“For true liberation, Black Lives Matter is not enough” in The Kernel

Doug’s got a piece this morning in The Kernel at Daily Dot about Black Lives Matter and the voids in its politics.

All of this makes it difficult not to see Black Lives Matter as something else entirely, aimed at ending one of the few outstanding fears of upwardly mobile members of the Black middle class. After all, access to the sort of advancement that is routinely denied to the majority of Black people who identify as working class can buy you out of a lot of things. Maybe you care a little less about the increasing privatization of our public schools, or the routine disinvestment in programs assisting the poor, or the means by which capitalists in the United States manage to keep their workers from collectively bargaining. But one thing money cannot buy you is invulnerability from being on the bad end of a police officer’s gun when he pulls the trigger.

Read the rest here.

Which One Are You?

The practice of politics is something that I was born into.

My grandmother, Dorothy Marie Boone-Anderson, was a community organizer during the Civil Rights Movement.  Being someone who left school in the eighth grade to work in the fields and help support her family, she understood that the only way oppression could stand was in the face of a hopelessly divided working class. She was someone who understood that building coalitions and activating the common spirit were indispensable qualities for a successful movement.

When my father first arrived on the job at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1982, he came home and told Grandma that someone had talked to him about joining the union. When she asked him if he had signed up for the union that first day, he said that he had not.

My grandmother was a woman of many qualities; introversion was not one of them. After getting a talking to about the importance of collective bargaining and working-class political power, he quickly joined the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. When he was moved to a different shop, he became a member of the Machinists. It is through that union that he continues his service to America’s working class.

Given this, it seems obvious that the discussion of current events around the dining room table were as much a part of my childhood as my grandmother’s delicious cornbread or the smell of roasted peanuts. The topics ranged from the local (usually around Suffolk politics or the Civic League that she belonged to) to the national (my father’s discussions about fighting the North American Free Trade Agreement’s passage in 1993). Even after my father moved away to pursue new job opportunities (he had been laid off from the shipyard in 1993; thanks a lot, President Clinton), the routine remained the same: Grandma would ask me what I wanted for breakfast; I would reply that I wanted the usual; and about twenty minutes later, I would come out to pancakes, bacon, black coffee with sugar, and the day’s Virginian-Pilot.

Through these conversations and my experience in American politics, I have learned one important lesson.

Labor Rights Are Civil Rights.

I debated whether I should write this. I feel like this far too often when I sit down to write lately, especially when it comes to addressing something as thoroughly empty as anything dealing with Black Lives Matter. That goes tenfold for anything that happens regarding Black Lives Matter within that razor-wired echo chamber known as social media. In fact, I had not planned on writing anything more about this, and I plan to go back to doing so once this piece is finished.

But witnessing this breathtaking display of rank stupidity compels me to point out a couple of things:

  1. People associated with Black Lives Matter have managed to put out precisely one detailed list of demands. Those demands are tightly focused around one issue. If you abhor the quick death of a policeman’s bullet but are hunky-dory with the slow death caused by out-of-control unemployment, health disparities and outcomes, and the degradation of America’s contract with its working class, then I have to ask which Black Lives Are Supposed To Be Mattering with these demands? And if you cannot articulate a comprehensive plan of action for your community of interest, then what are the protests if they are not symbolic?
  2. The March on Washington….For Jobs and Freedom. Look up those demands sometime, if you ever want an example of what an actual plan for liberation looks like. If you are the kind of person who likes substance and detail, perhaps the Freedom Budget, championed by labor leader and March on Washington organizer (and a Black man to boot!) A. Philip Randolph is more up your alley.
  3. Related to that last point, a Black man is head of America’s second largest labor union. A Black man (and an immigrant) is the Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO. Black people have been the largest supporters of an expansion of labor rights, and they have been the backbone of one of the most successful labor campaigns in a generation, the Fight For 15. Black people are also more likely to identify as working class rather than middle class or wealthy. The notion that pointing out this fact, as well as pointing out that economic inequalities are reduced where workers can collectively bargain, is akin to someone saying that “all lives matter” is, well, out-of-touch with reality. And history.
  4. And since we are talking about Bernie Sanders not protesting with Black Lives Matter, maybe this has something to do with it? It is not really about him, but the amnesia that comes over certain sectors of online activism when it comes to this one candidate has gotten to be really bizarre.

I hate writing about this stuff because it honestly bores me, even more so when you can see the fast-approaching end game of all this. I would much rather be working on my blog piece about histories of leftism in the South, or be researching my dissertation, or be outside enjoying the abundant splendor that is life in Detroit.

But at a certain point, it becomes necessary for there to be a transcript. One that will let people who look back upon this stuff know that the conversation was not one-directional, and that there were people who legitimately cared about liberation and freedom who nevertheless opposed this mild reformism, infused with radical posturing. And one that states the painfully obvious: that if every police officer put down their guns and fully disarmed tomorrow, that this would do little to put food in the bellies of hungry children, or put a roof over the heads of the approximately 20,000 homeless in Detroit, or give our kids an education system that treats them as humans, and not just numbers or dollar signs.

Labor unions have been at the fore of fighting for all of those things. And not just that: the strength of a nation’s labor movement has been shown to positively affect the responsiveness of government to its most vulnerable (Bartels 2010) as well as the size of its social welfare state (Goldfield 1987; Esping-Anderson and Korpi 1983). The backing that the fights for civil rights, Medicaid, and Social Security had from the labor movement, and their successes, should prove that in multitudes.

Labor rights are civil rights. And if we really intend to make Black Lives Matter, perhaps a simple recognition of that easily researchable historical fact should be recognized.

A Short Follow-Up To The Previous Post on Black Lives Matter.

I wish that I could find the words to describe how I feel right now. Maybe I will figure them out by the time you finish reading the following passage from Stephen Crockett’s story at The Root describing the meeting between Hillary Clinton and Black Lives Matter activists from Boston:

“Things took a turn when Clinton asked the activists to explain policy changes they wanted to see enacted.

‘I stand here in your space and I say this as respectfully as I can, “If you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what to do.”‘ Jones said. ‘What I mean to say is, this is and has always been a white problem of violence. There’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.’

‘Respectfully,’ Clinton answered, ‘if that is your position, then I will only talk to white people about how we are going to deal with these very real problems.’

‘That’s not what I mean,’ Jones said. He added, ‘But what you just said was a form of victim-blaming. You were saying what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts is to …’

Clinton told them that she isn’t interested in changing hearts, but rather policy.

‘You can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through that you might change some hearts,’ she said.

‘But if that’s all that happens,’ she continued, ‘we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation because we will not have all of the changes that you deserve to see happen in your lifetime because of your willingness to get out there and talk about this.'”

I want you, the reader, to step back and think about the scenario that has unfolded in the preceding passage. These activists get a private hearing with a candidate who is, at the moment, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Not only that, but this potential Democratic candidate leads polling aggregates against every potential Republican candidate for the general election as well, meaning that it is plausible that you are having a meeting with the next President of the United States. They get a very simple question, yet it is a question that most people working for social change would kill to get from such a high-profile political candidate:

“Well, the next question is, ‘So what do you want me to do about it?'”

The answer is so stupefying, yet so telling, that it bears repeating.

“‘I stand here in your space and I say this as respectfully as I can, ‘If you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what to do.’ Jones said. ‘What I mean to say is, this is and has always been a white problem of violence. There’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.'”

The answer is impressive only in its ability to say absolutely nothing at all. No policy. Not even a nudge in a general direction towards something where a policy might be crafted. Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house faster than that statement could see any type of policy.

And not only that, but do you know what led into that garbled mess that you see above?

“The piece that’s most important….”

….is, apparently, telling Hillary Clinton that there is nothing that they, Black Lives Matter, can do about any of this. No advocacy. No policy agenda. No concrete plan. Nothing. Asking them to have a plan or a policy agenda? That is….victim-blaming. I am not kidding; that is what happens on the video.

I have alternated this entire day between befuddlement, bewilderment, and other nouns used to describe an unyielding state of confusion.

Just off the top of my head, there are at least three things that they could have asked for: a guaranteed right to protest without fear of ending your demonstration with a criminal background, legislation that bars police officers from earning pay while an investigation into a police shooting is ongoing, and a national limit to the amount of money that cities can make off moving violations and parking violations. Would those be my top three issues for the Black working class were I to receive the same audience? Absolutely not. But my goodness, it would be something more concrete than a response full of Intro to Sociology-style ephemera.

And for a series of protests that handwaves about “accountability”, it would have been beneficial to make concrete demands with which you could actually hold this person, you know, accountable. But what they allowed Hillary Clinton to do was completely evade any discussion of things that might actually get done if she becomes president in favor of allowing her to school them about the most fundamental premise behind policymaking institutions, which is to make policy.

Because if policy change is not the goal of this group of activists, then I am honestly wondering what the hell we are all doing here.

The South Lawn has a new look!

New logo, same great flavor.

That is a quote that you see often used when it comes to sodas and restaurants, but it rarely pans out. When it comes to this blog, however, we can, without a doubt, tell you that it rings true.

The logo bears some explaining:

  • The color. It is red, because we are reds. We are socialists who have devoted our passion, heart, and soul into transforming the South for the better. We will continue to do the work required to build coalitions and bring about a progressive, democratic South.
  • The flower. It is a magnolia, that timeless symbol of sweet tea, cornbread, and amazing barbeque. It is representative of the region that we were born and raised in, and that we continue to call home.
  • The leaves. It is a nod to our former slogan, “It’s all about the grassroots, y’all!” It still is, as it always was.
  • The slogan. However, the new slogan fits the action-oriented nature of our advocacy. “Esse Quam Videri”, the state motto of North Carolina, is a Latin saying meaning “to be, rather than to seem”. In other words, talk is cheap. We believe that enough talking has been done; it is time to put deliberation into strategy, and strategy into action.

We hope that you enjoy the new look of The South Lawn. And, as always, stay tuned.


Black Lives Matter and The Failure to Build a Movement.

Black Lives Matter has become an embarrassment.

Even if I were not a supporter of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination (though I wish that he would run as an independent), I would feel this way. Proof of their wholly unserious treatment of serious issues can be found in this sprawling Facebook post, replete with Beyoncé-based hashtags and all, that manages to spend hundreds of words saying nothing of note:

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 5.45.55 AM

And then there were tweets like this, which abounded social media:

For a group of people that are fond of telling people to Google It, these folks seem either unwilling or unable to find out what Bernie Sanders actually stands for. However, since I am an organizer (and part of that role is to educate), here are the facts:

  1. This was not a Bernie Sanders rally. It was a rally in favor of expanding Social Security and Medicaid. On the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, polling in multiple swing Senate races and House contests found that Black voters overwhelmingly supported the expansion of Social Security. In Arkansas, one of the most conservative states in the Union and a state that twice elected the dad from 19 Kids and Counting to the state legislature, Black people supported the expansion of Social Security by a 9-to-1 margin. Do their voices matter? Maybe they are also “white supremacists”, as one of the protestors called the attendees of the rally.
  2. Bernie Sanders has one of the best civil rights records of any person to run for president. I know that some former foreclosure lawyers might feel some kind of way about discussing this, but it is important that we discuss things that people have actually done. So here are Bernie Sanders’s ratings from civil rights organizations throughout his career in Congress. Here are the bills that he has sponsored over his time in Congress. All of that, of course, is in addition to the work that Sanders did during the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe someone who made their money off making poor people homeless (even if she did cry about doing so, all the way to the bank) does not care about such things; I suspect that the people reading this blog, though, might feel differently.
  3. This quote from one of the protestors is stupefying. “‘Bernie, you were confronted at NetRoots at by black women,’ (Marissa) Johnson said before adding, ‘you have yet to put out a criminal justice reform package like O’Malley did.'” Just in case you were wondering, that would be Martin O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore who put in place much of the aggressive policing tactics that resulted in the death of Freddie Gray on April 12th. The candidate who has stood at the forefront of civil rights advocacy for over fifty years is now being told by Black Lives Matter activists (and liberal columnists) that he needs to be more like, you know, the guy who gave thousands of Black men across his city arrest records for the ridiculously minor legal transgressions. It is a perfect example of the triumph of form over substance in politics.
  4. The notion that these activists are putting anything on the line with these protests is hilarious. You have to chuckle a bit at the notion that these activists are putting their lives on the line….at a rally for expanding Social Security and Medicaid in Seattle. Perhaps they feared the septuagenarians tossing their fair trade Starbucks at them on stage? In any case, whenever the “hooriding” on Republicans commences, please let the rest of us know. Hell, I would be happy with them simply “hooriding” on Hillary Clinton, but we hear that doing so might require actual work, so maybe we will not see that, either. If these folks can’t pull together a coherent, disruptive protest against Hillary Clinton in the way that climate activists just did, how is there any chance of them successfully challenging police violence?

But as much as this series of protests might irritate me as a Sanders supporter, my frustration is not really about him or this ridiculous protest. I am frustrated by what one of the protestors called “the biggest grassroots movement in the country right now” and their lack of interest in winning any tangible gains for those that they claim to have as constituents.

Oh, Mississippi.

The Democratic Party in the South is absolutely irrelevant. Tuesday’s results in Mississippi’s Democratic gubernatorial primary is proof positive of that.

In case you have been living under a rock, here’s what happened:

Terry truck driver and first-time candidate Robert Gray, who goes by “Silent Knight” as his CB handle, carried 79 of 82 counties in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. He pulled more than 147,000 votes, or 51 percent, to presumed frontrunner Vicki Slater’s 87,000 votes, or 30 percent, in a three-way race.

Slater, a politically active attorney, raised more than $235,000 for her campaign and pumped in thousands of her own money. Gray raised and spent zero. He bought no advertising. No yard signs. He made only a couple of public appearances. His own family didn’t know he was running, and he didn’t vote for himself.

It seems shocking….until you take a look at recent Democratic Party primaries for the U.S. Senate in South Carolina and Tennessee. Perhaps Mississippians should be happy, as it has not emerged that their candidate for governor is an alleged sexual harasser or a confirmed homophobe. Yet.