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Da’esh : Washington’s Proxy Army Trained to “Occupy” Syria [Brookings Institute]

Libya 360

November 27, 2014

By Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya
Smoke rises from the the Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane by the Kurds, after a strike from the US-led coalition as it seen from the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on October 14, 2014. (AFP Photo/Aris Messinis)

Is the US planning the occupation of Syria by training an unconventional insurgent invasion force?

Think regime change in Syria is off the drawing board? Think again. The bombing of the ISIL or ISIS in Syria is part of a brinkmanship campaign leading up to a potential non-conventional invasion, parallel to the re-introduction of the US military to Iraq.

The ISIL and the other anti-government forces in Iraq and Syria are not the only ones to disregard the Iraqi-Syrian border drawn by the British and French by Sykes-Picot in 1916. The US also disregarded the border and international law when it began to illegally bomb Syria.

The bombing campaign was not enough for some in the US Congress. In a joint statement on September 23, the arch-hawks US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called for US troops to be sent into Syria too. Both of them praised the Pentagon’s illegal airstrikes in Syria and then argued for US ground troops as well.

Although McCain and Graham went out of their way to say that this would not be an occupation of either Syria or Iraq, this is almost exactly what they were calling for when they said that the military campaign had to also be directed against the Syrian government.

Since, and even before the calls for an invasion of Syria by McCain and Graham different suggestions have circulated about an invasion of Syria.

The dilemma is that Washington does not want the Pentagon to directly invade Syria itself. It wants to pull the strings while another force does the work on the ground. Candidates for an outsourced invasion of Syria include the Turkish military or other US regional allies. There, however is also an impasse here as Washington’s allies are also afraid of the consequences of an invasion of Syria.

This is where a third opinion comes into the picture: the construction of a multinational insurgent army by the US.

Using non-state actors to invade and occupy Syria

While there seems to be no consensus on a Syrian strategy within the US political, intelligence, and military establishments, the objective of regime change is universally adhered to across the board. Regardless of the existence of a consensus, the US is moving ahead with the creation of an anti-government invasion force.

The third option is slowly emerging.

A few days after the US began the bombing of Syria, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey made it clear that the Pentagon also planned on creating a viable anti-government army in Syria consisting of 12,000 to 15,000 insurgents.

There also seems to be a growing consensus among the realist and neocons for US President Obama’s preference of using a rebel army to invade Syria. The Brookings Institute has been a major cheerleader for this.

During this same timeframe, the Brookings Institute released an opinion piece clearly calling for US intervention. The text, authored, by former CIA analyst for monitoring the Persian Gulf and US National Security Council official Kenneth Pollack, stipulated that Washington’s “strategy cannot require sending U.S. troops into combat. Funds, advisers, and even air power are all fair game — but only insofar as they do not lead to American boots on the ground.”

Pollack played an influential role in getting support for the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq. He worked at the Council of Foreign Relations as its director of national security studies. He made the above statement as the director of research for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and goes well beyond it by publishing a drawn-out October 2014 proposal for creating a US-made rebel invasion force as a means of taking over Syria and eventually conducting regime change in Damascus.

The Brookings Institute proposal suggests that a rebel Syrian army “is best not done in Syria itself. At least not at first” (p.9). The report points to the US and NATO success in “covertly” creating armed forces around the world, including the assembly of a Croat military, and deduces that these experiences would make it “entirely realistic for the United States to build a new Syrian opposition army” (p.8). It also says that the ideology of the fighters does not matter by stating the following: “A great many of those recruited may well be religious, even highly religious, including Salafist. That is not the issue” (p.9).

Welcome to the Brookings Institute and its Saban Center

What is the Brookings Institute exactly and why do suggestions from this think tank and others like it, matter?

The Brookings Institute is an influential think tank that has a revolving door of personnel with the US government and major corporations. All that one needs to do is look at its trustees and executives, which include interlocked directorships with the Carlyle Group, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase.

Brookings also has ties to Israel and a full branch dedicated to Washington’s Middle East strategies and policies called the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy. Martin Indyk – the former US ambassador to Israel, a former high-level lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and the founder of AIPAC’s research arm (the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) – is the Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. Like Indyk, Kenneth Pollack was involved in shaping the Middle East policies of the Clinton Administration.

It is also worth noting that the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center is named after US-Israeli businessman and media mogul Haim Saban. Saban himself is on the board of trustees for Brookings.

There is a Qatari connection too. One may remember that Washington was hostile towards Al Jazeera when it first emerged as a news broadcaster, because of its coverage of US actions in the Middle East.

Saban tried to buy half of the Al Jazeera network from Qatar in 2004 and 2009, but failed. In the same timeframe as the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the first set of negotiations happened when he went to Qatar with Bill Clinton in 2003.

It is possible that Brookings may have played a role in pacifying Al Jazeera. In 2009, the Institute setup an overseas branch in Qatar called the Brookings Doha Center. The new chapter in Doha included Qatar’s ruling Al-Thani family alongside people like Madeleine Albright, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Fareed Zakaria as chairs and advisors.

It was in the same year that the Brookings Institute published a report, which included Pollack and Indyk as authors, called Which Path to Persia? The report outlined a map for confronting Iran and alluded to the neutralization of Syria, in one way or another (including the procurement of a peace agreement with Damascus by Israel), to “mitigate blowback” from Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinians, specifically Hamas, as a prerequisite for an enabling an attack on Iran.

All in all, the ideas that come out of the Brookings Institute are discussed at the highest levels within policymaking and corporate circles.

Is the Syrian Invasion Force Slowly Emerging?

Is a rebel invasion force emerging to attack Syria? In no uncertain terms, Brookings argues that it is.

Pollack’s report stipulates the following: “Adopting such a strategy would mean first and foremost that Washington would have to commit itself to building a new Syrian army that will rule Syria when the war is over. Although [Obama’s] description of his new Syria policy was more modest and tepid than his explanation of the Iraq piece of the strategy, he does appear to have committed the United States to just that course. More than that, it will mean putting the resources, prestige and credibility of the United States behind this effort. The $500 million now appropriated is a good start, but it is only a down payment on a much larger project” (p.8).

The US goal of training rebels in Saudi Arabia and Turkey is an indication of this too. On September 10, about two weeks before it started bombing Syria, Washington declared that Saudi Arabia had given it the green light to train a rebel army in the Arabian Peninsula. “We now have the commitment from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be a full partner in this effort — the train-and-equip program — to host that program,” one official was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

The Brookings Institute in its proposal for an invasion of Syria: “The Saudi offer to provide facilities to train 10,000 Syrian opposition fighters is one of reasonable possibility, although one of Syria’s neighbors would probably be preferable. Jordan already serves as a training ground for America’s current training program and it would be an ideal locale to build a real Syrian army. However, Turkey could also conceivably serve that purpose if the Turks were willing” (p.10).

About two months later, in November, after US Vice President Joe Biden met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, it was announced that Kirsehir would be used by Turkey to train Syrian anti-government forces that the US would equip against Damascus.

The report also makes it clear that building the new opposition army “should not mean bolstering the existing ‘Free Syrian Army’” (p.10). Instead, the existing US-backed insurgent groups will slowly be swallowed or destroyed by the new opposition force that the US and its allies are constructing.

In mid-November, the Pentagon also presented a proposal to the US Congress, saying that it wants to arm Iraqi tribesmen with Kalashnikov rifles, rocked propelled grenades, and mortars. What is omitted is the cross-border dispersion of these tribes in both Iraq and Syria and the possibility that these weapons could be used in an attack on the Syrian government.

What moderates?

The talk about supporting “moderates” is very misleading. It is already clear that the ideology of the proposed insurgent army is not a key issue in practice for many US officials. There is also enough evidence to show that the Free Syrian Army, Al-Nusra, the ISIL, and the other insurgent forces are also collaborating and trading fighters.

The Telegraph, for example, had this to say on November 10 about Saddam Jamal, a US-backed Free Syrian Army commander that became an ISIL commander: “Before joining ISIL, Jamal had been a drug dealer, then a commander in the western-backed Free Syrian Army, claiming contacts in the CIA.

It is also clear that religion is a mask for the ISIL too. The same British article writes the following testimony from Saddam Jamal’s body guard about his massacre of a Syrian family: “The ISIL commander felt no remorse for killing this Syrian family, his bodyguard said, nor did he believe he was fulfilling a God-given creed: for him being a member of the extremist group was a matter of business, not religion.

In the end the ISIL may be used to incubate fighters or collapse, like the Free Syrian Army, into the proposed invasion force to occupy Syria.

Invasion army or armies?

General Dempsey said that “the anti-ISIL campaign could take several years to accomplish.” Leon Panetta, the former head of the CIA and Pentagon, has also claimed that this war will turn into a thirty-year US military project that will extend to North Africa, West Africa, and the Horn of Africa.

According to Brookings: “At some point, such a new Syrian army would have to move into Syria, but only when it was ready. Only when a force large enough to conquer and hold territory – something on the order of two to three brigades -were ready should it be sent in” (p.11).

A war of attrition that that will take years of fighting is underway. This matches up with the ideas about training an insurgent invasion force over the years.

In their joint statement Senators McCain and Graham said that President Bashar Assad will not stop fighting the so-called “moderate” US-backed insurgents “that remain committed to his ousting- especially when the United States and [its] partners still, correctly, share the same goal and will now be arming and training Assad’s moderate opponents.” In other words, the US-trained Syrian forces will ultimately target the Syrian government.

 

[Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is a sociologist, award-winning author and geopolitical analyst.]

Obama’s Legacy: Permanent War and Liberal/Radical Accommodation?

Black Agenda Report

February 18, 2015

by BAR editor and columnist Ajamu Baraka

“African American radicals – unlike many white radicals – cannot afford the luxury of being unclear about the nature and interests of the white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial/capitalist order.”

The announcement by the Obama administration that it will seek congressional authorization to expand the war on ISIS in Syria and possibly send more heavy weapons to its client government in Ukraine did not generate the kind of muscular opposition and sense of urgency that one would expect from the anti-interventionist liberals and significant sectors of what use to be the anti-imperialist and anti-war left.

Outside of a few articles written by some of us confined to the marginalized and shrinking left, the reports that the administration was considering both of these courses of action were met with passing indifference. It is as if the capitalist oligarchy’s strategy of permanent war has been accepted as a fait-accompi by the general public and even significant numbers of the left.

The fact that the U.S. President could launch military attacks in Syria, supposedly a sovereign state and member of the United Nations, for six months without any legal justification and not face fierce criticism in the U.S. and internationally demonstrates the embrace of lawlessness that characterizes the current epoch of Western imperialist domination.

And the acquiescence of much of the left in the U.S. and Europe on the issue of Syria and the U.S.-supported coup in Ukraine reveals the moderating and accommodating forces within the faux left that attempts to bully and intimidate anti-imperialist critics.

To oppose the dismemberment of Syria or criticize the dangerous collaboration between the U.S. and racist neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine was reduced to the silly and intellectually lazy arguments that one was “pro-Assad” or a dupe for Putin!

“It is as if the capitalist oligarchy’s strategy of permanent war has been accepted as a fait-accompi by the general public and even significant numbers of the left.”

The current ideological environment did not evolve by accident or by the particular confluence of historical events. The disappearance of anti-imperialism among the cosmopolitan left in the U.S. and Western Europe is reflective of a monumental ideological accomplishment by the propagandists of empire. The professional propagandists of empire and Western dominance were able to adroitly “introject” into the center of the radical world-view and consciousness a liberal ideological framework that privileged “anti-authoritarianism over anti-imperialism.

The political consequence of this shift in consciousness has been disastrous for oppositional left politics throughout the West but particularly in the U.S. As the U.S. increasingly turned to lawless violence to advance its interests over the last seven years of the presidency of Barack Obama, “leftists” in the U.S. objectively aligned themselves with the U.S./EU/NATO axis of domination through their silence or outright support in the name of opposing authoritarian regimes.

The human consequence of this collaboration with U.S. and Western militarization by progressive forces in the U.S. and Europe has translated into unrestrained violent interventions from Libya to Syria and back to Iraq. Along with the escalations of direct military interventions, economic warfare and subversion directed at the state and people of Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and other progressive states in Latin America has resulted in the unnecessary suffering of millions.

And while the left and millions of Europeans will mobilize to condemn the 17 lives lost in the incident in Paris and defend “Western values,” there is no massive moral outrage from the Western public for the millions that have died at the hands of Western imperialism and the death and destruction that is promised with policies being considered for Syria and the Ukraine by the ruling elite in the U.S.

Fortunately, despite the political confusion of many leftists and the moral duplicity of liberals, signs of growing opposition to U.S. war-mongering are emanating from a historically familiar place – African American young people.

“While the left and millions of Europeans will mobilize to condemn the 17 lives lost in the incident in Paris and defend “Western values,” there is no massive moral outrage from the Western public for the millions that have died at the hands of Western imperialism.”

Similar to what occurred in the 1960s when opposition to the Vietnam war was catalyzed by the student organizers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) working on the frontlines of struggle in the deep South, “Black Lives Matter” activists and the many other formations and tendencies crystalizing out of the Ferguson and anti-police violence movements are making the connection between violence and militarization in the internal colonized areas of the U.S. and the state violence being waged by the U.S. state beyond its’ borders.

Resistance to the logic of white supremacist colonialist/capitalist domination on the part of these young activists is leading them to a resolute anti-imperialist and anti-war stance, just like the young black activists of SNCC some fifty years ago.

Alicia Garza one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement offers a welcomed lesson to the faux left:

“There is absolutely a link between the militarization and the use of force to police black communities in the US and the role of the military to police people of color and Black people in the global South. In both scenarios, the police and the military are used to protect private property and the interests of the elite, but are also used to dampen and or eliminate any resistance to the status quo.”

The experiences of these activists in the U.S. and their increasing connections with struggling peoples’ throughout the world is making it clear to them that the slogan “to protect and serve – capital, ” not only applies to the occupation forces that police the racialized colonies inside the U.S. but also the role of the U.S. military abroad.

Black against empire,” is not only a title to a book; it also captures the radical stance that conscious black radicals in the U.S. must assume.

The systemic degradation that characterizes the social experiences of African American workers, the marginalized poor, and working class of all of the oppressed and colonized nations and peoples’ by the U.S. empire, strips away the pretense of a benevolent hegemon. The lived experience of oppression means that African American radicals – unlike many white radicals – cannot afford the luxury of being unclear about the nature and interests of the white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial/capitalist order. It is and will be the primary enemy.

“The slogan “to protect and serve – capital, ” not only applies to the occupation forces that police the racialized colonies inside the U.S. but also the role of the U.S. military abroad.”

On Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the attack in New York city and before it was clear what forces were behind the attack, neoconservative pundits revealing the pre-determined strategy that was to guide U.S. policy in the 21st century, were forcefully arguing that the U.S. must be prepared to use force in the world and in the immediate period to declare war on “militant Islam.” The countries identified for immediate attack included Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Iran, with China thrown in as well.

Permanent war and lawless gangsterism to protect and advance U.S. global economic and political interests was codified in the National Security Strategy (NSS) issued by President Bush on Sept. 21, 2002.

And while the pursuit of that strategy made President Bush the symbol of U.S. arrogance and generated vociferous liberal and progressive opposition, Barack Obama has faithfully carried out that very same neocon strategy becoming the smiling brown face of U.S. polices as morally repugnant as his predecessor – but without progressive, popular opposition.

However, the lack of moral outrage and opposition to the reactionary policies of Barack Obama is changing and will change even more rapidly as the new generation of black activists shift the center of oppositional politics back to the radical black tradition.

When/if that happens, there will be a much needed rebirth of the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement and radical activism in the U.S. will take a qualitative leap forward.

[Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst. Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and columnist for the Black Agenda Report. He is a contributor to “Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence” (Counterpunch Books, 2014). He can be reached at www.AjamuBaraka.com.]

 

How to Uphold White Supremacy by Focusing on Diversity and Inclusion

December 10, 2014 | 2014 in Review

Liberalism’s Inherent Racism

by Kyra

Since the civil rights movement, white people have exploited every opportunity to conceal their colonialist legacy and longstanding (ab)use of white supremacist power. They’ve proven time and again that they have no interest in rectifying that history, only in dealing with the fact that they could no longer deny the reality of those injustices. One effective tactic has been to separate white supremacy and colonialism from the way racism is understood and taught through schools, history textbooks, news media, and through any white-controlled institutions. These lessons, of anti-racism as-told-by-white-people, will be familiar to you: that racism is only explicit racial prejudice; that separatism is the essence of Jim Crow (and therefore inclusion is the antithesis to de jure segregation); and that the remedy for a racist society is a colorblind one.

All of these assumptions are grounded in liberalism: the egalitarian principle which works to ignore and erase difference rather than to undo oppression. It strives for a post-feminist, post-queer, post-racial or racially colorblind world. Liberalism as an ideology deems equal rights and equal treatment as a higher priority than? material justice, or as an effective means towards ?it. Its presumptions of equality are false, as individualist equality may be written into law and policy while material inequality thrives. It effectively abstracts and obscures power dynamics along lines of race, class, and gender. The difference between material justice and liberalism is the difference between actually making reparations for a long history of racism and countries like Austria, Finland, Hungary, France, and now Sweden removing all mentions of “race” from their legislation.

Liberalism is not the opposite of conservatism on a left-right political spectrum, but a set of values that informs various other political ideologies including conservatism and libertarianism. Even the most popular manifestations of feminism and radical political thought (anarchism, communism, and socialism) are their most liberal forms. You can recognize the influence of liberalism in any political philosophy or practice that?, ?consciously or not?, ?focuses on individual equality before social power. What is it that says that ending racism means setting aside our differences and finding commonality? Liberalism. What is it that says that we need love to bring us together and to end the hate which drives us apart? Liberalism. What is it that says to choose unity over disunion? Liberalism. What is it that says racism/sexism/sizeism hurts everyone? Liberalism.

A large public art structure with alphabetical blocks spelling out 'LOVE'.

Photo CC-BY jm scott, filtered.

All of these ideas value a certain perception of equality at the expense of those who suffer due to social inequality. That’s why you’ll notice this rhetoric so frequently employed to dismiss oppressed people who direct their anger…at their oppressors. Through a white-writing of history (and history textbooks) that erases and minimizes all of the revolts that were necessary for change, liberals are able to demand that protesters remain totally peaceful, pacifist, and nonviolent (by which they mean non-destructive of property) in the face of dehumanization, degradation, and absolute repressive violence (the actual destruction of human life). White liberals and their sympathizers take ideas and quotes from Martin Luther King out of context and use them to shame disruptive protesters as rioters and looters, dismiss more militant activists as spiteful and vengeful, blaming them all for their own conditions.

The toxic effects of liberalism are clear in diversity advocacy and its language. Take the reframing of affirmative action as an initiative to promote diversity. Affirmative action was created in recognition of a centuries-long legacy of racism and historically discriminatory hiring/admissions practices. It is remedial in nature, and requires the recognition of past and ongoing wrongs that need to be righted. In stark contrast to this, diversity emphasizes the pragmatic benefits to morale, productivity, and profits. Diversity is the practice of mixing together different bodies within a common organization, and is a prime resource to be capitalized upon by businesses and organizations that are white owned and/or operated. Diversity still benefits those in power by taking advantage of the various experiences and vantage points of different racial/gender/sexual backgrounds. Rather than respecting difference and redistributing power based on it, diversity only “celebrates” difference in order to exploit multiculturalism for its economic value.

There is a reason that diversity is consistently promoted as being beneficial to everyone, disregarding who benefits most from various arrangements of diversity. As a dominant mode of thought, we must challenge liberalism if we hope to challenge the structures of domination that it both masks and reinforces, through diversity or otherwise.

A wall that reads 'Imagine' with a peace symbol on it.

Image CC-BY Matteo Piotto, filtered.

“Inclusivity” and “exclusivity” are politically meaningless without context and divert attention away from specific power dynamics. In common use, they are assigned inherently positive and negative values without specifying who is being included or excluded. This is why you might see a group proudly promote itself as being more “open” and “inclusive” than a group which is intentionally exclusive to create a safer space for a specific marginalized group. This is because de jure segregation is so strongly associated with racism. Still, segregation is not racist in and of itself. It is racist depending on a history of white supremacy, depending on who is enforcing segregation, and depending on the material impact of said segregation.

While after a history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, fighting for desegregation was obviously necessary, but that progress is not inherent to diversity and inclusion. They are only valuable insofar as they reduce a white stronghold on power. How would racial diversity or the inclusion of men benefit the organizational team behind Black Girl Dangerous? What about organizations like the Trans Women of Color Collective or INCITE! which could only be opened to more racial diversity through the inclusion of whites? Diversity and inclusion whitewash and undermine the very basis of their value for racial justice and feminism: providing access to resources, representation, and power to identity groups that lack them. Not only is “inclusivity” politically meaningless, but to frame the benefits of stronger representation of marginalized races, genders, etc. within “diversity” gravely strips the progress it provides of its power and political significance. There is then danger in uncritically advocating for—or even just discussing power dynamics in terms of—diversity or inclusivity.

Closed spaces for marginalized identities are essential, especially ones for multiply marginalized identities, as we know from intersectionality (not to be confused with the idea that all oppression is interconnected, as many white women who have appropriated the term as self-proclaimed “intersectional feminists” seem to understand it). Any group, whether organized around a shared marginalized identity or not, will by-default be centered around the most powerful within that group. For example, cisgender white women will dominate women’s groups that aren’t run by or consciously centering trans women and women of color. A requirement for all groups to be fully open and inclusive invites the derailment and silencing of marginalized voices already pervasive in public spaces, preventing alternative spaces of relative safety from that to form. Hegemony trickles down through layers of identity, but liberation surges upwards from those who experience the most compounded layers of oppression.

So why do so many people seeking racial justice, female empowerment, and queer liberation still choose to advocate for “diversity” and “inclusion”? They appeal to liberalism. They prevent oppression from being named. They prevent us from speaking truth to power. They make progress sound friendly to those in power. Companies can tokenize women and people of color throughout their advertising. They can get way more credit than they deserve for being not 100% white men. They can profit from the increases in efficiency and productivity associated with more diversity. All of the above ignore the fact that companies needed to have diversity initiatives to make them less overwhelmingly white in the first place; that white people are the ones in the position of being able to grant access in the first place. When we work for justice and liberation, we can’t accept progress that is conditional on being economically beneficial.

The only way to prevent that is to name oppression for what it is; to speak truth to power. If a group is dominated by whites, men, and other privileged classes, don’t let that be reduced to a diversity issue.

You may have seen the phrase before and possibly even used it yourself, but if you still focus on inclusion and diversity, you don’t truly understand: assimilation ? liberation. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we necessarily position marginalized groups as naturally needing to assimilate into dominant ones, rather than to undermine said structures of domination. Yes, we need jobs; we need education; we need to access various resources. What we don’t need is to relegate ourselves to the position of depending on someone else to offer us inclusion and access to those resources. Inclusion is something they must give, but our liberation is something we will take. The cost of assimilation is always in the well-being and lives of those who are not close enough to power to be able to assimilate. Another less popular expression of our expression more sharply calls attention to these dangers of uncritical integrationism: assimilation = death.

 

This work is licensed under the Decolonial Media License 0.1.

 

[Kyra is a Chinese-Amerikan trans woman working to create space for radical racial justice through technology where progress has been limited to liberal white feminism. She serves on the board of directors of the Free Culture Foundation and founded the Empowermentors Collective, a skillshare, discussion, and support network for trans, disabled, and queer people of color who share a critical interest in race, gender, and technology. She Tweets in spurts and bouts @kxra.]

The Virgin Fallacy: From the Famine Cotton Board to the Millennium Village Project

Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa (CIHA)

February 13, 2015

by Cilas Kemedjio

 

In this three-part series (we post Part One today), Cilas Kemedjio takes on the ongoing crusade to spread neoliberal dogma and “western values.”  Part Two addresses William Easterly’s call to governments and aid agencies to be “guardians of virtue,” while Part Three moves to the continued efforts of Jeffrey Sachs to create development nirvanas in African (and other) societies.

 

TOE

The cover story in The Economist (June 1997) was “Emerging Africa.” It was a classic display of the arrogant paternalism that has come to be the hallmark of the new humanitarianism. We are told that poor countries, referred to as “swallowers of endless charity,” will continue to make “legitimate demands on the conscience of the rich world.” In order to maximize the efficiency of aid programs, reforming corrupt models of governance should be the priority of donors: “If a country’s government is too venal or incompetent to spend the money as specified, it must be told to allow non-governmental organizations to step in or do without aid altogether” (The Economist 13-14). William Easterly makes the case for this neoliberal agenda in the language of virtue in his book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. Easterly, a believer in the “Invisible Hand” theorized by Adam Smith, advocates an orthodox laissez-faire capitalism, that, coupled with democratic institutions, is the golden path towards growth. Jeffrey Sachs, in an article (“The Limits of Convergence: Nature, nurture and growth”) published in the same issue, credits Adam Smith for understanding better than modern economists the curse of tropical geography, that is, the link between geography and poverty (or growth). Sachs contends that global capitalism is “the most promising institutional arrangement for worldwide prosperity that history has ever seen.” Sachs claims that market-based policies and “fiscal rectitude” can help mitigate the “disabilities of the tropics.” The Economist, Easterly and Sachs all agree that good governance constitute the most important factor in the march out of extreme poverty: “Good government is not just a moral concern, or a basis for social stability and political legitimacy. Corruption, government breach of contract, expropriation of property, and inefficiency in public administration are found to harm growth.” For Sachs western economic domination may have been built upon the West’s nearly exclusive hold on capitalism. In the era of globalization, he suggests that economic prosperity should become “common property.” Jeffrey Sachs, the humanitarian at the center of Nina Munk’s The Idealist Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, and Easterly, the unapologetic advocate of globalization, do find another common ground: the virgin fallacy.

idealistThe concept of virginity is at the heart of the undertakings of European colonization, from slavery to humanitarianism without borders by way of colonization. The tabula rasa authorizes the colonial project with the attendant exploitation of human resources whose privileged modality is constituted of forced labor. The virginal state presupposes a certain laziness or morbidity of native residents, whence the exotic mythologies of the unused reserves of human energy that precede the enslavement of peoples expropriated from their virgin lands. Allen Isaacman and Richard Roberts, in Cotton, Colonialism, and Social History is Sub-Saharan Africa (1995), argue that programs of cotton colonialism were built upon the empirical observations and fantasies of European visitors, traders, missionaries, and administrators. Their view of Africa’s potential to produce cotton stemmed from the nineteenth-century romantic images of Africa as a beautiful tropical region through the prism of neo-mercantile policies. Most expectations rested on the assumption that African rural societies enjoyed abundant leisure that could be used to fuel the cotton industry. The colonial production scheme was also based on the presumption of an underutilized labor force, the consequence of Africans being “congenitally lazy.” Therefore, it was the divine duty of colonial nations to “heal” this malady by forcing Africans in the cotton fields.

Jean-Paul Sartre, in his much-celebrated preface to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, writes that the invention of the native was a result of the reduction of “the inhabitants of the annexed country to the level of superior monkeys in order to justify the settler’s treatments of them as beasts of burden.” Starvation was only one of the modalities for achieving the complete breakdown of the humanity of the colonized. Isaacman argues that “Mozambican peasants underwrote the Portuguese textile industry with their labor and were forced to sacrifice their own food security” (Cotton is the Mother of Poverty 1996). The Famine Control Board, established by the Portuguese, could be said to represent a Humanitarian Mission at the heart of colonial exploitation.

If colonies were the grounds for the first Humanitarian missions of modern times, the battlegrounds of the Nigerian civil war, otherwise known as the Biafra war (1967-1970), became the theater of another experimentation: partisan humanitarianism. This new brand of humanitarian intervention, popularized by Doctors Without Borders, has recently become the cornerstone of the new ethical order world order. The Right to Protect, as it is known, institutionalizes the sovereignty of human rights over State sovereignty. Libya and Côte d’Ivoire have been, for better or for worse, targeted for this humanitarian experimentation. Jean Ping, the former President of the African Union Commission, laments how Libya is in chaos, after the NATO bombings that left the country in shambles and more than 50,000 deaths according to various estimates (Éclipse sur l’Afrique. Fallait-il tuer Kadhafi? 2014). Côte d’Ivoire has yet to recover from the disastrous French and United Nations military intervention following what amounted to be nothing more than a post-electoral dispute (Laurent Gbagbo selon François Mattei. Pour la Vérité et la Justice. Révélations sur un scandale français, 2014). I argue that this transformation of Africa as a ground where new experiments in international affairs are conducted proceeds from the Virgin Fallacy.

Easterly, in the name of fighting poverty, ends up casting Africa as a virgin land waiting to be molded by the conquistadores of morality and democracy, this time charged with the mission to protect the rights of the poor: “If you wonder what you can do about global poverty, here is virgin territory for action” (Easterly 34; emphasis added). The salvation of the poor, this theory surmises, will only come as a consequence of the spread of individual rights that are “Western values.” Sachs would probably agree with the assessment about the failure of development in Africa, but contends that it’s because foreign aid has been insufficient to generate satisfactory results. Sachs’s humanitarian approach to fight extreme poverty takes the form of the Millennium Villages Project while Easterly’s relies on the neoliberal dogma of free enterprise, globalization, and political freedom. Easterly is critical of Sachs’s philanthropic approach that seeks to create islands of successes in a sea of failure. Sachs’ humanitarianism is an experiment designed “to test his theories about ending poverty, and to demonstrate that his proposed series of interventions could be used on a grand scale to eradicate extreme poverty across Africa” (Munk 213). These theories, manufactured in Western laboratories, do not account for the complexities of African communities. The inability to learn from failures and successes that are written into the long history of fighting poverty in Africa calls into question this experiment that inevitably resurrects the tabula rasa mindset. In this sense, it does remain trapped within the paradigm of Africa as virgin territory.

 

[Cilas Kemedjio is Director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies at the University of Rochester and co-editor of the CIHA Blog.]

WATCH: Dr. Sohail Daulatzai: “Welcome to the Terrordome”

Published on May 22, 2013

“As the profound anti-Muslim racism of the post-9/11 era deepens, the role and place of Muslims in the U.S. is under intense scrutiny by both Muslims and non-Muslims, as questions around “radicalization,” citizenship, and belonging continue the shape these debates. But the fears of Islam and Muslims in the United States are not new. In fact, they can be traced back to the presence and legacy of Malcolm X, who sought to internationalize the struggles of Black people in the U.S. and connect them with the struggles taking place throughout the non-white world. As Malcolm X said, “the same rebellion, the same impatience, the same anger that exists in the hearts of the dark people in Africa and Asia, is existing in the hearts and minds of 20 million black people in this country who have been just as thoroughly colonized as the people in Africa and Asia.”

In framing white supremacy as a global phenomenon, and understanding the systemic roots of inequality, Malcolm X provides us with a historic lens and contemporary frame for thinking about the role and place of Muslims in the United States, as endless war is waged, racism persists and capitalism wreaks havoc around the world.”

 



 

 

[Sohail Daulatzai is an Associate Professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies and the Program in African American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America (2012) and is the co-editor (with Michael Eric Dyson) of Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic (2009). His writing has appeared in The Nation, Counterpunch, Al Jazeera, Souls, Amer-Asia, Black Routes to Islam, and Basketball Jones, amongst others. He has written liner for the 2012 release of the 20th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set of Rage Against the Machine’s self titled debut album, the liner notes for the DVD release of Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme and the centerpiece in the museum catalog Movement: Hip-Hop in L.A., 1980’s — Now.]

Islam, Hip Hop and the Liberation Struggle w/ Daulatzai & Almustafa

Published on Feb 9, 2015

Islam, Hip Hop, and the Black liberation struggle as discussed with acclaimed author and professor, Dr. Sohail Doulatzi. Plus the People’s Poet, Kahlil Almustafa. teleSUR


 

 

 

Western Intervention and The Colonial Mindset

conformity-is-unity-3
Poster courtesy of Mark Gould
January 20, 2015
By Prof. Tim Anderson
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In these times of ‘colour revolutions’ language has been turned on its head. Banks have become the guardians of the natural environment, sectarian fanatics are now ‘activists’ and the Empire protects the world from great crimes, rather than delivering them.

Colonisation of language is at work everywhere, amongst highly educated populations, but is peculiarly virulent in colonial culture. ‘The West’, that self-styled epitome of advanced civilisation, energetically reinvents its own history, to perpetuate the colonial mindset.

Writers such as Fanon and Freire pointed out that colonised peoples experience psychological damage and need to ‘decolonise’ their minds, so as to become less deferential to imperial culture and to affirm more the values of their own cultures. The other side to that is the colonial legacy on imperial cultures. Western peoples maintain their own culture as central, if not universal, and have difficulty listening to or learning from other cultures. Changing this requires some effort.

Powerful elites are well aware of this process and seek to co-opt critical forces within their own societies, colonising progressive language and trivialising the role of other peoples. For example, after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the idea that NATO forces were protecting Afghan women was promoted and gained popularity. Despite broad opposition to the invasion and occupation, this ‘humanitarian’ goal appealed to the missionary side of western culture. In 2012 Amnesty International put up posters saying ‘NATO: keep the progress going’, on women’s rights in Afghanistan, while the George W. Bush Institute collected money to promote Afghan women’s rights.

The unfortunate balance sheet of NATO’s 13-year occupation is not so encouraging. The UNDP’s 2013 report shows that only 5.8% of Afghan women have had some secondary schooling (7th lowest in the world), the average Afghan woman has 6 babies (equal 3rd highest rate in the world, and linked to low education), maternal mortality is at 470 (equal 19th highest in the world) and average life expectancy is 49.1 years (equal 6th lowest in the world). Not impressive ‘progress’.

In many ways the long ‘feminist war’ in Afghanistan drew on the British legacy in colonial India. As part of its great ‘civilising mission’ that empire claimed to be protecting Indian women from ‘sati’, the practise of widows throwing themselves (or being thrown) on their husband’s funeral pyre. In fact, colonial rule brought little change to this isolated practice. On the other hand, the wider empowerment of girls and women under the British Raj was a sorry joke. At independence adult literacy was only 12%, and that of women much less. While India still lags in many respects, educational progress was much faster after 1947.

Such facts have not stopped historians like Niall Ferguson and Lawrence James attempting to sanitise British colonial history, not least to defend the more recent interventions. It might appear difficult to justify colonialism, but the argument seems to have a better chance amongst peoples with a colonial past seeking some vindication from within their own history and culture.

North American language is a bit different, as the United States of America claims never to have been a colonial power. The fact that US declarations of freedom and equality were written by slave-owners and ethnic-cleansers (the US Declaration of Independence famously attacks the British for imposing limits on the seizure of Native American land) has not dimmed enthusiasm for those fine ideals. That skilful tradition certainly influences the presentation of Washington’s recent interventions.

After the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq we saw a change in approach, with the big powers enlisting sectarian fanatics against the independent states of the region. Even the new Iraqi state, emerging from the post-2003 rubble, was attacked by these fanatics. An ‘Arab Spring’ saw Libya trampled by a pseudo-revolution backed by NATO bombing, then delivered to a bunch of squabbling al Qaeda groups and western collaborators. The little country that once had the highest living standards in Africa went backwards decades.

Next came brave Syria, which has resisted at terrible cost; but the propaganda war runs thick. Few in the west seem to be able to penetrate it. The western left shares illusions with the western right. What was at first said to be a nationalist and secular ‘revolution’ – an uprising against a ‘dictator’ who was killing his own people – is now led by ‘moderate rebels’ or ‘moderate Islamists’. The extremist Islamists, who repeatedly publicise their own atrocities, are said to be a different species, against whom Washington finally decided to fight. Much of this might sound ridiculous to the average educated Arab or Latin American, but it retains some appeal in the west.

One reason for the difference is that nation and state mean something different in the west. The western left has always seen the state as monolithic and nationalism as something akin to fascism; yet in the former colonies some hope remains with the nation-state. Western populations have never had their own Ho Chi Minh, Nelson Mandela, Salvador Allende, Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro. One consequence of this is, as much as western thinkers might criticise their own states, they are reluctant to defend others. Many who criticise Washington or Israel will not defend Cuba or Syria .

All this makes proxy wars more marketable in the west. We could even say they have been a relatively successful tactic of imperial intervention, from the contra war on Nicaragua to the proxy armies of Islamists in Libya and Syria. So long as the big power is not seen to be directly involved, western audiences can find quite attractive the idea that they are helping another people rise up and gain their ‘freedom’.

Even Noam Chomsky, author of many books on US imperialism and western propaganda, adopts many of the western apologetics for the intervention in Syria. In a 2013 interview with a Syrian opposition paper he claimed the foreign-backed, Islamist insurrection was a repressed ‘protest movement’ that had been forced to militarise and that America and Israel had no interest in bringing down the Syrian Government. He admitted he was ‘excited’ by Syria’s uprising, but rejected the idea of a ‘responsibility to protect’ and opposed direct US intervention without a UN mandate. Nevertheless, he joined cause with those who want to ‘force’ the Syrian Government to resign, saying ‘nothing can justify Hezbollah’s involvement’ in Syria, after the Lebanese resistance group worked with the Syrian Army to turn the tide against the NATO-backed jihadists.

How do western anti-imperialists come to similar conclusions to those of the White House? First there is the anarchist or ultra-left idea of opposing all state power. This leads to attacks on imperial power yet, at the same time, indifference or opposition to independent states. Many western leftists even express enthusiasm at the idea of toppling an independent state, despite knowing the alternatives, as in Libya, will be sectarianism, bitter division and the destruction of important national institutions.

Second, reliance on western media sources has led many to believe that the civilian massacres in Syria were the work of the Syrian Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. A careful reading of the evidence will show that almost all the civilian massacres in Syria (Houla, Daraya, Aqrab, Aleppo University, East Ghouta) were carried out by sectarian Islamist groups, and sometimes falsely blamed on the government, in attempts to attract greater ‘humanitarian intervention’.

The third element which distorts western anti-imperial ideas is the constrained and self-referential nature of discussions. The parameters are policed by corporate gatekeepers, but also reinforced by broader western illusions of their own civilising influence.

A few western journalists have reported in sufficient detail to help illustrate the Syrian conflict, but their perspectives are almost always conditioned by the western ‘liberal’ and humanitarian narratives. Indeed, the most aggressive advocacy of ‘humanitarian intervention’ in recent years has come from liberal media outlets like the UK Guardian and corporate-NGOs such as Avaaz, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Those few journalists who maintain an independent perspective, like Arab-American Sharmine Narwani, publish mostly outside the better-known corporate media channels.

Imperial culture also conditions the humanitarian aid industry. Ideological pressure comes not just from the development banks but also the NGO sector, which maintains a powerful sense of mission, even a ‘saviour complex’ about its relations with the rest of the world. While ‘development cooperation’ may have once included ideas of compensation for colonial rule, or assistance during a transition to independence, today it has become a $100 billion a year industry, with decision making firmly in the hands of western financial agencies.

Quite apart from the dysfunction of many aid programs, this industry is deeply undemocratic, with powerful colonial overtones. Yet many western aid workers really believe they can ‘save’ the poor peoples of the world. That cultural impact is deep. Aid agencies not only seek to determine economic policy, they often intervene in political and even constitutional processes. This is done in the name of ‘good governance’, anti-corruption or ‘democracy strengthening’. Regardless of the problems of local bodies, it is rarely admitted that foreign aid agencies are the least democratic players of all.

For example, at the turn of this century, as Timor Leste gained its independence, aid bodies used their financial muscle to prevent the development of public institutions in agriculture and food security, and pushed that new country into creating competitive political parties, away from a national unity government. Seeking an upper hand amongst the ‘donor community’, Australia then aggravated the subsequent political division and crisis of 2006. With ongoing disputes over maritime boundaries and petroleum resources, Australian academics and advisers were quick to seize on that moment of weakness to urge that Timor Leste’s main party be ‘reformed’, that its national army be sidelined or abolished and that the country adopt English as a national language. Although all these pressures were resisted, it seemed in that moment that many Australian ‘friends’ of Timor Leste imagined they had ‘inherited’ the little country from the previous colonial rulers. This can be the peculiar western sense of ‘solidarity’.

Imperial cultures have created a great variety of nice-sounding pretexts for intervention in the former colonies and newly independent countries. These pretexts include protecting the rights of women, ensuring good governance and helping promote ‘revolutions’. The level of double-speak is substantial.

Those interventions create problems for all sides. Independent peoples have to learn new forms of resistance. Those of good will in the imperial cultures might like to reflect on the need to decolonise the western mind.

Such a process, I suggest would require consideration of (a) the historically different views of the nation-state, (b) the important, particular functions of post-colonial states, (c) the continued relevance and importance of the principle of self-determination, (d) the need to bypass a systematically deceitful corporate media and (e) the challenge of confronting fond illusions over the supposed western civilising influence. All these seem to form part of a neo-colonial mindset, and may help explain the extraordinary western blindness to the damage done by intervention.

 

 

References

Tim Anderson (2006) ‘Timor Leste: the Second Australian Intervention’, Journal of Australian Political Economy, No 58, December, pp.62-93

Tony Cartalucci (2012) ‘Amnesty International is US State Department propaganda’, Global research, 22 August, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/amnesty-international-is-us-state-department-propaganda/32444

Ann Wright and Coleen Rowley (2012) ‘Ann Wright and Coleen Rowley’, Consortium News, June 18, online: https://consortiumnews.com/2012/06/18/amnestys-shilling-for-us-wars/

Noam Chomsky (2013) ‘Noam Chomsky: The Arab World And The Supernatural Power of the United States’, Information Clearing House, 16 June, online: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article35527.htm

Bush Centre (2015) ‘Afghan Women’s Project’, George W, Bush Centre, online: http://www.bushcenter.org/womens-initiative/afghan-womens-project

Some detail of Syria’s ‘false flag’ massacres can be seen in the following articles:

Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh (2013) ‘Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack’, MINT PRESS, August 29, online:http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/

Rainer Hermann (2012) ‘Abermals Massaker in Syrien’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 7 June, online: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/neue-erkenntnisse-zu-getoeteten-von-hula-abermals-massaker-in-syrien-11776496.html

Stephen Lendman (2012) Insurgents Named Responsible for Syrian Massacres’, ICH, 11 June: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article31544.htm

Richard Lloyd and Theodore A. Postol (2014) ‘Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013’, MIT, January 14, Washington DC, online:https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1006045-possible-implications-of-bad-intelligence.html#storylink=relast

Marinella Correggia, Alfredo Embid, Ronda Hauben, Adam Larson (2013) ‘Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre of May 2012’, CIWCL,May 15, online: http://ciwclibya.org/reports/realtruthhoula.html

ISTEAMS (2013) ‘Independent Investigation of Syria Chemical Attack Videos and Child Abductions’, 15 September, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/STUDY_THE_VIDEOS_THAT_SPEAKS_ABOUT_CHEMICALS_BETA_VERSION.pdf

Seymour Hersh (2013) ‘Whose Sarin?’, LRB, 19 December, online: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

Souad Mekhennet (2014) ‘The terrorists fighting us now? We just finished training them’, Washington Post, August 18, online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/08/18/the-terrorists-fighting-us-now-we-just-finished-training-them/

Marat Musin (2012b) ‘THE HOULA MASSACRE: Opposition Terrorists “Killed Families Loyal to the Government’, Global research, 1 June, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-houla-massacre-opposition-terrorists-killed-families-loyal-to-the-government/31184?print=1

Sharmine Narwani (2014) ‘Syria: the hidden massacre’, RT, 7 May, online: http://rt.com/op-edge/157412-syria-hidden-massacre-2011/

Sharmine Narwani (2014) ‘Joe Biden’s latest foot in mouth’, Veterans News Now, October 3, online: http://www.veteransnewsnow.com/2014/10/03/510328joe-bidens-latest-foot-in-mouth/

Truth Syria (2012) ‘Syria – Daraa revolution was armed to the teeth from the very beginning’, BBC interview with Anwar Al-Eshki,YouTube, 7 November, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoGmrWWJ77w

Movement Ferguson, Beware the Nonprofit Industrial Complex

Black Agenda Report (Image & Video courtesy of Libya360)

January 21, 2015

by

Reuters/Stephen Lam

“As our movement evolves and we remain dependent on major donors and foundations instead of building grassroots funding, we will always be hindered and misdirected away from the trek toward fundamental systemic change.”

An article in London’s DailyMail.com about the funding that Billionaire George Soros and his Open Society Foundation is giving to organizations in the Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter movement has sparked defense of Soros on social media and speculation that the article is part of an extreme right agenda or mentality to belittle the movement and discredit “funders committed to racial justice.” For sure, a quick web search shows there is hardly a shortage of rightwing extremists disparaging Soros’ bankrolling of liberally progressive organizations and programs.

But applying a more left than liberal analysis to the article and to Soros reveals there is a deeper, dare one say, warning for the left. The DailyMail.com isn’t right wing by any U.S. corporate press standard. More revealing and to the point is that the history of his Open Society funding in all sorts of social justice efforts nationally and internationally (not just Ferguson) can be compared to the strategy used by formations like Stephen Currier’s Council for United Civil Rights Leadership that sterilized the Civil Rights Movement of its Black Power and other more radical elements that were legitimately elevating the struggle for civil rights to a struggle for human rights.

In Malcolm X’s eloquent fashion, he described how white philanthropy and white leadership influenced civil rights organizations at the time of the March on Washington:

“They had a meeting at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City. The Carlyle Hotel is owned by the Kennedy family; that’s the hotel Kennedy spent the night at, two nights ago; it belongs to his family. A philanthropic society headed by a white man named Stephen Currier called all the top civil-rights leaders together at the Carlyle Hotel. And he told them, ‘By you all fighting each other, you are destroying the civil-rights movement. And since you’re fighting over money from white liberals, let us set up what is known as the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership. Let’s form this council, and all the civil-rights organizations will belong to it, and we’ll use it for fund-raising purposes.’ Let me show you how tricky the white man is. As soon as they got it formed, they elected Whitney Young as its chairman, and who do you think became the co-chairman? Stephen Currier, the white man, a millionaire. Powell was talking about it down at Cobo Hall today. This is what he was talking about. Powell knows it happened. Randolph knows it happened. Wilkins knows it happened. King knows it happened. Every one of that so-called Big Six–they know what happened!


“Once they formed it, with the white man over it, he promised them and gave them $800,000 to split up between the Big Six; and told them that after the march was over they’d give them $700,000 more. A million and a half dollars–split up between leaders that you have been following, going to jail for, crying crocodile tears for. And they’re nothing but Frank James and Jesse James and the what-do-you-call-‘em brothers.”

“We know in our organizations we have conversations and make decisions about the best ways to make ourselves more ‘attractive’ to funders.”

The Council for United Civil Rights Leadership also advanced the confining and prohibitive nature of to the Non-profit Industrial Complex as we know it today by centralizing donations and then discouraging tendencies toward building independent grassroots funding bases. The Counsel worked to oppose tactics like civil disobedience and boycotts by controlling distribution of funds and using connections to corporate media establishment.

Out of necessity Soros has obviously taken this strategy to a new level to be make it commensurate with today’s evolved political and ideological movement. While, of course, few if anyone may be “getting rich,” no one – particularly those of us working in the non-profit industry – can deny the influence funders have on what not-for-profit formations do or won’t do, what political positions they take or don’t take, etc. Even if, as the director of Soros’s fund disclaims “they have no ‘direct’ control over the groups they give to, and said they are all trying to improve accountability.” “Direct” is the operative word.

If we think of this as funders literally dictating to organizations we will miss how this works. An organization or individual doesn’t have to be told anything directly. Those who do foundation fundraising know the first level of control is “fitting” within funders’ guidelines just to apply. The next level is how radical an organization will dare go after receiving money when they know (no matter if it’s a person who is a major donor or a foundation) funders are generally more politically conservative than those applying for funds and that they will invariably need refunding. We know in our organizations we have conversations and make decisions about the best ways to make ourselves more “attractive” to funders. These are just two ways funders can control social movements.

There is a radical element to the Ferguson movement that realizes the police and the whole judicial system are agents of the state and the power elite, corporate class. They realize this is not merely an issue of “accountability,” as framed by the Open Society Director in the DailyMail.com article. These radical and more politically clear elements see that this is about more than isolated incidents like that of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin. They are calling and working for human rights, peoples’ empowerment which would ultimately threaten the status quo to which funders like Soros belong.

“This is not merely an issue of “accountability.”

Together with historical and political context, the DailyMail.com article affords us an opportunity to more critically analyze the role and influences of the non-profit industrial complex. For example, the article reports that, “One recipient of his funding is the Organization for Black Struggle, which in turned established a group called the Hands Up Coalition, that has helped make ubiquitous the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ slogan.” However, without disapproving of the slogan, the tactic of non-violent civil disobedience, or the Hands Up Coalition, there are also those in this national movement looking at the legitimacy of self-defense as was done in the 50s and 60s. They’ve questioned the “hands up, don’t shoot” slogan and offered an alternative, “fists up, fight back.” While the politically faint of heart may want to reduce such a slogan as foolhardy and irresponsible, they would be reminiscent of those during the Civil Rights movement who denounced, criticized, and mischaracterized armed self-defense as well as the Black Power movement; of those who misrepresented or misunderstood the essence of what was at stake. Many of them today attempt to rewrite that history and sterilize it of its progressive examples and effectiveness of armed self-defense.

It would be naive to think the likes of Soros and his Open Society Foundation/Institute would ever fund an organization like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement that pulled the covers off of the national epidemic of impunity for police murders with its 2012 report, “Trayvon Martin is All of Us,” showing that every 28 hours a Black person is murdered in the U.S. by agents of the corporate controlled U.S. government and those agents given impunity. We should likewise doubt Soros’ OS would support their follow up resource, “Let Your Motto Be Resistance: A Handbook on Organizing New Afrikan and Oppressed Communities for Self-Defense.

The big picture to see are the broad and long term effects of rich people and all those with vested interest in the nonprofit industrial complex controlling the purse strings of our movement. As our movement evolves and we remain dependent on major donors and foundations instead of building grassroots funding, we will always be hindered and misdirected away from the trek toward fundamental systemic change.

Many of us recognize the easier said than done lessons from the Church about building a grassroots funding base. For centuries the Church has done this very well.

The difficult part of creating a grassroots funding base for politically radical action is raising the level of political consciousness among the Black masses such that we embrace the indispensability of funding our own work to realize true empowerment and self-reliance. Too many Black organizers think we need the Black elite but the masses outnumber the elite class by so much that it’s not unreasonable to envision 200 thousand people contributing and average of 5 dollars a year with which we could fund some independent and radical programs to the tune of millions.

This will require revolutionary organization and revolutionary consciousness. Sekou Ture of Guinea taught us, “Without revolutionary consciousness there can be no revolution. Without political education and revolutionary practice there can be no revolutionary consciousness.”

Dependence on the philanthropy of capitalists can never be revolutionary.

 

[Netfa Freeman is a long time Pan-Africanist, human rights activists based in DC and a co-host/producer for Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM.]

FLASHBACK: CrossTalk on Haiti: Year of Agony

Video uploaded on Jan 12, 2011

“On this edition of Peter Lavelle’s CrossTalk, he asks his guests why aid efforts in Haiti have largely failed. Who is to blame? Is it the U.N., the U.S. and its NGOs or is it the fault of the Haitian people?”

What’s Worked in the Past Learning From Ferguson [Part II]

Counterpunch

December 19

by Peter Gelderloos

michael_brown_2-shirin-barghi-e1408343220377

The officer demanded that the two “get the f—k on the sidewalk, Johnson says. “His exact words were get the f—k on the sidewalk.” -gawker.com  

 

The announcement of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson caught me on the road, traveling to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday. The next day I found myself in a protest, one of over a hundred occurring across the country. There I witnessed a scene that has played out many times before, and was probably being repeated at that exact moment in other cities.

A few protesters had just vandalized a yuppie restaurant on a strip targeted for heavy gentrification in that particular city. The windows were spraypainted with a slogan related to the murder of Michael Brown, and the restaurant’s sandwich board was stolen and pulled into the streets.

“What are you doing?” a young white person complained, looking on with a combination of shock and disgust. “We’re here to protest for Michael Brown!”

One of the offenders, identity obscured by a black mask, looked over at their interlocutor and laughed sardonically, “Oh yeah, gentrification and police violence have nothing to do with each other!”

“We have to do this peacefully!” the other marcher persisted.

“When has that ever worked?” the black clad anarchist scoffed.

“Um, hello? Martin Luther King!” She rolled her eyes as though she were stating the most obvious, self-evident fact in the world.

“Martin Luther King had armed bodyguards at his events, learn history!” the would-be rioter shot back.

The crowd was racially diverse. I wasn’t counting, and the makeup of the protest was constantly shifting, but at times a majority were people of color. Yet the three times that I saw people object to “violence” (the use of fireworks, the vandalizing of the restaurant, and the dragging of a reflective barrier into the road as the march took to a highway, rather a safety oriented action if you ask me, given that it was dark and the protesters needed to warn off the oncoming traffic), the peace police were white. Meanwhile, the people who could be seen shooting fireworks at cops, dragging obstacles into the streets, insulting the cops, and yelling things like “burn it all down,” or applauding any of these actions, were black, latino, and white.

While I did not see any white people lecture any people of color that they should be peaceful because “Martin Luther King,” it is something I have seen happen elsewhere, and it is a message that constantly gets reinforced subtextually.

There is a very real debate to be had about tactics and strategies when we take to the streets in response to police killings. As I argued in Part I of this essay, that debate is largely shut down by those who seek to regenerate the police by reforming, rather than talking about abolishing the police; such reformers have the habit of vituperatively attacking others who raise that question.

It was dealt with more honestly in the streets of Ferguson, though. According to one participant’s account:

“anytime I heard someone say we shouldn’t throw things at the police (not because it was wrong, but out of fear they’d shoot us) I was able to have good conversations—saying it’s a way we take power from them and give it to ourselves. Even when people were super upset, by the end of the conversation even if we still didn’t agree it was clear we respected each other.”

Wherever order reigns, however, the non-debate plays out as I have described above. There is a widely held belief, among white people anyways, that history has already spoken, and that the only effective and ethical response to systemic injustice, and especially racism, is meek nonviolence, because, well, you know, “Martin Luther King.”

Beyond this discursive chokehold lies a very complex history that has been, in large part, falsified, and a problematic relationship between white people and people of color that seems to be repeating itself, revealing tragic parallels between white people’s involvement in the Civil Rights struggle and white people’s involvement in the unfolding movement against police violence today, even as many of those same white people cite a distorted version of the earlier struggle’s history, stripped down to exclude all the failings and all the lessons that might be learned.

I could start by pointing out how the form of nonviolence that is pedaled by the mostly white progressive Left today is a pathetically watered-down, superficial, meek comfort-zone politics compared to what was being used during the Civil Rights movement, but I will leave that to the pacifists. It’s not my responsibility to get nonviolence back into fighting shape, since I don’t believe in it anyways, given that it has always been complicit with state power, it has always been parasitical and authoritarian towards other currents in the social movements it joins, and it has always tended to water itself down over time.

Instead I will start with the argument made by the protester in black, that “Martin Luther King had armed bodyguards at his events.” Such a comment will be perplexing to most white people, but in fact it is historically accurate. Coincidentally, it has only been in the past year that a certain fact has been rescued from the memory hole: that the Civil Rights movement was an armed movement and that nonviolence was a minoritarian exception—some might say aberration—within that movement, as well as in the lineage of movements against slavery and white supremacy going back centuries. Previously, only radical historians, ex-Panthers, anarchists, and followers of C.L.R. James dealt with those forgotten episodes of history, but recently the memo has even gotten to NPR with the publication of books like This Nonviolence Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, by Charles E. Cobb, Jr. or the forthcoming Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South.

In a summary of the former, we can read: “Visiting Martin Luther King Jr. at the peak of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, journalist William Worthy almost sat on a loaded pistol. “Just for self defense,” King assured him. It was not the only weapon King kept for such a purpose; one of his advisors remembered the reverend’s Montgomery, Alabama home as “an arsenal.” ”

For a long time these have been forbidden histories, and I believe they were intentionally silenced, and largely by white people. Not only those working for the same power structures that have been trying to disarm people of color for centuries, but also those who hold power in social movements, who since the repression and the defeats of the ’60s have preferred a progressively more comfortable vision of “change”. It is unfortunate for the authorities that these forbidden histories are being resuscitated now, just in time for a post-Ferguson society, but we still face an uphill battle to return this historical memory to the collective consciousness. (Most protesters in the streets, for example, are still unaware). And one of the chief obstacles—perhaps executioner would be a more accurate term, since they hardly play a passive role—to the dissemination of this knowledge are the same progressive whites who are always ready to whip out a pithy “Martin Luther King!” faster than a cop can draw his handgun.

So far, the histories that have hit the mainstream still maintain the myth of the dominant character of nonviolence in the movements of yesteryear. In Cobb’s book, valuable as it is, armed self-defense is still auxiliary to a movement of civil disobedience. And while proponents of nonviolence should know that civil disobedience has never worked against a murderous enemy—like the Klan or the cops—without making recourse to armed self-defense or falling into a symbiotic relationship with a combative wing of the same movement, that is ultimately their problem. I would not be worried about nonviolence having fallen to such an absurd level of patent ineffectiveness if they didn’t try to extinguish the struggles of people who actually believe in fighting back against oppression, rather than negotiating with it. Or staging ritualistic die-ins in front of it, or better yet, working for it (see the relationship between Gene Sharp‘s protégé Otpor and global intelligence company Stratfor).

There was an underlying tension throughout the Civil Rights movement between nonviolence (albeit an armed nonviolence) and paths of struggle that foregrounded self-defense and did not seek compromise with the existing power structures. After all, the nonviolent practice that emerged in the movement at the end of the 50s and early 60s was largely imposed by the SCLC, the SNCC (in its first incarnation), and the white New England liberals who provided most of their funding.

Beyond the Deacons of Defense, who organized armed protection to many desegregation campaigns throughout the South in the 1960s, there is the example of Robert F. Williams, president of the Monroe, North Carolina, chapter of the NAACP, one of the few chapters of the national organization that was predominantly working class. Having fought in World War II, Williams led his local chapter in advocating armed self-defense after a nonviolent campaign for local desegregation failed. In his book, Negroes With Guns, he describes one occasion when he had to protect himself from a lynch mob.

As the mob is shouting for gasoline to be poured on Williams and his friends, and begins to throw stones, Williams steps out of the car with an Italian carbine in hand.

“All this time three policemen had been standing about fifty feet away from us while we kept waiting in the car for them to come and rescue us. Then when they saw that we were armed and the mob couldn’t take us, two of the policemen started running. One ran straight to me, grabbed me on the shoulder, and said, ‘Surrender your weapon! Surrender your weapon!’ I struck him in the face and knocked him back away from the car and put my carbine in his face, and told him that we didn’t intend to be lynched. The other policeman who had run around the side of the car started to draw his revolver out of the holster. He was hoping to shoot me in the back. They didn’t know that we had more than one gun. One of the students (who was seventeen years old) put a .45 in the policeman’s face and told him that if he pulled out his pistol he would kill him. The policeman started putting his gun back in the holster and backing away from the car, and he fell into the ditch.

   “There was a very old man, an old white man out in the crowd, and he started screaming and crying like a baby, and he kept crying, and he said, ‘God damn, God damn, what is this God damn country coming to that the n*****s have got guns, the n*****s are armed and the police can’t even arrest them!’ He kept crying and somebody led him away through the crowd.”

When Williams was expelled from the NAACP for his militant views, the local chapter simply elected Mabel Williams as their new president, and continued their practice of armed self-defense. Highlighting the importance of economic injustice, both Williams developed a socialist politics and lived in exile in Cuba after fleeing the country to evade trumped up kidnapping charges.

The Black Panther Party, which was demonized in the media at the time of its existence, is obviously well known, for it plays a different function within the process of historical amnesia. The BPP has become a symbol for all forms of black militancy in the ’60s, even though there were hundreds of different strains and currents of revolutionary thought and practice in the movement. And what is remembered about the Panthers is little more than their style. Their program, their splits and conflicts, their relations with other groups and movements at the time, their eventual evolution into the Black Liberation Army, and all the lessons that can be gleaned from this knowledge, has been consigned to the memory hole. They were merely the ones with the afros, the berets, and the rifles, who met with a tragic end, reconfirming the pacifist contention about the futility of violence.

The Panthers are either romanticized or vilified. To me, they were an authoritarian and macho organization (though no more authoritarian and macho than King’s SCLC) composed of many intelligent, brave, radical individuals trying to take an important step forward in the struggle, achieving some accomplishments and committing some errors.

More interesting to me are the nameless ones, the people who did not participate in any formal organization, yet who played a critical role in the few gains the Civil Rights movement achieved. More disparaged even than the BPP, these individuals have been consigned by the dominant historiography to the mob. Just like the rioters of Ferguson, whom we all have to thank for keeping Michael Brown’s memory alive, without whom this conversation would not even be possible, those who were assigned mob-status in what are portrayed as the darker moments of the Civil Rights movement are presented as cruel, unthinking, self-destructive, and demonic.

In fact, the mob member is nothing more and nothing less than the archetype for a person of color, in the white supremacist imagination. It was this same archetype that was drawn on to create the concept of race, primarily in the Virginia colony, as transplanted aristocrats had to divide and conquer an unruly labor force of exiled Irish, kidnapped poor from the English cities, Africans stolen from their homes, and enslaved Natives. In the early years, these enslaved underclasses often ran away together to the mountains or the swamps, and from time to time they rebelled together, killing their masters and breaking their chains. It is this image that is preserved in the figure of the mob, and this elite fear that we reproduce when we also spurn, disparage, or avoid such a formation.

I do not believe that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, but I do believe that my enemy’s nightmare can serve as a figure of hope or beauty. Colonial society’s obsession with law and order, its fear of the dark Other, which coalesce in its absolute condemnation of the mob, illuminate another way forward.

In the Civil Rights movement, the story of Birmingham provides a perfect example of the intelligence and effectiveness of this acephalous, decentralized formation of resistance, a true hydra, to refer to the writings of ex-Panther and prisoner Russell “Maroon” Shoatz or historians Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker.

Most people only know half the story. In 1963, a civil disobedience campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, the bastion of segregation in the South, forced the desegregation of the city and paved the way for the Civil Rights Act, which was the major victory of the Civil Rights movement, as far as legislation is concerned.

What fewer people know is that the Birmingham campaign was a repeat of SCLC’s 1961 campaign in Albany, Georgia, which turned out a complete failure. King was banking on being able to fill up the jails and still have recruits willing to engage in civil disobedience, shutting the system down, but the authorities simply made their jails “bottomless” by shipping detainees elsewhere. A couple years later, black residents of Albany rioted, suggesting what they thought about their experience with nonviolence (these riots are not mentioned in most chronologies of the movement).

In Birmingham, the 1963 campaign was unfolding the same way, and King was running out of recruits willing to offer themselves up for arrest. Then the riots started. Thousands of locals fought with police, injuring many of them, burned the very white businesses that were refusing to desegregate, and took over a large part of downtown, holding it for days. By fighting back directly, they instantly made a desegregated, cop-free zone in the center of their city. Anxious to keep other people from learning the same lesson, Birmingham business leaders and politicians immediately agreed to legislate the desegregation that rioters had already accomplished (in fact they had won something even more potent: not only could blacks enter white businesses, but they didn’t have to pay for anything). President Kennedy finally started paying attention and urged Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act. It was the rioters who won civil rights.

Some veterans of the SNCC write about the decreasing effectiveness of civil disobedience in those years:

“The philosophy of nonviolence hit shakier ground when SNCC began its period of community organization in the South, having to face continual threats of perhaps deadly violence from whites. [… ]As a result, once strict guidelines of nonviolence were relaxed and members were unofficially permitted to carry guns for self defense. […] Eventually whites began to understand the tactic, and nonviolence became less powerful. […] If there was no more public violence for SNCC to rise above, SNCC’s message would be weakened. Thus, protesters were no longer beaten publicly. Instead they were attacked and beaten behind closed doors where newspaper reporters and television cameras could not reach. As southern whites intended, discrete violent oppression began to destroy the image of martyr that SNCC had carefully constructed through nonviolent protest. […] Soon after, the Harlem Riots took place. It was the first urban race riot, and brought the topic of black-initiated violence into public debate. Such actions were no longer assumed to be counter productive. This event, and eventually the rise of black power, led to the fall of nonviolence in SNCC.”

So whenever somebody says “Martin Luther King,” the message should be, “We know, we know, nonviolence doesn’t work.” Even King was moving away from a strict attachment to nonviolence, speaking in favor of rioters and the armed Vietnamese, before they killed him. This was after 1963, years in which he doesn’t appear in the official histories, when he was doing things and saying things that white progressives never refer to.

For example, King told Alex Haley in 1965: “Over the past several years, I must say, I have been gravely disappointed with such white “moderates” [those who consider themselves “enlightened” and “sympathize with our goals but cannot condone our methods of direct action”]. I am often inclined to think that they are more of a stumbling block to the Negro’s progress than the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner.”

This quote raises an interesting question. What was the role of white people in the Civil Rights movement? They seem to be absent from the stories above, as well as the best known episodes of the movement. The only real exceptions are Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two white New Yorkers killed in Mississippi alongside James Chaney.

In fact, a large number of white people participated in the movement, working alongside King in the SCLC, taking part in other organizations like CORE, going on Freedom Rides, and above all, helping fund the movement and putting pressure on media and politicians. There were also mostly white organizations like SDS and Weatherman that formed a part of the larger constellation of social struggles that were influenced by the Civil Rights movement and fed back into the continuing battle against racial oppression. Weatherman, for example, maintained ties with the Black Panthers.

And though many white people did go to prison, only a few faced the level of repression the FBI brought down on the black liberation movement (and usually it was white people who had engaged in armed struggle, like David Gilbert or Harold Thompson). In other words, many more white people survived the struggle intact; what’s more, they were able to become influential academics, politicians, or business leaders. The implication is that they are the ones, above all, who have written the official history of that era, a history that has been amputated, distorted, and falsified. And while they may have been radicals in their youth, they and the generations they have influenced have become increasingly like the “enlightened” moderates King warned about.

Mumia abu-Jamal writes about how Dr. King was “calming” for the white pysche, whereas the Panthers were frightening. And in many ways, the white middle class was the audience that a large part of the movement was performing for. They constituted, and they still constitute today, a virtual public, mobilized by the media, that lays down the norms for acceptable civic behavior. They determine whether a dissident social group is granted some legitimacy, or whether the police will be justified in annihilating them.

The same dynamic is reproduced today as white progressives essentially audit the rebellions that are sparked by the inevitable casualties of heavyhanded policing in poor neighborhoods primarily inhabited by people of color. They can refuse to see those rebellions as acts of resistance, instead fearfully dismissing them as senseless race riots, as was generally the case with the L.A. Riots of 1992. Or they can participate, in order to tame them, to make them more comfortable for the typical white person who does not have to put up with daily police violence.

I am absolutely not saying that nonviolence is a white thing and violence is what people of color use. I don’t believe that race predetermines people’s opinions or experiences, though it does generate patterns in terms of what people are subjected to by a racialized society. I know that within black communities of resistance, to name one example, there are still debates on what lessons to draw from the Civil Rights and black liberation movement. I personally take inspiration from the thinking of certain ex-Panthers, like Ashanti Alston, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, and Lorenzo Komboa Ervin. There are also veterans of the more militant wing of the struggle who still believe in a hierarchical, Maoist-inspired method, and there are still those who believe in nonviolence.

While I do think that an honest reading of history disproves the commonplace that “nonviolence worked,” which is basically what white people mean when they exclaim, “Martin Luther King!”, I don’t think that history is univocal, that it leads to any single, correct answers regarding how to create a better world. What’s more, how could there be one answer? Every individual and every community has different needs, and everyone faces different consequences when they go up against this system.

A person of color is going to face a higher risk of injury or imprisonment if they fight back than I would. This means that I cannot make tactical decisions for anyone else. But in the hands of many white progressives, this fact turns into the argument that fighting back is “privileged,” something only white people can do. This assertion is as patronizing as it is inaccurate. While the “Black Bloc” method of rioting is still carried out mostly by white people—after all, it was imported from Germany—this is only one of many ways that people choose to fight back. In fact, a politics of comfort, the ability to dissent without being punished, is one of the defining privileges of whiteness, though white people have to play by certain rules to enjoy it. And peacefulness is chief among those rules.

When something like Ferguson happens, people of color will suddenly appear in the media in greater quantity, urging nonviolence. White progressives take this as confirmation that their stance is not inflected by race, and in fact their comfort politics is just a way for them to be good allies following the leadership of people of color. But that is exactly how they are supposed to react. The legitimization of nonviolence is nothing but a spectacle, and they are the intended audience.

I don’t know if the activists, ministers, and scholars cast in the role of “community leaders” by the media engage in fair debates within their communities, if they’re making good tactical decisions in their circumstances, or if they even believe what they are saying. It isn’t my place to say. Regardless, they are used as figureheads by white media to deliver a reassuring message to a white audience. The same activists, with the same credentials, would not be given any air time by the big media corporations or the big NGOs and protest organizations, mostly reliant on white philanthropy, if they questioned the validity of nonviolence. Like consumers with a big budget, white progressives are determining the kind of products that are being sold to them without ever being aware of the marketing. Whether it’s designer shoes or protest strategies, the dynamics are the same, and above all they reinforce the worldview where buying and selling are normal activities and the market is understood as a natural force.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to view these opinions as products, at least when they are being packaged by the media. At every level of the spectacular treatment of this conflict, property relations are asserting themselves over and against human life. When kids are getting shot down in the streets, some vigilantes are taking up arms not against the police but against the looters, to defend “property rights”. By other means, proponents of nonviolence are doing the same thing, since a condemnation of the riots is above all support for the sanctity of property over life.

I think it can be a good thing that more white people are finally reacting to police violence and taking to the streets, but not if they participate in the unfolding movement in the same way as they participated in the Civil Rights movement.

After all, the current movement is in many ways a continuation of Civil Rights. And the latter was just one manifestation of the centuries-old fight against oppression and domination, which in this country has largely been about race, due to the way North America was colonized. There is a strong argument for the assertion that the Civil Rights movement neither won nor ended. If the shared goal of the movement was to end racial inequality and oppression, it was principally the legal-minded, college-educated portions of the movement who were asserting that the focus of that goal should be change at an institutional, legislative level. Their assertions have proven false. Perhaps the only concrete victories of the movement were to end Jim Crow segregation, institute a legal basis for racial equality, and substantially increase the percentage of registered black voters. At least as far as statistical evidence is concerned, these changes have not been accompanied by an increase in the quality of life for black people and other people of color, nor a substantial decrease in the disproportions between white people and people of color in any significant criterion from income to incarceration and police killings.

Jim Crow segregation is over, but a subtler form of segregation that had already been developed in northern cities from New York to Chicago by the time of the Civil Rights movement is the law of the land. As city administrators smelled the changing winds in the ’50s and ’60s, they applied for federal “urban renewal” grants and demolished thriving black neighborhoods across the South, from places like small, rural Harrisonburg, where I used to live, to southern Harlems, cultural centers like Richmond and Miami. In their places they built highways and incinerators, or they constructed new buildings for white businesses, and located new housing projects for the displaced black residents in less desirable neighborhoods. Housing and Urban Development proved to be a much more potent weapon than the Ku Klux Klan for the maintenance of a white supremacist system. And who needs the Ku Klux Klan when you have Google? Even more efficient than a powerful government bureaucracy, tech companies like Google or Microsoft are rapidly gentrifying historically black and latino neighborhoods from San Francisco to Seattle.

If you consider that the outer boundary of San Francisco’s gentrification is Oakland, these two beachheads of the new style of gentrification line up with sites of some of the fiercer and more innovative battles against police killings in the last five years: the cases of Oscar Grant and John T. Williams.

This is not a coincidence. Policing is crucial to the gentrification of a neighborhood, as well as to the maintenance of slum status in poor neighborhoods like Ferguson that the system intentionally neglects. And while many aspects of police strategies in these two kinds of neighborhoods differ—“broken windows” theory and hyperaggressive policing against quality of life offenses in the former, military-style operations, denial of services, and even complicity in the drug trade in the latter—both strategies result in the killings of people of color.

Though the media and the other institutions that educate us have cut us off from our histories and achieved a widespread social amnesia, we are affected by the past, and we continue to play out dynamics that began a long time ago. Whether we reference dominant histories or subversive histories—people’s histories—determines whether we learn from past mistakes or repeat them.

Nonviolence has the dubious honor of narrating people’s histories that are almost identical to the official history. Nonviolence worked, the Civil Rights movement won, and so on. In the Ferguson solidarity protest I attended, a young black person, before urging us to “burn everything,” said “this has been going on since Emmett Till.” He was referencing a much different history than the white person who tried to stop a few vandals by spouting “Martin Luther King!”

Many people in Ferguson and greater St. Louis have decided to take up arms against the police, first in August after Michael Brown was killed, and again in November after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson was announced. Both the proponents of nonviolence and the media have been downplaying the use of weapons by protesters, but the gunfire, aimed in the air or directly at police, has been a transformative characteristic, setting Ferguson apart from previous responses to police killings, and presenting a real danger, and therefore a limit, for the cops, as well as a danger for the protesters (several of whom were injured by friendly fire). Rather than shy away from the danger, shouldn’t we at least be talking about whether it is preferable to the one-sided war that police, in times of social peace, are continously waging against some of us?

Leave it to Fox News to denounce those who take up weapons as mindless thugs or demons. I think people who live on the frontline of the war being waged by police know exactly what they’re about. I also think we should grant them the respect of placing them in the same tradition as Robert Williams and the Monroe NAACP, the Panthers, and militias of freed slaves a century before that.

There are also plenty of black people in Ferguson or beyond who have chosen to respond peacefully. Some have the very real fear of being shot by police. Others are careerists, or belong to vanguardist organizations like the New Black Panther Party (pretty uniformly denounced by members of the original Panthers). Some want to make a nonviolent strategy work in the present circumstances. Others wanted to give the courts a chance to right the wrong of Michael Brown’s murder, and have since given up on a peaceful response.

As a white person, I have to ask myself how to relate to this struggle. White proponents of nonviolence will typically try to cast other whites who engage in riskier and more combative tactics as privileged and racist, while they cast themselves as “allies” following the lead of people of color. However, those they tokenistically claim to follow are the ones the media have given the loudest voice, and those who are preaching the exact form of peaceful protest they already have a preference for, that won’t require them to go out of their comfort zone or face a level of confrontation with police that their privilege usually protects them from.

Clearly, people on the ground in Ferguson have responded with a variety of forms of resistance. It turns my stomach when outsiders basically go shopping and choose the form that fits their preconceived preferences and notions of resistance, and then claim they’re in solidarity with “Ferguson,” as though that were some homogenous body.

I think true solidarity can only exist between people or groups that have their own autonomous struggles. And while white people will never know what it is like for people of color in this society, I don’t think I can trust a white person who does not have their own reasons for hating police. If they make all the right choices that white people are taught to make—go to university, get a high-paying job, be a good citizen, and if you must protest, do it peacefully, if you must riot, do it at a sports match—they may not have had any experience with a cop worse than an argument over a speeding ticket (although I think a certain dogmatic view of white privilege erases the experiences of poor whites or whites with mental health problems, who often have demeaning run-ins with cops, and who are frequently attracted by right-wing discourses, perhaps because only the Right will grant them victim status).

But if they do not make the normalized choices, if they do not accept the limits of what is supposed to pass for freedom under democratic capitalism, they will learn firsthand, either in their own bodies or watching it happen to loved ones, about prison, police torture and beatings, surveillance, repression, and the presumption of guilt. In other words, they will learn the nature of police.

Once I understand the nature of the police, it makes sense to me to respond every time the cops kill someone. Solidarity means that I seek out others who are facing the same problem, albeit inevitably from a different perspective. Naturally, those who prefer peaceful methods will link up with others with the same preferences, just as those who prefer combative methods will find each other. It makes for a more robust struggle if people with different methods also form relationships and learn how to complement rather than denounce one another; however the historical lesson that reformists and those who seek institutional dialogue and advancement will inevitably sell out the grassroots and the more radical currents, could help avoid major betrayals during the process of forming relationships across difference.

At a minimum, solidarity in this current struggle dictates that we do not constrain the choices of those who are most affected by police killings (though I think the label of “most affected” in this case excludes not only whites but also economically mobile activists of color who fly in from across the country). One way that white people might fail at that is by starting a riot every time locals were trying to organize a vigil. That didn’t happen in Ferguson. What did happen was that progressive whites, together with professional activists of various races, tried to criminalize and prevent non-peaceful responses. They faced an uphill battle in Ferguson, but they succeeded in pacifying solidarity events around the country, preventing protesters from taking the lead of folks in Ferguson, experiencing rage at the same level, or engaging in the same bold process of taking over space and learning how to fight back.

It’s a shame that this happened, because a multiracial crowd can accomplish things that other crowds cannot. I have mentioned how police in Ferguson and St. Louis were uncharacteristically restrained, and did not open fire on rioters and looters the way they did in L.A. in ’92 or New Orleans in ’05.  Perhaps they held back this time because there were more white people in the streets, or because they feared a wider insurrection, or both. In any case, if more white people took part in fierce, combative responses to police killings rather than constraining those responses, the State would either have to step back as crowds pushed cops out of entire neighborhoods, allowing communities to experiment with police-free zones and other forms of autonomy, or they would have to start shooting more white people, which would drastically undermine one of the most important hierarchies for upholding State power in this country.

An honest conversation about tactics and strategies in the streets is sorely needed, and at a broader scale than has happened in the past. A long list of manipulations and clichés makes that conversation impossible, aided by the fact that many people still trust the media as a forum for a social conversation, or they don’t notice when discourses crafted in and for the media (often by academics and NGO activists who are seduced by the power of a sound byte) infiltrate their own thinking. The media weigh in heavily on the side of nonviolence, finding purchase in the common misconception that nonviolence has worked in the past.

If we can resurrect subversive, or even just factually vigorous, histories of the Civil Rights movement and other struggles, and rediscover the thread of continuity from those times to the ones we currently inhabit, we can lay the groundwork for a much more intelligent discussion of how to move forward.

But moving forward requires us to think about where we are going, and the artificial consensus on nonviolence pales in comparison to the consensus that has been manufactured around the police; good or bad, they are necessary, and at the very most they must be reformed.

The rocks on which the present movement will founder and break apart, or which it will climb to finally leave behind the cesspool of problems that have cycled and recycled for centuries, is the question of a world without police.

If we can effectively engage with this question, we might be able to surpass the miseries of reformism that devoured the Civil Rights movement and left us with the problem of police killings that haunts us today.

 

[Peter Gelderloos has participated in various initiatives to support prisoners and push the police out of our neighborhoods. He is the author of several books, including The Failure of Nonviolence.]