Black Lives Matter more than CVS laundry detergent

Myself at the Freddie Gray solidarity march. City Heights, San Diego. April 29, 2015
Myself at the Freddie Gray solidarity march. City Heights, San Diego. April 29, 2015

So I was honored to be interviewed at the San Diego march in solidarity with Baltimore and the fight against police violence (story with full video here). About 200 people came out to fill the streets and create urgency- black lives do matter, and justice for the living and the dead will come from ordinary people seizing the initiative and finding their own power.

My friend and colleague in Socialist Alternative, Bryan Kim, was also interviewed by Channel 8, and we complemented each other well. Local news incorporated a lot of voices in this event- black, brown, and white, both the organizers and regular marchers.

This one instance gave me the chance to collect my thoughts on Freddie Gray, the events in Baltimore, and the larger epidemic of police violence against unarmed people of color that has been steadily snowballing since last year. Unlike many others pouring their hearts and minds out on Twitter, Facebook, and to their friends and colleagues, I never created a long, detailed response.

Bryan Kim speaks at the Freddie Gray solidarity rally. City Heights, San Diego. April 29, 2015.
Bryan Kim speaks at the Freddie Gray solidarity rally. City Heights, San Diego. April 29, 2015.

The one thought I’d like to throw out comes from my own background and belief in nonviolent struggle as the way to enact social and political change. Baltimore has presented a complicated picture for people with this set of views, and the media and institutional politics has tried to put people into what I’d dub “the nonviolent trap.”

Essentially, the media performed a litmus test on everyone who claimed to be nonviolent- either denounce the looting and conflict wholesale, or be called a hypocrite. My tiny soundbite was part of the counter- if we are to talk about violence in these protests, we need to include the violence put on communities by the police and the state. The trial was about one form of violence while ignoring the other, or at the very least requiring a clear denunciation before anything else can be discussed.

Looting a CVS and killing someone like Freddie Gray or Michael Brown are not the same kind of force. They have been made equivalent by some public figures, and often shown side-by-side as equal in media reports. Capital and humans are fundamentally different. The destruction of property through riot action or looting can cause real harm- often in urban unrest the businesses who end up taking damage are owned by people of color. But a damaged storefront can be rebuilt. In the case of something like a CVS, there is no intangible value to what was held within. People are not replaceable. I find looting to be a concern, though it is a product of structural injustice rather than simple greed. But as a nonviolent struggle advocate, I think we need to see conflict as a chain of events, and avoid the quick-take of what happened today. Denouncing only the people of color who have faced economic and social deterioration is a de facto censoring of the oppressed, and in the process helps the elites who have done so much harm.

The best speech you may never have heard by Martin Luther King Jr., entitled “Beyond Vietnam” and given in 1967, has a bit I really like that I used as my basis when I was interviewed. It think it strikes at the root.

I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. (source)

Black Lives Matter: San Diego in solidarity

Protestors stage a die-in in Balboa Park, San Diego. December 13, 2014. Photo by Andrew Mackay
Protestors stage a die-in in Balboa Park, San Diego.
December 13, 2014.
Photo by Andrew Mackay

Saturday afternoon brought a couple hundred activists together in San Diego, in solidarity with the much larger Millions March NYC, which had in 50-60,000 protestors in Manhattan. What has been happening is a crescendoing grassroots movement against police violence and racial injustice. The killing of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and many others have stuck together and strengthened a social movement. It is encouraging to see people connecting these incidents into a broader realization: that the justice system in this country isn’t giving justice to communities of color.

The march was long, probably too long for those that aren’t cut out for extended walking. Turnout was good, larger than a similar event last week in a different part of downtown. I came in solidarity and part of Socialist Alternative– we ended up having eight members involved, which is a great showing given the newness and size of the San Diego operation. We provided water and distributed information about our public meeting in Ocean Beach on the 19th. It was exciting to see Stephane, a member who is also an immigrant from Belize and a Marine vet, asked to speak at the rally.

Stephane speaks to the rally in Balboa Park. December 13, 2014. Taken by Andrew Mackay
Stephane speaks to the rally in Balboa Park.
December 13, 2014.
Taken by Andrew Mackay

What was less exciting was a woman interrupting his speech repeatedly, which caused him to lose his place and ultimately not give the end of his planned remarks. That a black man speaking to a rally that says Black Lives Matter would get heckled, it was unbelievably rude and insulting. It was heartening to see many people, including other speakers, come to him later in the march and talk, and to sympathize. Staying united is vital, and it was good to see cross-group support.

Several die-ins occurred, including in front of a highway ramp (the Patrol were out in legion to make sure the march did not attempt to block the freeway) and on the trolley tracks in downtown. Community support was strong- most were at least curious if not interested or supportive. It shows the value of street protest- sometimes issues have to be brought in person to the population at large.

The most powerful image for me was this picture below. I missed it initially, and only saw it later when going over these pictures. In this mass die-in at an intersection that led to I-5, two men, one white and one black, hold hands high in unity. That is solidarity- standing together, and seeing the power that each of us can give to the movement- if we rise above ego and self-interest. This is a fight for black Americans to assert their rights and strength. Let them lead the way.

A die-in before an on-ramp to I-5. December 13, 2014. Photo by Andrew Mackay
A die-in before an on-ramp to I-5.
December 13, 2014.
Photo by Andrew Mackay

The new activists

At 6am Thursday morning I joined about a hundred others in downtown San Diego in a protest and picket around a McDonald’s, supporting fast food workers who walked off the job in their fight for union rights and a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Protestors march through downtown San Diego in remembrance of Eric Garner.
Protestors march through downtown San Diego in remembrance of Eric Garner.

Friday evening I joined a couple hundred others in a march protesting the killing of Mike Brown and Eric Garner by police.

Two things linked these two actions. One was that in the middle of various chants about justice and wages (“Que quemos?” “Quince!” “Cuando?” “Ahora!”), people joined in the now-legendary “Hands up, don’t shoot!” chant.

The second, and more substantial similarity, was the presence of many first-time activists. Fast food workers are usually underrepresented in labor actions, as those with disposable income and flexible schedules can be the most involved in justice movements. But thousands have participated in strikes and walkouts, despite corporate pressure. At the police march there were many people of color that had experienced discrimination and intimidation, but had been involved formally. And in both marches- children, some a third my age.

Three members of Socialist Alternative at the December 4, 2014 protest for $15/hr minimum wage. UnspokenPolitics author is on right.
Three members of Socialist Alternative at the December 4, 2014 protest for $15/hr minimum wage.
UnspokenPolitics author is on right.

I am not a professional hellraiser, but I do go to meetings and participate in actions. There is a core of activists, and we all know each other. However, justice will never be found by that small group. Regular workers need to liberate themselves. So to see new activists joining the fight is encouraging. Political protest is stale in the United States- we are not in the 60s radicalism or the all-but-in-name wars between unions and the government. Fresh faces will bring about real change.

Occupy also had an injection of new activists. The homeless, establishment Democrats, political but apathetic college students. This continues, and over time they become effective members of a movement.

As a member of the Socialist Alternative branch in San Diego said, many of us are new to radical politics. Many have no real grasp of what socialism is, or how to organize a labor action. These times are where we cut our teeth and learn how to succeed. There is no substitute for experience, and as people attend meetings, go to marches, and read the news and literature, they become smarter and stronger. We need all the help we can in this unjust world.

Berkeley protests: violence against people vs. violence against property

South Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, CA filled with smoke after police clashes with protestors.
South Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, CA filled with smoke after police clashes with protestors.

In light of the huge police buildup and subsequent crackdown in Berkeley tonight, it is clear from the media footage that one mantra is clear:

Corporate media always values footage of protestors attacking property above footage of police attacking protestors. Crimes against things are put above crimes against people.

Children protesting: a young girl speaks out about Eric Garner and Mike Brown

A young protestor is interviewed by local news December 5, 2014
A young protestor is interviewed by local news
December 5, 2014

I went to an anti-police brutality march Friday night in downtown San Diego. In the midst of this all, a local news station interviewed a young girl who had come to protest. They talked while the march worked through the streets and past onlooking cars.

Just thought you might want to see this.