It has become a cliché to talk about the unprecedented times in which we live, but even by that standard this past fortnight has been staggering.
The anger that erupted after police officers killed George Floyd swept America, and then the world. President Trump’s response has compounded the outrage.
The President, who had just finished a Memorial Day weekend filled with golfing and insulting women when Floyd was killed, seized on destructive elements of the protests to declare some of the demonstrators ‘domestic terrorists’, claiming further that he would declare Antifa (which is not an organisation) a ‘terrorist organisation’ (which he cannot legally do).
It makes a telling contrast to his attitude to the heavily armed right wing militia group who occupied Michigan’s state capitol building earlier in May. They, apparently, were ‘good people’ – presumably much like the ‘very fine people’ who marched with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville in 2017.
The President went on to harangue state governors, telling them to crack down and ‘dominate’ the protests or he would send in the US military. His Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, urged them to ‘dominate the battlespace’.
He used his hand-picked, willing judicial henchman, Attorney General William Barr, without legal or constitutional authority, to order armed police, using clubs, pepper balls and smoke canisters to beat hundreds of peacefully demonstrating citizens – and reporters – off the streets in Lafayette Park, violating their First Amendment rights, just so that Trump, surrounded by the unqualified family members he has elevated to positions of high authority, could lumber to a church he clearly cares nothing about (members of the church were among those cleared out), for a publicity stunt with a Bible he has clearly never read.
And the smoke had barely cleared before he was invoking the name of George Floyd in an almost unbelievably crass celebration of an uptick in the economy.
The spirit of the man who died in an act of racist police violence, Mr Trump claimed, would hopefully be “looking down and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. (It’s) a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody…This is a great, great day in terms of equality”.
This, remember, is the President of the United States.
But it is important – literally vital – not to let the crudity of Trump’s utterances distract from the dangerous substance of his actions.
While everyone outside the Republican Party is staring open mouthed at this Id with an Ego problem, he and the GOP continue to fire inconvenient inspectors, dismantle environmental protections (while the globe continues to heat – this May was the hottest on record), appoint hand-picked Judges to the courts and above all, ignore mounting evidence of systemic racism and police brutality across America, rather than quickly move to implement policies to end it.
True, the protests, though largely peaceful, have been in some places destructive, and due attention must be paid to restoring damage to local businesses; but to make this the focus of condemnation is, frankly, perverse. I suspect those shouting loudest against the destructive side of the protests (including some misusing the term ‘nonviolence’) were also among the loudest voices shouting ‘outrage!’ and calling for the firing of Colin Kaepernick for going down on one knee during the national anthem. If you tried to silence Kaepernick, you’re in no position to call for nonviolent protest now.
If you really want to live by the principle of nonviolence, dismantle the conditions and structures of violence. Instead of selectively picking violent incidents to bolster calls for a militarised approach to clearing the ‘battlespace’, join the call for reforms such as those set out by the ‘8 Can’t Wait’ campaign.
Of course, all of this is primarily for the people of the US to address, but what can we do, here, on the other side of the Atlantic? Well, educate ourselves on the issues – heed the voices of African Americans direct from source, by watching and listening to Black Lives Matter material, for example, and consider carefully what parallels there are over here.
And get involved in justice campaigns, to join the fight to eliminate racism, overt and structural. Across the UK and Ireland there are many organisations working in this area, but here in Northern Ireland you could follow the recently launched Migrant and Minority Ethnic Council, Northern Ireland on Facebook, for example, or ACSONI, to find out what is happening.
But as we have said before on this website, all the problems we have talked about – racism, inequality, massive spikes of wealth for a few amid poverty for many, violence, the destruction of the living planet – are interconnected, so we must join the dots and combine the campaigns, the red, the green and the rainbow, to bring about a transformation on all the issues.
What we at the Combination have called the Crank Economy is directly evolved out of the global system of Empire and enslavement, which worked, among other things, to keep those who did the bulk of the work from sharing in the power by dividing them by ethnicity, by gender, by sexual orientation, by denomination, and by whatever other means necessary, including brutal violence.
You may think you have little to bring to this global struggle. But let there be no mistake: the Trump Administration has turned the civic arena into ‘the battlespace’, and is furiously stoking division, precisely because, like the Empires before them, they know there is nothing people cannot achieve in combination.
The smallest stream contributes its share to the power of the river into which it flows. Find a river flowing in the right direction, and join in.
6 June 2020