Feb 15, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 169

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Protests and health reform debates in Idaho; Black History Month 2017. People: Bill, Sarah, and De Ana. Produced: Feb 14th, 2017.

Episode 169 (50 min):
AFD 169

Reading materials:

– Washington Post: Republicans in Idaho Tried to Design a Better Plan than Obamacare — and Failed
– Arsenal For Democracy 2015: #ReclaimMLK: Why We Need a Bigger Picture of the Civil Rights Movement

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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Black Life in Retrograde

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The morning the news broke about the massacre in Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal, I was driving. Having been unemployed since early April I’d tried to make my money by ridesharing. I found it difficult and I never was able to make the ends solidly meet, but made more than I would have on unemployment. Like most mornings, I did my best to be awake and alert at five a.m. in order to catch rides to the airport. Like most mornings, I made my own coffee and turned on NPR. These activities always made me feel more in control, more put together, better at adulting. I heard the news shortly before my first ride, and I was numb.

I was so numb, that I drove nearly an hour north from my home while listening to James Blake’s “Retrograde” on repeat. Something about the melancholy music that buzzes with such heavy vibrations hypnotized me. These lyrics sunk into me for an hour:

Is this darkness of the dawn?
And your friends are gone
When you friends won’t come
So show me where you fit
So show me where you fit
I’ll wait, so show me why you’re strong
Ignore everybody else,
We’re alone now
We’re alone now
We’re alone now

 
The song is about finding love, but I clung to the emotion of darkness. I felt like we were truly at war with white supremacy. People are gone and we’re so alone here. If you asked me about that hour, I couldn’t tell you anything. All I remember was feeling cold; totally focused on moving forward with the sky full of blushing peach tones of the rising sun. I felt alert, yet dead, completely hollowed out, filling myself with this song.

I spent the later half of that day and the entire next day inside, crying, on the couch repeatedly asking ‘why’. And: Where are we allowed to be human? Where can we feel safe from slaughter?

I didn’t listen to it again for 11 weeks.

Now it makes me cry. It makes me feel despair. If I can get through a listen without tears I feel strong.

The reaction to the tragic killing of two reporters in Virginia in August truly seared this despair into my being. Read more

Charleston: I’m out of new things to say

Today I felt, for one of the few times in my life, like I finally had nothing left to say on a huge story in the news. The Charleston AME church shooting in this case.

I’ve written post after post after post on White America’s violence against Black America. I’ve written post after post on violent ideologies versus mental illness. I’ve written post after post on gun control and mass shootings. I’ve written post after post on Confederate apologism. I literally don’t know what else to say at this point. This happens so often — even just in the last couple years — and the facts are so similar that there’s no new ground to cover. Whatever I’d write on it would be hollow and a waste of space.

This isn’t a mysterious and inexplicable tragedy. It’s just the latest act of terrorism in a vast pattern that seems like it won’t end.

At this point I’ll direct everyone to Black authors and social media commentators. Anything they have to say is almost certainly going to be more worth hearing than anything new I could come up with. If you don’t know where to start, I’ll point you toward our columnist De Ana. Beyond her own tweets, her Twitter stream will give you a jumping off point to other voices you should hear.

Black Wall Street: We did it by ourselves and were punished.

When Black people and other People of Color speak out about the lack of representation for them in any medium there is usually a lot of pushback. Replies range from pointing to the one example of non-White representation they can find, to the more extreme and exclusionary “If you want to be represented, make it yourself!” The latter is an interesting piece of advice, but it’s entirely too simple.

Moreover, it ignores the fact that Black people have for many years have been doing just that, only to then be punished for it. Throughout history, in instances where Black people in the U.S. tried to make their own place in society, they were met with extreme opposition.

In Memphis TN in 1889, because the success of his grocery store was taking Black customers away from the competing White-owned grocery across the street, Thomas Moss was lynched.

In 1923, the town of Rosewood FL, a primarily Black town, was destroyed after a rumor was spread that the town was housing an escaped Black prisoner. In both cases, and in many other instances of lynchings or any attack on Black communities, the Black victims were attacked because White people were uncomfortable with the idea of Black Success — or even Black Self-Esteem and Assuredness.

The bombing of Black Wall Street (otherwise known as the Tulsa Race Riot) is a textbook example of the results of this discomfort. In the early 1900s, the city of Tulsa began to grow at a rapid pace. By 1921, just after the first world war, the city was already going through its second oil boom.

The Black neighborhood of Greenwood, although not oil-rich, was prospering in its own right. Segregation meant that the Black residents could not patronize most place outside of the area, but they could own businesses, homes, and more in Greenwood. They did so, establishing good businesses by the hundreds. The neighborhood flourished and became a center of Black affluence, earning it the nickname “Black Wall Street.”

Then, predictably, in May 1921, there was a crime reported. A young White woman was assaulted, and the assailant was said to be a young Black man. The young man under suspicion was arrested and, shortly after the rumors of the events spread, a mob of angry and armed white men decided to take matters into their own hands. They were met by a counter-mob, of Black men, and then the confrontation escalated when shooting broke out.

By the next morning, on June 1, Greenwood had been burned almost to the ground, and up to 300 people were killed. Residents even reported that planes had gone over the neighborhood and dropped crude bombs on businesses and residential buildings. Troops were deployed to try to restore order, but it was too late. The destruction left many of the residents homeless and living in tents for almost a year.

Postcard in the collection of McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, showing the fires the day after the destruction of Black Wall Street. (via Wikimedia)

Postcard in the collection of McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, showing the fires the day after the destruction of Black Wall Street. (via Wikimedia)

There is a lot of speculation on what the actual motivation behind the attack was. Although it was initially stated that it was because of the alleged (and later dismissed) attack of the young White woman, there was already high racial tension before then. White residents’ membership in The Ku Klux Klan had grown rapidly in the few years before the attack, and many of the White people in the Tulsa neighborhoods just outside of Greenwood were poor.

Seeing the neighborhood just next door doing so well probably made the already existing tension even worse. The initial accusation of an assault on a White woman by a Black man was a common trope in, and racist excuse for, lynchings or attacks on Black neighborhoods that were doing well economically in the South.

Whatever the motives behind the attack were, this is still a horrendous moment in U.S. history. Although the neighborhood was able to eventually rebuild itself over the next five years, it still goes to show that even when Black people are able to build their own communities, there is still the threat of people on the outside destroying everything.

Maybe instead of the emphasis just being on Black people “making their own” there could be an equal emphasis placed on others not destroying what we do make.

American History: Ida B. Wells and Intersectionality

If you’ve been on Facebook for more than 5 minutes, you’ve probably come across one of two specific types of articles: the “Is Beyonce/Nicki Minaj/Rihanna a Feminist?” article — which criticizes those celebrities, usually for their scantily clad music video performances — or the “Why Lady Gaga/Miley Cyrus/Katy Perry is a Feminist icon” article — which lauds those celebrities, usually for their scantily clad music video performances. These two article types are very popular, especially after major award shows or the release of new music videos.

But the thinly veiled racism behind who gets to be a Feminist Icon, and whose feminism gets questioned has been receiving a lot of pushback on other social media sites. Women of Color are especially vocal, pointing out that much of mainstream feminism ignores the intersections that race, class, sexual orientation and gender identity play in the lives of anyone other than White women.

This fight isn’t new. In fact, Black women in the US have been talking about the intersection between race and gender for a very long time.

ida-b-wellsOne woman who was a very outspoken voice for the rights of Black women was Ida B. Wells, a writer, businesswoman, activist, and suffragette. Ida B. Wells’ work is often framed around race, not just because she was such an outspoken anti-lynching advocate, but also because she was not afraid to speak against the racism she saw happening in the female-dominated Suffrage and Temperance movements for women’s voting rights and alcohol limit laws respectively.

Wells was especially vocal about Frances Willard, a prominent figure of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Willard used racism to try and sway US Southerners towards Temperance and Suffrage. In order to gain Southern support Willard played to their fear of Black economic success, stating that liquor was at the center of it. Willard also claimed that liquor caused Blacks to be aggressive, which could endanger White women and children.

At the time, Black men purportedly being dangerous and aggressive was the reason given for lynchings in the South, but after tireless research and personal experience, Well’s had already known that Black economic growth was one of the main reasons for the lynchings. Wells also knew that Black women as well as Black men were being lynched in the South. In 1893, while both Wells and Willard were on tour in Europe, trying to garner support for anti-lynching and Temperance respectively, Wells exposed Willard’s racism to Europeans who previously couldn’t believe Willard would do such a thing.

This wasn’t the only time Wells had to deal with racism in women’s movements. In 1913 during the World Suffrage Parade, Black women were asked not to march in the parade with White Suffragettes because of fear it would set back progress Suffrage had made with Southern states. Instead, Black Suffragettes were asked to march after several other groups. Although many of the Black Suffragettes agreed to the segregated march, Wells did not. Wells initially was going to boycott the parade, but instead waited in the crowd and joined the parade after it started, making sure to join with the White Suffragettes.

Although the idea of intersections in Feminism may seem new, in reality it isn’t. And although many will tell you that the relationship between major Feminist movements/activists and Women of Color has gotten better, it hasn’t. Wells was considered a “radical” in her time by bothering her contemporaries in issues of race and gender, many of whom disliked the way she fought for her causes — or the fact that she spoke up at all about the issues that she faced as a Black woman.

Nowadays, with the rise of blogs and the internet generally, Black women are given far more access to spaces where they can speak about their issues with people who aren’t aware — and also with each other. The downside, of course, is that with this new access also comes new opposition. But despite all of that, Black women still speak out, just as Ida spoke out.

#ReclaimMLK: Why We Need A Bigger Picture of the Civil Rights Movement

The narrative around the Civil Rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s is very narrow. We’re taught in school that — because of racial inequality — Black people in the South staged peaceful protests to change the world for the better. The specific leaders of the civil rights movement are also treated with the same sterility. This is especially true of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday has just been honored again.

Because everything concerning civil rights is taught in terms of History, we are given the impression that the struggle for racial equality is over. By extension, those fighting today must therefore be merely causing a disturbance and not fighting for their personhood to be recognized, like the noble civil rights organizers of the past. Many using Dr. King’s legacy to shame those protesting today are doing so because of that narrow education around the civil rights movement. They do not understand that protests then — as now — were disruptive, and they do not understand that the protest leaders then — as now — were not automatically well-received, even by “moderates.”

Demonstrations are not effective if they happen at the corner of one’s eye. But in order for people to understand exactly how disruptive the Civil Rights movement was, they have to look beyond the few classroom quotes of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech they learned in elementary school. They also need to understand that the non-violent protests of the past were deliberate acts of disruption.

From late 2014 to present, people have been taking to the streets protesting police brutality and the otherwise unjust murders of Black people across the country. Protesters have shut down freeways and train stations, disrupted brunches, and even managed to close down malls. It’s hard not to look at pictures and videos of these protests and see the similarity between them and the old black and white videos of protests in the past.

If you look specifically at the Montgomery Bus Boycott, for example, that was a deliberate attempt to disrupt the status quo fundamentally. It was about far more than just seeking justice for the initial arrests that led up to the boycott, much in the way that today’s protests have become about more than any one victim. The privately-operated transit system lost money from of the refusal of Black people to use the buses for over a year, over its mandated segregation requirements, because Black people made up 75% of the transit system’s business.

Pictured: The Montgomery bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested at the start of the boycott. Now in the Henry Ford Museum. (via Wikimedia)

Pictured: The Montgomery bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested at the start of the boycott. Now in the Henry Ford Museum. (via Wikimedia)

Although the act didn’t involve violence, they also weren’t passive. They were purposefully breaking a law by organizing a boycott of a business, which at the time was illegal under state law. Dr. King was actually brought to court for the boycott and was eventually made to pay $1000 in fines and court fees as well as spend 2 weeks in jail.

Similarly, in 2014 during the Ferguson demonstrations we saw an attempt by law enforcement to silence protests. Protesters were told they weren’t allowed to stay in place and would have to continue marching or leave the protest area. This was an obvious attempt to dispel the protests by tiring out the people involved. The protesters chose to march daily for more than three months. It was later ruled by a District Court Judge that forcing the protesters to continue moving was a rights violation and could not be enforced.

On Monday, January 19th, 2015 in honor of the MLK holiday, protesters decided to #ReclaimMLK. They held marches in several cities, including Ferguson, urging people to continue to speak out. On their website, they made clear demands for what they wanted to accomplish in their protest — and encouraged people to connect and take action in their own cities. Most important of all they were declaring that their demonstrations are just as valid as Civil Rights demonstrations of the past.

The Civil Right movement is far from over. As King himself suggested in his own lifetime, it’s a continual process, and despite the progress that has been made, we still have a long way to go.

“Now you will notice that the extreme optimist and the extreme pessimist have at least one thing in common: they both agree that we must sit down and do nothing in the area of race relations. The extreme optimist says do nothing because integration is inevitable. The extreme pessimist says do nothing because integration is impossible. But there is a third position, there is another attitude that can be taken, and it is what I would like to call the realistic position. The realist in the area of race relations seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites while avoiding the extremes of both. So the realist would agree with the optimist that we have come a long, long way. But, he would go on to balance that by agreeing with the pessimist that we have a long, long way to go. And it is this basic theme that I would like to set forth this evening. We have come a long, long way but we have a long, long way to go.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Other police mutinies in U.S. history: Mississippi

As the NYPD turns its back on its elected government and unilaterally refuses to enforce the law, let’s look back at another mutinous, anti-democratic police force that refused to uphold the law — Mississippi’s secret police.

For nearly two decades following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling against school segregation, a secret state-level agency called the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission conducted surveillance on “subversive individuals and organizations that advocate civil disobedience” – i.e. civil rights activists.

Their primary mission was to resist the implementation of Federal government orders and laws on desegregation in Mississippi. This included aiding county governments in preventing African-Americans from registering to vote. Worse, their surveillance efforts have also been linked to the infamous lynching murders of three civil rights workers in 1964.

You can learn more about this secret police force from the Mississippi Department of Archives.

Flag of the State of Mississippi

Flag of the State of Mississippi