Police Violence and Militarization Town Hall (3/4)
In part three of the Police Violence and Militarization Town Hall discussion hosted by South Organizing Against Racism (SOAR), participants discuss if the #Blacklivesmatter movement should develop an electoral strategy and consider breaking with the two-party system
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome back to The Real News town hall. I’m Jessica Desvarieux, your host.
In the first half of this show, we discussed the lessons that can be learned for the past. Now let’s fast-forward and discuss the present and how people can create lasting change. This is the part of our show that we really want to hear from our audience. We have a live studio audience here in our Baltimore studio. And we want to ask them about how can the community organize. And specifically we’re going to first talk about an electoral strategy. Paul Jay, in our first part you mentioned us having a strategy. But there were some voices–I saw some hands go up–who might not necessarily agree with that idea.
Let’s get the microphone to folks who have their hands up right now. And let me hear from Professor–.
PROF. MORGAN: Morgan.
DESVARIEUX: Morgan. I’m sorry. Professor Morgan.
MORGAN: Like the college.
Okay. The bottom line is, if you look at struggle, the eight-hour day, if you look at the Social Security or what Social Security is, if you look at all of the major gains that were won were not a result of electing someone. They were a result of mass action. And in response, I would agree with the electorate. And the struggle for working people, for black people, it’s an every-day struggle in terms of mobilizing, in terms of organizing. It’s also a class factor.
So I think that if we look at–we have had more black persons elected to office since 1970 than ever before. So we have a black mayor in Baltimore. So what’s the difference? We have a black president. What’s the difference? So you have all of these kinds of things going on. And if we adhere to an electoral perspective and thinking that somehow this democracy works, I think that we’re–history is–we’re not looking at history.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. I’ve got to let Paul respond to that ’cause he proposed–.
JAY: Well, first of all, I used the word the words electorial strategy. So who do I think should have that strategy question is a mass movement. There is no point–I mean, I can’t say no point. There is little point in electing some candidates that might be a little better. It’s not bad to have somebody in a legislature that can speak and have a podium, but it’s not going to change very much.
I think the model we need to start looking at more is what’s happening in Latin America, where Hugo Chávez gets elected, but when they try to overthrow him, 2 million people come out and defend him or defend that government. A movement–[incompr.] the other way–candidates without a movement can do very, very little. But a movement without candidates will only be in a position of making demands on the class that has power. It will never change who has power. And that, in the final analysis, is the issue. Which class is going to govern?
NELINI STAMP, CODIRECTOR, RISE UP: And for me I think it’s–a lot of people use the statistics, okay, we have a black city, a black mayor, a black city council, or a black president. But when you look at actually overall of all of our elected officials in the entire country, it is still most mostly white men who are in those positions of power. And we need to actually look at that, like, the majority of people. And just because we have the president, Congress is the real legislators of that. And so I think that that’s important.
I also think it’s important to recruit and train and develop candidates to run for office, not people who are going to go and work for the Koch brothers, but people who come from your organization and come from your community and run for very hyperlocal offices. I think actually holding a hyperlocal electoral office is radical, because a school board, somebody who governs over a school board in a small district, is making the decisions for that community school system. And education is really important.
So I think as much–and I’m not saying that let’s all go to one electoral strategy. That’s not, I think, the context here. I just think so many people look at elections really narrowly and look at it as either the years of Congress or the years of president or the years of mayors and stuff, but were not looking at the small, hyperlocal offices like school board, like your town supervisor that controls taxing in your town, right?
And I really think we need to build an independent political party. I can’t believe that we are still allowing the Democrats and Republicans to control us and divide and conquer us. I actually think that that is possible. You can build parties on a small local level. I worked at an independent political party for six years. That is a step in the right direction, but it’s using a specific type of voting, fusion voting, Working Families Party. We need an actual independent political party.
And we also need to look at things like changing the Constitution. Like, let’s have a constitutional convention one year, right, to change the Constitution, because the Thirteenth Amendment that’s abolishes slavery says, but you can be in jail. So I just think that that’s really important for us to pay attention to, ’cause our laws are [incompr.]
DESVARIEUX: But let’s talk about this issue. What if you have a new party? How are you going to make sure they’re not going to become Democrats 2.0? You know? Don’t you need public pressure? I just want to get other people to join in on this issue.
UNIDENTIFIED: So I will say I think an electoral strategy is incredibly important, because at the end of the day we can demand with 100,000 people going to city hall, going to the state capitol, and saying, you need to change this. And they say, here’s a bone, we’re going to change it today. But guess what? They’re the same people who put us in that position in the first place. And so we’re just going to keep asking, because when we die down, another generation comes up that is going to have to fight the same struggle.
To your point, we need to figure out how do we groom our own within our own community. If we talk about diversifying the police force who come from our own districts and our own communities, that needs to be true for the people representing us in office. That needs to be true 100 percent, because at the end of the day, if they don’t have a lived experience of eating government cheese, if they don’t have a lived experience of raising their kid as a single parent, then how can they legislate on those issues?
DESVARIEUX: But plenty of black faces in Baltimore is a perfect example. And I’m sure some of them have come from underprivileged backgrounds. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re working in the interests of the majority of people. So is that really the answer, just simply getting people that come from our communities?
Someone in the back?
KEVIN MCCAMANT, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: I was thinking about the social critic/theorist Eric Hoffer, who commented that social mass movements tend to become businesses and, ultimately, rackets. And I think that this is a–you know, I mean, this is what the problem with the Democratic Party is, that it’s become a racket, and that the danger is that any movement is in danger of becoming a racket.
The trick is how to keep the vibrancy of the mass movement alive over a long period of time. And I have not–I can’t really envision what the process would look like. Look, I think American democracy was set up to be a fake revolution, that every four years you get to have a big hubbub, but really at a big show and a lot of contention in all of this kind of stuff. But the actual operation of the country is predicated on a kind of bureaucracy and a culture within that bureaucracy that, no matter how well-intentioned people are or how passionate they are, when they get into that culture and that bureaucracy, they are aculturated to it. And I think that this is something that was very, very threatening about all the various forms that the black liberation movement has taken over time is that this was something that was going to upset the apple cart entirely, and that that’s really what the threat is. This wasn’t going to be a fake anything. This was going to be something that substantively changed the way that business was conducted. And so I guess that’s one problem that I see is that, you know, how do you keep things from developing an institutional culture that actually turns them from a passionate mass movement into a business, and then into a kind of a self-supporting racket?
JARED BALL, ASSOC. PROF. COMMUNICATION STUDIES, MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: But there’s a fatal flaw with conflating social movements that we’re talking about here with the Democratic Party. So I wouldn’t want to–.
MCCAMANT: Well, I’m not conflating them.
BALL: [crosstalk] saying the Democratic Party was an example of social movements that become rackets. And the Democratic Party, to the point, I would agree with it. The end of what you were saying was never meant to be anything other than what it has become. And so if we understand and we agree, as the Federalists were very clear in stating, that the electoral process was never meant to be something that could change anything fundamentally, then I just wouldn’t want to leave it out there that the Democratic Party, as a part that apparatus, should be condemned or equated in any way with the shortcomings of anything that happened with movements that I think we’re talking about.
MCCAMANT: Well, no. You know. And I’m simply saying that the Democratic Party is an example par excellence of the problems that are inherent with the transformation or the sustaining of any mass movement over time.
TEF POE, RAPPER AND ACTIVIST: [incompr.] It bothers me, ’cause I try to think about this from a logical lens. And when you really get to knee-deep of it, there is no logic in this situation. It’s just racism and economics and class. But, like, we pushed pause on this. The starting narrative for us with the Democratic Party should be that they were the people that said, don’t free slaves. Let’s start right there. Like, there’s nothing to go forward on from there. The Jews would not plea bargain with a party that insisted on putting them in the Holocaust. You can get them a 300 year lead. They wouldn’t–it’s not going to happen.
KAMAU FRANKLIN, ATTORNEY AND ACTIVIST: I mean, I think there’s truth in that, but I also think we as sort of radical people who are at the forefront of opinions need not to run so far ahead of our community that when we look behind, our community is not there. So whether we like it or not, our community right now is in the Democratic Party, and we have to figure out ways to get them out of it. But we also have to figure out ways in which we exploit that relationship to do things for our community.
So I’m part of a group that at one point did–I’m part of a group that at one point did–went to Jackson, Mississippi, and did something called the Jackson plan, where we got someone elected mayor, right, based on their politics of being a revolutionary. But we did it. And it was controversial within our group for doing it at the time. I’m no longer in the group. But at the time, we were controversial for us because we decided not to start a third party, because we knew that black folks were going to vote on a Democratic line because they loved Obama. And we could have been smarter than our community and said, no, we’re going to run a third-party candidate. And we would have lost. Right? We might have set ourselves up for something in the future, ten, 20, 30 years from now. Who knows. But I think we also have to be careful about being so far ahead of where people are at that we forget that folks believe in certain things. And if our job is to try to get them out of that stuff, then we need to be methodical about it and, like you were saying, we need to be logical about it. But as we try to tell them, like, let’s move forward, we can’t just necessarily leave them behind in a space where if they don’t come with us or they don’t agree, then we think of them in a certain light, in a certain way.
YUSEF BUNCHY SHAKUR, AUTHOR AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: You mentioned a very great point that Kamau is making in the sense of–that the community work that is necessary, that we need to do with our community that creates the opportunity to emerge our own political party. But if we’re not doing that work, as Kamau is mentioning, we’re going ahead as a people, ’cause we’re talking as if the people are not struggling. They’re struggling every day. We’re not struggling with them in the terms of what was going on, but in the process being able to heighten contradiction and exposing that there is no difference when you–of Republican and the Democrat Party. But it’s a strategical way that we have to do that and being able to empower ourselves in understanding the historical responsibility of getting within that community, having boots on the ground, having practical programs, meeting the needs of our community.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. I want to get some female voices in here. Kimberly. Sorry. I was like, let the ladies talk. Alright.
KIMBERLY, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: I have been a community organizer for a long time, right? And I didn’t really understand the importance of being politically involved in the process until I start having to go down to Annapolis. I had to organize families and communities to go down to Annapolis to testify. And so I’m sitting in a room and just listening to people testify is that it just opened my mind to whole ‘nother arena of what people are saying about us when we’re not in the room. But when you’re in the room, you get a whole different picture, ’cause people start talking. Okay?
Now, and organizing–this is when I was talking about and alluding to around education. You have to educate people to get the awareness so that we can start to organize, so that people understand, you do have power, you do have a voice. And every time you make the choice not to vote for something or someone, and you have just given that to somebody else. Right?
So in organizers that when I look at a lot of the committee organizers in our community, they don’t look like me. When I see a lot of the organizations, these nonprofit organizations, they get millions and millions of dollars. We have over two, three thousand nonprofit organizations in Baltimore City that quote-unquote supposed to be working on social or social justice issues. They don’t look like us. The higher you go up in the chain, the executive directors look like other people. The organizers look like maybe us, right?
And then they want you to have a bachelors degree, they want you to have all this other stuff after I’ve been working in the community with my people for the last ten, 11, 12, 15 years. I don’t need a bachelors degree to tell me what I need to be doing in my community, number one. Number two is that the further you go down the chain, the lower the pay gets, the darker the people get. But yet you’ve got people who still, when you talk about they’re hiring police that live in the community, we need to have community organizers that live in the community, because most of them don’t. When you talk about city council, most of them represent a district that they don’t even live in. So if we want to talk about real issues and talk about real stuff and real news, then we need to keep it real and stop all this stuff philosophy about what we need to do when our–we’ve been talking for [crosstalk]
DESVARIEUX: No, it’s true. It’s true.
KIMBERLY: We know what the problem is. We’ve got enough data. We don’t want–we are one of the most researched people on the planet. I don’t need no more research from Johns Hopkins.
DESVARIEUX: I gotcha.
KIMBERLY: [incompr.] University of Maryland. We don’t need no more research. What we need is we need capital, money, so that we can have the people support the people who are already in the community who wake up and do this just because they do it.
DESVARIEUX: Well, how do we get that capital money, then, Kimberly if we don’t own the things? How do we get that?
KIMBERLY: It goes back to we have to start supporting one another, stop supporting people that don’t support us, because Michael Jordan ain’t never showed up in my community and gave me nothing.
DESVARIEUX: All right.
KIMBERLY: Okay? Al Sharpton came here and made $9,000-odd to give a big speech, and a person that hired him was an organization called Safe and Sound. Okay? Al Sharpton don’t live in Baltimore City. Al Sharpton’s got enough money. And this is not just how–I’m just calling him out. He’s just one of them, okay? What I’m saying is that you have a lot of people who have the money and the financial resources to pick and choose wherever they want to go. But for those people that don’t, like myself and a whole lot of other of us who have been affected by a lot of these policies and issues, is that we’ve got to stop spending our money with people that don’t support us.
KIMBERLY: Boycott them.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Alright.
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