It Can Happen Here, Unless…

“When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.’”

Halford E. Luccock, Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938)

The emergence of Donald Trump, Republican frontrunner, is not a joke.

His rise isn’t, say, indicted former Governor of Texas Rick Perry developing sudden amnesia during a GOP debate in 2012. It isn’t former awful pizza company CEO Herman Cain’s creepy grin. As much as Trump is a blustering buffoon like Perry or a caricature of the greedy businessman stereotype like Cain, there’s nothing funny about his emergence at the head of the Republican pack.

It’s not funny because the folks coalescing around Trump as supporters and allies are already hurting people. A Trump supporter in Mobile, AL proposed permits to murder undocumented immigrants at the southern border. Trump supporters in Boston beat and urinated upon a homeless Hispanic man, and the most recent incident of ad hoc political violence against a protester at one of Trump’s rallies is the third by my count. The implications of this all are not good, and the main worry I have is that the gap between disorganized political violence and organized political violence is minuscule, and is already being jumped over.

Just like discussions of killing baby Hitler as a hypothetical way to head off atrocities like the Holocaust ignores the fact that the NSDAP was a political movement with a base of support that was actively able to contest state power, focusing too much on Donald Trump the person conceals the conditions that are allowing a malignant political movement to form around him. When you get right down to it, the only way to stop ‘Trumpism’ (if you can call it that) is by understanding the groups of people who are feeding his rise.

A Moment of Silence: The case for keeping new organizers offline.

(This is a guest post from “Frank Little”, a union organizer in the Midwest.)

The goal of organizing is winning.

Your community has a need? Organize to build power and you use that leverage against those with statutory power to get what you need.

It is that simple.

This is the first lesson new organizers must learn. They must understand what winning looks like BEFORE they can dive into strategy and tactics.

We can’t win if we don’t know what winning means.

The Value of Small Changes: A Canadian perspective

(Allison Sparling is a social democratic political activist from Halifax, Nova Scotia. This post was originally posted on her blog Always, Always Something.)

Something that’s struck me a lot, especially since living in Toronto, is how frequently we mistake progressivism for some sort of brand to be consumed instead of a movement dedicated to tackling hard changes to save the planet and make humans more equal. When Conservatives decry the latte sipping elite, it’s a facile stereotype but they’re not wrong: social justice is not about what kind of coffee you can afford to drink, even if it treats its workers better.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t drink coffee that treats its workers well! This is good. This is important. But this is the one of the smallest parts of a social contract that needs to change. Businesses that exist in this type of economy need a competitive edge to justify their cost and continue their existence so they amplify their social good as a form of marketing to make you feel like this small choice is what you needed to to do end inequality, save the planet, justify your spending $3 when there’s cheaper coffee elsewhere. And if you spend that $2-3 at a locally owned business that treats its workers well, that’s even better.

But that’s still not social justice.

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.