The Third Reconstruction Has Begun

Biden and Harris’ victories—and just as importantly those of Warnock and Ossoff in Georgia—were historic both because they prevented a fascist movement from seizing state power and because they opened the door to progressive politics in a way that we have not seen since the early days of the New Deal.

And it is widely understood that these victories were the direct result of ongoing organizing work that empowered Black, Latinx (Arizona, Nevada) and Native American communities in the swing states and beyond.

What is less well understood is that we have now entered a new era: the third time in American history to repair the damage racism has done to American society, i.e. the Third Reconstruction.

Looking at the Biden Administration’s first fifty days in office, it appears that Biden understands that he owes his election to progressives, and primarily to Black and brown organizers.  The decision to ‘go big’ with Covid relief put Republicans on notice that the Administration was not going to be held hostage by Biden’s nostalgia for his Senate days of bi-partisanship. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan targets spending towards those most impacted by the pandemic crisis. The poorest fifth of Americans will see their incomes rise by 20%; childhood poverty will be cut in half by a provision that amounts to a guaranteed minimum income for poor families, and Black, Latinx and Native communities are specifically targeted.

And much more is to come: the fight for a $15 minimum wage, the re-establishment of workers’ rights, a major infrastructure renewal effort, environmental regulations, a public market for health insurance, and more.

Democrats clearly have decided to use their control of government to rescue America from the ravages of 50 years of neo-liberal austerity and corporate giveaways, and to at least slow down the obscene rise of inequality between the top 1 percent and everyone else.

But Progressives understand that this moment is actually a watershed moment in America’s history: the beginning of the third effort to reconstruct the country. The first Reconstruction (1866-1877) was necessitated by the abolition of slavery, but failed to end white supremacy. The second Reconstruction (1954-1965) was necessitated by the need to abolish Jim Crow segregation, but also failed to end white supremacy. And now, in the midst of the deep social crises created by neo-liberal policies, we once again have the historic opportunity to overcome America’s long imprisonment by white supremacy. Progressives envision a new America freed from structural racism, a society that empowers minorities and working people to build the beloved community and end its ravaging of the planet.

But the Republicans also understand that this is a watershed moment. And because the Republican Party has been taken over by fascists and opportunists willing to conciliate fascism, they have no interest in entering into policy debates with Democrats. All they have is a vision of destroying democracy and installing a plutocratic dictator as President to save white supremacy. The only Republican initiative now is minority voter suppression through state level legislation. The Brennan Center has counted over 250 bills in 43 states aimed at this end [LINK]. In Georgia, the Republican-controlled state legislature has already passed a law ending weekend voting (aimed at preventing Black churches from mobilizing their congregations).

In other words, we are currently seeing a naked effort to once again impose white minority rule on the United States, very much akin to the effort to construct the Jim Crow system in the early 20th Century.

The battle for voting rights is the decisive battle of this moment in history. Its outcome will determine whether the Third Reconstruction will proceed or not. And the fight is on: The House has now passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act [LINK], which reverses the Supreme Court’s gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision.  The House bill is far from a revival of the 1965 law: the new legislation updates the defense of voting rights to the modern era. While the 1965 Act focused almost entirely on Southern Jim Crow states, the new law addresses contemporary efforts at minority voter suppression throughout the United States such as voter ID laws.

There is no doubt that Senate Republicans will do everything in their power to prevent passage of the House bill. And, unlike the American Relief Act that only required a simple majority, the Voting Rights Act of 2021 will, under current Senate filibuster rules, require 60 votes to pass. It is for this reason that Democrats must now end the filibuster. This can be done by technical means or by sweeping it away. But one way or another, the Senate majority must have the ability to enact the Voting Rights Act.

The filibuster as a tactic to prevent the passage of legislation is a tool used by those trying to stop change. The filibuster was deployed over and over by segregationists to prevent civil rights laws from being enacted in the 1950s and 1960s. It was also used by Republicans to prevent Democratic nominees for the Supreme Court and Cabinet posts from being considered. The rule of cloture—the procedure for ending a filibuster—has been modified many times in American history. Now is certainly a moment in which its modification or the termination of the filibuster altogether is required as it is the only way Republicans—who have absolutely no interest in bi-partisan governance– can stop legislation from being made into law.

So: end the filibuster, enact the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and lets keep on reconstructing America!

The fight for voting rights is not new. But now, with the momentum of community organizing over the past decade, the United States is poised to accomplish what previous generations did not. Let us keep up the empowerment work that got us to this point, and do it with optimism and determination for a different future.

Towards the Beloved Community

Welcome to my blog. Here I offer posts commenting on events and issues in the United States in the hope that they might stimulate thoughts about and work for social justice.

I believe that one of the most important developments of the last decade has been a resurgent interest in the concept of social justice advanced by the early civil rights movement: the beloved community. This concept is alive in the Poor Peoples’ Campaign [LINK], the Movement for Black Lives [LINK], and in many multi-racial community empowerment efforts around the country today such as those affiliated with the Center for Popular Democracy [LINK].

King explained the beloved community many times, most famously in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963.  Social justice, he said, refers to relationships between people that uplift everyone to realize their full potential as human beings. Mutuality lies at the core of this concept: every person must recognize and actively support the humanity of everyone else, especially of those who are dehumanized by oppression and exploitation if everyone is to be uplifted. No one can escape their responsibilities to one another, King explained. “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny.”

The concept of the beloved community is not a dream for a utopian future: this duty to care for one another must be lived every day by those demanding social justice now, because only this practice can give birth to a just society. It was this understanding in particular that motivated Ella Baker to form the Student Non-Violent Organizing Committee (SNCC).[LINK]

Building the beloved community requires clear-eyed and principled opposition to every act that oppresses rather than uplifts human beings. Anger at oppression and exploitation of human beings is not a betrayal of love: it is in fact an important component of love itself. The purpose of such anger is not the denial of anyone’s humanity; indeed, the anger motivated by the defense of peoples’ humanity allows the possibility for redemption even by those who have oppressed others.

The beloved community can only exist in a society that fully embraces the economic, political and cultural practices that support all people’s capacity to uplift their humanity. But social equality does not define social justice; it is a condition for it.  As Dr. King put it in 1966, “I do not think of political power as an end. Neither do I think of economic power as an end. They are ingredients in the objective that we seek in life….the creation of the beloved community.”

I write these posts in an effort to operationalize this concept of social justice in the face of the cascade of crises that we face today. Just months before the end of his too short life in 1968, Dr. King posed a question: “Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?”  In 2021, this question still carries its power. The United States today is a nation sharply divided between those living in the future and those desperately trying to hold on to the fading past of white supremacy. The 2020 election proved without a doubt that America is at the cusp of the third effort in its brief history to reconstruct itself.

The United States has been brought to this moment by generations of social justice activists who refused to give in white supremacy. From the long struggle against Jim Crow from 1877 until 1965, from the anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s to the fights for immigrant rights and the efforts to defend affirmative action and voting rights in the 1990s, activists achieved a growing understanding of the intersections of race, class an gender in all social justice movements, an understanding that radicalized each movement (including the women’s movement, the LGBTQI movement,  the environmental movement and the labor movement) and gave them greater possibilities for coordinated action. Activists also learned from long and often bitter experience the possibilities and limits of electoral and legal victories, and the fundamental importance of building movements based on grassroots power.  In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, a resurgent movement for immigrant and refugee rights and the election of the nation’s first African American President began to have a real impact on national politics.

The First Reconstruction after the Civil War was stopped by the formation of the white dictatorship of Jim Crow racism. The Second Reconstruction was largely stalled by the Republican Party’s harnessing white rage in the 1970s against the emerging assertion of humanity by people of color, women and LGBTQI people in the freedom movements of the 1960s.  A similar motion is going on today: the emerging reality of a multi-racial, multi-cultural American majority has been met by a desperate effort supported by the majority of white voters to prevent the reconstruction of this country yet again. This white nationalist movement, which has taken over the Republican Party that nurtured it for the last fifty years, has demonstrated its willingness to abandon all pretense of democracy with its widespread support for the January 6, 2020 insurrection against the government fomented by the President of the United States.  

But as fierce as the white nationalist resistance has been, movements for social justice have doggedly persisted in their long game. And we are winning. Even in the midst of the nightmare of the Trump era, a major step towards the reconstruction of the South made headway, symbolized by the removal of Confederate statues throughout the region. And even the electoral defeats of progressives in 2016 and 2018 did not deter the continual efforts to organize and mobilize minorities and progressive whites in places like Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

And so here we are: A nation still at war with itself, with a powerful white nationalist Republican Party with a fascist tendency within its ranks, and powerful multi-racial social justice movements rooted in Black and Latinx communities and led by women that succeeded in driving the Republican Party from national power in 2020.  Today, we are a nation brought to its knees by the cascading crises of fascism, structural racism, hyper-inequality, environmental destruction and Covid-19, a nation poised to remake itself but also a nation where fantasies of white supremacy and American world domination still endure.

So where do we go from here? We keep playing the long game that has brought us to this point. We continue to insist as so many generations before us have that America can be a nation that recognizes and supports the humanity of all its citizens and recognizes its global responsibilities to promote social justice for all. We continue to fiercely fight every effort to degrade and dehumanize people in prisons, on the streets, in schools, in workplaces, in their homes, on the border and overseas. We understand that the poisoning of our planet degrades and endangers us all. We continue to believe in the redemptive possibilities of the present, and we continue to demand the reparative actions that alone can heal the deep wounds borne out of the long history of oppression and exploitation. We keep going for the simple reason that our own humanity—our own capacity for love—demands that we do so. We keep going because we long for freedom. And we keep going because we have the confidence that the arc of history bends towards justice.

The posts you will find here endeavor to embody this understanding of social justice and the history of the United States.  The task before us today continues to be the reconstruction of America, what Dr. King called “a revolution of values.” Our America is a long time coming.  Many generations of Americans have given their all to give birth to it. Let us continue the hard labor, not as a sacrifice for the future, but out of the knowledge that doing so is the realization of the beloved community and our places within it today.

Healing America After Trump

Biden and Harris have been inaugurated. Trump has slunk off to Florida without his Twitter account. Most of the world has breathed a deep sigh of relief.

In his Inaugural Address, Biden issued a call for bipartisan unity to address the many crises revealed in the last hellish year.

But is unity possible? What does unity mean when the Inauguration took place at a Capitol ringed by 15,000 troops for fear that the fascists who stormed the Capitol on January 6 might try again? What kind of unity is possible when 147 Republicans voted against impeaching Trump, and 138 voted to stop the certification of the 2020 election? And, of course, there is the question of what to do with the 74 million people who voted for Trump, 77% of whom believe Biden stole the election.

So, what will it take to get to the bi-partisan unity that Biden so dearly wants?

The problem with Biden’s call for unity is that there is always the danger that under the pressure to enact legislation, Democrats will continually compromise with unrepentant Trump Republicans. This pressure will be especially intense because Democrats have razor-thin majorities in both the House and the Senate, and Republicans will definitely try to peel off centrist Democrats.

But if Democrats give into Republicans, there will be no healing this country.

Fortunately, in his Inaugural Address, Biden not only spoke of the need for bi-partisan unity. He also spoke of the need to address what he called “the cascading crises of this era:” the Covid pandemic, the attack on democracy and truth, systemic racism, white supremacy, growing inequality, and climate crisis.

Here’s the crux of the problem: only by addressing the cascading crises of our era can there be real national reconciliation, and real unity.

A useful starting place is to remember that Biden and Harris were elected by 81 million people, and that Democrats won control of the Senate through the hard and long labors of multi-racial coalitions centered by women of color in all of the swing states. Indeed, Georgia’s new Senators Warnick and Ossoff were sworn into office on Inauguration Day by the first woman of color ever to be elected Vice President of the United States. Most significantly, the Georgia  wins marked a significant erosion of the Republican’s so-called Southern Strategy, which has been the basis of the right’s strategy for national power since 1968.

In other words, the rise of white supremacist fascism under Trump is the rage of people who understand full well that history is not on their side. As Amanda Gorman put it in her powerful Inaugural poem,

“Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”

Amada Gorman Inaugural Poem

But white supremacists, with their narcissistic belief that the world exists to serve them, do not understand history. And because of that they overplayed their hand on January 6.

The insurrection, coming hours after the Republicans lost the Senate, was too much for all except the most radical Trump supporters. The insurrection was almost universally labeled seditious and treasonous, and Trump was blamed for instigating it by a wide spectrum of Americans, including his former staunch ally Mitch McConnell. In his final days in office, Trump’s approval rating sank to 29 percent.

The official defense of democracy began within hours of the attack, as the Joint Session of Congress completed its certification of the 2020 election. Within a week, the House had voted to impeach Trump a second time, with the intent of barring him from ever running for office again. In the Senate, enough Republican Senators may join McConnell to convict the former bigot-in-Chief. But even if not, a split in the Republican ranks will weaken the hold of white supremacy on that party. The national security apparatus has now officially designated white supremacist organizations as domestic terrorists and have begun arresting some of the insurrection’s most visible participants. Top brass has begun investigating white supremacist units in the military and some police departments. The House of Representatives may well take action against Republican Members who aided and abetted the insurrection such as Colorado Representative Lauren Broebert, who tweeted Nancy Pelosi’s movements to the paramilitary units hunting for her.

These steps are crucial to the defense of democracy, but they are not sufficient to unite America. Much more is needed even for the most basic defense of democracy, such as ending the Republicans’ half a century of efforts at minority voter suppression.

The restoration of democratic norms will mean little, however, if it does not produce action on President Biden’s ‘cascading crises.’  Biden is off to a remarkable start, signing 17 Executive Orders on Inauguration Day, most of which restored immigrant and refugee rights that had been taken away by Trump.

But the hard work to enact legislation—starting with a huge Covid relief bill, but also a ‘green jobs’ bill, immigration reform, adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act, strengthening the regulation of banking, etc.  —has not yet begun.

In the dramatic weeks and months ahead, Democrats need to remember that there is no point talking about unity for its own sake, or even to pass tepid legislation. Unity is be measured by steps that actually address the ‘cascading crises,’ that heal America through redemptive action.

Most importantly, Democrats must remember that they have the means to undertake big things. The 2020 election was won and defended after it was won by multiracial coalitions that were not built to just win elections, but to pursue social justice policies that will heal America.

Democrats have a historic opportunity to tap into and grow these powerful grassroots movements to advance legislation and regulations that will advance a real social justice agenda. Through hard work to mobilize many millions of people we have the opportunity—after 244 years—to reconstruct and unite this country.

If the Democrats forge such deep ties to the coalitions that elected them, they will create the conditions to heal this country of the deep scars of Covid, racism, hyper-inequality, and the dismissal of science and facts, all conditions that supported the Republicans’ attacks on democracy.  

Democrats must have the confidence to really believe that the 2020 election demonstrated the emergence of a multi-racial, democratic America that thirsts for long-delayed justice.  They must understand that the nightmare of Donald Trump was just the birth pains of a society on the cusp of its third Reconstruction, a historic opportunity to finally realize what Martin Luther King called “America’s higher destiny.”

January 6 and America’s Future

On January 6, 2021 the best and worst of race in America were on full display.  Many of us awoke to the news that Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had both won their Senate races in Georgia through the historic efforts of a powerful multi-racial coalition. And then hours later, we witnessed the President of the United States incite a white riot against the Congress while the joint session to declare Biden and Harris the rightful winners of the 2020 Presidential and Vice-Presidential election was under way.

The Warnock and Ossoff victories were historic for three reasons: first, their wins gave the Democrats complete control over the government of the United States and drove the Party of Trump entirely out of national power; second, their victories demonstrated the crumbling of the Southern Strategy by which the Republican Party had held national power for most of the last sixty years; and third, their victories verified the organizing work undertaken by Fair Fight Georgia and others based on the strategy of continuous multi-racial organizing, community building and leadership development, with a focus on building power in the Black and other minority communities.

In the face of his utter defeat, Trump did the expected: he raged against reality by organizing a campaign to overturn the results of the Presidential election. His ‘inside’ campaign was to use legal means to overturn the election. After he failed to win any of the 60 plus lawsuits he had filed to nullify state elections, and after his efforts to bully state officials in Michigan and Georgia were rebuffed, he turned his attention to nullifying the Electoral College vote in Congress. The Congressional ‘inside’ game was led by Senators Josh Hawley (MO) and Ted Cruz (TX) and was joined by 139 of the 211 Republicans in the House of Representatives.  The nullifiers concocted a bizarre set of arguments that had no chance of success to challenge the Electoral College votes. But Trump also had an ‘outside’ strategy: he called on his carefully cultivated army of right-wing activists—white supremacists, militia members, QAnon conspirators— to descend on D.C. to storm Congress during its Joint Session, an operation that had been planned for more than a month. I am not really sure what Trump thought he was doing other than raging, because this campaign had no chance of success. My guess is that he hoped that the Congressional Republicans could somehow stop the validation of the election while a riot outside Congress gave him the pretext to declare martial law.  

But we will never know Trump’s political calculation because things went badly for him and his co-conspirators.  First, even before the Joint Session of Congress met, loyal Trump minions like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and (very late and reluctantly) Mike Pence made it clear that they would have nothing to do with the effort to nullify the election.  But then the rioters desecrated the Capitol and made it clear that the Congressional Republicans’ arguments against the validity of the 2020 election were not just the symbolic protest of sore losers but were part of something quite dark and serious.  After the white rampage left five people dead, the always meager Senate opposition to the election quickly eroded, with 6 of the 14 Senators who had indicated their opposition changing their position. House Republicans (in a House controlled by Democrats) with nothing to lose stuck to their guns—139 out of 211 voted to oppose certifying the election—but they were just going through the motions in a plot that had clearly failed.

Images of rioters waving Trump banners, QAnon signs and Confederate flags rampaging through the Capitol and desecrating the people’s house alarmed people not just in the U.S. but around the world. Even after the riot and the deaths, Trump referred to the people who ransacked the Capitol as “special” and “beautiful”.  The reality of a President who was trying to overturn democracy and prevent the peaceful transition of power was now undeniable to everyone except for his rabid base.

All in all, Trump’s instigation of the assault on the Capitol coupled with the loss of the Senate on the same day was too much for even many of Trump’s minions. One by one, Republican members of Congress who had steadfastly supported Trump for four years appeared on Fox News denouncing not just the riot, but also the President who had clearly instigated it.

So, where are we as the dust settles on this exhausting day?

We are where we have always been—a country struggling to right its racist past and realize its dream of democracy for all. For many, the shock of watching the desecration of Congress was a familiar echo of the shock of many racial crimes: white people burning down Greenwood Tulsa, thousands of lynchings, the massacre of Native peoples, and so many other traumatic episodes of white rage. For many, the failure of the police to defend the Capitol and even the sight of Capitol police helping rioters, was a bitter reminder that police in America will side with white people even while they are committing acts of open sedition against the United States!

But something new did happen on January 6. The party of white supremacy and their fascist-minded leader have finally been driven out of national power. The elections that did this—the Georgia Senate races—were won by a multi-racial coalition led by Black women. Even better, this coalition—and others like it across the United States—sees this historic victory as merely an inflection point, a step towards the reconstruction of the nation. And Trump’s bizarre plan to overturn the elections so badly backfired that a day later he was finally forced to agree to the peaceful transition of power.

For the Republicans, the next year will be challenging. There is a slim chance that the party will finally disavow Trump and try to re-define itself. Perhaps Trump will experience what Joe McCarthy had happen to him after he went after the U.S. military with his Red Scare campaign in 1954. (Don’t forget that Roy Cohen was McCarthy’s lawyer and Trump’s mentor).  But I doubt it. There is a reason 139 House Republicans voted to nullify the election even after the white riot. They understand that in their gerrymandered districts, all they have to offer their constituents is to keep whipping up white rage against the Biden-Harris government. Many state elected officials will continue to make the same calculation. And it is important to remember that even the Republicans who have disavowed Trump have not apologized for the serious crimes they committed against people of color the past four years.

The problem, I think, is that Republicans are caught in a trap of their own making. Ever since the Democrats became the party of civil rights in 1964, the Republicans have defined themselves as the party of white resistance (hence, the Southern Strategy that is now collapsing). As demographics have made whites into a smaller and smaller plurality of the country and successful multiracial coalition building has given voice to a new vision for America, Republicans are finding themselves defined by a cause that is increasingly beleaguered and is becoming increasingly deranged.  Republican politicians would do well to reflect on the words of Winston Churchill (of all people!), who said this about the rising tide of fascism in 1937:

Grim war-gods from remote ages have stalked upon the scene. International good faith; the public law of Europe; the greatest good of the greatest number; the ideal of a fertile, tolerant, progressive, demilitarized, infinitely varied society, is shattered. Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.

Winston Churchill 1937

And yes, the liberal ideal of good faith and the greatest good for the greatest number is today unraveling in America. The middle class is being hollowed out while the rich get richer and the poor are being plunged into deadly crises. Neo-liberal cuts in taxes and government services have harmed most Americans. In this setting, the Republican strategy of trying to harness white rage will almost certainly continue even as their base shrinks and becomes less and less powerful.

So, what can be done, then, about the Republican Party’s grip on the majority of white people? Of course, the Biden Administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress now have the opportunity to show alienated and aggrieved whites (along with everyone else) the benefits of enlightened government. To the extent that the government can deliver on its promises to end the pandemic, to reign in inequality, to produce millions of new green jobs, and to repair the destruction of public health and public education in this country, the ability of demagogues to feed white rage will diminish.

But far more is needed at this moment than the Biden Administration will be able to deliver. What is needed now is nothing less than the historic reconstruction of America, an effort that has now begun for the third time in this nation’s short history. This work won’t be easy—it requires a massive shift in power away from the rich and towards the poor, and it requires whites to finally renounce their privileges and to become humble and to acknowledge the need for reparations for the crimes committed by whites throughout American history.  It requires a new respect for Mother Earth.

But the rewards for doing so will be immense. Already, nearly half of whites in this country believe they are anti-racist. These people need to acknowledge leadership from people of color and join the many on-going efforts to forge multi-racial coalitions to end anti-Black police violence, to abolish mass incarceration, to deliver justice to essential workers, to safeguard women’s reproductive rights, to radically reduce environmental harms, to protecting transgendered people’s rights, to end racial gerrymandering in elections, and so much more. And through all this work, let’s build the capacity of people to care for one another, to find brotherhood and sisterhood with one another, to forge stronger and more inclusive communities with one another. Let us build the beloved community and through this, reconstruct this country at last. This is how we will finally end the era of white rage and render the Donald Trumps of this world irrelevant once and for all.

Georgia on my mind

The Democratic victory in Georgia is historic and its implications go far beyond this election.

What Georgia progressives are doing is no less than the third campaign to reconstruct the South, a task that has been under way since the end of the slavery. The first attempt—from 1866 to 1876—ended when the North made a deal with the former slave owners to let them rule the South again without slavery. The Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror drove Black (and poor white) voters and office holders from power, and a virtually all-white electorate created a white dictatorship—the Jim Crow system—that lasted for more than seventy years. The second reconstruction effort was the civil rights movement of the 1950s -1980s. It sought to end white supremacy by forcing the Federal government to ban legal segregation and then to desegregate schools, jobs and housing as well as to assure people of color the right to vote. This effort was largely stymied in the 1990s and early 2000s by the rise of neo-liberalism, which opened the door to more and more aggressive efforts to re-segregate schools, housing, jobs and suppress minorities’ voting rights. 

And now we are on the cusp of the third effort at reconstruction. This movement has its roots in the popular revolt against neo-liberalism after the 2008 financial crisis.  From Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to MeToo, this effort gathered momentum in the South. In Georgia, reconstruction has long focused on voting rights, in large part because Atlanta is one of the centers of the civil rights movement elders—in particular John Lewis. Stacy Abrams’ campaign for Governor of Georgia in 2018 was so powerful that the only way for Georgia to remain Republican was through naked (and quite delegitimizing) acts of Black voter suppression. This movement also gained momentum through the fight to remove Confederate statues, especially after the white terrorist attack on Charlottesville Virginia in 2017.

The New Georgia Project (Stacy Abrams) and Black Votes Matter (LaTosha Brown) kept the momentum going after Abrams’ defeat in 2018 and provided the backbone of the 2020 electoral campaign. The most important feature of this campaign was the methods that successfully mobilized a record 2,472,002 voters for the Democrats. For years, activists did the hard work of grassroots organizing, convincing ordinary people to become politically engaged through their community networks of churches, workplaces, schools and beauty shops. The activists built their organizations and coalitions from the bottom up, identifying new leaders and training them as they grew. What they built was far more than a get out the vote campaign and will be active well beyond this election. And in the immediate future, this movement has positioned Democrats with an excellent opportunity to retake the U.S. Senate on January 5.

Georgia provides no less than a blueprint for every progressive organization in the United States about how to do its work. We must all center our work on the painstaking tasks of upholding the vital community ties that marginalized people have built, vital connections that provide them with safety and support and dignity in a hostile world. Our coalitions must be based on and led by people from these communities. While winning and exercising political power is important, we cannot prioritize each election or campaign over the hard work of building and safeguarding the relationships within and between different marginalized communities. Progressives must have the discipline to painstakingly build these relationships and to understand the long game we are playing.

Conditions in the South are favorable for this work: Black communities built on powerful bonds and a profound culture forged in the slavery and Jim Crow eras still exist and form a fertile basis for the efforts at reconstructing the South today. Of course, vibrant communities of marginalized people exist everywhere in this country (similar work done among Latinx people in Arizona also produced important electoral victories in 2020). It is in these communities that progressive movements—and their leaders—must be rooted. Progressives must always remember that building long-lasting relationships of trust within and between marginalized communities is more than a tactic to win political campaigns: it is the practice of social justice today that will make possible the reconstruction of America we for which we so sorely long.

Trump is Gone.Now Let’s Get to Work!

So, Joe Biden is President-elect, and Kamala Harris is Vice-President elect of the United States.

I guess it is possible that the Supreme Court might yet enable Trump to steal this election but given the states’ and Federal courts’ quick rejection of all of his lawsuits so far, I really doubt it. (But we better be vigilant!).

So, I’m going to assume Biden and Harris really won. Here are some initial thoughts about this election:

First, the fact that Biden and Harris won is a big deal. The Biden-Harris ticket received over 81 million votes, the largest number in American history. Had Trump been given four more years to continue his white nationalist project, the damage to democracy and to people’s safety, health and prosperity might have been irreversible. The vote for Biden was primarily driven by this fear, and the 81 million people who voted against Trump should give themselves a big pat on the back for defending democracy and opposing Trump’s racism and misogyny. The fact that a Black/South Asian woman was elected to the Vice-Presidency is also a significant milestone.

Secondly, this election was won because of the grassroots organizing work done all over the country to mobilize people of color. These organizations, led mostly by young Black and brown women, have been growing in numbers and capacity for the last decade. And this November, they delivered the decisive votes to push Biden and Harris over the finish line by mobilizing Black, Latinx and young voters in Michigan (Detroit Action, We Make Michigan), Pennsylvania (Make the Road Philadelphia) and Georgia (the New Georgia Project). A few labor unions (UNITE HERE and SEIU) also played important roles in this historic voter mobilization effort.

Thirdly, the win in Georgia is particularly important because it brings the herculean effort to reconstruct the South to a new level. This work has been already successful at forcing a rethinking of the history of the South (the removal of Confederate statues being the most visible part of this) but it has also been for years fighting against Republican voter suppression efforts that had been enabled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s notorious 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. This voting rights work, advocated for decades by John Lewis, was invigorated by Stacey Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign in Georgia which failed only because of naked Republican voter suppression. Her revenge: the New Georgia Project. And this year, if Georgia does go blue, it will mean that Georgia has finally broken through the wall of white supremacy that was erected when the state was first established in the slave era. Even better, there can be little doubt that this victory is a harbinger of things to come throughout the South. The Republican Party’s days of winning national elections by relying on white supremacy in the South are fading fast.

Fourthly, this election has saved American countless lives by ending Trump’s denial of the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the vote for Biden and Harris might have been more motivated by this issue than any other. Starting in January, the United States will finally rely on public health experts to fight this pandemic.

OK. So that’s the good news, and that’s a lot to be grateful for. But the election also revealed something else: some 74 million Americans voted for a President who is an open racist and misogynist and is more than willing to undermine core democratic values and institutions. And, as of this writing, Republicans still control the Senate (although Georgia could change that on January 5), and Republicans now have a solid majority on the Supreme Court, and Democrats failed to flip any state legislatures in the year that redistricting is scheduled to begin.

The Trump voters, of course, were the majority of white people (men and women) who went to the polls. The few people of color who voted for Trump were disproportionately men (18% of Black men vs. 8% of Black women, 36% of Hispanic men vs. 28% of Hispanic women) who seemed willing to conciliate Trumps’ racism because of his “strong man” hype and his opposition to women’s reproductive freedom. Charles Blow recently suggested that 45% of gay men were also pulled towards Trump by his patriarchal and misogynist message.  

While many Trump voters said they voted for him because of their belief that shutting down the economy was an inappropriate response to Covid-19 (!), we must never forget that every single person who voted for Trump found a way to support an openly racist and sexist President who had amply demonstrated his willingness to use violence against immigrants and Black people. If anyone still needed more evidence, this election certainly showed the depth of white supremacy in the United States.

So, how should the Biden Administration deal with the reality of a deeply divided America? Biden has already stated that the mandate of this election is that the American people want Democrats and Republicans to cooperate to get things done. And he is certainly right that most Americans would dearly love to find a way out of the polarization that now has a death grip (literally) on this country.

But Biden needs to be very clear about one more thing: he must assure those who organized and voted for him that he is committed to working for racial justice. This commitment must be in the form of actions, starting with the appointment of a Black Attorney General to head the Justice Department and a Covid Task Force that understands the disproportionate risks faced by the Black and Latinx  communities. Already, many Democrats are pushing Biden to the right, claiming that the losses suffered in this election were the result of the Party being too ‘left.’ AOC, in a New York Times interview, pushed back against this narrative (LINK) but so far the Democrats are following an old playbook: they rely on progressives to win the election, and then cast them aside when it comes time to govern.

This time must be different: if Biden hopes to heal the poisonous division of this country, he cannot conciliate white supremacy. I believe the only way to win over some of the 74 million Trump voters is through equitable economic policies that promote real benefits for poor and working-class whites as well as for people of color. This can be done. Obama and Biden succeeded in pulling the U.S. out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in 2008-2010. This time, the economy is actually in better shape than in 2008, but economic growth since then has been measured almost entirely by stock market prices. It is time to shift economic policies away from support for financial markets (banks) and towards policies that support the production of real goods and services. This understanding is at the heart of Biden’s partial embrace of the Green New Deal. Biden’s experience with the automobile industry bailout in 2009-2010 certainly has prepared him for this job.

All of this certainly underscores the continuing importance of the grassroots organizing that won this election. Given the pressure to conciliate “centrist” Democrats, Biden and Harris must feel real pressure from progressives to live up to their commitments to racial and economic justice. The organizing work that produced the historic defeat of Trumpian fascism must not only continue but must grow. This will only happen if the millions of young people who were politicized by the protests against George Floyd and Breanna Taylor’s murders and who then stepped up to work for the defeat of Donald Trump continue to work for justice.

 It was most encouraging to see the huge crowds of mostly young people who flooded the streets of cities across America when the election was decided on November 7.  But when the celebrating is over, there is still so much work to do. Rather than thinking of this election as the finish line, let us think of it as the spark that ignited the progressive movement.

The only issue in this election is now clear: we must save democracy

The first Presidential debate was last night. Most commentators aptly referred to it as a shit show. It was intensely uncomfortable to watch, and demonstrated to the whole world how much Trump has debased this country.

Most people see this debate as a disaster. I do not. The purpose of a debate is to clarify where the candidates stand on important issues. This debate clarified where Trump and Biden stand on what should now be the ONLY issue of this election: the defense of democracy against fascism.

Trump made it as clear as day: he knows he is going to lose this election, and so he is gong to disrupt it by any means necessary. He is lying about ballots being stolen and secret plots of Democrats to trash ballots cast for Trump . But more importantly, Trump’s intentions were revealed by his statement to the Proud Boys (and all other white supremacist militias) to “stand back and stand by.” With this, Trump has finally outed himself as the leader of the fascist movement of this country. He clearly intends to mobilize these racist thugs to attack polling places and to intimidate voters.

This is all part of Trump’s larger effort to delegitimize this election. Republicans have for years been creating mechanisms to dissuade people–especially Black and brown people–from voting. Now, Republicans are creating a large legal team to sue swing states over their ballot certification process. And Trump is rushing Coney Barret onto the Supreme Court to cast a vote to decertify the election results in at least one or even several states. He also hopes that the chaos he creates will make it impossible for the electoral college to vote on December 14 as required by the Constitution. He has publicly said he hopes that the end result will be a vote by Congress (also allowed by the Constitution if the Electoral College cannot decide the election), which Trump thinks will give him the edge since voting is based on Senate rules.

The only issue in this election is now clear: will the American people get to choose the next President of the United States (and the Senate) or will democracy cease to function in the United States?

For the next thirty-two days, Biden’s campaign should pivot away from the platform on which he is running. Instead, the entire effort should become a campaign to save democracy. And all Republicans need to be immediately put under intense pressure to declare their confidence in the ability of the states to conduct a safe and secure election.

Trump hopes that on Election Night (November 3), most mail-in ballots will not yet have been tallied and since Republicans are being instructed to risk their lives to vote in person, that he will have more votes that night. He plans to declare himself the winner on November 3. On November 4, everybody in this country who still loves democracy must take to the streets to defend the election. And we must stay in the streets until the results are certified and Trump is defeated.

Since Trump has chosen to attack the election, it is time for all democratic-minded people of any political persuasion to come together to defend democracy. The time is short, but it can be done.

On Political Violence in 2020

Trump has made the condemnation of violence by the movement protesting anti-Black police violence a central strategy of his campaign to save his Presidency. His weaponized Department of Justice is now investigating leaders of the Movement for Black Lives for criminal conduct.

Well-schooled in Nazi (and McCarthyist) propaganda techniques, Trump’s claims turn reality on its head.

First, the protestors that Trump describes as “thugs and criminals” stand in opposition to violence, particularly the long-standing and continuing police violence against Black men, women and children. While the current upsurge was sparked by the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd on May 25, the Black Lives Matter movement was already nine years old by then and had already achieved many important victories to curtail police violence through its disciplined organizing efforts. Most importantly, the movement from its beginning defined itself by its love for and by marginalized people. The movement always understood that loving Black people also means love for women, transgendered and queer people and poor people as a whole.

On the face of it, opposition to Black Lives Matter implies that loving Black people is threatening. And it is– to whiteness.  The fact that many police departments adopted the slogan “Blue lives matter” in opposition to this movement only proves the point that American policing defends structural racism and white supremacy.

Secondly, the police response to the protests is itself a major source of violence. Protestors in Minneapolis, for example, burned the Third Precinct to the ground only after three nights of the police using massive force against the protesters. New York City police drove armored vehicles into a crowd of protesters. When Trump sent ICE and Border Patrol agents to Portland, they deployed every weapon at their disposal against peaceful protesters. On September 13, a California Highway Patrol vehicle seriously injured a protestor in Sacramento.

Thirdly, the violence that has occurred at protests is increasingly being committed by right-wing militias. Some of that violence has been overt, such as the killing of two protesters by a 17-year-old in Kenosha Wisconsin. Armed right-wing militias have appeared with increasing frequency at protests across the country, especially in Portland. And these militias often have the open support of the police. The Kenosha killer was openly carrying a long gun (illegally because he is a minor), and police officers gave him water and thanked him for being there…just before he murdered two people.  It is becoming common for people to ram their cars into protests. (Remember that Heather Heyer was killed by a right-wing fanatic who drove his car into a crowd of protestors in the infamous rightwing attack on Charlottesville in 2017). Some of the violence is covert. Protestors in many cities reported acts of vandalism and violence committed by right-wing agitators who had infiltrated the demonstrations in order to discredit the movement.

And, of course, the main cheerleader for all this violence is the President of the United States.

But, in the midst of the violence directed by the right, by the police, and by the President against the movement for Black Lives, there can be no denying that some of the violent confrontations with police and right wingers are by people who think that fascists can only be defeated by violent means.

It is hardly surprising that some who oppose police violence have turned to violence. Many young Americans feel quite hopeless in the current moment and are completely alienated from politics. In this context, some can be seduced by anarchism with its romance of “revolutionary” violent resistance.

But anarchism, and its romance of violence, is not revolutionary. Anarchism stands in opposition to the revolutionary spirit in which people say Black Lives Matter not in service to violence, but out of their love for and defense of Black peoples’ humanity. Not only are anarchists disregarding the Black leadership of the anti-police violence movement but are actually doing precisely what Trump and the fascist militias that serve him hope they will do, which is to enable them to create an “antifa” boogeyman and to discredit the movement.

Trump, of course, is seeking to delegitimize the movement against anti-Black police violence by equating the actions of a few anarchists with the entire protest movement. The Anti-Defamation League estimates that no more than 20,000 people in the U.S. belong to ‘black block’ groups loosely called ‘anti-fa.’ An estimated 27 million people have participated in the anti-Black police violence movement. But Trump has already succeeded at eroding public support for the movement, which stood at close to 70 percent in June and is now down to under 50 percent.

For those who want to fully understand the relationship of anarchism to fascism, one needs look at the history of the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish anarchists at that time were a formidable political force initially fighting against the fascists. But in 1939, the anarchists denounced the communists leading the anti-fascist defense of the Republic and switched sides. Ultimately, anarchists then and now found irresistible their commonalities with fascism—especially their common love of violence. There is nothing revolutionary about this ideology.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s-1960s adopted the strategy of non-violent civil disobedience because it manifested the principles of social justice that motivated the Freedom Movement (i.e. the beloved community).  Also, and this cannot be overstated, non-violent civil disobedience took remarkable discipline. It was never easy to confront the violence of the police or racist mobs with one’s humanity. But with training, hundreds of thousands of people did do this, and it worked. It was effective at giving the movement moral superiority and it also demonstrated what social justice looks like in the day to day practice of the movement for social justice.

One of the main challenges in this moment is to organize the millions of people who have recently been jolted into active resistance to anti-Black police violence. Organizing people is essential for the movement to be able to unite around a common understanding of our goals, and the effective means to achieve them. Organizing this historic energy is essential if the movement is going to continue to build its power and influence. And part of organizing people is to develop in them the discipline necessary to face violence without resorting to violence.

Given what has already happened in Kenosha, Portland, Sacramento and elsewhere, there can be no doubt that right wing and police violence against protestors will escalate in the weeks leading up to and perhaps after the November 3 Presidential election. The ability of the movement against anti-Black police violence to meet this onslaught in a way that keeps the focus on police racism and  builds public support for its legitimate demands will depend on activists’ understanding of the importance of being organized and disciplined.

Abolish the Police (and Prisons)!

The world-wide demonstrations that were triggered by the police lynching of George Floyd on May 26 are now embracing what once appeared as a shockingly extreme demand: abolish the police!

The demand surfaced first in the Minneapolis protests and was powerfully made indeed when protestors on the first night of the insurrection burned the Third Precinct to the ground.

Over the course of the one month of continual protests since then (in 2000 American cities and towns and over 60 other countries) this demand has begun to receive widespread legitimacy for the first time.

This might be the most important impact of the current uprisings so far.

Here’s why.

‘Progressive’ politicians and police chiefs have been promising to reform the police for nearly fifty years. When police and the FBI assassinated leaders of the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement in the 1960s and 1970s under the COINELPRO program, politicians called for reforming the police.  After Philadelphia police dropped bombs on the headquarters of a Black nationalist organization in 1985, killing six members and five of their children and burning down 65 houses, there were calls to reform the police. After four New York City plainclothes cops killed Amadou Diallo in 1999, after Bay Area Transit cops killed Oscar Grant in 2009, there were calls to reform the police.

But all the police reform efforts were doomed to failure. By the late 1980s, every police department in the U.S. had been militarized by Federal and state programs under the so-called War on Drugs. Bu the 1990s, virtually every police department had a SWAT team, and was receiving training and equipment and new recruits from the U.S. military and at times the Israeli Army. Whatever their previous histories, every police department in the United States was transformed into a military occupation force, trained to view policing as the pacification of a potentially insurgent civilian population.

The militarization of the police was explicitly conceived of as a racial project. In 1968, Richard Nixon had been elected President by ‘the Silent Majority’ of suburban and Southern whites because he had called for the ‘restoration of law and order’ to quell Black-led urban insurrections. Reagan’s War on Drugs in the 1980s explicitly targeted Black and Latinx communities as ‘drug-infested neighborhoods’ in order to justify police occupation. From 1986 onward, the increasing reliance on police violence created a system of mass incarceration with more citizens behind bars than any other country in the world.  By the early 2000s, some 72% of the prison populations was non-white.

The use of force to keep pacify Black and Latinx communities was necessitated by logic of the new neo-liberal order, which, in the name of economic efficiency doomed more and more people of color to low-wage jobs, public schools stripped of all meaningful educational resources, the termination of public health and mental health services, reduced access to low-income housing, and unleashed of gentrification onto these communities. Neo-liberalism was a force that was tantamount to physical and cultural genocide.

The demand to abolish the police is a call to rethink public safety as a whole”

The demand to abolish the police is therefore a call to dismantle far more than racist police departments: it is a call for this nation to rethink public safety as a whole. To do that will mean undoing the neo-liberal order that necessitated militarized policing in the first place.

The question implied by the demand to abolish the police is simple: what do we mean by public safety? We can certainly say this:  People feel safe when they are not afraid of police or anyone else bursting into their homes or randomly stopping them on the streets in encounters that too often lead to their deaths. People feel safe when they know they will be rewarded with a decent standard of living for their hard work. People feel safe when they can get a high-quality education and learn how to think for themselves. People feel safe when they have access to health care. People feel safe when they live in places where they know their neighbors and share a real pride in their community. They feel safe when they are not threatened by environmental disasters.

In other words, real public safety means rethinking our investment priorities. It means taxing wealth and limiting profits. It means a guaranteed high minimum wage. It means spending trillions of dollars on education, health care, and housing. Why should we invest trillions of dollars in war, police and prisons? Why should the top 1% get 90% of the wealth?

Abolishing the police certainly does not mean abolishing law enforcement. In a just society, we will need to enforce tax laws (on wealthy people) and fair working laws and environmental laws (on corporations) and housing laws (on landlords). The main people responsible for maintaining community safety will not be cops. They will be well-resourced educators, health professionals, religious leaders, and most importantly, community-based organizers.

Let’s be clear about it: this simple vision for public safety requires a massive reconstruction of American society. It means a new economy that is based on investment in production and not investment in financial speculation; it means an economy with guaranteed full employment and high enough minimum wages to abolish poverty; it means investing in an excellent educational system at all levels, universal and free health care. 

The demand to defund the police is also closely tied to the demand to abolish prisons. If we can imagine a new way to think about public safety, we can surely think of better ways to take care of the 2 million people now populating America’s prisons: people who have been damaged by racism and poverty.

The growing popularity of the demand to defund the police shows us that this new world is not as far away as it seemed before COVID. The pandemic has revealed in very stark ways the failures of neo-liberalism. Anyone of conscience can see that the disinvestment in public health has left the United States very vulnerable; everyone can see the injustice of a $3 trillion economic recovery act that left hundreds of millions of Americans poor and lined the pockets of investors. And the operation of racism in this crisis has been vulgar and obvious to all: millions of Latinx and Black ‘essential’ workers forced into unsafe work conditions developing high levels of infection; the unchecked disease ravaging many Native American communities; the callous disregard for the dangerous conditions in America’s prisons and jails, etc.

In a strange way, George Floyd’s terrible last words—“I can’t breathe’—mirror the feelings of a large majority of this nation, who are experiencing the pandemic as an assault on their livelihoods, their families, and their hopes and dreams.

We are at a moment when the neo-liberal order itself is teetering, and ready to fall. Let us have the courage to demand the restructuring of American society that should—no, must—begin with the demand arising from America’s streets: Defund the Police!

On Mourning, Hope and Rage

June 6, 2020

The silent weeping of millions of Americans is over. Now their cries are heard everywhere. People have taken their grief over the murder of George Floyd and so much more to the streets.

These protests go far beyond the police lynching of another Black man. Mostly young Americans of all races, in solidarity with Black people, are putting the country on notice that they will no longer tolerate business as usual in this country.

Protestors in over 700 American cities and towns no longer accept the murders of innocent Black men and women by the police. They no longer accept the deaths of over 100,00 Americans to COVID due to the incompetence and greed of this country’s so-called leaders. They do not accept that 40 million workers are out of work or that “essential” workers are forced to work at low wages without PPE. They do not accept mass incarceration, the murder of queer and transgendered people, the looming environmental crisis, and more. And they do not accept the outright racism emanating from the White House.

As Rev. William Barber said, “Thank God people are in the streets, refusing to accept what was ‘normal’ for too long.”

It is not surprising that the ‘disorderly behavior’ seen during or after many of the protests elicited more media and political attention than the righteous anguish and just demands that drove people into the streets in the first place.  To do anything else—to empathize with and really try to understand this ‘disorderly behavior’–would require acknowledging that the “order” is itself the problem. One of the hallmarks of racism is to fixate on Black and brown peoples’ righteous anger instead of looking at the reasons people are angry. Once one asks the right questions—WHY are people so angry? WHAT do they want?—there can be no return to ‘normal.’ For many whites and some well-off people of color, still deeply invested in the American Dream and the middle class, asking that question is still too frightening to contemplate. But millions of protestors are now breaking the silence, and demanding that these questions be asked and answered.

The single-minded focus by government officials and most of the media on the “disorder” produced by these protests is a symptom of the problem itself. The point of the protests is that the existing order is violent and unjust. By all accounts, 99% of the protestors have made this point through peaceful and non-violent actions. The fixation on the “disorderly” conduct of a small minority within these protests has led elected officials of both political parties to support police violence, no matter what lip service they pay to the righteousness of the protestors’ demands for justice for George Floyd and so many others. Once again, America meets peoples’ just anguish and their demands for justice with escalating violence. The President declares the protestors are ‘domestic terrorists’ and calls in the military. Dozens of cities are put under open-ended curfews. The police kill a well-known restaurant owner in Louisville on Saturday; the Army deploys Apache attack helicopters against a peaceful protest in D.C. Sunday, Black college students in Atlanta are tased while sitting in their car on Sunday, etc.

These responses only confirm the failure of government to listen to protestors, and only deepen peoples’ feelings of loss, of grieving and rage. The escalation of police and military violence only makes it more difficult for protestors to speak in any language other than pure rage, yet the protests continue to be peaceful despite all these provocations.

But the escalation of police violence against these protests is telling us something important: the protestors are winning.

Despite the efforts to stop them, the protests are continuing, and are growing in both in size and the breadth of the people joining to demand justice for George Floyd. The protests have succeeded in securing indictments against the four police officers implicated in George Floyd’s murder. Six officers were charged in Atlanta for tasing college students in their car. Pressure is mounting on Louisville for charges against the officers who killed Breonna Taylor, and the killer of Ahmaud Arbery was finally charged. A bill to outlaw the militarization of the police and to end some now-accepted practices like carotid holds is rapidly making its way though Congress with bi-partisan support. A growing number of police departments are (perhaps) signaling some willingness to change by taking a knee in support of the protests. Biden has called for the “restructuring” of America in a few of his speeches. While these responses are still far too little, they are evidence that power is beginning to shift.

Far from being destructive acts of despair, these protests are providing a space for enraged and grieving people to engage in positive action, to feel that they matter, that they can make history. These protests are acts of hope in a time of crisis and despair.

These protests did not just spontaneously appear. Protests against police violence sporadically broke through the nation’s consciousness after videos of police murdering Oscar Grant in Oakland went viral in 2009. The national movement to defend Black lives began in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012, and what is now the the Movement for Black Lives was formed six years ago as a national coalition in the aftermath of the protests over the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. This movement organized hundreds of existing community groups, spawned hundreds more new organizations and energized a generation of mostly Black and brown and young activists to fight for their communities. Many activists ran for public office, and Ferguson itself elected a Black woman mayor on Tuesday. When the video of George Floyd enraged millions of people, this movement was ready to give them a vision of what was possible, and has provided the scaffolding to sustain weeks of protests in the face of determined police resistance.

And this vision, the results of a generation of work, was able to keep the focus on the defense of Black lives while at the same time acknowledging the deep connections between George Floyd’s murder and the ways the failure of the U.S. in the time of COVID had impacted working class people, women, queer and trans communities, migrants, and the environment.

Yes, acts of store looting, brick throwing and arson fires on which the media and government were far too focused are a real problem. These acts are a problem because they provide police with the pretext to escalate the use of force. They are a real problem because they can be used by defenders of the old order to de-legitimize the protests’ demands for justice. And always lurking in the background is the real fear that Trump would love to find an excuse to declare martial law in this country.

So, who are the people who are acting in ways that undermine the protests, and provide ammunition to the police? At least part of the answer is that these acts are being instigated by police and right-wing agents. During America’s last era of national ‘unrest,” from 1964-1968, we learned that the police often inserted agent provocateurs into radical organizations and demonstrations, inciting disorder to justify police crackdowns. The scale of these operations was revealed in 1976 when the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee exposed the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, which had been started in response to the civil rights movement and had secretly run from 1956 until 1974. Credible reports from Minneapolis and Atlanta indicate that right-wing groups have infiltrated the demonstrations in order to incite ‘a race war.’

But responsibility for the widespread looting and brick-throwing and arson cannot be solely placed on police agents provocateurs and right-wing agitators. Many of the protestors who trash stores and set fires are young people who have grown up in a time of trauma and despair. They are people who have no hope that positive change is possible. They have seen too much and too often have encountered no one to inspire them that their world can be safe and meaningful.

It should therefore come as no surprise that in a moment when people are engaging in a collective act of mourning and are demanding to be heard, there will be some who feel hopeless. For some, participating in these protests can make them re-visit their traumas, and make them feel even angrier at a society that has not acknowledged their humanity. For some, acts of destruction feel empowering because they have no other language with which to utter their grief.

So, if we acknowledge the presence of violence within the protests, what do we have to do about it? First, we have to consistently point to the source of this violence. We have to show this country that for hundreds of millions of Americans, the social order that dooms them to the violence of racism, poverty, militarism, pandemic and climate change is the problem itself.

Secondly, we must denounce the steady escalation of police and military violence as a solution to property damage and looting. We must show this country that police violence is the problem and can never be the solution. We must call out the Louisville police department who murdered a Black man on May 31 during a protest against police killings.  And we must certainly denounce the efforts of the racist-in-chief to define the protests as acts of ‘domestic terrorism’ and use that as an excuse to, as he puts it, “crush the protests “.

Thirdly, we must denounce acts of vandalism, looting and arson. But we must do so without demonizing the people who commit these acts out of their despair and trauma. We must find a way to provide those who have been driven to the streets by rage and hopelessness a space for hope, for healing, and for love. To do so, Rev. Barber has pointed out, requires this nation to listen to the despair and anguish of the protestors, because to do so is the first step towards understanding, and towards healing.

The work to end police violence against Black people will take time and enormous effort. So much has already been accomplished: we can now imagine a society whose safety and well-being does not require police or prisons; we now understand the intersections between many converging issues of queer, transgendered, poor and immigrant communities; we are building a broad multi-racial coalition; we are connecting protests to politics. This work has been years in the making, but there is so much still to do. Thanks to the large number of innovative and relevant grassroots organizations working hard at both ending police violence against Black and brown communities and developing new approaches to safeguarding marginalized communities without the police, the millions of people who have protested George Floyd’s murder will have many opportunities to continue to work for justice. The work that millions of protestors have

For now, let us honor the spirit of these historic protests. We must acknowledge the pure human emotions that are being demonstrated. The fact that the protestors have broken the silence should give us all great hope at a time of pandemic and economic crisis. Let’s denounce the violence: let us denounce the violence of racism; poverty, sexism, homophobia, militarism, and ecological destruction. Let us teach one another how to express our grief and mourn. Let us embrace all the raw and difficult feelings exposed in this terrible moment and heal this nation.