“Faith in the system is the bedrock of the system. Without it, the system is drained of its inviolable authority. This is the danger America now faces.” So wrote the N.Y. Times on May 4, just days after mass protests that included property damage and attacks on the police rocked the city of Baltimore.
From Ferguson to Baltimore
The events in Baltimore were not alone. From similar protests in Ferguson following the police murder of Michael Brown, to protests in Oakland and elsewhere, the black community, with support from some whites and others, is starting to signal that enough is enough. This mood is furthered by the internet and smart phones/camcorders. Video after video of police brutality and murder – Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and countless others – are rocketing around the internet, proving to millions what many in the black community have known and experienced for years.
People think in images, and the image of the “tough but fair” cop, the one who protects women from abuse, protects little children from sexual predators and serial killers – that is the image peddled by the media, Hollywood, and the politicians, and it is starting to give way to an image that better suits reality. Above the law, racist, shoot-first-ask-questions-later – that is the new image that is starting to take hold throughout society, and it is leading to a breakdown of “faith in the (entire) system”, as the NY Times fearfully commented.
Right Wing Populism
Already, this weakening of faith in the system has spawned a populist movement, but to the right, as represented by the Tea Party. Corporate America succeeded in capturing this movement and channeling it back into one of their two main parties – the Republicans. This has caused some problems within the Republicans, but the thinking is: Better that than have these right-wing nuts run completely out of control and more clearly reveal their racist and chauvinist/xenophobic character. Better that than racist physical assaults, assaults on union activists, etc. That would spark a counter mobilization that Corporate America strives to prevent. (They are holding the more widespread racist assaults in reserve and will unleash it on a wider scale when the crisis becomes even more acute and even more desperate measures are needed.)
Now, a similar task confronts the Democrats, and their “progressive” wing is attempting the same task. So it was that just two days after the defiant protests in Baltimore were put down by the National Guard, Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced that the six police involved in the murder of Freddie Gray would be charged with various felonies. “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ’No justice, no peace,’” she commented. “I will seek justice on your behalf,” she added.
And on the same day, “socialist”-but-Democrat-in-all-but-name US Senator Bernie Sanders announced that he will run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In doing so, he will be providing the “left alternative” competitor that the Democrats have long sought for their all but certain ultimate nominee, Hillary Clinton. As with the charging of the six Baltimore cops, Sanders’ move is aimed at seeking to restore faith in “the system” and preventing an independent movement on the left from developing.
(Note: Many may have differences with Sanders but still have faith in his basic decency, as shown by the comment on an MSNBC article “”I’m happy about Bernie running. He is such a decent, good man…” One simple issue disproves this: Sander’s full support for the racist, expansionist State of Israel. It’s impossible that a US Senator doesn’t know about the crimes against humanity of which the State of Israel is guilty. To continue to support them shows a lack of basic human decency; it shows the cynicism that is the basis for capitalist politics.)
There is a long, long tradition of the Democrats acting as the “shock absorbers” for the movement from below. In this writer’s lifetime, it goes all the way back to the candidacy of Gene McCarthy for the Democratic presidential nomination back in 1968. That was at the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, and millions of young people were becoming increasingly disaffected with corporate politics. So McCarthy was thrust forward as the peace candidate, and a whole layer of the youth adopted the slogan “neat and clean for Gene”, shaved their beards, removed their beads and put on bra’s and were drawn into his campaign. The result? Of course, he was bound to fail and, after the murder of Robert Kennedy, the establishment liberal Hubert Humphrey won the nomination and McCarthy did his level best to turn his campaigners into active Humphrey supporters.
Sanders has already announced that he will do exactly the same thing, that he will support Clinton or whoever else wins the Democratic nomination.
To draw the movement into the Democratic Party, the “progressive” wing will have to produce something, and that won’t be so easy. Decades of glorifying the police and of giving them a free hand has made them believe they are above the law, and they will continue to resist all attempts to rein them in. Also, all the propaganda about “violent criminals,” “law and order,” and the “war on drugs” (code words for “blacks and Latinos are the problem”) have increased the already semi-latent racism within a large layer of white society. This means greater conflict from below and also from above.
Struggle in the Streets
This means increased struggles on the streets, including more of what is called “violence” and activity by “thugs”. As an article in Salon.com put it: “After nearly a week of resistance—including the occupation of Baltimore by heavily-armed National Guard—Maryland state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby stepped into the fray, announcing charges against six officers and admitting that her hand had been forced by the streets: “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’”….
“Riots work, so why do so many well-meaning voices continue to insist that they don’t? The argument that they harm communities makes intuitive sense, but doesn’t hold up to serious scrutiny: the Maryland Insurance Commission has estimated the uninsured losses from the riots to be a paltry $1 million. Meanwhile, foreclosures from the recession cost Baltimore $1.5 billion (with a B) from 2008-2010, and $13.6 million in tax revenue in 2010 alone. And as many are quick to point out, the city has paid out more than $5.7 million to settle police abuse lawsuits since 2011. The police—not to mention capitalism—have done far more to damage Baltimore than any riot could.”
As the article points out, though, the arrest of the six police officers is only a partial and temporary victory as they are already out on bail and on paid vacation (“administrative leave”) while 18-year old Allen Bullock is in jail on $500,000 bail for being accused of having broken in the window of a police car.
So, yes, “riots” can lead to temporary and partial concessions, but these can as easily be taken away, and also the forces of the criminal (in)justice system will be even freer to crack down even more.
While black people (and others) are rising up from Baltimore to Ferguson, others are taking up outright resistance and defiance on other issues, especially the issue of fracking. (This is the destructive practice of pumping poisonous chemicals into the ground to fracture oil-bearing shale rock to pump out the oil. This practice is poisoning the air and water of those who live in the immediate area and beyond. For a background article on fracking, see here.) Residents in town after town have voted to ban fracking, despite the fact that these bans are illegal. This campaign to ban fracking is in general carried out outside of the main, liberal environmental groups, just as the uprisings in places like Ferguson and Baltimore are carried out outside of groups like the NAACP, as well as the leadership of those like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Hopefully, the activists in such movements can come together and develop a strategy and goals – both short term and long term – and build an organization to carry this forward. This direction would help avoid the trap set by the “progressive” Democrats by developing as an independent, working class movement and party to establish a real alternative to the two main parties of Corporate America and the crisis-ridden, oppressive capitalist system these two parties represent.