Donald Trump rode to office on a campaign that excelled in intimidation tactics: divide and conquer, shame and blame. Now in government, his administration is full of people who oppose government, and they are pushing policies that would reverse environmental regulations and roll back the all-too meager social justice functions of the state.
Trump’s is a minority government, representing just a fraction of the population, and a minority even of those who voted in 2016. So how does it feel to be unrepresented by your elected officials, threatened by their policies, in physical danger — and do radical progressive work anyway?
There are lessons to be learned from progressive LGBTQ activists and people of color in the US South. They have been living this reality for decades.
“We call it the New Confederacy. We’ve been dealing with this kind of action for a while,” Cazembe Murphy Jackson, told me.
Murphy Jackson is an organizer with Black Lives Matter Atlanta and Freedom Road Socialist Organization, which for more than 30 years has been working across movements to end systemic oppression.
Laura Flanders: Cazembe, welcome to the program. Glad to have you.
Cazembe Jackson: Thank you, thank you.
So, is that fair to say, that you in the South woke up after the November election and thought some version of “Same old, same old”?
I think that’s partly true. I think when we woke up and we realized that Trump was in office, part of it was like, “Okay, this is something that we’ve been dealing with.” We call it the New Confederacy. We’ve been dealing with this kind of action for a while. But also, there was a sense of urgency and responsibility that we were going to actually be called into action to lead other folks who are not in the South about how to deal with the same kind of administration.
And when you talk about how you’ve been dealing with some of these phenomena over the years, what do you mean? How do you describe it?
I think, on a state level in particular, we are used to really repressive kind of legislation. In particular, in Tennessee and in Georgia, Mississippi, we have super-majority Republican legislatures that typically pass laws that are aggressive against queer and trans people, bathroom bills — that kind of stuff. In Tennessee, there were bills of things where they didn’t even want students to be able to say the word “gay” in school.
But also against living wages — most states are right-to-work states so we can’t really form unions and stuff.
… Medicaid expansion.
Exactly. All of these kinds of things on a state level … so we knew it would be a little different going to a federal kind of level, but I don’t know that any of us were actually prepared for the extent of things that’s happening right now.
So how much patience do you have with northerners going, “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Panic, panic”?
You know? I think there is a level of patience, because at the end of the day, in order for us to actually be successful in the resistance we have got to kind of be open to folks who have different levels of experience with this kind of repression. So, I think I’m learning to be more patient.
Well that’s very kind of you. I think about it as a media problem, in the sense that our media has so refused to cover the South that during the period of the Obama administration, after the 2008 election, you would have thought everything in the whole country had gone Democratic. Not so.
Yeah, definitely not. Yeah, I agree with that.
So, being Southern kind of gives you an edge? Being a queer, trans, LGBT activist of color gives you an edge looking into all of this? How so? Tell us a little bit about your life.
I would be remiss to not add into that description, also a missionary Baptist. Adding all of those things in, it’s like I come out of a tradition of storytelling, testifying, singing and really building genuine relationships with people. I think that is the thing that has really informed the way I organize, but also the way that we organize in the South. Even when we go back to thinking in the civil rights movement, one of the reasons that the bus boycotts were able to be so successful was because people had built genuine relationships with one another so they knew who needed a ride.
Go a little deeper into that. Is that simply a strategic choice? A tactical choice? Or is it because your lives depend upon it?
I think it’s both. I think it’s both. I think it is a strategic choice in that “How can I expect for you to resist?” Especially as the repression gets more intense, how can I trust that you will actually fight for our interests if I don’t actually know you? Strategically it makes sense. But then I think also it’s a very Southern — it’s a very Black, it’s a very Baptist thing to do to — share meals, to help raise our kids together, to help really get to know each other and spend time outside of our organizing work also, so that we just really have these genuine relationships.
Also in the trans and LGBT movement, the whole idea of coming out, that connecting with people, knowing people, is how we do our politics, or how we emerge as full people.
Yeah. Especially when I think about the South, I live in Atlanta, but I think about the smaller rural towns in the South in particular. Because isolation is a real thing when we talk about queer and trans folks in particular, and Southerners On New Ground in the beginning was really good about making sure that queer and trans folks had a community.
Tell us a little bit about how your gender identity has changed over time, and how it relates or doesn’t relate to your socialist identity. How does one inform the other?
I definitely think that they’re all related. And I think the part that is the most related is why it took so long for me to actually be brave enough to explore my gender. I think that capitalism, patriarchy — all of these things have us lined up in these very restricted boxes that make sense because it’s easier to dominate people in these boxes.
For me, I’m from Texas and I lived most of my life as this tomboy wearing Doc Marten [boots] with dresses, and driving my parents crazy, because they wanted me to pick a lane which was: “Get a perm. Straighten your hair. Wear nice dresses and a face full of makeup,” and sometimes I did. So, I’ve always kind of been at this intersection of boy and girl, man and woman, and a lot of the times I call myself mixed gender. But it makes sense for people who don’t have a deep understanding of gender identity for me to continue to identify as a trans man, because they get it and they understand why my pronouns need to be “he” when I say trans man.
For a long time, I identified as a butch lesbian, or what we say in the Black community as a “stud” until 2010 or so when I started really thinking, “Maybe there’s something else to this.” Because I’m not butch; obviously, at the end of the day, I’m not. But for a minute I thought, “Well in order for me to be a man, and for people to respect me as a man, and to use my ‘he’ pronouns, I need to denounce everything feminine about me. I need to move as far away from women, and anytime that anyone says ‘she’ or ‘her’ when they refer to me, I need to be extremely angry and make them stop.”
Actually, I feel most free in this body that I’m in right now, understanding that there are some feminine parts to me, and I celebrate them.
I think the future will be more fluid. You hope?
I think it’s already more fluid. There are so many people who I know who won’t pick one side or the other: the non-binary folks, or gender nonconforming, or whatever. I know so many people who are like, “Don’t call me a woman. Don’t call me a man. Call me a fem. Call me masculine. Call me this or that,” so I see it changing already.
I would love to meet the people who really love the binary.
… throughout their entire lifetimes …
It changes. All right, so the socialism. Where did that come in? And how does that relate? And tell us a little bit about the work that you’re doing now. You’ve just come back from the UK.
Sure, so I think socialism for me is about … at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve had a hard life, but at this end of it I have access to a whole lot of privilege. And you know? I basically can eat, and live, and sleep, and kind of move very freely … you know? I’m still Black and trans, but obviously I can move a lot freely than a lot of other people, and so I feel like my fight for socialism and the thing that is important to me is I want everyone to have access to that
People seeing this may not have a lot of clear models of what socialism is, and the models they have are models like Cuba or the Soviet Union, where I can hear them now saying, “Well they were not nice to trans people,” or it took them a long time to get their head around homophobia and the relationship between capitalism and homophobia. So, when you say “socialism,” what are you thinking of? What do you mean? Is there a state expression of that any place?
Yeah, I don’t think that 21st [century] socialism in the United States is going to look like anything that’s been done already. I think that when I … really think of socialism, I’m thinking of it as kind of like a vehicle to something else that’s more permanent, and so I see it as doing the things that are alternatives to austerity. So, the idea for us as Freedom Road, and me even personally, is more of we need folks…. And I think we do take these examples from Cuba and Venezuela and other places. We need folks to actually understand what political moment we’re in and so it’s about finding people, making sure that they are educating us and we’re educating them, so that we understand the climate and what needs to happen to shift it.
And I think I see a lot of people doing that through what’s being called independent political organizations, and you see those kind of popping up everywhere, but it’s really like these mass groups going out and finding people and then getting educated together, and then electing our own folks to put in office. And not in just a way where it’s like find a progressive woman or a Black face and put them in office, but people who are actually coming up through those organizations, through the ranks with us, who share our politics, who are willing to fight for us.
Yes, I think about it a lot as sort of putting the “social” at the center as opposed to “capital” at the center. And what would we do if we organized the state on that basis? We’re running out of time. I haven’t heard much about the British experience. What did you take away from that trip? And then I guess my last question would be for you to share some comments about what you think are priorities for people in this country right now.
Sure. I think the biggest thing that I took away was the different experience of what it is to be Black in London, and in the UK, versus what it is to be Black in the United States.
Black people in the UK, for one — I never really heard anyone say “I’m Black.” I heard people say “I’m Somali,” or “I’m Jamaican,” or whatever the name of their country or their parent’s country was, and kind of wearing it as this badge of honor, and really being connected to their culture in a way that I feel like Black Americans are connected but we don’t talk about it in the same way.
And particularly me, I know a lot of my time I was spending — before London — talking about the Black American experience based on the amount of oppression that I receive. And I think being in London, but also traveling to and from with a US passport, really helped me understand how much privilege having that US passport gives me, and really being able to move freely while I watched so many other people get held up from being able to move. So, it really made me feel like my responsibility, and the responsibility of other folks who are here in the US, is also about making sure that we are current about what’s happening everywhere else, but also being engaged in that fight to make sure … it shouldn’t be different if I have a US passport, or if my passport is Syrian, or if it’s French, or whatever. We should all be able to move freely.
And what about the priority question, especially for people who perhaps aren’t fortunate enough to live in the kind of community that you’ve described, or haven’t made that for themselves yet?
I think two priorities: I think one, the biggest priority is resistance at this point. I think all kinds of resistance … I’m just so proud of folks on the left, and in general, right now for the level of resistance that we’ve kept up since inauguration. And I think, “Keep going. Keep finding creative ways to resist this administration.” But I think also we can’t get caught up in just resisting, we also have to be on the offense.
Absolutely. Thank you so much. It’s great talking with you.
Cazembe Murphy Jackson works with Black Lives Matter, Atlanta; and as the national organizer for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, which for more than 30 years has been working across movements to end systemic oppression.