Then, a very interesting thing happened at that rally. After a series of inspiring speakers and the raising of the militancy in rhetoric and energy, a member of the California State Legislature, who I can’t remember, came down out of the building and requested to speak to the “leadership” of the assembled students. Since I was a part of that statewide team, myself and about 25 others went to a side area and this lawmaker began expressing their desire to “hear us out” on these demands. From that point, people began expressing their frustrations. There were media persons present. Many tearful testimonies, and by the time the session was over, we had a ton of empty rhetoric and no plan and/or commitments. Unfortunately, that sad reality didn’t stop some of the “leaders” who led the discussion with that legislator from reporting back to the crowd with hopeful (yet naïve) optimism, that “they are listening to us” and that progress was to be made. I became acutely aware that the entire mood of the crowd had shifted from one of uncompromising militancy and a commitment to go all the way, whatever we felt that meant at that time, to a mood of passive acceptance. Almost a resignation that we had done what we came to do.
For me, it was a defining moment. In just a few short minutes, all the energy and militancy that we had cultivated for weeks had been swept away. And, the actions of that legislator, wittingly or unwittingly, had played a significant role in sucking that militancy away just by coming out and spending a few minutes letting people vent their frustrations.
Fast forward to today and I can tell you that I have learned that the tactic employed that day in 1983 is standard fare for representatives of the capitalist system. Their approach, their jobs as leaders in this system, etc., is all about squashing militancy. They do this by promoting the concept that they and they alone hold the power to generate any change. And, anything outside of their purview and power is wicked, mentally unstable, and a betrayal to the best values of humanity. They are able to get away with this time and time again because the masses of people in this capitalist society, just like 20 year old me in 1983, have been conditioned to believe that an ear (even an empty one) from the capitalist system, or those who represent it, is a step forward. An example of progress. A beacon of moving forward. We are taught to believe this lie with such strategic effectiveness that even if nothing comes from that ear hearing us out, and nothing ever does come from it, we still believe wholeheartedly that just having them come out and hear us for 30 minutes is supposed to represent some sort of victory for us.
Most of us still believe this today as evidenced by what just happened in the national political arena within capitalist U.S. This country had been rocked by militant protests against police terrorism over the last couple of months. The Democratic Party, always the chief energy sucker of all grassroots militancy within the U.S., came to nominate Joe Biden and then Kamala Harris to lead its ticket for the presidency. The irony that Harris made a career for herself as a prosecutor is apparently lost on many people, particularly Africans, who are actively promoting this false narrative that any criticism of Harris from the African community, particularly African men, is anti-African woman. First, to expose how absurd that thinking is, those same people advancing that theory don’t believe that African men/people should support all African women. They don’t suggest that unhinged and insane African women like Candace Owens, or example, should be expected to gain the support of African men/people in order to permit us to avoid being labeled as being anti-African women. There are no calls for us to uniformly support Owens because those critics understand clearly that we should expose Candace Owens, despite her being an African woman, for the fraud and sellout that she certainly is. So, this clear reality demonstrates that most people do actually understand that there is a class, gender, and national analysis that creates space to scientifically critique Harris and Owens without betraying all African women.
And much of the above may or may not be intentionally distracting to divert people away from the cooptation so that people miss that irony that the woman who made a career locking up African people is supposed to also be the person who will rescue us from police terrorism. As a result, we should ignore those ill refutable realities in order to preserve some of our subjective emotional desire to see some of us achieve individual positions within the very capitalist system that reaps havoc on our people everywhere on earth. I can tell you today that this strategy, yet again, will work. Ten years from now, if we are all still here, there will be absolutely no tangible progress made against police terrorism, or on anything else impacting African people. And, by tangible we mean significant reductions in our mass incarceration rates, arrest rates (to at least become consistent with the actual percentage of crimes that we commit i.e. consummate with our numbers), and murder rates at the hands of terrorist police. I will take bets with you that any of these people assigned to “represent” us will have no victories of this magnitude on our behalf and if there is any progress, it will come from the place it always comes from; the struggles of the masses of our people.
If you still don’t get it, what just happened on the national stage is the Democratic Party highjacked and undermined a mass movement for accountability against police terrorism. The very same tactic used at the rally here in California in 1983. The very same tactic the capitalist power structure uses against every mass movement aiming at an uncompromising solution to our suffering. This tactic will continue to work against us until we develop enough political maturity to require ourselves to stay focused on our prize, which is the complete elimination of these problems that oppress us. We will never achieve this by consistently trusting and giving in to our emotional desires for symbolic victories. We will only begin to win this war when we develop the sophistication to require more respect from this system. Build those movements so that nothing short of institutional changes is acceptable, not just individual position holders who have demonstrated their presence means nothing tangible for our forward progress.
The Democratic Party, Republican Party, and all institutions functioning within the capitalist system exist to corral that mass energy and coopt it so that nothing outside of the range provided by capitalism will ever flourish. Any self-respecting people can never be satisfied with symbolism while they suffer the way we do. If symbolism is important to you, it cannot exist without actual systemic change for your demand. Otherwise, you really aren’t demanding anything beyond cosmetic changes.
Meanwhile, those of us committed to revolutionary change will keep pointing out these contradictions because we have faith in the masses. We know that properly organized with constant political education, many of us will awaken and realize this scam that’s being pulled on us over and over again. It happened with the launching of Black Lives Matter in 2014. It happened with the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 60s. In those days it was paper thin legislation (like the civil rights and voting rights bills) for the former and elected offices and poverty programs for the latter. With BLM its been more paper-thin legislation (like police wearing cameras which hasn’t saved a single life), etc. Soon, we will realize that nothing short of a serious threat to bring this system to its knees will really get more serious responses. Maybe by the time we get there, most will realize that there really is no demand that can bring us the justice we need from a system built on maintaining our oppression. Maybe, at that point, the realization that only complete systemic change is the answer will finally become something most people can begin to wrap their minds around.