Category Archives: Poor Peoples Movements

How can we advance the anti-police brutality struggle?

Reflections by Nightwolf and Mamos from Seattle Unity and Struggle

The week of August 30th, 2010 saw five people murdered by police throughout Washington State, including John T. Williams. Williams was a First Nations carver who was shot four times by police officer Ian Birk while walking with a closed carving knife and a block of wood.  Birk gave Williams only four seconds warning before opening fire, and Williams, who is partially deaf, may not have heard his commands.

This murder, along with several other recent cases of police brutality against Black and Latino folks in Seattle has sparked a small but vibrant movement against police terrorism.  Here we will analyze the potentials and the limitations of this movement.  While we are very critical of some of the players in this movement, our goal is not to hate on folks- it is to open a rigorous and honest discussion about how we can advance the struggle beyond its current limitations.   We need to advance the struggle because we don’t want more people in our communities to die at the hands of killer cops. Every day we are struggling and organizing against the effects of the economic crisis in our workplaces , schools, and neighborhoods and we need to organize citywide and country-wide networks of resistance  and solidarity to make sure these small embryonic struggles are not shut down through joint repression by the bosses, landlords, and cops.

This reflection is broken into two essays.  In the first one, “The Rainbow Coalition stomps the flames”, Nightwolf analyzes how liberal people of color leaders worked with the cops to try and dampen the explosion of anger in communities of color  following John T. Williams’ death; he puts this in historical context, showing how it relates to the successes and failures of the 1960s and 70s movements against white supremacy.

In the second piece, “Workers spread the embers”, Mamos analyzes some of the small but promising actions against police brutality that have emerged in Seattle the past few months and asks how these actions can deepen and how they can connect to other forms of working class organizing going on in Seattle now.  He  explores the role that  militant worker networks like Seattle Solidarity Network and International Workers and Students for Justice could play in challenging state violence.

While these essays reflect on anti-police brutality struggles, they raise much broader questions that are really relevant for a number of different struggles in Seattle and in other cities.  While these essays may not present a full answer to the question of how to stop police brutality, they are an attempt to prompt discussion about the current political impasse our movements are  in and to think creatively about how to move beyond it.

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No More Excuses, Time to Organize in the Ghetto

by BaoYunCheng

In this following post, I argue for movement builders and revolutionaries to take seriously the task of organizing with low-income people of color in the ghetto—the unemployed, the homeless, the gang members. I hope to engage with two primary audiences: white anti-racist progressives and revolutionaries. In my first section, I criticize white anti-racists and how they use the idea of white privilege (aka privilege politics) to distance themselves from directly organizing with people of color. In the later sections, I lay out the urgent need for revolutionaries and movement builders to organize with street people of color (POCs) and thus avoid reproducing the problems of social distancing by white anti-racists and avoid the rigid conception of working-class-led revolution by contemporary revolutionaries.

I. SOCIAL DISTANCING BY WHITE ANTI-RACIST PROGRESSIVES and THEIR FEAR OF BLACK BOY!

It happens so much it’s become ritual now. Every time I hear the overstated progressive truism “the oppressed peoples must lead the movement” put forth by an organizer/activist who’s completely disconnected from the day-to-day interactions with oppressed communities—and believe me, when you’re around the organizing scenes in Seattle, you hear it as frequent as it rains—the song “Black Boy” by Tech N9ne plays in my head. I can just hear a more movement-oriented Tech N9ne singing, “I was told by your movement I was a fool…I think I know why organizers would look in my eye and say that, and why’s that?” with Krizz Kaliko (Kali) responding in his opera-esque voice, “Cuz I’m a BLACKBOY!…Scared to see me, frauds disappear like a genie.”

I think Kali’s line “frauds disappear like a genie” is particularly appropriate for white anti-racists who talk the big talk of people of color movements and the need for people of color (POC) leadership, but don’t walk the walk in building this movement together with street folks and low-income POCs. White anti-racists, this day and age, seem intent on organizing in comfortable spaces while using the aforementioned truism to validate their own distance from low-income workers, unemployed, and street people of color based in the inner cities and ghettos of Amerikkka.

The added irony is that many white anti-racists, if they are in majority white organizations, proudly use the language of ANTI-RACISM as an excuse to not organize with street people of color. They correctly point to past histories of militant people of color movements co-opted by white folks, at the same time blatantly forgetting groups like the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Congress of African Peoples, the Young Lords, and the Black Panther Party, none of whom could be dismissed as folks who were intimidated and co-opted by white anti-racists. This is extremely important when thinking about the possibilities of multi-racial organizations for the contemporary period. However, there is a host of real history, theories, and organizations which have devolved a multi-racial way of organizing into separate movement building based on “privilege”: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Freedom Summer, Fanon’s “Black Skin White Masks,” Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement, the Black Panther Party’s call to organize in one’s respective community, and Noel Ignatiev’s “Race Traitor.” A lot has been lumped together, and what is of interest is how each of these examples has been interpreted to justify specific social relations in terms of race.
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Fighting Unemployment, Not Each Other

-Mamos

I am posting an excellent essay by Michael Hureaux Perez from Black Agenda Report.  I can really relate to this piece because he lives right down the street from where I lived for two years, in West Seattle where I still work and organize. Hureaux Perez and I are both teachers. I work at an alternative program for youth who dropped out of high school or skipped and need to catch up on their credits.   I bet we’ve had some of the same students.  In his piece he tells the story of Marleney,  a young woman who could very well end up in my class because of all the issues she is facing.   She’s behind in credits, her husband is undocumented and can’t find work, and she is also unemployed.

Marleny’s situation is not unusual.  The other day in class I showed my students the 2000 census maps for West Seattle.   Most of them come from White Center (Marleny and Hureaux Perez’s hood), Delridge, and High Point neighborhoods.  When you look at the maps of Black, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander unemployment rates, these neighborhoods are like dark dots in a sea of white.  35th Avenue runs through West Seattle dividing the employed, white, college educated middle class from the unemployed and working class people of color.  It’s like Seattle’s 8 Mile. When my students saw these maps they were beefing.  And these were made before the economic crisis; it’s only getting worse now.  I asked my students what should be done about this.  A few said we should go rob the people living on the other side of 35th.  Others said we should riot.

One of my former students decided to channel this anger into productive action.  He and I did a study group over the summer and we just recruited our friends to start a new group called Employment Justice Action.   We are demanding jobs, especially for unemployed youth of color who are hardest hit by the economic crisis.  We’re starting by demanding that the local Walgreens hire more people from the neighborhood.  They take money from the neighborhood; if folks can’t work there, why should we shop there?
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Abahlali baseMjondolo attacked by ANC militia

Members of Abahlali baseMjondolo have been murdered by militia commanded by local ANC party bosses. Abahlali is the shack-dwellers movement in South Africa, struggling for housing, land and basic services. They have faced increased police repression and it seems clear these attacks, which targeted well-known leaders of Abahlali, were tolerated by the police.

Follow Abahlali’s website for updates.

Watch Mazwi Nzimande, president of the Shack Dwellers Movement’s youth league, interviewed on Democracy Now.

Statement by Abahlali baseMjondolo president S’bu Zikode:

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) from South Africa has released a statement putting the attacks in context.

They write:

“The political rivalry in KwaZulu Natal has exploited ethnic sentiment and tensions that emerged during the Jacob Zuma election campaign, and we believe that the African National Congress (ANC) in and around Kennedy Road, and probably elsewhere, is using ethnicity to mobilise local residents against popular social movements such as Abahlali baseMjondolo. It seems clear to us that the popularly elected committee in the Kennedy Road settlement, and the social work they have been doing is perceived by local political leaders from the ANC to be a threat to political and property interests, and they are thus bent on destroying AbM.”