“How dare a nation that has bomb shrapnel or tank tracks in almost every country on the planet, claiming to fight for justice and democracy ask ME if I plan on being peaceful in the face of police executions that go unpunished. If I could simply airstrike away my oppression, best believe I’d be in flight school tomorrow. But my task is to build a movement that will one day disarm the armed murderers who kill for profit, land and power.” – Brian Taylor, Black Lives Matter of Cincinnati
On Donald Trump’s fifth day as president of the United States, he tweeted out that he “will send in the Feds” if Chicago doesn’t fix the “horrible ‘carnage'” going on. He then cited statistics stating that there have been 228 shootings with 42 killings that have occurred so far in 2017, up from 2016’s comparative total. What Trump did not do was include within that context the fact that Illinois has the highest Black unemployment rate in the nation and that 50 percent of young Black men in Chicago are unemployed or out of school. He also neglected to include the fact that Chicago is home to the largest mass public school closing in US history, thanks to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who chose to close schools in predominantly impoverished Black areas of the city. Trump also failed to mention that Emanuel also closed half of the city’s mental health care centers in 2012. All of these closures were met with fierce organizing by the community: the elderly and patients put their bodies on the line to prevent the closing of a South Side community’s only mental health care center, and parents and community members went on a hunger strike to save a South Side neighborhood’s only high school.
In addition, Trump failed to mention that while income has increased by 44 percent for white Chicagoans, it has actually decreased by 4 percent for Black Chicagoans. He continued to neglect to state that many entities, including the World Health Organization, cite increases in income disparity as what drives violence within societies. The larger the gap between the rich and the poor, the more violence an area will face. These are undisputed statistical facts. But none of that matters to Trump. What Trump attempted to do was use Chicago to do a few things:
1. Advance his “law-and-order” campaign promise, which is a coded racist cover to further divest from poor Black and Brown communities, resulting in increased impoverishment and increased social isolation and depravation. This in turn produces more survival economies, which are subsequently criminalized and driven underground, producing more violence.
2. Penalize the resistance movement that has come to international attention by utilizing military repression to legally criminalize freedom of speech and mobilization, and ultimately squash resistance.
3. Set a clear precedent and warning for militarized repression in response to social unrest — repression to occur in other areas of the country under the guise of “law and order.” These are not new tactics: they are classic repressive measures used by right wing, tyrannical, neo-fascist governments worldwide.
Kofi Ademola of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Chicago explains, “Donald Trump and the imperialist empire he now heads will continue to convince the American public that the violence they perpetrate (in their name and tax monies) is valorous and honorable and a necessary evil. The same fearmongering and stereotyping that Trump is attempting to use broadly against the Muslim community to justify their harassment, subjugation, discrimination, occupation, oppression and murder [are] the same tactics used against poor Black and Brown communities.”
Chicago is home to the largest juvenile detention center in the country. Chicago is also home to the largest county jail system in the country. Chicago is not, and has never been, a newcomer to state repression and violence, and we will resist any and all measures that serve to expand the police state and violate our human rights to peaceably assemble, protest, resist and live with dignity. Amika Tendaji of UJimaa Medics and BLM Chicago explains, “We are creating in ourselves and each other, [a] warrior culture where we expect to and are ready to fight continuously.”
Taking Power in the Streets
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets on January 20 across 50 states and 32 countries in protest of Donald Trump’s inauguration, advancing this notion of a developing “warrior culture.” The following day, millions took to the streets as part of the Women’s March resulting in over 300 actions in the United States. In Chicago, local organizers estimated 50,000 people would show up, but the final count came in at over 250,000. Now more than ever, we need to challenge each other to believe in our ability to create change by creating it ourselves with ourselves.
What is needed now is mass organizing to bring out hundreds of thousands of people to demand the overturning of the current corrupt, violent and murderous policing system. This is needed because the current system is organized to protect and absolve police officers who commit criminal acts of violence against the population they are sworn to protect. This continued police impunity will worsen and cause more violence to ordinary people as police militarization increases under Trump and criminalization of protest becomes more widespread. Already, five states have introduced bills to criminalize legal protest, including an Indiana bill that would allow police forces to potentially kill protesters if they so choose.
What is needed now are local and national marches fighting back against every attempt to militarize and further weaponize the police. We must demand that our lives not only matter but force the powers that be to enact the existing laws to be applied to every single police officer in this country. Murder is not legal, even if you are a cop.
We need 250,000 in the streets of Chicago demanding the immediate firing and prosecution of Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers George Hernandez, Robert Rialmo and Sergeant John Poulos for the murders of Ronald Johnson, Quintonio LeGrier, Bettie Jones and Kajuan Raye respectively. What is needed now is the presence of hundreds of thousands demanding that criminal charges be brought forth against the CPD based on the findings in the Department of Justice (DOJ) report stating that the CPD regularly engages in unlawful, egregious and unconstitutional behavior specifically toward Black and Brown communities, including the murder, terror and abuse of our people. What is needed now are national marches demanding the reopening of the case against Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown, the reopening of the case against Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback for the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the reopening of the case against Daniel Pantaleo for the murder of Eric Garner.
When we can have a quarter million people in the streets demanding an end to an institution that is set up to protect itself from accountability even when its agents commit murder, we will have entered a new stage in the struggle for Black liberation and against state repression. This will happen by force and by demand of the people who have to become unavoidable, unmovable, ungovernable and impossible to ignore.
The few thousand people in Chicago who marched continuously for weeks is what forced the DOJ to investigate the CPD. The DOJ then found that Chicago police routinely use excessive and deadly force in violation of the US Constitution. This is not to assert that a DOJ investigation is an ultimate victory (it carries no promise that the CPD’s actions will actually change), but it is important to recognize that the investigation came as a response to massive outrage of the murder of Laquan McDonald by CPD officer Jason Van Dyke.
The narrative of the electoral process as the primary vehicle of change serves to render invisible, disempower and delegitimize the most powerful weapon we have at all times, which is the ability to organize with each other to enact change.
If we become students of history, it becomes clear that it is through social mass movements that humanity is moved forward. Progress does not originate in election cycles or through politicians — although they always play a part in responding to people’s demands. Change is ultimately dictated by what the people will allow. This includes how far governments are allowed to go in terms of enacting violence on their populaces, whom the population will allow to be killed by remaining inactive and silent, as well as whether a government is forced into submission to the demands of its constituents. This was true of the American Revolution and the resistance of taxation without representation. It was true of the overthrow of Jim Crow. And it was true of the winning of reparations for survivors of police torture in Chicago.
The post-inauguration protests proved that there are millions of people in this country who reject the status quo, reject the turn to increased normalization of violence against women, support body autonomy, reject Islamophobia, reject attacks on immigrants, reject transphobia, and support Indigenous and Black liberation fights. The demand to make the Women’s March inclusive to the fights of Black and Indigenous struggles, fights around gender and sexual autonomy and agency were necessary, transformative and liberatory. The process of radical critical engagement needs to continue in all of the organizing spaces we occupy, especially in these Trump times.
Through remaining critically engaged, we will be able to build with some of those whom we might, at first glance, consider adversarial strangers. We can win people over to liberatory politics by conveying the understanding that when one of us is unfree, all of us are unfree, and that we need each other to fight because that is the only way we will win.
Facing Increased State Violence and Repression
What is facing us as a populace now is increased state violence, increased rollback of wins, increased death, increased repression, increased incarceration and increased criminalization — largely under the mantra of maintaining order. We should have no illusions about the extent to which this will be attempted and need to understand how both parties will and have taken part in its implementation. Since being inaugurated, Trump signed executive actions to advance the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. He also signed an executive order to immediately construct a border wall with Mexico, announced that he supports torture, would like to reopen overseas CIA black sites, and instituted what is in effect a travel ban on many Muslims.
On January 24, Ben Carson was unanimously voted in as the national secretary by the Senate to lead Housing and Urban Development (HUD), notably with votes by self-professed progressives, Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown.
As previously mentioned, the mayor who conducted the largest mass public school closing in US history, Rahm Emanuel, is a Democrat and was also, importantly, the former chief of staff for President Obama. Bob McCulloch, the Ferguson District Attorney who refused to charge Darren Wilson with the murder of Mike Brown, is a Democrat. In 2004, Trump admitted to CNN, “I probably identify more as a Democrat.” In 2010 Trump’s financial contributions shifted decisively toward the Republican Party, but for over two decades, Trump was a consistent contributor to both the Democratic and Republican parties.
What this tells us when we consider the intrinsic ideological fluidity of the Democrats and Republicans — the fact that 40 percent of the eligible voting population did not vote in the 2016 presidential election, and the reality that millions of people took to the streets in opposition to Trump’s inauguration and rejection of the right-wing politic that he upholds — is that a mass social movement is now possible to provide an alternative to the stranglehold of electoral politics that the Democrats and Republicans have had since the 1930s. It is not only possible, but it is necessary.
In these Trump years to come, we must re-embolden ourselves in the knowledge that our definitions of freedom must be inclusive, must be concrete and are always ultimately winnable if we fight together, if we struggle together and if we organize together. We should realize that each fight we engage in provides us lessons, and teaches us how to struggle, how to improve and how to win.
Drawing Strength From Past Rebellions
The hundreds of thousands who marched since Trump was inaugurated did so not just on the shoulders of the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement and the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s, but also on the shoulders of the historic massive protests against the Iraq War in 2003, the struggle of the Jena Six freedom fighters, the rising up of Oakland in defense of the life of Oscar Grant, the national protests to save the life of Troy Davis from execution, the national Occupy movement, which shifted the paradigm from austerity to power to the 99 percent, the Black youth who organized across the country to demand George Zimmerman be arrested for the murder of Trayvon Martin, the Black youth who taught us how to hold down months of rebellion against the militarized state in Ferguson in defense of Mike Brown, the Black youth who took control of their rage in protest in Baltimore, Louisiana, South Carolina and Wisconsin, the Black youth who marched for weeks in defense of the life of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, and so much more.
Each rebellion provides lessons and builds the confidence in the power of ordinary people to make change. In the words of Joe Hill, now is not a time to mourn but to organize.
More and more people are ready to embark on the process of creating the world in which we want to — and can — live, because so many of us are realizing that the current one is increasingly becoming unlivable. From the poisoning of water in Flint, Michigan, to the fight to prevent the poisoning of water and land in Standing Rock, to the very real possibility of millions of people losing health care coverage due to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to the disproportionately high rates of police murders of Black and Indigenous people, to increased intra-communal violence and poverty as a result of severe unemployment and divestment, it is becoming increasingly clear to many that we are and have always been the only ones who will save us. The time to do that is now.
In the next few years, we will need to fight to retain the reforms many of us have fought for that help to save lives and reduce harms as a result of the persistent death-making of capitalism. In addition, we will need to organize to build new self-determined spaces that have the ability to overturn oppressive structures while creating liberatory ones that are predicated not on profit and greed, but on serving the needs of the people by providing services that are necessary to life. We must no longer be satisfied with typical government responses to protest: producing reports, convening task forces and making changes in figureheads. We must organize to dismantle, defund and destroy structures and systems whose existence is predicated on violence and death. This means we must be ready to not only confront the root of inequality and poverty that is American capitalism, but prepare for a new future in which society is reorganized around the life-serving needs of its populace: accessible housing, universal health care, education, nutritious food and jobs.
The post-inauguration protests and mass demonstrations at airports nationwide have been a much-needed counter balance to the violence and death that Trump has promised to bring forth. Let these be the first of many freedom weekends to come, as we practice liberation by taking power in the streets. Let us remember that we are fighting not just for ourselves but also for future generations. The time is now.