Monday, December 15, 2014

#MillionsMarchNYC: Streets, Movements and Dialectical Thinking, #Blacklivesmatter #dec1314 #EricGarner #MikeBrown

December 13 2014, Washington Square Park. Millions March New York City.  Bottom Photo by US Uncut.

Amazing day marching for civil rights with Wendy Brawer Barbara RossBenjamin Heim Shepard Keegan and about 25,000? 50,000? other people in NYC.

Scenes from Monday night at Barclays Center. 

Just after the Peoples Climate March, i signed up for a class at the Commons called
The Dialectic of Race and Class, taught by Stanley Aronowitz.  The write-up for the class explained:
Since the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, the convention wisdom holds that class and race are two separate categories of social relations.  This thinking owes much to the failure, even refusal of the labor movement to address racism directly. Labor’s refusal led to a widespread suspicion within black communities of the unions and, indeed, the white working class. This skepticism was partially softened by Labor’s participation in some of the key events of the civil rights struggle: unions were present at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; some walked alongside black freedom fighters in Selma and Martin Luther King Jr.’s fateful appearance during the Memphis garbage workers strike in 1968 promised to bridge the longstanding chasm.   Despite the rise of public employees’ unions with large Black and Latino memberships since the 1970s, the racial divide has reasserted itself, masking the overlap between race and class in America. This course deals with the relation of race and class theoretically, historically and culturally. It examines the Black Freedom and Labor movements from reconstruction to the present day. We will focus on problems of strategy, political economy, and social and political transformation.
Readings will include: WEB Dubois, Richard Wright, N. Singh, S. Aronowitz, Charles Payne and Aldon Morris.

The class has been more than prophetic in helping us talk through and make sense of the visceral raw anger and frustration of watching police kill Black men with seeming impunity, helping us rethink a complicated relationship between race and class.

Reading through Singh’s Black is a Country, Stanley encouraged us to see US Black history as a colonial experience. Singh’s book suggests that:

Despite black gains in modern America, the end of racism is not yet in sight. What happened to the worldly and radical visions of equality that animated black intellectual activists from W. E. B. Du Bois in the 1930s to Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.  [Singh] constructs an alternative history of civil rights in the twentieth century, a long civil rights era, in which radical hopes and global dreams are recognized as central to the history of black struggle.
It is through the words and thought of key black intellectuals, like Du Bois, Ralph Bunche, C. L. R. James, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and others, as well as movement activists like Malcolm X and Black Panthers, that vital new ideas emerged and circulated. Their most important achievement was to create and sustain a vibrant, black public sphere broadly critical of U.S. social, political, and civic inequality.
Finding racism hidden within the universalizing tones of reform-minded liberalism at home and global democratic imperatives abroad, race radicals alienated many who saw them as dangerous and separatist. Few wanted to hear their message then, or even now, and yet, as Singh argues, their passionate skepticism about the limits of U.S. democracy remains as indispensable to a meaningful reconstruction of racial equality and universal political ideals today as it ever was.

The message could not be more important today. 

Full of aging lefties, some with over five decades of movement experience, the classes are contentious and engaging.  With 25 years of movement experience under my belt, I am considered a youngster in the room. We meet for two and a half to three hours a week, talking out the issues of the day in relation to Marxism, Gramsci, King, De Bois, and the Black Panthers.

On December 6th, we had a class after the grand jury threw out the charges against the policeman who  killed Eric Garner, after illegally choking Garner to death.

Stanley started the class recalling the 1964 Harlem Riots, ignited after an unarmed fifteen year old boy was killed by an off duty policeman. 

Scenes from the 1964 Harlem Riots.

“Not to disparage what is happening now, but they make these marches look like a tea party,” explained Arronowitz. 

Police breed authoritarian thinking, argued Stanley. He recalled a scene from the French Connection when a policeman walked through a bar, lined everyone up.  Their main function is to keep everyone down, he explained. So reform based strategies for the police are limited.  They support the system.  When you put money on police reform, he warned, the momentum will peter out.

Referring to Singh’s Black is a Country, Stanley suggested that what happened in Staten Island and Ferguson can be seen as an issue of colonialism.  It is a fundamental theoretical fundamental problem.  Many, such as De Bois characterize the Black situation in the US as a colony, a nation within a nation. This position gets Malcolm X killed. He had been a nationalist. Yet when he returns from Mecca he articulates race and class demands.  When King started articulating an anti capitalist position, speaking out for striking garbage workers, merging race and class into political consciousness, he was killed.  The man problem of an internal colony is not one of space, but one of the leaders getting killed.  A dialectical of race and class merges into political consciousness.  

As my friend Stan Williams laments:

Black Folks.
"He shouldn't have been selling loose cigarettes" is
Respectability Politics is
Dual Consciousness is
a Colonized Mind.
Wake. Up.

 Message from Saturday.

Throughout the class, we’ve traced the challenges of a pattern of migration, community, and displacement we see here.   Black people moved north with the collapse of the plantation system. The price of cotton went down, creating a glut in supply and demand. The plantations shut down, laying off workers, and merchandise.  Trouble makers were told, ‘you better go’ and were pushed out.  Facing a reign of terror, workers moved.  Charles Payne’s I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, our next reading, traces the use of lynching, as it increased with the decline in the economy.  Businesses only pushed to stop it when they thought it might detract from outside investment in the region. Still, many Blacks moved, settling in Northern Cities from the first world war, into the 1930’s, building community. And the pattern follows, many are displaced, dislodged by primitive accumulation, reigns of terror, high rents, and violence.  Such displacement is an indicator of stagnant mobility, as challenges around race and class merge.  It is one thing to think of police abuses in terms of race.   But with less and less jobs and more and more scarcity and economic redundancy, violence seems poised to only increase.

Today, with movements growing, we are looking at new demands and infrastructure, pushing back.  My students in my organizing classes have been on fire. We see Malala reminding the world we all need more schools and less weapons. Organizers need to be educators. We need an underling theory, argued Stanley.

Intuitions without concepts are blind noted Michael, a philosopher and student in the class, paraphrasing Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. We need to build interconnection between theory and practice, a philosophy of praxis.

What happens in Birmingham is what happens in New York. 

We need to organize networks of friends, just as Ella Baker, Ms Baker organized
 in SNCC, bottom up networks that support each other.

Yet, which leaders use dialectic thinking? wondered Jim Fourratt, a veteran of decades of organizing, from Gay Liberation Front to ACT UP.

How can we learn from mistakes, piecing together our struggles into an arch of change?

Phl, Jim, and Stanley at the Commons.  Lots of fights and conversation.

Who controls the streets, many have asked in recent weeks. What we need now is a way of thinking about history in action, a materialist document of debates about public space acts in NYC right now, a dialectical approach to understanding this moment. This is a big moment of change.   Everything we see is crying out for this moment, beyond post modernism.

History is repeating itself but we need to see it in dialectic, as part of a conversation in time.
Streets offer a space for such a conversation, a dialectic between race and class, as people pour into the streets to take part in such a conversation.

Leaving class, I rode over to Washington Square Park to meet my friends for the Million March.
The march would take place under the banner:

We Demand Justice.
For Mike Brown.
For Eric Garner.
For Akai Gurley.
For All Those Innocent People of Color Killed By The Misuse of Police Force. 

The Millions March NYC coordinators have pulled together a solid team of organizers. We have worked hard to plan a march that unifies us for the day and shows our power. We ask that all those planning Direct Actions please give time and space to this march. If you are planning an action during the march and want to check if you will be putting people in harms way, please contact us at mmdacoordination@ This is an anonymous Direct Action Coordinator who will let you know if your action(s) would jeopardize our plans. The information is confidential and will not be shared with the larger organizing body. 

In solidarity,

Millions March NYC

We March Together, As One.


People from all over New York were converging to join the march.  A feeder march from Brooklyn declared.

Racial Justice requires Racial Solidarity
Join us as we march in solidarity with communities of color, who have borne the brunt of mass criminalization. We cannot achieve racial justice without the support of those who have benefited from a system of racialized oppression. This is our chance to take action to challenge the criminal justice systems that are at the center of maintaining racial inequality.

Millions March NYC Coalition Demands:!demands/cjg9
Millions March website:
Millions March NYC Coalition Facebook page:

Several of us from the bike blok met outside Judson Memoral Church. 

And so we marched, people from all over New York, sharing a grand conversation about change, talking about where the movement had come from, where we were going, and how we could support the movement expanding.  How could allies support the movement without getting in the way or becoming barriers?  Could white guys check themselves?  How could the movement push for more than police reform, challenging the New Jim Crow and the prison industrial complex and make an impact?  

We marched up to Foley Square and back down Broadway for a die in.
Some cried.  Others smiled as we talked and greeted each other n the streets.

"Turn up, turn down.  We're dong this for Mchael Brown!"

We rant into so many frends during the march. So many people wanted to talk and make sense of this mess. 

The cheers became darker as we walked, over the bridge.  The Reverend Donna Schaper preached about the dehumanization of the name calling she saw, as the sun set and protest moved downtown the next day at Judson.  

The celly loop sent messages all night, finally pulling us out for the late night march. 

Down through Brooklyn to the Pink Houses, we rode late into the night, following the police lights and helicopters deep into East New York. 

“its like the baton death march,” noted one friend, who'd been marching for some nine hours. 
Police were everywhere.  And we marched.  The Rude Mechanicals played. 

At the 75th Precinct, we staged a die in and a speak out.

“Look at them, they are not listening to us,” noted one man, sitting by me during the die in. 
“They are joking over there.”

For a dialogue to work, people have to listen.
Frustrated, the activists started taunting the police.

“You see that minority representation there.  Only one black cop” noted another man.
"You better make sure they don't shoot you."

“We need police to be from our neighborhoods so they are not afraid of us.”

The police joked with each other about what a bad neighborhood this was, warning white protesters to get home safe.    
One of the marshals listed with disbelief and sadness, shaking her head

Others sang a sad lament.  "We are not gonna leave tll we are free."

The march continued to the Pink Houses where Akai Gurley was killed.

keegan, who took ths photo yesterday at 12:39 Hands Up in front of the Pink House where an NYPD cop shot & killed unarmed ‪#‎AkaiGurley‬. ‪#‎ICantBreathe‬

"Thank you for coming," an elder woman cheered us on, as we made our way back.  "You've been wonderful."  Theres so much good nature and care out there.  But there's also frustration and fear, resentment and concern that nothings gonna change.

"We have to get it right this time," another man explained as we walked. 

Riding home, a few of us were concerned with the demeaning, dehumanizing chants, ‘oink, oink, oink’ thrown at the police.  We also worried about the epithets the police were throwing back, “Fuck you assholes.”  So far in this movement, protesters have been subjected to sound cannons of deafening noise, used to disperse crowds.  As my friend Keegan, whose been out every night, peacefully observing and documenting the growing movement, notes:

 "During Occupy I became concerned about the fact that the NYPD had Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADS) or "Sound Cannons." I heard first-hand accounts of my friends being blasted with them in Pittsburg, the pain they endured and permanent hearing damage they suffered. As hundreds crossed the Brooklyn Bridge that year, I saw one pointed at the peaceful demonstrators, being manned by a blue shirt (beat cop). Having seen cops over-react with pepper spray and batons, it terrified me that an officer had his finger on the trigger of a weapon that could permanently deafen all those peaceful demonstrators. I FOILed to find out what LRADs the NYPD had, and if they had any protocol around using them - the answer was that they had a lot and basically no protocol. They claimed never to have used them on "weapon mode" ... until two Thursdays ago, when they deployed it against a peaceful ‪#‎ICantBreathe march I was on, injuring many of my friends. I took video, and have joined with the NLG to legally curtail the NYPDs use of these military weapons. Please take a moment and educate yourself on the issue, read this excellent report from Gothamist: "

New York City police officers have lately taken to blasting protesters with 21st-century sound cannons, and as far as anyone can tell, the department doesn’t have any...

Still, the violence is amping up.  Those sitting in the streets have run over by cars from Times Square to Portland.  One of the protesters run over was given a ticket.    

The anger of the protests is real and hopefully the police can show they hear us and we can show we hear them.  During Occupy, Lou Reed confessed about the cops: “i want to be friends with them.”  The hope was for dialogue

Not enough of us hear each other.
Hopefully, the demands are taken seriously. If they are not, if the police who shot unarmed Akai Gurley in his own home walk, the city may burn just like it did in Harlem in ‘64.

What’s for sure, we are still marching, still meeting, still reading poems.  Poems and stores help us take the pain and move forward with voices through time, as our voices congeal, as narratves fly, beatitudes flow with difference and dialectics building a new political consciousness.

When we breathe. We breathe together, declared protesters Saturday.  We certainly do.

Photo by Keegan: ""When We Breathe, We Breathe Together," A People's Street Closure.#MillionsMarchNYC at Barclays Center last night."

Bards Against Brutes: A Poetic Response to Police Brutality & Injustice

Bards Against Brutes: A Poetic Response to Police Brutality & Injustice

  • 1 Police Plaza PathNew York, NY, 10038United States 
Poets and artists are invited to read and perform works related to police brutality, injustice, freedom and expression. We'll have a soapbox and featured poets. #EricGarner #MikeBrown #BlackLivesMatter