Last Saturday I went to Charlottesville in order to gauge the seriousness of the threat. Ever since the rise of the Tea party, I’ve been concerned about the door it opened to the far right. Those forces, such as the KKK and the John Birch society, were marginalized by the mainstream body of conservatives for good reason.
The Tea party has reminded me of pre-war Germany when the fascist brown shirts came to power, because it consisted of common men who felt empowered over others.
Since there was a KKK rally in Charlottesville earlier this year, I’ve been concerned such forces may take drastic action. Ostensibly, the rally was about not taking down Confederate statues, however, actually it’s about white supremacy and privilege. It’s known that the US is moving towards Caucasians being the minority. This is a good thing, as it will create a more inclusive and tolerant society.
With the words and tweets coming from our President, it has created an environment where these far right forces feel emboldened to take their place in public discourse. Trump has said so many intolerant things – it is alarming and offensive.
What I witnessed Saturday was quite chilling. Confederate flags and fascist symbols abounded on flags and shields. There were men present carrying semi automatic rifles. They were indistinguishable from National Guard troops except for their lack of insignia, although some of them had confederate flags on their uniforms. The rally members gathered in the park were yelling anti-Semitic and homophobic things at the counter protesters.
The rally was billed as ‘Unite the Right Free Speech rally’. They gathered around the park with a Robert E. Lee statue which has been under consideration for removal. Forces of prejudice and intolerance were invoking their free-speech rights in order say hateful things. They stand as forces of violence and racial suppression.
I saw many people assaulted by alt-right forces who were there with weapons. There were billy clubs, pepper spray and some pink liquid that one of them hit me in the side of the face with, covering my glasses and getting in my eyes.
I witnessed these thugs pushing a woman around who had been yelling at them, and taunting her as she was desperate to get away from them. They marched into Emancipation park (formerly Lee Park) forcing their way through a line of clergy including Cornell West, despite Antifa attempts at protecting them.
With the death of Heather Heyer, we now have a figurehead for a movement against fascism and white supremacy. She will not be forgotten by those who stand for peace and justice.
Confederate statues are much, much more than historical tributes. They were erected by white supremacists who wanted to intimidate the black population. They were put up as Jim Crow laws were being enforced and red-lining prevented homeownership by our black brothers and sisters.
It’s time for this “Master” mindset to go away. It’s a continuation of the legacy of second sons from England. First sons inherited the family wealth, other sons had to go into the world and create their own wealth. It was much easier for these aristocrats to not work and to steal land from the natives. They were also so lazy that they used fellow human beings as slaves to do the labor for them. This is the origin of the mindset I saw on Saturday. It’s the origin of the forces from the south that fought in the Civil War. Many men became extremely wealthy from “King Cotton”, riches earned at the expense of those who were enslaved by them. Understandably, they were freaked out by having to lose that easy wealth. The current crop of bigots are also freaked out by the loss of their white privilege due to immigration and civil rights legislation.
The United States has reached a tipping point and some people are clinging to the old ways, where they could get rich by dominating and intimidating other people. As a progressive, I work so that society becomes one where equality, compassion, and justice are more important than “survival of the fittest”.
I went to Charlottesville on Saturday to be a witness, because it’s too easy to just shrug off threats as happening to “other people”. In a civil society it’s important for us all to be informed, so I have written this in order to spread the word. You are important. You have a voice and a vote. Please use them for the good of all.
Figures in history captured tangibly carry a touch of magic. The verisimilitude that results from the sculpting of clay, the painting of a portrait, from well-traveled light caught with chemistry and film… The resulting artifacts, to me, go through an exhausting time travel, never-failing to amaze.
I am a Southerner, at least as defined by the number of years I have spent in the South. My first memories were formed at a cozy home overlooking deep forest, on a lane named for Robert E. Lee. I had to learn it and memorize it, along with my phone number, city and state. I was quite young, but not too young to wonder who he was.
Back in those days, my eyes were often assaulted by the Confederate flag. I have watched it cart-wheel by, under Rebel cheerleader skirts. When I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, I had to teach at a school named Jefferson Davis. And friends had graduated a school named for Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Even as I should, perhaps, become used to it – I never did. Well, not until moving here to Richmond. Here, growing older, I began to give up some of my anger for resignation. I never imagined these monuments disappearing from here. And that is important to note. I have often offhandedly referred to Richmond as the capital of the Confederacy – and in the present tense.
I, and I am sure many other Americans, take Monument Avenue to be a reflection of Richmond’s character. It memorializes and re-asserts a racist history and tells our visitors where they stand. It did to me when I was a child. When I took these objects into my regard, these objects, these flags, told me I was on enemy territory. That I was where White was Right and Blacks get Back. The country twang seemed menacing, the dripping honey drawl seemed cruelly insincere.
In the hearts of Black Americans, these symbols represent injustice and an absolute disregard for their feelings. It doesn’t even need to be passed amongst us in a whisper. Every one of us questions and comes to terms with it as we mature. We come to terms with the omission of our stories. We come to accept that where we live, we are not wanted and that there are those who attach a nobility where it is neither fitting nor deserved.
If they appear beautiful to you at all, that’s because you have become accustomed and perhaps inured to the inanimate and, to you, harmless relics. Perhaps they have been there so long that you connect them to your environment and would miss this, to you innocuous, larger-than-life figure on a horse. To you, it may appear majestic instead of looming. But I ask for their removal. I will stand by this wish that, I feel, would bring deliverance for me and many. The years I have spent here in the Southern United States would take on a brighter hue in memory. I know this because I have again summoned memories of my neglected Tennessee as I see change proceed. Even the eyesore of a Nathan Bedford Forrest statue on TN’s I-65 I had to drive past, daily, to go to high school, may be hidden from view in the future. For me, now in Richmond, all of this has sparked a bit of hope.
They say a lot about a place, these monuments, one reason why I left Tennessee at my first opportunity. It relates to why I have been known to claim a broadly “East coast” or even “Northern” identity. After all, my parents met and fell in love in New York City. I have family and friends in New Jersey; where also I attended college. I spent some time in New York after graduation. Spectacular times.
But there is a reason I returned to the South and have not left. I have communed with the land and with the people I’ve encountered. The more I learn it and them, the more fortunate I feel. And I like the sunny summer days, heat beating down upon me. Virginia’s colorful autumn feels not so different from New Jersey’s, not so different from Tennessee’s. Even North Florida gets a strong chill in the air. Just shift the dates a little and the experiences can blend.
Frankly, I do not like writing about race. I especially detest examining hate groups. I experience a visceral repulsion. Even evoking the concepts can feel dangerous like you are unleashing a demon and setting the stage for carnage. And I almost feel that it gives publicity to their cause: to the KKK, the Nazis, the racists. As if dignifying their position. And ceding an entire area of my mind to contemplate this effrontery. Even to take offense seems to give some sort of win.
I would obviously love to move on to another topic. I would spend time contemplating beauty in all its forms, appreciating the different cultural experiences and perspectives that the world has to offer. However, racism is not ours alone. It may spring from the human condition: the fear of difference.
We must teach love to eradicate hate. Passivity is unacceptable. What do you think those statues tell children, especially when the context goes unexplained? They teach white supremacy.
A museum can hold the Confederate monuments and memorials. We can preserve them for future generations to see and discuss. Of course we must learn our histories to paint the backdrop on which our current controversies appear.
To change the future in a real and lasting way, we must confront the past. To out the stain, you must identify the substance and then act to eradicate its traces. By traces I mean, we must reform our institutions: our politics, our city planning, our criminal justice system, our segregated schools, our corporate cultures and our workplaces. To move civilization forward and past this, we must as a society condemn racism and white supremacy. Replace the statues and commemorate actual triumphs, accomplished people and momentous occasions. We have begun to do this. The new Maggie Walker statue found on Broad Street is indeed a beautiful sight to behold.
Yes, include the people who were harmed. Richmond intends to honor Dr. King on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, next year. A true hero. That is encouraging. A monument to Emancipation is slated to be raised. Other Black heroes added to our city’s vistas.
But call evil by its name.
We have just seen a virulent strain of racism run through Charlottesville, Virginia. Only time will tell whether we will succeed in fighting it. We need to move on from this argument, in the wake of what happened on Saturday, August 12th. We need to channel our dismay into reasonable action, you may protest – not rash destruction. But the Charlottesville spectacle and outcome need to be addressed. The Jewish community, the LGBT community and all nonwhites were vilely disrespected on Saturday by the same people who cherish these likenesses. Heather Heyer was murdered by domestic terrorism fueled by KKK beliefs. Nazi emulators walked boldly through our streets.
The eagerness to remove or destroy these monuments stems from a sentiment that is not new. It is just only now bursting through what was once a stoic facade. I, as a Black woman, have long harbored a subterranean hatred for these pieces and, by extension, for the former Confederacy. I want some of this anger to subside. A panacea this is not. A step in the right direction it is.
~By Kortenay Gardiner
When you are a reader, you look at words and books like they’re a succulent meat. You relish every curve, criss-cross and slash.
Maybe you’ve never struck a typewriter or thrilled to its bang. Known the feel of keys that patter. You don’t see hieroglyphics on bright white parchment. I even scribe to collect my thoughts or memorize material.
To me, all languages issue a dare hard to refuse. I took the plunge for Castellano and Latin American Spanish, French. I listen intently to Wolof as a woman braids my hair. I collect Albanian phrases in Queens from a bartender and her friends. California valley and surfer were, like, my first languages, it could be joked. Ebonics, for added flair and personality. I add it all to my untidy repertoire. Listening always for the pulse of a civilization. But you may not feel this.
You may not worship at the altar of the eloquent. Words, I would feel deprived without them to read and play with. Ideas that appear to my eyes like miracles, I digest over hours, weeks and years. The Handmaid’s Tale gave me nightmares. The Lover bathed me in grief.
I am sensitive. Words can pierce my soul. One can prick; one can burn. Syntax, diction and tone matter. That’s word order, word choice, and the emotion coming through. Heaven forbid I sense cruelty, because seeing the hate in print kills me twice. I must be vindicated. If not, the words invade my brain and take up occupation. It’s harder for me to forgive an excited utterance if it stares at me from a screen.
But the word “nigger” floors me. Just in the writing of it… yes, it scared me. I felt a little sick to my stomach. I could not even bring myself to look back at what I wrote; this is its staggering power. The only word whose verbal slap can stun me silent. I fear toppling to the floor. I call bloody murder.
But my skin needs to be thicker, not meaning desensitized exactly but thicker, and readier for the impact of our currently dystopic real lives. Confrontation may be crucial at this juncture in time. For the first time in my life, I have decided that racism must be faced head on.
But I’m still not going to Charlottesville tomorrow…
Now, “nigga” still looks weird to me. But this -its shortened, most acceptable form- has spread like a contagion since I don’t know when. NWA couldn’t have been the first. Since this word was reclaimed, it has struck a lighter blow, at least when issued from the lips of those who pass the subjective social/racial litmus test proffered by their environment. I dare say “nigga” has an affectionate and positive connotation when used between friends… although the flipside always threatens to burst through the flimsy divide; so easily can the semantics shift, depending on whether the speaker is addressing friend or foe; whether addressing the admired or the disparaged.
And it’s straight confusing to hear it from a stranger. Whatever happened to “brother” and “sister”? However strange that sounds to us, today, with its old school feel and Nation of Islam ring, that was better. Mami and papi is better. You’ve got to ask yourself why we settle. Why we settle for such a self-deprecating, trauma-laced word. Is it a monument of our own making? A monument to triumph over pain?
I feel no white person should pick up and try either of these ‘n’ words. I know the argument well. The first, you want to keep them in your arsenal, “in case of emergency” like an assault rifle. Shia LeBoeuf, I’d thought was a cool guy, assuming he was a Jewish ally, took it out of his back pocket when he was taken into custody for a drunk and disorderly charge and was confronted with a Black officer to his dismay. It was thoroughly sad to see. If you want the second version, you want to cozy up to Black America or at least to your Black friends. You believe you can be seen for the exceptional nonracist that you are.
You are mistaken. You have the right but not the license. It is inflammatory at worst and hate speech and at best grating on the nerves. A white face mouthing anything close is anathema because an ugly thought lives behind that word. It’s crude and violent to me. Like Michael Jackson and the word, “Bad,” the original meaning never disappeared, there’s just ambiguity added- a layering- over the word’s original meaning.
Transgression is also tied up with it. When Black people utter the n-word, they know it’s taboo. Deftly flipping the implied lack of the self-esteem for the other side of the coin, where some level of respect and even a large measure of affection resides. But a verdigris residue remains. You only need to read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye to educate yourselves to the pain that burdens many of us darker-skinned folk. Running from our own reflection in the mirror. But “my nigga” as a compliment is powerful as well. It’s only happened to me once. I was first stunned, then overjoyed, then stunned then overjoyed again. It was a pleasantly breathtaking ride.
I knew then that we would not disentangle ourselves from that burdensome identity because of the shared struggles it acknowledges. The pride birthed from our American alma mater’s brand, from the persistent throbbing anguish that exists in every one of us… a wound barely scabbing over for most of us.
God, I miss Obama. At least he was a beacon of hope… Now, no Band-aids nor ready ointments are available. No concoctions in the works, at least not from the Executive. With Birther Trump now in the office of presidency, tearing these wounds back open, leaving them exposed. Witness the bloody issue.
The streams of race, class, sex and sexuality are not distinct, especially not for those situated in the maelstrom. We need to unite rather than splinter in response to Trump’s scapegoating mischaracterizations of undocumented immigrants, his crude appeals to the typical White (Supremacist) American and his marginalization of the rest of us. His policy positions, his Cabinet appointments, and his budget and department cuts reflect a profound ignorance and disregard for all of our lives.
I grew up South of the Mason-Dixon line. Heck, I grew up in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt: Nashville, Tennessee. I spent my youth there until the age of seventeen when I ventured North. Seventy-four miles south of Nashville is Pulaski, Giles County, Tennessee, which is well-known as the “birthplace” of the KKK. I even visited one summer in high school to attend a week-long basketball team camp held there.
My father, an Afro-Caribbean immigrant, almost did not allow me to go. There wasn’t any logic in taking chances with his daughter’s safety as far as he was concerned. He wouldn’t drive in the snow, either. Not taking unnecessary risks in this unfamiliar Southern territory.
I didn’t look into any of it at that time- I deferred to my father’s decision and didn’t push very hard to go to that particular team camp. The situation made me apprehensive and I picked up on the gravity of my father’s concerns. And what did I know about this remote area of Tennessee far from home? Would I be physically assaulted? Ridiculed? Silently despised?
But I had a wonderful time. It made me more of a Tennessean. My pride in Tennessee girls’ and women’s basketball is complete. A lady Tiger, I was, one of the “city girls.” We wore matching plaid scrunchies in our school colors of maroon and pale blue, one of our only nods to girly-ness. We came to work. Then, we met the country girls who came to play, but to our eyes, didn’t look the part. But I digress…
Some friends have expressed to me a refusal to read or watch The Handmaid’s Tale. I read it ages ago and felt a little baffled by their intransigence, at first, since I read the novel in my early teens. It was a choice on my Summer Reading List. I read it, had nightmares, got on with my life.
The nightmares were of the action movie type. You’re in a state of emergency and your entire life is in jeopardy- and your family’s- and you must ACT or perish. A quite useful kind of dream, if you think about it.
And this from me, Ms. Sensitive. Ms. “I’m reluctant to watch horror movies because they are going to scar me for life”- this me- can watch The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m not great with roller coasters, either. I brace myself and join in, but few notice the apprehension and pervasive sense of futility seated beside them.
I felt more forewarned than traumatized by the reading experience. I added the book to my mental catalogue, marked it prescient, and continued to read more Atwood. I also recommend Surfacing, which I recall as written beautifully and memorably Canadian. I watched the first season of Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale series eagerly each week and could tolerate it, even enjoying the mise en scène aspects such as soundtrack choice, casting and costuming. Enacting the book, written in the eighties, and adapting it to resonate with today- that kind of artistic dilemma- really gets my blood pumping.
So, I cannot help but think that some people will be able to handle Charlottesville.
I was safely distanced from The Handmaid’s Tale’s chilling grasp, sheltered in my parents’ home on one of Tennessee’s grassy, steep hills. I could handle a written tale of horror over reproductive slavery back then. I wasn’t sexually active, yet. I wouldn’t have to see it, except in my mind’s eye. No graphic detail….
By contrast, regarding HBO’s irksome “Confederate” series, I am in a state of panic even before the scripts have been penned. I don’t want another Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the worst of my horror-movie watching experiences. I don’t want abuse via screen such as must have been experienced by Black viewers watching Birth of a Nation (the 1915 D.W. Griffith 3 hour long, silent film that depicts the mythic inspiration for the KKK) back in those days.
But like “Confederate”, who knows what might come of going to the Answer Rallies.
Let You, freer from trepidation but not braver, You go answer the challenge of the Alt-Right. You go make a show of numbers. You all know I’ve got brown skin in the game. In this case, however, every single fiber of my being tingles telling me I’m not going towards that word or hateful animus.
I will watch nervously from afar, it’s not my town, although now my state. I have been squinting at this issue since July 8 since May 13 since forever, ever since I became aware of such hate… ever since I was a child.
I didn’t realize it then, but to get by in my predominantly white school, I wore blinders. Never looking at it full on… absolutely unable to look at it objectively, I brushed away the idea of racism.
It has got to be natural to fear that gaping abyss and to be pulled toward doubt and paranoia. Worse, in front of people who can look at you and draw connections between you and the Africans forced into chains and hauled here like cargo centuries ago.
I sought out the successful Black writers and derived pride and inspiration from them, feeling that these were my friends and my peers. I wanted to jump into their arguments since it was my plight under discussion: the state of being Black in America, the double consciousness/code switching that tips you towards either crazy or genius. The joy and turmoil, the vicissitudes of life explained by people of my Black American tribe, told from our self-conscious stance. I studied women’s issues with equal intensity.
It was lost on me, for years, how surviving the Middle Passage, itself, could be recast as extremely strong, and how our spirituality carried many of us through… so many things did I miss because of tunnel vision. But it’s a winning strategy. Michael Garcia’s video with Kodak Black’s, “Tunnel Vision” enthralled me for months. To Kodak, tunnel vision is on capitalism or “the hustle” and the simple pleasures of living. My hustle back in school was similarly channeled toward competition… mine athletic and academic. Now, I remove my blinders. I saw in college that I was not “the only one” any longer, and exchanged that silo of the mind for an ivory tower. Now, I’m beginning to see that everyone has different versions of tunnel vision… others focus on spirituality, for example, instead of intellectualizing.
Don’t stay in your lanes, though. Instead, weave a braided understanding throughout your communities. And do it in real life not only from behind a screen. To all of you who are going to Charlottesville, I want you to know that I’m touched. I wish you well and many thanks. But I won’t be a pair of boots on the ground for this cause, I’m just not up for it.
~By APV staffer Kortenay Gardiner
Recently, Democratic candidate for the Virginia gubernatorial race, Ralph Northam suggested that if the ACP and MVP pipelines could be built safely, he would support them, which sounds nice if you don’t understand a thing about the pipelines that are being proposed or their impact on climate change. If you do, however, there are major issues. Here’s the main thing Northam and moderate Democrats miss about the pipeline debate: there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ pipeline. The infrastructure to carry natural gas or oil should not be built — regardless of how technically safe the infrastructure is. Why?
Although Natural gas is nearly 50 percent less carbon-intensive when it is burned — it is also made up mostly of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Because natural gas is difficult to control and capture, it often leaks during drilling, transporting, and storage. Recent estimates have shown that natural gas is not actually helping to meet climate goals, due to the amount of methane being leaked by the natural gas industry.
This should be a non-starter for progressive Democrats. The Paris climate agreement informs countries like the United States that we need to reduce our carbon pollution by 80% by 2050 in order to avoid unacceptable risks of a destabilized climate. To do our part, Virginia needs to be taking steps to reduce our carbon pollution by 80%. But we are not, and the pipelines are going to make that situation even worse.
Glen Besa, Director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club has done some excellent work crunching the numbers:
“Dominion’s current plan for meeting Virginians’ electricity needs (per its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan) start from a 2017 base level of 40 million tons/year of carbon pollution. The company proposes to actually increase its carbon pollution over the next 25 years by at least 5% and possibly by as much as 34%, not including the new emissions from its pipeline. That’s right, we need to reduce our carbon 80% by 2050, and Dominion actually intends to increase its carbon pollution. That’s irresponsible, and McAuliffe and Northam should say so publicly.”
“A conservative estimate of the emissions from the Atlantic Coast pipeline (ACP) is 40.7 million tons/year and as much as 68.4 million tons per year. Using the more conservative estimate of carbon emissions associated with the Atlantic Coast pipeline, Dominion would double its annual total carbon emissions from 40 million tons per year to 80 million tons per year. Additionally, total carbon pollution emissions estimates from the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) range from 54 to 91 million tons per year.”
“Recognizing that a responsible climate policy will reduce our total carbon pollution emissions by 80% by 2050, Dominion shows no intention of reducing carbon pollution from its power plants and proposes to double those emissions with the Atlantic Coast pipeline. Then add the 54 to 91 million tons per year associated with the Mountain Valley pipeline. With the pollution from these two pipelines, Virginia is not going to come close to meeting its carbon budget. Had we taken a similar approach to the Chesapeake Bay clean up, the Bay would today be an open sewer.”
Because climate change is real and devastating and adding pipelines for more natural gas consumption is pounding in more nails to a quickly sealing coffin, we shouldn’t even be having this debate. Moderate Democrats like McAuliffe and Northam, by enabling entities like Dominion to continue their worst practices, are distorting the discussion and making it that much more difficult to save the planet and life on Earth as we know it. What makes this even worse? The pipelines aren’t being built out of some desperate energy need that we must furnish immediately, rather they are being built for the lucrative sale of natural gas –which is why they are designed for “over capacity.” The pipelines are not about supplying our own energy needs, they are about making money for Dominion and other folks involved in the pipeline chain. Dominion seeds their prospects by donating to every member of the Virginia General Assembly, including Ralph Northam, so this is as much about a good-ole-boy way of doing things as it is about legitimate energy concerns.
Under these circumstances, anti-pipeline activists are threatening to withhold their support for Northam. Included among these is Jennifer Lewis, president of Friends of Augusta, who is also the vice chair of the Waynesboro Democratic Committee. She says she will not vote for Northam unless he has a change of heart about this issue.
Moderate Democrats are wringing their hands about the withdrawal of support and are decrying this kind of activism, though, it should be noted they don’t seem to be going out of their way to change the mind of Ralph Northam on the issue. Maybe they should consider having the candidate change his position on what is becoming a referendum on climate change, rather than bashing activists who have worked over time on this issue and other issues (like women’s rights, healthcare, etc) and implying that they are somehow treacherous for not lining up behind what amounts to a corporate sell out?
For those interested in further reading, this article does a nice job of summing up our current situation. Though some have argued it is too extreme, I think it’s better to have a screaming Cassandra at this juncture, rather than a foolish Pangloss (we might recall from our Greek history that although Cassandra was ignored, she was right. Pangloss was the silly philosopher in Candide who suggested to the naive Candide that this was the best of all possible worlds. He was wrong.)
If you want a moderating view, this article does a nice job of softening the desperation inherent in the first link, but note please, its optimism lies in the hope that we take the warnings seriously.
This paragraph is instructive “… a strategy for addressing climate change is coming together. The cost of solar and wind energy are plunging worldwide; carmakers are promising to take more of their fleet electric, and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from human activity has stabilized over the past three years. Decarbonizing will be an arduous and difficult global project—but technological development and government policy are finally bringing it into the realm of the possible.”
I don’t think it’s too outlandish for Democrats–even so-called moderate Democrats– to work for a civilization that can survive without raging inequality (where the desperately poor and impoverished are harmed the worst by the effects of climate change). To get to that point we have to move off of fossil fuels. That means no more pipelines, among other things. As I say, it shouldn’t even be up for debate.
Northam’s assertion that he can build a ‘safe’ pipeline is inherently misleading and worse, shows that he hardly understands the parameters of the policy discussion he is having. He needs to educate himself and change his position.
~by Jack Johnson
In a state known for its pandering to the middle, Virginia’s Democrats are leaning further to the left than usual. Both Democratic Gubernatorial candidates appear to be staking out territory decidedly to the left of the Trump administration which– in the context of the rest of the world– makes them normal.
The actual policy differences between Tom Perriello and Ralph Northam are slight. They both support a $15 minimum wage and some form of tuition-free community college, and they oppose offshore drilling. They are both relatively sane in terms of women’s issues, and both, significantly, have stumbled on the road to political purity.
Early in his career, Perriello voted for the so-called Stupak amendment to the Affordable Care Act, which would have prohibited the use of federal funds “to pay for any abortion” and was actively pushed by anti-choice Democrats. He later called it the worst vote of his career. Northam has been a consistent defender of women’s rights, but he also voted for George W. Bush—twice– for president. In 2009, Northam toyed with changing parties, though friends say it was just a ploy.
There are a few other places where you can find daylight between the candidates, though and these differences accentuate the ‘type’ of candidacy they are trying to represent. In recent debates, Perriello has made clear his opposition to two planned natural-gas pipelines, Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline while Northam has repeatedly said that the projects should meet environmental requirements but that the decisions to approve these projects are up to federal regulators at FERC.
Additionally, Perriello has called for a tax increase on the wealthy to fund social programs, while Northam has urged caution against big spending. Perriello broke with prior Democratic governors to call for a repeal of the state’s “right to work” law that bars union membership as a condition of employment, which Northam described as a fight Democrats cannot win.
It’s a good indicator of what separates the two candidates—a willingness on the part of Perriello to mix it up, even if there’s only a slim chance. Northam, conversely is more of a diplomat, cautious and unwilling to engage in fights that from their outset appear unwinnable.
Indeed, Perriello’s initial candidacy might have been described as unwinnable, and, until Trump took the Presidency, unthinkable. Perriello said he would have not entertained running, but Trump’s unlikely victory galvanized him into action.
Nationally, Perriello has received endorsements from the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both of whom appeal to the Democrats’ activist base; unlike the party establishment which, by all accounts, were hoping to install Northam into the governor’s chair without much of a general election, much less a primary. But as Perriello and his supporters have often said, “call off the coronation.”
Virginia’s Democratic Party power players, including both senators and the governor, are all squarely behind Northam. The establishment is “furious with Perriello,” Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics said. Northam, who thought he had the primary locked up, is now spending campaign cash in a fight against another Democrat. Sabato contends that Perriello “isn’t well-known either, because he only represented the 5th for two years, but the activists who tend to vote in primaries tend to be more liberal, and they are charged up and they are everywhere,” Sabato said.
Northam leads Perriello in name recognition with Democrats overall, 50 percent to 45 percent. But more new voters — those who didn’t vote in the 2009 or 2013 gubernatorial elections, who are likely to be younger and more liberal — know who Perriello is (31 percent) than know who Northam is (28 percent). Those voters, young, energized and some already activists in their own rights are being fought over by both campaigns. And, as so often happens, that fight, itself, has caused stumbles.
In a recent push poll by the Northam campaign, much was made of his fight against the infamous mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bill from 2012 in the Virginia General Assembly. The problem? Some activists from that fight are contending that Northam is over selling his work. “He didn’t lead the fight. We led the fight. We made the phone calls, we organized the marches, we showed up at the General Assembly building and the Board of Health meetings—and protested long and loud enough that our representatives finally began to listen.” Northam probably meant he debated on the right side of the bill in the General Assembly, but it’s hardly the type of leadership the activists I talked with are asking for. They are also less than enchanted with Northam’s position on the pipelines which they describe as a “sell out.” It doesn’t help that Northam still receives generous cash contributions to his campaign from Dominion Power—the huge utility company
behind the ACP– while Perriello, along with 50 other Virginia House Delegates have refused funding from the power company.
In their view, and the view of many Virginia voters, the primary taking place this coming Tuesday is a referendum on the failed strategies of the national Democratic party. Both nationally and locally, they argue, there seems to be a fixation on identity politics and neoliberal policies and a singular lack of urgency regarding the environmental crisis and economic issues confronting the younger generation. Both of these later issues Perriello champions loudly, while Northam prefers a more conciliating manner. The national political establishment will be watching this coming Tuesday to see which approach gets the best traction.
Remember to vote!
On January 20, 2017 America inaugurated its 45 president, a man so manifestly unqualified, so repugnantly vulgar and so clearly dangerous that on January 21, 2017 millions of Americans including half a million men, women and children in the same capitol that had hosted the inauguration the day before, went into the streets to show their resistance to bigotry, racism, xenophobia and a new, and uniquely squalid form of governance.
We asked our many members and friends who attended the Women’s Marchs to send us their photos and Stories. We’re pleased to share some of them with you today. It seems like we are under constant attack these days. Our country, our values and our very history are being chipped away at by a small, active minority backed by massive amounts of money and propelled by a concerted and coordinated propaganda campaign. Against that, one march might not seem that important, but on that day, we owned the streets and the world heard what we had to say. It was not an end, it was a beginning. We got some great responses, here’s a sample. Thank You All!
“It wasn’t a March, we never really moved, there were so many of us that we spilled out everywhere”
Nancy, Washington D.C.
“My Boyfriend got me up on his shoulders cause I’m short… so many people!”
Kelly, New York
“For the first time in a year, I felt hopeful”
Linda, Washington D.C.
“The election wrecked me, this reminded me how many good people there still are”
Denise, Los Angeles
“I was amazed at how patient everyone was”
Lora, Washington D.C.
“Right at the end of the rally a large, spontaneous parade of 20-somethings wound its way through the crowd shouting the slogans on their hand-painted signs, and their energy and passion gave me so much hope. Later, when I saw the amazing pictures from all the other marches around the world, I realized what was most important for me about the day: none of us were marching in support of a candidate or leader, instead we were there in support of the rights and values we all believe in”
Beth, Parkland Fl.
APV Member Kortenay Gardiner in DC Jan. 21, 2017
“I walked with my mom and my daughter, I was so proud to be there”
Don’t despair, we are gonna keep at this and we are gonna come out on the other side.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the mercurial speed with which Donald Trump is dispatching the Republic, you’re not alone.
And neither is he. It’s like a sign I read at the recent Woman’s March, “Don’t blame Trump, he did everything he could to prove he was unfit to be President.”
Indeed, even before his inauguration, his enablers–the Republican Party of America– had a Vote O’ Rama preparing the way to eliminate Obamacare once and for all. Well past midnight in the wee hours of January 12th, the GOP controlled Senate voted down amendment after amendment offered by Democrats trying to safeguard things like providing care for pre-existing conditions, allowing children to remain on their parent’s insurance till the age of 26, funding for the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), etc. In the deluge of news following his first week in office, that deeply disgraceful episode was lost in a whirl wind of announcements and orders—muzzling Executive Branch agencies, freezing all Federal hires, the resignations of the entire senior level staff at the State Department, moves to build a wall against Mexico, to build barriers against the Muslims, to end a trade deal with Asia, to allow black site torture chambers …once again. Oh, the lies, the pure quantity and velocity of his lies spewed out with the rapidity of an AK-47. Breathtaking stuff, really. HUGE.
On my Facebook wall, at last count, there were well over fifty separate calls to action. If I heeded each one, it would be a full time job. But of course, none of us are getting paid for this, at least I’m not, and most of my friends aren’t, which brings up another lie. When I told my father I was attending the Woman’s March, he said he heard that the attendees were all being paid. Well paid.
“Where’d you hear that?”
“A news source.”
“Which news source?”
“I don’t know, one of them, a good one.”
“Well, I’m happy to hear that. How much am I getting paid?”
“One thousand, five hundred dollars?” I repeated the longer format just to make sure I’d heard him right.
“Yes, the money is coming from Clinton. Her campaign’s war chest I suppose. What’s left of it.”
“Hillary Clinton, who didn’t even attend the march, really? She’s giving every marcher $1,500?”
“That’s what the news said.”
“Wow, so how do I collect this money?”
“That’s up to you, buddy boy. You’re the one with all the hotshot connections.”
Now, sad to say, my dad voted for Trump. Not so much a vote for Trump as a vote against Hillary Clinton and the so called liberal elite. He got on this band wagon way back in the Reagan era when the term limousine liberal was popularized and all those Republican heads exploded with thoughts of poor black women eating bon bons on the Government dole. Yet another lie that brings up a larger truth. This kind of nonsense has been around since the founding of the Republic (Here’s a quickie for you doubters out there. Most people mark Yorktown as the end of our own Revolutionary war. Yet 365 people were killed after that battle, more than at Bunker Hill, Lexington, Concord, and Quebec combined. But extending the end date would require explaining the Western battles against Native Americans, and young America’s awkward role as a proxy between Europe’s two great powers, England and France—not a great spin if you’re talking point is how the U.S. was a young, independent country. So we 86’d it. Just decided not to talk about that part of our history for the last 235 years or so. Never mind.).
Anyhow, it’s not the fact that some news is fabricated, or that nearly every interested party spins to a degree, it’s the velocity of the lies that are killing us today, and their quantity.
How did this happen? I don’t know but some people have theories. Back in the golden days of truthiness, circa 1984, there was a fellow named Duane Gish. He was a creationist, well versed in the art of obfuscation. His technique was simple. In the words of Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education– who had the misfortune of debating him at length– he spewed “forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn’t a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate.” She dubbed this approach “the Gish Gallop”
The Urban dictionary has an even more colorful definition for this technique:
“A Gish Gallop involves spewing so much bullshit in such a short span that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it. To make matters worse a Gish Gallop will often have one or more ‘talking points’ that has a tiny core of truth to it, making the person rebutting it spend even more time debunking it in order to explain that, yes, it’s not totally false but the Galloper is distorting/misusing/misstating the actual situation.”
So here’s the theory. President Trump’s tenure amounts to one enormous Gish Gallop. As all things Trump, it will be the biggest, the grandest sack of bullshit ever assembled in one Presidential term. Lies, distortions, obfuscations, scatterbrained ideas, wholly unworkable schemes, blue print cons and conspiracies, the whole works, presented under the imprimatur of the President of the United States.
I’m not sure how to feel about this, but it does have the ring of truth, don’t you think?
Hunter S. Thompson, whose visceral insight would be much appreciated today, said of Nixon’s election in ’72, “Everyone stopped doing psychedelics and speed, and started doing downers.” The natural impulse is to hide, clap hands over eyes or ears and pretend this isn’t the national nightmare it is.
Mr. Trump has triumphed, and whatever delight his supporters might take will be short-lived. The hangover will be in the way of buyer’s regret not unlike the British whose Brexit vote left everyone baffled. Why would they do that to themselves?
Indeed. But the answers come in truck loads: angry voters tired of political cant cast their anti-establishment vote. You could say they were sexist and racist and that’s probably true on the margins, but I suspect a little under 50% of the electorate is not racist or sexist. Many of them are simply fed up with the existing order of things. Healthcare cost traveling steadily upwards, retirement accounts vanished, college education– a second and third mortgage, tertiary jobs that still don’t pay the bills; while millionaire news anchors feed them a stream of nonsense. What this election should make liberal Democrats rethink is that extraordinarily near-sighted strategy of relying so heavily on identity politics to win national elections—and their concomitant decision to jettison blue-collar workers across the land. You can’t be both Wall Street and Main Street. Obama and the Clintons and the Democratic Party, in general, have aligned themselves with Wall Street throughout the last three decades. Their center right neoliberal policies have made a hash of the middle class, and eviscerated the poor. This started with Bill Clinton’s famous triangulation and has led us straight to here.
If you scan the electoral map, you’ll see the broad outline of Trump’s victory in the industrially devastated Mid-West and Appalachian regions of our country. Poor, white, less educated, left behind by a gutted manufacturing base, and sneered at by millionaire anchors hardly more literate than themselves, by commentarial dunces.
What’s happened is not hard to discern. Trump brandished a big loud ‘fuck you’ to the smug elites. He achieved what many a politician probably envy, traction with the common man by reacting authentically to being likewise snubbed by those same elites—his famously thin skin is a political asset for the voters who feel snubbed in the same way. Making ‘fun’ of Trump will do Democrats no good. Focusing on his abundant personality faults is a losing battle, because the people who voted for him voted precisely for those faults.
True, his cabinet picks are wildly disturbing. Pruitt, if confirmed, is a climate change denier who will be appointed head of the EPA. Ben Carson who favors dismantling much of HUD will be in charge of that agency. Pudzer, his Labor Secretary pick, is a fast food magnate who applauds the rise of robots as replacement labor and opposes raising the minimum wage. General “Mad Dog” Mattis has been anointed Secretary of Defense. He likes to talk about his enjoyment in killing people, or the necessity of it. “It’s fun to shoot some people…Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” But he does have sage advice for waging war, advice progressives should take to heart:
“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Most of my friends have had a visceral response to Trump’s ascension. After the election night, a few simply refused to get dressed the next day. A pervasive sense of doom has descended upon the ranks of America’s most hopeful demographic. For what are progressives if not hopeful? The scope of the disaster seems unprecedented. And the fall– from sanguine plans of mediating a Clinton victory to quasi-fascist takeover– is breathtaking. But regardless of our feckless media, we still have serious issues to handle. Trump probably isn’t going to help, but we shouldn’t let him hinder us, either.
How does that work? Make a list of concrete things we need to accomplish in the next four years. Not just rear guard defensive actions, but items that we would have pushed for under any administration. My list consists of switching our energy grid from carbon emitters like petroleum and coal to renewable energy sources, solar and wind. Reform our local, state and national election systems by eliminating gerrymandering, reforming the electoral college, instituting IVR (instant voter runoff), and re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine. Decrease income inequality by passing the ERA. Use things like a financial transaction tax to debit each trade on Wall Street by a small percentage and apply those funds to college tuition grants, healthcare subsidies, etc. With regard to our retirement system, we could shore up any problems with Social Security by raising the base wage Social Security tax to include those making over $118,500. Currently, those who make in excess of that annual salary pay no Social Security tax at all. Ideally, Obamacare should be overhauled and a single payer system should be rolled out. This is by far the most efficient system on Earth and has a successful track record in almost every other Western Industrialized society except the United States which refuses because of the scary word ‘socialism.’ Increase job opportunities by funding much-needed infrastructure projects-including making our economy green. Eliminate the poverty to prison pipeline by repealing ridiculously harsh drug laws that disproportionately affect minority and lower class communities and stop using for profit prisons.
This list is not comprehensive by any stretch but the ideas are all based on concrete goals that are actually broadly shared by wide swaths of the electorate. Everyone wants a clean environment. Everyone wants decent affordable healthcare and education. Everyone wants a living wage. Even Trump supporters. In fact, especially them. Yet, not one of these goals has the word ‘Trump’ in it, nor should it. Neither do they have the word ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’. They are prioritized based on necessity, starting with the survival of the species (moving off carbon based energy sources), then political reforms that can lead to ameliorating the harsh binary world of income inequality that leads to elections results that we’ve just seen.
So don’t talk about what Trump will or will not do. He thrives off the attention. Rather, discuss what we need to do, regardless of Trump. He’s a troll who has managed to con a portion of the nation that desperately wanted to be conned. Focus on the concrete. Trump is a symptom of a deeper malaise, and the solution is not only to defeat Republicans like Trump, but neoliberals of either party. One way of doing this is to run insurgent left primary candidates (including avowed democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders) against mainstream Democrats as well as Republicans. They may not win, but it forces the Overton window to the left and makes discussion of income inequality, fair trade rather than free trade, the centerpiece of an election rather than an edge issue. Make your own list today and work on it. Run for office, locally, or nationally. And, for God sakes, whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls.
~by Jack Johnson
French philosopher, Michel Foucault once famously argued that society operates as a vast prison. While Foucault’s concerns were with an individual’s freedom constrained in such a system, maybe a more direct analogy to our current situation is how our judiciary and police force is used to control and literally imprison a vast swath of our lower classes.
It is no secret that in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, much of the city’s income was derived from fines and court fees for minor traffic violations, essentially converting area police work from “public safety” officers to revenue collectors. These violations disproportionately fell on poorer individuals and minorities who may not have had the money to keep their hedges trimmed and their vehicles perfectly equipped. In effect, the tickets and citations amount to a regressive tax on members of our society least able to afford it.
In the wake of the Brown killing, Governor Jay Nixon signed a broad municipal court reform bill that capped court revenue and imposed new requirements in an attempt to end what the bill’s sponsor called predatory practices aimed at the poor. Good. The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Eric Schmitt, said people have the right “not to be thrown in jail because you’re a couple of weeks … late on a fine for having a taillight out.” He called the current system in place in Ferguson, “taxation by citation.”
“Under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops,” Nixon said.
This is all good, too, and certainly the caps on revenue collection by police is a step in the right direction, but in the larger scheme of things, I’m not nearly as sanguine as Governor Nixon is about “cops going back to being ‘cops.’”
…in Southern states groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same.
For one thing, the historical precedent that they might ‘go back’ toward isn’t exactly edifying, especially in Southern states where groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same; that is, ensuring the safe keeping of property for the wealthy. In the North, police officers often functioned as barriers between the wealthy elites and the immigrant “hordes.” The history of industrialization and unionization in this country is rife with struggles between union supporters and police officers or private firm surrogates operating in their wake (such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency –fun fact, at the height of its existence, the Pinkertons had more agents than the standing army of the United States of America).
We like to think of police officers as neutral arbiters of the law, itself a neutral amalgam of well thought out rules for living, but whether rounding up runaway slaves or busting union organizers, the police have historically found themselves on the side of property owners. What this means in contemporary America is a focus on things like illegal drug use and sale, vehicle violations, public disturbance rules, and zoning laws that disproportionately hit the poorest members of our society first and hardest. If we run back through just the most noteworthy police shootings in the last year (topping 1,000 according to an unofficial list compiled by the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/08/us/fatal-police-shooting-accounts.html?_r=0), most of the precipitating causes involved minor infractions, expired inspection stickers, broken signal lights, or tail lights, unpaid fines or alimony. Public service, protecting humans from harm to themselves or to others might be a nice ancillary outcome of a police officer doing his job, but it’s not the main event.
In fact, the idea that police are here to protect us is not much more than a happy slogan. In its landmark decision DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services,the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “the Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens from criminal harm.” The United States Supreme Court, in the 2005 case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales upheld that decision and extended it to include a state or municipality’s police force– codifying what many folks in poorer neighborhoods had long since suspected: neither the state nor the police have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.
Strictly speaking, the police are law enforcement officers, they are present to make sure the laws as passed by city, county, and state legislators are followed. Towards that end they write tickets, and citations for breaking the law, make arrest and testify in court about their actions. This narrow interpretation of their duties is often clarified in training on the so called ‘public duty’ doctrine that provides that a “governmental entity owes a duty to the public in general, not to any one individual.”
Police are also warned—constantly—to look out for themselves. According to ex-Officer, Seth Stanton, writing in the Atlantic Magazine, “police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.” Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. One slogan that is bandied about squad rooms sums up the mind set: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”
Police are trained to fear the public they are nominally intended to serve. During their training “they are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance.” Writes Stanton, “in most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
“In most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
If you happen to peruse Police Magazine, you’ll find that the majority of the stories are about violence against police—and the weapons or tactics they can use to keep themselves safe. This month’s issue features a large photo of an Armalite AR-10 20-Inch Tactical Rifle that was initially designed for the US military. To drive home the point, Police magazine’s logo shows the O in policeman segregated by cross hairs, like a target.
Of course, in addition to the protect-thyself-first attitude, there’s also an underlying racial bias; probably because police officers fear blacks more than whites. In 2015, The Washington Post documented 990 fatal shootings by police, 93 of which involved people who were unarmed. “Black men accounted for about 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police and, when adjusted by population, were seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.”
“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors. “This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on,” Nix said. “Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens.”
The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black…
The report noted that officers may unconsciously develop biases over time. “In other words, the police — who are trained in the first place to be suspicious — become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion,” according to the report.
So we have a fearful police force, over trained for self-protection with an underlying bias against minorities whose main job is not to protect citizens but to enforce legal codes that order society for the benefit of property owners (that will likely make a poor person’s life more difficult). Add to the brew, the over militarization of our police force (do we really need armored tanks on civilian streets?) and the fact that most police officer shootings are investigated by the police departments themselves and it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand how deeply dysfunctional the whole shebang is. I had one friend suggest that, given the stress our minority communities are under, it was surprising incidents like Dallas hadn’t happened more frequently.
But they haven’t– and perhaps that’s a testimony to what many police departments are coming to recognize—the necessity for retraining and community engagement. In fact, it’s a sad irony that the Dallas Police department has done an exceptional job in just this area. It’s obvious that Police Chief David Brown –whose own life is rife with personal tragedy—is dedicated to a community outreach program. Just hours before the killings began last Thursday night in Dallas, his officers took time to chat with protesters, even taking selfies with them.
“We saw police officers shaking hands and giving high fives and hugging people and being really in the moment with us,” demonstrator Sharay Santora said.
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting. All of this should tell us that police forces in this country are as diverse as their leaders and the communities that they serve. Our own city, Richmond, Virginia, much like Dallas, has done excellent work in reaching out to the various communities here—including, surprisingly, the LGBT community. So it’s not hopeless, but no one solution will fit all the municipalities across the nation, and maybe one of the questions we should be asking is how well our expectations of police service match the reality? After all, as Chief Brown has noted, “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve”
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting
Many of our poor neighborhoods have a nearly round the clock police presence—from squad cars anyhow. Police appear, write up infractions, and arrest vagrants, keep an eye on shifty characters, “gangbangers” and the like. They do what they are trained to do. But the result isn’t a working society. The result, as I suggested in the beginning of this essay, is a carceral state.
Right now, if you are an Afro-American male, your odds of being in jail at some point in your life are 1 in 3. I doubt this is because 1 in 3 Afro-American males are genetically predisposed to periodic episodes of violence and criminal behavior. More likely, it has to do with the incredible dearth of job prospects made infinitely worse by a rap sheet and applying while black.
Police officers can’t solve that problem. They aren’t social workers or teachers or medical service personnel, as Brown correctly points out—but the nature of the system we have put in place allows all the problems of our society to flow downward to the cop on the beat whose one job is to enforce the law, but who we mistakenly believe can somehow catch all the detritus of a dysfunctional system and keep it working.
In Michel Foucault’s famous work, Discipline and Punishment, the ruling metaphor is society as a vast prison; a kind of panoptic nightmare—a word derived from Jeremy Bentham’s famous panopticon which was a prison designed so that every cell is view-able from a raised central location, like a watchtower plunked into the middle of a cell block. The point was to understand and react to the behavior of the individuals in the surrounding cells so as to control them. But even at this rudimentary level we are failing, for it’s obvious we don’t understand the individuals caught in our system and we aren’t really controlling behavior, we’re merely holding them in our prison cells precisely because we don’t know what else to do with them.
You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell.
Our criminal justice system is trying to repair something it simply isn’t equipped to mend. You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell. Perhaps if we, as a society, decided that the carceral state was a bad idea; if we decided, instead, to fund jobs programs and provide secure housing for those in need, if, indeed, we provided drug treatment programs instead of felony convictions we might resolve many problems before they become statistics. We can tinker with police community outreach, provide stricter guidelines for engagement and the use of force and institute better ways of policing the police (oh, please let us have a uniform standard for conduct and an external agencies that review police shooting across the nation), but in the end the panacea we are looking for won’t come from a guy or gal on the beat– with or without a gun. They will come from providing adequate resources to all our public workers, developing jobs programs and training for individuals from all walks of life, and from our own personal engagement with the community in which we live. Maybe it’s time to stop looking to the police to solve the problems of our deeply dysfunctional system. Rather, we should restructure the system so we don’t need the police—or not nearly as much. Maybe it’s time we all signed up.
My friend of the deepest blue persuasion is pessimistic about Bernie Sanders’ chances. He’s a lefty for whom the term socialist is not a label of derision but rather one that brings up fond memories of galvanized workers demanding eight hour work days. And he’s from Canada! So when even he shifts uncomfortably at Sanders’ prospects, I lean in.
Rightly, he pointed out the difficulties. First, the odds of Sanders succeeding in the Democratic primaries is scant. The superdelegate count is going to kill him. He trounced Hillary Clinton by 20 percent in the New Hampshire primaries and the end result was a virtual tie in delegates offered up by that state. We can thank the Democratic Party’s odd primary rules for the outcome—odd primary rules that allow for so called superdelegates.
There are 712 superdelegates, about 30% of the 2,382 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. They are ‘establishment politicians’ made up of every Democratic congressperson, sitting governor, and the President and Vice President. They also include members of the Democratic National Committee, like elected Democratic mayors and county executives, and other party officials. And, the main rub — they are allowed to back any candidate they want, regardless of the election results in their state.
So, my lefty friend noted, unless Bernie can come up with a convincing majority in the primaries—and not just ‘close’ ties, superdelegates will likely sway the outcome. And, he noted, these superdelegates were created precisely in order to give a bigger voice to the establishment who could better “figure out a way to unify our party.” Code, my friend said, for gathering both the conservative and liberal Democrats under one big tent.
“Needless to say, Bernie is no friend of the Democratic establishment. For years they have lived off of Wall Street’s largesse.”
“Not good,” I said.
“But that’s not all,” he added, “Let’s say something unusual happens. Something truly radical and Bernie Sanders actually WINS the Democratic Nomination.”
“Okay,” I agreed, eagerly, “Let’s say that!”
“He still has to govern an electoral body swayed far way to the right. The House will remain Republican for the foreseeable future. The Senate will be contentious, but even if a Democratic majority should prevail, the House will hold the purse strings. If you think they’re giving Obama a hard time, can you imagine their reaction to an avowed socialist? Gridlock doesn’t even begin to define that outcome.”
“Democratic socialist,” I grumbled, leaning back, my heart sinking a little as each wise word came thudding in. And yet, I couldn’t quite let it go, this idea that change was not just possible, but inevitable.
“Let me ask you, regardless of the outcome for the idea, don’t you think it’s important that we break up the big banks?”
“Sure, but it’s not going to happen.”
“Wait. Don’t speculate about what will or will not happen. Let’s just talk about the policy on its merits, isn’t that a good, important idea?”
My friend made a face, “Sure it is. We need to break up the big banks. They’re monopolizing our present, helping to buy off our elections and forfeiting our futures. But–”
“Shhh,” I held up my hand. “Wait. Now tell me how guaranteeing healthcare for everyone using a single payer system by expanding Medicare isn’t a good idea.”
“Of course it’s a good idea. I’m from Canada and I know exactly how well it operates. I also get insurance whenever I come down here so I don’t have to worry about paying $50,000 for a broken leg. You don’t have to convince me of that.”
“Okay what about reversing trade policies like NAFTA or TPP that route our jobs overseas? Or raising the minimum wage and making college tuition free?”
“Pie in the sky.”
“No, it’s not. If you can pay for endless war, you can certainly pay for these things. Here’s how that could work. You create a simple progressive estate tax on the top 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million. There’s another thing you can do that Bernie is proposing. You can enact a miniscule tax on Wall Street speculators who caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings. It’s called a transaction tax. It’ll have two benefits. First, it will provide funding for those who can’t make it in our rigged system and second, maybe even more importantly, it will reduce the level of booms and busts on Wall Street by making ‘automated’ sell and buy orders less attractive. This isn’t pie in the sky at all. It’s absolutely practical and smart.”
“Okay, all that’s good, but, like I said, it will never happen.”
“So, let me rephrase that. You just said that everything in Bernie Sander’s platform is a net good, a positive thing for our country. Now he has a chance, even if it’s an outside chance. You know what the only thing really holding us back is?
My friend looked at me blankly, then quipped. “Um, superdelegates, a belligerent majority in congress?”
“No.” I said, “It’s us. The American electorate, if we don’t vote for what we really want and what we need.”
I’m not sure if I convinced him, but he looked a little bemused, then quipped.
“You have that endearing American trait; optimism.”
“Okay, call me silly, but I look at it this way. The civil rights marches and the gay rights movement didn’t happen because some pundit decided they were a good idea. Far from it. The Times tagged Martin Luther King as persona non grata for years. The level of animosity against such movements from the elite was massive, but the elites didn’t get to decide the outcomes for those movements. The people did. The elites were dragged along in the movement’s wake. The same thing can happen here. You change hearts, and then you change the system.”
“Sanders has already made it necessary to take income inequality seriously –he’s moved the issue to the center of the Democratic debate. And, by the way, even if he doesn’t win, the longer he lasts and the better he does the more attention it will get. And then, more hearts will change.”
“Will?” My friend raised his eyebrow.
“Yes, will. Then outcomes will follow.”
“Right?” He sounded equivocal, at best.
“Yes, first, hundreds of things change—perspectives and attitudes, a way of looking at the world, the context of even discussing subjects like free trade and income equality, but then only one little thing has to happen.”
The Virginia Presidential State Primary is next Tuesday, March 1st. Mark your calendar and please vote!
By Jack Johnson