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Democracy doesn't work for black, working-class Americans, and these riots prove it

Dr Lisa McKenzie
Dr Lisa McKenzie

Dr Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic. She grew up in a coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire and became politicized through the 1984 miners’ strike with her family. At 31, she went to the University of Nottingham and did an undergraduate degree in sociology. Dr McKenzie lectures in sociology at the University of Durham and is the author of ‘Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.’ She’s a political activist, writer and thinker. Follow her on Twitter @redrumlisa.

Dr Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic. She grew up in a coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire and became politicized through the 1984 miners’ strike with her family. At 31, she went to the University of Nottingham and did an undergraduate degree in sociology. Dr McKenzie lectures in sociology at the University of Durham and is the author of ‘Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.’ She’s a political activist, writer and thinker. Follow her on Twitter @redrumlisa.

Democracy doesn't work for black, working-class Americans, and these riots prove it
Another resonant police killing of a black man in the US has triggered another wave of riots. To those who say riots are not the answer and voting is, I say: voting does not work for poor, black, working-class Americans.

Lucy Parsons, born in Texas in 1851, was a working-class activist revolutionary and anarchist, whose heritage was African American, native American and Mexican. She was labelled “More dangerous than a thousand rioters” by the Chicago police in the 1920s. Why? Because she acknowledged that the democratic system in the US did not work for the working class. Her call to arms was made in 1885, in a speech to hundreds of thousands at a rally in Chicago following the murder of two striking workers by the army:

Let us devastate the avenues where the wealthy live.

Today I write in solidarity with the international working class – especially those in the US that are out on the streets today fighting against the tyranny of their own government, legislative system, economic system, and their state. Thirty million Americans are unemployed, not because of the coronavirus but because their system does not care for those who cannot contribute to a racist, capitalist system which can only survive through the oppression of those with the least power.

If 30 million unemployed was the reason for their protests – which have included rioting, the burning down of police stations and police cars, and looting the symbols of capitalism, such as that Louis Vuitton store – that would be reason enough. However, even the news that 30 million Americans are jobless with little-to-no state support for their welfare has been surpassed by the public execution of one of their citizens, George Floyd, on the streets of Minneapolis last week. His crime: being a black working-class man in America; his executioners: white police officers.

Consequently, black and white working-class people came out onto the streets to protest, and they have been met with more state violence. The scenes have been shocking, but not unexpected. When a system and political structure is in place that does not work for you – and the ritual of voting every four years to keep that system intact means you face more of the same – your only political options are on the streets rather than the voting booth. This is why rioting – violence towards state property and the symbols of an oppressive system – is legitimate.

It is understandable that people are calling for justice and want to see the arrest of the executioners, but let us be honest: the perpetrator in this, and in the hundreds of state-sanctioned African American deaths in the US, is their own administration. And how will the most oppressed and powerless of people hold to account a system that actively works to oppress them? Some say that voting for the ‘right’ person is the answer, but that ‘right’ person represents the wrong system.

Can we honestly ask African American people to keep voting, in a system that is historically and institutionally racist, for more powerful white people – or, in the case of Barack Obama, an acceptable black man who believes in and upholds the same system as his oppressors?

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It is too easy and too lazy to blame the fool Donald Trump for a system whose very survival depends upon the perpetuation of racism, oppression, and inequality.

I write in solidarity here, as I am not American or black – but I am a working-class woman in the United Kingdom, another system which can only work amid the oppression of those with the least power.

I have no clear and definitive answers here – just anger and sadness, not only at those who commit such crimes, but also those who enable them by allowing a system they know is neither democratic or fair to continue, either by their eagerness to participate in it or their eagerness to defend that system, but with reforms.

Today I want to pay tribute to those who are currently fighting for their lives against oppressive governments all over the world – but especially to those in the US who know their democracy is a lie, and that the change they need is the love and solidarity that can only come from their own communities.

I urge, as my hero Lucy Parsons did before me, that fundamental societal change cannot come from “vote begging, nor political campaigns.” They need the space to breathe.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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