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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A new movement arises in the United States. Where is it headed?

by John Catalinotto, managing editor, Workers World/Mundo obrero newspaper, New York
As 2014 draws to a close, a new political movement has emerged in the United States. This movement is only at a beginning. It is too early to predict how quickly it will develop or what steps the ruling class will take in its attempt to stop it. But this movement has already awakened a new generation to struggle. And it has done so on a basis of class solidarity more firm than that of the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. This movement sprung up in the United States beginning last summer in response to deadly racist and criminal assaults by the police against  African Americans. By December 13 it had brought hundreds of thousands of mostly young Black, Brown and white people to protest, block traffic, “die-in” to clog intersections and challenge police impunity in 200 cities and towns across the United States. In general the mass of the demonstrators have followed the leadership of the African American organizations and individuals, who have set the tone for these protests.

This new movement develops with the same backdrop that has existed in world politics since 2008: a worldwide systemic capitalist crisis that goes beyond the “normal” capitalist boom-and-bust cycle to a permanent stagnation. Despite a reprise for business in the United States, the crisis has entered another downturn in Europe and in the so-called BRICS countries. Along with a permanent downturn for all workers is an environmental crisis that puts the existence of living things on Earth at risk. Adding to the existential fears is the drive to increased aggression from the imperialist countries, led by Washington, raising the possibility of disastrous new wars.

Recently NATO was scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan. Now the Pentagon readies another 1,000 troops. Obama has ordered a reentry of 3,200 troops into Iraq and renewed bombing of Iraq and Syria with the pretext of attacking the Islamic State. U.S. drones rain rocket fire on Pakistan, Yemen and parts of Africa. Even more dangerous is the West’s provocation of Russia over Ukraine, where Washington engineered a coup, relying on pro-fascist and other anti-Russian elements. Despite Obama’s announcement opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, Washington continues its subversion against Venezuela and the other ALBA countries. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate has exposed CIA torture but failed to punish the criminals from the top of the George W. Bush administration to the sadists at Guantanamo.

We outline these phenomena mainly to make the point that the new movement is awakening at a time when the failures of capitalism to resolve the major crises facing humanity practically hit the young people on the head. They are more skeptical of the role of U.S. imperialism than at any time since the collapse of the socialist camp in 1989-1991.

The struggle against racism and police brutality

The police killing of 18-year-old unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August 9, was a turning point in the struggle against racist police repression. The African Americans in this impoverished suburb of St. Louis erupted in rebellion. Instead of flaring up and quickly dying out, this rebellion turned into a continuous demand for justice and civil rights. It gained national support, especially after National Guard troops with assault rifles, body armor and armored vehicles pointed weapons at the unarmed civilians – and the people defied them. The whole country became aware that since 2001 the Pentagon, working through Homeland Security, had supplied billions of dollars in heavy weapons to hundreds of local police departments. Not just New York, with its 35,000 police, but hundreds of towns have their own SWAT teams.

When the prosecutor manipulated the grand jury to bring no charges against the killer cop, and announced this on November 24, another round of national protests developed, reaching over 170 cities by the next day. This response was unprecedented in scope. It went way beyond this recent killing to challenge the police, who are the front-line forces of the racist, capitalist state. The police are a racist occupation force everywhere there is a community of oppressed people — Black, Latino, Asian, Muslim or Native. Cop impunity is the universal target of the new movement, whose main slogan is “Black lives matter.”

Then a new travesty of justice took place Dec. 3 when a New York grand jury brought no charges against any of the police involved in the killing of an unarmed 43-year-old African American, Eric Garner, last summer. A young Latino man had videoed the cops killing Garner and tens of millions of people saw the video, first on social media and later repeatedly on corporate television news programs, as Garner pleaded with the cops, saying 11 times, “I can’t breathe.” 

Historic role of racism

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the central role of racism within U.S. capitalism. The historical impact of 400 years of slavery still oppresses the African American population and affects all other people of color. Even after the Civil War brought an end to legal slavery in 1865, a later compromise between the southern slave-owning ruling class and northern capitalists stripped African Americans of promised political and economic rights. It took a Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and multiple rebellions in the cities to end legal segregation.

It is instructive to compare the historical rates of unemployment for African Americans and whites. The graph below shows that throughout 60 years, rates of Black unemployment were pretty consistently close to twice the rates for white workers. A similar discrepancy holds for poverty and for the proportion of people in low-wage jobs, that is, African Americans are twice as often poor, twice as often in low-wage jobs. The statistics are similarly disproportionate for Latinos and Latinas and for Native people. With regard to state repression the contrast is even more striking: Imprisonments of African Americans are six times the rate of whites. More than half of the 2.3 million prisoners are people of color. For being killed by police, the rate is 21 times greater for African Americans.  And police kill about 400 people a year. (www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white)
Michelle Alexander, in her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” makes a strong point that between 1970 and 1995, the incarceration of African Americans increased seven-fold and re-imposed a modified form of slavery.

Rapid changes in demography, mostly due to immigration, have made people of color about 100 million of the 320 million people in the U.S. population. They are an even larger proportion of the working class. In the few areas where workers have begun to fight back against the relentless attack from the ruling class – for example, in recent attempts to organize low-wage workers in the fast-food industry (McDonald’s) or big-box retailers (Walmart), it is usually workers of color and women who take the lead. Because of their different life experiences, this sector of the working class tends to be more critical of the system and more politically conscious than that part of the white population that is equally poor.  Solidarity among all sectors of poor workers is essential to successful struggle.

What's next ?
No matter what happens next, a big change has already occurred. Too many tens of thousands have participated in extended, militant activity. Too much anger and outrage have been aroused, not only in Ferguson and New York, but by each new example of the legal system giving impunity to killer cops. Its strength is the solidarity among its Black, Brown and white participants and that all look to the leadership of mostly young African American women and men who have taken the most responsibility. It is a new movement with a new leadership that has not fully formed. There are signs of sympathy between the movement countering police brutality here with the movements in Palestine and against imperialist war, although this is still in an early phase. There is some identification with the struggles of low-wage workers for higher wages and a union.  This is a struggle, as Jose Marti put it, in the “belly of the beast,” and at the very least, it will give U.S. imperialism indigestion.

Berkeley, Mo., where 18-year-old  Antonio Martin was killed by a policeman on Christmas Eve

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