By ERNIE GOTTA
Nearly 10 years after the murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of vigilante George Zimmerman, the U.S. “justice” system remains as unjust as ever toward Black and oppressed communities. What has changed is the development of a movement in the Black community that was capable of putting more than 20 million in the streets, despite the pandemic, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police in May 2020.
The outpouring for George Floyd was preceded by mass mobilizations for high profile cases such as Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Breonna Taylor, and many more. Countless movements have developed around the country in urban Black centers where police have acted for generations without fear of reprisals. These actions were bolstered by an outpouring from Latino, Native American, and other oppressed communities who took to the streets in solidarity and to express anger toward their own repression. Suburban white working-class and middle-class allies also marched in large numbers, organizing solidarity rallies in cities and towns across the country. One of the more inspiring moments occurred as thousands across the country marched in support of the lives of the Black Transgender community following the murder of Dominique Fells and Riah Milton. The year 2021 marked the murder of 375 transgender women wordwide, and 45 in the United States—the most since records were kept. The majority of the victims were Black, Latina, or migrant workers.
A recovery for some
As the pandemic continues, the forecasted economic “recovery” has been entirely uneven. There has been no real recovery for Blacks, Latinos, working-class women, and immigrant workers. In Chicago, even with Paycheck Protection Program loans in place, Black unemployment hit 15% from June to August—the highest unemployment of any group of people in the city. Bloomberg news points out, “Black and Hispanic communities are seeing a weaker recovery in general than white people, a Bloomberg News analysis of the data found. Additionally, the gap between the top and bottom minority unemployment rates in these same metro areas has widened since March, one year after the first Covid-19 lockdowns.”
The wealth gap between white and Black people, which was uneven both before and since the advent of COVID-19, has created two different experiences throughout the pandemic. Those with more resources were clearly better able to survive hardships or even come out financially sound due to small changes in discretionary spending. For the wealthiest people, like Jeff Bezos, and massive corporations like Amazon, the pandemic swelled their bank accounts as they profited from the exploited labor of a mostly Black, Latino, and international workforce based in the global South.
A report on Brookings.edu states, “In 2019 the median white household held $188,200 in wealth—7.8 times that of the typical Black household ($24,100). It is worth noting that levels of average wealth, which are more heavily skewed by households with the greatest amounts of wealth, are higher: white households reported average wealth of $983,400, which is 6.9 times that of Black households ($142,500; SCF). While median wealth is more reflective of the typical household, the scale of average wealth is indicative of the outsized levels of wealth held by the richest households.”
The report continues, “The median wealth of single white men under the age of 35 ($22,640) is 3.5 times greater than that of single white women ($6,470), 14.6 times greater than that of single Black men ($1,550), and 224.2 times greater than that of single Black women ($101).”
Furthermore, the recovery promised from the “Build Back Better” bill, like most legislative initiatives that are grand in appearance, offer more for businesses than for a real recovery for workers. The influx of trillions of dollars has meant that any increase in wages is already diminished due to inflation. CNBC reports, “Real average hourly earnings when accounting for inflation, actually decreased 0.5% for the month. A 0.9% inflation increase negated a 0.4% rise in wages.”
Real legislation for working people would mean a massive public works and jobs program, rent controls, single-payer health care, food security, and free higher education.
Crime: Nothing to do with BLM and Antifa
Today the forces of reaction are trying to discredit, demobilize, and demoralize the mass movement. The obvious voices of far-right pundits like Tucker Carlson and groups like the Proud Boys have raised the boogeyman of “violent” Black Lives Matter (BLM), Antifa, voter fraud, and a myriad of conspiracy theories coming to destroy businesses and white communities. Often it is the police or vigilantes who stir up trouble, as was the case with white teenager Kyle Rittenhouse, who shamelessly walked free after shooting and killing two BLM protesters. The reality is that 93 percent of the protests were peaceful, and the ones that were not were often stoked by police attacks.
The far right advances a narrative that protests to defund the police, free people from overcrowded jails for COVID relief, and end police violence are to blame for an uptick in violent crime. The truth about why crime happens is much more difficult to parse out and has more to do with the structural composition of life under Capitalism. For example, at the start of the pandemic Vox reported, “A 60 percent surge in gun purchases can be followed by more shootings; trapping domestic violence survivors and abusers under the same roof during the quarantine may cause more assaults and murders; and Covid-19 has made police outreach work even more difficult.The pandemic has also turned families and support systems upside down—unemployment is high, schools and many summer programs have closed, and people, especially from low-income communities and communities of color, have faced illness and death in their families from Covid-19, making routines and structures impossible to maintain.”
The reactionary myths being created around the BLM movement are solidified with public spectacles like protests against Critical Race Theory that include support for book bans and book burnings and are endorsed by Republican politicians like newly elected Virginia Governor Glen Youngkin. Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” is an example of a book that conservatives want banned because it dares to discuss the truths about slavery.
Meanwhile, Democrats masquerade as being sensitive to the issues of the Black community in hopes of winning votes. However, in the very top political offices, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are two politicians who are pro-police, promoters of the carceral state, pro-war, anti-immigrant, anti-environment, anti-worker, and pro-big business—espousing policies that deepen Black oppression. Both have a long record of implementing and supporting anti-Black policies, including Biden’s 1994 crime bill, which paved the way for a deepening of mass incarceration and a new Jim Crow era. Harris was even condemned by the “left wing” of her own party; “a joint statement from the Progressive Democrats of America and Roots Action said that Harris “failed for years to hold police accountable for gross misconduct in California.”
Voting rights under attack
The assault on the basic rights of the Black working class is normalized for white elite and working people through legislative attempts to criminalize Black existence. Rooted in the reality of the 2020 Presidential and special Georgia elections where a record number of Black voters turned out, there is an attempt by the GOP to turn back voting rights won over decades of struggle as part of a broader electoral strategy for 2022 and beyond.
While revolutionary socialists don’t view elections as the fundamental source of social change for workers, the democratic right to vote in elections is an important gain for the working class. This is especially true for the Black working class, which waged a massive civil rights struggle to win the right to vote in the first place.
Today the right to vote is under serious threat. The Brennan Center for Justice tracked the following: “As of July 14, legislators have introduced more than 400 bills with restrictive provisions in 49 states. Fueled by the Big Lie of widespread voter fraud and often discriminatory in design, these bills have the potential to dramatically reduce voting access, especially for Black and brown voters.”
Far-right former Trump advisor Steve Bannon is one of the most vocal proponents of an electoral strategy that includes taking over the GOP precincts and passing laws that restrict voting rights. The base is being drummed up over idea that Biden somehow stole the election through outright fraud that included mail in ballots, undocumented immigrants voting, and faulty voting machines. More explicitly this precinct strategy advocates not only a grassroots approach to mobilize a racist and xenophobic base to turn out the vote but who will also allow them to choose poll workers and board members that certify elections.
ProPublica reported, “GOP leaders in 65 key counties, and 41 reported an unusual increase in signups since Bannon’s campaign began. At least 8,500 new Republican precinct officers (or equivalent lowest-level officials) joined those county parties. We also looked at equivalent Democratic posts and found no similar surge.”
Bannon’s plan is already bolstered by the reshaping of voting districts known as gerrymandering. In Texas legislators are reshaping the voting maps in an attempt to further disenfranchise Black voting power. The gerrymandering was so egregious that even the Department of Justice had to file suit against the state on Dec. 7, 2021. Vox reports, “As the complaint notes, between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, “Texas grew by nearly 4 million residents, and the minority population represents 95% of that growth. Because of this population growth, Texas’s U.S. House delegation expanded from 36 seats to 38 seats in the decennial redistricting process. Yet Texas drew its new maps so that both of the new districts will have white majorities, and it also allegedly redrew a third district to prevent Latinos from electing their preferred candidate.”
While many will claim that opponents of Bannon and the GOP should lean on the Democratic Party to turn back the racist tide, we have now seen countless examples of how that party corrupts or crushes social movements. The Democratic candidates are motivated by self-interest and not a collective will to thwart anti-democratic measures proposed by Republicans. They view the fight as one of legislation, negotiations, bipartisan, and wins with narrow majorities. But even with a narrow majority in all branches of government, the Democrats are unable or unwilling to protect democratic rights.
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are learning this lesson as “their” candidates compromise campaign promises under the slightest pressure from their legislative peers. Even “The Squad” the most progressive layer of the Democratic Party, has bent to the compromises that come with running a capitalist state. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, has not led a real fight for the Green New Deal proposal she co-authored and supported the pro-apartheid, pro-war Iron Dome bill for Israel.
Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman, a dues-paying member of the DSA, also supported the legislation to fund Iron Dome—selling out the Palestinian movement, which has consistently expressed solidarity for the Black struggle in the United States. The DSA’s failure to break with Bowman is yet another eye opener for those who bought into a bankrupt electoral strategy based in the Democratic Party.
The way forward to defend democratic rights will be expressed in a revival of mass action in the streets, pushing the labor movement to take up the fight, and revolutionary political organizing independent of the capitalist parties.
Put 20 million back in the streets!
Although the courts and the entire “justice” system generally work in the favor of the capitalist class, significant concessions can be won through mass mobilizations. The convictions of Derek Chauvin and Ahmaud Arbery’s killers was largely possible because millions of oppressed people and their allies took to the streets demanding justice.
It is important to recognize, however, that the entire structure of society, top to bottom, is set up to defend the interests of the wealthy elite. Racial divisions are created and promoted to drive a wedge in the working class. Decades of austerity on the working class has made some white workers, especially in suburban and rural areas, vulnerable to far-right wing agitation over issues like Critical Race Theory (CRT). “Patriot” groups are popping up in many places to fight what they see as an attack on their freedoms. This includes disregarding the reality of the COVID pandemic, in which Black and oppressed communities were disproportionately affected due to systemic inequalities.
The rise of far-right, anti-vax, and anti-mask culture—further encouraged by the rioting on Jan. 6—has grown and festered in the absence of mass working-class organizations that can lead a struggle for the health and safety of working people. In fact, the labor movement could play an important role by demanding the AFL-CIO end its association with police unions. A fighting labor movement could join with the social movements to fight for single-payer health care to combat racial inequity in the event of future pandemics. A labor movement that addresses transportation, housing, schools, climate and more will win workers away from the influence of far-right propaganda to educate a new generation about the meaning of solidarity.
The lessons learned from the George Floyd movement should help orient future efforts. The movement against racism and police terror needs mass local, regional, and national meetings of Black, anti-racist, labor, and student activist groups to plan actions and create demands that are decided on democratically. The energy of spontaneous street actions combined with historic lessons of movement building from the 1960s and 1930s could put millions back in the streets in a powerful way. These renewed actions could be the dress rehearsal for a much larger movement that can transform the basis of society from corporate greed to solidarity.