Cops without masks. Cops too. Agitate for Black Lives Matter from the safety of your home.
I’m from Dayton so I’m thinking about this today: Why hasn’t Congress done anything to address our national epidemic of mass shootings, namely reviving the assault weapons ban? People—Democrats and not a few Republicans—ask me that all the time. I bet all left-leaning pundits get that question.
The answer is simple. But it’s not something most people want to hear. It’s the same answer I give to another question I get a lot: why hasn’t Trump been impeached?
Congress hasn’t gotten off its collective pasty lobbyist-fattened ass because the streets of every major city are not currently filled with millions of pissed-off people throwing rocks at store windows and who refuse to go home until Congress passes real gun control.
Democratic voters want Trump impeached. They want it—lackadaisically. They don’t want him impeached so badly that millions of demonstrators are willing to fill the streets of every major city day after day, night after night, turning over police cars and setting stuff on fire, until Nancy Pelosi begins impeachment hearings.
This is a fun game! You name an issue lots of people care about. I’ll explain why the political class is ignoring it.
For example: What with experts predicting imminent human extinction, 98% of Americans are worried about climate change. (Who are the 2%? Happy to die but too lazy to commit suicide?) So why isn’t the U.S. government doing anything about it? Because—yes, you’ve got it now—the streets of America’s major cities are not choked by millions of citizens up for breaking things and fighting back the cops 24-7 until the politicians do something to increase humanity’s odds of survival.
You may disagree with my answers on the grounds that breaking windows is mean to storeowners, that burning things generates toxic gases, that cops are scary or that it’s more fun to sit home watching TV or playing video games than to run around in the streets dodging tear gas. You can rightly point out that the United States has no organized left-wing political group, much less one on the grassroots level, capable of organizing a mass street movement. You can, even more rightly, point out that we shouldn’t have to take to the streets because it’s Congress’ goddamn job to fix the environment and get rid of our insane president and ban the sale of military-grade guns to inbred derps.
What you cannot argue is that I am wrong.
It is an irrefutable incontrovertible fact that, when the nation’s cities are clogged with millions of angry Americans demanding radical change day after night after day after night, who break stuff and refuse to disperse and fight back against the cops and are willing to get beaten up and sometimes killed for their cause, and it’s impossible to carry on business as usual, our worthless public officials will yield to their demands and do what’s right.
Until then, mass shooters will continue to terrorize our public spaces, SUVs will belch greenhouse gases and Trump will tweet crazy racist BS. Bad things happen because good people don’t force them to stop.
Wishing out loud for other people, like Congress, to do something is worse than worthless. It’s damaging. You’re abdicating your responsibility to act. If you trust in “leaders” whose history shows they can’t be trusted, you’re committing political suicide.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Notice the signs: where are the exact demands for Congress?
Eight hundred thousand people participated in the March for Our Lives rally in Washington on March 24th, say organizers with the #NeverAgain movement sparked by the Parkland, Florida school massacre. The turnout was impressive — but will it lead to new gun legislation?
History suggests no. But victory is achievable — if rallies are sharpened in focus.
Enthusiasm is necessary to launch a movement. Careful strategizing is required to sustain and grow it. The Million Moms March, also dedicated to curbing gun violence in 2000 drew a similar-sized crowd. Yet the next two decades saw one mass shooting after another, the NRA gaining rather than losing political influence, and a major reversal for the gun-control movement marked by the failure to renew the ban on assault weapons.
Whether it’s the Million Man March to promote unity and family values among African-American men or the 1981 Solidarity Day march to defend unions from Reagan-era attacks against organizations like the air traffic controllers union, there is a century-old tradition of large groups of Americans gathering in Washington, carrying signs, chanting slogans and being ignored by Congress and the president after they go home. To those shattered dreams you can add 2011’s Occupy Wall Street, another leaderless protest that came together and fizzled.
At almost all these events, speakers proclaimed themselves present at the continuation or initiation of a movement. But sustained movements must be organized. These were, like the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964, political spasms. Perhaps not theater as farce — but theater at most. At best, some presaged something later, bigger and effective.
Weighing in favor of the #NeverAgain movement’s chances of effecting real change is the role of social media, which can bring large groups of people together quickly. But they also need a simple, coherent, bumper-sticker-ready demand message.
Writing in USA Today, Rick Hampson argues that even the go-to granddaddy of all contemporary marches, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, was less effective than advertised: “Even the 1963 civil rights march required so much effort, created so many internal divisions and produced so few immediate results (the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed only after and because of President Kennedy’s assassination) that its leaders vowed never to attempt another.”
Hampson has a point. The 10 printed demands for the March on Washington remind us of American society’s failure to address the needs of the poor and oppressed since 1963. They wanted a $2-per-hour minimum wage, which is at least $15 today. Even Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton refused to go over $12 in 2016. Still, they had a clear, coherent set of demands, beginning with: “Comprehensive and effective Civil Rights legislation from the present Congress — without compromise or filibuster — to guarantee all Americans: Access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, the right to vote.” And the Civil Rights Act did get passed.
The March 24th March for Our Lives opposed gun violence. The problem is, it failed to articulate a precise demand or set of demands.
“School safety is not a political issue,” read the Mission Statement. “There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”
Sorry, but those are weasel words.
Should we ban large-capacity magazines?
Would restoring the assault-weapons ban be enough?
Should we, as retired Justice John Paul Stevens suggested recently, repeal the Second Amendment entirely and ban all guns?
Asking Congress to simply “address” an issue is an invitation for more endless debate leading nowhere, or to a compromise so watered down that it undermines the cause. (The ACA is an example of the latter.) A movement must settle on an area of clear focus. Unlike Occupy, which was split between reformists and revolutionaries and talked about everything from restoring the Glass-Steagall Act to eliminating homelessness, #NeverAgain has that part down pat.
An effective movement also has to settle on the solution to a problem. Proposing a path forward does not guarantee success: demonstrators had a clear, straightforward demand in 2002-03: do not invade Iraq. The Bush Administration ignored them. On the other hand, it’s now painfully clear which side was right. That will add to the credibility of antiwar marchers the next time a president tries to start a war of choice.
Settling on a clear solution, as opposed to asking the political class to “address” the issue, entails risk. For #NeverAgain, advocating for a comprehensive gun ban will push away allies who prefer a compromise approach. On the other hand, a more moderate approach will generate less excitement among those in favor of a radical solution (and moderation generally elicits less enthusiasm). But to take a page from gun-toting military folks, it’s better to go into battle with half an army than a whole one riddled with confusion and no idea why they’re fighting.
(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)
Tired of Trump? Congress can impeach him. But they won’t do anything unless you actually do something.
Doing something does not mean signing an online petition. Donating to Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution is nice, but your cash can’t depose the oligarchs. Doing something does not mean voting Democratic; both parties are beholden to corporations who demand business as usual. It doesn’t even mean supporting progressive Democrats in primaries against incumbent corporate Democrats; incumbents almost always win.
Doing something effective requires you to become a clear and present danger to the system and the people who run it.
Doing something that might change the fundamental nature of the system requires you to risk prison, injury and death.
Doing something demands that you operate outside the system.
It means taking it to the streets.
By itself, filling the streets with people and signs and chants isn’t enough. Tame street protests are doomed to failure. If you file for a parade permit or let the police pen you up in a ridiculous “free speech zone” or promise that you’ll be nonviolent no matter what, your street protest will be drowned out by the clinking of glasses and the popping of champagne corks in the salons of the ruling classes. It won’t matter whether you go home quietly or leave screaming in a paddy wagon.
Many Congressional Republicans still support the president. They’ll only change their minds if they face irresistible political pressure. Others would be open to supporting Trump’s removal if a groundswell of public opinion provided them with the requisite political cover.
The vast majority of Americans think Trump is doing a lousy job — and that includes many people who voted for him. Forty percent favor impeachment — and that number will continue to grow as he deports children and recklessly ramps up the risk of nuclear war. That’s tens of millions of Americans.
But those tens of millions are powerless. They’re sitting on their butts, waiting for someone else to do something.
The urban protests of the 1960s and 1970s were unsettling and frequently disintegrated into disturbing acts of violence, as seen during the running street battles between activists and the Chicago police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the shootings of students by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State. Since the late 1970s the streets have been calm, except for such episodes of periodic political violence as the 1992 L.A. riots and the Battle of Seattle over globalization in 1999. In recent years lefties expressed pride in the fact that large protest demonstrations like the 2002-03 marches against the invasion of Iraq, the anti-Trump Women’s March and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement were so studiously nonviolent that organizers deployed “peace police” to separate potential troublemakers from the cops.
It is no coincidence that the American Left hasn’t won a major policy victory, or that no Democratic president has proposed a major anti-poverty program, since the 1970s. Without pressure from the Left, the country has steadily moved right.
“We could have large-scale marches for every year of Trump’s presidency. It would do nothing!” says Micah White, best known for his role in OWS. Street protests have been ritualized, stripped of their drama, and thus defanged.
The Left has embraced a cartoonish militant pacifism that goes far beyond Gandhi (who wasn’t really against violence). Violence hasn’t disappeared. Now the authorities have a monopoly on violence. They operate with impunity against dispossessed people. The authorities have militarized local police forces. They’ve murdered countless people of color, spied on our emails and phone calls, and even declared the right to use drones to blow up U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.
Street marches in the U.S. have become empty exercises, unguided support groups to make leftists feel better about themselves because they’re not alone. But that’s not how they started.
Historically, street protests were scary. They were carried out by angry mobs. There weren’t any speeches. These were riots. Drunken people ran around breaking and stealing things. The chaos ended in one of three ways: the rioters got tired and went home, the lord of the ancient and medieval city where the riot occurred had his soldiers kill the rioters, or the ruler so feared the complete destruction of his fiefdom — and for his own life — that he gave in to the rioters’ demands.
What makes violence, or more precisely the willingness to be violent, a useful tactic is that it isn’t necessary to kill anyone or break anything every time you want something. You don’t need actual violence to exert pressure against your enemy — you need the credible threat of violence. What makes that threat credible is the memory of a fairly recent act of actual violence. France and the U.S. both have nukes, for example. But only the U.S. has ever been crazy enough to use them. Which country scares other countries more?
Between 1811 and 1816 the Luddites broke into English mills and workshops to break the machines that were killing their jobs and slashing their pay. After that, terrified factory owners took the Luddites seriously. Luddites sometimes extracted concessions by sending a threatening letter signed “with Ned Ludd’s compliments.”
Consider the countervailing example of the Unite The Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. There weren’t that many racist attendees — fewer than a thousand. But they showed up with weapons, including assault rifles. One murdered a woman with his car and injured others. That violence gives the next alt-right rally a credible threat of violence and guarantees that the event will be taken seriously by the authorities and thoroughly covered by the news media.
I am not suggesting that progressives show up to their next anti-Trump march toting AR-15s, or that leftists should kill or injure anyone. That’s not who we are or what we’re about. We oppose Trump and the capitalist system precisely because they are violent and we loathe violence.
My message is more subtle: march peacefully. But don’t follow the rules. Don’t apply for parade permits. Don’t stay on the sidewalks when the police tell you to. And don’t promise not to break anything.
Power never yields unless it’s scared.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
On Saturday, January 21st, three times as many people attended a demonstration against Trump as showed up the day before for his inauguration. Solidarity marches across the nation drew hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, more.
The turnout was impressive. It vexed the new president. But what did the Women’s March mean?
Despite what pundits said, the Women’s March was not a movement. Nor was it the beginning of a movement.
It was a moment: a show of hands: “I’m against Trump,” these women (and men) told the world. Question was, who/what do they want to replace him?
As Occupy Wall Street instigator Micah White pointed out, Women’s Marchers didn’t issue any demands, much less posit a desire to achieve political power. “Without a clear path from march to power, the protest is destined to be an ineffective feel-good spectacle adorned with pink pussy hats,” he warned. Like other protests of the last few decades, the Women’s March was a spasm, a spontaneous expression of disgust and outrage doomed to lead nowhere.
If you don’t demand anything, (or if you demand everything) how will you get it?
If you don’t pose a threat to the establishment, why should they feel scared?
At the risk of both mansplaining and leftsplaining, a show of hands does matter. Events like the Women’s March are significant because American politics is centered (pun intended) around the fiction that leftist political movements taken for granted in other nations — communism, socialism and left anarchism — have no presence at the ballot box or in the news media in the U.S. because American voters aren’t interested.
Moments like Saturday prove that’s a lie.
The New Left was the last organized left-wing mass movement in American history. Since the organized Left collapsed in the early 1970s, we’ve seen other moments like Saturday, indications that there are Americans, tens of millions of them, whose politics fall to the left of the fake-left Democratic party and the lockstep center-right corporate media apparatus that props up it and its “rival” Republican brand. Signs that this Left-in-waiting really exists belie the party line that there’s no market for hammers-and-sickles in the good ol’ U.S.A.
Even during the somnolent 1980s, hundreds of thousands showed up to protest Reagan at demonstrations like Solidarity Day. There were violent, effective eco-terrorist attacks and anti-globalization/WTO protests like the Battle of Seattle in the 1990s. Millions marched against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This decade brought us Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly popular presidential primary challenge, and polls that find that 37% of Americans would get rid of capitalism — the economic system we’re constantly being told is more sacred and popular than Jesus, mom and apple frappuccino.
These political impulses — opposition to war and militarism, fighting job-exporting free-trade agreements and suspicion of unfettered capitalism — have no place in the Democratic or Republican parties. To the contrary: war, free trade and letting business run wild are nastily bipartisan.
So more than a third of Americans find nothing of interest to buy in the American marketplace of political ideas. That’s a vast untapped pool of potential “customers.” These people — I’d say voters, but many of them don’t bother to vote because they hate both parties — represent an inefficiency in the market. Moments like Occupy, Bernie and the Women’s March remind us of the existence of this Left-in-waiting. Someday, obviously, someone or someones will build an organization that attracts America’s long-ignored leftists and channels their energies into something powerful enough to achieve power and smart enough to govern.
Until then, the real left will be co-opted by the Democrats.
Which is what happened to the Women’s March.
To be sure, many Women’s Marchers were Hillary Clinton Democrats. The “Love Trumps Hate” signs, hand-lettered rather than printed by the DNC as they were during the fall campaign, and the Hillary buttons, evidenced that. Yet many more of the demonstrators were Bernie Sanders progressives, socialists and communists who want to see radical change in society and the economy — and these good leftists (a third of the country, most of the left overall) allowed themselves to go unrepresented.
A good indication that the Women’s March got co-opted into a Democratic boo-hoo Hillary/Cory Booker-in-2020 pep rally was that the speakers were limited to celebrity millionaire liberal Democrats like Michael Moore, Ashley Judd and Gloria Steinem and defanged ex-radicals like Angela Davis. Had this been a militant action (i.e., one that might frighten Trump and the GOP), or a coalition of liberals who welcomed and respected their leftist allies rather than merely wanting to vampirize their righteous anger and energy into midterm votes, the roster of speakers would have included people calling for revolutionary change and action outside of the existing system. There would also have been some radical activists you’d never heard of who do important work.
Celebrity liberalism and pleas to vote Democratic are where the Left goes to die.
No wonder the Women’s March was doomed to join the list of fruitless liberal marches! Because they’re Democrats, none of the speakers suggested scrapping the whole sick system of systemized poverty, industrialized prisons, war and slave labor altogether. Instead marchers got a washed-up documentary filmmaker urging them to memorize a phone number they could use to call Congress because, yeah, that’s going to do so much good, especially these days with Republicans in charge of everything.
Still, despite the Democratic BS, those huge crowds were glorious. They showed up, they were heard, they hint at the better country we could have.
May they soon get the radical, genuine political movement they and the world deserve.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
It’s a little rich to watch the US â which routinely uses tear gas and pepper spray to crush peaceful protests (which are cordoned behind razor-wired “free speech zones” â protest the use of chemical weapons, and the crushing of political dissent â in Syria.