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On Contact: Analysis of George Floyd protests

On the show today, Chris Hedges discusses the George Floyd protests erupting in over 140 American cities with Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report.

YouTube channel: On Contact

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CH: Welcome to “On Contact.” Today we discuss the protests that have erupted in over 140 American cities, with the Executive Editor of “Black Agenda Report” Glen Ford.

GF: And the black misleadership class actually seems to be more angry and bitter about this in some respects than the white misleadership class. 

CH:  Ha ha ha!

GF: It’s—sometimes, it’s funny. The activists have coined a term called “co-opaganda” to describe these funny gestures by cops and other authority figures to be kneeling a gesture of submission to the demands, but of course, it’s a diversion, a distraction designed to soften people’s attitudes towards—towards the rulers, and it shouldn’t fool anyone.

CH:  The ruling elites no longer have legitimacy. They have destroyed our capitalist democracy and replaced it with a Mafia state, what the Roman philosopher Cicero called a Commonwealth, a res publica public thing or the property of a people has been transformed into an instrument of naked pillage and repression on behalf of a global corporate oligarchy. We are serfs ruled by obscenely rich omnipotent masters who loot the U.S. Treasury, pay little or no taxes, and have perverted the judiciary, the media, and the legislative branches of government to strip us of civil liberties and give them the freedom to commit financial fraud and theft. The loss of control over our system of rulership, the misuse of all Democratic institutions, the electoral process and laws to funnel money upwards into a handful of oligarchs while stripping us of power ominously means that the ruling elites can no longer claim the right to have a monopoly on violence. Violence employed by police and security agencies such as the FBI, which have devolved into occupying forces to protect the exclusive interests of a tiny, ruling, criminal class exposes the fiction of the rule of law and the treason of the ruling elites. The current waves of protests are correctly targeting the co-modification of blackness by the state. Brittany Friedman, a Rutgers University professor, told “Black Agenda Report,” “We do not need the carceral state to save us,” she went on, “because the carceral state is the one that is killing us.” But where do we go from here? With more than 10,000 arrests by militarized police of largely non-violent protestors and the indiscriminate use of beatings, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and tear gas on peaceful crowds. “In order for non-violence to work, your opponent must have a conscience,” Stokely Carmichael warned. And if your opponent is bereft of a conscience, then state violence is inevitably met with counterviolence. Tyranny takes the place of reform. The danger of widespread sectarian violence in America is now very real. Joining me to discuss the protests that have erupted in over 140 American cities is Glen Ford, the Executive Editor of “Black Agenda Report.” So, Glen, I would think that you would argue that this has been a long time coming. This isn’t the first horrific murder of a black man by police. How do you read the Zeitgeist of this moment?

GF: Well, it’s been a long time coming, but the actual explosion was caused by several factors coming together, not just the system getting more and more rotten. You know, that’s not really the way revolutions happen, that there is some kind of smell coming from the system and that tells people that it’s time to get rid of it. But there were some very important, and some of them unexpected, factors that made this past two weeks an historic occasion, one that will be noted in history. Number one, of course, was the coronavirus, which was something that had never happened in modern American times, followed on the heels almost immediately by an economic shutdown that has created conditions that are much like the Great Depression, all of that coming on very suddenly. We also have the Bernie Sanders phenomenon. I think that there is something here that’s noteworthy that this Bernie Sanders phenomenon gave expectations among millions of young people that some kind of fundamental change was possible in this society. And then, of course, it all crashed and burned when Bernie Sanders bowed out. So there were millions of young people who thought they could—that a new society or the beginnings of it was in their grasp, the beginnings of something new, if not socialism, and that then they had to recognize that voting does not get you there. And so the shock of that realization and disappointment was very fresh and still is. And then, finally, and I think this is an important part of what combined to bring us to this place—the regime has been delegitimizing itself for the last 4 years. I’m not talking about just the general rot in capitalism, but this specific American regime has been delegitimizing itself with the ruling class split since the advent of the Trump regime. And because of their split, they have spread propaganda that tends to delegitimize and make very impermanent-seeming the American system of government. They’re the ones who invented Russiagate and called it “a veritable Pearl Harbor” attack on the United States. And they said that the U.S. system was so weak that some Russians in St. Petersburg spending $100,000 on Facebook could damn near bring the system down. So whether you believe Russiagate or you disbelieve Russiagate, the whole 4 years of this nonstop pseudoscandal has served to undermine the legitimacy of the regime. So we have these 4 factors here—coronavirus, depression, the dashing of expectations with Bernie Sanders, and the 4 years of delegitimacy of the regime—that has combined to bring us this glorious moment.

CH:  Well, there also have been powerful social pressures, because many of these people were already outside the economy, so they didn’t qualify for unemployment checks. The moratorium on evictions is about to be lifted. They’re drowning in debt. You know, they may have gotten a stimulus check, but off it went to their landlord or their credit cards or to pay their utilities, which can be shut off. 40 million unemployed. You know, to what extent do you think that the severity of the economic crisis has pushed people over the edge as well?

GF: Well, what people saw was instantaneous, universal precarity in U.S. society. Suddenly, no one knows, including titans of industry down to the unemployed worker. No one knows what’s coming next, and everyone knows that they can’t rely on the government to save them. So this was a shock to the system also undermining its legitimacy, because if you can’t defend your own population from “A” an epidemic, a disease--and clearly the United States could not—and everybody and everybody’s business could go, could be put out of business and out of work in the bat of an eye. Well, what kind of regime is this?

CH:  Well, and at the same time, we watch $4 trillion, 85+% of it, funneled up into the hands of the elites—the cruise industry… There was a recent article in the “New York Times” that talked about how the wealthiest hospital are sitting on billions in dollars in cash and meanwhile are firing or laying off nurses and doctors. There was also a kind of naked pillage on the part of the ruling class.

GF: And the point is, it was not the first time. We had a great meltdown only 12 years ago, and everyone knows that the only people who finally emerged with their fortunes intact were the banks. And here it comes again. After 12 years, the real saga of the rescue of the banks and the abandonment of the people was almost universally known, and now there’s going to be a repeat. See, we had already seen that script.

CH: Joe Biden becomes the Democratic nominee. So many people are out protesting against militarized police, against our huge prison population. 25% of the world’s prison population, or about 4% of the world’s population, the doubling and tripling of sentences, 3-strike-you’re-out laws--this all came from Biden.

GF: That’s correct. And yet, that is what the Democrats insisted is they all have to offer. I think, however, there’s the other element that we haven’t mentioned, and that is this time around in this crisis, in this shock to the population’s sensibilities, there was a recent history of movement activity that is until 2014, 2015. The United States had been without  a mass grass-roots, black-led movement for two generations. And then we got at least the beginnings of one in 2014-2015 with that spate of grass roots actions that we usually call Black Lives Matter. And in that interim, Black Lives Matter, and that also really goes to cover the general conversation about Race and political economy in the United States. Black Lives Matter matured and put out a coherent set of demands that includes not just defunding the police but dismantling them. And we’ve had time. We’ve had some years for at least the politically active population to have a rather deep conversation about “Where do we go from here?” And so that conversation was also existent when these other factors appeared. And so the hundreds of thousands of people who were put in motion these last 10 days or so were led by some people who had the benefit of a prolonged conversation about just this subject. “What do we do with these damn cops?”

CH: Great. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Glen Ford, the Executive Editor of “Black Agenda Report.”

[Break]

CH: Welcome back to “On Contact.” We continue our conversation with Glen Ford, the Executive Editor of “Black Agenda Report.” I want to just, before we go on, go back to Biden. I mean, this strikes me as phenomenally tone-deaf, even insulting to those who are struggling on the streets. How, uh…how do you think it’s gonna play out politically? Are they just gonna get away with Biden simply because he’s not Trump?

GF: Well, you know, that was the Democratic strategy in 2016, and that has been the Democratic strategy in 2020. But it’s not because they’re so stupid that they can’t think of anything else. Now, it’s because capitalism at this late stage is in a mind that it cannot escape from. The policy of the ruling class, split as it might be, is for never-ending war and never-ending austerity. And Biden is a dependable—dependable standard bearer for that regime. Bernie—Bernie Sanders. And of course, Bernie Sanders is no socialist. He’s a New Deal Democrat, but Bernie Sanders is an austerity-busting New Deal Democrat. And busting austerity—that is reversing the policy that makes workers more and more precarious so that they will be so desperate, they’ll take any kind of lousy gig appointment with an employer and accept that that is a job. That is absolutely necessary or the ruling class thinks it is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the system. So they are locked in to Joe Biden-types of presentations. They’re the ones who fear that any break in the austerity regime would be the slippery slope that would lead to all kinds of social supports that would make workers unwilling to take the gig jobs that—which are all that the rulers are willing to offer.

CH: I want to talk about these gestures of police taking a knee, of the mayor of Washington painting the streets with “Black Lives Matter.” It reminds me of an abusive relationship where you finally walk out and then the abuser shows up at your door with flowers and chocolates. But I want you to talk a little bit about that, and also “Black Agenda Report” has called these people out. I think you called them “the black misleadership class,” if I’m quoting you correctly. But talk about what’s happening.

GF:  And the black misleadership class actually seems to be more angry and bitter about this in some respects than the white misleadership class.

CH:  Ha ha ha!

GF: It’s--sometimes, it’s funny. The activists have coined a term called “co-opaganda” to describe these funny gestures by cops and other authority figures to be kneeling a gesture of submission to the demands, but of course, it’s a diversion, a distraction designed to soften people’s attitudes towards—towards the rulers, and it shouldn’t fool anyone. Now, when—

CH: How much has—

GF: the Minneapolis City Council, 9 of them—a veto-proof majority—says that they are going to move towards disbanding the police, I don’t think that is “co-opaganda.” I think that that is a significant and real political victory, one that needs to be sustained so that they don’t change their minds, but a real breakthrough because disbanding the police is even a more serious for the ruling order than the other Black Lives Matter demand, which is to defund the police and direct the funds that are taken from the cops towards community support programs. Because that’s the kind of numbers game that can go on indefinitely and does not affect relationships of power. But disbanding the cops, which is a move towards abolition, that’s something else entirely.

CH: Well, as you know well, the police, along with mass incarceration are the primary bulwarks of social control in poor communities that have been stripped of industry, stripped of jobs, stripped of adequate services. I mean, and then, of course, everything privatized, utilities. And so this becomes an assault on one of the central pillars of the ruling oligarchics—ruling oligarchic control.

GF: Yes, disbanding the cops is disbanding the occupying army that enforces the mass black incarceration regime, which was the regime’s answer to the sixties, to Black Power protests back in that day; the imposition of a regime that brought the U.S. prison population from 200,000, a little bit less than 200,000 in 1970 to 2.2 or 2.3 million. The disbanding, the demand, and the acquiescence in Minneapolis to the demand to disband the police is a kind of surrender.

CH: And of course, we should be clear, as Naomi Murakawa points out in her book, this carceral state was largely put in place by Democrats, by Bill Clinton, by Joe Biden, who wanted to wrest back the “law and order issue” from the Republican party. This was part of a so-called Liberal agenda.

GF: Oh, yes. It is as bipartisan as you get. And when we say “bipartisan” in the United States, we’re talking about an agreement within all the different sectors of the ruling class. But there was also mass white popular approval of this mass black incarceration regime, and it spread throughout the country almost instantaneously. It was just amazing. In all parts of the country, in states in which there were very few black people, in states where blacks were quite numerous, north, south, east, and west, it was—it became the law of the land very, very quickly. But now we’re talking about dismantling this regime. And, you know, the regime was put into place for a reason, to control a population that represented a danger to the ruling order. So when you talk about getting rid of the mass black incarceration regime, prisons, and the police as we know them, then we’re also talking about setting free those forces that had been locked up for two generations.

CH: Has anything surprised you? I mean, certainly the size of the protest has surprised me. I mean, in a good way, but anything else about what’s taken place on the streets that you found particularly interesting? I mean, one of the things is the assault against these Confederate monuments in the south, ripping down Robert E. Lee’s statue, et cetera. But in your observations, what’s been of particular interest?

GF: I was surprised and very much encouraged, not just by the size of the crowds in total, but how many white kids there were in those crowds, but on top of that, how they were carrying the very same signs as the black demonstrators, that it was clearly visual proof that these large numbers of white people—in many cases outnumbering the—non-blacks outnumbering blacks in these demonstrations. And yet, they were taking black political leadership, as shown by the placards, as shown by the slogans that were being shouted. And this is what black folks have been demanding for a very long time, that if there’s going to be multi-racial political actions in regard to these kinds of issues, certainly then the white folks involved have to take black leadership. Clearly, there were. So it wasn’t just that there were these huge numbers, but the political complexion of those crowds.

CH: Would you describe this as a revolutionary moment, a pre-revolutionary moment? How would you characterize it in kind of a political lexicon?

GF: You know, I don’t like the pre-revolutionary phrasing, simply because we’ve used it before and been disappointed. Certainly, what we’ve seen in the last 10 days or so is evidence of a broad consensus among enough people. You know, we don’t need everybody in the street to effect change. But a broad consensus among most of the active folks that capitalism is at the root of these problems, that the manifestations of—that racism in the United States works hand in hand with capitalism, that you can’t separate the two, and that the needed change in regime—and I do think that most of these folks want a change in regime—the change in regime must be thorough and throughout the political economy affecting race relations and relations of economic power.

CH: How do you expect the ruling elites to respond? I mean, I think they clearly sense the deep animus that is felt towards them. They—as we saw with the Cares Act, there is nothing to hold their hand in terms of theft of resources and money to further enrich this cabal. I mean, I think billionaires have increased their wealth since COVID-19 by $434 billion, Bezos alone by over $30 billion. How do you think—what do you see playing out, I mean, not just in terms of prediction, but also in terms of what worries you?

GF: Well, they’re not going to give up the austerity regime. They’ve concluded that they need the austerity regime in order to keep their own system stable. However, they’re also in a real bind in terms of tactically how do they deal with these kinds of numbers and the threat that people will come forward with these kinds of numbers again or even bigger numbers. But what can they do? The Democratic-oriented segment of the ruling class has, in the process of this split that they’ve been undergoing, they have put everything, all of the contradictions on Trump in order to divert popular attention away from the contradictions that are inherent in the system. And they have, for the last 4 years, been pretending that they are the party and the forces of—of racial inclusion. It is a pretense and a diversion, but it’s the only script that they have. But while the demonstrators of the past 10 days have shown that they’re not—that you can’t just sit up there and pretend that you’re Mr. Inclusion and Diversity and satisfy the demands of these waves of people in motion. You have to makes substantive changes in relationships of power, but all that the Democrat or—uh, Democrat elements of the ruling class can offer is just more sweet talk about “Can’t we all get along?” And that doesn’t work in the face of today’s political realities. So they don’t really have much in their toolkit. And every time—and if they decide that the—that some repression is in order, well, they’ve already said that “That’s Trump’s bag,” and they oppose it. It’s difficult for them to bring out the big stick, given how they’ve been posturing and posing as being racially so Liberal these past 4 years.

CH: Great. Thanks, Glen. That was Glen Ford, Executive Editor of “Black Agenda Report.”

 

 

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