How Liberalism Infects Movement Building

It never fails. Every time there is critical resistance, an uprising and continued unrest people get dragged back to compliance (with permits) under the rhetoric of being peaceful or nonviolent. The movement gets dragged out of the street to sit attentively at the feet of the oppressors with speakers that tell us change will come if we are calm (and peaceful). […]

Rhetoric about resistance and direct action becomes meaningless, lost in the symbolism of marching for civic change. Movement managers try to make the movement mainstream-popular, inviting celebrities and business leaders to come forward, while at the same time pushing out radical elements that released pressure valves to begin with. If not directly, through terrible tactical choices that alienate people (like working with the police who are critically engaged in counter insurgency and developing profiles on agitators to undermine the movement).

Never mind, that working with the city and police legitimizes those avenues, while making it easier for the police to knowingly divide and attack groups that take nonpermitted action or respond to their conditions without the permission of the state. Is this what solidarity looks like?

Instead of hearing about what groups are doing to sustain themselves during these uprisings, we hear more and more about demands. Police reforms that usually come with dangerous baggage, more technology and funding for the police. But the movement is so pressured by popular media and civic leaders to clarify its goals, policy change becomes a priority before much needed discussions can happen. Before policy change can be challenged not as a goal, but maybe a tactic to gain concessions in a larger fight to abolish the infrastructure that makes racial oppression profitable.

But once the movement is focused on policy change, containment is practically complete. And the agitators who were able to explore what it means to act autonomously for liberation, who were harassed and attacked by the police, are cast aside as unreasonable. Ungovernable.

Unity becomes language to gather behind and solidarity is reserved for those who will declare their nonviolence or tolerance for police collaboration. Never mind that nonviolence never actually was not violent- it just tolerates violence in the hopes of receiving change. It accepts violence as a means of determining justice- because if someone is constantly violated don’t they deserve to be saved?

The cops are killing people, but pacifism will kill the movement every time. We say “first do no harm” but liberalism does harm to the movement every time. People pull permits in the name of pacifism, but invite the police. How does this make sense?

What is liberalism? There are many ways people might define or apply it. But for now i’ll start with, peace for the sake of appearing peaceful regardless of whether the conditions are peaceful or not. Appealing to and supporting state violence (the government) to restore “peace” whether the conditions are peaceful or not. Working with the enemy to minimize the affects of oppression, while never supporting those looking to prevent or abolish it.

Redirecting the outrage and energy of people away from their own communities and into organizations that work with and support the state (and it’s violence). Taking real anger and pain, and neutralizing it so that it does not actually threaten the economic and social conditions that produced it. Believing that the state is the only way we will be free. Controlling how other actors behave so that the state will make you free. And finally, using peace as a reason to dismiss and silence people seeking critical movement building dialogue to prevent the co-optation of the movement. Demanding peace without first acknowledging the conflict is dismissive and heartbreaking. Same with ‪#‎notallcops‬ rhetoric.

The popular media finds it much easier to latch onto movement building for reform because the hierarchical political structure wants people to resign power over to representatives and allow those representatives to determine clear goals. And just like that the movement becomes less about supporting black solidarity and more about appealing to the dominant white (and liberal) gaze for approval.

But what if the goals aren’t clear? What if supporting black rage and insurrection means that all of it will have to fall? Especially the privileges and comforts gained by whites and non-black POC under the capitalist system built on genocide and slavery. The economy of wagery and servitude that makes (black) people poor and deprives them of resources. The system of governance and gender violence that pits (black) community against each other based on sexuality, gender and patriarchy power. The lack of empowerment and shared decision making. The lack of access to resources for those who are disabled by society. The political system itself, who carries on war after war here and abroad without the consent of the governed. The way problems are handled, policed and result in mass imprisonment and violence for poor, brown and black communities of color.

It’s not simple. But to build this movement we cannot oversimplify it. We cannot ignore that non-black and white people benefit from seeing this movement silenced or neutralized. And we can’t pretend that it doesn’t make whites uncomfortable to think about a black revolution. This might be a large reason why people in the movement fall back on learned liberalism. Because people, particularly people of color, have been taught that to assimilate in Amerikan culture means to behave, which has become synonymous with being “reasonable” or deferring to white models of power. But this is not reasonable, co-optation will fail and the conditions will fall.

how many have to be killed - protest sign

Source: nowaronthepoor (Tumblr)

Jackie Wang: Color-blind racism and “crime”

The liberal color blind paradigm of racism submerges race beneath the “commonsense” logic of crime and punishment. This effectively conceals racism, because it is not considered racist to be against crime. Cases like the execution of Troy Davis, where the courts come under scrutiny for racial bias, also legitimize state violence by treating such cases as exceptional. The political response to the murder of Troy Davis does not challenge the assumption that communities need to clean up their streets by rounding up criminals, for it relies on the claim that Davis is not one of those feared criminals, but an innocent Black man. Innocence, however, is just code for nonthreatening to white civil society. Troy Davis is differentiated from other Black men — the bad ones — and the legal system is diagnosed as being infected with racism, masking the fact that the legal system is the constituent mechanism through which racial violence is carried out (wishful last-minute appeals to the right to a fair trial reveal this — as if trials were ever intended to be fair!). The State is imagined to be deviating from its intended role as protector of the people, rather than being the primary perpetrator. […] The insistence on innocence results in a refusal to hear those labeled guilty or defined by the State as “criminals.” When we rely on appeals to innocence, we foreclose a form of resistance that is outside the limits of law, and instead ally ourselves with the State.

–Jackie Wang, “Against Innocence”

Malcolm X: Speech to SNCC Civil Rights Workers (January 1, 1965)

“One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn how to do is see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself. But if you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or going by what others think about someone, instead of going and searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself, you’ll be walking west when you think you’re going east, and you’ll be walking east when you think you’re going west. So this generation, especially of our people, have a burden upon themselves, more so than at any other time in history. The most important thing we can learn how to do today is think for ourselves.

It’s good to keep wide-open ears and listen to what everybody else has to say, but when you come to make a decision, you have to weigh all of what you’ve heard on its own, and place it where it belongs, and then come to a decision for yourself. You’ll never regret it. But if you form the habit of taking what someone else says about a thing without checking it out for yourself, you’ll find that other people will have you hating your own friends and loving your enemies. This is one of the things that our people are beginning to learn today—that it is very important to think out a situation for yourself. If you don’t do it, then you’ll always be maneuvered into actually—You’ll never fight your enemies, but you will find yourself fighting your own self.

I think our people in this country are the best examples of that. Because many of us want to be nonviolent. We talk very loudly, you know, about being nonviolent. Here in Harlem, where there are probably more black people concentrated than any place else in the world, some talk that nonviolent talk too. And when they stop talking about how nonviolent they are, we find that they aren’t nonviolent with each other. At Harlem Hospital, you can go out here on Friday night and find black people who claim they’re nonviolent. But you see them going in there all cut up and shot up and busted up where they got violent with each other.

So my experience has been that in many instances where you find Negroes always talking about being nonviolent, they’re not nonviolent with each other, and they’re not loving with each other, or patient with each other, or forgiving with each other. Usually, when they say they’re nonviolent, they mean they’re nonviolent with somebody else. I think you understand what I mean. They are nonviolent with the enemy. A person can come to your home, and if he’s white and he wants to heap some kind of brutality upon you, you’re nonviolent. Or he can come put a rope around your neck, you’re nonviolent. Or he can come to take your father out and put a rope around his neck, you’re nonviolent. But now if another Negro just stomps his foot, you’ll rumble with him in a minute. Which shows you there’s an inconsistency there.

So I myself would go for nonviolence if it was consistent, if it was intelligent, if everybody was going to be nonviolent, and if we were going to be nonviolent all the time. I’d say, okay, let’s get with it, we’ll all be nonviolent. But I don’t go along—and I’m just telling you how I think—I don’t go along with any kind of nonviolence unless everybody’s going to be nonviolent. If they make the Ku Klux Klan nonviolent, I’ll be nonviolent. If they make the White Citizens’ Council nonviolent, I’ll be nonviolent. But as long as you’ve got somebody else not being nonviolent, I don’t want anybody coming to me talking any kind of nonviolent talk. I don’t think it is fair to tell our people to be nonviolent unless someone is out there making the Klan and the Citizens’ Council and these other groups also be nonviolent.

Now I’m not criticizing those here who are nonviolent. I think everybody should do it the way they feel is best, and I congratulate anybody who can be nonviolent in the face of all that kind of action that I read about in that part of the world. But I don’t think that in 1965 you will find the upcoming generation of our people, especially those who have been doing some thinking, who will go along with any form of nonviolence unless nonviolence is going to be practiced all the way around.”

“In America, Young Black Men Have No Right to Life”

St. Louis County Police tactical officers fire tear gas in downtown Ferguson on Monday as crowds gathered to express their anger at the teenage student's death at the hands of police“There are lots of pictures coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, a two-thirds Black town just outside St. Louis, where a policeman shot down Michael Brown, this past weekend. The 18 year-old’s last words before dying were: “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting.” The cop kept shooting anyway. The pictures show Brown’s body in the middle of the street, where it was left for four hours in the baking sun.

Other pictures show Brown’s grief-stricken mother, and his stepfather carrying a sign that said, “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son.” There are plenty of images from the two nights of disturbances in the town, where there isn’t really much to loot. However, I think the most poignant picture shows young Blacks blocking the street in front of the Ferguson police department, their upraised arms signaling surrender, just as young Michael did before the cop administered the coup de grace.

How different that picture would have been in 1966, when young Black people in California responded to murderous police violence with armed patrols of their own, under the newly formed Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The Party declared that Black people had just as much right to defend themselves as white people, including the right to defend themselves from the police, who act as an occupying army. Which is, of course, a self-evident truth.

Black Panthers bringing guns to capitol to protest gun control
On May 2, 1967, Black Panthers amassed at the Capitol in Sacramento brandishing guns to protest a bill before an Assembly committee restricting the carrying of arms in public. Self-defense was a key part of the Panthers’ agenda. This was an early action, a year after their founding. (source)

The Black Panther Party’s vigorous assertion of the right to self-defense prompted the U.S. government to double-down on its monopoly on the use of force – first, with a massive campaign of assassination and false imprisonment against Black radical leadership, many of whom still remain behind bars. Then, as the decade of the Seventies began, mass Black incarceration became the universal policy of the United States – north, south, east and west. A new class of Black politicians filled the void that police repression had created. These were men and women who were quite amenable to corporate rule and made comfortable homes in the Democratic Party. Even as the prison population rose to nine times 1970 levels, the Black Misleadership Class blissfully celebrated its own upward mobility.

Meanwhile, the Mass Incarceration State consumed millions of Black lives and consigned most Black communities to Constitution-free zones, where young Blacks could be arrested for nothing, or shot down in the streets with impunity, as was Michael Brown, and as happens to other young Blacks every day of the year.

The people who rule America no longer need Black labor. What they do need is a class that is forcibly anchored at the bottom of U.S. society, who can be scapegoated for whatever is wrong with America, and whose very presence serves as an excuse for massive urban dislocation and the steady erosion of civil liberties. Michael Brown and countless others have died in order to keep America deeply stratified. That’s the only use the United States has for young Black men.”

— Glen Ford (via Black Agenda Report)

 

“Land of the free”: Ferguson, Missouri

line of riot cops and armored vehicles ferguson night

The people of Ferguson, Missouri are sick of watching racist cops gun down innocent kids in their community. During protests over the recent murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18 year old, the police decided to fire tear gas into the crowd to force them to disperse. But the people of Ferguson decided not to disperse — they decided to fight back.

Unarmed man holding up his hands while a large group of militarized police point weapons at him
Police force protesters from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri

The killers at the Ferguson and St. Louis Police Departments are the ones who are carrying rifles and shooting into unarmed crowds, attacking people with police dogs and gas grenades and clubs. The corporate media, as usual, is mostly focusing on petty vandalism and looting by the crowds, to distract from the much more serious problems of police violence, mass incarceration, economic inequality, and racism.

Let’s be clear — the reason that there is a violent conflict right now in Ferguson is because these pigs shot an unarmed kid, and are now attacking the people of Ferguson with military crowd control hardware. Fuck these racist killer cops, and love to all the people who are standing up to them.

line of riot pigs and armored vehicles mrap

St-Louis-770x364

James Baldwin: Police are the hired enemies of the people

“And the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function. They are, moreover—even in a country which makes the very grave error of equating ignorance with simplicity—quite stunningly ignorant; and, since they know that they are hated, they are always afraid. One cannot possibly arrive at a more surefire formula for cruelty.

This is why those pious calls to ‘respect the law,’ always to be heard from prominent citizens each time the ghetto explodes, are so obscene. The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer. To respect the law, in the context in which the American Negro finds himself, is simply to surrender his self-respect.”

— James Baldwin (1924-1987)

‘A level of racist violence I have never seen’: UCLA professor Robin D. G. Kelley on Palestine and the BDS movement

AK: And so that brings us to the second question: talk about the trip you recently took to Palestine, why you went and what you saw.

RK: In 2009, I was invited to join the board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.[…]We went to Ramallah, met the president of Birzeit University, we met with other faculty, the founders of PACBI. We went to East Jerusalem to visit Sheikh Jarrah and some of the families that have been dispossessed from their own homes. We went to Hebron, and visited and talked to Palestinian merchants, and witnessed a level of racist violence that I hadn’t even seen growing up as a black person here in the States (laughs), I have to say, and I’ve been beat by the cops. The level of racist violence from the settlers is kind of astounding. We visited Aida refugee camp just north of Bethlehem, and we went to Bethlehem as well. On my own, I went to Nablus and visited the Balata refugee camp. We also went to Haifa, and we met with a group of Palestinian-Israeli scholars and intellectuals to talk about the boycott.

So to me what was important wasn’t just passing through checkpoints, it wasn’t just witnessing the day to day oppression, acts of dispossession, the expansion of these settler communities in the hills overlooking and intimidating Palestinian villages. It wasn’t just that. That was a very, very important part of the trip because what it did in some ways made tangible the kind of oppression, the nature of dispossession, that we read about and knew about. We were prepared. What was important equally was our conversations with active members of Palestinian civil society, our conversations with activists who are organizing against the wall, our conversations with scholars at Haifa, at Birzeit and independent intellectuals. Because what it produced for us wasn’t just a fact-finding mission, you know, as these things often are. It wasn’t just, you know, “occu-tourism,” visiting and seeing for yourself. That wasn’t, to me, the key thing. The key thing was the kind of engagement that helped us better understand why the boycott is central, the complications in pushing for boycott, and how can we sharpen our political critique. Because what we came away with is recognizing that this is a kind of joint, collective venture–that we are not advocating on behalf of Palestinians, but partners with Palestinians for the right to self-determination. And the leadership comes from the Palestinian people. So we’re supporting that movement, and recognizing that what’s happening there is not exceptional, but rather part of a larger global process of late colonialism and neoliberalism, and that what happens in Palestine is going to have an impact on the rest of the world.

This is a short excerpt from an interview with UCLA professor Robin D. G. Kelley on Palestine solidarity, Israeli apartheid and military occupation, and BDS. You can read the full interview here.

UCLA Professor Robin D.G. Kelley
UCLA Professor Robin D.G. Kelley