In the belly of the beast

May 12, 2012

From the May-June 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2012-2013

II. In the belly of the beast

A. Occupy and anti-Occupy

The very new phenomenon of the Occupy Movement brought this moment of revolutionary new beginnings squarely to the U.S. Though not now a revolution, it nevertheless transformed the political atmosphere in the country and, even after most actual occupations were violently dismantled, revealed a new generation of youth engaged in breaking down barriers between different movements and aiming to overturn the economic and political dominance of a tiny elite dubbed the 1%.

Naturally, the movement contains conflicting ideas about how to overcome that domination. While some focus on campaign finance reform, taxing the rich, and prosecuting bankers, and a few even want to find common ground with the reactionary Tea Party, a deeper reach for freedom is there too. That is seen not only in what is explicitly voiced, but in the very form of taking public space from state-corporate control and making it truly public, and in the many-sided experiments at drawing participants into running the movement.

Woodlawn demo
Participants sit in front of the tent city erected at 63rd and Woodlawn to demand that Chicago’s mental health clinics stay open. Patients had barricaded themselves inside the Woodlawn clinic on April 12, with Occupy Chicago supporters blockading the doors from the outside. Police broke in the next morning, arresting 23. Participants in the Mental Health Movement and Occupy Chicago then set up the tent city, which police evicted on April 17. That did not stop the protest presence, including a city-wide Occupy General Assembly. The occupation is part of a campaign, led by patients from all 12 threatened clinics, to defend Chicago mental health clinics from closure and privatization, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel (aka Mayor 1%) is pushing for. Demands include: Keep all 12 city mental health clinics public, open, fully funded and fully staffed; stop plans to privatize Chicago’s seven neighborhood health centers; hire more doctors, therapists, nurses, social workers and other clinic staff; reinstate the drug assistance program; expand the public mental health safety net to cover unmet community need. “We are not going to be turned around. This is a question of life and death for us and we will not give up the fight,” said Linda Hatcher, one of the patients who were arrested.

For the movement to release its deepest potential would entail making that fully explicit not only as negation of elite domination but as negation of that negation, construction of the new, a revolutionary reconstruction of society from the bottom up.

Thus, workplace takeovers such as the workers’ occupation this February at Serious Energy–known to the world by its former name, Republic Windows and Doors, when the workers occupied it in 2008–are not just an extension of a tactic to another field, but a rejection of the capitalists’ monopoly of the means of labor and a small preview of workers’ reappropriation of their own activity. That advance is crucial if we are to break down the domination of society by an elite, which is built on the alienation of labor. As will be discussed in Part IV, freely associated labor is needed to overcome this domination and the ideology that makes it appear natural.

From the beginning of Occupy, a reach for new human relations was manifested in experimentation with new forms of self-organization. Now the movement has spread out into neighborhoods and is trying to deepen participation by people of color and by workers. It has breathed new life into a wide range of activist groups.

This includes new efforts to block evictions and take over unoccupied dwellings, at a time when, for instance, 3.5 million are homeless yet 18.5 million homes in the country are vacant. Occupy is looking ahead to big protests, including “Chicago Spring,” which began April 7 and is leading up to the May Day labor/immigrant rally and actions against the NATO summit. One victory has already been won, with the specter of the protests chasing the G8 summit out of Chicago to secure and secluded Camp David.

The rulers and their police forces have made clear how seriously they take the threat Occupy poses to the status quo. Their repression did not end with the violent clearing of occupations last November and December. When the Occupy the Midwest conference brought hundreds of occupiers from several states to St. Louis, many set up camp in a park on March 15. Police ordered them to leave, but when they left cops jumped on them, pepper-spraying and beating several with batons and arresting 15. [6]

Two days later, when Liberty Plaza in New York City was reoccupied, police viciously attacked the occupiers, beating and stomping many and dragging young women by their hair. They handcuffed Cecily McMillan and then watched her having seizures on the concrete. Police punched an Occupy medic in the face and slammed him into a glass door, breaking it. While carrying another man onto a bus, they slammed his head against the door and several seats.

Occupiers responded by reinforcing their coalescence with New Yorkers of color who live with the NYPD’s daily racial profiling, “stop and frisk,” and brutality, even murder. Many voices–Black, Latino and white–came together in the March 20 demonstration against police terror, and again in New York’s Million Hoodie March calling for justice for Trayvon Martin.

Brute force is not the only type of repression leveled against the movement. In preparation for the expected massive protests against the NATO summit in May, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed through his “Sit Down and Shut Up” anti-protest ordinance, followed by an attempt to deny a permit for the May 20 anti-NATO march–even though it had previously approved a permit for the day before, when the G8 was still planning to meet in Chicago.

An ominous precedent for what could happen before the summit, as well as during this summer’s political party conventions, was set at the 2008 Republican Party convention in St. Paul, Minn. The FBI infiltrated protest groups. Police and sheriff’s deputies raided five buildings, including the house hosting the I-Witness Video collective. During the convention, police repeatedly assaulted demonstrators, arresting nearly 800, including medics, legal observers and over 30 journalists. Eight people were charged with “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism”–the first terrorism charges under the Minnesota version of the Patriot Act. [7]

The Obama administration has not only continued but intensified the Bush administration’s clampdown on civil liberties. President Obama signed the “anti-Occupy” law March 8, which is actually a renewal and strengthening of existing legislation used, among other things, to keep protesters bottled up in “free speech zones” out of sight of major events like the summit, and away from news cameras. Obama also signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows indefinite military detention of citizens and non-citizens without trial.

It was under this administration that the FBI raided anti-war activists’ homes in several cities in September 2010. And this administration has prosecuted more government whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. It is trying to destroy Wikileaks and is prosecuting Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning for allegedly leaking a classified video that showed American troops shooting Iraqi civilians from an Apache helicopter in 2007, and thousands of other secret documents.

B. From Trayvon to Tulsa

The heating up of state repression is made infinitely more dangerous by the private forces of counter-revolution–not only corporations like Stratfor, known as the “shadow CIA,” and mercenary Blackwater (renamed Academi), but also white supremacist private border patrols and self-appointed neighborhood watch vigilantes. When news spread of yet another Black youth gunned down for no reason, Trayvon Martin became the symbol of the violence and injustice of racist USA.

The fact that a vigilante in a Sanford, Fla., gated community could kill an unarmed 17-year-old–without even being arrested–spoke even louder than the thinly veiled racist rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates. Outrage broke out into protests coast to coast, “million hoodie marches,” and walkouts by thousands of students at 50 Florida high schools.

Many protesters drew a comparison to the Mississippi lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 by two white men who went free. An African American in Chicago commented, “This is what they want to do to all of us.” When it comes to organized vigilante groups, the mission is to search and destroy people of color. It cannot be separated from the politicians’ rhetoric on one side and the racist workings of the criminal injustice system on the other. The random shootings of five Blacks in Tulsa brought home the message that it is open season on people of color–and it brought calls to end the “conspiracy of silence” about the too-little-remembered 1921 Tulsa race riot, one of the country’s worst, in which 300 African Americans were killed and a whole section of town was burned to the ground.

The parallel that the ruling class is most worried about is what Emmett Till’s murder helped set loose: the Freedom Now movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Closer to the present is the Los Angeles Rebellion of exactly 20 years ago, sparked by the outrageous April 29, 1992, acquittal of the police officers whose brutal beating of Rodney King was videotaped. That rebellion involved African Americans, Latinos and white youth.

The specter looming today is that of Black and Latino revolt coalescing with white youth and labor, facilitated by the Occupy Movement. That motivates the character assassination of Trayvon Martin, complete with fake photoshopped pictures, just as surely as it motivates the Tea Party rhetoric portraying healthcare reform, birth control, abortion and foreclosure protection as power grabs by an Other spearheaded by a Black President.

In truth, the ongoing struggles over prison, housing, public service cuts, closing of mental health centers, attacks on public employees, and voting rights affect people of color more, and they involve all races.

C. Against the war on women

What’s rightfully being called the “War on Women” likewise affects poor and minority women most strongly, but also all races and genders. While much of the outrage has been directed at the fascistic attack on women’s reproductive rights–ballooning from the assault against abortion rights to going after birth control–the war on women is much broader and deeper.

Stop Anti-choiceLook at the ramifications of the gutting of welfare under Clinton-Gingrich in 1996. A new report from the National Poverty Center released in February used the World Bank’s measure of poverty to look at poor families in the U.S. The number of households in the U.S. trying to survive on $2 or less per day per person shot up by 130% from 1996 to reach 1.46 million households in 2011. The number of children living in extreme poverty doubled to 2.8 million. The study concludes that “the percentage growth in extreme poverty…was greatest among” households “headed by single mothers or disadvantaged minorities.” Furthermore, “This growth has been concentrated among those groups that were most affected by the 1996 welfare reform.” [8]

President Clinton’s 1996 destruction of welfare is now taking a savage toll on poor women and their children. Women–and poor women in particular–are losing their right to control their own bodies, not just abortion, but birth control and healthcare. Last year alone, 80 new restrictions on abortion rights were enacted by state legislatures, up from 23 in 2010. The first attack on women’s newly won right to abortion was the 1976 Hyde Amendment barring the use of federal money to pay for them. That set a precedent that it was somehow OK for the federal government, an old boys club if there ever was one, to legislate on what can or cannot happen to a woman’s body. The debate around access to contraception–under the ruse of religious freedom–follows from the Hyde Amendment.

So successful have anti-abortion fanatics become that the only clinic where abortions are performed in Mississippi may close. Governor Phil Bryant bragged, “As governor, I will continue to work to make Mississippi abortion-free.” Mississippi House Bill 1390 requires all doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology–a requirement specifically designed to force the clinic to close. Hospitals can refuse admitting privileges to physicians, and Jackson’s two church-affiliated hospitals may well do so. When abortion is illegal, women die from illegal back-alley butcher abortions, so Bryant was lying when he proclaimed: “This legislation is an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women.” Meanwhile, anti-abortion violence continues, as in the April 1 firebombing of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Grand Chute, Wisc.

Women’s renewed vigor for fighting back was heralded by the unanticipated reaction to Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. The outcry that forced Komen to back down was soon followed by calls for a National Protest Against the War on Women. [9] Women in all 50 states quickly planned their own protests to complement the national protest in Washington, all on April 28.

So potent has been the outpouring of support that the mainstream national women’s organizations eventually had to get on board too, despite their initial silence. Yet the Left by and large still has women’s liberation on the back burner, and in some corners has even been penetrated by ambivalence about abortion rights. At the same time, women’s demonstrations on a number of fronts have been proliferating as the inhumanity of the war on women rolls on like a blitzkrieg.

Fightbacks are emerging from many Subjects of revolt. The attacks on women, on immigrants, on workers, on the homeless, on Queers, on people of color, are all part of one counter-revolutionary onslaught:

  • The anti-Gay backlash, together with the war on women’s self-determination, forms an important pillar of the theocratic fascism exemplified by Rick Santorum, whose strong showing in the primaries did not secure him the nomination but does reflect the potential for a mass base for fascism.
  • Attacks on immigrants continue with laws like Arizona’s and Alabama’s drawing protests, with another combined immigrant/labor May Day march coming up. While immigration has declined, deportations have hit record highs close to 400,000 a year.The attacks on labor brought on the whole Wisconsin outburst, which is far from finished. Connections have been developing between workers and occupations such as Oakland’s. Just the threat of Occupy Oakland mobilizing in Seattle forced the port to back away from opening a non-union terminal in Longview, Wash.
  • Internationally, ever newer and more widespread labor and peasant revolts in China are a signal to North American workers beset with a race to the bottom in wages and conditions. The China-to-Walmart economy has reached the point where California warehouse workers are illegally paid sometimes less than half of minimum wage. [10]

Minds are the target as more and more laws mandate public schools be propaganda machines, from Arizona’s prohibition of ethnic studies to Tennessee’s new “monkey bill” encouraging teachers to disparage evolution and the science of climate change–just at the time when the toll taken by extreme weather around the planet is raising the alarm.[11]

The question is whether Subjects will unite with each other and unite theory and practice in so total a way as to unleash the power of a vision of building a revolutionary society on new human foundations.

(…to be continued…)

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