“It’s Not Over”

This is probably the most moving and powerful presidential web video I can ever recall seeing. It’s from the Sanders campaign and is the story of Erica Garner, Eric Garner’s daughter.

We have so much work to do in this country. And we can’t do it if we’re not listening to  people like Erica Garner.

Is it time for everyone to leave everywhere?

In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg has asked “Is it time for Jews to leave Europe?” The piece has received praise around the American political press for the shear hotness of Goldberg’s take, built heavily on anecdotes and anti-Muslim suspicions. Fredrik deBoer has an excellent response to Goldberg here, as well as a detailed explanation as to why he doesn’t feel compelled to layer his response to Goldberg with heavy caveats about his belief in the existence of anti-Semitism.

I’ll differentiate from deBoer slightly and add some caveats to my post. I’m Jewish. I believe anti-Semitism is real, as it has been a real phenomenon for millennia. I believe it exists in Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa, in the Americas.  I believe that there are anti-Semitic Christians in positions of power in Europe. I believe there are poor and working class anti-Semitic Muslims who are themselves powerless in Europe. I believe anti-Semitism exists because the horror of the Holocaust and the global recognition of that horror did not, in fact, magically dissolve millennia of anti-Semitism – just as the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, like the Emancipation Proclamation before them, did not end racism in America.

The problem with a hot take like Goldberg’s is that it argues fallaciously via anecdote and a presumably deliberate misrepresentation of power dynamics, both in history and today. DeBoer:

One point of Goldberg’s is the most absurd, the most toxic, and the most dangerous. Goldberg argues that there is a chance that Europe’s Muslims will form a coalition with Europe’s rising far-right political parties. He then explicitly analogizes that possibility to the conditions that led to Nazi party. This is utter, absurd lunacy, an idea so inherently ridiculous and straightforwardly wrong that it should totally disqualify his piece even from the many people who are bent on agreeing with it. As his own reporting makes clear, Europe’s actually-existing far-right parties hate Muslim immigrants and would never, ever form a coalition with them. The National Front, a white supremacist group, they’re going to get cozy with a bunch of poor Arabs and Persians? Really? Golden Dawn, which literally contributed to war crimes against Serbian Muslims? They strike you as a group eager to join forces with Muslims? The English Defence League, a movement that started explicitly to harass and exclude and degrade Muslim immigrants in the UK? Really? Indeed, the very rise in those far-right parties that he describes is happening because of anti-Muslim sentiment. The very idea of explicitly Aryan-supremacist, pro-white, anti-immigrant, pro-“Western civilization” parties forming a bloc with the very people they are rising up to oppose is so farcical that only a publication as motivated by intrinsic bigotry as the Atlantic could allow it to be published.

Indeed the existence today (as there has existed for millennia) of individual acts of anti-Semitism in the forms Goldberg articulates – graffiti, casual curses, an outrageous “comedian” and recently a small number of violent acts – are oceans away from the structural anti-Semitism in the form of the political machinery of the German state in the 1930s and 1940s. To equate the two is, as deBoer writes, insane.

But suppose we indulge Goldberg’s hot take for a moment. If he’s right, who else should consider packing their bags and leaving their land of residence for greener pastures?

As deBoer notes, Muslims in Western Europe are the target of large political parties, slurs, graffiti and sporadic individual violence. Following 9/11 there were ample examples of anti-Muslim acts across America. Today the US government wages a transnational war against Muslim terrorists and anyone who is in the same remote geography as these terrorists. Even here in America in a non-governmental capacity in recent weeks, Muslims have been shot and killed for the photographing snowfall and dropping their daughters off at school.

Surely Goldberg and his editors at The Atlantic would want us to ask,  “Is it time for Muslims to leave America?”

In the last year, there have been thousands of instances of rape and violence perpetrated by American men against American women. Women who have publicly objected to sexism have been targeted with death threats, rape threats, harassment, and doxxing of their private information. When women have complained to social media companies like Facebook and Twitter that they are being abused, the platforms have largely protected their male attackers.

Surely Goldberg and his editors at The Atlantic would want us to ask,  “Is it time for women to leave the internet?”

But perhaps the most concerning question must surely be related to the sickness of white supremacy and racism in America. Despite previously passing laws that ended slavery and largely ended segregation, white supremacy and racism still exist in America. In the last couple of years, there have been the repeated killings of unarmed black men and women. Sometimes it’s been by vigilantes like George Zimmerman or other home “defending” sociopaths who naturally escape legal sanction due to permissive Stand Your Ground laws supported by the gun lobby and NRA, historic bastions of white power. But more recently and more concerning to blacks is that police officers have repeatedly killed unarmed black men and not only gotten away with it, but never charged for these murders in the first place. In Missouri, in New York, in California, across the South, and in Ohio, it’s quite simply the case that the government has legally sanctioned the killing of black Americans.

Surely Goldberg and his editors at The Atlantic would want us to ask, “Is it time for blacks to leave America?” 

The simple reality is that as a global society, we have problems to overcome. We have structural inequities and historic hatreds that have not been expunged by the passage of time nor the recognition of past horrors (like the Holocaust or slavery). Anti-Semitism exists. Islamophobia exists. Homophobia exists. Racism exists. Transphobia exists. It is entirely reasonable and necessary that smart people around the world discuss these scourges so as to shine light on them and hopefully make them regress further from not just individual consciousness but from the halls of political power.

But this project is not aided by alarmist, dishonest, bigoted pieces like Goldberg’s. If we want to confront the sickness of hatred in our world, we need to do it without the baggage of hatred. You can’t end anti-Semitism with Islamophobia. It just doesn’t work that way.

#BlackLivesMatter + Net Neutrality

As I’ve noted recently, there is a need for left movements to recognize their intersectionality. While anti-racism, economic justice, and environmental justice may have strong claims at being the left ur-movement in the early 21st century, the only way I see towards achieving real transformational change is by building off of the intersectionality of these movements and pushing forward together.

Likewise, I believe there to be tremendous potential in marrying these thrusts into an agenda that also includes strong provisions for internet freedom and civil liberties, ideas which resonate in a transpartisan and transnational contexts.

It’s incredibly heartening to see the #BlackLivesMatter movement openly campaigning for preserving a free, open internet and network neutrality. Writing in The Hill, Patrisse Cullors makes a powerful case that net neutrality has been a prerequisite condition for the birth and growth of this anti-racism and police reform movement. Organizers and representatives also held meetings with Congressional leaders, including John Lewis and Hakeem Jeffries, as well as regulators at the FCC, to push for net neutrality.

“We were founded clearly in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, on the key premise of the failure of the media to adequately report on the murder,” said Dante Barry, the director of the group Million Hoodies. “If we don’t have access to open Internet, and we don’t have net neutrality, then it limits the ability for black people to save themselves.”

Racism will persist if impacted communities cannot communicate and cannot organize online. Police violence, disproportionately targeting Black Americans, will persist if net neutrality disappears.

Movements are connected. Most of the time, issue-oriented movements tend to diminish this interconnectivity. But it’s hard to imagine lasting, meaningful change being possible while left movements remain atomized, isolated, and at odds with each other as to whose issues are The Most Important. Finding common ground to campaign on builds trust and trust creates opportunities for greater change.

Hat tip to Sarah Jaffe for sending these stories my way. It’s genuinely some of the most heartening activism I’ve seen in a while.

Racism & Economic Justice

Jesse Meyerson and Mychal Denzel Smith have an excellent piece at The Nation on the intersectionality between combating racism in America and economic justice. It offers a number of prescriptions for fighting racism via economic programs which would help Black Americans.

The key for me is the acknowledgement of this intersectionality of racism and economic inequality. We can’t solve for one in the absence of the other. White left activists, myself included, have historically been quite guilty of treating economic injustice as the formative issue in solving for other injustices. But economic inequality in America cannot be discussed in the absence of the acknowledgement of racism and centuries of white supremacy.

The lines from Rage Against the Machine’s “Ashes in the Fall” have always struck me as a pretty concise explanation of the marriage of racism, white supremacy and economic inequality:

Ain’t it funny how the factory doors close
Round the time that the school doors close
Round the time that a hundred thousand jail cells
Open up to greet you like the reaper

The question which Smith and Meyerson raise, really, is how much of the above is the consequence of historic racist economic and political policy choices. The short answer: pretty much all of it.

To solve for racial and economic inequality, Smith and Meyerson put forward a number of concrete ideas. The pursuit of full employment, including guaranteed employment and a minimum basic income, would reduce poverty and create the opportunity for increased political and economic power in racially marginalized communities. This would create hope, economic security and stability. They also propose an overhaul to the tax code and the creation of baby bonds, both policies which seek to increase wealth in the black community and would reduce inequality.

The piece is building around what demands for the anti-racism organizing taking place in Ferguson and with #BlackLivesMatter can be concretely asking for (beyond the obvious and sadly necessary policy shift of American police to stop murdering young Black Americans). Having concrete demands is certainly useful, but having large demands that adequately address the scale of our problems is even more useful. The perspective Meyerson and Smith bring allows for the wide and far enough view to put forward big ideas.

This is not to say that the solutions are exhaustive or curative. But they’re a start.

The Composition of a Movement

Excellent point made by Kaitlyn Dowling at Medium:

Though it doesn’t make for good gossipy blog posts, we should be less concerned with the leader of a left-wing movement within the Democratic Party and more concerned with the composition of that group. In the long run, the core of the movement will matter much more than a single figurehead. While Sen. Warren can easily rally around Wall Street corruption and crony capitalism run amok, those who wish to establish the left’s answer to the Tea Party must think more broadly about their strategy and consider who can contribute to the long-term health and influence of a left-wing movement and who has shown the ability to organize effectively online. These individuals bring an insightful, smart, powerful voice to social issues, and they could be the voice of a new American left.

Whatever left party exists in America, it should not merely be for historically marginalized communities, but of them. Dowling makes the good point that the internet has allowed for far more diverse voices to reach into political debates and discussions. I’d hazard offline movements like #BlackLivesMatter, Moral Mondays, Occupy Wall Street, and the Walmart and fast food worker organizing campaigns have done this incredibly well, too.

An additional challenge is making sure that people who primarily consume political life online learn about offline movements and connect to them. There is a wealth of young leaders – people of color, women, LGBT activists – who do their work directly in the impacted communities of which they are a part. Online thought leaders and influencers can’t pretend these folks don’t exist. Doing so diminishes the movements and speaks to a problem of privilege in the American online left. We need to expect of ourselves to seek out these leaders, be aware of them and raise up their voices. That is our responsibility, not the responsibility of the people doing inspiring work in the trenches.