Freedom Rider: Let the movement be radical

Craven black misleaders jumped at the chance to side with white corporate power against radical white allies.

The unprecedented size and diversity of the new protest movement is something that black people should welcome. Portland, Oregon, is now the epicenter of media and public attention after the Trump administration sent Border Patrol and other Homeland Security forces there. His effort to make political hay has reenergized radical forces and makes clear what is at stake.

A mere 6% of Portland’s population is black. Yet the killing of George Floyd inspired a nearly all white cohort in that city to take to the streets. This seeming contradiction is proof of a nation in the depths of a great crisis. Police violence against black people is not the sole motivator for every protester and that is all to the good.

The crisis is caused by unrelenting neo-liberal policies which have negatively impacted the lives of millions of people. The COVID-19 pandemic drew back the curtain and further exposed a system that is not meant to serve human needs. The country that boasts about advancement and wealth could neither keep this new disease under control nor help people who were unemployed and without health coverage during a pandemic. The demonstrations would not have been so many and so persistent had there not been an anxious mood in the nation before George Floyd’s death.

But a strange thing happened in this process. Young white people often led the way in carrying out the most radical acts. The suspect in the burning of the Minneapolis police precinct is a young white man. It is probable that Floyd’s killer would not have been arrested if the police themselves had not been attacked.

Unfortunately, there are black people who do not appreciate the significance of this and other actions. Decades of movement stagnation and lack of political education has made black people less likely to push the envelope and to even point fingers at the people labeled “outside agitators” by craven black misleaders. It is a sign of the weakness of our movement that some of us do not see the importance of cultivating solidarity and dispensing with establishment approval as we seek to make change.

The misleaders do know their people however, and they are well aware that claims of white people undoing the movement would resonate. E.D. Mondainé is president of the Portland branch of the NAACP. As such he has access to the Washington Post editorial page and used his opportunity to do some classic misleading. He opined that demonstrations had become “spectacle” which drew attention away from police violence. “What are antifa and other leftist agitators achieving for the cause of black equality?” was one of his questions. One might ask what the Portland NAACP had ever achieved in this regard, but that didn’t stop him from condemning white people who are not limiting their actions to the realm of respectability politics.

If Mr. Mondainé and others were less compromised they would make common cause with the white radicals they disregard. This is no time to listen to people whose dependence on the donor class of the Democratic Party has helped no one but themselves. Mondainé makes clear why the emphasis cannot be on a well intentioned notion of equality. It is too easily manipulated while the allies who have come forward are left undefended by the people who should be working with them.

Hopefully the misleaders can muster the energy to support the media in Seattle where a judge ruled that unpublished photos and video footage of protests must be turned over to the police. Perhaps they will say something about the police unions welcoming Trump’s troops against the wishes of local elected officials. Whoever set a fire in the Portland police union office is the best kind of ally.

After years of scorn about the notion of white allyship we are finally seeing it in action. This columnist has advised white people to be like John Brown if they wanted to be allies. We are seeing people who may not share Brown’s fate, but they go where some of us fear to tread.

We have to admit that years of misleadership and the loss of our most radical forces have made many of us unprepared at this critical juncture. The damage can be undone if we understand the need to move in the most radical directions. We cannot talk about justice for George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or any of the 1,000 victims of police violence who die every year if we don’t seize this moment to get true justice for all of us. That will mean waging a sustained attack against this system and all of its manifestations of injustice. We must say good-bye to establishment notions of what is acceptable and what is not.

The “white as hell ” protest is a sign of a political shift that must be acknowledged and embraced. The establishment Democrats who run Portland and other cities are on notice that business as usual will no longer be accepted. Turning against the people who also work against these retrograde forces would be a classic divide and conquer strategy and we must not succumb.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

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