Molly Harbarger profiles the fence at the Justice Center in downtown Portland, which for a full month served as the stark dividing line between protesters and police. It was removed on Friday.
One more thing from that Phillip Morris piece for National Geographic: a weird remark from Professor Kevin K. Gaines.
Yet as philosopher-poet George Santayana famously said, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. The aphorism weighs heavily on those trained to study the behaviors and achievements of past cultures.
“As a historian, I am concerned about the past being erased,” says Gaines, the UVA professor. “If we sanitize our history, we run the risk of forgetting how we’ve progressed and changed over time…Those who come after us must understand that America was conceived in white supremacy and continues to suffer the consequences.”
I can’t tell if this is Gaines resisting the removal of statues and memorials, or Morris’ structure making it seem like this is what Gaines is saying, but that’s certainly the effect.
The thing is, removal of statues itself is an action against the sanitizing of history. The very existence of these memorials for dozens or hundreds of years absent the real story of their racist context or at least without any overt, conscious and public recognition of that context was a sanitized version of our history.
The move to remove is akin to a truth and reconciliation effort, not one of whitewashing.
However, it lacks any coherent organization or leaders who can be targeted and co-opted or at least defeated; it is a mob leading a mob, and woe to any who step out of line.
Woolf is telling you not to stop now. He’s telling you that they don’t know how to defend an unjust system against a movement that isn’t about leaders.
It’s like Achilles taking off his sandal and pointing at his heel.
Let’s discriminate “indiscriminate efforts”. Here’s what I mean: White men have had the power in America for four hundred years, and over that time have constructed and molded the society in which we live today, often rerouting against challenges to their authority. (Parenthetically, I was prompted in a sort of sideways manner to come back to this by Kimberly Hirsh’s thoughts on Naomi Alderman’s The Power, somehow.) In such a socially glacial timeframe, to many people it simply doesn’t seem like they live in a structure or a system; society is just society, like the air. At the very least, it certainly isn’t a single if exceedingly complicated mechanism. (I’m setting aside for the moment those who know full well that society is a structure and a system devised to keep them in power.) So when a movement comes along seeking to address that entire structure, that entire system, of course the intellectually lazy (or the intellectually deceptive) are going to scream and whine and opine about that movement being “indiscriminate” in its efforts. Any concerted challenge to an entire unjust system is going to appear “indiscriminate” to those for whom the system was built, to those whom it privileges. In truth, the movement discriminates against unjust power and those who wield it whether as sword or shield. That only feels “indiscriminate” if you benefit from that unjust power. Or, if you prefer: that challenge can only be called “indiscriminate” if you also acknowledge that the system being challenged itself is just as “indiscriminate” in its leveraging of power in your favor.
The removal of monuments and symbols to a racist past is an important step to a more just future. Some scholars see the current waves of activism that sprouted primarily from the Black Lives Matter movement as a precursor to overdue structural reform.
“The racial justice movement currently underway is unprecedented and can be considered a game changer. The way many people look at the world has literally changed in weeks,” said Kevin K. Gaines, Julian Bond Professor of Civil Rights and Social Justice at the University of Virginia.
So, I’d thought — or maybe I just feared — that I was going to have to spend half my day on this latest claptrap linked by Alan Jacobs (I don’t know if he agrees with it or just liked that he’s referenced in it) but instead I’m going to struggle to briefly latch onto just one bit.
It also drives the often indiscriminate efforts to take down statues, “defund the police,” to “abolish ICE,” pass a Green New Deal, and generally remake the country.
This is no mere partisan cause. It is every bit as zealous and righteous as America’s previous religious revivals. It is driven by a mixture of social and philosophical ideas, but nevertheless gets its energy and power from an ever-increasing zeal. However, it lacks any coherent organization or leaders who can be targeted and co-opted or at least defeated; it is a mob leading a mob, and woe to any who step out of line.
Well, okay, this is two bits.
First, there’s nothing indiscriminate about calls for cultural, economic, political, racial, and social justice — in truth they are all one and the same, in a dynamic akin or analogous to intersectionality. If you can’t see the connections between taking down statues, defunding the police, abolishing ICE, and the Green New Deal, it’s because you’re afraid doing so will call attention — yours or, worse, your readers’ — to the fact that they are all of a piece.
Second, here’s, I think, the rub for these folks: the very fact that so much of this “indiscriminate effort” is movement based rather than personality based, they don’t know who to target, co-opt, or defeat. (That middle one is especially notable.)
So much of modern American society is built atop visiting degradations upon people who aren’t White that there quite literally is no course correction, no chance of salvation, other than wholesale movement and remaking. You can’t attack the push for America to come to justice for being “indiscriminate”; it only looks that way to you because you won’t admit that America’s ills all are connected.
Happy milkshake day! It’s the one-year anniversary of the Portland Police Bureau, Andy Ngo, and credulous news media falsely reporting the existence of cement milkshakes at a downtown protest.
Jeanelle Hope’s look at Black antifascism (via Walidah Imarisha) pairs nicely with the recent Smithsonian Magazine piece on antifascism generally which discussed the links between antifascism and antiracism. My usual quibble: Hope conflates antifa and black bloc, a term she doesn’t acknowledge (and which, if you need to know, is unrelated to being a Black antifascist) even though she’s crediting the tactic itself.
Courtney E. Martin, writing for Reasons to Be Cheerful and noting that it was just over year before Rosa Parks’ refusal to move became the Supreme Court’s ruling desegregating public buses, reminds us that it’s been only a month since the police murder of George Floyd — yet small steps already have been taken on the road to defunding the police.
These wins matter, not because they mean the work is done, but because they mean the work is working. Abolition is a long game. You don’t just wave a magic wand and create a society where harm is handled using restorative, rather than punitive, practices, not to mention where the sources of so much harm (alienation, poverty, disinvestment) are eradicated. Or, as Reverend William Barber puts it: “While realism cannot determine the goals of our faith, it must shape our strategy in movements of moral dissent.”
Abolition is not just about police. It’s about a different world. And building that world is going to take sophisticated strategies designed by the wisest movement minds we’ve got. As longtime abolitionist Mariame Kaba writes in The New York Times: “People like me who want to abolish prisons and police… have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.”
Emphasis added, and repeated: the work is working.
“We need to celebrate these moments in the midst of so much tragedy,” she writes. “Joy is the lifeblood of a movement, just as much as rage.” I said something similar just yesterday, in fact while I was reading Rampant‘s list of wins so far.
No lie: when I reached the reminder that “the statue of a slave trader in Bristol, England was tossed into the sea” in Rampant‘s handy and somewhat sanity-affirming list of results forced by the current popular surge of the Black Lives Matter movement (there’s also a second part), I had to pause to laugh all over again. Which is not to say the movement is a laughing matter; more that part of justice must be joy.
K-pop stans—where “stan” basically means a prolific online superfan—have gained a new and appreciative online audience for other acts of protest and organizing, such as hijacking racist hashtags on Twitter and circulating petitions and fundraisers for victims of police violence. On Wednesday, when another fan rally managed to co-opt #whitelivesmatter, a hashtag originally promoted by racists, they cemented their reputation as a powerful force on the side of those demonstrating against police violence. The hashtag stayed trending on Twitter for hours, as people heaped praise on K-pop fans for pausing their relentless promotion of groups like BTS, Blackpink, or EXO and instead pushing for justice.
Stop what you’re doing and look at this. Trust me.
There’s a calendar of Portland Black Lives Matter Events if anyone’s trying to find things to do.
Politico talked to National Guard troops about struggling with their role during recent demonstrations, including in and around Mine Furor’s park-clearing photo-op.