wealth from working-class communities of all colors, most intensely those which are predominately black and brown. Because it’s that system which “sets up” the recurring atrocities of which George Floyd’s murder is the latest example.
On a social level, what we’re confronted with in these incidents isn’t a problem of policing—at least not a discrete problem of policing apart from the structure of the social economy that’s being policed.
People’s relation to the police is a function of their relation to the social order the police are protecting.
As Robber Baron Jay Gould is said to have quipped, in capitalist society, policing is always a matter of “hiring one half of the working class to kill the other half,” and in U.S. capitalist society those “halves” have been carefully racialized.
In U.S. capitalist society today, that dynamic is inextricably intertwined with what’s been called the spreading “shit-life syndrome.”
Over the last few decades, capitalism has wreaked its unavoidable havoc throughout the country, devastating whole swaths of towns and regions—white, black, and mixed—with poverty, joblessness, homelessness, overwhelming debt, drug addiction, untreated physical and mental health problems, broken-down schools, etc.
Conditions in these areas inevitably spawn street crimes, ranging from annoying to destructive, that are usually an effect of the compensatory street economy (drugs, loosies, shoplifting, bag-snatching, bad checks and bills, drive-by killings), but also of personal rage and frustration (domestic violence). These are the retail crimes perpetrated by and on working-class persons, that often lead to police intervention and physical confrontation.
As Boots Riley puts it: “You can’t have capitalism without poverty, unemployment, so-called ‘crime’, and violence.” And in the U.S., you can’t have any of that that isn’t severely racially skewed. The black population has 2.5X the poverty rate of whites.
Completely uninterested in ending the macro-social pathology of the capitalist social economy, the elite leaves the micro-social pathologies of devastated working-class communities to be managed by street cops who also come from working-class backgrounds.
Completely committed to dividing the working class against itself, and ignoring that, as Boots Riley points out, black and white communities of the same income level have similar crime rates, elite politicians and media nourish the racist notion that crime committed by blacks is an effect of black cultural pathology (if not genetic inferiority), rather than of poverty and social despair. “Superpredators,” and all. This is the core of the predominant form of racism in the social ideology of policing and the personal ideology of police: that blacks are presumptively threatening.
It’s an ideological framework quite helpful to U.S. capitalism, since it both divides the working class, black from white, and psychologically and politically divides the black community. Per Boots again: “The only way for cops to feel like they are doing the right thing—the only way for them to function in their job—is for them to subscribe to racist notions of violence, crime, and poverty—even if the cop themselves is Black or POC.” George Floyd was killed at the intersection of cop prerogative and white prerogative.
With this framework in play, the ruling class hires a small “representative” cohort of the working-class, to keep the larger part of the socially-devastated working-class in line—to keep the problems they have to live with from disturbing the property, neighborhoods, and general social peace of the ruling class and their other relatively well-compensated and therefore docile subjects—i.e., the cadre we today call the Professional and Managerial Caste (PMC).
However infrequently they think about it this way, whatever else they do along the way, and however much they dance and kneel and hand out candy, that—and it is a tough job—is the main purpose of the police in our capitalist society.
And what black or white worker can refuse to consider one of the few remaining jobs currently available to him or her in the late capitalist economy that has good pay, healthcare, and retirement, and provides the chance for a secure and decent social life for one’s family? Even if the job is—in a similar, or the very same, working-class community one grew up in—”lock[ing] up folks for being involved in their own survival in an economic system that dictates—and thrives off the fact—they are in poverty.” Not Killer Mike’s father and cousins, the police officers for whom he “has a lot of love and respect”; nor these guys. And who in the PMC can blame them?
No matter how many “reforms” of policing there are—many of which were enacted in Minneapolis—as long as the capitalist social economy remains, that main purpose won’t change, and it will inevitably lead to incidents where cops end up beating and killing civilians. Per Minneapolis resident Imani Jackson: “The system is not broken. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do.” Per Boots again: “If [we]want to stop these things, we have to get rid of capitalism.”
The problem cannot be solved by calling out attitudes—all cops’ confrontational, and white cops’ extra-added racist attitudes—apart from changing communities’ material conditions. As we’ve said, the tendency toward racism in policing is fueled by the condition of the black community in the social economy, which is getting worse. As I’ve pointed out before, according to Alvaro Reyes:
“Black and Latino communities lost between 30% and 40% of their wealth in the late 2000s… [and] median Black household wealth is less than 7% that of white household wealth… Larger and larger portions of these communities have been transformed into “surplus populations” with little or no relation to the increasingly financialized global economy, and contained by swelling police forces and disproportionally warehoused in the prison system.”
The median net worth for white households is about 10 times greater than black households, and according to the Institute for Policy Studies: “if the racial wealth divide is left unaddressed, median Black household wealth is on a path to hit zero by 2053 and median Latino household wealth is projected to hit zero twenty years later.”
Shit-life, indeed. Guess in which communities police serve and protect citizens, and in which they hunt “superpredators”? As Brookings Fellow Andre M. Perry, put it: “There’s nothing that says you don’t belong in an economy more than a police officer shooting you dead in the street.” Maybe there’s a relation between the fact that the black poverty rate is 2.5X that of whites, and blacks are killed by police at 3X the rate of whites. Maybe, “If we want to stop these things, we have to get rid of capitalism.”
This is “the system that sets up for systemic racism”—i.e., systemic police violence against the working-class poor, which in the U.S. means violence disproportionately visited on black and brown persons. This is the system that must be “burnt down.”
The Rainbow Connection
Which brings me back to what I find most remarkable and problematic about these tableaux of diverse white, black, female, gay, etc. (virtually all Democratic) mayors, governors, and police chiefs preaching on the uprisings throughout the nation provoked by racial injustice, which we can’t help but compare to the wave of uprisings in 1967-8.
In these performances today, we are seeing the apotheosis (actually, the coda, Obama was the apotheosis) of neoliberal capitalist identity politics that is the co-opted legacy of the Civil-Rights movements of the 60s.
It was, after all, cities burning down in 1967-8 that “persuaded” the ruling class to bring an end to 100 years of Jim Crow/American apartheid—in historical terms, right quick. And there was a way to do that that without threatening the fundamental structures of capitalist and imperialist power. Jim Crow, explicit apartheid, could be ended by legislation and integration. Was there a problem with the lack of black cops and politicians? (Yes!) “We can fix that,” said the ruling class. It’s all hired help, after all.
They did it their way. Equal-opportunity politics, equal-opportunity policing, equal-opportunity capitalism. The radical potential of the black (and also ultimately, women’s, gay, et. al.) liberation movement could be and was absorbed into a project of representational equality. The idea of racial (and identity) equality was valorized, educational and employment opportunities—including in the police—were opened to blacks, and identity elites were nurtured and integrated as valued members of the “normal” cultural and political life of the country, propelling them into the ranks of police chiefs, mayors, governors, and even the presidency. From the mid-1960s to 2008, the number of black elected officials grew from 600 to over 10,000. Explicit apartheid was ended. For the good, for sure, but the inequality-producing, capitalist social economy ground on, continuing to do its damage to the multi-racial working class—and disproportionally to working people of color.
The coterie of leaders and artists-businessmen at the podiums today—black and white and gay and straight, “progressive” and Democratic almost all—is the product, the effect and support, of that political project of representational equality. They run the cities, police departments, attorneys-general offices, and states, and they are determined to do something all progressive-like in response to the militant protests provoked by the police killing of George Floyd.
But what can they do? The fix available to the powers-that-were in response to the uprisings of the late 60s is all used up. They are that fix, and they are the powers-that-be.
Today’s protestors aren’t looking for another “diversity” fix—more black cops and mayors. Been there, done that. They’re looking for immediate and radical solutions to the “system that sets up for systemic racism,” the one that creates “poverty, unemployment, so-called ‘crime’, and violence” in racially-skewed ways. Today’s rainbow politicians and police chiefs are that “system.” They were woven into the system over fifty years to brighten it up into a technicolor dream cloak that would cover the ongoing work of social devastation, while warding off the fire of mass rebellion from the most devastated. That garment has been worn to shreds.
It’s become clear to too many people how the advances of neo-liberal identity-politics did not oppose, but complemented, neo-liberal socio-economic assaults on the multiracial working class, which inevitably had worse effects on Black and POC communities. Through the relentless political and ideological work of the ruling class, the victories of representational diversity were won, not as victories of any “left,” but of “the left-wing of neoliberalism.”
Cornell West talks about the “the failed social experiment” of the United States, which includes the failed social experiment of neoliberal identity politics:
“The system cannot reform itself. We’ve tried black faces in high places. Too often our black politicians, professional class, middle class become too accommodated to the capitalist economy, too accommodated to a militarized nation-state, too accommodated to the market-driven culture of celebrities, status, power, fame, all that superficial stuff…
“You’ve got a neoliberal wing of the Democratic party that is now in the driver’s seat … and they really don’t know what to do because all they want to do is show more black faces—show more black faces. But often times those black faces are losing legitimacy too because the Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a black president, a black attorney general, and a black Homeland Security [Secretary] and they couldn’t deliver. So when you talk about the masses of black people, the precious poor and working-class black people, brown, red, yellow, whatever color, they’re the ones left out and they feel so thoroughly powerless, helpless, hopeless, then you get rebellion.”
And Joshua Frank again:
“Economic and racial oppression in America has finally reached a boiling point. Systemic change will take a systemic realignment of the economic and political structure in the United States.”
What’s so threatening about the rebellion today, that has now seen protests in every state and the deployment of over 60,000 National Guard troops, is 1) that it’s a multiracial movement, 2) that people are losing their fear—of the cops and of the “don’t upset Democrats’ electoral possibilities” bugaboo, and 3) that it exposes the pretense of “democratic” consent and legitimacy, and the failure of representational diversity that accommodates to the capitalist economy.
What’s been the reaction of the political leaders across the rainbow? 1) Stop looting. 2) Outside agitators are ruining our peaceful mourning moment. 3) We’re calling out the cops and the troops and will crush the bad looters without disturbing the peaceful protestors. 4) Go home and vote.
In other words, all the same lines and policies that have been used against uprisings for racial and social justice throughout our history—including by reactionary racist politicians against black-liberation protests through the civil-rights era and including by the likes of Donald Trump today. What’s the substantive difference between what liberal Democratic Tim Walz and his comrades in New York, Seattle, D.C., and elsewhere are doing compared to what reactionary Republican Donald Trump is?
Donald Trump had peaceful protestors pushed out of the way one afternoon for his ludicrous bible walk, which did nothing but demonstrate again how ridiculous and weak he actually is. Meanwhile, D.C. mayor, Muriel Bowser imposed a curfew to push everybody off the streets every night. Trump continually bloviates about “dominating” the tens of thousands of people in the streets throughout the county—and they continually ignore him, as they do Mayor Bowser.
Meanwhile, the entire palette of Democratic elected officials is imposing curfews and deploying the cops and National Guard all over their cities, and those thoroughly militarized armed forces are not reserving their violence for looters. The cops are attacking and beating peaceful protesters at will, ignoring the soothing assurances of those officials, who jump to their support anyway. While the NYPD was rampaging against peaceful protestors, Governor Cuomo and Mayor DiBlasio were food-fighting over who supported the cops more, and who would be stricter in enforcing the curfew—which thousands of enraged people ignored.
In a country in flames over the imperious power of the police over black and poor lives, this is the message from the Democrats’ anti-Trump darling of the day, Andrew Cuomo:
“A police officer needs support. They need … to be empowered, they need the capacity to do their job, they have to know that they’re backed up, they have to know that if they’re out there they can do what they have to do.”
These politicians are trying to re-instill the fear, and it isn’t working. The cops cannot arrest tens of thousands of people. The people are learning that they can have more power than the mayors and police chiefs and governors and presidents, and that must be stopped. Those officials—the whole rainbow of them—are part of the system’s effort to stop it.
The “outside agitator” theme has been a particularly obvious—and at times so absurd to be amusing—reprise of J. Edgar Hoover’s and southern racists’ response to civil-rights protestors. It took off with St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter’s May 30th statement that: “every single person we arrested last night, I’m told, was from out of state”—though 86% were in fact Minnesotans. It quickly became a favorite trope of the right and the left center-right, blaming everybody from ANTIFA, drug cartels, Russia (Of course!), Venezuela (ditto), white supremacists, white men, George Soros, the boogaloos, and—my personal favorite—Zimbabwe, for organizing hundreds of actions across all fifty states.
Anything to avoid facing that, however few opportunists are sprinkled through these protests, it’s socially-crushed American communities that are acting out their “pent-up feelings” of rage and frustration—and, you know, “Stuff happens!”
The worst concrete effect thus far of the “outside agitator” motif has been Trump’s absurd but dangerous designation of ANTIFA as a “terrorist organization.” That’s “fine” with Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice (as long as he extends the designation to right-wing organizations). So the FBI is now interrogating arrested protestors to see if they are—horrors!—anti-fascist. That’s the bipartisan, identity-diverse response to the bipartisan, identity-diverse vision of outside agitators ruining peaceful protests.
There is a real multi-racial, at least potentially anti-capitalist, mass movement raging across the United States, and that must be stopped. Liberal identity politics is a tool to stop it. The purpose of all these police deployments and agitator accusations is precisely to divide this multi-racial mass movement and channel its constituent parts back into their assigned slots within the framework of liberal identity politics—the left-wing of neo-liberal capitalist ideology. Defeat by co-optation. At least as dangerous as defeat by the cops.
Which is why the most pernicious, and telling, of the appeals from the podiums is that last one: Go home and vote.
It came most fervently from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms: “If you want change in America, go and register to vote… Go home! Go home!”
Really? Vote for what? In what rigged election? For what ruling-class purchased candidate? For more “diversity” and black faces in high places, fronting for the latest “nothing will fundamentally change” candidate? The one who wrote the crime bill, the bankruptcy bill, didn’t want his kids in a “racial jungle,” lied about his relation to the civil-rights movement and Nelson Mandela, and thinks he can determine who’s black and who ain’t?
Sure, there are local elections for prosecutors and such that can change police policies in helpful ways, but, again, been there, done that. Keisha and her police chief are that. Who else you got?
You can elect all the rainbow progressives, and enact all the police reforms you want, but be aware, as Andre Perry says. “[T]his is much broader [than policing]. This is about a fatigue of policy violence in all areas of life.” So, sure, give the police more de-escalation and implicit bias training. Definitely go for defunding the police—taking $1 billion from outrageous $6 billion NYPD budget would be a fine start. End “qualified immunity,” and make cops afraid of losing their jobs and freedom if they use excessive force. Independent civilian review boards, now. Police who brutalize, or who stand by and watch, fired and prosecuted, starting now. And don’t forget the college-educated, “middle-class” prosecutors, who are guilty of ignoring and abetting police cover-ups and “testilying.” (What happens in the courtroom destroys more lives than what happens in the street!) Go for all of it.
But the criminal justice system is a support and subsidiary of the economic justice system. As long as the social order the police are protecting means the destruction of communities via predatory capitalism, you will continue to have all the “poverty, unemployment, so-called ‘crime’, and violence” that results. That will include the violence of the group of people—of whatever size and racial composition, and whether called “police” or something else—who will be tasked to intervene where physical force is necessary, and will be given significant leeway.
Want to know how long cops’ fear of punishment will last? See Cuomo above. The mayors and governors and prosecutors are still more afraid of the police than they are of the people. That, and the “fatigue of policy violence,” has to change, and people know that voting isn’t doing it.
Some of the implicated political caste do understand this, as a recent article in the New York Times indicates. Stacey Abrams makes the point: “You cannot motivate someone to a behavior that they don’t believe will actually bring change,” And Ayanna Presley: “People don’t participate, not because they’re ignorant and they don’t know enough. It’s because they know too much. They live it every day.”
Too many people know very well there is no hidden reservoir of “progressive” politics, willing to produce the necessary substantive changes in the social economy, that is going to emerge from either political party as a result of a vote, or as a result of peaceful expressions of opinion.
Indeed, too many people know that the conditions for an actually democratic vote—open debates, access for all parties, universal registration and easy access to voting, a transparent, open-source electoral system, one-person-one-vote (elimination of gerrymandering, the electoral college, etc.), the elimination of money influence—do not exist. And everybody knows very well that the donor class controls policy, whatever the voters do.
So, what should the progressive and diverse mayors, police chiefs, and black entrepreneurial artists be saying from their podiums in response to this nationwide uprising? What can they do, but repeat, with more authority, the same calls for peace and diversity we heard from those podiums fifty years ago? Surely, we can’t expect them to call for the overthrow of capitalism?
Actually, why not? If some mayor thought that was necessary, why shouldn’t s/he say so? We absolutely should not exclude that possibility. It’s only happened over 170 (or was it 1000?) times so far. But, sure, let’s acknowledge that none of them today do, and see if there’s anything else they might say that takes account of the justifiable rage and doesn’t just try to quell it.
Well, if you want to call for people to vote, you have first to call for creating the condition that would make their vote effective, as suggested above. Is that—basic democracy—too crazy and radical for our progressive politicians? Isn’t it necessary to do that, if you want to claim you have some vision beyond going home and accepting the corrupt electoral system as it is?
But, most of all, advocate policies that will change the social economy of the communities you claim to protect and serve.
If you’re going to scold people for looting and destroying their own communities and burning police cars on protest night, don’t you first—or at least at the same time—have to scold the corporations, hedge funds, real-estate developers, etc. who are looting these communities’ wealth every day?
If, in a nation with 40 million unemployed, you’re addressing thousands of enraged people who have been locked out of their jobs for months, lost (or never had) health insurance, can’t pay the rent or credit card bills, before—or at least while—you tell them to calm down and go home, shouldn’t you be speaking up for them and demanding that the federal government immediately cover their lost income, health insurance, rent, and guarantee return to jobs they were forced out of?
Shouldn’t you demonstrate your solidarity by demanding permanent policies that would change their lives for the better—things like: a living minimum wage ($25/hr), guaranteed jobs and/or basic income, universal single-payer healthcare, universal childcare and early education, paid parental leave, cancellation of debt and establishment of public banking and finance that will end usurious debt forever, full funding of all public schools through tuition-free college, free and fully-funded public transportation, etc.?
Shouldn’t you be calling for an end to homelessness, for comprehensive and fully-funded public housing and strict rent-control, and promising never again to use your police to enforce evictions and literally throw families out on the street?
Might you not hector the political and economic powers-that-be a bit about these socially-destructive and effectively racist policies, before—or at least while—you tell the people suffering from them to chill? Might you not call for an end to precisely the problems that now require the management of homeless and physically- and mentally-ill people by cops in the street?
Too many things? How about calling out a few, or a couple, or just one of them. Which of the diverse, progressive Democratic local politicians did that? Too busy insisting that police officers “need to be empowered.”
Really, in the middle of a pandemic with the worst unemployment since the great depression, not one “progressive” Democratic mayor or governor can say: “We need healthcare for all, goddamit!”?
Any or all of these things will not make for the end of capitalism. But any of them would change the material conditions of people’s lives for the better. None of them are impossible for a mayor or governor to say, and they are exactly what they should be on about, if they really want to prevent uprisings by any other means than police and military repression.
Whether too many or too radical, these—not those of fifty years ago—are the issues they have to address. Because these problems are the fuel of the fire this time, and the heavy rocks of the avalanche that’s coming:
“Economic experts have predicted that even as the country faces a nationwide downturn, black communities may be hit particularly hard. Access to capital will dry up more quickly, especially for black business owners, and a coming “avalanche of evictions” could displace black renters across the country.”
So why won’t these rainbow politicians foreground these issues and call for these solutions, before—or at least while—demanding that their rightfully-enraged constituents go home and vote?
Could it be that they do not dare to raise issues that can only be resolved by an exit from the capitalist identity-politics framework to another—not necessarily socialist, but effectively social-democratic—framework? That they dare not speak against their party, which is dedicated to blocking—which is the main obstacle to—any such exit?
Could that be because they and their party—their careers and material privileges—are financed from the same pot of gold—by the same (or systemically-equivalent) banks, hedge-fund managers, real-estate developers, healthcare and pharmaceutical industry tycoons, and landlords as their lily-white reactionary colleagues?
Those are rhetorical questions.
What I hope isn’t purely rhetorical is the question of whether the movement that has arisen in the streets since the killing of George Floyd will find its own way to exit that fifty-year-old political framework, or whether it will follow the dead-end path of division and cooptation trod by its predecessors.
Optimism of the will it is.
About The Polemicist
Left-socialist analysis from Jim Kavanagh, a New York City native and denizen. Also publishing on Dandelion Salad, CounterPunch, Op-Ed News, The Greanville Post, Reader Supported News, Z, and various sites on the net.
From the archives:
US Lectures World on Human Rights as Cops Kill Blacks With Impunity, by Finian Cunningham + Rebellion Against Police Murder Tears Through the US, by Sophie Squire + Margaret Kimberley: The US is the World’s Worst Abuser of Human Rights