Sunday, December 4, 2016

Resisting evil: BLM, NoDAPL, and anti-austerity

In an earlier post, I explained to the best of my ability why - as a Christian - I cannot 'do politics' the way most people do, nor can I do politics the way most 'Christians' do. In a sense, this post is the sequel. Because, like it or not, a lot of choices have now been made for us, and a lot of the old choices, as well as the way we made choices, have fallen by the way.

Any Christian who supports Donald Trump or his coterie is living inside a terrible contradiction. Because nearly everything the man says, or his consultants say, is contrary to the very meaning of the Gospels. That is not the debate I'm engaging here. This post is for those of us - Christian or not - who are beginning to achieve some clarity about the situation that confronts those of us who reside in the United States, recognizing that that situation cannot be described without transcending those boundaries.

More and more, as the debacle of the last election settles in and our memories begin to fragment, the Democratic Party's neoliberal establishment is trying to reassert itself by mounting the wave of outrage and anxiety created by an ascendant reactionary movement that has taken control of the Republican Party and captured the allegiance (for the time being) of many Americans who identify as 'white.' This Democratic Party establishment - its party operatives, its financial class patrons, its colonial surrogates, and its media - colluded in the defeat of Senator Sanders, who likely would have defeated Trump, but that was never the point.

Trump and the Democratic Party establishment are members of the same club, and while they will tear each other apart when they can, they both fear a common enemy - an uprising of the bottom 80-90 percent. Trump successfully employed racism, sexism, and xenophobia to bewilder some members of that fraction (most of Trump's support came from the so-called 'middle class'), and Clinton gave the most politically conscious section of the bottom 99 percent the back of her hand.

That Democrat establishment whined for a bit about the defeat it brought onto itself, blaming everyone from Sanders to the Russians; but now they are trying to put it all behind us and rally us around them again. And even though the lesser-evil strategy that was the centerpiece of their campaign failed disastrously, that is exactly the narrative they are now struggling to resurrect.

The facts are, (1) the ascendancy of this white nationalist movement is doubly dangerous because the neoliberal establishment from both parties has for decades now been strengthening the security state and executive prerogative, and (2) it was neoliberal policy in the service of the American ruling class that paved the way and opened the gate to a Trump regime.

All the old choices represented by this desperate and pathetic attempt of Clinton Democrats to default back to the old status quo is no more now than the smoke drifting away from an extinguished fire.

The bitter irony is that the three social movements that are now positioned on the front lines of any viable future struggle to resist the kind of neofascism we might see with a Trump regime at the helm of the strengthened security state were all given birth during Obama's neoliberal administration which has reigned for eight years. Those three movements are Black Lives Matter, NoDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline), and the Sanders campaign that mobilized millions of young people whose futures have been systematically erased by neoliberal policy - especially by uncontrollable debt and lack of basic social services like health care.

Neoliberal Democrats, including the first African American chief executive, did nothing to rein in Wall Street, nothing to stop police killings of black people, and nothing to address environmental racism. They opposed free universal health care at every step along the way. They supported the banks and oil companies who are behind the pipelines (that's plural). They expanded foreign wars and the power of the military-industrial complex. And they doubled down on neoliberal austerity at home (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in the lead!).

For those who might be confused by this term, neoliberalism, get to know it. It is important. Here is an historical primer. It means, in a nutshell, a transfer of wealth from the bottom and middle to the top. It is accomplished by privatizing gains, socializing losses, and shipping the environmental costs (called 'externalities' by economists) to the most vulnerable and politically powerless. (The Dakota Access Pipeline was originally planned to pass through lily-white Bismark, but when it met a bit of resistance, it was shifted onto Indian land. The fancy term is 'environmental load displacement'.)

What the establishment is hoping for is to return to the seat of power and reset to the former default; but this is a delusion. The social situation has evolved, and continues to evolve, in ways that made this period of reaction inevitable, and which make our choices now inevitable. How well people understand what is happening to them has little to do - in many cases - with when they will reach the point at which their tolerance for pain and-or anxiety is exhausted. Some of the same people who cheered Mussolini in 1925 were the ones who spat on his mutilated corpse in 1945.

How well people learn to integrate a valid understanding of their circumstances as they respond to them depend on many things. Some of us entertain the delusion that all people will understand every aspect of their circumstances (by which analysis?) when (or even before) they revolt. That is why some will call for a party, with an itemized program, and appoint themselves the arbiters of all conceptual integration, working furiously (and generally without much headway) to 'educate' the so-called masses before they move forward. This notion of homogenizing everyone into a single unitary army is a mistake (and it is fundamentally colonial). The Correct Program does not a leadership make. (Party builder keep on going and prove me wrong, but meanwhile . . . )

Our leaders are already here. The nascent movements are already here. We who may not be part of those movements should follow them, not try to 'convert' them or hijack them or subsume them into our imaginary armies.

Those movements, to reiterate, are Black Lives Matter, NoDAPL (and similar environmental justice struggles to come), and the people who supported the Sanders campaign. And it is their leadership that will hopefully begin the integration of these three concrete struggles for a more generalized resistance to this early stage of neofascist reaction.

Black Lives Matter is a movement on the front lines in urban America and in African America. This movement is positioned precisely at that point where white supremacy emerges from its camouflaged positions with a gun. BLM activists do not need someone from the outside to explain to them about youth unemployment or incarceration rates or food deserts or urban environmental racism. They get it. But they have a focus, and that is stopping cops from killing people of color. And this movement already has organic roots throughout African America.

NoDAPL is more rural, based for now with an indigenous American vanguard, and focused, as they have pointed out repeatedly, on protecting water. No one needs to explain to them about colonialism, or rural unemployment, or incarceration rates, or infant mortality, or rural environmental racism.

Both NoDAPL and BLM are forcing Americans to confront our history, to confront our white supremacy, and to take a hard look at the connections between racism, colonialism, and industrial-financial capitalism.

Finally, with regard to NoDAPL, the example of the heroic resistance in Standing Rock now will empower more fights against these dangerous pipelines. "Five, ten, one hundred Standing Rocks" should be our watchwords, because this is where we abandon the field of policy and law where the oil companies and banks hold sway, and confront them materially, on the ground, face to face.

The Sanders campaign was an open revolt situated squarely inside a dominant neoliberal party that was fundamentally an anti-austerity campaign. Its sheer size makes it impossible to ignore, and it was the more conscientized counterpart of the rebellion that underwrote Trump. Anti-austerity is a direct challenge to the economic policies of neoliberalism, and it is therefore part of an international movement against so-called austerity. By 'austerity,' we mean policies of subsidizing capitalists with tax breaks and reduced regulation, effacing social services and shredding social programs, imposing regressive tax structures, busting unions, and commodifying the commons.

The Sanders campaign mobilized millions of people, especially young people, and its character as a potential electoral force as well as a multicultural, youth-based anti-austerity movement adds yet another dimension to this constellation of resistance. What is especially promising about this campaign - even though it is less visible in the absence of an active elections - is that it is growing simply by virtue or demographic evolution. Every day, more people turn eighteen, even as some of us continue to fall - as mortality has it - off the other end.

This notion of unifying around programs cannot work because it demands near absolute uniformity. Unity needs to be practical and focused. The Sanders campaign had an election as its focus. NoDAPL and BLM are focused on aspects of racism. LGBT advocates and activists are focused on fighting homophobia. Feminists are focused on fighting sexism and patriarchy. There are no reasons people in any one of these struggles cannot or is not involved in other issues; but the fact is, some Sanders activists will be myopic on race, some feminists may not be prepared to take on class issues, some BLM folks might be homophobic, some Latin@s might be anti-Semitic, some Native folk and many movements have more than their share of sexism. There were Sanders voters in the primary who voted for Trump in the general because their only issue was trade agreements.

We can decry any and all of these divisions, but we cannot wish away their existence, and we cannot afford to wait until the whole country is as evolved as X,Y, or Z to engage the struggle. That there might be homophobes among the Standing Rock water protectors does not mean we cannot unify with them as water protectors. That some people who oppose various austerity measure are racists does not mean we abandon opposition to austerity. If any of these folks are going to change, there is no better recipe for that change than solidarity elsewhere. The point is, movements change the people in them, but only if the movements make room for imperfect people. (Can I mention here how many of the white activists I've worked with are in-your-face atheists - as opposed to just atheists or agnostics who don't feel compelled to say so twenty times a day - who seldom take into account that most black and Latin@ activists are people of faith, and when they are apart from people of color go on and on about how this is just a 'backward vestige'?)

One of the things that I like about Veterans For Peace is that we begin with the assumption of change. We are, every one, former members of the armed forces who repented of our past and became witnesses for a different present and future. No movement can grow, and no synthesis of movements can happen, without this space for repentance and change. There is a call-out culture among some activists (my own experience is that those most enamored of this style of politics are more likely to be the children of doctors and lawyers than poultry workers and trash haulers) that spends more time identifying enemies than it does trying to make new allies. This does not mean we don't criticize; it means we do not actively seek out of self-righteousness to expand our lists of enemies.

When the Black Freedom Movement was centered around the demand for the franchise, it was riddled with sexism, homophobia, red-baiting, class elitism, and even anti-Semitism. Some overcame it, some not. This did not detract from the legitimacy of the central demand, and it forced many people - even people who were crucial leaders, like Bayard Rustin - to show up for the franchise alongside people who offended them in other ways. I have family members who are Native American who are otherwise extremely conservative who support NoDAPL.

Certainly there is no more widespread problem in all movements than sexism/patriarchy. In my personal opinion, there is no form of oppression that is more deeply rooted in history, more intractable, more internalized as a form of oppression by the oppressed, or more personally destructive than male supremacy in whatever form. For me, if there is a 'primary social contradiction,' it is the power of men over women. And I carry that conviction into everything I do; but I wasn't born that way or even raised that way, and that is not going to be my litmus test if I am trying to block a pipeline. Sexism is a show-stopper, however, if the focus in on sexual harassment or gendered pay disparity or rape. And women inside NoDAPL and BLM and the Sandercrats are addressing sexism; LGBT folk addressing homophobia; people of color critiquing white privilege myopia among Sandercrats, etc.

In every period certain targets, for lack of a better word, appear . . . certain evils that are so egregious and visible, and against which there appears a ready response. In this period, these three movements are those responses. This, then, is where events have conspired to set up key head-to-head struggles against these now visible and engage-able evils. Something about them - each of them - tapped into a set of grievances that had reached the tipping point of tolerance, and energized large numbers of people to challenge those evils, that power, this set of established conditions - this establishment.

The reason it is so important to support these movements, as they are, with their current foci, is that establishment power is part material and a big part psychological, that is, the illusion of control. Alasdair MacIntyre, the great virtue ethicist, describes modern managerial power as "effectiveness [as] part of a masquerade of social control." The efficacy of power is substantially the ability to maintain the illusion of efficacy." Once that mask is removed - and here is the real danger to the establishment - everyone can see the little man behind the Great Oz. Armed, uniformed police spraying water on unarmed water protectors from behind a barrier of concertina wire and assault rifles is not a show of strength. It is the ultimate show of weakness, moral and political. Yes, one, two, a hundred Standing Rocks.

Clinton's scorched earth campaign to destroy Sanders did not result in her victory, but her exposure as perhaps the most incompetent politician to seek the office in living memory. In the process, any shred of legitimacy of the Wall-Street sycophants who run the Democratic National Committee has been lost.

Cops shooting 12 year old African Americans, this horror, has not convinced anyone of either the legitimacy or the strength of racist cops. They have been exposed for what they are - vicious thugs and bullies. And now, when they are exposed to the light like roaches in the sink, they try to disappear, only to be confronted by those fearless and grieving souls who stand ranked before them in the streets, cameras running, and call shame down on them like a storm. The fault line created by BLM has reached inside the police forces now, where African American policemen are confronted with the festering contradiction of American white supremacy on their jobs.

In the cities, in the countryside, in the voting booths, and reaching across the seas to others, something is rising up. The question of what is the lesser or greater evil has faded from view except among those tag-along technocrats at the DNC. They can pump all the sunshine they want across the airwaves, but this is no longer a discussion. We aren't huddled around our TV sets drinking in the carefully crafted hallucinations. We are in the meeting halls, the streets, and standing in front of your bulldozers.

1 comment:

  1. Stan, been reading you since Feral Scholar days and just want to say thank you. I need engagement with thought that doesn't shrink from the horror or the hard work, doesn't despair and doesn't pretend. A long time ago (I think you probably won't remember) I said in a comment that I thought it was all about Class; you said we could continue that argument some time. I'm beginning to reconsider. I'm looking forward to a read of Borderline to see if I get some points on how you read feminism. Meanwhile, a tangential question: your three movements are BLM, NoDPL, and the Sanders' campaign. Why do you leave out #Occupy? Do you just see it as pouring into Sanders, or as having petered out inconclusively, or what? This isn't so deeply important except that I see Occupy ans having been both more ambitious and less coopted than Sanders himself (not that I blame him for not taking the Green nomination -- perhaps he didn't want to torpedo the movement by being blamed as Nader redux). Anyway, it's just a side-issue. Again, thanks -- this kind of writing is the sort of thing that keeps me from hiding in a bag somewhere.