The Working Class, The Election, and Trump: An Interview with Sean Posey
Given the talk of the role of the white working class in the recent
election I decided to do an interview with Hampton's Urban Issues Chair
Sean Posey on the white working class, seeing as how he is from such an
area. In it, we discuss the media, the Democratic Party's relation to
the white working class, and end with what the left can do from here.
1. There is constant talk of how the Democrats lost the white working
class. What do you think of this narrative? It seems especially strange
when the media rarely if ever brings up the working class and
especially the white working class.
It's true. As the New York Times put it, "In the end, the bastions
of industrial-era Democratic strength among white working-class voters fell
to Mr. Trump." Basically, voters in the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin,
Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania allowed Trump to breech Clinton's "blue
wall" and win the election.
But yes, it's interesting that working class voters-white working class
voters, anyway-were a significant part of the media's presidential coverage
for the first time in many years. The media's focus on the white working
class is predominately because of Trump and the kind of campaign he chose
Trump honed in on what he called "forgotten Americans," largely working
class people in "flyover country," as it's often derisively called. Somehow
Trump understood the enormous malaise that exists in wide swaths of America
where local economies-and cultures-have disintegrated. He tapped a vein of
populist rage and channeled it back into his campaign. It seemingly took
everyone by surprise, especially the media and the political elite.
It's important to remember how concentrated the media is now-mostly on the
coasts around Washington, New York City, Boston, places like that. So it
comes as no surprise that many journalists are deeply puzzled by Trump's
rise. It's far less surprising to those of us rooted in what you might call
Although poorly covered by the media, white working class support buoyed
Obama in 2008 and 2012. As the New York Times put it, Obama's "key
support often came in the places where you would least expect it. He did
better than John Kerry and Al Gore among white voters across the Northern
United States, despite
exit poll results
to the contrary. Over all, 34 percent of Mr. Obama's voters were whites
without a college degree - larger in number than black voters, Hispanic
voters or well-educated whites."
2. There are those that argue that those who voted for Trump are all
racists/sexists? Now, it would be foolish to say that racism and sexism
didn't play a role, however, how true would you say these accusations
are, being from an area that voted for Trump?
As you mention, it's foolish to discount the importance of race-and racial
appeals-along with sexism. However, those who attempt to reduce Trump's win
to matters of race and gender alone are kidding themselves. Whites actually
lost a net total of 700,000 jobs in the aftermath of the Great
Recession-the only racial/ethnic group to experience such losses. White
workers aged 25 to 54 lost nearly 6.5 million jobs during those nine years,
while Asian, Latino and black workers in the same age bracket gained
millions of jobs.
And there are now almost nine million more jobs than in November 2007.
According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, during the
primary, Trump won 89 of the 100 counties most affected by trade with
China. And most disturbingly, life expectancy for whites, predominately in
the working class, is actually declining. There's nothing similar in the
West to compare it to. It's no wonder that so many found Trump's appeals,
which aside from race, centered on trade, jobs, national and cultural
My home state of Ohio suffered immensely after China's entry into the WTO;
that's in addition to the deindustrialization that began in the 1970s. The
inability or unwillingness of the Democrats to address the pain of the
"hollowed out American Heartland," as I call it, brought them disaster on
November 8. Trump won HALF the union vote in Ohio. That's unprecedented for
a Republican candidate.
3. Some would say that those who voted for Trump are getting exactly
what they deserve, as they voted Republican. While understandable,
isn't that line of thinking a bit of a problem seeing as how these very
same people didn't really have any other options besides Republicans or
neoliberal Democrats, both of which would have damned them?
Those who say that Trump voters get what they deserve are actually feeding
into the Trump movement. It's important to understand where many of these
people are coming from. Now, I'm not talking about the Alt-Right or the
Klan elements, but I'd clearly place them in the minority. If we write off
a huge chunk of the working class, how are we ever going to build a
movement of working people?
In his book,
Listen, Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?
Thomas Franks dissects the decades-long movement of the Democrats into the
neoliberal camp. The Democratic Party is America's left party; it's why the
party exists. Yet Democrats increasingly represent a tiny fraction of
Americans, not the top 1 percent, but the top 10 percent. Unions,
industrial workers, service workers, etc., have no place left to turn. Many
ran to Trump's campaign. Condemning those voters as completely stupid or as
a "basket of deplorables" will simply give us eight years of Donald Trump.
Liberals would do much better by looking in the mirror.
4. There seems to be something of a stereotype of poor whites who voted
for Trump as these dumb, backwards people who can't figure out their
own interests, which doesn't seem true, as Washington Post reported in
November that people voted for Trump as they saw him as
vital to securing their economic interests
. Seeing as how you are from an area that voted for Trump, how would
you characterize the people there?
The Washington Post article you mentioned gets to the heart of it.
Obama actually carried Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin-twice.
The idea that Hillary couldn't win these states is pretty laughable. Trump
is the first Republican candidate in 30 years to be really competitive here
in Ohio's Mahoning Valley, and he became competitive by running a populist
campaign. By contrast, Clinton couldn't even elucidate a reason why she
wanted to be president, other than the fact that she wanted to be
president. The deindustrialized communities of the Rust Belt voted for
disruption. Why? They've clearly gained little from the status quo. Perhaps
the Democrats should listen…
5. What are your thoughts on the attempt by Jill Stein and others to
engage in a vote recount or try to pressure the electoral college to
vote for Clinton?
Stein's recount effort proved to be a waste of time and resources. It
represents one of several misguided efforts (such as the attempt to
influence electoral voters to defy Trump) to derail the Trump Train. I see
it as one more effort to avoid building a real movement for change. Say
what you want about the right, but they understand how to organize and
influence power. Liberals and progressives? Not so much.
6. There is large amounts of anger and frustration at the election of
Trump, however, it seems to be being put into marching and backing
other Democratic candidates, some of whom such as Bernie Sanders, have
said they would work with Trump. Why do you think that people are still
pushing for the same old solutions, when those clearly have not worked?
The left is badly fractured and demoralized. The failure of the Democratic
Party and the failure of movements such as Occupy have left many on the
left confused and bewildered. For decades, communism served as the one
great unifier for many leftist movements, but communism is dead. No
coherent competing philosophy has emerged to counter capitalism and
neoliberalism. You can see this in Europe where nationalism and right-wing
populism are on the rise. The left across the West is perplexed about how
to deal with it.
What is to be done? No one seems to know at this point, and we don't have
time much time left to figure it out.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Lies and Legacy: A Conversation on Fidel Castro
By Brenan Daniels
A major update: Due to personal reasons, I will have to step away from What About Peace for a while. However, I am turning my blog over to a good friend of mine, Brenan Daniels, who very much holds the same views (and writing style) that I do. The About/Contact page will be changed to reflect this soon.
He recently interviewed Patxi Ariet, the son of Cuban immigrants to the US who supported Fidel Castro, about Castro, Cuba, the US media coverage of Cuba/Castro, and Cuba's future.
- What are your thought's on Castro's death and the media's reaction?
The death of Fidel Castro marks the end of an era in the history of Cuba. To me it marks the end of the 20th century and the Cold War era and moves Cuba into the 21st century and makes room for the youth of Cuba to continue the revolution in the spirit of Fidel Castro. As to the media coverage, I feel that it was highly choreographed as to what was said. At first Fidel was referred to as the “Leader of the Cuban people,” when the news first broke about his death. As the day went on, however, he went from leader to Dictator.
We saw the political line of the American government come out through all media sources in the United States. Whether is was print or broadcast, the line was the same. There was also very little attention to given to Cubans in the island. The emphasis was on the Cuban exiles and their story out of Miami. Showing people living in Key Biscayne, which is one of the most exclusive and wealthiest parts of Miami, to get their take on the death of Fidel and of course to through some punches at his legacy. This was to be expected though, every emperor rejoices in the death of their enemy.
2. Tell us about your life and growing up as a Cuban whose parents supported the revolution? Why did your parents support the revolution?
To say the least, I did not fit in with the other children that came from staunch Anti-Castro, Republican homes. I would listen to the stories they have heard from their parents and I would tell mine. My family supported the revolution because they remembered and were not blind to the abuses of the Batista government. They saw the need for a total change in Cuba and its relationship with the United States. I would hear about how Havana was controlled by the Mafia and American corporate interests. They would tell me the stories about the “Saca Uñas,” the Nail Pullers.
These were special secret police that would kidnap, interrogate, imprison, even kill Anti-Batista Cubans, or just those that did not do what the secret police told them to do. My own great grandfather who was Captain of the Police force in Havana was forced to resign his post when he refused to assassinate people for the government. These were stories that many Cubans in Miami would never talk about or allow their children to hear. Along with the corruption my family remembered the poverty and injustice outside of Havana.
How people could just be thrown off their land by the whim of the foreign land lords. My own grandfather used to deliver medicine for free and provide medical care for free in these areas because they did not have any money for food much less health care. This is why the revolution was necessary in their eyes.
3. How have people received your support for Castro? Have you been shunned by members of the Cuban community?
Depends on who I am talking to. An American will sit with me and discuss the Cuban missile crisis and Bay of Pigs, of course from the American perspective. These conversations usually end with, “Huh, I didn’t know that”, from the person I’m speaking to. As far as the Cuban community, the reaction is a bit different. I never try to disrespect or put down the experiences of those Cubans that I’m speaking to that lived through the early days of the revolution. I know that any revolution is a difficult thing to live through, change is always a painful process and I try to sympathize with what they went through. For the most part I am either kicked out of where I am by the Anti-Castro supporter, or I am drawn into a long conversation about the horrors of Fidel and then kicked out.
There is a type of shunning that comes with being a Pro-Castro Cuban in Miami. People automatically know your name, recognize your face. Create elaborate stories about you, about how you are a spy for the Cuban government, how you must have killed 100 political dissidents to get to where you are. This is the basis of the Anti-Castro propaganda, lies and exaggerations. I remember once I was at a school mates house doing a project for school.
My parents struggled to send me to La Salle high school in Miami, one of the two obligatory schools Cuban exile children chose from to attend. I was doing a project at the house of a classmate whose mother was Anti-Castro, gun-ho republican. She was speaking to me about President George W. Bush’s policy towards Cuba. She went on and on, when she finished all I said was, “The embargo is the reason for the shape Cuba is in, but Fidel and the revolution has still managed to help the people of Cuba.” I was immediately told to leave. This is normal and you learn to keep your mouth shut in certain areas. I am much more well received in American areas
4. There are some who would argue mistakes were made by Castro. Talk about those mistakes, but also how the media seems to ignore anything positive Castro has done.
Every government makes mistakes. To err is human. Unfortunately, when the leader of a country makes mistakes, some people suffer from it and it becomes the focal point of propaganda. In my humble opinion I feel Fidel could have done more in the way of “Socializing” industry and not just Nationalizing them. Industry should have been for the benefit of every Cuban and controlled by the workers of those industries. I see this as a major flaw to an exact Socialist state. This mistake, however, I do not even hold to much against Castro. I was never in his position and I trust he did what he thought was best to maintain the revolution in Cuba and make sure it was in the best interest of the Cuban people in the long run. I also know that there is scarcity due to the embargo so this could also be a reason to nationalize all industry, to make sure that enough is produced and distributed among the people.
However, the media looks at these “flaws” as evidence of an Evil dictator that refuses to adequately feed his people. Of course, they don’t mention the free healthcare and education systems across the islands, nor how Cuba send doctors all over the world to help those in need that cannot afford medical care. They don’t mention how every Cuban has a job, can read and write, has housing.
You never hear about the low infant mortality rate that is even lower than in the US. You don’t hear the fact that no one starves to death on the Island. There is scarcity, yes, but everyone eats and no one is starving to death. The western media ignores these facts and make Cuba look like a prison.
They distort why some people are in jail, the distort the numbers of people in jail, yet fail to mention that the US has the highest prison population in the world! How the prison system in the US is used as a modern day slave system to contract inmates, mostly of color, out to companies to do jobs for little or no pay. This is never brought up, yet the few small incidences in Cuba are blown out of proportion to be used as propaganda. It is disgusting.
5. What would you say is the impact Castro has had over the years and the impact he is still having?
Over the years Castro has impacted millions of lives. To begin with, in Cuba has impacted every single Cuban those who love him and those who hate him see this man as the one that changed their lives. Around the world he has impacted many many others over the years. From his stance against the Belgians in the Congo during their fight for independence. Him sending troops to Angola to defeat the apartheid soldiers sent in from South Africa, which were supported by the US.
To the peoples of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador who looked to Fidel Castro as well as Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos as an inspiration to overthrow those in their countries that wanted to use them as slaved to continue making money and who have repeatedly sold them out to the United States so they can further their own economic interests. Even after his death he is impacting and will continue to impact millions of people daily.
He has become the symbol of revolution, the symbol of fighting for what you believe in and fighting for the right of your country and your people to be free. He stood up to the biggest empire this world has ever known and lived to be an old man. That is inspiring. His actions will never be forgotten and it is because of his action that his words and his legacy will be immortal. History has truly absolved him.
6. If possible, have you been in contact with anyone in Cuba who can speak to how the Cuban people are feeling?
I have a few friends of mine that are from Cuba and travel to Cuba quite frequently. None, unfortunately, that have visited the island after the death of Fidel. I can speak to how he was spoken about while he was alive. I have heard some say he was like a grandfather. Others who criticized him for not giving in to the Americans so they can have more things. Overall though the people of Cuba do not regret the revolution nor do they wish for the state to be overthrown.
As any patriotic citizen of their country, they feel that Cuba can be better, and it is exactly that feeling that Fidel Castro inspired in people and that is why Cuba will be better. Notice that those that have criticized Fidel were not harassed, nor put into prison. They criticized him openly and without fear of the state.
7. What do you think the future hold for Cuba, especially with regards to its relations with the US?
I think Cuba will continue to grow and move towards Socialism. With the next generation preparing to take the helm of the country I am excited to see what happens. When it comes to relations with the US. I am afraid that under President Donald Trump, the doors of diplomacy will be closed once again and the Cold War with Cuba will continue. I do not see Cuba giving in to the demands of a demagogue like Trump. I feel optimistic, however, that this will not limit Cuba’s interaction with the international community and that Cuba will continue to grow economically in the world despite the attempts of Mr. Trump to strangle it.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
On Queer Anarchism
The following is an interview I had with Gywnevere, an administrator of the Facebook page Pink and Black anarchists, where we discuss her interest in anarchism, an anarchist take on the modern LGBT movement, and finish with how people can learn more about queer anarchism.
1. If you can, tell us a little bit about the history of queer anarchism and how you yourself became an anarchist.
My introduction to the anarchist school of thought has come about rather recently, perhaps within the last six months I have fully come to appreciate where my beliefs lay. However, given my interest in politics, I believe it was inevitable. I grew up listening to Paul Harvey and Rush Limbaugh on the radio with my grandparents, often they’d discuss their feelings on it through their own lens. After 9-11 occurred, my mother joined in on politicking, and my immediate sphere of influence was cemented in as a right-wing echo chamber.
I have known that I was a transgender woman since I was old enough to create memories of the world, and as I began to critique my own beliefs and theirs it began to chip away at the prison which had been constructed around me. As I desired for other people to be free from the same cages I had to deal with, I steadily shifted towards libertarianism of the right. When Obama proposed the Affordable Care Act, I viewed it as an egregious overreach of government, and quickly took to the streets in protest, gave speeches, the whole nine yards. It was during that research that I first discovered the feelings of cognitive dissonance. While pouring through the thousands of pages of the legislation, I could not verify any of the right-wing distortions about it nor any evidence that it could be anything but a blessing for thirty million people. Yet, I still swallowed the bitter pill and forged ahead – ignoring it and my own principles.
From what I have seen these last few months, the history of anarchism is a principled one. More often than the adherents do not, an ethical stance is chosen through careful consideration of the complexities of a topic until it is picked clean as though carrion beetles defleshed it themselves. Emma Goldman’s explanation for why she chose to stand up for her friend Oscar Wilde when he was convicted for his sexuality in the 1900s struck the biggest chord with me, “No daring is required to protest against a great injustice.” Her collection of thoughtful pieces published in 1910, “Anarchism and Other Essays,” shaped the lens through which I burned away my nationalist feelings, my internalized misogyny, and my support for the prison industrial complex. It’s a lens through which I must continuously burn away what society constantly heaps upon us. Beyond hearing of other names here and there, I know little of the exact history of anarchism, as often state education glosses over an individual’s ties to the community, their contributions, or the individual entirely. However, I continue to add writings and facts to my knowledge daily, and I hope others will take the opportunity to do the same with me. We all must start somewhere.
2. In what ways do you on an individual level interact with the mainstream LGBT movement, if at all?
I believe that the biggest way in which I interact with the community is by being very vocal, proud, and unapologetically secure in who I am as a femandrogyne individual. However, many of my friends are also somewhere in the community – even prior to my own coming out. If there was one issue which would make my blood boil during a holiday with my immediate family around it was the rights for LGBTQIA+ people. I still flashback to July 4, 2012 where I yelled at my grandmother for being ignorant and stormed off to another room while being yelled after by the two reactionaries left in the room. That incident uncorked the bottle on feeling as though the ideology I was a member of was wrong and that I should begin to be extremely vocal when something was an injustice – no matter the victim. After all, at that point in time, I was simply an “ally.”
These days I spend most of my time posting thoughts into the void as myself based on the identities that intersect with my own life. For the past two years or so, I’ve also been running a page focused on bringing positivity or select information to individuals of the LGBTQIA+ community, but with the recent election results that has been ever-so-slightly changed. Keeping up morale and sharing information, both behind the scenes and at the forefront, has been my life for the last several years as I have grown to understand myself and others.
3. Why would you say that'd the history of LGBT people, especially more radical instances such as Stonewall, are glossed over while simultaneously being held up as important events in US history?
I do not recall ever hearing about anyone’s sexuality when studying at public school or in any community college classes I had. The first time it was ever acknowledge was in a university course on American literature where the teacher wanted to highlight the identities of the authors so that we could better understand them.
It seems likely that such information is glossed over mainly because it is viewed as trivial. As I often recall seeing in other courses, “It is an exercise better left up to the student to figure out.” I do not believe that is the only reason, however, because many of our textbooks are printed with the state of Texas, my home state, in mind. The Texas State Board of Education has a longstanding history of historical revisionism, inaccuracies, and outright errors which they convince companies to publish, as they are the largest purchaser of school texts in the nation. They carry a lot of weight, thanks in part to how our society has been constructed, and as such they dictate what is emphasized, ignored, and omitted based on their own traditionalist lens. I recall having a set of books for home, a set readily available in the classroom, and a set in the back storage if either were damaged, a grand total of six textbooks, for a single English class. I never understood it, in the past.
4. There seems to be a lot of support for groups like HRC, which in reality is a hotbed of white gay men who aid each other (I will include the link later) to the detriment of lesbians and transgender people. Why do you suppose this is?
If I am perfectly honest, I believe it is the byproduct of a traditionalist society within which we live. The clear majority of us were indoctrinated within households that viewed the male figure as superior or dominant which arose from the major influence that Christianity has had on our country’s society both past and present. Couple that view of male superiority with the white supremacy that seethes within the United States, and it gives the predominant figure which is likely to be chosen to “normalize” LGBTQIA+ people: a white gay man. It is not that other platforms which aid transgender and lesbian individuals do not exist, it is merely that the most “socially acceptable” ones as described previously bubble to the top in our social consciousness.
5. Are there any strategies you use to get people, especially LGBT people, to understand that it is OK for LGBT people to defend themselves from violence? As we have seen, the only acceptable LGBT person is one who sits there smiling, while the other person screams that they should die and are going to hell.
I try to engage with them both in public and in private to help them grapple with their fear of direct action or their pacifist/peaceful ways. I share the resources that I have used to help me to shape my own stances on when violence is justified or not. I believe that the only way through which we can help people overcome our natural desire to protect everyone against those who cannot fathom such altruistic behavior without incentive is directly. One-on-one. Engaging with our friends, family, or even acquaintances and getting them to a level to where they may engage with others trying to fathom the kind of brutish behavior exhibited by those with a reckless disregard for those which lay beyond their in-group.
6. How can people learn more about LGBT anarchism?
Reading. Seeking out information. Filling one’s mind with the observations and critiques which combine ethos, pathos, and logos in powerful ways. I found that “Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire” (2013) by Deric Shannon et. al. was a deeply insightful work which helped solidify my feelings about anarchism in place. It discusses why we must protect one another within this community, and those who have yet to realize they are a part of it, with our love and our actions. “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849) by Thoreau, while not particularly tied to LGBT anarchism, I believe is also a necessary read as it highlights the struggle to apply pacifism when the laws themselves are unjust and unethical. There’s so much information online and elsewhere, but with this starting point I hope individuals that are just realizing that their liberty is at stake and threatened will gain as much information as they can as quickly as possible so that we may move forward together.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
By Devon Douglas-Bowers and Colin Jenkins
In June 2016, the Democrats had a sit-in on the House floor to push for gun legislation that had been blocked. It has been noted by numerous writers the myriad of problems with this bill as well as the hypocrisy of the sit-in itself. However, this article is to talk about something deeper: the question of violence, so-called “gun control,” and how these issues relate to politics and the working-class majority in its place within the socio-capitalist hierarchy.
There are arguably three main types of violence which will be premised in this analysis: state violence, group violence, and revolutionary violence. The first two forms of violence, coming from the state and groups empowered by the status quo, are designed to oppress. The third form, coming from revolutionaries and the systematically oppressed, is designed to strike back at this oppression for the purpose of liberation. The first two types (state and group) are violent by nature. The last type (revolutionary) is counter-violent by nature.
Violence and politics are historically intertwined, so much so that the definition of the state is “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” Due to this monopoly of violence, the state is able to put restrictions on what kinds of weapons people can have, and if they can have any at all. Because of the state’s monopoly on the use of violence, which is directed at citizens of that state whenever deemed necessary, the issue of “gun control” is rather peculiar. It is also fairly unique to the United States, a country that was born at the hands of the gun, and a country that has been largely shaped by the degrees of “liberty” reflected in gun ownership among the populace. In modern society, gun control seems like a common-sense measure as it is quite obvious to many that people shouldn’t have the right to possess tanks, Javelins, Scuds, nuclear weapons, and other military-grade weaponry. However, as technology in weaponry increases, so too does the power of the state in its monopoly of violence. Because of this natural progression of state power based solely in military hardware, a side effect of gun control is that it creates a polarization of power between the state and its citizenry. In other words, the state continues to build its arsenal with more powerful and effective weaponry, while the citizenry continues to face restrictions on access to weaponry. While this scenario may seem reserved for the tin-foil-hat-wearing and prepper-obsessed fringes, the reality is that, within a social-political-economic system that naturally creates extreme hierarchies and masses of dispossessed people, it is (and has been) a serious problem in the context of domestic political and social movements.
There are underlying class and racial issues related to the state’s monopoly of violence and its restriction of access to guns for its citizens. Looking from a historical perspective, when it comes to violence at the hands of the state, it is regularly used on the side of capital. One only need look at the history of the American labor movement during the first half of the twentieth century, which was an extremely violent time. Within the context of class relations under capitalism, whereas the state represents moneyed interests and a powerful minority, the working-class majority has faced an uphill battle not only in its struggle to gain basic necessities, but also in its residual struggle against an increasingly-armed state apparatus that is inherently designed to maintain high levels of dispossession, poverty, and income inequality. A primary example of the state using violence to aid capital is the Ludlow Massacre.
In the year 1913, in the southern Colorado counties of Las Animas and Huerfano, miners (with the help of the United Mine Workers of America) decided to strike. They argued for union recognition by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, an increase in wages, and an eight-hour work day, among other things. In response, the company kicked a number of miners off of the company land, and brought in the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency which specialized in breaking coal strikes. The Agency initiated a campaign of harassment against the strikers, which “took the form of high-powered searchlights playing over the colonies at night, murders, beatings, and the use of the ‘death special,’ an improvised armored car that would periodically spray selected colonies with machine-gun fire.” The purpose of this harassment “was to goad the strikers” into violent action so the National Guard could be called out to suppress the labor strike. It worked.
In October 1913, Governor Elias A. Ammos summoned the National Guard, under the command of General John Chase, who declared martial law in the striking area. Under control of the National Guard, a state-controlled militia, a number of atrocities took place against the striking workers, such as the “mass jailing of strikers, a cavalry charge on a demonstration by miners’ wives and children, the torture and beating of ‘prisoners,’ and the demolition of one of the [workers’] tent colonies.”
The situation came to a gruesome ending when on April 20, 1914 gunfire broke out between the striking miners and National Guard troops. When miners who had taken up arms to protect themselves and their families went to a railroad cut and prepared foxholes in an attempt to draw the National Guard away from the colony, Guard troops sprayed the colony with machine gun and rifle fire and eventually burned the tent colony to the ground. An estimated 25 people died that day, “including three militiamen, one uninvolved passerby, and 12 children.” Unfortunately, this example of the state using its monopoly of violence to represent the minority interests of capital against the majority interests of workers. The state had previously come down hard on the side of union-busting with violence in the 1892 Homestead Massacre in Pennsylvania, and in 1894 when President Cleveland sent out over 16,000 U.S. Army soldiers to handle the railroad strikers in Pullman, Chicago.
In 1932, state violence targeted a large group of war veterans who had assembled in Washington, D.C. demanding payment from the federal government for their service in World War I. The Bonus Army, an assemblage of roughly 43,000 people consisting primarily of veterans, their families, and affiliated activists, marched on D.C. to demand payment of previously received service certificates only to be met with violent repression. First, two veterans were shot and killed by Washington D.C. police, and then, after orders from Herbert Hoover, Douglas Macarthur moved in on the veterans with infantry, cavalry, and six tanks, forcing the Bonus Army, their wives, and children out of their makeshift encampment and burning all of their belongings and shelter. “Although no weapons were fired, cavalry advanced with swords drawn, and some blood was shed. By nightfall, hundreds had been injured by gas (including a baby who died), bricks, clubs, bayonets, and sabers.”
Later in the 20th century, state violence continued, yet it had switched targets from union members and striking workers to political activists. An example is the Kent State shootings, where on May 4, 1970 “members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University [antiwar] demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine.” Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom had requested Ohio Governor James Rhodes to summon the Guard due to “threats had been made to downtown businesses and city officials as well as rumors that radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and the university.”
The rhetoric of Governor Rhodes escalated the situation as he called the protesters “the worst type of people in America and [stated] that every force of law would be used to deal with them,” which created a perception among both soldiers and university officials that “a state of martial law was being declared in which control of the campus resided with the Guard rather than University leaders,” and on top of this, all rallies were banned. This helped to foster an increase of tension in an atmosphere that was already extremely tense.
On the day of May 4th, around 3,000 students gathered to protest the Guard’s presence on the campus. At noon, it was announced the General Robert Cantbury, the leader of the Ohio National Guard, had made the decision that the rally was to disperse; this message was delivered to the students via the police. When this was met with shouting and some rock throwing, the Guard was sent in to break up the protest and, due to the students retreating up a hill and on to a portion of the football field, the soldiers who followed them ended up somewhat trapped between the football field’s fence and the protesters. The shouting and rock throwing continued as the soldiers began to extract themselves from the football field and up a hill, and when they reached the top, the soldiers fired their weapons back toward the crowd, with a small amount firing directly into the crowd.
No matter how one looks at it, the entire point of the National Guard being deployed to Kent State University was to squash the protesters who had gathered under their perceived constitutional rights to express their collective displeasure with the Vietnam War. The state chose to deploy its monopoly of violence as a tool to end these public protests.
Assassination campaigns by the state, directed by the FBI or CIA, and often times carried out by local police departments, have also been deployed under this monopoly of violence. There is the notably disturbing case of Chicago Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton, who was assassinated by Chicago police due to his political views and membership in the Black Panther organization. There is also speculation and credible evidence that the U.S. government was involved in both the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Today, state violence has manifested itself in daily public displays of police brutality and violence against citizens. This endemic use of state force has become so bad that a recent report from the UN Human Rights Council noted concerns “for police violence and racial discrimination” in the U.S. Yet, despite this widespread recognition of state terror being directed at citizens, we see that the federal government (the highest level of state) is protecting its enforcers, with President Obama signing into law what is effectively an Amber Alert for the police, and states such as Louisiana passing ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bills which designates “public safety workers” (a clever euphemism for police) as a specially protected class of citizens, opening the door for possible “hate crime” legislation that further protects those who carry out state repression.
This rampant use of state violence against U.S. citizens has also gone international. In the age of the Global War on Terror, the U.S. government has gone so far as to decide it has the power to use its monopoly of violence on its citizens abroad. The case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was killed via drone strike in Yemen in 2011, provides a notable example of this. The significance of this extension to the parameters of “international warfare” or the often vague “fight against terror” is that any U.S. citizen deemed to be under suspicion of associating with “terrorists” may be immediately executed without due process. Since al-Awlaki, the U.S. government has officially acknowledged that it has killed four American citizens abroad, while claiming that three of those deaths were by accident.
In looking at the state’s (in this case, the U.S. state at multiple levels) monopoly of violence and its continued use against its own citizens, we see that this deployment of violence is always done in the favor of capital (a small minority) in order to expand and strengthen capital’s influence, through its state surrogate, over the working-class majority.
Group violence manifests itself in numerous citizens joining together in a common cause to perpetrate violence against other citizens who in some way fit the intended target of that cause. When discussing group violence, it should be noted that the subjects are non-state actors. While these groups may be directly or indirectly supported by the state, they essentially carry out their acts of violence as groups autonomous from the state apparatus.
The Ku Klux Klan (which is currently attempting to make a comeback) has for decades engaged in numerous acts of group violence, from public lynchings to terrorism and coercion to bombing churches. The purpose of this group violence has been to maintain a social order in which Anglo-Saxon, Protestant white men are able to keep their hands on the reins of power in the U.S., if not systematically, then culturally and socially.
In many cases, because they may share interests, group violence intertwines with and complements state violence. During Reconstruction following the U.S. Civil War, the KKK had well-known ties to the more official southern state apparatus of power. In the modern era, white supremacists who adhere to notions of group violence have purposely and strategically infiltrated formal arms of state violence, including both the U.S. military and many local police departments around the country. A similar group that is making major headway today is the Neo-Fascists, who can be seen in Europe being legitimized and assimilating into mainstream political parties such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, the UK’s UK Independence Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, and France’s National Front. Like the Klan, these groups seek to maintain a race-based, social status quo that benefits their own group. In the polls, they seek to gain some influence on the use of state violence, whereas on the streets they adhere to group violence and domestic terrorism.
A difference worth noting between the old-school group violence of the Klan and the new-school group violence (or at least contributing to an atmosphere of violence) that neo-fascists encourage and enact is that the new-school violence has been legitimized in many ways by both the media and the public at-large. In other words, we now have large segments of the population who are openly defending the neo-fascists through legitimizing means.
Back in the heyday of the Klan, there was violence, yet no one defended it under the banner of free speech or attempted to legitimize it through mainstream channels. It was certainly supported by mainstream power structures, and even gained steam through the insidious white supremacy which characterized American culture, but it wasn’t openly defended. The KKK often carried out its operations in a clandestine manner, attacking and terrorizing at night, and wearing hoods to maintain anonymity. And many black people actively took up arms to defend themselves against it. Today, the situation has been turned on its head, with many people arguing that fascists have the right to free speech and that they should be protected.
An example of this changing paradigm regarding right-wing extremism and group violence could be seen after a recent fight between Neo-Nazis and antifascists in Sacramento, California in late June 2016. The incident brought out many defenders. Sacramento police chief Sam Somers stated that “Regardless of the message, it’s the skinheads’ First Amendment right to free speech.” Debra J. Saunders, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote in an article that “the bullies who were protesting against fascists seemed to have a lot in common with fascists — they're also thuggish and simpleminded” and that “An informal army of anarchists uses violence to muzzle unwanted speech.” The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote that they agreed with Antifa Sacramento that racism shouldn’t be tolerated, but “What we disagree with is the idea that skinheads and neo-Nazis, or anyone else with a wrongheaded view, shouldn't have a 1st Amendment right to free speech.”
There are a number of problems with these statements. First, by defending fascists through arguments couched in free speech, such commentators are not only ignoring the underlying group-violence historically perpetrated by these groups, but also misusing the First Amendment itself. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Note, the Amendment says nothing about how other citizens may respond to free speech, nor does it say that groups of citizens can’t abridge free speech; rather, it specifically applies to Congress and its prospective legislation. In other words, the Constitution of the United States applies strictly to the government and how it relates to its citizens, whereas the laws created by the government apply to the individuals and how they relate to the government.
Then there is the matter of ignoring power dynamics and creating a false equivalence. These responses create the illusion that each side is doing something negative and so neither side should be supported. This ignores the fact that one side (the neo-nazis and fascists) are assembling with the purpose of oppressing others, while the other side (the anti-fa and anarchists) are assembling to stop (violently, if necessary) the one side from oppressing. While the former adheres to violent means to oppress people based on the color of their skin, or their sexuality, or their Jewish heritage, the latter adheres to violent means to resist this oppression, or essentially oppress the oppressor. To equate their motivations is irresponsible and dangerous.
This false equivalence that has been deployed by much of the media, both liberal and conservative, amounts to placing a murderous and whip-lashing slave owner in the same light as a rebelling slave who murders the slave owner to gain freedom. By using this hypothetical, it is easy to see that there is a fundamental difference between violence and counter-
Another side effect of this public defense of the oppressor, and subsequent legitimization of group violence, is that it is used to increase state violence. Marcos Brenton, a writer at The Sacramento Bee, argued that “I would bet that future demonstrations will see a shared command center between the CHP and Sac PD instead of what we saw Sunday: CHP officers overwhelmed by warring factions. […]Law enforcement wasn’t ready this time, but they have to be next time. In a climate where life isn’t valued, life will be lost.” This is an argument that is implicitly in favor of an increase in state violence from an already hyper-militarized police force. And, when used in this context, the deployment of state violence will almost always be directed at those who assemble to stop oppressive group violence, because arguments housed in free speech and false equivalencies erase any and all distinctions between violence and counter-violence.
This is where the connection between state and group violence often manifests itself. As mentioned before, there is a rather long history of the police and the KKK being connected. On April 2, 1947, seven black people in Hooker, GA were turned over “to a Klan flogging party for a proper sobering up” by Dade County Sheriff John M. Lynch. In Soperton, GA in 1948, “the sheriff did not bother to investigate when four men where flogged, while the sheriff of nearby Dodge County couldn’t look into the incident” due to his being busy baby-sitting.
There is also the famous case of the Freedom Riders, three Civil Rights activists who were killed by the Klan, which amounted to three individuals being “arrested by a deputy sheriff and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders.”
This connection has yet to end. In 2014, in Florida, two police officers in the town of Fruitland Park were linked to the Klan and in 2015 in Lake Arthur, LA, a detective was a found to be a Klan member and even attended one of the group’s rallies.
These connections allow for the state, and all the power and resources it wields, to be used directly to further the ends of white supremacy and empower fascistic, racist group violence in the streets. It also puts racial minorities from within the working class at greater risks since many of these bigoted individuals who carry out group violence on their own time are also allowed to carry out state violence while on the job. As agents of the state, they can kill, terrorize, harass, and imprison racial minorities with impunity vis-à-vis their roles as state enforcers and are further empowered by the public’s and media’s reverence of oppressive forms of assembly and “free speech,” as well as the police officers who defend this.
Revolutionary violence is realized in two distinct forms: self-defense and/or counter-violence. It is a type of violence in which the goal is either self-defense for an oppressed people and/or full liberation for a people, whether that liberation take the form of autonomous communities, a nation state, or something else. It is also resistance to encroachment on the land by oppressive forces, such as indigenous resistance to expansionist Americans. Revolutionary violence may come in different forms and be carried out through various means. It includes everything from individual acts of “propaganda by the deed” to large-scale revolutions against a state.
Examples of revolutionary violence are abound throughout history, and include the slave revolts of Spartacus and Nat Turner, the Reign of Terror against the French monarchy, the Spanish revolt against the fascist Franco regime, Alexander Berkman’s attempted murder of Carnegie Steel manager Henry Clay Frick, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Reconstruction-era blacks taking up arms against the KKK, the Mau Maus in Kenya, the Cuban revolution, and a number of national liberation movements in the mid-twentieth century that occurred around the world.
Revolutionary violence is different from state and group violence in that it manifests itself as a response to violence often stemming from one of these two opposing sources. For this reason, it is strictly counter-violent (or defensive) in nature, designed to break the violent oppression that its adherents find themselves under. The benefit of being able to deploy revolutionary violence is obvious in that it allows the oppressed to strike back at their oppressors. It is in this beneficial scenario where the question of guns and “gun control” come back into the mix. How are people supposed to free themselves, or even defend themselves from state and group violence, if they are unable to have guns? How are people able to protect themselves from oppressive violence if they do not have access to the same weaponry used by their oppressor?
When faced with systemic violence that is rooted in either a direct extension of the state (police, military) or an indirect extension of the power structure (the KKK, the Oath Keepers, neo-Nazis, neo-fascists), written laws constructed by the same state and power structure aren’t typically useful. And when doubled-down on by media and liberal establishment cries of free speech and false equivalencies, oppressed sectors of the population become even more vulnerable. Often times, armed self-defense becomes the only option to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s community from these deeply embedded, existential threats.
Formulating revolutionary counter-violence and self-defense measures became a staple of the American Civil Rights movement. From Malcolm X’s calls to defend the black community “by any means necessary” to the original Black Panther Party’s organizational emphasis on armed self-defense, the Civil Rights movement as a whole gained strength due to these more militant strains centered around revolutionary violence. In 1956, after a “relentless backlash from the Ku Klux Klan,” Robert F. Williams, a Marine Corps vet, took over the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and strengthened it with militancy by “filing for a charter with the National Rifle Association (NRA),” forming the Black Guard, “an armed group committed to the protection of Monroe’s black population,” and delivering weapons and physical training to its members. In 1959, following the acquittal of a white man who was accused of attempting to rape a black woman, Williams summed up the need for oppressed people to take up arms in their own self-defense. “If the United States Constitution cannot be enforced in this social jungle called Dixie, it is time that Negroes must defend themselves even if it is necessary to resort to violence,” responded Williams. “That there is no law here, there is no need to take the white attackers to the courts because they will go free and that the federal government is not coming to the aid of people who are oppressed, and it is time for Negro men to stand up and be men and if it is necessary for us to die we must be willing to die. If it is necessary for us to kill we must be willing to kill.”
Revolutionary violence often finds itself up against difficult odds, being deployed by marginalized peoples with limited resources against powerful state and group entities with seemingly unlimited resources, professional military training, and advantageous positioning within the given power structure. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising reflected this exact scenario, as a Jewish resistance in the hundreds, armed with handguns, grenades, and Molotov cocktails faced off against the powerful Nazi paramilitary Schutzstaffel (SS). When reflecting on the uprising over two decades later, one of the Jewish survivors, Yitzhak Zuckerman, encapsulated the need for an oppressed and degraded people to strike back:
I don’t think there’s any real need to analyze the Uprising in military terms. This was a war of less than a thousand people against a mighty army and no one doubted how it was likely to turn out. This isn’t a subject for study in military school. (...) If there’s a school to study the human spirit, there it should be a major subject. The important things were inherent in the force shown by Jewish youth after years of degradation, to rise up against their destroyers, and determine what death they would choose: Treblinka or Uprising.
This human spirit referred to by Zuckerman is the same that compelled Nat Turner to take up arms against slave-owning whites, the same that led to the formation of the original Black Panther Party, and the same that motivated Robert F. Williams in 1950s North Carolina. Without access to weapons, this human spirit would result in nothing more than gruesome massacres at the hands of state and group violence. With weapons in hand, this spirit is presented with a chance to stunt pending attacks of physical oppression and terrorism, if not repel them.
The modern gun control debate has taken on two, stereotypical, opposing sides. The first side is representative in the Congressional sit-ins on the House floor this past June. They represent a common liberal viewpoint that gun-control measures should be taken to restrict or, at the very least, delay the acquisition of guns by citizens. Popular demands coming from this side include the banning of all automatic or semi-automatic weapons, the blacklisting of certain people (including those suspected of “associating with terrorists,” the mentally ill, and felons), and the implementation of more stringent forms of clearances. The other side is represented by a reactionary right, mostly white, that is backed by both the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its surrogate, the Republican Party. These who oppose the liberal attempt to stifle the Second Amendment historically come from privileged strata of the status quo, including whites of all classes and those occupying advantageous positions in the socioeconomic hierarchy.
Both sides of the modern gun-control debate cling to very problematic positions and ideologies that are tantamount to their respective arguments. Both sides, in their own ways, reinforce the embedded racial and class privileges that repress much of the working class, the poor, and people of color – in other words, those sectors of the population that are most likely faced with extremely dire economic situations, occupying police forces that resemble foreign armies, and (literally) daily, life-or-death interactions with both police (state violence) and vigilantes (group violence). The liberal or Democrat argument for gun control, like those represented by the Congressional sit-in, almost always target extremely marginalized groups, like felons who have been victimized by the draconian “drug wars” of the ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as those who have been victimized by the “war on terror” and find themselves on terrorist watch lists for little more than their chosen religion or Islamic-sounding name. The reactionary opposition to gun control, represented by the NRA and Republicans, remains embedded in white supremacy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and classism, and thus ends up targeting these same marginalized populations.
This latter group’s motivation is evident in the overlap between fringe groups that historically adhere to group violence, like the KKK and Oath Keepers, and the more “mainstream” operations of the NRA.
Both sides of the gun-control debate, whether consciously or subconsciously, are motivated by what Noam Chomsky (paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson) recently referred to as a fear of “the liberation of slaves, who have ‘ten thousand recollections’ of the crimes to which they were subjected.” These “fears that the victims might rise up and take revenge are deeply rooted in American culture” (in racialized institutions of slavery and white supremacy) with reverberations to the present.” The liberal insistence on preaching strictly non-violent and pacifist tactics to poor, working-class, people of color exposes their privileged, white-supremacist leanings. The fact that they do this while also passing draconian legislation that has led to the virtual genocide of an entire generation of blacks (through drug laws and mass incarceration), and in the face of brutal, daily murders of black citizens by police, further exposes them. The recent silence from the NRA regarding the police killing of Philando Castile, who was licensed to carry a gun in Minnesota and properly identified his status to officers before being shot for no reason, has exposed the NRA’s white supremacist leanings. Also, the split that occurred within the Oath Keepers when one of their members in the St. Louis chapter, Sam Andrews, encouraged black residents in Ferguson and Black Lives Matters protesters to practice their Second-Amendment rights has exposed their own white supremacist leanings which they regularly disguise as “constitutionalism.”
While white supremacy has an intense and insidious hold on every aspect of American culture – social, economic, political, etc. – it is especially strong within the gun-control debate. So much so that it drove then-California governor, Ronald Reagan, in 1967, to sign extensive gun control legislation under the Mulford Act in response to armed patrols by members of the Black Panther Party. The classist nature of gun control can be found in the targeting of the most marginalized of the working class, along with the historically brutal state repression against workers collectively striking or standing up for their rights against bosses. The most common argument from the authentic, anti-capitalist left (not liberals or Democrats) against the idea of workers collectively exercising their constitutional right to bear arms has been housed in the insurmountable strength and technology owned by the government’s military. Left-wing skeptics claim that an armed working-class will simply have no chance against an overpowering military.
The problem with this is that it is preoccupied with a large-scale, pie-in-the-sky revolutionary situation. It ignores the reality faced by many working-class people who find themselves in small-scale interactions with police and vigilantes, both of whom are heavily armed and not afraid to use their weapons to kill. It is in these very interactions, whether it’s a back citizen being racially profiled and harassed by police or an activist being terrorized by reactionary vigilantes, where the access to a gun may become vitally important and life-saving. Taking guns away from those who need them most simply doesn’t make sense, especially in an environment such as the modern US – a heavily racialized, classist landscape with over 300 million guns in circulation. Nobody wants to be drawn into a violent situation that may result in the loss of life, but our current reality does not grant us that choice. Because of this, modern gun control can only be viewed as anti-black, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-poor, and anti-working class because it leaves these most marginalized and vulnerable of groups powerless in the face of a patriarchal, white-supremacist power structure that continues to thrive off of mass working-class dispossession.
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