|Demonstrations Are Necessary,
And It's Our Democratic Right
To Take to the Streets
I remember a lesson learned.
No, on the whole they don't like demonstrations. Even less do they like demonstrators. If they concur, when we say it's our democratic right to take to the streets, and sometimes they do that, you can see that they look like somebody who's biting into a bitter lemon. In fact, they don't like the masses to insist on democratic rights. They want to give small rations of democracy to us, sparingly. For instance, we may vote. But not everybody may vote. They have ways to steal that right from us. From some more often than from others.
Those in power are class-conscious, and very often, they are also racist. Racist in the polite, seemingly unobtrusive, thus, the camouflaged way. Those among the downtrodden blue collar guys who are proud to be "white" (because they have next to nothing to be proud of, perhaps) are much more honest racists than the powerful. For a congressman who is worth a million or five million bucks, or maybe 250 million, it is simply to proletarian to reveal the sort of uninhibited, obvious and openly hateful racism that those of us who are referred to as "people of color" are faced with almost every day. We, who are targets of racism, don't have conversations with big shots, except by pure and rare chance. And we don't see them eyes to eye, don't brush with them in the street, in supermarkets, a disco. They live in another world. Even in the workplace, they have their underlings who transmit their orders.
Often the direct racism that poisons life in society thus is the racism of "small people." The racism of cops, for instance. In a society that sees itself as multi-ethnic, it is strange that the majority of cops are "white" -- and this even in "colored" neighorhoods. Is it also strange that the majority of cops are racist? I don't think so.
"White" and "colored" -- those abstract terms hide the fact that people are several shades of dark brown, or many shades of light brown. Or, yes, of course -- of beige. We know that white people (albinos, without pigmentation that darkens the skin) are very rare, both among black people, and brown and beige people. "White" and "colored" are social categories. They refer to power relations, hierarchies, relations of forces in past slaveowner and colonial societies.
It was the military might and colonialist aggression of Europe that enslaved "colored" people, people of the South, with darker pigmentation. The perception of inequality violently brought about in the past colored the perception of Europeans and non-Europeans. Stereotyped views resulted. The ruling class in Europe looked down on conquered nations, on subjected populations. And their involuntary or willing underlings (mercenaries, soldiers, sailors, pirates, merchants, and the artisans and apprentices that followed them, as they took possession of the Americas, of parts of Asia and of Africa) would blindly copy the view of their lords: a view that was filled with contempt for the others; a view tainted by unjustified feelings of superiority. The most stupid nit-wit, the daftest clerk would feel superior to a Native American shaman, an Aztec emperor, an African healer or king, an Indian prince, and a Chinese sage.
Racism of the little folk compensates for their inferiority complex.
But the fact we should recognized is that there are
people kept stupid and ignorant of their real human interest in
all populations, among all people.
If cops tend to be racist very often, it does not mean that the majority of beige people is of necessity racist. Things are changing, even some Europeans learn to overcome racism and to side with their brown and black sisters and brothers.
If cops are racist so often, it has a lot to do with the selection mechanism relied on by those who command the police -- mayors, and politicians generally. And thus it reflects the interests of the social class these guys serve.
Be quite aware of it, sister, be aware of it, brother -- there are those among us, in every population, who were raised in a rather authoritarian fashion. And this by parents, uncles, grandfathers, and teachers who were also raised in that way. To be raised in that way turns you into a perfect dog. Ready to obey a master, and ready to bite. And you always bite those you identify as the small people, the common people, the working people. Never the upper class. Never an aristocrat, or the bourgeoisie. The kid who has been raised in an authoritarian way becomes a perfect policeman, and a perfect soldiers, and those who recruit people for such jobs sniff it. The rebellious kid, the kid who was allowed to roam freely and enjoy the winds of spring, and the rough weather, and to probe things curiously, will never make a good servant, a good soldier, a good cop. Those who recruit people for such jobs sense the rebellious, free spirit and the openmindedness. And they hate it. It is only by chance, and by hiding your virtues, that you can get a job as a cop if you tend to be openminded, and friendly to the common people, and no faithful running dog of the powerful, ready to obey every mean command.
So what I am saying is, I learned a lesson. Beware of the police. They are, on the whole, not there to protect your rights. They are there to curtail your rights.
Have you noticed demonstrators assembling in front of
a factory, holding up their posters, protesting against unfairness?
Even though there exists only one race, the human race, in its beautiful diversity that knows many more shades than just three or four, people are tagged as members of this or that race. This is racism. This amounts to an ideological construct, but that construct takes on a separate, social reality. A racist society "makes" us Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Anglos, Jews. Arabs. From the biological point of view, differences are infinitesimal, and there may be more differences between some "whites" and some other "whites" GENETICALLY that between some "whites" and some "blacks." There are probably no or almost no genetic differences between "Jews" whose ancestors never left the Middle East and Arabs, but much more such differences between "Jews" whose ancestors lived in Europe for 500 or a thousand or even 2000 years and "Jews" whose family history is exclusively tied to the Middle East. Racism constructs sharp "biological" differences, whereas such differences are fluid and gradual. Racism reflects social differences, social inequality. And this is what we must tackle, together with racist ideologies.
If cops are mainly "white," it is above all a class question. They are mainly "white" in America because the ruling class, the propertied class, the class that includes the top 0.1 percent and the top 1 percent and the top 10 or 15 percent is mainly "white." "White" means they are offspring of immigrants from Europe. "White" means, they have absorbed all the negative traits of European feudal and absolutist class societies. Their minds are filled with the thought that Europeans subjected and colonized and ruled the world. Their minds are filled with the idea that they, the American ruling class, should rule the world. From old European class society, they learned the divide and rule tactics. Pretending to be no longer racist, they set "races" against each other. Who was firing Black American auto workers in the 1970s in Detroit while keeping "white" ones? Your "white" workmate who worked next to you, on the assembly line? No, management. And where did the buck stop? At the top -- where you find "white" CEOs and "white" influential shareholders. It is true, the unions were in effect racist because the "white" workers lacked solidarity. Fire them, so I may keep my job, that was their thinking. It is not particularly racist thinking as such; it is the short-sighted, egotistical way of thinking of people who lack class consciousness and who are, for that reason, incapable of class solidarity. You find that among many people, on different continents.
But the cumulative effect of a biased firing practices, of a reactionary union leadership, and of an overwhelmingly egotistical "white" workforce was that it divided the working class, that it delegated many "Black" workers to an "industrial reserve army" -- the big mass of unemployed and underemployed and low-wage Black American males.
To be denied a job in a Capitalist society condemns you to poverty. To be denied, in the next generation, an education, vocational training and an ordinary full-time job is a recipe for dire poverty. Dire poverty is a recipy for living in run-down neighborhoods, exploited by slums lords, it is a recipy for remaining stuck in ghettos, because you don't have the money to pay the amount of rent that would secure decent housing for you in a big city, or metropolitan area. It also means that you cannot afford a house of your own, even just a small, very modest one, in small towns. The combination of where you live, with what social background, determines that your kids, in all likelihood, will not have access to good schools, a good education that will provide them with a certain chance to find a decent job. And by saying "decent," I don't mean that some badly paid jobs are not implying decent, honest work. I mean, it gets next to impossible to get a decently paid job -- allowing you to live a life above poverty level.
It is racist job discrimination that is at the root of the split within the American working class that pitted those with normal jobs in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, against those pushed out of normal jobs. "White" workers found a way to have their small, very modest house, a steady job, and a school education for their kids that would give them, at least, a high school diploma. "Black" and very often also "Chicano" workers faced hurdles that amounted to job discrimination and that condemned many if not most to poverty.
If we talk about drugs and crime in run-down neighborhoods, connect it to poverty, hopelessness, the lack of a positive perspective, but also to the spectre of the American consumerist dream that affects and sickens even the poor. And connect it, of course, to the availability of drugs. As far as drugs are concerned, we may of course ask, Who makes them available, apart from the small dealers, the last element of a long supply chain? Aren't these again, "White" elites - "White" criminal elites? They make the money, even if they find poor young customers. But they do something else. These criminals who defend their interests by resortting to bribes and murder, trigger crime -- in poor neighborhoods. Kids raised in a starkly poor neighborhood who want to escape an enormously frustrating and hopeless reality by getting high, have to steal. There is a spiral that leads from small things to bigger things. By and large, you, the kid who needs drugs, will be picking on your peers and your own folks in the neighborhood. The drug lords laugh perhaps. "Black" people are stealing from "black" people, and end up killing "black" people. It's a sad part of the reality in the 'hood, as we all know. To become conscious -- also, class-conscious -- means to recognize it and turn around, while you discover solidarity in a way that is different from the "sense of belonging" that membership in gangs can produce.
In the 1960s, intelligent and courageous Americans got involved in a Black liberation movement. It was a good step, and correct step. They created a sense of pride in the socio-culture of their folk. Black is beautiful. This is no racist slogan. It is a slogan that asserts the dignity of people, and bolsters their hope, and fans their thirst for real freedom, real emancipation as human beings.
The Black Panthers in Oakland and elsewhere decided to counter police brutality and the racism of the police. This, as such, is not wrong; it was a good strategy.
But being inspired by the ANC or the FLN in Algeria was not necessarily helpful. In a colony like Algeria, resistance against colonial repression was justified. In South Africa, resistance against the apartheid regime was justified. When peaceful means against violent repression proved insufficient, these liberation movements were ethically justified to resort to armed struggle. Even a Buddhist or Christian pacifist would have to see this. They had, perhaps, no other way. The suppressed majority in South Africa and in Algeria was not morally wrong; they were asserting their civil and human rights when they used counter-force against the brutal force of repressive regimes.
Many Black militants in the 1960s thought of Black Americans as a Black Nation that must wage a struggle of liberation, too. Yes, in this they were right: they were suppressed. There was real police brutality, especially against Black Americans (and Chicanos). There were hardly any ways to seek redress in the courts. Murderous cops often remained scot-free. To bring charges helped rarely. The ire felt at the time by militants is comprehensibly. They made an analytic mistake, nonetheless. There was a difference between the real sitution in the U.S. and that in South Africa. Black Americans did not constitute the majority of the population, as Black South Africans did in their country. It may be ethically justified to resort to counter-violence if you see few others options to better your lot. But this is not just about ethics, it is also about relations of forces. It is not a good think to start a type of struggle that you can only lose. The American Indian movement made the same mistake, a little later. It was not a good idea to bring guns to the Pine Ridge Reservation when Native Americans on the reservation were murdered, when cops and the BIA were apparently complicit, when corporations hungry for coal or minerals were complicit. It would have been a better idea to bring lawyers. There are many forms of struggle. One form is to form alliances, and to resort to court proceedings; another is to form alliances, and to demonstrate.
When the demonstrations of "Black" and "White" Americans swelled and those marching numbered a million or more, they murdered Martin Luther King. I know that the FBI presented a "killer" -- a small crook, and such people are easy to manipulate. I suspect that this man never did it; I suspect that the FBI was behind it, and the government because Martin Luther King became too dangerous, too much of a mobilizing factor, as they saw it. It PROVES ONE THING -- non-violent action can at times achieve more than armed struggle, and it is not necessarily less dangerous, at least not for outstanding spokespersons, leaders, and activists.
The murder of Martin Luther King, combined with concessions made at the legal front (civil rights legislation) plus the end of the Vietnam War lead to the collapse of the progressive "Black" and "White" alliance. There were those who thought that aims vital to them had been achieved, and there were those who were frightened by the murder of Martin Luther King. In the context of the anti-Vietnam protest movement, at least two other well-known persons with a certain mobilizing quality were killed: Jean Seberg and John Lennon. She sympathized with the Black Panthers and opposed the war; he was effective as an activist when he had billboards appear all over the country that said peace (in Vietnam) has been achieved, when it hadn't been achieved yet. It fanned the expectation to have peace and increased the pressure on the government. Such people were targets of the FBI. It would be a surprise if the official story told about their death was factual.
Thus, what I'm saying is this. You are not a coward if you opt for non-violent struggle for change. Be calm, use your intelligence, form alliances. Black and white unite, and include Chicanos, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans. Form alliances for change, and make use of the possibilities that are open for you, and test the limits.
In the 1970s, Black industrial workers were pushed out of the industrial work force which they had started to enter during World War II. By now, many "whites" have been pushed out as the "White" ruling class continues to shift jobs to low-wage countries abroad. There are former steel towns where the almost exclusively "white" workforce has been made redundant and lives in hopelessness comparable to that of the poorest black neighborhoods. Middle-aged whites are on meth and the young, on crack. The ruling class has pushed blacks into a kind of hell four decades ago, and now has no problem with a replay of the old strategy -- but now the victims are "whites." Chicanos work in the farm sector under conditions likened to slave labor. There is an objective base for an alliance. It is the barrier in the consciousness of people that still keeps them from joining hands, in the same struggle for justice, equality and freedom, for a democracy worthy of that name, a democracy that finds the people empowered, as the constitution once promised but never helped us to really achieve.
Why do we demonstrate? Because we live in an unjust, unfree, corrupt society run by a minority of office holders, and of big owners of stocks of America's banks and other corporations, run by people who continue to ignore the real human needs of millions in America, run by people who bring war and suffering, for selfish political and, yes, for economic reasons, to so many people in so many parts of our world.
Our aim should be change, not as an empty word without real content, but real change for the better. To ACHIEVE THAT, IT IS NECESSARY TO DISEMPOWER THE POWERFUL, Let's attempt to accomplish it, by peaceful democratic means.
Peace. Also in Ferguson, Missouri. Peace - AND CONSCIOUS RESISTANCE.
- Arthur Boley
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