“It is time, brothers and sisters, for us to make a unified national pivot. Our protests, of course, must continue, but we must add a critical new layer on top of them. It is time that we organize a passionate, committed, economic boycott.”
– Shaun King, NY Daily News, September 22, 2016
Racism permeates every pore of U.S. society. Racist policing, ranging from frequent stops and harassment, too often escalates to brutality and murder. At least 193 black people have been killed by police in 2016 alone! (The Guardian). Racist economic policies, denying black people access to good jobs and housing, have existed and been operating since the end of slavery. Racial inequality is perpetuated in the education system through lack of high quality schools and skyrocketing tuition fees and costs that disproportionately impacts black people. And, the political system, through voter suppression, disenfranchisement, as well as media bias, uses racism to sustain this deeply unequal society.
All of that is not new. What is new is the growing awareness and increasing determination to fight against racism, particularly among the millennial generation (18-35). Over the past two years the Black Lives Matter movement, through ongoing protests, marches, and major rebellions in Ferguson and Baltimore, has shaken U.S. society.
Through the efforts of black and anti-racist activists, consciousness against racism has grown in the US. A recent poll showing a 10 percent increase in support for the Black Lives Matter movement (from 41 to 51%) demonstrates the powerful impact of this movement on US society. Young people and most working class people are aware and outraged about the structural oppression against black people and other people of color.
This determination and growing mood to radically change the system and address racism is a strong basis to build on, as Shaun King has recently argued. The time is ripe for the next step in the Movement for Black Lives. King proposes an economic boycott set to start on December 5, the anniversary of the start of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, led by Martin Luther King Jr.
On September 30, Shaun King announced some of the plans to bring the Black Lives Matter movement to a higher stage. “We will not be releasing the names of the cities, states, businesses, and institutions that we will be boycotting until Dec. 5, 2016,” King says, but
“Our boycott will be national. That means we will be boycotting:
- Entire cities and states much like what you see being done in North Carolina right now over the anti-LGBT House Bill 2
- Particular brands and corporations who partner with and profit from systemic oppression.
- Particular brands and corporations headquartered in cities and states notorious for police brutality and racial violence, which say and do little to nothing about it.
- Particular institutions, including banks, which fund, underwrite, inform, train or otherwise support systemic oppression and brutality.”
There will be concrete demands, Shaun King explained: “We will be providing each city, state, business and institution a clear path out of the boycott.”
The recent boycott against North Carolina over its targeted discrimination of transgender people shows how this tactic can build awareness and, through this, help grow the movement to put enormous pressure on the political establishment. The so-called “bathroom bill” (HB2) was met with a huge outcry from the public and calls for boycotting North Carolina to stop its passage. This led to well-known corporations withdrawing plans to invest in jobs, threats from sports teams, and even saw musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam cancel their concerts.
Boycotts can help to raise awareness and harm the profits of those benefiting from discrimination. Socialist Alternative supports and promotes all tactics, including boycotts, that can build our movements and their power to fight for real gains and link these battles to getting organized. Boycotts can be effective if they are connected to a movement building effort. Boycotts that build the collective, organized action of working people and youth have the possibility of bringing about change, as opposed to a boycott that relies on individual acts of “consumer power” and keeps people isolated.
Boycotts need to be made visible and linked to a plan to engage communities in a collective action to spread the boycott – talking to people, campaigning on the streets, getting organized – as well as enforcement of the boycott, which gives it the greatest chance of success. Therefore, regional meetings of activists should be organized where delegates could be elected to discuss nationally the next steps, a review of the demands, and collectively develop a vision to fight and end racism. A democratic backbone of the movement could develop that would give the boycott life, flexibility, and enormous strength in united action.
As we’ve said previously: “A united working-class movement using the method of mass protests, non-violent civil disobedience, targeted boycotts, walk-outs and strikes, based on a program that puts people’s needs first, will be most effective in fighting back against racial and class oppression.”
Shut It Down
Beyond boycotts, to refuse to work, in other words to go on strike, is an even stronger tool that working class people have to demand and win changes inside and outside the workplace. We make society run. Our work creates all value in society. This is a tool the ruling elite, the top 1%, fear most.
The Civil Rights struggle in the late ’60s shows this. Martin Luther King Jr. lost all the lukewarm support of the establishment media and the corporate elites when he turned towards working class action. It was the focus on economic justice that brought King to Memphis, where he was assassinated in the midst of building the Poor People’s Campaign and supporting the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike.
The unions are key to building and using the power of the strike. They have tremendous resources to educate their workers on issues of racism, sexism, and LGBTQ rights as well as to organize and lead the fight against racist policies. Some unions have taken steps in this direction, such as SEIU linking the Fight for $15 to racial justice and mobilizing their workers to Black Lives Matter marches, and the recent Seattle teachers strike that included a series of demands addressing racist policies in public schools. But, much more is possible and urgently needed. Workers within unions need to demand these powerful tools are fully utilized in the fight against exploitation, racism and all forms of oppression.
Capitalism Means Racism
“You can’t have capitalism without racism.” This was the conclusion Malcolm X came to after years of struggle.
Capitalism is a system where the top 1% lives in luxury off the work of the 99%. The last 10 years of the Great Recession and joyless recovery have brought this to a new extreme. Such a system, which has so few ruling over so many, needs brutal tools to divide and rule working people. It achieves this by developing, injecting, and perpetuating an ideology that says some people are more valuable than others. The ideas of racism, traditional gender roles and norms, and so on, are used to keep the whole working class in check.
“We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.”
– Fred Hampton, Chicago leader of the Black Panther Party
Socialist Alternative is fighting for a socialist world, and an integral part of that struggle is the fight against racism and all forms of oppression, here and now. The racist violence perpetrated on the black community, in particular, requires an urgent and effective response. The biggest gains achieved in the past were won through mass struggle, where hundreds of thousands of people were active in building mass movements. Concrete demands to improve the lives of people of color are needed to build the movement.
However, every gain taken from the ruling class by us workers is not secure under this system. That is why we link the struggles against the militarization of the police, for each and every new home and job to the struggle to end the corporate domination of society in general.
A socialist society will use the huge resources amassed by the most wealthy nation in human history to overcome the deep wounds of racism, sexism and oppression. Free education and health care, a guaranteed living wage of more than $15 per hour, guaranteed housing and jobs for all – that’s absolutely possible given the wealth on this planet.
What’s not possible is to end racism in a system that allows the richest 62 people to possess as much as the bottom half of the planet, as is the case today. As Frederick Douglass said nearly 160 years ago in the struggle to end slavery, power concedes nothing without a struggle. Our struggle to end racism is a struggle for socialism.
Build a New Party for the 99%
On May 26, Shaun King wrote in the Daily News about Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the primaries that inspired millions to support a “political revolution against the billionaire class,” that
“In this campaign, Bernie Sanders, with a ragtag group of misfits, proved to the world that another way exists. He has created a blueprint for us on how we build a political movement without the money from billionaire class and their special interests.
In my heart, I believe we are on the brink of something very special. It isn’t going to be the presidency of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump either. It’s going to be what those of us who’ve seen a better way do next.
Don’t believe what anyone tells you — the ball is in our hand and we have more power than progressive people have had in a very long time in this country. I will fight for Bernie Sanders until he is no longer running for president.
After that, this will be my last election as a Democrat. I’m moving on and hope you do, too.”
In this article Shaun King also quoted Michelle Alexander, the law professor and author of The New Jim Crow: “The biggest problem with Bernie, in the end, is that he’s running as a Democrat — as a member of a political party that not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires,” she said.
We are confronted in the presidential election with a dangerous, racist Republican candidate, the billionaire Donald Trump. But the only alternative in this rigged system is a lifelong Wall Street representative, Hillary Clinton. Colin Kaepernick, the 49er’s quarterback who started the protest against the national anthem, is right when he said, “to me, it was embarrassing to watch that these are our two candidates…both are proven liars and it almost seems like they’re trying to debate who’s less racist.”
Hillary Clinton will not stop racism and exploitation. Her establishment politics are so well known that she can barely keep a lead against the hated Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders campaign showed the tremendous enthusiasm and desire for candidates that take on the billionaire class. His campaign was thwarted by the Democratic party establishment, but the potential to build a new party around a progressive pro-worker, pro-environment program was proven and still exists. The recent victory blocking the construction of what would have been the most expensive police precinct in the country ($160 million) by Seattle Black Lives Matter activists demonstrates the power our movements gain when combined with independent working class representation.
Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the sole no vote on a city council with eight Democrats against a new youth jail, was also the only councilmember to come out against spending $160 million on a police bunker. Sawant quickly organized a tour of the current precinct, inviting the media to join her and other activists. The tour was covered by nearly all local media outlets and showed the current precinct was not actually in a state of disrepair. Confronted by a growing movement in the communities and backed up by an unambiguous fighter inside city hall, the mayor and the rest of the city council were forced to back down. Just one socialist on a council of nine. Imagine what more we could achieve if our movements had independent representatives in city councils, state legislatures, and congress like Kshama Sawant who used their platforms to build our movements and amplify our demands, not fight against them.
To fight racism, to stop Trump and the right-wing threat as well as Wall Street politicians and the corporate Democratic Party machine we need to both build our movements and connect that to building a new party comprised of working people, young people, and people of color. We need a party of, for, and by the 99%.
If you want to build toward these goals with us, join Socialist Alternative today.
Socialist Alternative Fights For:
- Jail the Killer Cops! Demilitarize the police.
- End mass incarceration and criminalization of people of color. End the racist War on Drugs.
- Community Control of the police! For democratically elected community oversight boards with full powers over the police, including department policies, procedures, budgets, and conducting investigations.
- An end to poverty! Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Tax the rich and big business to pay for massive jobs programs and investment in public education, healthcare, and affordable housing especially in communities discriminated against, organized and controlled by the communities themselves.
- For socialist policies that put housing over prisons, education over militarized policing and people over profit. Free education and health care for all. For a society based on social justice and solidarity, not racism and exploitation.
- Build toward a massive and active boycott as proposed by Shaun King based on a nationally organized movement with democratic structures to discuss demands and strategy. For regional and national conferences of the movement to give itself a real voice and organizing strength.
- For community organizations and labor unions to support the movement against racism, to educate and mobilize their members and supporters.