Being right about Bernie doesn’t make it any better

by Jay Monaco

It’s not always fun to be right.

It was Monday, the big explosive opening night for the week-long televised self-congratulatory festival of tepid liberalness – the Rave for Real Realistic Realism – that is the DNC. Bernie Sanders, self-described independent democratic socialist senator from Vermont and erstwhile candidate for President slash commandante for some kind of thing he referred to as “political revolution,” endorsed his rival, Hillary Clinton. He told his delegates in the convention hall and his supporters watching at home that it was time for them to support the perpetually presumptive nominee, despite having told that same audience for the last year that Clinton is a conservative certain to kill any hope of progressive advances in the years to come.

Perhaps even more cringe-worthy, though certainly less consequential, he had spent the hours prior to this sending frantic text messages and emails to his delegates to try to get them to shut up and stop being so enthusiastic about the things they believe in, the things he spent the last year encouraging them to believe in. And then after that, he got on stage and took one for the team. Which team? Not Team Political Revolution, heavens, no. We’ve got to be realistic now, guys. No, Sanders took it in the chin for the Democratic Party, just like he always said he would.

To the best of his ability, with as much persuasion as he could muster, he made a solid effort toward ushering his young, idealistic, enthusiastic voters into the welcoming arms and wolfish grin of the democrats. It is too early to say whether he will receive any kind of worthwhile reward for being such a good sport and playing his role, or precisely what sort of reward could possibly benefit an old politician whose zenith just blew past him, leaving him little else to do now but walk quietly off into the Shadow. But rewards and payoffs and motivations hardly seem to matter now. The deed is done – and the fact that he’d always unwaveringly promised to do so in the end likely limited his ability to make demands. The progressive liberals have been given their instructions – vote for Hillary or else – and all indications suggest they are going to do exactly that.

Yes, again: 90% of progressive liberals are all coming back to vote D one last time, thanks to the good will of Vermont’s charming favorite son from Brooklyn. Now – and it gives me no pleasure to have to come out and say it – isn’t that exactly what some might call…sheepdogging? Hasn’t the act not only been committed but successfully so?

Some of us, a year ago, warned that this was exactly what was going to happen, that it was inevitable, a certainty. That the DP is a dead end capitalist party that will only ever coopt radicalism and will never be influenced by it. Here we are, July 2016, twelve-plus exhausting terrible political months later: Sanders meeting the most ignominious possible fate, the Bernie or Bust crowd in both disarray and despair, and cheesier front “campaigns” like Movement4Bernie are just as dead as the day they were first stillborn. Hillary Clinton, after tossing a few crumbs Sanders’ way in the meaningless, nonbinding party platform, chose a conservative-ass white dude as her running mate, cementing her general election pivot to the right. The predictable pivot, the inevitable pivot. She plans to win the election with centrist “independents” and “sensible republicans,” while the progressive “base” of the party can either vote for her or go to hell – she doesn’t really care either way. She doesn’t need them and isn’t going to act like she does.

 

If this doesn’t really look to you like the Sanders campaign has pulled her to the left, that’s because it hasn’t, because it was never going to do that. Just like we said. A year ago. And I don’t mean to be a prick about that, especially because the whole affair has left me exhausted and deflated, because this is one of those times I was always secretly hoping I wasn’t right. I really wish some kind of political revolution was possible through the DP system, I wish it were true that young progressives could remake the party as one of social democracy, that the ballot box could lead the way to some measure of justice, some greater condition of equality.

But for better or worse, wishes make for bad revolutions. It’s a bummer, guys. And secretly, I’m not just exhausted, but really disappointed, a tiny sliver of my heart quietly sharing the optimism of the Sandernistas. I mean, I started paying attention to this Bernie guy way back in ’04, when the exhausting heartbreaks inherent to that presidential election led to my very first Marxism-curious stage. And I hear about this crazy congressman, the lone congressman from wild yoga hippie Vermont, who calls himself a socialist and nobody minds. By the time he ran for Senate the next time around, I was living in Keene, and I could hop the border into Brattleboro and see his campaign signs: they just read “Bernie” and they were red. This socialist dude was so unashamed he even printed red campaign signs. And nobody cared, and he won easily. Wow, hope for America, amirite?

bernie-sanders-screen-shot-2

Course my political journey didn’t stop there, and by the time this cool old man came to run for President, I was unable to experience the excitement I undoubtedly would have had anyone told me in ’04 that he would be the runner-up in a democratic primary. I would have flipped my shit. I couldn’t do that last year upon his announcement, because I don’t like lying to myself, but even if he is a sheepdog, and even if I’ve believed that to be the case from the beginning of this whole shebang, I’ve always felt Sanders is somehow a decent fellow, that he’s in some way honorable, or at least well-intentioned. He didn’t do this just to sheepdog, not as his goal. Right? I don’t know, maybe that makes me a sap. I won’t rule it out. I just say this to point to the fact that I still feel a certain sadness, largely against my will, that this is how this guy meets his end. What a bummer.

RNC kickin’ it up a notch

Last week, I tried to at least half-watch the first night of the RNC. Explicitly right-wing political conventions are always a special kind of bad, but I think we can all agree that whatever that was, it was some real next-level shit. I was not frightened so much as profoundly weirded out.

Never mind Trump’s batshit entrance to introduce his wife, and never mind his wife’s hilarious subsequent plagiarism (which I’m still convinced was sabotage, all claims to the contrary aside) – what struck me most was Rudy Giuliani, who still somehow gets invited places and even asked to talk, screaming about, like, something. I don’t know! I never could really figure it out, he was just screaming like a completely unhinged Italian old guy from New York, which I guess is what he is.

Then, even worse, was some psychotic spook general who managed to say all kinds of weird shit without ever really yelling. My takeaway (and I’m paraphrasing heavily here) was something like “We sure crushed communism, and it’s time we started crushing shit around the world again.” I mean, where to begin with all that? I feel like even most psychotic spook generals in 2016 have the wherewithal to recognize that pining for the Cold War isn’t particularly hip or resonant these days. And, please tell me, when did we actually stop crushing shit around the world? GAHH!

So that was enough for me. No more RNC for the rest of the week, no sir. And chances are, even if my experience hadn’t been so…full…I was probably never going to indulge in Trump’s hour-long fuhrer-LARP, and I didn’t. Nor was I tempted afterwards by the hysterical shrieking of the social media masses. No, I was already hunkered down as best I could in a trench, hoping the worst of it would blow by me. This would be the worst moment of all, the moment in which we all freak the hell out, the moment when even the sensible among us un-self-consciously embrace Godwin’s Law, the moment when it becomes clear to all Serious People Out There that we have got to stop the right wing menace at all costs.

Here we are, and I utterly failed to keep my head down long enough; but then, how could I ever be expected to hunker down until November? That’s a long time, and that’s how long we’re going to have to endure the incessant drum-beat. Thing is, watching the first night of the DNC was obviously a very different experience from that the prior week, but the effect on me was comparable. If anything, the main difference would be that the DNC speakers filled me with a rage I hadn’t experienced during my voyeuristic peek through the windows of the right.

Once again, it wasn’t the supposed main events that caught my attention – Bernie mumbled a bunch of predictable smarm into the mic and began his slow slide into the night. Elizabeth Warren gave a standard stump, or at least as standard as can be when you’re the Anti-Wall-Street Senator who just gleefully endorsed THE Wall Street Candidate of 2016. I enjoyed the booing and the chanting, that was cool. But what I began to find disturbing was less what was happening on the television and more what was happening on my phone. The sheer blast from the shaming of unruly Bernie delegates by even many “progressives” in my feed was something I wasn’t prepared for. And then the fawning over Michelle Obama’s speech….I wanted to scream. I did scream. I thought my head might explode. It was a bunch of strung-together platitudes about how in Greatest Motherland Country Amerika, with gumption and determination and a positive attitude, we will be GREAT and just naturally overcome all injustices, because we are, after all, Good People.

WHAT. What. Come on, seriously, this is what is getting people off? In 2016? Horatio fucking Alger mixed with ’04-’08 Barack Obama? We aren’t past this yet? This trick still works?

And that’s what scares me more than Donald Trump does. Right on cue, the whole of the media, even outfits like Gawker and the Guardian, basically everybody except The Intercept, TeleSUR, and RT, adopted the line. Et tu, Shaun King? We must defeat Trump. We must defeat Trump. We must defeat Trump. Fascism fascism fascism.

In a misguided attempt to avoid having to fight an insurgent right here at home, we must sacrifice the lives of children abroad. We must sacrifice the fight for black lives and accountable police, for health care for everybody, fair wages, unionization. We must sacrifice the whole of the fight against capitalism. Those dead children abroad will understand. We had to defeat Trump.

What’s next? Organizing! (What else?)

If it were not for the election-agnostic radical organizing I’m involved with, along with so many comrades, and the parallel organizing of cousin comrades, I would totally toss in the towel. No mas politics. No, thank you. This is just not fun.

But it is the duty of radical organizers to organize. Organize we must and organize we will, regardless of how fun or depressing it may be at various times. We’ve got treacherous waters to navigate going forward. The rushing tide to fall in line is headed directly for even that 10% of Sanders supporters we might reasonably consider among The Left. It has always been incumbent upon the socialists to find those people and give them a place to go.

It’s also important that those, especially those who still call themselves progressives, committed to radical change despite the primary results to not be swayed by false optimism yet again. I keep seeing promotion for some campaign called like Rock the Down Ballot or something. I understand it’s to get lefty liberals to run for local, municipal, and state office – but as democrats still, to transform the party from within. Still. Guys, learn from this. I beg you. Learn from the Sanders campaign. The DP is a dead end, and that’s just as true at the local level. We aren’t going to take over the party like some Progressive Tea Party from below. It’s not the same thing. Those Tea Party people got a foothold in the GOP because they had substantial financial and material backing from a certain section of the working class. We called it astroturf, as opposed to grassroots, remember? We can’t replicate that. That thing that happened to Sanders, that will happen at the local level, too. All that DNC corrupt machinery and all that, that exists on a more microcosmic scale everywhere in the party. And anyone who makes it through will be welcomed to the club, coopted, spit out.

Don’t do that.

As we go forward to lead some of these voters into third-party candidacies, we on the socialist Left must ourselves take care to keep focused on the goal. We will disagree on which candidate to pump, and that’s okay. I am personally quite disposed toward the idea of La Riva or Soltysik, explicit radical socialists, making clear where we stand and what we are all about. But I’m also actually engaged, without reservation, in support for Jill Stein’s Green candidacy. The GP is very flawed, and they’re only tepidly anti-capitalist. But this work puts us in direct contact with the crowd for whom sheepdogging didn’t work, and it would be malpractice for us to fail to speak with this section, to offer them a place to crash, so to speak, maybe stick around long term.

What we can certainly agree upon, however, is that we radicals never put all our efforts into elections – or even our primary efforts. We must organize in our communities and for our causes and solidarity, just as we always do. And while we can and should scoff at the ahistoric hyperbole about rising fascism in the US of A, we mustn’t discount the actual rise of the real Far Right, such as it is today. Hell, we encountered it just the past couple weekends in Manchester. This odious force can never be defeated at the ballot box, whether Trump wins or loses – and certainly not by electing a warmongering conservative like Clinton – and while the fearful shriek about falling in line to defeat it, we will be the only ones actually doing the work to make that happen. It’s time we come together, all of us, and talk about how we defend ourselves and the already oppressed, in real life, in the street every day. Not reckless Antifa adventurism, either. We need to plan, to cooperate, to gather information, and map out a strategy for the next several years.

Happy election season, everyone.  

Showdown at City Hall – TONIGHT – Support Transgender Rights

by Jay Monaco

Tonight. 6:30 PM. City Hall.

Be there.

The honorable council is at it again, folks. Seems like just yesterday they were out comparing poor people to animals. Now a resolution has been proposed solely for the purpose of discriminating against transgendered people.

When the state senate passed a bill protecting transgendered people who use public facilities, the esteemed Rodney Elliot filed a motion just to express opposition to the law. The resolution, of course, were it to pass, would have no bearing whatsoever on the standing of the law. It would solely serve as an official statement of hate from the governing body of the Commonwealth’s fourth largest city.

It’s despicable, it’s heartless, and it must not be tolerated.

Councilor Elliot justifies his archaic and aberrant urges by pointing out that he has relatives who are female, and presumably the transgendered may be coming to get them (?). Making things worse, our friend and elected representative Elliot was not alone in sponsoring the motion, which was cosponsored by none other than noted Trump supporter Rita Mercier. Councilor Mercier, however, seems to have had second thoughts – according to the Sun article linked above, she had withdrawn her cosponsorship as of Monday morning.

Feeling the heat, Rita?

Still, as reported by the Sun, she has yet to make her views on the issue clear. “It’s a sensitive issue, and I’ll wait to give my comments at the City Council meeting,” she said.

When she does, we’ll be there, too – giving our comments.

Local blogger Dick Howe makes an economic case against the passage of such a measure, raising concerns about whether large businesses considering investment in Lowell might find such a statement backwards and barbaric. While such corporate entities might be right in coming to such a conclusion (and they would be!) such an argument misses the point entirely. Who cares what businesses think? This is justice we’re talking about, here. Equality. Basic protections for all people.

We shouldn’t need to put our wet fingers to the wind on this one.

Tell the city council Lowell doesn't support hate.

As another local blog, Learning Lowell, put it: “The truth is, we all should have been doing more to help this community for a long time. Trans people have long been in need of additional protection under the law, as a group that has experienced violence, discrimination, and suicide at much higher rates, even as compared to gay and lesbian people. 90% of trans people reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job.”

Click through to the link above for a comprehensive summary of how we, collectively, can make our voices heard. There’s this quick and easy link to send a note to the council – but frankly, that isn’t enough when it comes to an issue like this. We need to come out and be heard and seen. And we plan to do just that.

Activists across Lowell, including members of CAJE, Socialist Alternative, 350.org and many, many others will be gathering at City Hall at 6:30 tonight for the council meeting. Over a dozen concerned citizens have officially registered on the docket to speak to the council directly on the issue. Details can be found in the Facebook event here.

Will we see you there?

Which side are you on?

Only bad people hate panhandlers

by Jay Monaco

Rita Mercier, noted Donald Trump supporter, city council member who received the most overall votes across the city of Lowell in the last several elections, says that panhandlers are like ducks and we should stop feeding them. While it may not be uncommon, in the year 2016, for the disadvantaged to be stripped of their humanity, it is rarely done so cruelly or brazenly.

Council Member Rita is not alone.

If you haven’t heard already, the Lowell Sun reported last week that the elected legislative body of the City of Lowell has determined that of all the pressing, complex, daunting issues that face the city and nation, the number one thing, the big challenge of our time, is people asking other people for money. The greatest danger we must face together, is the fact that some people ask other people to give them money that they can use for things. Your spouses, your children, your families – none of them are safe. In time, they too may be asked for money.

Bravely, the august deliberative body took action several years ago to protect the citizenry from this existential threat, passing a law banning panhandling altogether in the downtown area. But then a cruel Yankee judge said that law was actually illegal and that it’s okay to ask people to give you money, putting all our lives at risk. Now, many cities and towns, upon being told by a federal judge to stop picking on poor people, would just give up. They’d surrender, they’d compromise. They’d stop picking on poor people, or at least pick on them less.

Not the brave city council of Lowell. They took a vow of responsibility to the public and they will not rest until we are safe from putting money in Styrofoam cups. They’ve formed a committee dedicated to figuring out how to solve the problem of being told not to pick on poor people.

RitaduckComplete

The MENSA wunderkind responsible for this special committee is Councilman Bill Samaras, but it was Mayor Ed Kennedy who dropped the bigger bomb when he dramatically uncovered his unbeatable solution to the epidemic. If the city wasn’t allowed to say that people who ask other people for money are criminals, they should instead declare that people who give money to other people are criminals. Reportedly, several members of the public watching from the gallery said their lives were changed by witnessing the public introduction of such a groundbreaking legal innovation.

Councilman Rodney Elliott agreed and was quoted by the Sun as saying “Let’s find ways we can regulate what is permissible and what is not,” which is complex Ivy League lawyer jargon that translates roughly to, “The federal government told us what we’re not allowed to do, but let’s find ways to do it anyway.”

The Sun‘s rough and tumble investigative team followed the story up with an additional report later last week revealing in an act of sheer fairness and balance the other side to this compelling story. It turns out that many ordinary people are also assholes, not just members of the City Council. As a result of this reporting effort, some are calling on those who claim our society has no unifying culture to eat their words.

The reality is that many people who drive cars are very concerned that the people who ask them for money might have a home or eat more than two meals a week. There are also grave concerns that destitute people asking for money might be stressed and depressed and want a cigarette or a beer, the implication being that cigarettes and beer are reserved only for the stressed and depressed people who already have jobs and homes and cars. Those greedily taking advantage of the opportunity to humiliate themselves by asking strangers to give them money are bound by Holy Writ to spend their time frowning and repenting and learning to understand that the people who have jobs and homes and cars – the ones allowed to drink and smoke – think society is fair and just, and this means that it is.

Some average folks featured in the above article suggest a darker truth – that those who cleverly act poor and walk exposed in the elements asking people for money all day might be making more money than the rest of us decent folk. These pampered “beggars” are getting away with it! We’re stuck working and living in houses and they’re actually getting away with having no place to live and no job and just asking for money. It isn’t fair. We all could do that if we wanted, but instead we choose the high road, using our privilege and luck to live in houses and get paychecks. We are, clearly, the Good People.

*&^*&$#Q@#($)#&^^////// OK that was almost fun but I can’t keep this up any longer.

STOP PICKING ON SOCIETY’S MOST VULNERABLE PEOPLE. THAT MAKES YOU A BAD PERSON.

How insecure do you have to be to worry that a panhandler might be getting one over on you and the Honest Folks with that dollar you didn’t give him? If someone asks you for money, what the hell do you care what it’s for? Do you wish to enforce some kind of earmarking for the $1 non-profit donation you just made?

And don’t even get me started on the fact that so many of you call yourselves “Christians.” Do you know what’s in those Gospels?

In both Sun pieces, and some other ones I didn’t even bother linking to because it’s all the same garbage, everyone from the mayor to randos in the street describe panhandling, again and again, as “a problem, a major problem, a holy moly think of our children problem.” Panhandling? What kind of drug do you have to be on to perceive that the problem is the poor people asking for money and not the fact that some people have more than they could ever possibly need while others are denied jobs and apartments and have no other way to get money than asking random strangers for it? How does anyone possibly get high enough to see panhandling as a random act against society, as if all of us were born with a feral urge to ask strangers for cash money and the good folk manage to overcome those urges with virtue and playing by the rules?

If you want to talk about a problem, ask yourself what really causes people to have to beg for money.

As for outside-the-box solutions? Well, we could always expropriate the personal property of the City Council members and distribute it evenly among the panhandlers. Then they wouldn’t have to ask for money anymore.

Problem solved!

JUSTICE FOR JEFFREY: The people take the fight to Valley Street

by Jay Monaco

Friday afternoon, Jeffrey Pendleton’s former coworkers and fellow activists with Fight for $15 were joined by dozens of supporters (including a New Hampshire State Representative) in a vibrant protest march at Manchester’s Valley Street Jail. The event was as much a memorial for the tragically deceased young man as well as a strident demand for answers in his suspicious death.

Photo credit: Howard Rotman
Photo credit: Howard Rotman

Pendleton was found dead in the jail earlier this month. He was being held because, as a homeless fast food worker, he could not afford to pay the draconian $100 bond set for a simple marijuana possession charge, and his unexplained death in a jail known for its unusually cruel and violent conditions has left behind far more questions than answers. Labor organizer Howard Rotman laid it out straight in a Facebook post about the rally: Pendleton “was mysteriously ‘found dead’ on Sunday, 3/13/16, while in police custody at the Valley Street Jail after being arrested for ‘a misdemeanor’, in circumstances eerily similar to the internationally known case of Sandra Bland, a Black woman also active in the struggle against police brutality, who was ‘found hung’ in a police cell 3 days after being arrested subsequent to a traffic violation [failure to signal when changing lanes].”

Rotman is not alone in making the comparison to the equally tragic case of Sandra Bland, and in the meantime, Pendleton’s family in Arkansas have stated that their own medical examiners, contrary to the findings of local coroners, have found possible evidence of foul play.

Photo credit: Howard Rotman
Photo credit: Howard Rotman

Occupy New Hampshire alum Matt Lawrence, who attended the rally, told me that, for him, the issue is a straightforward one. “We should not be criminalizing homelessness. The suspicious nature of his death, and the fact that valley street jail has had numerous other infractions and known abuses creates, for me, a culture of domination and slavery….[The fact] that the second autopsy (commisioned by the family) found that he had suffered serious injury prior to his death only adds to the perception (correctly or not) that the officials and corrections officers who work there knowingly tried to cover up abuse. That Jeffrey was involved in activism only adds fuel to the fire.”

Photo credit: Howard Rotman
Photo credit: Howard Rotman

Seemingly without concern for the fact that Valley Street is quickly becoming widely known as a black hole of torture and death for many locked up on minor charges or those who, like Jeffrey, were too poor to afford bail, no further details have emerged as to exactly how and why Pendleton ended up dead.

Photo credit: Howard Rotman
Photo credit: Howard Rotman

WMUR quotes Andy Fontaine, Pendleton’s former coworker and comrade in the Fight for $15, saying, “We’re all just here to find out what happened.”

The same article quotes State Representative Renny Cushing (Hampton – D) putting it a different way: “Possession of marijuana shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

Photo credit: Howard Rotman
Photo credit: Howard Rotman

But as so many of the signs read last Friday, No justice, no peace. Until those involved account for the actions leading directly to Pendleton’s death and until we collectively recognize the need to transform the underlying systemic bias against the poor, the homeless, the wage-workers, and the nonwhite, we will not ease up.

THE FIGHT CONTINUES: The next scheduled action on behalf of Jeffrey Pendleton will take place this Thursday – March 31 – at 4 pm in front of the Nashua Police Department Headquarters. See here for more details, follow Communique New England for further updates, and COME OUT THURSDAY TO DEMAND JUSTICE FOR JEFFREY!

Special thanks to Howard Rotman for the generous use of his photos. 

Loving father of 3 shot dead by Lowell police: Why?

by Jay Monaco

Tragedy struck home in Lowell last Saturday night as Jose Perez, 39-year-old father of three, recently engaged to be married, was killed from multiple gunshot wounds inflicted by two Lowell police officers. According to the Lowell Sun, the victim was holding both a large meat cleaver and a knife at the time he was killed – but does this alone mean that he had to die that night?

Source: Facebook
Source: Facebook

The Sun reports that police received a 911 call shortly before 11 pm from a woman regarding a man with a knife threatening to kill everyone. This complaint appears to have been supported by Perez himself, who apparently also called 911 shortly thereafter – on himself – asking for the police to come because he was going to kill everyone. According to the statement provided by the police department, when the officers arrived, Perez refused orders to put down the weapons, and was shot multiple times. Attempts to resuscitate him failed.

The article cited above goes on to provide several accounts of Jose’s good nature, suggesting explicitly that this outburst was out of character. He is described as sweet, loving, caring, “like a teddy bear,” a peaceful man who was an extremely proud father. This testimony should serve to inform our understanding of Jose Perez as a formerly breathing human being, to ensure we see him in full and not as a caricature, a news story, or a statistic. But it really shouldn’t matter, at times like these, whether the victim is a beloved saint who spends their free time picking up litter in the parks or a troubled and friendless former convict. A person was killed, shot to death by law enforcement – ostensibly our law enforcement – a life was ended at the hands of those supposedly acting in the name of our public safety. That in and of itself requires our grief, our scrutiny, and our willingness to stand up and speak out about how it is that we want our city to be run.

With the information currently available to us, it is difficult to know for sure what exactly happened that night. We do know that Perez, despite his threats, did not actually cause anyone else harm, and we know that he went so far as to call the police on himself, presumably recognizing that he was out of control and still wished to avoid causing anyone else harm. But the fact that we do not know the precise circumstances of the moments just prior to the deployment of lethal force is not fate, chance, or an accident; in fact, there’s a very specific reason we don’t know. The final paragraph of the Sun piece, tacked on almost as an afterthought, contains the significant detail:

“[The shooting comes] as Lowell police continue to negotiate with the patrolmen’s union to deploy a small number of body cameras on officers. The department received several free cameras last year from the Taser company to use on a trial basis, but they have not been deployed pending negotiations.”

For context, note that this proposed camera trial was first reported last August. Since mid-autumn, Lowell-based Community Advocates for Justice and Equality (CAJE), along with we here at CNE, have been calling for transparency, public input, and immediate implementation of a body camera program far broader than any temporary trial. Hundreds of Lowell residents signed our petition, and in January, CAJE hosted an independent public forum to discuss the topic. Though many citizens came out to share their views, to ask questions about what is possible, and to hear CAJE-supported proposals for comprehensive democratic control over local law enforcement – within which the implementation of body cameras would only be a single preliminary step – but both the city council and police department declined our invitations to participate in this process.

To date, they have not responded to the concerns outlined in the petition, nor have any plans been announced to hold a public discussion on the issues. Even in the telling paragraph above, vague “negotiations” are cited without detail, which seems to suggest the police union is likely seeking to neuter any public benefit received from body cameras. It should be clear, at this point, that too much time has been wasted already. If a program for police accountability had already been implemented in the city – cameras on all on-duty officers who are only permitted to pause recording under very limited conditions and footage from which is handled by a neutral third party on behalf of the public – the worst case scenario is that we’d already know what happened in the moments before Jose Perez died.

The best case scenario is that he might still be alive.

In a follow-up Sun piece published today, Perez’ family questions the necessity of lethal force in this case. The article does not mince words:

“So now Perez’s family is wondering if one fewer gunshot by police may have saved his life on Saturday night. Wondering if another enforcement measure other than lethal force could have been used to have kept him alive.”

Indeed. And while the article chooses to focus on the availability of non-lethal alternatives – specifically, the fact that the LPD does not utilize TASERs, though it has plans to do so – the question could easily be raised regarding body cameras and other forms of democratic accountability. Would an officer aware that he was being filmed be more hesitant to pull the trigger? Perhaps.

Then again, perhaps not – there are, after all, plenty of examples nationwide of brutal and unnecessary fatal shootings blatantly conducted on camera. The body cams themselves will never be enough. What about the fact that Perez had himself called 911 asking for assistance? In such a circumstance, shouldn’t some form of negotiation be deployed rather than arriving on scene and pretty much immediately opening fire? Naturally, police sources say no. “[One source] said the officers conducted themselves ‘by the book.'”

And maybe that’s so. But maybe we citizens ought to have some means by which to revise the text in that book, so we can maybe keep more of our friends and neighbors and loved ones live. We don’t have those means today, and we must fight for them.

It should come as no surprise that LPD sources are calling the shooting legitimate and stating that the officers involved followed procedure. Perhaps this is, in fact, the case. No claims appear to have been made suggesting that Perez was unarmed or that some type of dangerous situation was not unfolding at the Cambridge Street home. All that being said, what remains unchanged is the fact that a person was killed at the hands of the state. Employees of the City of Lowell ended the life of a citizen of the City of Lowell. As his fellow citizens, we owe the deceased our mourning and regret, for we must always mourn and regret the death of one of our sisters and brothers by the hand of “our” law enforcement. Three children lost a father; his fiancee lost her betrothed. The city’s population has suddenly decreased by one; Jose’s other surviving family, his friends, his coworkers, they will never see him again.

It is incumbent on us, if absolutely nothing else, to take a moment and recognize that.

This mustn’t end here.

Rest in peace, Jose Perez. Your family loved you and your fellow citizens mourn your death.

*

Note: No protests or memorials for Jose Perez have yet been announced. Follow Communique New England to receive updates as they become available.

Jeffrey Pendleton was killed for being broke

by Jay Monaco

Jeffrey Pendleton should still be alive right now. He should be breathing air, right now, like you and me. He didn’t have to die. No. His death was not just preventable, but could have been prevented had our society a shred of decency remaining.

A lifelong low-wage worker, Jeffrey Pendleton was active in the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign. Just prior to his death, he had walked out of his fast food job as part of the monthly strike organized in Manchester, New Hampshire on the fifteenth of every month, and was escorted back to work with the support and solidarity of labor organizers. We must remember Jeffrey Pendleton, our brother in the struggle, not just today but for all our tomorrows – and we must now seize on his behalf the justice he can no longer claim for himself.

His death was not just a tragedy, but a crime. We may not know exactly who or what caused him to die (yeah, sure), but we do know he was killed because our system is not designed to protect the weakest among us, those most in need of protection. No, it’s designed to serve precisely the opposite function. Jeffrey Pendleton, a kind 26-year-old man, is now dead because there’s an entire class of people our system considers and treats as less than human. But Jeffrey Pendleton was a human. He died penniless, alone, and in jail like he didn’t matter, but he did matter.

And if it seems I’m belaboring a rather obvious point, consider that we wouldn’t be talking about this at all if the point were obvious to everyone out there. He’d still be alive if anyone at any level of the criminal justice system – even at any level of government itself – thought it obvious that this was a human being who mattered.

Pendleton, who worked at Burger King for insufficient wages and insufficient hours on the schedule, was homeless when he died. As the New Hampshire Union Leader first reported, he was arrested two weeks ago on the 9th for a misdemeanor weed charge. He was hauled before a judge who, despite the fact that the accused was penniless (and despite the utter absurdity of such a thing) ordered him held on $100 bail. He didn’t have $100. How would he have $100? And so he went to jail, to Valley Street in Manchester – a notorious hellhole. Four days later, he was dead. Alone in his cell and dead. Asked what happened, prison officials have basically responded with a shrug emoji. As the Union Leader reported in a follow-up story, the state’s deputy chief medical examiner has said that Pendleton “showed no signs of physical trauma, natural disease, or drug use such as needle marks.”

Weird.

Turns out, Pendleton has a bit of a history with authorities in southern New Hampshire – and by history, I mean while he still breathed, he stood up and demanded to be recognized as a person, and this may have become for him a capital offense. With the help of the ACLU, he went toe-to-toe with both Hudson and Nashua and he didn’t blink. Hudson had given him a ticket for panhandling on public property, while Nashua went another way, locking him up for over a month for walking in a park police didn’t want him to walk into. Both cities, wishing to avoid admitting wrongdoing, ultimately settled – Hudson for $37,500 and Nashua for $15,000, although the vast majority of this money was reportedly earmarked by his lawyers, and exactly how much of this money had actually been fully dispersed to him by the localities who’d mistreated him is not exactly clear at this time.

He died one year to the day after Nashua agreed to pay this settlement, and died just one day before the Federal Justice Department happened to shoot a letter to state judges throughout the land explaining that demanding poor people pay money they don’t have for bail and fines and then locking them up because they don’t have the money is actually, like, violating their rights. Rights may be a wonderful thing when they’re real, but for all intents and purposes, Pendleton didn’t have any meaningful rights and never did. If rights today actually existed – existed for everyone, that is, across the board – no state judge anywhere would need a letter from the feds reminding them that they shouldn’t lock up poor people just for the fun of it. Nobody should have to explain that to anyone. And yet we do. Because Jeffrey Pendleton is dead.

We are not, most of us, cops or prosecutors or judges or legislators, but it’s our society, too, the society in which we are part and participant, and it’s this society and its priorities and its relentless insistence on oppression and exploitation and dehumanization that killed our brother. You and I didn’t do it, but this is on us, now. If we but shake our head in horror, ball our fists with rage, perhaps even shed a tear of profound and total grief, and then proceed with our days and our lives as those there is nothing to be done, then nothing will be done. This is on us if for no other reason than the fact that nobody else is going to pay this man the respect, the justice, the humanity that he deserves.

It’s on us, now.

JusticeJeffrey

Who will stand up for Jeffrey Pendleton?

For starters, we ought to ensure he receives a proper burial. His family in Arkansas lacks the funds to fly him home for a funeral, and they’ve established a GoFundMe page. If you have so much as a dollar to spare, please toss it in the pile now. You can’t look Jeffrey Pendleton in the face and tell him you know he’s a human and that he matters, but you can tell his family.

But that’s just the very beginning – it has to be. We need to stand up, to speak, to gather, first to mourn our fallen brother and then, at all costs, to prevent those who confined him to a cage until he died from sweeping any of this under any carpet. We demand answers, and we demand those responsible be held responsible. Until that happens, we must not sit down, go home, or shut up.

We must then demand a more equitable system, one in which Jeffrey Pendleton and so many others like him would still be alive. We need to stop treating marijuana like a crime, and we sure as hell need to stop locking people up for it. We need to stop charging broke people bail so we can send them to jail.

We need, only as a first step, to divert law enforcement resources to the protection of the most vulnerable among us, those homeless, poor, and underemployed, but we must go further. We must take those next steps, the steps that ensure there are no more vulnerable among us, that no one is left homeless, that no one lacks the money for food and shelter. Until we do that, people like Jeffrey Pendleton will continue to die.

He’s dead today because there’s a class of society our ruling class, the one that rigs the system, consider and treat as less than human, as expendable and undesirable. And most of us are in that class, whether we know it or not. What happened to Jeffrey could happen to you, or any one of us. His struggle is our struggle.

Remember Jeffrey Pendleton. Remember his name. Remember he was a person. And then act accordingly.

Rest easy, brother. We’ll take it from here.

*

Note: A small vigil was held last weekend in Greely Park in Nashua. Further memorials, vigils, and protests are forthcoming but details are not yet available. Communique New England will continue to follow up on all developments related to this story, particularly information related to further action in solidarity. When the time comes, I expect to see you there. 

Is anyone here serious about “political revolution”?

by Jay Monaco

Midnight, Suicide Wednesday. These, the opening moments of the depressing slog that inevitably follows Super Tuesday returns, are made all the worse by the fact that those returns offered up iron-fisted testament to the supreme domination of one Donald Trump on one side and one Hillary Clinton on the other. Unless you’re a white male who fears the future and fosters pseudo-fascist tendencies or a soulless connoisseur of crumbs from the table, there is no party tonight, only a sad and frantic drowning of the sorrows. The less sober-minded among us declare loudly that a general election waged between a maniac right-wing populist reality television performer and a morally bankrupt neoliberal almost-neoconservative triangulator whose half-century career has been built on the backs of the poor to be a surefire sign of Apocalypse as though torn directly from some lost chapter of the Book of Revelation.

D Trump

Perhaps they’re right – but then again, let’s not get carried away, here. This is no time to succumb fatally to Panic or Despair. Playtime is over. Debate club doesn’t run this late at night. I meant it several months ago, when I suggested it was time for the Left to get it together, and I really mean it now. Back then, we still had a few minutes to fiddle around and figure things out, and now time’s up. Now, the Left is needed more than ever. Can we deliver? Or are we – all of us – just talk?

That magic moment

There was a minute, a bright shining moment not too long ago, when Bernie Sanders was acting like the sort of total madman who half-planned to win this thing. If this guy was a sheepdog, he sure wasn’t being a very good one.

In that fleeting second, it appeared that perhaps efforts by the DNC to limit the number of debates between the candidates and to schedule them in weekend slots with traditionally low viewership may have proven too transparent too soon. When the party brutally punished the Sanders campaign for an infraction involving a glitch in third-party voter database software, temporarily crippling the campaign’s operations, Sanders’ numbers and donations went up. This polling trend continued as Sanders suddenly pulled out the sharp blades, ramping up his criticism of Clinton and the elite who back her.

On the strength of this aggression, his tie in Iowa, coupled with Clinton’s bad coin toss optics sent the front-runner’s surrogates into conniptions. He reaped the benefits of this in New Hampshire. While it’s true that some late polls accurately predicted Sanders’ 20-point victory in the Granite State, it’s the details of the landslide that are most unexpected and most indicative of a longer-than-expected fight ahead. The demographic data is stark, with Sanders winning every age group but the very oldest and every income bracket but the highest. Beyond this, however, Sanders not only carried the state, nor only all the state’s counties, but won in nearly every single city and town. In 2008, PBS called out eight such cities and towns in which Clinton’s domination was particularly acute. In 2016, Bernie Sanders defeated her in all eight, in many cases quite convincingly. This result, supported subsequently by pushback against Clinton from Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Erica Garner cast serious doubt on the conventional wisdom – which I embraced no less than anyone else – that a Sanders defeat was inevitable.

As The Polemicist put it in the second of two brilliant pieces to run ahead of Iowa, “Bernie Sanders is the dog who’s about to catch the car. We all thought it would pull away too quickly, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. If he catches it, he’s going to have to turn into a helluva ferocious beast, or let it go.”

Polls following New Hampshire were promising. This was serious momentum. He was never going to win in Nevada or South Carolina, but the numbers seemed to be narrowing. The same was true of Super Tuesday states. Coming off such a big NH win, Sanders had a large point spread within which he could claim plausible “victory” even in losing the next two contests. If he were to have followed that up with a respectable, delegate-rich showing on Super Tuesday, it seemed like all bets might be off. Even if Sanders originally intended to lose, handing his gift-wrapped supporters over to Clinton, the DNC, and their donor class backers, it was becoming less and less clear he would ever be capable of doing so. With every additional moment sent stoking his supporters with talk, not of hope and change, but something he calls “revolution,” it grew less likely that his ultimate endorsement of Hillary Clinton was going to mean anything.

It’s here that The Polemicist proves even more prescient:

“From the second the polls close on a clear Sanders defeat of Clinton, the Democratic Party will begin to split in an obvious and serious way that will intensify exponentially through the primary season, and the general election if Bernie wins the nomination. To be clear: That split will happen, not because Bernie won’t support any of the candidates and the eventual nominee of the Democratic Party, but because a lot (most?) of the Party establishment will not support him.”

If, on the other hand, Bernie is not willing to cause the Democratic Party to split in his quest for the Presidency, other measures might have to be taken:

“Under any circumstances, it won’t be hard for Sanders to lose, and it will be very difficult for observers to discern whether he was just defeated despite his best effort, or let some chances slip away to avoid damaging the party. It would be devastating to his supporters and damaging to the Party to think the latter, or to think that the nomination was stolen from him. This Bernie Sanders would not allow himself to get so far ahead as to engender such suspicions. It will be very important to him, if he withdraws for any reason, to keep his supporters’ enthusiasm alive for the Democratic nominee.

This Bernie will drop out for the same reason he did not run as an independent in the first place: because his purpose is to keep discontented progressives in the Democratic Party.”

Sanders

And indeed, what is that that transpired between the roaring high of New Hampshire and yesterday’s utter devastation? It’s hard to say, exactly. One might observe that Sanders’ attacks were quieter – still there, but less forceful, less targeted toward media narrative, more like going through the motions. Then there was Sanders’ complete abandonment of standard campaign election night optics the evening of South Carolina and then again on Super Tuesday itself. As the quote above points out, it’s difficult for we observers to discern clearly whether Sanders pulled his punches or went down fighting.

Is the Left all talk?

At some point, however, this speculation turns into pure intellectual exercise. The outcome is what we have to work with, regardless of the means that brought it before us. Sanders’ huge February fundraising haul means he can hang on for a few more weeks, but continuing will grow increasingly difficult in the face of the inevitable barrage of calls from Democrats of all stripes to drop out “for the good of the nominee.” Now is the time we keep talking about, the moment when all of us on the Left – including, now, the DSA and all those Sanders supporters unwilling to support Clinton – must turn our efforts and attention toward calling out the corrupt capitalist apparatus that engineered his defeat.

All this time, the pro-Bernie vs. anti-Bernie debate has become both the greatest and most loathsome theoretical battle of the decade for the radical Left. Each side accuses the other of being all talk. The pro-Sanders crowd insists the Marxists just want to sit in their reading groups, isolated from the people and averse to actual victory, talking about purity and theory. The anti-Sanders cohort (mine) argues that the “practical” strategies of the other side are ahistorical and undialectical and amount to a lack of seriousness toward actually defeating capitalism.

The ISO, which in my view has held the correct stance on this issue from the beginning, summed it up Monday in the Socialist Worker, declaring firmly:

“From all this, we should conclude that the Democratic Party cannot be a vehicle for the kind of social change that is attracting people to Bernie Sanders today. The Democrats have been the primary mechanism that capital uses to incorporate and dominate social movements and trade unions. For our votes to be meaningful, working people need a party that fights for our own goals, our unions and our social movements.”

This isn’t just an argument anymore. If the DSA and others fail to make the pivot toward opposing both capitalist parties – in the general election and beyond – it will represent a confirmation of the accusatory notion that supporting Sanders was an unprincipled waste of time and energy for anyone with a serious opposition to capitalism. Otherwise, beyond the bland and questionable concept of “awareness”, what has actually been gained, here?

U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton gestures from the stage at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver

No substitute for radical organizing

On the flip side, if the ISO and other Sanders-skeptics fail to engage in a meaningful and organized alternative approach, we prove ourselves just as abstentionist and impotent as some critics have charged. Again from SW:

“[V]oting for a politician, even a good one, can never replace the need for union drives, strikes, occupations, mass protests and more. As the late historian Howard Zinn once said: ‘What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but who is ‘sitting in’–and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.'”

Where are we on this?

The strange times in which we find ourselves are not the result of Sanders himself or even the pseudo-renegade character of his campaign, but the result of the material conditions in which people find themselves. (To his credit, I do not believe Sanders would claim otherwise.) It almost goes without saying that the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent bank bailouts, high unemployment, recession, and austerity have laid the inadequacies of capitalism bare before the public. For those born middle class and now experiencing downward class mobility, this is no longer a matter of intellectually grasping exploitation so much as a deeply felt economic betrayal. Trust in our economic system is no longer assumed. Bernie didn’t make socialism popular among the youth, it’s been measurably so since at least 2011 – quite possibly before, given that the Wisconsin uprising began the February prior and led not-indirectly to the Occupy protests that fall.

The notion that Barack Obama substantively addressed these needs is laughable, while his touted health care reform has charitably had mixed results among those at the lowest end of the income spectrum. The energy made manifest by the recession, its fallout, and the associated movements, as well as the energy brought forth by racist police brutality and murder over the last two years, hasn’t gone anywhere. Why should it? And for all his faults, Sanders is the only one actually talking about the needs of the dispossessed and exploited, and promising plainly to address them. This isn’t Bernie’s wave, he’s just riding it.

Now it’s our turn.

But even if we all agree that an independent working class third party is necessary, we must also then accept that, for such a party to be sustainable, it cannot be primarily based in the campaign for President of the United States, however distracting and all-consuming such campaigns might be for two-year stretches at a time. For all his talk about needing the backing of a people-based movement in the streets, Barack Obama quickly dismantled his organizing apparatus after his victory, with such things quickly forgotten. Sanders has called, repeatedly, for the same thing, but this time, if the notion is again forgotten, it’s on us, not the candidate. Some of the die-hard Sanders supporters may be tempted to give in to apathy in the face of the inevitable disillusionment to come, but those of us who understand these unfolding events have a responsibility to provide avenues for continued work.

Independent local organizing for radical issues and municipal candidates, particularly doing so without institutional support and resources, can be decidedly frustrating and un-sexy overall. But there are no shortcuts to revolution. Organization, from the ground up, is necessary, and only the socialist left is positioned to hit the ground running with such efforts and programs.

This requires existing socialist parties to prioritize cooperation, coordination, and strategy over recruitment and dogmatic squabbling. There’s an extremely important place for formal membership and cadre-building, but we must be eager and willing to work together in all areas of substantive agreement. None of the small parties of the 21st-century US can, by themselves, consistently provide deliverable opportunities for collective struggle competently and with maximum impact.

Some may accuse Trotskyists and others of being abstentionist, averse to practical political victories, but the back-to-back electoral victories of Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant to Seattle’s City Council, coupled with the groundbreaking SA-led victory in winning a $15 minimum wage in that same city, should serve as significant examples to the contrary. That being said, these victories must be followed up with regional and nationwide strategies to run slates of independent left candidates in many cities. Though that has not been the case thus far, for that to change with 2017’s municipal elections, we must begin such plans now.

Continued wage fights must be organized everywhere, not just the big cities. Campaigns against racism and police brutality must be waged in every diverse community. When labor struggles emerge, whether traditional union-based activity or surrounding non-union service sector employees, workers need to know they can count on everyone on the Left to get behind them, not just with words or policy positions but with actions, bodies, and whatever material support we can scrape together.

Regardless of position on the particular topic of Bernie Sanders, it will require the pooling of all of our collective resources to make any of these things happen, much less all of them. Above all else, however, it’s crucial that we all recognize that the conditions for such mass action (“political revolution”?) are present and palpable, here and now, today.

To be sure, until the conclusion of this election season it will be difficult in most cases to generate substantial mass enthusiasm for anything else. Yet even in the longest scenarios, that conclusion approaches rapidly. We can begin the preparations now and be ready to take this political energy to the next stage, or we can all just continue to talk.

Lowell Votes to Divest From Fossil Fuels; Actually Listens to the People

FossilFuels

In a Tuesday night vote, the Lowell City Council joined over a dozen other Massachusetts communities in calling for the Commonwealth to altogther divest its funds from fossil fuels. The move comes after a grassroots call to action led by 350MA, a Massachusetts environmental non-profit. In Lowell, the organization’s victory was secured in part by the active local support of several members of CAJE (Community Activists for Justice and Equality).

Divestment, of course, is a positive and sensible policy even if it can hardly be said to wholly address the issue of impending catastrophic climate change – but the significance of this win lies in much more than a single policy. In fact, this win must serve as yet another reminder that community organization, commitment, and mobilization really can yield results. Even more significantly, community organization, commitment, and mobilization will lead to more community organization, commitment, and mobilization.

I caught up with CAJE member Derek Pelotte, who was one of several to speak at the council session in favor of the divestment resolution. “Divestment was a macro-idea,” he told me, “trying to get Lowell on the map as a town looking to address global issues.” He agrees that the point and the strategy here have to be about much more than this one singular issue. “The immediate future is going to be about growing our strength in the community so we can find ways to make Lowell a leader in creative climate solutions.”

The experience itself, he says, provides valuable training and education for future action. “The last 9 months was a great lesson in civics and local politics, as well as learning how to engage with community members who often had never heard of divestment. That forced us to spend a lot of time getting to know people on a 1-on-1 basis and networking those people who wanted to get involved.”

That’s it right there. Organization begets organization. Action begets action. And it’s never a bad thing to feel comfortable speaking boldly before elected officials in their august chambers.

Join me in giving your props to CAJE, 350MA, and the people of Lowell, in celebrating their victory, and in taking these lessons as our own!

Has Anything Changed? Learning from the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921

by Kate Frey

Although the first black President of the United States, Barack Obama, declared during his 2008 campaign his belief that the battles against racial oppression have been won and belong to the past, that the US is now a “post racial” society”, events over the past few decades – including very recently – lead to a different conclusion. The mass incarceration of African-Americans, which Michelle Alexander called “The New Jim Crow”,- a system which gives the US the highest incarceration rate in the world – police killings of literally hundreds of African-Americans over the past few years amid escalating police brutality, followed by the protests against these killings themselves being met with police repression and brutality all show how deeply engrained racism remains in US society.

To understand the dynamics of today’s society it is important to understand the history of black oppression, not just under slavery but in the post-Reconstruction era when blacks had full citizenship rights in theory but whose communities were subjected to racist terrorism and destruction. The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 epitomizes this.

The actual all-out riot portion occurred during a 14 hour period  from May 31 to June 1, 1921. It was the worst of a series of white riots against African-American communities of that volatile period.

It began with an incident between Dick Rowland, a 19 year old African-American who shined shoes in front of the Drexel Building on Tulsa’s South Main Street, and Sarah Page, a 17 year old white woman who worked as the building’s elevator operator. On May 30, Memorial Day, while Rowland was leaving the elevator, Page let out a scream. A clerk from Renberg’s, a clothing store on the first floor of the Drexel Building, heard the scream and rushed to the elevator. He claimed to have seen Page in a distraught state and a black man running. Assuming Page had been assaulted, the clerk contacted the authorities.

After an inflammatory newspaper article boosted the rumors already circulating, hundreds surrounded the Tulsa County Courthouse, where Rowland was being held on the top floor. Sheriff Willard McCullough, wishing to avoid a lynching, increased security at the courthouse, but the crowd only grew increasingly agitated. When rumors reached Greenwood, a nearby town inhabited nearly exclusively by African-Americans, that a white mob had stormed the jail, 30 armed men headed for the courthouse. The white mob, nearly 400 strong at this point, continued the escalation by attempting to seize weapons from the city’s National Guard armory.

Before the night was over, the two sides were openly shooting at one another. The white mob chased the black defenders back toward Greenwood, stealing all the guns they could find along the way. The National Guard was deployed, but coordination between the Guard, the municipal police, and the sheriff’s department was at best incoherent; at worst, it was nonexistent.

Caption: Blacks being taken to the Brady Theater during the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot near Greenwood. (photo courtesy Greenwood Cultural  Center)  Photographer: Kelly Kerr  Title: staff photographer  Credit: Tulsa World  City: Tulsa  State: OK  Country: USA  Date: 19970620  CaptionWriter: KK  Category: NEW  Source: Tulsa World
(photo courtesy Greenwood Cultural Center) Photographer: Kelly Kerr Title: staff photographer Credit: Tulsa World City: Tulsa State: OK Country: USA Date: 19970620 CaptionWriter: KK Category: NEW Source: Tulsa World

All the while, other groups of whites continued to try and breach the security of the courthouse to lynch Rowland. With black fighters successfully forced back into Greenwood, the town itself was under attack. Gunfights erupted across Tulsa and Greenwood with no end in sight as night turned to day. Residents of Greenwood were killed indiscriminately. The violence was so extreme that the town was eventually more or less emptied. It wasn’t until martial law was declared around noon that Wednesday that the melee ceased.

The number of killed and injured remains unknown to this day. Estimates range from dozens to several hundred. James Hirsch in Riot and Remembrance:The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy  recounts  Maurice Williams, a Red Cross social worker, reporting that at least 300 blacks were killed and that, in a rush to bury bodies, few records of burials were kept.Approximately 800 people had been admitted to local hospitals during the rioting. They are believed to have been mostly white, although  Hirsch mentions that blacks were brought to white hospitals and a National Guard medical unit provided care for blacks as well.

The business district of Tulsa was completely destroyed. This included 191 businesses, several churches, a hospital, and a junior high school. The Red Cross estimated that 1,256 houses were burned and 215 were looted. Estimates put the real estate and personal property damage at property damage at $30 million in 2015 dollars. Most insurance claims were denied. Ten thousand were left homeless.

According to some accounts, Dick Rowland was kept in the county prison until the day after the riot, when the police secretly transported him out of town. The case against him was dropped in September following a letter from Sarah Page saying she did not wish to press charges. Little is known about his life afterwards. The whereabouts of Sarah Page after the riot is also unknown.

* * *

In order to properly understand these events, one must carefully examine the conditions of Oklahoma at the time – the details of which many today may find surprising.

During the First World War, wages and working conditions dramatically improved for many American workers. The federal government enforced a “labor truce” after labor battles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which were often extremely violent. While there was a relative boom with wages increasing during the war, labor unrest rose in the aftermath as employers attempted to return wages conditions to pre-war levels. Troops returning from Europe were rapidly demobilized with no plan for reintegration into the civilian economy. In northern cities white working class people feared economic competition and insecurity in the wake of the “Great Migration” when over half a million black people migrated to northern cities. Increasing tension resulted from African-Americans workers often being used as strikebreakers. Ironically, these post-war tensions dovetailed with the anti-Communist “Red Scare” in the wake of the Russian Revolution, with fears spread by Justice Department spokesmen that returning black soldiers would disseminate “Bolshevik” ideas to radicalized communities.

In 1919, during what became known as the “Red Summer,” social tensions exploded. White mobs attacked black communities in more than three dozen US cities. In one Chicago riot, at least 38 people died and 500 were injured. High death tolls also occurred in rioting in Washington, DC and Elaine, Arkansas. In some instances, notably Chicago, black people heroically defended themselves, their homes, and property.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Tulsa was originally settled by the Creek and Lochapoka tribes in 1836 in what was then Indian Territory. In the later 19th century, Indian land was expropriated in several waves and white settlement increased. In several land runs, much of the land was auctioned to white settlers. Tulsa itself was  incorporated in January 18, 1898, nearly a decade before Oklahoma became a state in 1907.

Most Oklahoma settlers came from Southern states and carried with them a legacy of racism. Jim Crow segregations was enforced as the law of the land. The 1907 Oklahoma State Constitution effectively disenfranchised most blacks, prohibiting them from sitting on juries, or holding local elective office. In 1916 Tulsa passed an ordinance prohibiting blacks and whites from residing on any block where three-fourths or more of the residents were of the other race, mandating racial segregation. Although the US Supreme Court declared this unconstitutional in 1917, the ordinance remained on the books. In fact, just three weeks before the riot, a middle aged black couple was arrested and fined the then sizable sum of $10 for refusing to sit in the back of a streetcar.

The Ku Klux Klan began a revival in 1915 and became a major presence in Oklahoma in 1921.It has been estimated that Tulsa had 3,200 residents in the Klan in 1921 out of a population of about 72,000. As elsewhere in the Southern US lynching was common. Between Oklahoma’s declaration of statehood in 1907 and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 31 people were lynched, 26 of whom were black. One significant Oklahoma lynching was that of a mother and son, Laura and L.D. Nelson, who were lynched in 1911 in the town of Okemah. Charley Guthrie, the father of folksinger Woody Guthrie, was a participant.

Despite this hostile environment due partly to the efforts of Edwin McCabe, Oklahoma came to have many thriving black towns, populated by settlers from Kansas and other states. McCabe was an African-American lawyer and politician who encouraged black migration to Oklahoma and attempted to gain support for a project to make Oklahoma an all black state. From 1900 to 1906 the black population of the territory doubled.

Founded by O.W. Gurley, an African-American landowner from Arkansas, Greenwood was one such black enclave, its population 11,000 sufficient for it to be known as “Little Africa”. It was a 36 block area on the north side of Tulsa, separated from white Tulsa by the Frisco rail line. The district had 21 churches, 212 restaurants, 2 movie theaters, several nightclubs, and 400 businesses.  The Tulsa Star, which promoted black unity and achievement, was published in Greenwood. The Stratford Hotel in Greenwood was the largest black owned hotel in the US. The prosperous commercial area along Greenwood Avenue became known as the “Negro Wall Street” (today known instead as “Black Wall Street”). While the majority of Greenwood residents worked as servants or domestic help for white Tulsa families, the district  was home to lawyers, doctors and other professionals, which included several multi-millionaires. According to Randy Krehbiel’s “The Questions That Remain”, Greenwood  schools, although poorly funded, were of high quality.

Gurley, the founder, resigned from a presidential appointment under Grover Cleveland (likely something within the Postal Service) and specifying that it was only to be resold to black people. J.B. Stradford, an African-American businessman who later built the aforementioned namesake hotel, also contributed greatly to the development of Greenwood, believing that African-Americans should collectively pool their resources and cooperate economically. In 1899, he moved to Tulsa, buying large tracts of real estate in what became Greenwood, reselling exclusively to African-Americans.

In the midst of all of this dynamism, it’s worth noting Tulsa was in the center of the Oklahoma oil region. Oil strikes in the area in the early 1900s remade the city. An oil strike at Glen Pool in 1905, the largest oil discovery at the time, caused global oil prices to plummet and made Oklahoma the world center of oil exploration. By 1909 there were 126 oil companies based in Tulsa, causing the population to rise from 7,298 in 1907 to 72,000 in 1920.The city became a major financial center; a boomtown atmosphere prevailed.

Racial tensions in Tulsa were intertwined with a morass of corruption in the city. According to  “The Eruption of Tulsa” by Walter White of the NAACP, early 20th century Tulsa was controlled by a corrupt vice ring which allowed bordellos, illegal gambling, whiskey (during the early days of Prohibition) and the almost open robbery of stores and banks, with only a thin chance of conviction or arrest of the criminals. According to “The Eruption of Tulsa” an article by William White, an NAACP official reporting on the Tulsa riot, published in the Nation in the summer of 1921,6 out of 100 citizens of Tulsa were under indictment for a crime at the time of the 1921 riot, with little likelihood of ever being brought to trial. White and other writers mention that, because of the “get rich quick” mentality prevalent among more law abiding citizens, there was widespread apathy towards politics and political corruption.

* * *

The details of what transpired between Rowland and Page are not conclusively known. Some suggest Rowland tripped and grabbed Page’s arm in an attempt to steady himself or that Rowland stepped on Page’s toe.

Several writers have considered the fact that both Rowland and Page were working on Memorial Day to be unusual. Some believe it likely they had known each other. The only bathroom available to Rowland while shining shoes outside the Drexel Building was at the top, necessitating him to frequently use the elevator which Page operated. It has been claimed by a relative of Rowland that Rowland and Page had some sort of romantic or sexual history, which would have been very dangerous for them during that era, although no evidence of this has appeared.

Even their full identities are unknown to this day. Rowland, believed to have been the son of a couple who owned a boarding house on East Archer Street, seems to have been fairly well known, although there is disagreement about his actual age and the identity of his birth parents. Accounts describe him as well-liked by members of the Tulsa legal community, who were often his customers. Page was reportedly an orphan working her way through business college, but this is disputed. There is evidence to suggest that she was actually 15, originally from Kansas City, and waiting for a divorce to be finalized.

The police probably questioned Page, but no surviving transcript of their interview or report has survived. According to Hirsch, Page told the police that she would not press charges. (In light of the charges ultimately being later dropped for this very reason, this seems quite possible.)

It was the following morning that Rowland was arrested by Detective Henry Carmichael and Henry Pack, himself one of two black policeman on Tulsa’s 45 man force. He was initially and placed in the Tulsa City Jail.

At this point, local newspapers picked up the story. The Tulsa Tribune, one of two white-owned papers and known for its sensationalism, broke the story that afternoon of Rowland’s arrest with the headline, “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator”. The article claimed Rowland scratched Page, tore her clothes, and that he was now wanted for assault.  According to “The Questions Which Remain”, there are accounts that the evining edition of the Tribune ran an editorial entitled “To Lynch Negro Tonight”, warning of a potential lynching of Rowland. All hard copies of that edition have been destroyed and the existence of this editorial is disputed.

In any case, that edition of the Tribune came out at 3 pm. At 4, an anonymous caller told Police Commissioner J.M. Adkinson that Rowland would be lynched. This prompted authorities to move him to the more secure facility on the top floor of the Tulsa County Courthouse, which was, not insignificantly, closer to Greenwood.

Hundreds gathered outisde the courthouse. By sundown at 7:30 pm the crowd , according to some accounts now numbering about two thousand, appeared to have the makings of a lynch mob. Adkinson and Police Chief John Gustafson wanted the newly elected sheriff of Tulsa County, Sheriff Willard McCullough, to take Rowland outside of town, a tactic which had been successfully used elsewhere to disperse lynch mobs.

After a lynching the prior year that some credit with destroying the career of his predecessor, McCullough took steps to increase security. He organized his deputies were into a defensive formation with gunmen on the rooftop. The elevator was disabled, with men barricaded at the top of the stairs with orders to shoot intruders on sight. According to Tulsaworld.com, there were no police inside the courthouse itself, suggesting bad relations between the sheriff’s forces and municipal police may have contributed to the failure to control the escalating situation.

“The Questions Which Remain” describes Sheriff McCullough at one point going outside the building, attempting to talk the mob into going home. According to a witness, he was shouted down.. About 8:20 pm, three white men entered the courthouse demanding Rowland. They were turned away. The article says  that Police Chief Gustafson was less concerned about dispersing the crowd and more worried about armed blacks. Gustafson at some point  appealed to the Oklahoma National Guard commander for help “to clear the streets of negroes,” but was told that only the governor had the authority to call the local guard into service.

At this point, news reached Greenwood. Militant WWI veterans favored military action, while older members of the community feared the consequences. Two contingents of blacks met with McCullough and his black deputy, Barney Cleaver, obtaining reassurances of Rowland’s safety. O.W. Gurley, Greenwood’s founder, walked to the courthouse and met with the sheriff and obtained further assurances personally, before returning to Greenwood and attempting to calm residents.

A second lynching threat was called in to a northside movie theater. Though out the early evening, Greenwood community leaders offered McCullough assistance, only to be rebuffed each time. Major James Bell of the 180th Division of the Oklahoma National Guard also called McCullough and was given reassurances the situation was under control.

When rumors reached Greenwood that evening that the white mob had stormed the jail, a group of about 30 armed men from Greenwood  assembled in front of the Tulsa Star offices before marching to the courthouse. They offered to help but were again told to go home by Sheriff McCullough and Deputy Cleaver.

Seeing armed black men, members of the white mob at the courthouse went home to get their own guns. A group headed for the National Guard armory at Sixth Street and Norfolk Avenue to seize the stockpile of arms held there. Major Bell had previously been informed of the growing civil unrest and undertook measures to prevent a breach of the armory.

A total of around 35 guardsmen were stationed between three units in the city.

All of them, at this time, were ordered to put on their uniforms and assemble at the armory. A crowd of between 300-400 whites came to the armory, soon attempting to break in through a window. Major Bell dispersed them with a stern warning that his men inside the armory were under orders to shoot anyone who tried to enter.

By late evening, the situation at the courthouse was becoming increasingly tense. Several Tulsa community and religious leaders, including Rev. Charles Kerr of the First Presbyterian Church, tried to talk the crowd out of mob action and convince people to go home. Kerr also later allowed refugees from the rioting to shelter in his church and was later acclaimed as the only Protestant minister to have put forth significant effort to stop the race riot. He was, overall, one of the few white community leaders to do so. The crowd however, did not disburse.

Around 10 PM, another group of about 75 armed Greenwood residents arrived at the courthouse. The sheriff again persuaded them to leave. According to “The Questions Which Remain”, as they were complying, a white  former county investigator named E.S. MacQueen attempted to disarm a black man, sometimes identified as Johnny Cole). As MacQueen and Cole wrestled over the latter’s gun, it went off. As Sheriff McCullough later said, “all hell broke loose,” with shots being fired by both sides. McCullough, who had been attempting to address the crowd, ran for cover to a nearby hotel. (He soon returned to his post.)

Photo courtesy WIkimedia Commons
Photo courtesy WIkimedia Commons

The details of ensuing events are hazy.. A group of whites, including members of the city police, broke into Bardon’s Sporting Goods store across the street from the courthouse and began looting it, taking guns and ammunition.

The white mob began chasing blacks toward Greenwood, looting more stores for weapons on the way. Panic ensued as the mob began firing on any blacks in the crowd. Blacks fired back. This initial fighting may have lasted less than a minute but at least twelve people were killed immediately – ten white and  two black. Scattered gun fighting continued in the northern area of the business district until midnight, when it appeared that all blacks had been pushed into Greenwood.

As the shooting rampage began, Chief Gustafson mobilized the entire police department, about 65 men, and Commissioner Adkinson commissioned as many as 400 special deputies. At this time, the Oklahoma National Guard commander, Adjutant General Charles Barrett ordered the National Guard units in Tulsa to make themselves available to local authorities. The small number of National Guard already in Tulsa attempted to get between the combatants along the Frisco Railroad tracks and Detroit Avenue.

Around 11 pm, additional units of the Oklahoma National Guard assembled at the armory and set in motion a plan to subdue the rioters. Their commander, however,  was not able to get the signatures necessary from local authorities to take action for over two hours. The main difficulty had been in  reaching the barricaded McCullough. A Tulsa World reporter was finally able to approach McCullough and apprise him of the situation.

Groups of Guardsmen moved into position to guard the courthouse and police station, and to restore order along the Frisco tracks. They were joined by American Legion volunteers from Tulsa and surrounding towns. Many accounts describe the National Guard as primarily protecting white property. There were persistent rumors throughout the night and early morning that hundreds of blacks were coming to invade Tulsa and join in a “negro uprising”. Groups were sent to guard the city power plant and water works. Police, Legionnaires, and special deputies roamed the city in squads and rounded up blacks outside Greenwood in search of the supposed invaders.

Blacks found outside Greenwood were sent to the Convention Center (now Brady Theater) on Brady Street, along with McNulty Park, a minor league baseball stadium, and later at the city’s fairgrounds.

Around midnight, a smaller but even more determined group of white rioters gathered near the courthouse, again demanding Rowland be handed over for a lynching. They attempted to storm the building but were forced back by the sheriff and his deputies.

Though out the early hours of Wednesday morning, the gunfights between groups of whites and blacks went on, primarily concentrated along the Frisco tracks, dividing the white and black areas. In one incident, passengers on an incoming train were caught in the crossfire and were forced to take cover on the floor of the train as the train took hits from both sides.

Whites began making forays by car into the Greenwood district, firing into businesses and residences.  Around 1 am, the white mob began setting fires in businesses on Archer Street, in the commercial area on the edge of Greenwood. Crews from the Tulsa Fire Department were turned back at gunpoint. By 4 am, it was estimated that two dozen black owned businesses had been set on fire. Gun battles continued though out the early morning, although at a lower level. Greenwood residents fired back to defend their property.

“The Questions That Remain” says that later statements by witnesses claimed that men in uniform – either National Guardsmen or ex-servicemen – carried oil into Greenwood in order to better set fire to the homes after looting them. Tulsa police may have been involved in the mayhem as looters and arsonists themselves. V.B. Bostic, a black deputy sheriff, said he was led out of his home by a white traffic officer he recognized, who proceeded to set fire to his house.

While Greenwood residents continued to take up arms in community defense, many others began fleeing the area.

At the 5 am sunrise, according to some reports, either a train whistle or a siren was heard. Many rioters took this as a signal to launch an all-out assault on Greenwood. After a white man was killed by a sniper in Greenwood after he stepped out from behind the Frisco train depot a charge was led by five white men in a car, all of whom were killed by gunfire. Crowds of rioters poured into Greenwood. Terrified remaining residents fled for their lives as the large mob swept through Greenwood. Rioters shot indiscriminately, killing many and looting even more buildings and houses. Several Greenfield residents later testified that residents were ordered to the street, where they faced being shot or sent to a detention center.

Dr. A.C. Jackson, the renowned African-American surgeon, was killed after defending his home and family from the mob. He had been persuaded to surrender to a white Guardsman he knew personally, accepting assurances no harm would come to him. On the way to the convention hall, Jackson was shot and killed by a rioter.

At dawn, a force of about 1500 National Guard and others entered Greenwood from the south and the west with orders to take into custody unarmed blacks and subdue any who resisted. Survivors later called it an invading army. Most terrified Greenwood residents, either fled or surrendered peacefully, though some continued armed resistance. The Guard reported short skirmishes moving down Standpipe Hill, near the present day Tulsa campus of the University of Oklahoma. Rumors spread that the newly built Mount Zion Baptist Church was being used as a fortress and that twenty caskets of rifles had been delivered to the church, but no evidence of this has been found. The National Guard reported a long battle at the church in which 50 blacks “fought like tigers.” When the gunmen refused to emerge the church  was burned to the ground. White rioters set up a machine gun emplacement on the top of a hill where it fired down into the church, killing many.

By early Wednesday morning, most of Tulsa’s black citizens had fled in a mass exodus. An undetermined number of blacks were held at various detention centers though out the city.

Around 9:15, 109 additional troops from the Oklahoma National Guard commanded by Adjutant General Charles Barnett arrived in Tulsa by special train. Bartlett summoned further reinforcements from other Oklahoma cities, and martial law in was declared at 11:49 am. By noon most of the violence had finally been suppressed.

Of course, Greenwood was virtually empty by this time. A few blacks hid in downtown churches or with white employees but the majority had either fled or were being held in detention.  Throughout Wednesday afternoon and Thursday National Guard patrols went into the countryside to pick up fleeing blacks, some of whom had made it to neighboring cities. Accounts suggest some made it as far as Kansas City. A fair number never returned. At or en route to the detention centers, blacks were subject to harassment, humiliation, and robbery. Many lived at the fairgrounds camp, for the next several weeks, which at its height functioned as a refugee camp, housing up to 5,000.

A grand jury convened the second week of June blamed armed blacks at the courthouse as the main cause of the riot. Agitation for social equality, which was then taken to mean racial intermarriage, and lax law enforcement were blamed as indirect causes. Eighty eight indictments were served, mostly to blacks, bur few seemed to have been served.

In another trial in July Police Chief Gustafson was found guilty of neglect of duty, corruption, and conspiring to free  He was removed from office. Gustafson continued his private detective practice.

* * *

In the aftermath of what can only be described as an atrocity, a group appointed by the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce led by W. Tate Brady, a Tulsa businessman, devised a scheme to make Greenwood prohibitively expensive by means of new building codes, forcing blacks to move further north from Tulsa and enabling white businessmen to buy up land rezoned as commercial or industrial. The scheme was later overturned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, who ruled it unconstitutional, but efforts at disenfranchisement and segregartion continued.

In April of 1922 the 1,700 members of the Ku Klux Klan held a march through downtown Tulsa. In city and county elections later that of that year, Klan candidates took every office up for election. The following August, the governor of Oklahoma again declared martial law in Tulsa County because of Klan activity.

The Tulsa riot gave impetus to the African Black Brotherhood, who believed that blacks could never achieve full equality under capitalism. The ABB formed in 1919 and grew in fame and membership in the wake of the riot . group was a revolutionary socialist organization originating in Harlem, ultimately shifting from a black nationalist position to one of more interracial working class solidarity in opposition to the Back To Africa movement of Marcus Garvey. The ABB was absorbed into the US Communist Party, where members coming from the ABB advocated a stronger struggle against racism than generally favored by white party members. The ABB contributed to the radicalization of the Harlem Renaissance and a turn to socialism among black intellectuals. It was an inspiration for later black radical groups such as the Black Panther Party.

Despite opposition and punitive zoning laws designed to prevent reconstruction, the residents of Greenwood rebuilt, much of the district being made whole again after five years. It remained a vital black community, although it never fully recovered from the devastation. By 1942, the community had more than 240 black-owned businesses, but faced a gradual decline as the early residents died or moved away. Desegregation in the 1960s led to a major economic decline. Black family-owned businesses were undermined. In the 1970s much of Greenwood was demolished to make way for a freeway. The University of Oklahoma Tulsa campus and Langston University were also built atop the area. Today, Greenwood is a depressed community, under-served by supermarkets and other facilities.

For decades the Tulsa riot was little known and rarely mentioned, even by African-Americans living in Tulsa.  Writing for the New York Times in 2011, A.G..Sulzberger  says current revival of interest in the Tulsa Race Riot is largely due to the efforts of Don Ross, a magazine publisher and former state representative. In 2001 Ross and Oklahoma State Representative Maxine Horner introduced legislation to create the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission. Survivors of the riot have received some official recognition but efforts to establish reparations have failed.

Sulzberger says that since retirement, Ross has distanced himself from efforts for compensation, saying there was not enough interest from blacks or whites.

Since retiring, Mr. Ross has extracted himself from those efforts, believing that neither blacks nor whites were committed to the task. He no longer even speaks to the survivors. “I cut that connection,” he said. “It was too heartbreaking .”

* * *

Kate Frey has a background as an international educator and has taught and worked in China, Russia, Bosnia, Germany, as well as the US. She currently lives near Portland, Maine. She is a member of Socialist Alternative. She can be contacted at Ktfrey5@gmail.com.

 

Let’s Get It Together: A Memo to Socialist Alternative, the ISO, the Green Party, and Everyone Else about Bernie Sanders

If we quit the Race to the Correct Position, cool off and shut up a little bit, we might actually get something done

By Jay Monaco

(Author’s Note: I am a dues-paying member of Socialist Alternative in good standing, but the following represents my own views, and my own views alone. It should not be interpreted to reflect the opinion of any SA branch, nor CAJE, nor the other members of the Communique Collective. It is not intended to be a challenge to democratic centralism or even to indicate the beginnings of a military coup. It has not been vetted, edited, or endorsed by anyone, which is how I prefer it.)

There is a prevailing notion on the Left today that a substantive intramural debate is underway between the parties and factions as to how best to deal with the frustrating Bernie Sanders campaign and how to address the swelling ranks of his supporters. This is, at best, an illusion. At worst, it’s a self-deception. The truth is, nobody is talking in any practical way about how to deal with the Sanders campaign or how to address his supporters.

Are we going to get serious? Do we want to?

What’s actually the plan? Does anybody know?

On one end of the spectrum, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have joined the bandwagon wholesale. Their general position seems to be that there are some positive things about the Sanders campaign, some positive things are better than no positive things (the usual), so let’s chalk it up to a win. We deserve to feel good sometimes. Don’t fight it. We’re gonna realign it all, man! Feel the Bern!

I mean, okay. It’s certainly tempting, but at the end of the day, the Power of Positive Thinking isn’t usually considered a legitimate political outlook or strategy.

The parties further to the left have primarily taken an absolutist approach of opposition. The campaign is bourgeois sheepdogging, Bernie’s an imperialist capitalist shill, elections suck, and Bernie’s supporters are a bunch of idiots, PERIOD. End of discussion, we win the socialism.

On closer examination, pretty much everybody agrees about the sheepdogging aspect, and most of us also agree that Bernie is a – de facto if not de jure – imperialist capitalist shill. The rest of the Leftist Champion approach actually boils down to the antithesis of strategy, a hollow declaration of dialectical superiority and a return to normal operations, whatever those might (or might not) be. This approach could even be made more palatable were it coupled with an alternative path forward rather than an embrace of crypto-elite obscurity, but it never is.

Somewhere tumbling about in the middle lie Socialist Alternative (SA), the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and the Greens. For those keeping score, that’s the two big Trotskyist groups aligned with the Green Party, a confusing, occasionally anti-capitalist party whose organizational acumen grants them name recognition even if nobody comprehends what exactly they’re all about.

All three of these groups should be commended for the adoption of nuanced positions on the Sanders campaign. After all, like most political matters that involve breathing people rather than mere ideas, this is a nuanced issue. There’s a lot of gray here. Any practical strategy that is to lead to tangible long-term results requires grappling with that nuance. Nuance on the left is usually a sign we are doing something right.

What has thus far proven difficult for each of these three groups is defining this middle ground, carving and claiming a particular slice of it. It started on May 5, with the ISO’s Ashley Smith penning “The Problem with Bernie Sanders.” The piece represents a concise, compelling, and effective summary of Sanders’ deficiencies, his betrayal of the version of left-wing politics that he himself espoused for decades, and makes the case that some of the end results of this campaign could be very damaging to the broader left if not mitigated. His position (and by extension that of the ISO) differs from the dismissive purists in the sense that there is an acknowledgement that the electoral arena must not be abandoned, a recognition that some form of positive alternative strategy is needed, and no counterproductive desire to scorn Sanders’ supporters as feeble lost lambs.

This was followed, on May 9, by the Socialist Alternative position, delivered via Philip Locker, which was met with much more criticism than the ISO’s – even, in some cases, from SA members themselves. With no disrespect intended toward Comrade Locker, the critics can perhaps be forgiven for finding it confusing; the piece begins with effusive praise for many of Sanders’ policies, lightly criticizes others, denounces Sanders’ run as a Democrat while expressing a bizarre hope that he will change his mind about running as an independent after dropping out of the primary. After noting that Sanders is, theoretically at least, the furthest to the left of any national politician in at least a couple of generations, there’s a bit of a tenuous jump ostensibly connecting this notion with the importance of building mass movements, then suggesting that, for some reason, as long as Bernie isn’t going to win the nomination, he should be supported.

Yeah, there’s no two ways about it – it’s confusing. The party members’ complaint about the statement’s lack of clarity is justified. That said, the distillation of his view by those outside the party as an echoing of the DSA’s position is unfair. While it’s true that he does at times paint a rosy picture of the Senator from Vermont, the position he states is far from unqualified support. In character, it would not be properly described as blindly optimistic so much as cautiously, strategically aspirational. This aspect is most effectively stated in the statement’s final section, in which Locker calls attention to the fact that there is much opportunity in the present moment, opportunity which should not be wasted, and we should take advantage of the positive aspects of the campaign, mitigating the negative through sympathetic engagement with Sanders supporters.

You’re not alone if you detect a difference in tone but not much of one in substance. To satiate the masses demanding more of this (no), Locker and Todd Cretien of the ISO issued new dueling statements together. This serves to clarify the primary difference between the two parties as one of approach. The ISO adopts a negative (insofar as it is primarily denunciatory) focus on Bernie’s politics, the futile, dangerous, traitorous endeavor that is running within the Democratic Party, and they want to talk with Sanders supporters. SA, in contrast, adopts a positive approach focusing on Sanders’ best policy proposals, while also rejecting his politics, and they want to talk with Sanders supporters.

There’s a joke out there among the socialists that the difference between the two is actually that SA’s statement ends in a semi-colon and the ISO’s ends in a period. Sure, leftists aren’t known for making great jokes, but it’s not all that far off. One thing both have in common? Neither of them proposes anything more specific than “engaging with the Sanders people.”

Here’s the kicker – nobody actually cares about any of this. Yes, we care. I guess it’s cool that somebody does. But as virtually all the different parties to this “debate” have pointed out in one context or another, the left is tiny and weak. I would respectfully posit that we will remain so if we use ourselves as a barometer for the things the working class cares about or, even worse, if we insist on berating ordinary people for caring about the wrong things.

I mean, come on, how is this a debate? The only leftist actors actually attempting to answer the question at all are the Trots and Greens in the middle. But not only do these groups not truly seem to disagree on any major points, so much as tone, one more cheerful than the other, but there seems to be some hesitation in terms of moving on from the tonal discussion to anything specific. There are no real tactics being defined here, and surely no strategy.

This fact is underscored by the two most recent salvos in this riveting contest: the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins’ “Bernie Sanders is no Eugene Debs” on May 26 (appearing in the Socialist Worker, an ISO publication), followed after a bit of a delay by SA’s Bryan Koulouris on July 7 (“A Response to Howie Hawkins: How to Win Sanders Supporters to Independent Working Class Politics”). Both pieces are, in fairness, at least attempts at clearly-defined proposals, even if both fall short.

Both devote the vast majority of their collective many thousands of words to subjects on which they entirely agree, whether they’ll admit it or not. At times, it seems unclear as to whether they even realize this is the case. Each of the writers uses an ostensibly competing aspect of the early 20th-century Socialist Party of America, of which Eugene Debs was a member, to illustrate, as though in unison, the agreed-upon importance of an independent workers’ party. Both of them, vehemently and enthusiastically, consider the Democratic Party to be the graveyard of social movements. Both agree that there needs to be a “Plan B” for when Bernie drops out of the race. Both agree that Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee for president, has a major role to play in all of this. Both agree that the approach toward Sanders supporters should avoid condescension. Both agree that the present moment is an important opportunity for the left to seize.

Perhaps the most significant development to be found here is the fact that both, each after their own fashion, seem to agree that we need to be organized, politically realistic, and even (gasp) politically savvy.

If you searches hard enough, of course, you can discover a few emergent differences worth noting, although a few of them might actually be based in misunderstanding rather than legitimate disagreement. When Hawkins writes, “Unfortunately, too many self-professed socialists in the U.S. have abandoned the socialist principle of independent political action. They argue instead that whether or not to support a Democrat or an independent candidate is a question of tactics, not principle,” he sounds as though he is arguing with the DSA, despite calling out Socialist Alternative by name. Whatever the deficiencies in the SA position’s clarity, it is sufficiently clear that they have indicated no such thing.

From here, Hawkins launches into an exploration of the heroic Debs and his maintenance of principles rooted in strategy throughout his participation in electoral politics. Debs’ denunciations of the major parties sound nearly identical to our “two wings of a single Corporate Party” mantra, and his approach by running with the Socialist Party was sound and admirable. To this point, however, Koulouris points out that the SPA of Debs’ era was itself the kind of inconsistently leftist party prone to damaging compromise that Hawkins decries. So is, it’s worth noting, Hawkins’ own Green Party. In fact, the SPA was something of a left-leaning umbrella sheltering everyone from left-liberals to ultra-leftists. Many people held dual membership in SPA and either more radical parties or even, yes, the Democratic Party.

LetsGetittogether2

Koulouris does not suggest, as DSA members might, that the Democratic Party can itself be transformed into such a wide left-leaning canopy, but he does effectively demonstrate that Debs’ independent party membership is itself more of a gray area than some of us would like to admit. He points out that the “party also did not emerge ‘fully-formed’ as a working-class organization…it came about through splits in populist and progressive movements that consisted of farmers and small business owners alongside working-class people.” It is here, in particular, that Koulouris and SA have the edge and perhaps come closest to the heart of the matter. Their focus on Bernie’s best policies, the things even more of us agree upon, enables greater flexibility to “address consciousness as it actually exists rather than as we wish it would be.”

As I previously stated, both pieces are strongest in the sense that they aspire toward actually playing the game of politics. Things like analysis, intentional planning, competent organization, and even something as lowly as cleverness are required, not merely for victory, nor even merely for our advance, but perhaps it is required if we are to have so much as any hope of avoiding outright extinction.

Their mutual recognition that the current position of the left is one of marginalization, weakness, and diminutive numbers does not lead them fully to the question nobody is answering. That’s why, at long last, this is still not a debate. Posed seriously, the question is: What must we do to become less marginalized, more strong, and greater in number? The follow-up: How do we do those things?

Both Hawkins and Koulouris dance around the problem. While others outside of this exchange have suggested Bernie’s claim to be a socialist to be an important step toward normalizing the word in our cultural discourse, Hawkins is correct from a political perspective in recognizing the flip side, the harm inherent to confusing people as to what socialism truly is. He is practical about this, putting it forward as a necessary key component in any interaction with supporters who might be confused about the word’s meaning.

He is also correct, from the position of political reality, to scoff at the insistence held by Koulouris and others at SA that Bernie could be persuaded to run as an independent after the primary. “How can it be ruled out that if Sanders comes under intense pressure from his supporters he could be pushed further than he currently intends?” Koulouris asks. As though anticipating the question, Hawkins had previously written, “By trying to get Democratic politicians to say and do what the left wants them to say and do, the left has been engaged in a pathetic and hopeless attempt at political ventriloquism.”

With more refreshing political realism, Hawkins goes on to point out that such an independent campaign is not even logistically possible. Several states ban candidates from appearing on the ballot as an independent after running in the primary of a major party. In the states that remain, an effort would need to be started now to ensure a ballot line. No one is doing this, Sanders least of all. Hawkins here presents his party’s candidate, Jill Stein, as a central component of the political path forward, pointing out that efforts based exclusively around someone running in the democratic party might be hindering Stein – who is actually going to run as an independent candidate in this universe – in her efforts to marshal volunteers to gather the signatures required to get on the ballot.

Koulouris counters with tepid support for Stein’s candidacy, but a disinclination toward diverting time and resources to the Greens’ ballot drive when the Sanders campaign is garnering so much more attention than Stein and the Greens can hope for. Here, finally, we arrive at the closest thing to a brass tacks discussion. Here at last is a political disagreement. In dispute is which has greater strategic value, a ballot line for the kind of independent left party that both claim to be of central importance, or communicating with people where they are – in this case, as distasteful as it may seem, around a democratic primary campaign.

Getittogether1

The possibility explored by neither as they talk past one another is that both might be important, and with the right plan and effective implementation, both might be doable.

Further along these lines, Hawkins teeters between the brilliant and the obtuse:

“Some argue that we should just build movements outside the electoral arena for now, and that when they get big enough, an independent left party will emerge from them. Social movements making demands on the system are simply lobbying the Democrats in the absence of an independent left electoral alternative. An independent left party is needed so the Democrats are forced to respond to movement demands or lose votes to the left. Movements ebb and flow. A party is needed to keep activists organized and engaged during the downturns in social movements and provide organized support and perspectives when movements expand.”

Not only is no one arguing any such thing, but we have again the mistaken assumption of a zero-sum situation. Building non-electoral movements – recent examples being the nationwide minimum wage fight, Black Lives Matter, even Occupy to a certain degree – have, at this point, sufficiently demonstrated themselves to work a tremendous effect. Those socialists, in SA or otherwise, who advocate for issue-based mobilization, are not doing so instead of trying to form a party, or because they don’t want to form a party.

Sometimes, to be honest, I think it’s because they don’t know how. Hawkins, to be sure, has more electoral experience than virtually anyone on the Left besides Stein. He has undoubtedly been exposed to the finer points of the broader politics game, but little of this is apparent from the argument presented in his piece. I do look forward to hearing more from him on the subject.

Both Koulouris and Hawkins wrote at length about the Socialist Party of America of a hundred years ago, but neither gets into the weeds of how we might replicate that relative success. The fact is, if we quit the Race for the Correct Position, maybe cool off and shut up a little, maybe even kinda get our act together, we can effectively reach out to Sanders supporters, lay the preliminary foundation for the long process of building that party we all say we want, get Jill Stein on all 50 state ballots so the Left is at least tacitly represented in the Big Vote, and maintain our ideological purity.

In other words, we’d better be careful or we might risk actually being able to get something done. And while I, sadly, have no magical formula to hawk here today, I do have some specific strategic and tactical proposals I would present for consideration and (actual) debate.

  1. Selectiveness, Precision, and Clarity in Communication

Everyone participating in the discussion so far agrees that we should be attending Sanders events and talking with supporters. But what is our overall objective? If we’re serious about this, we shouldn’t be trying to convert the hopeful enthusiasts of relatively compassionate Keynesian capitalism into born-again Marxists. Not overnight, at least.

What I mean to say is, do we want people to listen to what we are saying? Do we want our words to be heard, much less considered? If so, we need to be deliberate. Hawkins and the ISO folks provide few specifics in this regard beyond the need to tell people that the democratic party is bad for the working class. Koulouris, on the other hand, wants to talk to them about a $15 minimum wage, a “massive jobs program”, socialized medicine, and rejecting austerity, with simultaneously presented demands that Bernie be better about police brutality and Israel and refuse to endorse Hillary.

Neither approach is sufficient. The SA approach guarantees that the audience will be confused, while the Green/ISO approach guarantees the audience will be bummed out. We’ve got to do better than that. And if it seems like I’m sounding an awful lot like mainstream political strategists with regard to “messaging,” that’s because I am. I don’t apologize. There are plenty of political tactics and methods which are inherently immoral or unjust, but most are simply tools, neutral but for the hand that wieldeth them.

I’m not talking about deceiving anyone. It’s just a matter of identifying the best way for our message to be heard and to have maximum impact. Since people don’t like to feel stupid or condescended to, we must not take a dismissive approach to their enthusiasm for Sanders. Since people don’t like it when their bubbles get popped, we can’t show up shouting about how evil the Democratic Party is or rail about how Bernie supports Israeli apartheid. Personally, these facts are of crucial importance, but it’s not about me. Our audience will hear these words and promptly tune out the rest.

In fact, because people tend to resent the feeling of being told what to do, we shouldn’t even be shaming people who want to vote for a Democrat in November ’16. “Vote your conscience,” we should tell them. “Only you can decide what’s right in the ballot booth. Just remember that real power, real democracy, and real freedom can only come from the people and the streets.”

Again, I’m not suggesting we obscure or withhold information – far from it. Whenever we encounter responsive people, we will be asked questions, and we will answer them simply and honestly – about Bernie’s foreign policy, the evil democrats, Marxism, whatever. We just have to see this more as relationship-building and less as preaching a sermon.

“Bernie’s a great guy,” should be our approach. “Aren’t we all grateful we have someone running in the primary to say all these wonderful things and advocate for all these popular social programs and key society-transforming reforms? It’s too bad he’s not going to win, though, and the other democrats are just going to preserve the status quo. We don’t want all this to die, though, right? We need a real, lasting movement to carry this on. Isn’t that what you want?”

It’s not a sales pitch for Sham-Wow or anything, nor is it a script to be copied verbatim, but it’s the kind of communicative attitude that will make people like us without realizing it – and consequently interested in what we have to say. Koulouris is right to suggest we need to discuss specific policy movements and working class causes, but we can’t rattle off 27 of them and expect anyone to walk away remembering any of it. Let’s pick three. Minimum wage is pretty good, an especially strong choice due to the recent successes in cities and states nationwide. Universal Basic Income might be an even better choice, given that it’s a more radical and destabilizing reform – and also because it is actually a much more popular notion than many people realize. What about talking to them about a support system for workers who don’t have the benefit of unions – which is most of them – a system that leads toward more easy unionization and democratization of the workplace? Rent control? Public internet? Child allowances?

We can legitimately argue what our talking points should ultimately be. In fact, that’s precisely the kind of debate I wish we were already having. It doesn’t ultimately matter which of our awesome policy proposals we choose, nor are we bound by those that Sanders is supporting. The key is to pick a small number of easily digestible concepts and present them simply, as though each were common sense (which they are, more or less).

We can’t try to be the evangelists of socialist conversion, and that’s an approach that rarely works in the long run, anyway. What we want to be is the people they remember when they’re in despair because the ride is over and Bernie’s with Hillary and the world is crashing down.

  1. Maybe We Can Cooperate

Seriously, SA, the ISO, and the Greens should work together during this election cycle. We all agree that the Sanders campaign is an opportunity to reach more people than would otherwise be possible, and we also agree that Jill Stein’s candidacy is a net positive and should be supported. Working together, in whatever fashion or form that takes, we can track Sanders campaign events, ensure there is representation from the true left, and we can collectively determine where greater focus must be allocated toward pushing Stein’s line on the ballot.

Ideally, we’d go even further than this and embark upon some actual collaboration, where we meet together, plan together, form committees together, and resemble something of a unified effort. Maybe that’s too much of a stretch. Cooperation, however, manifested in a looser affiliation, affinity, affection, and broadly common goal, should be feasible.

If even this basic level of unity is not possible or desirable, at the very least we should coordinate with one another, communicate regularly, keep all the sister parties generally informed of one another’s activities and endeavors.

How else can a true independent workers’ party begin? Surely, we all realize that there are national media cameras at these things. If we put on a good enough show, they’re gonna eventually have to talk about us, which will boost our collective position considerably.

  1. Get Their Names!

It’s important to recognize that party-building and political organization goes well beyond the warm and fuzzies of speaking truth to fellow people into the much less sexy realm of data collection. Besides straight cash, the biggest operational advantage the major parties have on us is their voter databases. They know who everyone is, where they are, how they vote, and how to get hold of them. Just as we lack access to their millions (billions, really), we cannot expect such a resource to fall into our laps any time in the foreseeable future.

One advantage of being in our insignificant little position politically is that we’re not even trying to reach the broad voting population. That’s years away. What we need to do is figure out who our people are, the ones who are sympathetic but don’t know it or haven’t yet made the leap or, maybe, nobody’s talked to them yet. For the next six months, all of our people will be at Sanders rallies.

It’s important to maintain perspective with regard to Sanders supporters and their willingness to leave the two-party system. I would estimate, optimistically, that 75% of Bernie supporters will happily, or at least quite willingly, vote for whomever the democratic nominee turns out to be. But the other 25%? Those are our people. We need to go and meet them, we need their names, email addresses, contact info, etc. I’m not talking about recruiting people into one party or another. If any of us find new members organically at Sanders events, that’s great, but if we’re showing up just to try to swell the ranks of our particular sect, we’re wasting our time.

It is here, as many other areas, in which cooperation becomes especially important. Let’s worry about who wins which recruits further down the line. For now, let’s share the contact info we get. Let’s experiment with ways we can communicate with the people we identify, be it through a Facebook group or an email list or some other more effective medium.

When the day comes, and it will, when our people experience crisis as Bernie drops out, we not only want the disappointed masses to know how to find us, we want to know how to find them.

Party building. It’s worth a shot

  1. Tangible Resources

No, I don’t mean pamphlets about the dangers of the two-party system. I mean cash money, I mean people, and I mean food and supplies. I’m not trying to be flippant. We’re all limited on the Left, and I know that, but I also know neither SA, nor ISO, nor especially the Greens, are broke. Everybody has some money, it’s just a matter of it being spent where it can do the most good. Funds for printing original, creative, carefully-worded and visually appealing literature – preferably kept to one page – would go a long way if executed properly. Cash can do many things, of course, whether it’s purchasing food or coffee for groups of people we wish to reach, social media advertising, even to seed the kind of grass roots local initiatives that are likely to boost our credibility while at the same time, perhaps, likely to outlast the Sanders campaign and provide us a bridge to our post-crisis efforts.

All three parties have people, and we need them – dedicated, committed people who will sign up to cover events and follow through so that we have a substantial and noticeable presence, especially the larger ones. One of the strengths of the Left is precisely this relatively high level of commitment among party members. Between our organizations, we can find plenty of people willing to do the work. We just have to be organized and aware enough to get people where they are most needed.

Perhaps I’m biased, but New Hampshire itself provides the perfect example. Because of the first in the nation primary, a substantial percentage of the events Sanders holds in the entirety of his campaign will be held here. The state is geographically small and easy to cover, especially considering the fact that most of the events are held in the southern part of the state. Get up here. Get the money here. Everybody – SA, ISO, Greens, and anybody else who wants in.

* * *

Everything we seek to accomplish, from educating working people, to building the strength of organized labor, to running independent campaigns, to taking advantage of the campaigns of others depends upon action. We need not hesitate. Yes, we will screw up. Mistakes encountered through tangible efforts are inevitable – but preferable to paralytic inaction without missteps. This will be a learning process for all of us, but it’s a process that can’t begin until we stop talking and actually try things. We definitely don’t have anything to lose.

Few things, after all, are as likely to draw people into a movement, to gain their confidence and enthusiasm, than seeing that movement do things. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to be that movement, the one that does things – or, at the very least, tries.

[Edit 7/20 1552: Post revised to reflect that Ashley Smith’s gender is male and Eugene Debs was active within the Socialist Party of America, not the SPUSA, which formed many decades later. Thanks to the loyal readers below for calling these errors to my attention.]

This shouldn’t be an argument: Reflections on $15 and a Union

Photo credit: Danny Keating
Photo credit: Danny Keating

by Jay Monaco

Among the few things the entire left – and even some liberals – should and usually do agree on are the need for a drastically increased minimum wage and the need for strong unions. The day of action and solidarity last Thursday centered around both of those things, so we all got to spend the day together, agreeing. Politics and protest are extremely serious matters, but despite the requisite consistent solemnity and gravity, there are times we experience greater difficulty disguising the fact that we’re all simply happy to be doing what we’re doing.

The action begins

That was Thursday. The main event, planned long ago, was Boston’s contribution to the nationwide Fight for $15 demonstrations, which kicked off at 3:30 in the afternoon. But the day’s work actually started ten hours earlier.

Well, not for me – I wasn’t there, so I can’t claim credit. But other members of CAJE and Socialist Alternative  rose with the sun to gather at 6 AM at McDonald’s in Manchester, invading the franchise shoulder to shoulder with activists with Fight for $15, the Granite State Organizing Project, and veterans of Occupy New Hampshire.

Photo credit: Danny Keating
Photo credit: Danny Keating

Starting with this, the first of the day’s actions, it was not merely the chanting and the signs, the standard leaflets and messages of support for the workers in the restaurant, but the memorial respect and raising of consciousness with regard to the tragedy of Jeffrey Pendleton. The late Pendleton had himself been a long-term fast food worker as well as a participating activist fighting for a $15 minimum wage in New Hampshire – which, it should be noted, would more than double the wage floor in the Granite State, which currently has no minimum wage law and thus defaults to the federal obscenity that is $7.25. He was also homeless and therefore unable to pay $100 in bail for trifling charges and without a working cell phone containing numbers he might have called for help. He was crudely stashed, awaiting trial, at the infamously cruel Valley Street jail in Manchester, where he died. No one at the prison has yet told us why.

As befits his memory and story, many of the day’s remaining events would be conducted with his image in mind and on his behalf.

Photo credit: Danny Keating
Photo credit: Danny Keating

The McDonald’s manager must have a snitch embedded in the activist community (kidding!) because he had clearly expected the unwelcome horde for justice and calmly and immediately called the police, who suddenly swarmed the joint with overwhelming force – within minutes!

Fortunately, they did not beat anyone or tear gas the McDonald’s, but there was some disapproval noted by the crowd when the lead officer stated a refusal to shake the hand of an activist (who was, let’s be real, being far too accommodating in offering the friendly gesture in the first place), but that was that. The crowd was dispersed. On with the day.

Verizon picket line at the Crosspoint building, Lowell. (Photo credit: Danny Keating)
Verizon picket line at the Crosspoint building, Lowell. (Photo credit: Danny Keating)

I arrived on the scene several hours later, when it was time to board the buses for Boston at the Crosspoint building in Lowell – where we encountered our first intersection with the Verizon Strike that had just erupted furiously a day or two before. Verizon has a sizable workforce within the Crosspoint complex, a point made evident by the fact that these workers were shutting down traffic to the office tower with their picket line. The police were everywhere, but they did nothing to interfere with the picket line’s obstruction of business.

Supporting, as we do, the striking workers 100% and more, if necessary, we ourselves joined the picket for a couple rounds as we waited for the bus. The union leaders running the show weren’t aware our bus was picking us up here, but as soon as they heard what we were there for, we were welcomed with open arms. Many of the strikers we encountered, they told us, would also be making the trek to the Boston rally where they’d be joining up with fellow strikers from all over.

Solidarity coursing through our veins, we soon boarded the bus – generously provided by Fight for $15 – and were on our way.

This shouldn’t be an argument

Now, all this jubilation and encouragement and fresh energy we all felt in the face of this unqualified cooperation, support, and solidarity might be traced to the fact that it stands in such contrast with what we may encounter in the day to day. The fact is that a lot of our peers – even those in the working class and, even worse, even those who themselves make less than $15 an hour – oppose a drastic minimum wage hike and are ambivalent at best with regard to unions and the labor movement.

This includes, it must be pointed out, a wide swath of the Democratic Party.

Intellectually, I understand why so many embrace self-defeating and subservient philosophies – when you’ve been kicked down so many times and for so long, it’s hard to know what up and down even are anymore. But you don’t have to be a leftist to be on board with the kind of basic worker justice we’re talking about here. I do recommend, of course, that you do become a leftist, because it’s great to be a leftist, but you don’t have to.

I would suggest it’s difficult to argue (though many do it anyway!), given that we live in a society in which an unprecedented level of wealth has “been created,” that anyone, absolutely anyone, should be denied, at minimum, a place to live and enough food to be healthy. That’s just basic human decency, not communism. But here, we’re talking about something even more narrow than that – we’re talking about the idea that someone who works full time should be able to have a place to live and enough food to be healthy.

That is not the case today. In fact, that still wouldn’t be the case even if we raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Seriously, click that link. Put in the place where you live. This isn’t some fringe Soviet Math, this is MIT. This is a living wage calculation accepted by mainstream economics. And you basically can’t live anywhere with any decency or security on $15 per hour, never mind what we have now. It’s just not possible.

Is it not obvious that this is unacceptable? Is it not obvious that this is why we must fight, and win, a wage sufficient to live on?

When you oppose a minimum wage hike, you oppose other people – people not that different from yourself, despite what you’d like to think – making enough money to survive, no matter how hard or how long they work. Let’s just be clear on that.

Cue the people crowing about inflation, as if raising the minimum wage has ever caused some kind of manic price panic that swallows any benefit from the increase (hint: it hasn’t). For Christ’s sake, guys, even liberal economics would point out that the increased purchasing power gained by so many workers leads to increased sales and therefore increased profits.

Then there’s people who make $14 per hour today in some job that carries some degree of greater perceived respectability than, say, a “mere” fast food worker – “Why should I make the same as a fast food worker? Their work doesn’t mean shit!” they whine – and it’s important that they, and all of us, recognize that for what it is. A whine. A blow to the ego. Even if you already make $15 per day, other people making $15 doesn’t take your money away from you. And, frankly, returning again to the liberal market economics to which I don’t even subscribe, the competitive employment market will ultimately raise your wages, too. So stop whining and hating on your fellow worker for wanting to earn a wage that brings them closer to being able to actually afford to live here. In this country, I mean.

Or, you know, be able to make $100 bail for bullshit charges. Or not be homeless and exposed to the regular abuses of police and local officials.

Photo credit: Danny Keating
Photo credit: Danny Keating

Do we really need to argue about whether someone “deserves” $15 per hour when we’re talking about something that’s almost always less than even what is needed to survive? These are people working their ass off, working harder than you, doing a job you’d hate way more than the one you have now. And you want to deny them that tiny measure of dignity?

Photo credit: Danny Keating
Photo credit: Danny Keating

The same goes for unions and strikers. These aren’t spoiled, pampered people who don’t know how good they have. These are people, even those few lucky enough to be represented by unions today, who have been beaten down, robbed, forced to work harder for less. In the case of the Verizon workers, they’re not even striking for a pay raise. They’re just striking to exist, to be able to effectively stand together and fight for their interests.

You should be able to stand together with your fellow workers, and fight for your collective interests, too. Would you argue otherwise? You mean to say you don’t want those rights and protections? You love the Bill of Rights and all that shit but when it comes to actually having real rights, rights that mean something, for yourself, you say you don’t want them? That’s absurd.

We’ve all been beaten and robbed, and we’ve all been forced to work harder for less. This is collective. This is the last 35 years. This is – dare I say it – class-wide. The whole working class. And that includes you.

You could’ve been on that bus with us, heading down to the big rally, could have been at the rally carrying a sign, proud to be a person and a worker and able to stand up and say so.

But you weren’t. Ask yourself why.

The upside

The custom Pendleton flyers we distributed in Boston, raising awareness of our fallen comrade's story. (Photo credit: Danny Keating)
The custom Pendleton flyers we distributed in Boston, raising awareness of our fallen comrade’s story. (Photo credit: Danny Keating)

Like most protests, this was a well-orchestrated show, planned and coordinated in advance with city officials and the like. A gathering with speeches on the State House steps followed by an orderly procession through surrounding streets. It qualifies as a rally, sure, but not much of a protest, even with 2,000 people there. Objectively speaking, aside from my own feelings of joy throughout, it could best be described as a gathering more so than anything else.

And there’s actually nothing wrong with that.

We do need to protest. Particularly in places like New Hampshire where the bizarro legislature is going to entertain the idea of raising the minimum wage for exactly zero seconds. In the Commonwealth, of course, plans have already begun for a hike, maybe – not to be outdone by California and New York – all the way to $15 (at some point a few years down the line, of course, and with some bizarre bundle of stipulations). That’s a good thing.

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In gathering together (on what turned out to be a gorgeous day, I would add), we are better able to see that good thing in the proper context – that of several years’ dedicated work and boldness on the part of uncompromising leftists. Let it not be forgotten that this concept – $15 as a minimum wage – was never a part of the Serious National Discourse prior to Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant’s successful city council victory running on a $15-centered platform in Seattle, which led to her ultimate success in passing just such a measure.

Suddenly, it was cool to talk about.

But, since then, it’s been the dogged efforts of a wide coalition of activists, led by the union-heavy Fight for $15 and bolstered by the efforts of socialists and others, tirelessly. The 2,000 who gathered last Thursday in Boston represented the largest such minimum wage gathering there to date, with each successive event having been larger than the last.

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This movement is succeeding, and growing, because we refuse to let up and because we’re willing and able to work together collaboratively and without reservation on this one. The bougie legislatures are being forced to pass their own substantive wage hikes in order to insert their loopholes and exceptions and, in some cases, prevent a loophole-free version from making its way to any dreaded popular ballot referenda. Their watered-down BS isn’t acceptable, of course, but we must learn from the fact that their hands are being forced.

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Only all of us – all the unions I saw at the rally, all the activists crews like Fight for $15 and GSOP and Jobs Not Jails and Interfaith Worker Justice and, yes, all the different socialist parties and all the different party branches I saw represented. It depends on our willingness to stand together and our unwillingness to shut up and back down.

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This is the only way we will ever be able to improve things for ourselves, to protect the most vulnerable members of society, and to stop losing ground – not just that, but to push back and win back all that’s ours that’s been stripped from us.

That includes you – and we need you on our side.

SIGN THE PETITION: Body Cams for all Lowell Cops!

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CAJE wants YOUR VOICE to be a part of this signature initiative.

Click over to CAJE to sign the petition NOW!

As the Boston Globe reported back in August, Lowell is being considered for a large-scale trial of police body cameras. According to the linked article, police superintendent William Taylor is “optimistic it will be implemented,” which would make Lowell the largest city in the Commonwealth to test out a camera system – something many activists believe may be a good first step towards increased accountability for law enforcement across the board.

So…why sign a petition for body cams if it’s already looking like a done deal?

Great question! As with everything else, the devil is in the details – and, of course, we’re demanding much more than the simple presence of cameras. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. City officials have promised a public forum on this issue. So far, no forum has been scheduled. Signing your name ensures that our voices get heard and that everyone gets a public opportunity to discuss the need for police accountability.
  2. This trial is sponsored by TASER International. Yes, that TASER. The company that sells miniature electrocution devices to police departments across the country. They are interested in selling a product, and they know police departments are only going to be buying their cameras if it’s in their interest to do so – and cops want cameras to placate the public without actually restricting their normal behavior. The interests of TASER and the Lowell Police Department are not our interests, and we need to make that clear.
  3. The proposed trial is only for 30 days. We demand permanent implementation of cameras.
  4. We need to set the ground rules. As the article above explains, the police union is already asserting the right to determine when and how cameras can be turned off manually and who will control the video footage. We demand the cameras stay on and that the public controls the footage, which must be secured independently, outside the direct control of the LPD.
  5. Body cams are a step forward, not a solution. This is where increased accountability for city police starts, not where it ends. Police brutality is a real problem – not just someplace else or in America generally but right here, in Lowell, today. Don’t kid yourselves – less than half of the instances of police brutality in this city even get reported, much less investigated. If our community is to have a say in law enforcement transparency in the future, we have to start here and we have to start now.

It takes three seconds. Don’t delay. Pop over to cajelowell.org and sign NOW.

Socialist Punditry: What’s up with the 2016 elections and where do we fit in?

I used to love elections. More than almost anything in the world. Make fun of me all you want to, but for almost a decade, that wondrous msnbc RESULTS! theme would send surges of dopamine to my politically-addled brain. I loved the constant conflict, the ups and downs of the horserace, the rush of belonging to a team and passionately cheering their victory – and, being totally honest, there was even something I loved about the heartbreak of defeat.

And even though I’ve considered myself some kind of Marxist (for the most part, off and on) for the last twelve years, I was able for much of that time to suppress such deviant urges in favor of cheering on the democrats and their presumed moral superiority and entrenched role as the lesser evil.

No more, friends, no more. No más.

It’s Obama’s fault, of course. (Thanks, Obama!) Yep, I was one of the ones who got fooled by the guy. Again, make fun of me if you want to. I’m every bit as ashamed as you want me to be. Bottom line, however, his performance over time demonstrated him to be no better than the cartoonish arch villain Bush, and that did it for me. That was the end. No more democrats for me. I can’t vote, or root for, the barely lesser evil. I actually care about, like, what happens.

In fairness, I can’t pin it all on Barama. Time, age, experience, and, most of all, learning things and facts, hammered home the point that any justice whatsoever, not to mention survival itself, depends upon the abolishment of capitalism.

No democrat or republican, no matter how hip and cool and progressive, no matter how much they are down with the gays getting married and throwing shade at Wall Street, supports abolishing capitalism. None of them. Not even Bernie Sanders. And if you come to believe, as I have, that every single objective of importance, whether political or personal, depends fundamentally upon abolishing capitalism, battles between two teams that both enthusiastically agree to never do that one thing stop being fun.

I wish it weren’t so – the next thirteen months would otherwise be an unmitigated blast. Instead, I find myself utterly fatigued with all this shit already, wishing with all my heart we could at least do as the marginally more civilized Canadians do and limit elections to like eight weeks. It’d add years to my life, I promise you.

All that aside, I’ve avoided writing on this topic for months now, and now it’s almost November and my spirit lacks the fight required to avoid it any longer.

A Race in Disarray

I like to consider myself a political consultant-in-waiting (waiting for someone to pay me, of course), and as such I am extremely hesitant to admit this, but the best piece of writing I’ve seen on the state of the 2016 campaign ran in the Huffington Post a week ago, titled “It’s Time to Admit: Nobody Knows Anything About the 2016 Campaign.” I’d argue with the premise, but I’ve been insisting for months that Joe Biden would run if for no other reason than the fact that enough establishment democrats were dissatisfied with Hillary’s performance and her numbers. Even if she were still to ultimately win, I reasoned, they would want a good horserace, and they’d want the other horse to not be Bernie Sanders.

My expert prognostications grew only louder as September numbers came out showing that Biden might well be a contender for frontrunner immediately upon entering the race. When he didn’t jump in a month ago, I started to doubt the whole idea, though I wouldn’t admit it until after the first debate October 13. I refused to watch it live, but the next day’s coverage made me wonder if the cards played on the stage left any easy room for another player. What would his role be? Loosely speaking, ground had been claimed. Hillary was the Center, Bernie was the Left of Center, Martin O’Malley was Tommy Carcetti, Jim Webb was The One Who Killed a Guy, and Lincoln Chafee was That Confused Dude. Biden’s best hope always lay in seizing the mantle of Center-But-More-Hip, and it seemed like the moment to seize that mantle had already passed.

Then, of course, when the rumors started flying a week ago that he was definitely totally absolutely running and everyone had an “anonymous source,” I jumped all over that, claiming victory. I always know what’s up, amirite? Except I wasn’t right, nobody was, and he announced he was definitely totally absolutely not running.

It’s worse than that, though. Shit, I was convinced – publicly so – that Scott Walker would be the republican nominee, and that dude is gonezo. And to be sure, like many other observers, professional and amateur, I’ve been predicting a spectacular Trump implosion any day now since June and I assumed Bernie’s shine was going to wear off by the beginning of October at the latest. By all reasonable standards and measurements, both of those things should have happened, though reality very clearly tells us they haven’t. The senior HuffPost political staff (authors of the aforementioned article), are right. The reasonable standards and measurements don’t apply. We live in strange and dynamic times and we don’t know what the hell is going to happen.

Something about that is instinctually disconcerting to me, but what we on the Left seek is a total shakeup of the established order, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

Besides, if you thought anything I just said was going to stop me from making further ill-advised analysis and projection, you were wicked mistaken.

Will Fascism Prevail?

Almost every single day, someone messages me in a panic. “Is there really a chance of Donald Trump really winning? Tell me there isn’t.” Except I can’t offer them much. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been telling these very same people for months not to worry, that Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum and Rick Perry and like five other people were front-runners in the summer of 2011. I’ve been telling them that while the Republican Party may be incompetent and morally degenerate, they’re not entirely impotent, and won’t allow this guy to run away with it and bring them all down in the process. I’ve been insisting that at some point he’ll say or do something so far beyond the pale that not even the Trumpster can survive it. So far, I’ve been wrong about all of those things. I can repeat them all again, almost like a calming mantra of mindfulness, but it won’t have the same effect and I’m afraid I’ve already lost a substantial amount of my credibility on the subject.

The fact that Donald Trump and his brazenly crypto-fascist campaign has made it this far, and enjoys the massive popular support that it does, is in itself terrifying. I actually don’t think it’s possible to overstate how bad this is, for everyone. To be more precise, the popularity of Trump’s radical candidacy is not a calamity in and of itself, as a singular event, but because it shines a bright light on a dark and disturbingly ugly truth: the fascist impulse is strong, in this country, at this time. Whether or not he actually wins no longer has any impact on that fact – it will remain true even if he is defeated. The nature of this kind of purely reactionary militant racist nativism is, I hate to say, such that it may even grow stronger after a Trump loss, out of the need to channel their frustration somewhere else. Trump has provided these jackbooted thugs (many disguised cleverly as “soccer moms” and “ordinary folks”) with a platform, an outlet for their most repressed and deep-seated bigotry.

Mark my words – they won’t allow themselves to be robbed of that. They’re not going to go quietly. We need to be prepared for that.

On the plus side, he’s still not going to win. He’s still the clear front-runner, but his early surge is starting to abate, his dominance no longer unquestioned. The fact that Ben Carson, a guy who isn’t really serious about being president (or even vice president) so much as interested in selling books and getting a better contract from Fox, has started to edge him out in a couple of key state polls, should be taken as a legitimate sign that the whole charade is past its peak.

Jeb Bush, who’s pissed about a lot of things right now, has enthusiastically fired the first intramural shots at the fake billionaire frontrunner. Others will follow his lead. There are two factors at play here. One is the obvious fact that it’s in the interest of the party itself to take the guy down. There are concerns about his electability, widespread nervousness about the fact that the bigotry and xenophobia of Trump and his supporters is simply more obvious than even republicans consider tasteful, and, more than anything else, the existential drive of any party, of any flavor, to eliminate anything it cannot control.

The second factor is tangentially related to Trump’s refusal to be controlled – his arrogance has led him, unwisely, into making some pretty powerful enemies, namely Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers. Do you really think anybody who pisses off the Fox News guy and the poster boy caricatures for Dark Right-Wing Business Money has a chance of winning the republican nomination? Pssshhhhhhhhh. I don’t.

So, if it even matters, where will that leave us? Like I already mentioned, Carson’s just fucking around and isn’t as much of a maniac as Trump is; in other words, he doesn’t even want to lead the pack for more than a month or so. Bush himself probably isn’t gonna be the one, either. To be clear, you can’t count anybody out with his money or his family’s political machine (yes, it still exists), but for Jeb, it no longer seems to be a matter of the Bush name being toxic in any way so much as his own failure to actually perform as a candidate. He’s boring everyone to tears in a year in which all republicans have made clear they are not to be bored. This isn’t smart-careful-boring, it’s not-sure-why-he’s-running boring.

That’s not the image he wants to project, and maybe (probably) he’s hoping that aggressively attacking Trump will break him out of that mold, and that by taking down Trump he can seize his crown. I don’t see it going down like that, though. He may well succeed at leading the charge that clips Trumpski’s wings, but I don’t see him reaping the rewards. He’s already too much of a disappointment for that.

Rubio, Cruz, and even Fiorina are hoping I’m right. They’re the only ones left with any kind of numbers whatsoever. Each of them is waiting for Bush to beat the shit out of Trump and then remain at no more than 7-12% for the next six months, when he can respectably quit the race. They’re betting Carson will get confused and wander off sometime before mid-January, and then it has to be one of them, solely because someone has to win this thing.

That’s really what the republican race is going to boil down to – an amateurish and embarrassing process of elimination that leads to the nomination of some haggard survivor who hung on until he (or she, but probably he) won by default and default alone.

Hillary’s Play

On the other side, we’re finally watching the beginnings of Bernie Sanders’ slide into defeat. Any Sandernistas reading this will begin flipping out after reading that sentence, I promise you, but it’s true. Hey, I give the man credit for taking his roadshow this far. He’s gone way further than I would have imagined, has seen a level of popularity that might cautiously skeptically represent a minor source of encouragement. And yes, he’s still got big crowds, good finances, a lot of free press, and strong numbers in early primary and caucus states. No, to the extent that he has ever been in it, he’s not out of it yet. But this is where it starts. Let me explain.

Since the debate almost two weeks ago, the incessant outcry about how the media is lying about Hillary’s strong debate performance and Bernie really won (because “online polls” + Kool Aid or something) has made me want to bash my head into the wall. None of the howling on this subject is based in reason. How many memes did I see promoting a pseudo-conspiracy in which CNN has to say Hillary won because Time Warner gives money to Hillary? Guys, all the medias said that Hillary won, not just CNN. Besides, wasn’t it just a few years (or minutes) ago that half the democratic party was screeching about how the media hates Hillary? Just, I mean, for the record, so I can keep this straight…does the media hate Hillary or are they in the tank for her?

Besides, most of the people I saw posting such things are people I know to be smart enough to understand that online polls do not now, nor do they ever, reflect anything close to reality. That’s why people pay polling firms to do it, like, scientifically. Anyway, you don’t have to like cold political punditry, but that’s all that’s at work here. No conspiracy. Winning a presidential debate is not the same as winning a college debate match (or debate-off/debateathon, whatever they are called). It has nothing to do with articulating the best ideas. It’s much simpler than that – who benefits? Who comes out of that debate with something they didn’t have before?

The answer to that question, objectively, coming from someone who has zero love for the Clintons, is Hillary Clinton. She did not have to score a knockout blow to win the debate; in fact, a knockout blow might actually have done her more harm than good. From her position as the Reasonable Experienced Centrist Frontrunner, all she had to do to win was be cogent and not fuck up. That’s what she did! It’s Bernie who needed to be aggressive and dominant, and instead he played at gallantry. The people who already love Bernie loved everything he said and did in that debate. But he didn’t win anybody over, while many who aren’t thrilled about a Hillary candidacy came away saying “Ehhhhh, maybe she’s not that bad.”

All post-debate polling bears this out. The pundits weren’t lying to you. They were just telling you something you don’t want to hear. Since the debate, Hillary’s numbers have shot up, particularly in New Hampshire, a state she was frankly never in danger of losing for a moment (doesn’t anyone remember 2008?!!? Jesus!). Webb and Chafee have bailed. Biden took a pass. And then she killed that ridiculous Benghazi hearing. This is her moment, and she’s just getting started. She’s about to blaze past Bernie and cruise to the nomination.

Sanders has a (very long) shot at Iowa, but he will lose New Hampshire, and probably every other state. The Clinton machine will see to it, as well, that he is not able – as Obama was in ’08 – to capture large numbers of delegates from a 2nd-place position. Biden’s entry would have made this a bit more predictable, but with that off the table, plan on the fireworks on the D side ending no later than mid-March.

Which brings me to my last point…

ARE WE GOING TO DO ANYTHING USEFUL, EVER

All of the lefties like me who actually oppose capitalism (unlike, say, Bernie Sanders) have been talking for months about how we need to engage the Bernie supporters so as to take advantage of the left-leaning energy in the country and build this into something resembling the mass movement Bernie could be making but refuses to.

So far, nobody has done anything. No, showing up and doing an “intervention” and trying to recruit for your party, as if the Bernie people are total idiots, doesn’t count. Neither, frankly, does pushing Jill Stein as a Sanders substitute. Don’t get me wrong – if I vote at all, it will be for Stein, but a quiet and dignified Unitarian-style suggestion of “Nooooo, vote Green!” isn’t the most impactful use of our time.

Can we talk to each other? Can we acknowledge one another? Can we come together with sincerity and pragmatism to somehow productively engage the more radical members of the Sanders camp in solidarity with an eye toward future cooperative action?

So far, all indications are that the answer to all of those questions is a resounding no. But with 3-4 months to go, I’ll remain hopeful – but this, right now, is our last chance to get something going. Though I won’t share them just yet (wait a couple days and I’ll lay it on you), I’ve got some ideas. Do you? Let’s hear it.