Freedom Rider: Why the left don’t protest

The worse the political and economic crisis becomes, the more lethargic the US left behaves—as if generations of collaboration with corporate Democrats has sucked the life out of the left.

The sight of a Donald Trump incited mob storming the United States Capitol was a political turning point for this country. It confirmed the worst fears about the outgoing president and his supporters but ironically has also empowered right-wing tendencies which are never far from the surface. There are cries for domestic terror legislation which is unneeded and which will be directed not at Trump’s “deplorables” but against the left. The event also amplified positive feelings about the incoming Joseph R. Biden administration, feelings based on hope and not on facts.

There are many legitimate questions surrounding the January 6 Capitol riot, how it happened, who planned it, and what their motives were. In addition to investigating the incident, there must be a discussion about the absence of any effective left-wing activism.

Why are the right wing so determined to make their voices heard while what passes for a left wing is largely silent? Why aren’t the left marching on Washington? They have much to be concerned about and the issues of great importance to them are routinely ignored by Republicans and Democrats alike. Millions of people are suffering and have more reason to “take their country back” than Trump supporters do.

The quality of life for most people in this country was already in decline even before the COVID-19 virus killed 400,000 people and put millions out of work. Sore loser Trump supporters should not be the only group angry enough to mass in Washington with an expectation of bringing about change.

Leftists don’t act as they should because they are still tied to the Democrats, who are devoted to crushing them as a political force. They rarely even bother to throw their left flank a bone. Until leftists break with the Democrats they will always be on a fool’s errand, defending the party that is committed to keeping them neutered.

Biden promised wealthy donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” should he be elected. He declared opposition to Medicare for All while the impact of COVID falls disproportionately on low-income communities. His pledge to raise the minimum wage to a meager $15 per hour is greeted as a sign of success when it is in fact proof of failure. The promised $2,000 stimulus payment has now fallen to $1,400. The number of unhoused people grows and so do long lines at food pantries. There are a multitude of reasons to protest. Yet the left is largely silent, restricting any action to social media debates. There is no will to act in concert and make political demands.

The left were already marginalized even before Donald Trump’s election. The damage done by decades of corporatist allegiance continues. Anyone who questioned bank bailouts, falling wages or privatized public education was labeled unrealistic at best, and a spoiler at worst.

After the Democratic Party leadership coalesced around Biden the deed was done yet again. Neoliberalism is again ascendant, progressives have been shoved aside and the sight of right-wing mobs results in sneering instead of the urge to join the fight. It is shameful that thousands of people believe that Trump won the election, and were willing to wreak havoc against the symbol of the federal government, without any countervailing action taking place or even being contemplated.

Obviously, many people who want a better and more just country do not really believe that they can bring about the changes they want to see. They barely survive on the margins and every four years hope that the people determined to give them the proverbial bum’s rush will suddenly have a change of heart and give them a hearing.

Black people suffer the most from this dynamic. They are the most left leaning cohort in the country but their politics have been undone by the black political class of misleaders. They lay claim to representing millions of people but in fact only represent themselves and the interests of their patrons. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has not proposed meaningful legislation in a very long time, and they have not shown an inclination to change now that a Democrat will be in the White House. In fact, that is when the real backstabbing takes place. Democratic presidents bring welfare “reform” that impoverishes the already poor, deregulation of financial services, bank bailouts, and health care plans that empower the private sector.

There must be a complete rejection of the political status quo. A Democratic president with control of Congress should be seen and treated as an adversary. Biden is not a friend, nor are the CBC or phony progressives who call themselves a squad.

The left need not riot at the Capitol but they must believe that they can get what they want. The era of the liberation movement in the 1960s and early 1970s should be remembered as a moment when millions of people made demands knowing that politicians did not want to meet them. That is how that time should be remembered. It can be repeated again if defeatist attitudes are rejected.

There must be a commitment to wholesale change from top to bottom. The failed state must be taken on without hesitation or apology and dependence on the electoral system must end. Republicans fear the Capitol rioters and straddle the fence instead of denouncing the people who make up the bulk of their party. Democrats have no such concerns about the left, and see them as an irritant to be placated at key moments.

Leftists need not behave as the Trumpers do, but they must lose their own fears and leave the Democratic Party behind. It would indeed be shameful if the Capitol rioters are the only people who believe they can achieve their political goals and are willing to act accordingly.

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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