White Privilege

 

Third in the series: Organize the White Working Class!

White Skin Privilege

White privilege is a thing. It’s just not the same thing the corporate Democrats use to boss us around with.  The concept of white privilege was not invented by some liberal university  professors.  In fact, the concept of white privilege was invented by a white man: a radical activist and historian who never went to college.

Writing for the John Brown Commemoration Committee in 1965,  Theodore Allen innovated the discourse on “white skin privilege.” In 1967 he co-authored “White Blindspot” and in 1969 published “Can White Workers Radicals Be Radicalized?”

According to Jeffrey B. Perry,

Allen’s work influenced the Students for a Democratic Society and sectors of the “new left” and it paved the way for the “white privilege,” “race as social construct,” and “whiteness studies” academic fields.1

In our deep past, white privileges were granted by a “presumption of liberty” to white people that was simultaneously denied Blacks.

We can track that presumption of liberty straight to today’s “presumption of innocence” that we are all supposed to enjoy but are all too often denied Natives, Blacks, other people of color, poor people and those that do not conform to gender or sexual social norms. The vast militarized penal system all to often deprives people of color the “presumption of liberty:” the right to be innocent until proven guilty and to enjoy the equal protection of the law as demanded by the Constitution.  As the presumption of guilt becomes normalized it effects everyone including the white working class.

Unlike liberal interpretations of white privilege used to attack dissent, Allen’s understanding was that white privileges are contrary to the long-term political and material interest of white people. The benefits, bribes, and appeals to white people do have a real value, which is one reason they work, but that value is far less than the value that would be produced by class solidarity and cross-racial action to raise wages, win political power and establish justice.

In 1969 Allen wrote:

The white-skin privileges of the masses of the white workers do not permit them nor their children to escape into the ranks of the propertied classes. In the South, where the white-skin privilege has always been most emphasized and formal, the white workers have fared worse than white workers in the rest of the country. The white-skin privilege for the mass is the trustee’s privilege, not release from jail, merely freedom of movement within it and a diet more nearly adequate. It is not that the ordinary white worker gets more than he must have to support himself and his family, but that the black worker gets less than the white worker. The result is that by thus inducing, reinforcing and perpetuating racist attitudes on the part of the white workers, the present-day power-masters get the political support of the rank-and-file of the white workers in critical situations, and without having to share with them their super profits in the slightest measure…2 [emphasis added]

To this day,  “The white-skin privilege for the mass is the trustee’s privilege not release from jail…”  Some of the prisoners can control other prisoners but never challenge the warden.

Look at mass incarceration today. According to a Pew Research Center study  2010 US incarceration rates for white men are 678 per hundred thousand and 91 per hundred thousand for white women.  The incarceration rate for black men is a staggering six times greater than white men, and almost three times higher for black women. (4,347 for Black men and 260 for Black women). Yet,  white men and women are incarcerated at rates much higher than those of comparable countries.

The US rate for white male incarceration alone is far greater that every other European incarceration rate for total prisoners of all classes, races and genders.  And the Russian incarceration rate skews the statistic as it towers above every other European country at 439 per hundred thousand.  The average rate for European Union members was 135 in 2006. US white women for example, are incarcerated at higher rates than the total of all classes, races and genders for an astounding 20 European counties.

The penal system captures the effect of white privilege in a nutshell.  “You got more than the blacks don’t complain.” But so much less than justice, freedom or democracy would demand. Yet our relative privilege allowed us to consent to the war on drugs and the “get tough on crime” politicians that aimed at Blacks first but who ultimately created an authoritarian police state that now aims to make even the exercise of constitutional rights a criminal act. We all lose, including losing our rights to a trial by jury that the Bill of Rights claims to protect. The new penal system also got tough on working class whites as it garrisoned the entire country with a militarized force dedicated to protecting the established order.

The Psychic Wage

The wage harder to put a price on, and one of the most serious remaining obstacles to overcoming racism, is what W.E.B Dubois, the great American thinker, called the “psychological wage.“3  The psychological or psychic wage is that highly coveted sense of personal, spiritual, and moral superiority we are taught to derive from our skin color.

This psychic wage is collected, in part, by an imaginary connection with whites of high status. White privilege creates vertical solidarity that connects working class whites to the power and glory of the rich, strong, and celebrated white elites, even though our overall political and economic interests are shared by working class people of color. White workers are exploited by the boss and sent to die in their wars daily. Our privilege gives us the delusion that we are not who we truly are.

James Baldwin, the black writer and visionary, put it this way:

[A]s long as white Americans take refuge in their whiteness—for so long as they are unable to walk out of this most monstrous of traps—they will allow millions of people to be slaughtered in their name, and will be manipulated into and surrender themselves to what they will think of—and justify—as a racial war. They will never, so long as their whiteness puts so sinister a distance between themselves and their own experience and the experience of others, feel themselves sufficiently human, sufficiently worthwhile, to become responsible for themselves, their leaders, their country, their children, or their fate. They will perish…in their delusions. And this is happening, needless to say, already, all around us….But the American delusion is not only that their brothers all are white but that the whites are all their brothers. [emphasis added]

Whiteness and privilege distances us from our “own experience and the experience of others.” You may feel connected to a Trump or a Clinton for an Obama, or aspire to become a general or a billionaire, but to them we are but chumps and pawns.

Solidarity — Horizontal or Vertical? 

Yes, it is the privileges whites have that disrupt horizontal solidarity, but when those bribes are eroded, even partially, by debt, poverty, the long term decline of  wages, poor health, drug addiction, and hopelessness, their hypnotic power weakens. Young whites in particular have come to see the transparent truth that the system is rigged against them, and perhaps above all, that the scientific forecast of life on our planet is so poisoned and precarious that no amount of privilege will save them.

These changes in consciousness are signs that we might again cross into revolutionary territory. The unending recession of 2008 has forced whites to choose. Cling ever harder to the psychological wage, hate, and white supremacy, or join the movements toward social reform, revolution, resistance, and love.

In a broader sense, it is the corporate power that is creating the crisis in privilege as a form of social control.   If the corporate state can no longer allow any meaningful improvements in the lives of everyday people — and impose only austerity and growing poverty — we can expect that both the Democrats and Republicans will increasingly turn to the psychological wage as the remaining form of compensation, bribe and appeal. In different ways perhaps, Trump, Clinton and Obama have nonetheless resorted to the vertical solidarity of nationalism and/or corporate forms of political identity to block the political space that should be occupied by struggles over economic democracy, equality, ecology and peace.

The vertical solidarity of white privilege should make us very wary of other forms of vertical solidarity that have been a typical tool of the elites. Tokenism and machine politics establish a political and spiritual connection when people identify with the managers of war and empire because they share the same gender, sexuality, color, class or national origins. The degree to which there was uncritical feminist support of Clinton —and many feminists did oppose Clinton — is the measure of how psychic wages can operate to protect the existing order. The unfounded belief by some liberals that Obama is a civil rights leader — and many in the new civil rights movement do criticize Obama — shows the degree to which the vertical solidarity that has so damaged white people, and the social movements, will have a similar effect if offered to others, even those historically exploited and oppressed by the established order.5

Privilege, vertical solidarity and the psychic wage remain potent means of maintaining social control at home and empire aborad. In the same way white privilege blinds white people to their own invented identity and the depth of racism, imperial privilege blinds all of us to the ongoing imperial project with its constant bloodletting and profit making that has become our way of life.

Our best move is to take on the most deeply entrenched form of privilege: white privilege.  For that we need to organize the white working class.

It’s Not Academic.

Debates continue over Allen’s assertion that the white race and white privilege was invented as a conscious and deliberate act of the oligarchs. Was it that, or the general outcome of the historical conditions of the time? The key argument for activists, however, is that white racism is not itself innate and therefore can be changed. History is made by human action. Sometime human acts are conscious, even conspiratorial. Other times we contribute to change through a multitude of human decisions; local and global, visionary and parochial.

But the political world is not an academic debate. It is up to us to prove that white racism is not innate in white people and that racism can be changed by activism.


  1. The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight against White Supremacy p 8-9
  2. Ted Allen, Can White Workers Radicals be Radicalized p. 175

3. W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction [New York, 1935], pp. 700-701.

4. An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis

5. For more see Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation, Chapter 3.

Posted in Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, Uncategorized, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ted Allen and The Invention of the White Race

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Second in the series: Organize the White Working Class!

This article also appeared in CounterPunch.

Ted Allen 

There is no better place to start organizing than with political strategy inspired by Theodore W. Allen’s classic book: The Invention the White Race: Volume I Racial Oppression and Social Control and Volume II: The Origins of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America.

Before we continue, a word or two about Ted Allen.

Ted Allen was a working-class white man without college training but with a long history of activism and a deep determination to uncover the truth about how racism came to be in America. Allen was a Marxist and used a class-based analysis to guide his study. Jeffrey B. Perry continues Allen’s work today, and you should view his presentations on Allen’s legacy.

Much of the power of Allen’s ideas comes from his unmatched devotion to research. He spent more than 20 years digging deep into the colonial archives of Virginia and mastered what is, arguably, the most extensive body of evidence ever produced on race in early colonial America. Allen contested and bested some of the most acclaimed historians in the field. The working-class reader cannot help but revel in the fact that a worker without a degree kicked Ivy League butt.

But getting class identity jollies aside, Allen’s work is such a useful guide to action because he did what no other historian did. Allen created an argument that might help us discover a truly political strategy to fight racism among whites based on empowerment, class solidarity, community interest, and self-interest, rather than relying on morality, guilt, and shame. In other words, Allen innovated a revolutionary approach to fighting white racism and white privilege.

The Invention of the White Race

What Allen discovered transformed our understanding of race in America and can transform our organizing practice and activism. He shocked readers with a startling finding:

“When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no “white” people there; nor according to colonial records would there be for another sixties years.”1

Oh, yes, there were English and Irish, but nowhere in the colonial record is there evidence that law or society granted special privileges to people based on European origin.

The white race and white identity were “invented,” Allen argued, by the ruling elite of Virginia, in order to divide laboring people in the aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. The white race was constructed and used as a political instrument to divide and conquer.

How did this come to be?

By 1620 or so, a system of unfree labor became the dominant labor system in Virginia. The system was essentially slavery, some “bond-laborers” had time-limited contracts, but most servitude was open to interpretation by custom. A majority of these bond-laborers were Europeans.

The archival evidence is clear, as well, that the role of African and African Americans was “indeterminate.”2  From 1619 to the years following Bacon’s Rebellion, the status of black people was contested in the courts and in the fields. Africans held a variety of social and economic positions: some were limited term slaves, some free, some endured lifetime bondage, while others were property holders, even including a few slave owners.

It was not until after Bacon’s Rebellion, or the second phase of Bacon’s Rebellion to be precise, that law and society created a new custom of racism, and for that to happen, the white race had to be invented. What was the trigger?

“[I]n Virginia, 128 years before William Lloyd Garrison was born, laboring class African-Americans and European-Americans fought side by side for the abolition of slavery. In so doing, they provided the supreme proof that the white race did not then exist.”3

The Rebellion occupied the capital of Jamestown and pointed the way toward freedom for everyone, by contesting the rule of the oligarchs who had grown rich on slave labor and land stolen from the natives.

“[I]t was the striving of the bond-laborers for freedom from chattel servitude that held the key to liberation of the colony from the misery that proceeded from oligarchic rule…4

After the rebellion was suppressed, law and custom began to shift. Europeans were increasingly designated as “white” in the historical record, and given privileges that conferred a “presumption of liberty” while blacks were increasing subjected to legal and cultural limits to their freedoms. Whites were encouraged to view blacks with contempt and see their inferior social positions as proof of innate inferiority.

Allen summarized the early system of white privilege as “simply the right to be free.”

All authorities agree…that the conditions of the masses of white industrial and agricultural workers, North and South, were abominable in the decades before the Civil War. Still they had their white-skin privileges: The white worker was an actual or potential citizen, with citizen’s rights; the black had no rights. The white, as possessor–if not immediately, then within a definite time–of his own person, had legal freedom of movement; the black did not own himself. The white, if bound by indenture, debtor apprenticeship, or in some other manner, might still succeed in escaping into the free-moving white world much more easily than the black worker. As possessor of himself, the white workers could–even though not always immediately– take a better job, if he could find one; the black had no such chance. The white worker, if opportunity afforded, could learn to read and then study as a means of improving his lot; the black worker was forbidden by law even to learn to read. The white worker could aspire to become a farmer, a merchant or an industrialist; the black had only flight, revolt, revenge to dream of.  At this point, the white skin privilege of the white worker was simply the right to be free…5

The white race, white supremacy, and black subordination were all products of the same historical period in which the slave system was recreated as a racist system to prevent the threat of united action by the people. Today the new oligarchy still relies on their ability to divide and conquer.

Here is Allen’s legacy and challenge to us: racism is historical, it is the product of human activity. If it was then, it is now.  Racism was founded on a system of privileges designed to win working class white people’s support for slavery. And so it is to white privilege that we must look if we want to free ourselves from being the tools and fools of the rich and powerful.

We must be pawns no more.


  1. Allen, Invention of the White Race Vol. II p X
  2. Invention of the White Race Vol. II p 178
  3. Invention of the White Race Vol. II p 214-21
  4. Invention of the White Race Vol. II p 212
  5. Can White Workers Radicals be Radicalized. p176 in Revolutionary Youth & The New Working Class/Lost writing of the SDS. 

 

Posted in American Culture, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Organize the White Working Class!

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First in the series: Organize the White Working Class!

“ . . . their (the poor “whites”) own position, vis-a-vis the rich and powerful . . . was not improved, but weakened, by the white-skin privilege system.”– Theodore W. Allen, Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race, 1975*

“The ‘white race’ is the historically most general form of ‘class collaboration.”- Theodore W. Allen,Taped Interview with Chad Pearson, SUNY-Albany, May 13, 2004*

 

The time is ripe.

 

At no time since the ’60s has social movement activism created such rich opportunities to oppose racism and engage white people in a struggle over what it means to be white and a worker in America. And that engagement will be most successful in the world’s best classroom: movement building, organizing and activism.

Like many times in our past, Americans of African descent have led the way. The new civil rights movement, the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, the BlackLivesMatter movement, and the resistance to Trump’s reemergent racism, have given birth to an array of new organizations and political projects. Like no other single scholarly work, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness has rallied the troops and identified the enemy.

Over the past few decades the American people have created a vast militarized penal system that is now the most powerful institutionalized racism in the US. And like the forms of institutionalized racism that preceded it, the penal system functions as an effective form of social control. Discriminatory and militarized policing, on-the-spot executions, slave-like prison labor, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, restriction of trial by jury, lengthy and mandatory sentencing, predatory fine, fee and debt traps, and its gigantic sweep and size constitutes nothing short of a preemptive war against the most potentially rebellious parts of the population: the young, people of color, the poor. If you favor social change then the vast militarized penal system must be confronted. It controls us all black and brown and white.

The new civil rights movement has challenged white activists to confront white racism at a time of economic and workplace conflict. The never ending recession of 2008 has intensified wealth inequality across the board with the upward redistrubion of wealth falling hardest on Americans of color.1  Good full time jobs are going and in all likelihood they are not coming back.

There is a widespread understanding that the economy and political system are rigged.   One of the main rigs is the class line: corporate power now controls the economy and government wielding both great wealth and global political power. Once the insatiable demand for power and profit drive government, representative democracy fails and can no longer deliver significant economic benefits to everyday people. Yet, Occupy and the Sanders campaign, the resistance to Trump and other social movements have revealed the discontent of millions of white people who have the capacity to create progressive social movements and even make history.

But the working class has deep flaws that have until now proven fatal: it is divided. Race, gender, sexuality, age cut us up in many ways. If history is a guide to action we can retell a crucial part of the tale by making a challenge to white supremacy central to our organzing efforts. To do that, white people must combat the system of white privliges that has long been the primary means by which racism has been nurtured and sustained.  Those white privileges are institutionalized in a complex web of arrangements in housing, education, health care,  law enforcement, election procedures and voting that further rig the system against people of color.  But because white or male privileges have been so deeply entrenched for so long they often appear as seemingly neutral measures of merit, at least to white people.  How do we shine light on this blindspot?

Resistance and action are the best paths to revelation. Institutionalized racism is historic and collective and cannot be addressed through individual repudiation alone. You can’t just give it up, even if you want to, except through joining the social moments for change and organizing at the point of privilege. The purpose of these privileges is to keep us all in line.  White organizers and activists who challenge the system have taken the first crucial step in repudiating privilege.  Many organizing projects await and all of them are difficult and challenging. We can expect no easy victories.

Organize Our Own?

As the ’60s revolution came up against the wall of institutionalized and interlocking obstacles, civil rights organizers experimented with Black Power and Women’s liberation. Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Jo Freedman, Shulamith Firestone and others authors of “To the Women of the New Left” offered up some hard-won knowledge.2  They told a sometimes bitter but compelling truth: organizers were most effective working within their own communities.

Speaking to the Organization of Afro-American Unity, Malcolm X put it this way.

Now if white people want to help, they can help. But, they can’t join. They can help in the white community, but they can’t join. We accept their help….They can…work in the white community on white people and change their attitude toward us.3

“Organizing your own” was not a call to white separatism, but a way to lay the basis for coalition movements in which working class whites saw their own destiny bound up with that of black folks.   In Black Power and White Organizing, Anne Braden, a legendary southern white civil rights organizer, wrote:

Certainly the inherent needs of poor white people are reason enough to organize—they, like poor black people, are ill-fed, ill-housed and lacking in opportunities for education, medical care, political expression, and dignity. But I think what we are recognizing is that these white people will never be able to solve these problems unless they find ways to unite with the black movement seeking the same things.

My purpose is not to present false either/or choices. The organizational forms we create are up to the local situation and local actors. White organizers can make contributions in multi-racial groups, coalitions, unions, as well as in community groups among the white working class.  Check out the visionary work of Showing Up for Racial Justice for a recent example of white working class organizing. But one way or another, we white organizers must reconsider ways of talking and organizing around white supremacy and white privilege.

Luckily for us we can follow the work of the great white working class intellectual, Ted Allen, as our north star.  Next we will look at the strategic implications of his classic work: The Invention of the White Race.


*Both quotes cited in Jeffrey B. Perry, The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight against White Supremacy  p. 2 and p. 5

  1. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter To Black Liberation, 27 and 28.
  2. See Chapter 8, Sara Evans, Personal Politics. “Women of the New Left” cited by Evans p. 200.
  3. Malcom X, By Any Means Necessary, 58.
Posted in American Culture, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, revolutionary strategy, Uncategorized, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

No Ban! No Wall! No War?

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This article also appeared in Counterpunch

No Ban! No Wall! No War?

As I watched the corporate news on demonstrations against Trump’s travel ban, I was struck by the fact that on-going wars in the Middle East were not mentioned. It was as if these refugees were fleeing Nazi Germany. No, they are fleeing the wars that we the American people have been waging against them for many years.

It is a good thing to show compassion, declare our solidarity with Muslims, or to talk about our own immigrant histories, but we will fail to oppose Trump and make a real difference if we do not act against war and empire.

The corporate media avoids connecting our wars to Trump’s ban because war and empire is a matter of agreement among the political elites, an elite that the corporate media is very much a part of.  In a remarkable reversal of the Russian hacking story — which was broadcast  constantly for weeks without evidence — the connection between war and refugees is patently obvious and glaringly absent.  What are they trying to hide?

If a new anti-war movement emerged from the resistance to Trump it  would have the potential to shake the entire system. So the Democrats try to focus as narrowly as they can on Trump’s social and psychological pathologies while waiting to make up for their loses in the 2018 mid-term elections as the default party. The corporate media follows suit.

The anti-war movement of the Vietnam era was so powerful not just because of its compassion for others and moral condemnation of evil, but because it was a real political resistance movement that led people beyond the “liberal consensus.” The liberal consensus was a set of interlocking cultural norms and beliefs. It basic assumption was that  America was the supreme and exceptional leader of the free world.   The passage beyond conventional ways of thinking and acting occurred because being anti-war demanded a deep criticism of the established order both liberal and conservative.

Remember that the Vietnam war was fought by liberals like John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy’s war advisors became known as the “Best and the Brightest,” a high powered  team of academic and industrial superstars that could, it turned out, calculate everything but understand nothing. Lyndon Baines Johnson escalated the conflict but was also the president that passed civil rights legislation on a scale that no other modern president has even dared. Liberal leaders like Hubert Humphrey and Edward Kennedy pursued the war as well.

Nixon won in 1968 largely because he ran to Humphrey’s left, as an anti-war candidate of sorts.  He returned the war to conservative leadership but, it was a conservatism  that would fit comfortably within the corporate wing of the today’s Democratic Party. Both Nixon and Hillary Clinton embraced Henry Kissinger who, seeking power like a missile seeks heat, has now gone over to Trump’s side.

It was the anti-war movement, against this basket of poltical icons, that crossed the threshold to a meaningful, principled opposition.  Two example will suffice to show just how deep it all went.

In April 1967 Martin Luther King rocked the civil rights movement and the nation with his first major speech opposing the war in Vietnam and linking war to racism and poverty. King crossed into revolutionary territory, stepped outside the liberal consensus, and became the leader of a movement for peace, racial equality and economic democracy. Let’s not forget that King was not a Democrat or a Republican. Leading up to the 1968 election, King supported dissenting candidates and even considered an independent run for president.

We must also recall the other truly revolutionary frontier crossed by American soldiers and veterans. In an unprecedented political movement, thousands of American soldiers and veterans opposed the very war they had fought in.

The leadership of the GI and Veteran anti-war movement were not reluctant draftees but rather gung-ho volunteers who were willing to risk life and limb to do the right thing. When the reality of combat in Vietnam dashed their high hopes they turned against war and empire. The military peace movement made history in ways no other peace movement could: soldier resistance slowed the war effort through direct action while the political resistance of the veterans challenged the symbolic and cultural foundations of the war. The Iraq Veterans Against the War and the Veterans for Standing Rock continue this tradition.  The Vietnam Veterans Against the War took the same smears and attacks Tulsi Gabbard does today for her courageous acts against war.

Endless wars have been fought by Republicans and Democrats to secure oil and produce huge profits for major corporations. No wonder the media is silent on just where all these refugees are coming from.

Nothing captures the deception better than Madeline Albright’s claim that she will register as a Muslim given her bloody record of killing Muslims in Iraq.  Albright agreed with New Mexican Bill Richardson, that “the price was worth it.”  That “price,” according to former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark and other observers, was the devastation of Iraq including the deaths of up to 500,000 people.

For us protestors, maybe its that war has been normalized. We started this cycle of conflict in the Greater Middle East in 1978 when we organized the Mujahideen in Afghanistan — the same rebels that would later become Al Qaeda and fight alongside of the “moderate rebels” we currently fund in Syria. We started bombing Iraq as far back as the First Gulf War in 1990. For many Americans these wars have been fought for their entire lives.

Trump’s war talk may or may not escalate beyond Obama’s rush to expand US military operations in Eastern Europe and Africa and invest a trillion dollars into nuclear weapons.  Trump is nonetheless challenging us to restart an anti-war movement that wages peace on many fronts: the Middle East, Iran, China, Mexico and the growing dangers of nuclear war.

Trump’s reckless provocations can only be answered by the renewal of a peace movement large enough to disrupt business as usual; by a peace movement that looks to soldiers and veterans for leadership; by a peace movement that understands, as Dr. King did, the deep connections between racism, war, economic exploitation, and now we must add, climate change. Trump’s war plans, climate denial and support for big oil are a dangerous formula  as it becomes increasingly clear that war and climate change are intimately connected.

We will fail to oppose Trump and everything he stands for if we do not oppose war and empire.

No Ban! No Wall! No War!

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Elevating Trump with Nisi Jacobs

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Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements

This article also appeared in Counterpunch

Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements. 

Opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline began in October 2014. Young warriors of the Standing Rock Sioux established the Sacred Stone Camp in April 2016. Since then, thousands of native and non-native supporters have joined in non-violent resistance under the leadership of native elders.

And suddenly, as thousands of US veterans arrived in North Dakota, Obama blinked, and kicked the can further down the road. The people have won an important victory in the struggle for native rights and against climate change.

The most important victory is learning how to win.

The lessons flow fast and furious from Standing Rock and our teachers are Sitting Bull’s people. We have learned that violence has become one of the governments preferred methods of dealing with serious social problems and political challenges at home and abroad. Democrats and Republicans have created a vast militarized penal system — the domestic equivalent of the US military — that they intend to use against anyone who stands in their way.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard was founder of Sacred Stone Camp.

“Now they are tying to build a pipeline outside my door, my son is buried on the hill. Who wants a pipeline next to your son’s grave. We talk about racial discrimination, sexual discrimination. You talk about political power: corporations owning America. I am seeing it all, it’s all happening right here.1

Violence becomes necessary when the ideological and cultural tools that the elites use to  co-opt or crush political challenges fail to work any longer. The resistance of native people has lifted the veil for all of us, exposing the existing order for what it truly is. The empire, with its relentless and insatiable drive for profit and power is on full display. The Dakota Access Pipeline is, after all, a project of finance capital and the fossil fuel industry; the cold-blooded heart of the corporate power.

Hostilities aimed at native people and the conquest of land and resources we associate with the old frontier is not just our past but is an on-going part of today’s global empire.

Lauren Howland, one of the young leaders, puts it this way:

Just like Custer did, the government did here. Morton county came with their guns. They came with weapons, they came with violence. And just put it on a prayerful and peaceful people. It’s complete genocide and I don’t know why it’s even happening in 2016. Everybody says we are moving forward let’s not look back, but how can we not look back when it’s still happening. How can we recover when it’s still being done.”2

The courageous confrontation over physical space and natural resources challenged the ideological defenses of the elites. All the establishment claims of progress and growth, of cherishing diversity, of democracy achieved, of American Exceptionalism wore thin. No
wonder the corporate media came late to the story only to twist and turn. The Republican Party is the only major party in the world to deny climate change. The Democrats make nice speeches and sign empty agreements but still make war for oil and waste billions in taxpayer subsidies funding the very corporations threatening our planet.  Obama saw the need for concession and retreat. Will Trump?

“All we have is each other.” Harold Frazier, Chair of the Cheyenne River Tribe Sioux

Native resistance has revealed our true character but also shown us how to remake ourselves. Like other great social movements before it, Standing Rock is transformative. Activism and engagement turns one thing into another thing.

Protestors have become protectors. Protestors are against something. Protectors preserve and defend what is good, meaningful and essential. Let us learn that fundamental social change takes shape around affirmations of the greatest good.

It is easy to critique the social order and really difficult to become the authors of a new history. But that new history is being made at Standing Rock today. Its power flows from a remarkable fusion of the spiritual, political and scientific. This is the stuff great social movements and cultural revolutions are made of.

As Standing Rock historian, Jon Eagle Sr. tells us:

The protest, the demonstrations, the camp actually stem from a prayer. What we didn’t know at that time was that… that prayer was going to go all the way around the world.

In a world hungry for spiritual sustenance, the fusion of politics and the sacred has already touched millions. Like most white people, I know little of native beliefs. But the straightforward reverence for nature — a theme common to many indigenous cultures — is a universal truth that appeals to the whole person and to people around the whole world.

For Eagle, Standing Rock’s determination is deeply rooted. “We know all the forces of nature are in this fight with us,” he said. The planet itself is on the water protector’s side and provides what Martin Luther King, in his day, called “cosmic companionship.” The protectors walk with mother nature in confidence that their cause and purpose is just and true.

And now our best science confirms our highest spirituality and steadfast political resistance. The scientific community may differ on just how soon there will be hell to pay for our addiction to fossil fuel but most agree the time for dramatic action is now. That action is Standing Rock and the many Standing Rocks to come.

Four Arrows, also known as Don Trent Jacobs, an American Indian scholar and co-founder of the Northern Arizona chapter of Veterans For Peace weaves together the threads of spirituality, political action and scientific knowledge.

“The last healthy land masses on our planet are not coincidentally those occupied by Indigenous Peoples. That they are on the front lines in standing against oil and mining operations threatening to destroy waterways should not be surprising. The Indigenous worldview, one that guided humans to live in relative ecological harmony, sees this place as sacred…At this crossing point in American history, at the threshold of a mass extinction, the Standing Rock protest is much more than symbolic…”

The transformative turn made by Standing Rock is highlighted by the self-deployment of thousand of military veterans. The protest at Standing Rock is the largest demonstration of dissident veterans since the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and other soldier and veteran groups took on the US war machine decades ago.

Veteran activism would seem to hinge on a stunning insight drawn from both their war experience and witnessing the illegitimate use of force against unarmed prayerful demonstrators trying to protect water. The political and economic forces of the political “center” — the corporations, the militarized police forces and the politicians — now constitute a threat to the very people the veterans have sworn to defend and the Constitution they have sworn to uphold.  Armed with this knowledge, the veterans will continue to be a political force to be reckoned with.

We Can Make and Remake History

“We know our ancestors are in this fight with us,” Jon Eagle tell us. And, white people, our ancestors are with us too. Our actions of support and solidarity for Standing Rock can give the bloody story of the frontier and empire a different outcome.  We can honor our ancestors best by redeeming them with our own actions. It begins with respect for native people, learning from their example and making change in our own communities.

This battle may be won for now but the long war against climate change and the system that drives it, demands vision, organizing and perseverance.   We will be standing on the shoulders of Standing Rock for many years to come.

We should be guided by these words:

“This fight is about the future of our people…..We have no choice but to win.”

  1.  Video is embedded in this Guardian article.
  2. Ibid.
Posted in American Culture, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Dumbass Democrats

backwardsgun

 

This article also appeared in CounterPunch

Dumbass Democrats

Congratulations, you played yourself!

Ok, this is rant from my working-class heart, but it is due time for a rant.

Well, who the hell are the Democrats going to blame now? The degree to which you scapegoat the Green Party or the white working-class is precisely the degree to which you are proving you will never learn a damn thing and are completely unable to lead this country.

If it wasn’t such a farce, I’d say it is King Lear redux.

Let’s look at some really basic, I mean high school level politics. Not fair, the average 16 year old is far wiser than the big shots of the DNC.

Establishment Candidate in an Anti-Established Year.

It’s not just that the Democrats did not take the pulse of the electorate. They did not even try.

Simple stuff really. It’s an anti-establishment year. So the DNC stays with the predetermined candidate that represents the corrupt establishment itself. Duh.

The Democrats were oblivious to the deep discontent among the American people because that simply does not figure into their clever and cunning calculations. Why should it? Fear, lesser of two evils, scapegoating, palace politics — all these things worked in the past, didn’t they?

So all the discontent and unhappiness from years of economic distress fed right into the only other choice. We have the “great two party system” don’t we? Both Democrats and Republicans insist there is no alternative. The Democrats fail, the Republican succeed. Damn the binary, we so need a multi-party system.

The Democrats run a candidate who spent eight years in the White House, crow about her experience, even when the experience included the fact that Bill Clinton was IMPEACHED and widely viewed as a bum.  The Democrats embrace a family dynasty the includes one of the two presidents in all of American history impeached by the House of Representatives. Good choice! This has to be one of the most amazing proofs that the Democratic Party echo chamber is truly deafening.

Burning Down Democracy

Then in another move — that has to rank as one of the most moronic and dishonest tactics in American politics — the DNC conspires with the corporate media to cheat Bernie Sanders, the rightful nominee. Then, in a brilliant tactic, the DNC elevates Trump as the easy one to beat. Both demobilize voters, especially younger voters, by giving them proof positive that their vote does not count. Only a machine so insulated and out of touch with the country it proposes to lead could make such an elementary error. An error impossible to make if Democrats held the interest of the county higher than the control over the machine. But, they do not.

Show Me the Message

Up until the bitter end the Clinton campaign was so distracted by underhanded manipulation and palace politics that its failed to have a concise, convincing message. I am not Donald Trump, she cried out. I am a women — well I am a human with a female anatomy anyway. Token to feminism but hatchet man to the women in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Honduras, the garment workers in Haiti, the women thrown off welfare, and the millions of working women struggling to get by. People are not stupid and these unmentionable casualties were greater than the “deplorables” we were instructed to despise.

And while you are at it, remember that condescension toward the working class is always a winning appeal, well until now. Obama, joker that he is, had the sense to promise hope and change. At least lie like a politician, ok?

Clinton in one of her most passionate statement on domestic policy promised us that universal health care would “never ever” happen. I mean, did they pay someone to think that up?

Rely on Fear Then Scare the Shit Out of Everyone

We already have seven wars under Obama. Just not enough for Hillary. Clinton’s lust for war and love of the military-industrial complex was so great she spoke openly of nuclear war. During the last debate we learned we are four minutes from oblivion. Now that was smart!

To the American legion she said “One of the first things I will do as president, is to call for a new nuclear posture review.” Unneccesary war mongering. Clinton knew damn well that Obama had already ordered a trillion dollar upgrade of the nuclear arsenal including the production of dangerous tactical nukes, weapons small enough that they could actually be used. So if you are going to rely on fear of the other candidate to manipulate the voters try not to be the scarier one. In 1968 Nixon actually ran as a “peace candidate” to the “left” of Humphrey whose response to the war in Vietnam was “more of the same.” Nixon won you dumbasses.

Welcome to the Machine

Machine politics do not work anymore. There are jobs at stake and god knows “I was just going my job.” But having spent over 15 years as union staff I can attest to the swaggering arrogance of so many of the “best and brightest” machine operatives, particularly those in legislative and electoral work. Power is just so intoxicating. I prefer beer. I can see them now, nodding in agreement, smug, certain, and unanimous.

If the labor movement and other social movement groups that “got in early” behind Clinton — as their predictable advisors always advise — instead poured every possible resource into Bernie Sander, or god help us, Jill Stein, we would not be in this position. But no. The machine demands that its cogs sacrifice their own political judgements and morality to the leader, or in this, the season of fascism, might we say “fuhrer.” If the big, so badass unions, AFT, NEA, SEIU, AFSME, do not clean house and fire their sharp and savvy political advisors, who they pay plenty, then we can only expect they have learned nothing and are as unfit to lead the American working class as the Democrats are unfit to lead the country.

Dominion is Mind Rot

In the larger frame, policy choices and machine politics are just the tactic and strategy of power. The failure of the Democrats is the price of dominion. And, dominion is mind rot. It’s not simply that the Clintons have wielded power far too long. Far too long surrounded by sycophants, job seekers, and donors. “Yes, Madam Secretary.” “No, Madam Secretary.” “Hillary” is marketing for suckers.  Blindness is the consequence of immense power and that is why, in a democracy, power is supposed to be insecure not dynastic. Checks and balances. Separation of power. This is one of the many reasons empires fall and perhaps the only silver lining to Trump’s victory. The American empire grows feeble. Let us do it under.

The Measure of Mendacity

The scapegoating will be a good measures as to just how decadent the Democrats are.   The Democrats learned the wrong lesson in 2000. What lesson will they learn now? Oh, and the scapegoating and fear mongering the Democrats are so fond of have made people less likely to resist the system. Who wants to be blamed and shamed for months and years of activism? Nice job dumbasses.

The other, equally dangerous measure of mendacity will be the degree to which the Democrats capitulate to Trump. Judging by Obama’s addiction to serial compromise with the uncompromising Republicans, the Democrats may well move yet again to the right; ever closer to Trump. Remember that the rise of the Clinton machine and the “third way” Democrats in the 1990s was an accommodation to the “Reagan Revolution.”

What Are We Waiting For?

So if the Democrats are hopeless dumbasses and the Republican hopeless on all accounts, where is the leadership to come from? It is not too hard to see really. Sine the last revolution of the mid-twentieth century, it has been “we the people” embodied in the social movements. We have the morality, political values, strategy and courage to lead the country. Start with the “mother of all movements,” the civil rights movement. Read Martin Luther King’s, Where Do We Go From Here? Read it now and then live it.

Then take a close look at the new civil rights movement. Right now — as the political parties parade their intellectual and moral bankruptcy — school is in session. The people at Standing Rock are demonstrating the kind of deep wisdom — a wisdom with global appeal — that we can use to create a future worth living for. Pay close attention. And if we work hard we can organize a political party that is the electoral wing of the social moments. Right now there is only one candidate for the job: the Green Party.

The only thing worse than a dumbass is a chickenshit. Let’s get it on!

Posted in Electoral Strategy for 2016, Martin Luther King, Organizing Strategy, Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments