I’m reflecting and writing up a report on all the inspiring organizers and activists for Black Liberation I had the pleasure of meeting and protesting with while in Oakland.
Shout out to Adam Jordan Wills of Anti Police-Terror Project, Kyle Mccoy, Chinasa Ozonsi, Jabari Shaw, Andrini Santosa, Chaga Kwa Nia of Qilombo Oakland, Mollie McKinnon Costello of the The Alan Blueford Center For Justice, Baraka Kofi Asante, Ajit Rohan Smith and all the awesome people in your city carrying on the beautiful legacy of the Black Panthers, fighting in your many organizations for a radical democratic society free from the violence of racialized inequality. What follows is a sample of the report I’m writing based on my fieldwork.
One highlight for me is that “Trumpism” has brought many new people into radical politics. The contradiction of Ethnonationalism being unable to solve the problems caused by the Neoliberals and their project presents the radical left with a genuine opening. The Bernie Sanders ‘democratic socialist’ insurgency offered a glimpse of what this could mean for a mass, radical-democratic, economically progressive alternative. Now, months after the 2016 election, previously apolitical people have begun participating in radical politics. The DSA and other parties are reporting explosive growth in new members asking ‘what can I do to fight the Trump agenda’ of ethnonationalism and kleptocratic oligarchy.
During the primary campaign, candidate Trump named Black Lives Matter as an enemy. He described how the solution to police terror and the murder of young unarmed black men was ‘giving our police officers all the resources they need to get the job done’. In doing this, he signalled to his most aggressive supporters among the ‘Alt-Reich’ to harass and seek to intimidate the movement into submission and dispersal. But unintentionally, he also revealed that he perceives the movement as being rather powerful, and thus an imminent threat. Some of his supporters have even come to refer to it as a ‘terrorist’ organisation.
With an ultra-reactionary GOP in control of all 3 levels of the American state, the task now is to ‘heighten the contradictions’ – to use Marcuse’s term and ‘be ungovernable’, as many of the inauguration day protesters said. The character of the resistance that now develops will be the product of the hegemonic struggle between liberals and radicals for the future of the left. This is the same hegemonic struggle playing out across the world in the present breakdown of the Neoliberal order.
Anti-system radicals seek to steer this resistance toward transitional demands on the path to socialism (whatever variant that might be), and independent parties/community organisations for the 99%. For Black Lives Matter this might imply for example:
– democratic community control boards which enact direct accountability for police violence, and provide communities with the power to hire, fire and discipline police officers
– abolishing the Police Bill of Rights,
– the redirecting of city police budgets to social programs that ameliorate the root causes of crime (i.e. material deprivation)
– radical increase in affordable housing to combat the homelessness crisis
These can each be seen as reforms that could lay the groundwork for police abolition and black liberation.
Pro-system liberals seek to channel all that potent frustration into a reformed Democratic Party (or more likely: a non-reformed Democratic Party). The futility of the latter strategy is amply demonstrated by the Obama years in which social movements like Occupy, despite the rhetoric of support by Dem politicians, were screwed over again and again in favour of corporate donors.
Then I could mention that the average black household’s net worth was cut in half over the Obama years (see: http://www.citylab.com/…/annotating-obamas-howard-s…/488918/). That’s not really his fault – the median black households’ net worth has always been held low due to institutionalised racism. That is: slavery, reconstruction and the slave patrols being converted to the first police departments, Jim Crow, segregation, red-line mortgage practices, mass incarceration, sub-prime mortgage crisis, etc etc. Obama style Neoliberalism did not fix that, but made it worse, with the misleading and pacifying illusion of change.
Trumpism is ultimately just unleashed naked neoliberal capitalism, but with ethnonationalism as the big other (Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks etc).
This critique of the Obama era should not be read as an endorsement of Trump, but rather a call to realise the failure for black liberation of both the wings of the party of capital (GOP and Democrat), and to build independent community-driven organizations to struggle and win for the BLM movment’s goals