Monday, January 11, 2021

Winter Aftershocks and Trips to My Favorite Places, from Hy Thurman to Ancient Testimony

Winter by Jean Antoine Houdon 

Hy Thurman's book, Revolutionary Hillbilly

A trip to the Met to think about it all. 

James Solomon Benn puts it: 
"It is that old divide and conquer Southern strategy going back to Jim Crow. The landowning elites pitting poor Whites and poor Blacks against each other for the same low wage jobs. If Whites and Blacks were allowed to unify we could change the system. That’s what I learned from one of Rev. William J Barber’s lectures for the Poor People’s Campaign."

David Solnit writes:
"Appreciating the analysis and vision of Poor People's Campaign about this week. I put their reflection statement, below, together with an illustration I made for "Moral Revolution,” one of the principles of their Jubilee Platform."
(posted below)

Winter Aftershocks and Trips to My Favorite Places, from Hy Thurman to Ancient Testimony

My new year’s resolution was to stop paying attention to Donald Trump.

It was going well until Wednesday.

And then things went off the rails.

We'd spend the week trying to make sense of right wing, white supremacist insurrectionists, many carrying confederate flags, marching into the capital, aided and abated by the Capital Police, with the support of the president on Wednesday.

One of my old grad school professors Steve Burghardt posted:

"So many words have been written about yesterday, I'll stick to data-driven facts: on June 1, 2020, at a peaceful BLM protest in Washington, 289 people were arrested. Yesterday, January 6, 2021, eight guns were confiscated, at least two explosive devices were located, numerous Capital windows were smashed, furniture was broken, Congressional members' offices were vandalized, and 50 police officers were hurt. 69 people were arrested."

And unlike when lefties come to defend the Affordable Care Act or protest judges or to shout Black Lives Matter, who get arrested in seconds, the capital police rolled out the red carpet for the president's insurgency.

Alex Vitale noted:

"Threat assessments are colored by police world views, which means that threats from the left and racial minorities, are always exaggerated, and threats from the right and white nationalist groups are always diminished..."

Cleve Jones pointed out:

"FYI if you post shit on your timeline or mine that attempts to equate what the Trump fascists did this week with what BLM has done or what ACT-UP did or any other form civil disobedience or resistance or even rebellion then I am done with you. Seriously."

Seth Tobocman put his finger on some of the sentiments a few of us were thinking:

"I'm sure a lot of you feel as I do here. I can't help identifying with someone fighting police, offending politicians and forcing their way into a government building. And I love the costume with the horns. And I'm very disturbed that the cops killed people...BUT...Fascism is a revolutionary movement from the right. They answer real problems with mythical solutions. Their actual plans involve dictatorship and genocide. The fact that these guys are protesters, are rebels, that they fight cops and occupy buildings and wear interesting outfits, does not make them "us". In fact, if they got their way, most of us would be made into soap and lampshades."

Thursday, we hit the streets:

"Rally at Barclays Center at 6 Brooklyn demanding that President Trump and the Republicans who supported yesterday’s mob violence be removed from office."

People from all over town were there, trying to make sense of it all.

Enough is enough, everyone declared.

Hold them accountable.

Stop the double standard.

Take on white supremacy,

Blue Lives Matter, the new Jim Crow. Enough.

They want a race war, said Caroline.

But we don't.

And gradually, we made our way through what would happen next. 

Out to Coney Island Brian took me, where we talked it through, trying to cope with the cold, solitary winter.

The rides were closed, restaurants shuttered.

A few people plunged into the water.

Birds danced overhead, not appearing to be too concerned with our troubles.

Saturday, Mom and I imagined places to travel.

Sunday, we ate pancakes and made our way to the Met to imagine.

We travel through our minds, history, and decorative rooms looking at winter by Jean Antoine Houdon, shivering, hiding from the elements.

The subway to and from was slower than ever, all through the winter afternoon, limited service in the days of COVID.

Can we live or even dream of another reality, a multi-racial democracy?

Is there room for everyone, I thought, looking at the homeless asking for cash.

Back home, I joined the Highlander Research and Education Center, Books to the Barricades and the Center for Political Education in celebrating the release of Hy Thurman's new book Revolutionary Hillbilly.

White supremacist mob violence is nothing new, noted Lynn Lewis, introducing the talk, wondering about a new world, a world where all our voices find expression?

Can we find room for the teenagers, the queers, the homeless, the poor, the people of color Stacy Abrams is helping organize - everyone - turning red states blue.

Imagine a world that doesn't exist, that hasn't existed, or what they meant to those who saw them, said Lynn Lewis. 

Hy Thurman told stories of the Young Patriots. 

"Very few of us young patriots that are alive today," said Hy, beginning the talk. 

“When I came to Chicago, I was reading on a third-grade level.

I wanted to write a book that would reach the common folk, a book of racial solidarity. 

Even with what we saw last week, we have to try even more today.

It’s up to us. We owe it to poor people, to write to, to speak to each other.

This is the story of the Rainbow Coalition, I wanted to share, the poor person, cross racial coalition that the FBI and Mayor Daley wanted to destroy, first by killing Freddie Hampton, and Black Panthers.

Despite the obstacles, a poor people's coalition formed.

'We the poor of uptown, have heard you say we represent you.

but we are still unrepresented,' we declared.

We studied socialism, rejected capitalism, thinking everyone should be equal.

We joined a movement, became revolutionaries, joined the Black Panthers,

started food distribution, legal clinics, housing clinics, and then Freddie Hampton

was murdered. 

They conspired to end the Rainbow Coalition, bridging poor whites and Black activists, and locked up the records of our activities.

Everywhere we went with our programs, the cops would come in. 

We would be beaten and jailed falsely. 

They did kill some of us.

They went after the gangs.

Why would you want to go into a coalition with us, I said to Freddie Hampton, given the history.

He said I can look past that cause I know that you are fighting for the revolution. 

After he was killed, some of us had to leave. 

But we are back.

Training organizers.

The rainbow coalition lives on.

Some day, some day, we can have that revolution."

The book is a case study in intersectionality. 

The power of having a united front.

We tapped into Highlander.

If this was happening in uptown, it had to be happening in other communities too.

There were many ways of doing it.

Anti war protests.

We worked with a number of different groups, Freddie Hampton and MLK, Civil Rights and Young Lords.

We developed our program around the Black Panther program, a ten-point platform.

Allyn Maxfield-Steele, of the Highlander Folk Center, commented on the migrations, people moving to and from the South, people finding new identities that he read about in the book, from white trash to coalition partners. Are we going where people are going? How are people fighting back?

"Southern white people are hard to organize," Hy replied.

"It’s so hard to get people to admit they are poor. The whole definition of poor changed. Even today, the whole challenge is to get them to admit they are poor. It’s hard. It’s important of meeting people where they are in terms of their values.  So many people believe they are going to be there. You've gonna get there. We have to meet people where they are with their values. We have an opportunity now to reach more people, once they get over the stigma of being lied to. We have to meet people where they are at. And then we get them something. We have to educate people to get em to see that the system is not working for them."

Sarah Schulman put it:

"You could arrest all 74 million Trump supporters, close and open a hundred apps and fire every person in government and it wouldn't solve the problem. A better strategy would be for the new regime to do things that actually help people like: excellent national healthcare with top-notch drug rehab, a huge infrastructure re-build creating widespread high-skill job training that provides interesting well-paid jobs, equal educational opportunities, and child care, and make decisions humanely and fairly, and I think things would get better around here."

"You gotta do something every day," Hy concluded. Talk to a neighbor.

Bring someone food.

"Do what you can every day."

Aftercall, Simone de Beauvoir suggests:

"One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion. It is far better to live a fairly committed, fairly justified life so that one may go on in the same path even when all illusions have vanished."

Sunday is usually my day to get to Judson to think about those illusions and collective myths.

These days service in online, with well wishes and reports of those in the hospital, conversation dangling between ancient and modern testimonies, a place to try to make sense of it all, between a city of God and a Brave and Starling Truth.

Ancient Testimony Psalm 46:

“...There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts...”

We certainly are all in an uproar here in the city, in the winter, still coping with social isolation, our city half awake, dreaming of that dance in the woods, the invincible summer, where bands play, we meet; we sweat in the mosh pit.  We know our neighbors, play music and connect again.

This is what Maya was talking about in the Modern Testimony 

“A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelou (Excerpts) 

“...We, this people, on a small and lonely planet Traveling through casual space Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns To a destination where all signs tell us It is possible and imperative that we learn A brave and startling truth And when we come to it To the day of peacemaking… We, this people, on this small and drifting planet Whose hands can strike with such abandon ...Out of such chaos, of such contradiction We learn that we are neither devils nor divines… When we come to it We must confess that we are the possible We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world That is when, and only when We come to it...”

Every day we are coming to it.

As DH Lawrence saw it:

"Free, that was the great word. Out in the open world, out in the forests in the morning, with lusty and splendid-throated young fellows, free to do as they liked. It was the talk that mattered supremely: the impassioned interchange of talk, love was only a minor accompaniment..."

But we found each other and ourselves. 


David Solnit pointed toward a statement:

The Poor People’s Campaign witnessed with heavy hearts the events of January 6th, when a mob emboldened by hate, lies, and racism laid siege to the US Capitol and other state capitols across the country in an attempt to subvert our democracy. This attack was carried out at the behest of a narcissistic President and his enablers, who have followed a divisive political strategy that is as old as the deconstructionists of the 1870s and the Southern strategy of the 1960s. We know that the only antidote to this poison in our body politic is a moral fusion coalition committed to reconstructing democracy.

Our intersectional movement has been met with arrest while engaged in non-violent protest — praying, singing and peacefully marching. The people who stormed the Capitol on January 6th were not protesting but attempting to overthrow democratic government by mob rule. The fact that these violent rioters were able to break into the Capitol should alarm us all and cause us to question the deference they were given by law enforcement and security forces. This is eerily reminiscent of how law enforcement has often been used to protect violent and racist actors defending the status quo while suppressing non-violent social justice movements.

As a state-based national movement that has nonviolently protested at state capitols and the US Capitol, calling out policy violence and pushing for a just moral agenda for and with poor and low-income people, moral leaders, activists and organizers across race, geography, issue area and other lines of division, we must point out that:

1.      This did not just happen. For years extremist politicians who call themselves Republicans have sown the winds of division and lies; now the country is reaping the whirlwind of chaos. We call on our lawmakers and justice system to hold President Trump, senators, Congress persons, and all elected and appointed officials who had a role in these heinous attacks accountable for their actions, swiftly and to the full extent of the law.

2.      These politicians found time and resources to plan, support, and continue an attack on democracy (even after it turned deadly) but have not found time and resources to expand health care, enact a just stimulus, raise wages, or protect the people they are called to serve.

3.      They push the people into a rage rooted in racism but have refused to push efforts to address systemic racism.

4.      They are responsible for the five deaths that occurred in the attack, but their policy inaction is also in large part responsible for the inept response to Covid that has caused nearly 400,000 deaths.

5.      They have spent more time lying to the people than lifting the people, especially the least of these of this nation.

Such violence always erupts when there is the greatest possibility for change. Throughout history, Native and Indigenous people have seen this kind of mob violence. Black people have seen it. Women have seen it. Asians have seen it. Latino farm workers have seen it. Workers standing for labor rights have seen it. What we saw this week is not the dream of America, but it has too often been the practice of America.

This week’s violence is a reaction to record turnout of people of every race, income, region, sexuality, creed and conviction who voted for candidates that pledged to expand health care, raise wages, address systemic racism and poverty, in the general election and the Georgia run-off. It took place as we witnessed cracks in the Southern strategy, which has kept people divided by race for decades. This was an assault rooted in a refusal to believe the legitimacy of an election where people of color and poor and low wealth people united to vote out an extremist President and Senate majority.

Lastly, we must not confuse a failed attempt to subvert democracy with popular uprisings to reclaim government for the people. This riot exposes the MAGA movement as a fake populism that serves elites. It is a mistake to scapegoat poor people, especially poor white people for what happened on January 6. Press reports of the rioters included business owners, executives, and multi-millionaires.

At a time when something new is breaking through the hate, we cannot let this stop the growth of a moral fusion movement. The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is committed to continuing to build a fusion movement that brings the 140 million poor and low-income people of this country together across race and other historic divisions. This is what will protect our democracy and democratic institutions and build a stronger nation. 

Forward together, not one step back!

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II
President, Repairers of the Breach
Co-Chair, Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
Director, Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice
Co-Chair, Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

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