Freedom Rider: America needs protest

A thousand young people demonstrated in Brooklyn, jumping over turnstiles in solidarity with others arrested and brutalized by the cops.

In recent months mass protests involving millions of people have emerged in countries such as Haiti, Ecuador, and Chile. In each instance, the spark was unique to that nation. Haitians are angry that officials stole millions of dollars from Venezuela’s Petro Caribe project which was meant to meet the needs of the people. Ecuadoreans rose up after their president accepted IMF loans with the usual strings of austerity and suffering attached. Political corruption, theft from the people, the desire for real democracy, and interference from the United States and its allies all play a role in these events.

However, the country with an entrenched oligarchic class, a lying and useless media, and the world’s largest incarceration state is by and large silent. The United States is still the worst purveyor of violence in the world with high rates of inequality and a racist system that has gone on unabated. Yet Americans do not take to the streets.

Although they can when mobilized well enough. Recently a group of 1,000 mostly young people marched in Brooklyn, New York, to protest police brutality. After a video circulated which showed a young black man being assaulted by police, the group Decolonize This Place announced a call to action. They massed in downtown Brooklyn where their protest included jumping over subway turnstiles in solidarity with those arrested for not paying their fare.

The action was a necessary declaration that black people in New York will not accept police brutality. They proved that protest can still happen. But such instances are too few and far between. Victories are sparse and results are mixed. General Motors workers went on strike for five weeks but accepted an agreement which continued the use of the multi-tiered labor system which was itself a cause of the work stoppage.

There is nothing that makes Haitians, Chileans and Ecuadoreans unique in the world. Americans have a proud history of resistance and their own examples of protest which led to social and political change. But those movements were crushed or co-opted. Leaders were killed and ordinary people were tossed into the maw of the incarceration state. The neoliberal regime destroyed what little progressive politics survived and the people have been beaten down by economic predation and propaganda from the corporate media and their friends in the political party duopoly.

In addition to these issues, the United States is in the midst of it’s quadrennial festival of meaningless sound and fury, otherwise known as a presidential election year. The same people who are otherwise dissuaded from activism are suddenly encouraged to pay close attention to the people who have caused their misery. Anyone expressing skepticism about the farce is denounced. Candidates who may be a tiny bit truthful are smeared, slandered, declared to be unelectable, and relegated to invisibility.

The Democratic Party is the worst offender this time around. They play upon the desire to be rid of Donald Trump but offer nothing except an impeachment farce that is unlikely to remove him from office. They have no intention of bringing about the change that the people need. In fact, they and their media friends convince the public that the range of debate must be narrow, and that any desire to have their needs met is out of the question. How else can one explain that millions of people question whether they ought to have the kind of free health care system that operates quite well in the rest of the world.

The Brooklyn protests may have caught the city by surprise but the methods which brought it about are tried and true. A group already in formation that is an “action-oriented movement” made good on their mission statement. They capitalized on the injustices that are meted out every day and worked in solidarity with other groups.

This success can be replicated all over the country. A private utility is depriving Californians of power and politicians drag their feet about using the power of eminent domain to put them out of business. People die because they can’t afford health care, even when they have insurance. There is no lack of reasons to take action here in the belly of the beast. What is lacking is the organization, political education, and the knowledge of how to revive what has already taken place.

The belief in lesser evils is deadly and leads to thinking that failed strategies can somehow win. Cooperation with the perpetrators is nothing but a recipe for more suffering. Let us learn from Haitians who after all led the first successful effort to end slavery in the Americas. We know the methods. We have to believe that we can again put them in place.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at freedomrider.blogspot.com.  Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

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