July 14th, 2020 | 57 mins 51 secs
abolition, berniesanders, black reconstruction, bobby seale, bpp, conjure feminism, deep roots, democratic, eric foner, huey newton, memphis, sean mcelwee, socialist, spinoza, stacey abrams, the black panther party, zoltan hajnal
A Democratic Socialist’s Almanac has finally arrived in our own times. To begin our discussion of where we are and what our tasks are, let me first of all lift up Stacey Abrams. In 2018 Stacey Abrams ran for Governor of Georgia, and when she showed up to vote for herself she was at first denied because the records wrongly showed that she had already voted in absentia. She very narrowly lost that election, but she did use her newly enlarged platform to begin a crusade against voter disenfranchisement. I want to second her prescription: what the present moment calls for is greater democracy, greater voter participation. “We have to expand our vision of who belongs in the big tent of progress, invest in their inclusion, and talk to them about what’s at stake. This formula is no guarantee of triumph - but I can promise that without it, we don’t stand a chance of conquering the future.” (Abrams, p. 220). There is a dogma on the far left that the elections are all rigged, and that we need revolution. When we discussed Lenin, we saw that he organized for revolution in part by engaging in electoral politics. In this episode I’m going to engage with Abrams’ project, evaluate the gains Black Americans have made since the Voting Rights Act, and arrive at an electoral strategy for leftists who want more than just bourgeois reforms. We will begin our discussion with a reprise of our earlier discussion of the Black Panther Party. Let’s dive in…
We ended our discussion about the Black Panthers with a meditation on the mass support they had and it’s evaporation due to four factors identified by Bloom and Martin in their 2013 masterpiece “Black Against Empire.”
The Panthers were victims of their own success. Nixon made key capitulations in order to preserve the larger system of white Power. There were four things that led to the BPP’s decline in the early seventies.
Increased membership along with the killing, jailing and exile of its most experienced cadres led to more and more occasions where inexperienced leaders made mistakes. Using the law and guns to protect a community from a tyrannical state is a difficult thing to do even for highly trained people such as Newton and Seale. The rapid growth of the BPP meant that it was difficult to train all the newcomers in best practices or for them to be fully integrated under a coordinated central command. Telling the story of the BPP is a fraught endeavor, and I apologize because the Party meant so many different things to different people in different places. Furthermore, the FBI was able to exploit the relative inexperience of new cadres along with agents provocateurs to instigate conflicts with other Black power groups like US in California. These FBI instigated feuds were often quite bloody and violent. Many Panthers fled the country, among them Memphis’ own Lorenzo Kombao Erwin who spent time in US jail but also in Cuban jail for protesting the government there.
Nixon ended the Vietnam War, and with that the Panthers lost the support of the white antiwar movement. It happened so quickly that Panther leader David Hilliard when he gave a speech saying “We say down with the American fascist society!...We will kill Richard Nixon,” was booed offstage in November 1969, because he hadn’t realized the audience was no longer receptive to the idea of overthrowing the US government.
Nixon opened trade with China, and part of that deal was that Mao would stop supporting the Black Panthers. This was typical of Mao, who as discussed in a previous episode abandoned revolutionary groups in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and so on when those groups had served his geopolitical interests.
Nixon brought massive numbers of Black people into the public sector, so there was much less generalized poverty in the Black community. The Black middle class that was strengthened in this way was much less interested in violently confronting the US government. I think that clearly the school breakfast programs that started at this time in public schools were part of this effort to undercut the BPP.
I want to read the last two paragraphs of this book in their entirety because they are so brilliant. The political clarity on display here is striking. The authors reflect on the current political moment. They focus on the inability of any of today’s so-called revolutionaries to appeal to society as a whole, which tells you that the phenonomenon was a mass democratic movement. The book was published in 2013; I leave it to you to decide how applicable this is 7 years later:
“While minimovements with revolutionary ideologies abound, there is no politically significant revolutionary movement in the United States today because no cadre of revolutionaries has developed ideas and practices that credibly advance the interests of a large segment of the people. Members of revolutionary sects can hawk their newspapers and proselytize on college campuses until they are blue in the face, but they remain politically irrelevant. Islamist insurgencies, with deep political roots abroad, are politically significant, but they lack potential constituencies in the United States. And ironically, at least in the terrorist variant, they tend to reinforce rather than challenge state power domestically because their practices threaten -- rather than build common cause with -- alienated constituencies within the United States.
No revolutionary movement of political significance will gain a foothold in the United States again until a group of revolutionaries develops insurgent practices that seize the political imagination of a large segment of the people and successively draw support from other constituencies, creating a broad insurgent alliance that is difficult to repress or appease. This has not happened in the United States since the heyday of the Black Panther Party and may not happen again for a very long time.” (Bloom, 401).
The Black Panther Party saw its power expand in the context of lingering segregation, deep racial inequality, and the unpopular war in Vietnam. At the same time, in the wake of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 the halls of American governance were flooded with Black politicians riding a wave of newly enfranchised Black voters. This effect was magnified as the Democratic Party responded to the disaster of the 1968 Democratic Party convention by reforming the nomination process to be more democratic via the McGovern Fraser Commission. Here is how Bloom and Martin describe this Black entrance into US electoral politics: “Black representation among party delegates more than doubled by 1972, to about 15 percent. Black electoral representation generally ballooned in the early 1970s. Whereas in March of 1969, 1,125 black people held political offices across the United States, by May 1975, the number had more than tripled to 3,499. This figure included 281 black officeholders in state legislative or executive offices, 135 mayors, 305 county executives, 387 judges and elected law enforcement officers, 939 elected board of education members, and 1,438 people holding other elected positions in municipal government.” (p. 348).
Cedric Johnson is associate professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. In 2007 he gave us “Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics.” In this book he discusses how Black Power revolutionaries adapted to the new environment where Black people were being brought into the traditional power institutions. You should get a copy and read it. Though there was broad consensus around the need for a politics expressive of a common racial solidarity, very real political differences among Black people made the formation of a united front elusive.
In the first two years of the 70s there was a general aspiration to forming a Black united front. This agenda was developed and promoted at the Atlanta Congress of African Peoples in 1970 and a smaller meeting of Black notables in Chicago in September 1971. These meetings were just preparation for the 1972 National Black Political Convention. The historical context for these events is important.
Black people had entered the halls of government in a great burst of new democratic access at the same time that the Black Panther Party had successfully mobilized the Black community in the street. Cointel pro had visited white terror on the leadership of the Black radical movement. In 1971 the Cointelpro program was officially disbanded, and the Congressional Black Caucus held hearings that exposed “government lawlessness.” (Johnson, p. 99). The segregationist Dixiecrat Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, was running in the Democratic Primary for President. Nixon was tearing down Johnson’s War on Poverty. The stakes were high in 1972, and white liberal and left political groups, placated with Nixon’s reduction of forces in Vietnam, were abandoning the Black Panther Party. All of this contributed to a felt need for Black political radicals to find a relationship with the newly elected Black establishment.
Radicals in the movement were wary of united action with moderate politicians, whom they more and more accused of selling out. Elected Black politicians were interested in slow reform that wouldn’t hurt their chances at reelection. Cedric Johnson identifies three paths that had prominent support in the movement. (Johnson, pp. 90-92).
First off was the “favorite son” path. Julian Bond was a civil rights activist and cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which had led voter registration drives in the South throughout the 60s. Later, he served as a representative in the Georgia state legislature. In 1970 he began shopping around an idea called the “favorite son” tactic. The idea was that Black people in each state would run their own candidate in the Democratic Presidential Primary, and that in doing this they would build up a pool of delegates to help them gain leverage in who the Democrats chose as a presidential nomination.
Second was the possibility of having one Black presidential candidate that all groups would rally behind. This was the idea that Percy Sutton endorsed. Percy Sutton was a freedom rider who later served as a lawyer for Malcolm X. They could point to the relative success of Dick Gregory’s Presidential run in 1968. Dick Gregory, who is a hilarious stand up comic, got 500,000 votes in 1968, which was greater than the margin of the popular vote that Nixon beat Humphrey by. Sutton and others wanted to repeat that experience on a grander scale. It somewhat tarnishes the moment that the candidacy of Shirley Chisolm, the first Black Woman who ever ran for President in a major party primary, was pushed to the side by this still very male dominated movement.
Third of all, the hard Black Nationalist proposal was to form an independent Black Political Party. This idea was championed by radical activists who had their political education inside the Black Panther Party and other Black nationalist groups like the Nation of Islam and US. The literary genius Amiri Baraka led this effort. Julian Bond wasn’t the only Black establishment figure arguing against this idea, but Cedric Johnson makes it seem like he was leading the charge. Bond, correctly as it turned out, perceived that despite the fact of Black people sharing the experience of racial oppression, they also hold a diversity of political opinions. What came out of the Gary congress was not a united political party, or even an institutional coalition. The various parties recognized they had too many differences for that, but they did produce a document, the National Black Political Agenda. The “Gary Declaration” is the introduction to the Black Agenda, and you should all read it. It is a testament to the political aspirations of newly enfranchised people who are finding power, and as important a document to our understanding of the American project as is the Declaration of Independence. Here’s a small excerpt, quoted by Johnson:
“The Crises we face as Black people are the crises of the entire society. They go deep to the very bones and marrow, to the essential nature of America’s economic, political and cultural systems. They are the natural end product of a society built on the twin foundations of white racism and white capitalism… Our cities are crime haunted dying grounds. Huge sectors of our youth - and countless others - face permanent unemployment. Those of us who work find our paychecks able to purchase less and less. Neither the courts nor the prisons contribute to anything resembling justice or reformation. The schools are unable - or unwilling - to educate our children for the real world of our struggles. Meanwhile, the officially approved epidemic of drugs threatens to wipe out the minds and strength of our best young warriors. Economic, cultural and spiritual depression stalk Black America and the price of survival often appears to be more than we are able to pay.” (p. 107; https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/gary-declaration-national-black-political-convention-1972/)
Essentially, the split in the Black movement came from a tension between radicals and establishment types. Elected officials had to think about what their constituencies, the people who had elected them and the people they represented, wanted them to do and say. Radicals don’t have constituencies, and so they are not responsible to anyone, but then their actions and statements are of less consequence. Here is how Cedric Johnson describes the results of the national convention of 1972:
“In the months following the convention, the majority of black politicos distanced themselves from the progressive agenda created at the meeting. The 1972 Gary Convention was a shotgun wedding of the radical aspirations of Black Power and conventional modes of politics. This marriage would not last nor would it produce the kinds of offspring that black radicals desired. Although it possessed the aura and rhetoric of movement politics, in essence the Gary Convention was an attempt to form an elite, race brokerage apparatus. To operate effectively, the convention and its subsequent Assembly structure required the discipline and legitimacy of establishment parliamentary bodies. Without the effective means to ensure the support of black politicians - particularly mainstream party regulars - the convention’s agenda could not be an effective bargaining tool with the major parties as the organizers envisioned. Although the strength of radical forces threatened both the legitimacy and the preeminence of old guard civil rights forces and the emergent black political elite, these same radical forces helped to bolster the position of black political moderates within mainstream institutions. Inasmuch as black politicos were in a more advantageous position to negotiate directly with the Democratic Party and major public institutions, they readily established themselves as the chief race brokers in the post-segregation context.” (p. 129). All of this reads as a terrible disaster some 50 years later, now that it is clear that the election of Black people into public office has clearly not helped the wellbeing of Black people very much. We should comment some on how much political representation has helped Black people because the picture is complex. But let’s assert the truth that Black entrance into political life after the voting rights act did not lead to the eradication of racial inequality.
That’s not just some personal observation, though I expect it is intuitive to my listeners. Zoltan Hajnal is the Associate Dean at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego, and he draws on a large body of work that demonstrates racial inequality in America didn’t change much after the large influx of Black politicians into the halls of government after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. 2007 saw the publishing of his well researched “Changing White Attitudes toward Black Political Leadership.” Quote: “Despite large gains in the number of black elected officials across the country, there has been only moderate change in basic indicators of African American well-being and, even more importantly, almost no change in various measures of racial inequality. Though black officials have controlled the mayoralty in seven of the ten largest cities in the country and have achieved nearly proportionate representation in the House of Representatives, figures comparing black to white poverty, unemployment, and educational attainment remain largely unchanged.” (Hajnal, p.2). On the other hand, Professor Hajnall’s work does show that having Black people in positions of power has changed the attitudes of White people in a less racist direction, increased White trust in Black leadership somewhat. In 2017 Hajnal struck again, and I highly recommend owning a copy of his “Dangerously Divided: How Race and Class Shape Winning and Losing in American Politics.” You should own a copy, because this book is full of important information and insightful, often counter-intuitive interpretations of the data. Hajnal investigated the relationship between voters’ identities along various axes like race, class, gender and education level, and whether or not voters got what they wanted out of government. He shows that Black people lose the most in our political system, that Black people lose more than do High School dropouts or poor people. The left is fond of saying that corporate interests are what make our society uneven, but as Hajnal points out the wealthy get what they want only about 38% of the time. That’s the same percentage approximately as White people, both groups getting about 6% more of what they want than do Black people. It just so happens that a lot of poor white people also want lower taxes and less public spending. From Hajnal: “The top 10 percent of earners win on policy 37.9 percent of the time, while the top 1 percent win 36.8 percent of the time. This is a better success rate than among the poor [at around 36%], but surprisingly it is not much better… Blacks lose more regularly than Whites regardless of their class status. Among Whites, the income gap is in the expected direction but still small (38.8 percent winners for wealthier Whites vs. 36.9 percent for poorer Whites). Whites win more often at all class levels.” (Hajnal, Dangerously Divided, p. 127). He shows that wealthy Black people get less of what they want out of the political process than poor white people get. He shows that poor white people tend to want the same things that wealthy white people want, which is a good explanation of why we can’t have nice things. And he shows a direct correlation between the increasing losses of the Democratic Party and those of Black people in the course of the last four decades. The more the Democratic Party wins, the more Black people win. The problem is that the influx of Black politicians in the 70s came with such high hopes that the modest gains since then seem unimportant. But those gains were not unimportant. We’ve seen in this podcast over and over again that people who wield power are themselves constrained, that the exercise of power requires trade-offs. Toussaint Louverture accepted that Haiti would be part of France so long as that meant freedom for the former slaves there. The Bolsheviks disastrously had to suppress free speech to protect their political project in 1921. Garcia Oliver urged the Catalan anarchists to surrender their barricades to fight Franco. We have to expect that Black people in power after 1970 were faced with similar problems.
So, I’m moving on now to the situation that Black politicians have faced when they enter the halls of power, because there are lessons there for anyone concerned with how to get and use power, especially for the socialist audience that I assume is listening.
At the local level across this nation the arrival of Black people in positions of power in City Hall was met with a wave of state legislation that disempowered cities. In a collection of essays edited by Kate Aronoff that came out in 2020 entitled Democratic Socialism-American Style: we own the future, Bill Fletcher Jr. observes: “Republicans have deployed their bases in rural areas in order to surround municipalities and introduce legislation that blocks the ability of municipalities and counties to introduce reforms...Republican-controlled state legislatures have blocked the ability of municipalities and counties to introduce living-wage increases and environmental reforms without approval from the state legislature.” (pp. 95,96).
In 2013 Ravi K. Perry blessed us with “Black Mayors White Majorities: the Balancing Act of Racial Politics,” in which he tempers for us the idea that Black mayors didn’t get anything for Black people. Bill Fletcher Jr. discusses how when Harold Washington became the mayor of Chicago a bloc of white city aldermen worked to block his appointments and legislation attempts. Perry helps us nuance this view. Washington didn’t accomplish nothing. He was successful at limited social welfare efforts because he opened city hall to various civic organizations and increased city contracts to minority owned firms from nine to sixty in the span of three years. A similar pattern developed under Maynard Jackson in Atlanta and under Carl Stokes in Cleveland: city contracts to Black owned businesses became a ready vehicle for some limited racial uplift. I think socialists should meditate on that before they begin a blanket denunciation of Black capitalism. Perry goes on to discuss in detail the path of Black mayors in Toledo and Dayton Ohio to demonstrate how Black leaders in White majority cities can rally the public to their agendas by putting forward policies that benefit everyone, not by jettisoning the interests of Black people but by highlighting how programs that benefit Black people benefit everyone, things like increased spending on education. From Perry: “This book explores how two mayors effectively used a new strategy in majority-white contexts. By strategically (and usually rhetorically) linking the needs of African Americans with the interests of whites, these mayors demonstrated that it was no longer political suicide to advocate for black interests” (p. xix).
The situation for Black congressmen and women is similarly limited. In 2011 Christian R. Grose gave us an important book synthesizing several decades worth of research on how successful Black representatives have been at working for racial uplift. That book is “Congress In Black and White: Race and Representation in Washington and at Home.” The research shows unsurprisingly that Black representatives who serve majority Black districts will vote consistently in the interest of Black people (Grose, p. 16). In the mid-nineties the nation saw a wave of gerrymandering, and many of the Black representatives who had majority Black constituencies suddenly had to win races in majority white districts. This is where it became important as Zoltan Hajnal points out that Black politicians in power, even if they aren’t able to enact change because of whatever political constraints they work under, they still change white peoples’ attitudes just by responding to the public will in a fair way. In several places Black representatives kept their seats despite the gerrymandering, but afterwards they changed how they voted. Black representatives from majority white districts are much less likely to vote in ways that exclusively speak to a Black interest. In fact, in terms of voting behavior there are three factors that affect whether someone will vote with Black interests in mind: (1) the race of the representative has a minor effect, (2) the race of that representative’s constituency has a large effect because politicians like to be re-elected, and (3) if someone belongs to the Democratic Party they are much more likely to vote in the interests of Black people. That third item, the effect of the Democratic Party needs a little explanation, because belonging to the Democratic Party comes with its own limitations and empowerments. A socialist movement that wants to enter the halls of power using the Democratic Party as a vehicle should pay close attention to how Black politicians have navigated this terrain.
There are three ways that a Congressional representative can wield power. First off, every member of congress provides what is called constituency services. That includes hiring people in the district for their offices, advocating for people in their district, helping them get information about government programs and grants. Constituency services sound like a yawnfest, but it’s important that the public can call their representatives because democracy isn’t just about the vote last time it’s also about the vote next time and it’s good that representatives are responsive to the will of the public in their day to day decision making. And for the most part they are. For Black congressional representatives, one easy win for Black people is just hiring Black people, just as we saw that it was for Black mayors. Hiring people is one place where a representative has nothing constraining what they do, and it turns out that Black representatives definitely hire more Black people than do White representatives regardless of party affiliation.
Secondly, representatives can vote. Most people will vote along party lines, and the representatives with the most seniority set the priorities for what legislation to put forward. Ranking members of committees are in a position to put forward legislation, and they are also by right of the committees they chair, likely best positioned to help other members of congress get special projects in their districts.
A lot of money gets apportioned to special programs that are targeted to particular districts, and this is the third way a member of congress can wield power. On the other hand, as just pointed out a representative’s ability to bring home the bacon can depend upon their agreeing to vote along party lines and back committee chairpersons’ legislative proposals. It’s a hierarchy, in other words, and voting is the part that a representative has the least control over. Seniority can provide some amount of space to vote according to one’s conscience. Seniority is what you get if you win enough elections. Winning elections is what you get if you respond to the will of your constituencies. That’s how our democracy works, you’re welcome for the civics lesson!
Since this podcast is for a far left audience, we have to discuss how bad the Democratic Party is. The Democratic Party is weak. Anyone who has had any dealing with them knows that the party itself is not particularly strong, but I think one of the best portraits of the party in our times was provided by Donna Brazile in her excellent book about the 2016 election entitled “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-Ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” Here is her estimation of the Democratic Party in the wake of the Obama presidency: “I had learned a great deal about the dysfunction inside the party in the last ten hours. As I saw it, we had three Democratic parties: the party of Barack Obama, the party of Hillary Clinton, and this weak little vestige of a party led by Debbie [Wasserman Schulz, then Chair of the DNC] that was doing a very poor job getting people who were not president elected. As I saw it, these three titanic egos -Barack, Hillary, and Debbie- had stripped the party to a shell for their own purposes. Barack never had seen himself as connected to the party. He had not come up through it the way Joe Biden and Hillary had, but had sprung up almost on his own and never had any trouble raising money for his campaigns. He used the party to provide for political expenses like gifts to donors, and political travel, but he also cared deeply about his image. Late into his second term, the party was still playing for his pollster and focus groups. This was not working to strengthen the party. He had left it in debt. Hillary bailed it out so that she could control it, and Debbie went along with all of this because she liked the power and perks of being a chair but not the responsibilities. I know these three did not do this with malice. I knew if you woke any of them up in the middle of the night to ask them how they felt about the Democratic Party they would answer with sincerity that they loved this party and all it had done for the country and for them. Yet they had leached it of its vitality and were continuing to do so. In my three months I was going to do what I could to bring that life back.” (Brazile, pp. 41-42). So, it’s not much of a deep state really. The Democratic Party is just a loose coordination of political campaigns. Democratic politicians are literally only as powerful as the number of votes they can get. The votes of the poor matter as much as the votes of the wealthy, but Black votes matter less, so the research tells us. But why is that?
Stacey Abrams has a story about Black votes that I think is as good an explanation as any as to why Black people get so little of what they want from the political process in our nation. Because her story gives us a clear political direction for work as socialists, as people committed to collective uplift, I will leave that to the end of this podcast. Let’s consider now the picture all of this paints, the situation that awaits us in the halls of power, if socialists are going to someday find themselves in the halls of power.
What does all of this mean for those of us who want to transform the world we live in? It means there is no way for us to see radical change come out of our government without convincing the majority of people we are right. Politicians can’t push forward socialist measures, not because of corporate interests, but because their constituencies are resistant to socialist measures. There are no socialists at the top of the hierarchy in the congress because no socialist has won enough elections to get seniority. Because there are no socialists with seniority radical legislation doesn’t get proposed or voted on. The inability of Black representatives to pass things like reparations is not because Democrats are white supremacists, but rather because the Democrats are responsible to the public who up to now doesn’t support reparations. What’s worse, is that there is a kind of inertia inherent to the situation. The representatives that do get elected to fight for greater equality are constrained in all these ways, so they can’t make things suddenly much better overnight. Because people had such high expectations they become disillusioned with the political process, and these historically disenfranchised groups stop participating in the process before anyone can get seniority and pass radical legislation. People who do dedicate their lives to patiently passing what legislation they can in the short term end up with a career of compromise decisions, or with votes that were once popular but aren’t now: like when Bernie Sanders voted for the 1994 Crime Bill, which had overwhelming public support at the time. And then voters judge them on their voting record as if they were free to vote for free Ice Cream but chose Mass incarceration instead, i.e. voters look at their record without considering context or history or anything, especially radicals newly minted. And the politicians that would combine progressive politics with the ability to legislate progressive policies, say if there were suddenly broad popular support for such, get denounced by radicals.
How can we build power? It’s too big a question for a library of books. It’s a question we have to answer in practice. One thing that could help is if we stopped treating politicians as though they should be our saviors. We should understand and educate and repeat and realize that politicians can only vote according to what society wants in that moment. It should be the work of activists and organizers to move public opinion in a progressive direction: we shouldn’t expect politicians to do that. If we push politicians to do unpopular things, to propose unpopular laws like single payer health care, we sabotage their ability to do anything. They won’t succeed at passing an unpopular law, and then they won’t get re-elected. They will never get seniority, and we’ll never see our legislation put to a vote. There is no path to power for us that does not pass through a successful campaign of persuasion.
If you’re not reading Sean McElwee, do you even want power? Sean McElwee is a data scientist who studies political change. In 2016 a collection of essays came out from Wicked Problems Collective entitled “What Do We Do About Inequality,” and it included one by Sean McElwee called the Ideological Straight Jacket. It’s dope. You should read it. It’s an update on Marx’s Grundrisse. In that article he discusses all the research showing how rich people believe they deserve to be paid much more than us, though they actually contribute much less to our society, and how because they think inequality is fair they block people from rising in the social hierarchy. If you geek out on sociological research about inequality and political power, you should know Sean McElwee’s work by now. You probably also ought to know about the 2014 Martin and Gilens paper that showed that the wealthier you are the more likely it is that your policy preferences will become law. McElwee points out the thing that most folx don’t know about Martin and Gilens’ findings: that average citizens for the most part agree with economic elites’ policy preferences. But Sean McElwee has a strategy for changing opinions. It turns out that people do not change their minds because of political campaigns. Incremental legislative gains do change people’s minds, and we can get incremental gains if we work to increase voter turnout for moderate Democratic candidates. Maximalist demands set up a cycle of high expectations and disappointment which depresses voter turnout and sabotages long term power building. It’s all here in this article from Vox linked in the transcripts that you should read, being as if you’ve listened this far you probably care about actually getting power for progressive causes (https://www.vox.com/2020/4/17/21224140/bernie-sanders-elizabeth-warren-joe-biden-2020-democratic-primary).
We are currently going through a period where there is mass unrest, insurrection even, against police brutality and mass incarceration. The oppression itself is not new. The fact that people denounce the oppression is not new either. What is new is that there are strong indications that a large majority of White Americans seem to have found their way to agreeing that Black Lives Matter. We can speculate as to why that is. Zerlina Maxwell, the author of this year’s “The End of White Politics,” speculates that White America could care more now because White people suffering from COVID are experiencing physical pain caused by white supremacy (Minute 41, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/zerlina-maxwell-end-white-politics-how-to-heal-our/id425400236?i=1000480107671). I agree with Mx. Maxwell, and I also want to point out that this democratic mass movement for racial equality is happening in the same country where Bernie Sanders didn’t win the Democratic Primary. Bernie Sanders lost the old fashioned way: he didn’t get enough votes. By a lot. So, people are motivated to act for racial equality, but not convinced they need a socialist President. As noted previously its the feelings of their constituencies that drive voting behavior of members of congress. We saw historically high voter turnout in 2018 and in the primary for moderate democrats. The generation of Democratic politicians, many of them being part of that wave of Black representatives that flooded the halls of government starting in the 70s, people like House majority Whip Jim Clyburn, having spent long decades fighting against Republican gerrymandering and the racial illiteracy of White America, those Democrats who were motivated to become politicians because they saw the Democratic party ditch the racist Dixiecrats, those Democrats now have seniority and a strong public mandate to pass a New Deal for racial equality. It just won’t call itself socialist, and we won’t get to be big fucking heros. And these Democrats are already doing everything they can to respond effectively to this movement. Here’s a list of things the protests following George Floyd’s murder have won, and this is far from exhaustive:
Murder charges were filed against all four officers involved in killing George Floyd. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/06/03/george-floyd-police-officers-charges/).
Congress passed a law that outlaws chokeholds and does away with qualified immunity. Who knows if it will pass, but nothing would prevent legislation like it once we get Trump out of the way.
After banning the use of chokeholds (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/us/george-floyd-protests.html), Minneapolis has decided to disband its police force and rethink public safety. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/07/us/minneapolis-police-abolish.html).
A Michigan School Board Superintendent was fired for saying that George Floyd was to blame for his own death. (https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2020/06/michigan-school-district-superintendent-fired-after-facebook-comments-about-george-floyd.html).
Here in Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich has announced they are launching a program of restorative justice. (https://www.wmcactionnews5.com/2020/06/22/district-attorney-general-announces-new-community-justice-program/?fbclid=IwAR3XRWQWHMPrRQX_aRab1zj3q2ysqgj34NLuv-Mj9eZeBGdZnLzzQzVsH_0).
Here is a long list of monuments to Confederates, slavers and white supremacisthat have been taken down worldwide since the murder of George Floyd (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_monuments_and_memorials_removed_during_the_George_Floyd_protests).
Mississippi has taken the confederate flag off of their state flag.
A wave of corporate symbolic gestures and substantive actions have shown that capitalists are falling in line to support racial equality (https://justcapital.com/news/notable-corporate-responses-to-the-george-floyd-protests/). Quaker Oats ended Aunt Jemima. Pepsico is going to spend 400 million dollars to promote Black people into management and uplift Black businesses. Adidas has committed to hiring at least 30% of new positions with Black and Latinx people. IBM stopped investing in facial recognition software. Those are just a few, there’s a link to the long list of corporations getting behind this in the transcripts.
Are Capitalists fundamentally driven by profit? Yes. Does that make them more or less indifferent to inequality? Yes, all else being equal. But also, Democratic politics during a time of general insurrection can mean, in Lenin’s terms, that the ruling class cannot continue to rule in the way it has done. We should welcome these clearly progressive developments, even rejoice in them, and we can do that in a clear eyed understanding that they do not mean we can stop fighting inequality. We can, and we must do both.
I remember working with Black Lives Matter activists in Bridgeport Connecticut in 2016. I pointed out how rare it was that police officers ever get indicted, and how the courts have decided that the police can get away with murder all they have to do is say they feared for their lives. My point was that we needed a revolution. I’ll never forget the response of one of the Black activists there: he said they knew that already and that if all they could do was make it more expensive, then that was something they needed to get. They were putting in the work so that the Police would have to pay money when they killed a Black person, so that police killing Black people would happen less often. And if I loved Black people then that would be enough for me to want to do the work too. And now Democrats in Congress want to end the qualified immunity that allows Police officers to kill with impunity. If we loved Black people we would try and help Democrats win in November so they can do that.
I’m saying all of this as we near the end of a podcast about Socialism’s Past, Present and Future because I do believe we are on the cusp of world historic changes. If socialists cling to their cynicism about the Democratic Party and electoral politics, then they will simply be left out of the power arrangement that results. Or even worse, White centered socialists will succeed in suppressing the vote by claiming the system is rigged and this will help Trump win. This movement is bigger than Bernie Sanders, bigger than the Democratic Socialists of American, thank god, because the DSA isn’t big enough at a paltry 70,000 members to lead society. There is a real democratic movement happening that is producing change, that will produce change, and if you are a socialist you should get involved not where socialists are necessarily, but where an honest evaluation of the present opportunities has us positioned to make progress.
Stacey Abrams is a genius, by the way. She should be governor of Georgia right now. Brian Kemp stole the election in 2018 by a host of underhanded and illegal tactics. Abrams didn’t sue for the position, because doing so would have meant not being able to sue for systemic change. She had a choice between wielding power or helping to reform the system in a more democratic direction. In this year, 2020, Henry Holt and Company published her crucial meditation on our political moment “Our Time Is Now.” You should read this book right now. You should pause this podcast and order the book so you don’t forget. You should read this book before you read Marx’s Capital. The message of the book is simple: political progress today depends on us winning the fight for greater voter participation. She points out here that even though voter suppression targets Black people it hurts all of us. “Voter suppression typically targets the marginalized, the disadvantaged, and the inconvenient… But the effect is broader and exponentially more pronounced. These communities tend to share a common belief that political leaders should pass laws to guarantee equity and justice, and they vote that way. However, the disenfranchisement of individuals and entire populations from democracy through the booby traps of registration, access to the ballot, and ballot counting works to divide groups, often leaving the privileged unscathed by the process but hurt by the outcomes. Representative democracy is a brute force exercise, where who counts matters. Rigging the game affects all the players on the team, even those who are not targeted… In states where voter suppression is common, so too is an aggregation of power in the hands of conservatives who have a shared strategy for stripping away abortion rights… We hear about Russian interference, hacked machines, and more and more people who doubt the system. Abroad, authoritarians and dictators win elections and reshape democracies into parodies of freedom. The same world leaders who once feared disappointing American leaders now use our compromised elections to justify their own behavior. When disinformation campaigns target black and brown voters to scare them away from the polls, the source might as easily be Russian as Republican. Saving democracy is not an overblown call to action- we are in trouble… But we do know what to do. America has always been a crucible for democratic innovation, and our hallmark is our willingness to learn and grow. Fixing our broken democracy stands as a foundational prerequisite to progress. Our work to achieve universal health care access, education parity, social and economic justice and more - they each depend on the fundamental obligation that undergirds them all, eradicating voter suppression and ensuring that our elections are fair fights.” (pp. 123-124). Abrams’ impassioned appeal for a movement for democratic rights recalls to me Marx’s point in 1848 that the revolutionary National Assembly ‘only needed everywhere to counter dictatorially the reactionary encroachments by obsolete Government in order to win over public opinion, a power against which all bayonets and rifle butts would be ineffective” (Marik, p.191). Further, Abrams points out that the blue wave of 2018 proved that the demographic changes in American society have ripened, and now all we need to do to produce revolutionary change is engage that democratic process. Key to this effort is reaching out to people Abrams’ calls low propensity voters. These are not swing voters: these are not voters who vote for a different party each election. Low propensity voters are people who voted once and didn’t see dramatic change and therefore decided not to vote again. We have to impress upon people the importance of voting, that the change has been stymied, but that the potential for change is real and is more real now than it has been. Calls to boycott the 2020 election, efforts on the left to suppress the vote for Democrats are going to hurt poor and working and Black people. Anyone who tries to tell you Biden is just as bad as Trump is lying to you. We will be discussing this type of left reactionary in detail in later podcasts, but in our very next episode we are going to discuss the bellwether issue of our generation: The Syrian Revolution. The reactions of the far left to that revolution will reveal to us the priorities and liabilities inherent to the traditional US far left, and help us understand the transformation that will be needed to make the left once again into a powerful and righteous force in the world.
Aronoff, Kate, ed. We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Style. The New Press, 2020.
Abrams, Stacey. Our Time is Now. Henry Holt and Company, New York. 2020.
Brazile, Donna. Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House. Hachette Books, 2017.
Grose, Christian R. Congress in black and white: Race and representation in Washington and at home. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Hajnal, Zoltan L. Changing white attitudes toward black political leadership. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Hajnal, Zoltan L. Dangerously Divided: How Race and Class Shape Winning and Losing in American Politics. Cambridge University Press, 2020.
Johnson, Cedric. Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2007.
Perry, Ravi K. Black mayors, white majorities: The balancing act of racial politics. U of Nebraska Press, 2013.
Rothstein, Richard. The color of law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America. Liveright Publishing, 2017.
Wicked Problems Collective. What Do We Do About Inequality? CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
Music: Walt Adams, Loose Bolts; else Harry Koniditsiotis
June 2nd, 2020 | 1 hr 3 mins
abolition, berniesanders, black reconstruction, conjure feminism, deep roots, democratic, eric foner, kinitra brooks, memphis, socialist, spinoza
“Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men!
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den;-
O miserable Chieftain! Where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; no thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou has great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.” (Jones, The Common Wind, p. ix).
This podcast has several sections. First I’m going to discuss conjure feminism and my appreciation of it from the standpoint of a Spinozist, myself, who believes in eternal life. Then I’m going to discuss the history of the United States through its most important part being the history of Black liberation, and the role that socialists played in it. Then I’ll discuss my own specific place in all of this, starting from a sociological study of southern racism to the history of Memphis TN as I know it. Let’s dive in.
“Kinitra D. Brooks is an associate professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio” reads the back cover of her 2018 collection of essays entitled Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror. It’s a book about recognizing the accomplishments of Black women in horror fiction. It’s a book that reveals a new canon of writing that one hopes is entering the mainstream. People may recognize names such as Octavia Butler, Gloria Naylor, Tananarive Due, Nnedi Okorafor and others. It is also a book about people who come back to life, about zombies and ghosts. I found this book after attending a conference, the Spindell Philosophy conference in 2019 entitled: "Black Feminist Figures: Interventions and Inheritances." I felt like I was a freshman just learning about Philosophy for the first time, like a new world was being revealed to me. The world that was being revealed to me was folded into the one I lived in, somehow corresponding point for point with my own but hidden until now. Dr. Brooks was articulating a system of thought called conjure feminism. Now, I’m not an expert on this newly developing school of thought. You should read Kinitra D. Brooks. But I was struck by a couple of ideas she was putting forward from this discourse: they have become an important part of how I, with a very different identity, have come to see the world. The first idea was that of the epistemological exclusion of Black women’s knowledge traditions, and the second idea that goes along with it is the idea of intergenerational ethics, a collective responsibility for the actions of our family, our community. What was done by and to Black women in the past has been written out of history, often with the intention of hiding crimes or of ignoring human endeavors of real merit. Conjure feminists are excavating the knowledges of their ancestors in a project that gets at the core of and questions the foundations of philosophy. The project of lifting up the voices of Black people from the past has become for me a sine qua non, an essential condition, of any progressive politics. Consider the first sentence of Black Lives Matters activist Charlene A. Carruther’s canonical 2018 book Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements: “Unapologetic is an offering to our ancestors, my family, our movement, and the generations who will hold the struggle for Black liberation to come.” (XIII).
Kinitra Brooks wrote a must read article about epistemological exclusion and embodied knowledge in emergence magazine. https://emergencemagazine.org/story/myrtles-medicine/ In that essay Dr. Brooks discusses her journey of self discovery as she unearths a knowledge of her own great-grandmother. “Existing within me is a powerful urge to rediscover the folkways that transitioned with her death. It’s an urge that helps direct me to discover spiritual traditions through which my Mama Myrt may guide me from the ancestral plane. It is for me to help reconnect the line of healers in our family: to strengthen what has frayed and to reveal what has been covered by my family’s own fight for respectability and formal education. And so I use the formalized intellectual pursuits so hard-won by my grandparents and parents and interweave them with the folk traditions and medicines that were privileged by my great-grandmother. The more I learn about my great-grandmother, the more I come to understand the rootworking tradition to be a vital yet undervalued form of knowledge for our times. My family’s journey to recover our ancestral lineage reflects the active and ongoing search for lost knowledge in the work of generations of Black feminist thinkers.” In terms of intergenerational responsibility for past actions, Dr. Brooks’ great-grandmother Myrtle gave us a useful shorthand for the problem. From Brooks: “Hey baby, who’re your people?” It’s a very personal story, but in the making public of what Dr. Brooks knows from her great-grandmother the reader is taught about a story that had been pushed away, suppressed and considered unimportant. Black women’s stories, the excluded stories of oppressed people in general, stories in my life that are not traditional cis white male, normal, publicly owned and affirmed, these stories are an enormous part of all of us. It’s maybe the majority of what our lives are made of.
I was also struck by the apparent tension between this work and what one would call a rationalist position. During the Q&A people wanted to know if the assertion that conjure feminists are making that they communicate with their ancestors doesn’t contradict reason. Dr. Brooks took a nuanced view, claiming that her people are practical and that rather than her thought being irrational she prefers to call it non-rational. (https://hutchinscenter.fas.harvard.edu/event/colloquium-kinitra-brooks-conjure-womans-garden-black-womens-rootworking-traditions). She’s keeping a connection to the rational, as the bringer of science and food, but challenging our understanding of the rational as exclusionary towards Black women’s knowledge, connection to the ancestors.
I didn’t find anything irrational about the idea of communicating with the ancestors, but it’s because I am convinced by Spinoza’s proof of eternal life.
Here is that argument in a nutshell. All that happens materially is part of an infinite sequence. One way of getting an idea of the infinity of the material sequence is to perceive that we do not know the beginning of the events we experience, and we do not know their end. Likewise the mental events we experience are part of an infinite sequence. The events of our lives are physical and mental, and sometimes both, in the happy event that we correctly understand something. Both sequences begin before and continue after the limited experience we would have to call our self. That self is a finite part of the whole, meaning it is limited in space and time, but the sequence extends infinitely before and after our lives. That sequence is something we partake in but cannot exhaust. Just as the physical consequences of our lives go on after our death, so too do the mental consequences. The ideas we have do not come from us alone, come to us from an infinite past and contribute to an infinite future. To put all of this in simpler terms, we survive our death in the consequences of our life for other people, in the impact we’ve had on them and in their memory of us. On Spinoza’s account the more we uplift our fellows the closer we grow into the likeness of God, who Spinoza identifies with the power of the Universe, the path towards a greater personal freedom lying straight through the struggle for collective freedom. This isn’t an afterlife that will satisfy the simple religious scriptures: it is not the persistence of our limited, finite selves in some other world. But it does mean that we are always in communication with what came before, most proximally our ancestors, and that our actions continue to contribute after our death to the ongoing creation of world history. Conjure feminists are relevant to all of us, not just to Black women, because Black women lived, acted in their own right, in ways that still impact all of us though we may be unaware of them. As a white anglo-saxon protestant Southern male, not knowing and recognizing the importance of Black history is to not know myself. That this intergenerational movement tends towards a greater freedom for all of humanity is my faith, and that’s why I claim Harriet Tubman or Toussaint Louverture. Their fight is mine, because the fight to put an end to the historical consequences of slavery is the fight white southerners must fight to reclaim their own humanity. We are together in that our fate hinges on that of these United States of America.
These days you watch the news and have to wonder what does it mean to be an American. The President has decided that the federal government can do nothing to prevent or address the crisis. Is America just a great big pyramid scheme where Trump and his family sit atop a throne of bones? I’ll start with the big picture of what I take to be the meaning of American history, and then I’ll narrow the focus in all the way down to myself. The meaning of America is the liberation of the slaves. So there are competing Americas, and that’s why we should all be grateful that in 2019 Eric Foner blessed the world with the enlightening and erudite history of the reconstruction entitled The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.
As discussed previously, the enslaved people of the United States took advantage of the opportunity the civil war presented them to take up arms, to stop work and strike against the monstrous southern economy and then to organize to fight for their rights. The whites who fought the civil war on the side of the North were transformed by their experience. They had started fighting the war to preserve the union, but then they fought and died side by side with Blacks in a terrible war. The experience of the civil war and the continued southern resistance to reconstruction pushed the politics of the Republican party to the left. Remember that the Republicans then were the progressives, the party of Lincoln, the party of preserving the union, and then by the mid 1860s the party of abolition. To demonstrate the intensity of this political shift, consider that Lincoln was the left wing of the possible in the Republican party in 1860 and his plan was (1) not allowing the spread of slavery west, and (2) slowly liberating the slave while forcing them to leave the US in a scheme they called ‘colonization.’ By 1870 the Republicans had, over armed resistance of half the country, passed amendments that ended slavery, defined the formerly enslaved as birthright citizens and formally gave them the right to vote. I would suggest that these were not moral giants who by the force of intellect and will gained enlightenment. It was in the fight itself, in being seized by the machinery of history, that they found old beliefs and attitudes would no longer serve. They revisited the foundation of this nation, its constitution, with three key amendments, 13, 14, 15.
The 13th Amendment states that slavery or “involuntary servitude” shall not exist in the United States “except as punishment for a crime.” If you haven’t seen the documentary “13th” you should. It’s about how our justice system systematically targets black people and how once they are in that system they can lose their freedom and their right to vote. The language for this exemption was very common in American law going back to Thomas Jefferson’s never enacted Land Ordinance of 1784 (p. 46). The 13th amendment has allowed racist individuals to abuse their positions in the legal system to reenslave Black people. Incidentally, the left needs to start running progressives for sheriff everywhere: we’re really abandoning black people to racists when we disengage from races where law enforcement officials are voted into office. The early founding fathers thought that forced labor would give prisoners a reason to be proud and was preferable to solitary confinement, branding or execution, but by the 1860s this language was adopted unconsciously because it was such common legal language. Jefferson had failed to convince the other draftees of the Declaration of Independence to accept his statements there denouncing the institution of slavery, so he tried to pass what legislation he could to limit it, hence the land ordinance. Philosophically, the idea of making criminals work is premised on natural rights: if you infringe on someone’s rights, say to property or life, then by the logic of your own act your rights are forfeit. Ta Nehisi-Coates makes this same kind of argument in favor of reparations: that a formerly enslaved people had the product of their labor systematically taken from them via red lining, Jim Crow and mass incarceration, and that the rest of society has benefited from that expropriation and should repay that wealth. This is an argument that Marx makes, and before him Locke: the property rights of the very wealthy can be violated without breaking the spirit of property rights, because that wealth was built on the exploitation of the labor of the very poor. The right to property, according to Locke and Adam Smith, is based on the idea that when you mix up your labor with natural objects you have a right to the product. Now, the 13th amendment said that the slaves were free according to the highest law of the United States, in an Amendment that could not be overturned by Congress, the President or the Supreme Court. What exactly it meant to no longer be a slave is an ongoing debate. There was an enormous body of law that applied to the slaves, and deeply entrenched social practices on top of that. The case law after reconstruction that addressed what it meant legally for slavery to be ended produced a “separate but equal” justification for segregation, but it also gave us language to the effect that the second article of the 13th amendment gave congress the power to legislate to get rid of “the badges and incidents of slavery.” That language, the constitutional right that congress has to address the ongoing material legacy of slavery, has mostly remained a dead letter (p. 170). The biggest thing to come out of it was the law in 2009 defining a hate crime. It’s staggering to imagine that congress had the legal power to oppose Jim Crow on the grounds that it was a holdover from slavery and chose not to until the middle of the 20th century. The 13th amendment for all of its clear flaws, gives us resources to fight legally against mass incarceration, and if anyone is interested in addressing all the unpaid labor that women traditionally have done in the domestic sphere, the 13th amendment gives us resources to fight for that also because it explicitly outlaws “involuntary servitude.” The enforcement of the 13th amendment was all but nil in the US after reconstruction, and what that enforcement could mean or look like is still very much an open question, and one that will be decided by future elections.
Because the republican congress during reconstruction passed some laws that let some black people vote, the 14th amendment was the first amendment that black people could vote for or against. The 14th is the first place in the constitution where citizenship is defined, and it’s very broadly defined as people born in the United States. The 14th is the first place where the constitution guarantees citizens equal protection under the law, which was the principle for instance behind the recent decision that gay marriage should be legal. The 14th also guarantees equal protection not to citizens, but to persons and that is why immigrants have legal rights even if they aren’t citizens. All of this is undeniably progressive, but the 14th casts a shadow as well. The 14th also says that states who deny the vote to black males will have the number of representatives they are allowed reduced proportionally. They never enforced that part, but it had an important impact anyway. It explicitly uses the term “male,” and thereby excludes women from voting. The debate over this language split the abolitionist movement. Wendell Phillips is famous for having said they had to take on one issue at a time and that “this hour belongs to the Negro.” To which Elizabeth Cady Stanton replied “Do you believe the African race is composed entirely of males?” (Kazin, p. 55). She used some racist language while arguing that Black men shouldn’t be given the vote before white women. Later, the women’s suffrage movement advanced in the 1910s in part through an alliance with Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, a party that explicitly excluded black people (Lepore, p. 387). Some, even a great many, suffragettes used the argument that more white women voting would help strengthen white centered identity politics, and even had success in this way getting women the right to vote. Holy White Feminism Batman! I’m not going into it very deeply. That’s a subject for a whole nother set of podcasts. I just want to point out that coalition politics is hard, and that if the interests of different groups intersect in places it’s likely they diverge in others. This is why it’s important to know what you’re about, and what your coalition partners are about - and how far they support what you support. When the Combahee River Collective in 1977 proclaimed “We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity… If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression” they were pointing out that freedom for Black women would require freedom for both Black men and white women, and they were echoing Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s point. Black women are at the intersection of race and gender. I don’t read that as an intentional erasure of how whiteness has been used as a wedge between abolitionists and feminists, or of how Chinese immigrants were regularly thrown under the bus in compromises like the 14th amendment that said you couldn’t deny voting rights to Black men but didn’t say that all persons or citizens had voting right.
The language of the 14th and 15th amendments doesn’t provide a positive affirmation of voting rights, and that has been the cause of much evil. The Republican majority that passed the 15th amendment explicitly believed that the south would not pass requirements for voting registration that would be so difficult that Blacks would be disenfranchised, which is exactly what happened. Those reconstruction Republicans thought so long as requirements had to be equally applied the south would refrain because prohibitively high bars for voting registration would limit the voting rights of poor white southerners too. In the event, wealthy and politically powerful southern whites rather liked the fact that poor southern whites would also have great difficulty voting. The whole dynamic in the post war south was that the powerful had to split poor whites from Blacks to maintain the rigid social hierarchy. The great difficulty of the 15th amendment was that though it’s second article gave congress the power of enforcement, the supreme court case law that interpreted that amendment left enforcement to the states. In the south that meant disenfranchisement until the civil rights movement in the 1960s. But at the same time that civil rights movement was successful in part because Black people who moved out of the south could vote based on 15th amendment protections and voted together with Northern liberals. It’s a bit like rock climbing: you have to get a foot hold before you can lift yourself up.
In 1865 General Sherman famously gifted confederate land to some of the formerly enslaved, but the land was taken back by confederates later. In the years immediately following the civil war in a very few places formerly enslaved Blacks squatted on the land. Michael Kazin’s 2011 book American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation cites Bayley Wyatt, spokesman for one of these initiatives in Yorktown, Virginia: “We has a right to the land were we are located… Our wives, our children, our husbands has been sold over and over again to purchase the lands we now locates upon; that the reason we have a divine right to the land… And then didn’t we clear the land, and raise the crops of corn, of cotton, of tobacco, of rice, of sugar, of everything?” (p. 59) Such initiatives were the exception rather than the norm. For the moment, the majority of Black folk put their hopes in the newly acquired rights of voting and of individual property. When those rights seemed elusive the fight for them tended to preoccupy progressives. Socialist takeovers of factories and collectivization of agriculture were not on the horizon, but social progress was. The whole country seemed to have been exhausted by the effort of freeing the formerly enslaved. Many abolitionists retired from political life. Others like Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony went on to focus on fighting to protect and expand voting rights.
Other abolitionists like Wendell Phillips moved from abolition to the fight for labor rights. The struggle for the eight-hour day had begun. Karl Marx had written a letter to Abraham Lincoln congratulating him on the emancipation proclamation and had gotten a very nice letter back from the state department. In the late 1860s with Marx’s encouragement the headquarters of the International Workingmen’s Association moved from London to New York (p.54). The IWA and Marx were important to keeping Britain out of the war on the side of the south. English industry at the time was particularly dependent on cotton, and the workers of Manchester suffered terribly during these years. The British ruling class was sympathetic to the southern cause, but could not overcome the public’s sympathy for the northern cause and for the plight of the enslaved Blacks in America. Marx’s abolitionism is not well enough understood, but lucky for us that in 2010 the University of Chicago Press published Kevin B. Anderson’s Marx at the Margins: on Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies, which includes an entire chapter devoted to Marx’s thinking about the Civil War and race. The 1860s was the decade Marx finished Capital Volume 1, and during this time Marx also produced a great deal of writing about the Civil War, writings that sadly have not gotten much attention. He believed that the civil war had prepared the way for future socialist revolutions, but he didn’t simply apply class categories to the US. He didn’t try to recast enslaved people as some kind of proletariat before he started thinking. He started with the actual conditions in America. The usual European categories didn’t apply. Instead, the constant influx of immigrants deepened the divide between skilled and unskilled labor. Indeed, when the next mass labor movement occured in America it was with the leadership of the Knights of Labor whose great innovation was organizing skilled and unskilled labor, including Black and White workers. That generation led massive labor strikes embracing a multi-ethnic labor movement, a movement that founded May Day to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre (Mason, pp. 108-147) and that founded International Proletarian Women’s Day to commemorate a 1908 protest of women workers in NYC (Marik, p.111). I’m going to post a bibliography in the transcripts so that people can read all of the books.
Socialists may have agreed on better labor conditions for white workers, but not all socialists were as sympathetic to Black workers or as interested in issues of race. There was plenty of material to muster an argument against support for the North in the Civil War. As of 1860 the northern United States was advancing a colonialist project in the west and exploiting wage labor in a growing industrial sector organized along capitalist principles, but Marx was early and consistent in his support for the northern war effort. Other Marxists, like Eugene Genovese would denounce this Marx as an aberration and as a liberal (p. 82). Genovese is not the only Marxist who preferred a Marx that put class over race: he was part of a tradition of white socialism. Many of the German emigres to the United States were silent about slavery or openly in opposition to abolition (p.84). I want to challenge socialists to give Marx some serious study, because he was a democrat who opposed slavery and because that set him apart from his fellow radicals and from many who carry his flag today. The reduction of all political contests to class has blinded many socialists to the very real vulnerability race and racism poses to all working people, and led many socialists to sacrifice helping oppressed people in order to sharpen contradictions, heighten tensions or accelerate history and other such nonsense.
I can hear my old comrades now lecturing me about the limits of reform and the need for revolution. They would say that you don’t have to be an accelerationist to see that incremental change exists to preserve more fundamental inequalities. I would say that incremental change helps us reach new horizons and gives us strength to address fundamental inequalities. Real quick let’s get something straight. The world needs revolutionary change. But telling people that revolution is what they need right now right now, at a moment when fascists control the White House, is like telling someone who just had a heart attack that they need to run a marathon. Yes, if they could run a marathon that would be better, but there has to be something they can do now to prepare themselves for running a marathon. There has to be a political equivalent of eat more fruits and vegetables and go for a walk every now and then.
That being said I still believe voting is not enough. People tend to think that we have power because we have representation in government. But this is actually not correct. Our representatives have power because we give it to them. Lincoln is the prime example. His emancipation proclamation was simply legal recognition for a free state the former slaves had already achieved in part. Lincoln was not even the most progressive Republican running for the nomination. His opponent William H. Seward was the only abolitionist candidate for President, but Lincoln could be managed by the democratic upsurge of the people. The Democrat, read conservative and proslavery, candidate John C. Breckinridge later ended up fighting for the Confederacy. A Breckenridge presidency would have been a disaster. You don’t get a civil war if Breckinridge is president, and for much the same reason that you won’t have a civil war if there’s a second Trump term. A reactionary president who wants to undo reconstruction has plenty of ways to legally and illegally advance that agenda. The period from reconstruction to the civil rights movement saw the accumulation of a mountain of legal precedent to allow states to strip Black people of almost every right they enjoy today, and all of that is in the realm of political possibility. White supremacy doesn't have to declare war at that point to get what they want. Trump wins by crippling our government and destroying legal norms. Lincoln was the moderate who could be forced to radical action in the face of events created by we the people. As Frederick Douglass said of him: “Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed hardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him from the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesmen to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.” (Blight, pp. 7,8).
Marxists who are class first fundamentalists misunderstand the concept of class as such. Marx developed the concept of the working class to express human solidarity in a novel way. It was normal in his day for white people to act together in their own interests, or for British people to act together in their own interests. During Marx’s time in England he noticed that the struggle to better the lives of British workers was constantly undermined by the existence of an Irish undercaste. Engels wrote extensively about the plight of the Irish under British colonial rule even before the great famine of 1845-1849 during which England exported massive amounts of food from Ireland as a potato blight ravaged a basic Irish staple food. A million and a half people died and another million emigrated (pp. 117-118). Marx and Engels came to understand that Irish nationalism and the fate of the British working class were entangled. The stronger the Irish nation was, the better able Irishmen would be to demand a fair wage, and British workers then wouldn’t have to accept lower wages to compete with impoverished Irishmen. But so long as the British ruling class could convince British workers to take pride in their social position over the Irish, they would be unable to win shorter working hours and better pay. Racism was a trap to keep the working class divided and conquered. It’s probably from these considerations that Marx was able to perceive that emancipation in the southern United States was a victory for the workers of the whole world. The idea of an international working class is based on humanistic, that is liberal values of democracy and human rights. Marxists who think from humanistic values consider the material conditions first, use class categories to better understand the tensions in society that allow for the possibility of change, and then act to build momentum to lift up the most vulnerable. Marxists who start the other way around, with ossified class categories they impose on the facts, often believe that people of one nation are more proletarian than people of another nation are, and reproduce the same racist divisions the capitalists use to divide us. We’ll be speaking more about this dynamic in podcasts to come.
In so many ways the second founding, still incomplete, brought America back to what it had always claimed it was. Because slavery was so clearly a contradiction of the explicit ideals the founders had put forward in the Declaration of Independence, of freedom, equality and democracy, the constitution before the 13th amendment only refers to slavery euphemistically. The amendment outlawing slavery is the first time the word “slavery” appears in the constitution. Now, all those years the southern states denied the right to vote to black people with poll taxes and such. If you haven’t seen the movie Selma, you really ought to. There is a heartbreaking scene where the character played by Oprah Winfrey tries to register to vote, and they make her recite the bill of rights from memory, and they continue with such tests until she inevitably fails. All that time no state was ever penalized as provided for under the 14th amendment, but since the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act have been struck down and Alabama recently wanted to close all the offices in majority black counties where you could get a drivers license at the same time that they made having a drivers license mandatory to vote, maybe we ought to look at enforcing that part of the 14th amendment? What’s clear is that the intentions of the framers of the second founding amendments, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments was not really honored until the civil rights movement, and those amendments have a lot of potential that remains untapped. Those amendments disrupted racist social patterns and thereby racist attitudes in the North and West. The changed attitudes of whites in the North and West gave the civil rights movement a base of support broad enough to pass legislation protecting civil rights in the 1960s. It should then be expected that this legislation would change racial attitudes in the south, and lucky for us 2018 saw the publication of a deeply researched book that documents just that.
I need to uplift here for all of you the excellent 2018 book Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics by Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen. You guessed it: it’s a book about the way the history of slavery has crippled democracy in the US South. If you don’t have time for the whole book, you can watch the authors discussing it from a link I’ll post in the transcripts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiMiq2rxJPk
There’s an impulse among white Americans, and this is true of Southerners and Northerners, to believe the legacy of slavery is largely in the past. There’s another impulse to believe that the politics and culture of white supremacy haven’t changed at all since the founding of the United States. Both of these attitudes are wrong, and they both lead us to inaction. Narratives that declare that nothing ever changes allow us to never try and change anything. They are lazy narratives and should have no place in progressive organizing. The antidote is more knowledge to see how things have changed and to see the present moment as dynamic and charged with potential. Let’s go back to Epicurus and understand that at the bottom of everything is the swerve.
I am a Southerner born and raised. I’m a white cis male. Most everyone I know in that category had an uncle who swore up and down that the civil war was not about slavery, but about states rights. The history books happen to be unequivocal on this subject: the civil war was fought because the southern states felt they had the right to uphold slavery. Later, after the passage of the 15th amendment giving black men the right to vote, congress had to pass laws in 1870 and 1871 to protect southern blacks against the violent terrorism of the Klu Klux Klan. Southerners cried that this was a violation of states rights. States rights arguments are not always and necessarily about race, but after the civil war white supremacy always used arguments based on states’ rights. In those first few years the federal government sent agents into the south and arrested hundreds of klansmen, brought thousands of criminal cases, forced the klan’s leadership into exile and effectively broke the organization. But the northern states lost their taste for enforcing reconstruction, and by the end of the century Jim Crow descended on the South. The Civil Rights Movement was largely an attempt to call the United States back to order, back to enforcing the legal rights secured in the second founding, which was explicitly an attempt to recall the country to its rationalist ideals of human rights, freedom and democracy.
It won’t be a surprise to many of you that racism in the South goes together with conservative politics and states rights like beans and cornbread. But there are places and times in the south when a progressive politics has asserted itself. Acharya et al. offer us an explanation for why white people living in the Black Belt where chattel slavery was most prevalent have remained much more conservative than white people living anywhere else. They explain this by way of “Behavioral Path Dependence,” which basically says that social practices are self reinforcing. The attitudes and beliefs that made white identities in the context of slavery and then Jim Crow were prevalant in these regions and did not simply disappear with the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. That is fairly intuitive. It is keenly interesting that the passage of these laws did disrupt patterns of white supremacy and thereby changed attitudes, especially in places that before the civil war did not rely intensively on slave labor. We often think that it works the other way around: that we have to change the culture and then the laws will easily follow. But while progressive ideals, at least certain ones, seem to have carved out a fiefdom on social media and in entertainment, they’ve largely left racist and reactionary attitudes intact: conservatives have their own media.
Deep Roots is not a work of popular nonfiction. It is a deeply researched reference of hard data that meticulously documents (1) “that Southern whites who live in areas where slaveholding was more prevalent are today more conservative, more cool to African Americans, and more likely to oppose race-related policies that many feel could potentially help blacks…  that these attitudes grew out of the historical incentives to subjugate African Americans -- incentives that strengthened through the antebellum period and morphed in the postbellum period into significant institutional and social customs designed to keep blacks in socially, politically, and economically marginalized positions… [and 3] that these divergent historical attitudes have been passed down over generations to create, in part, the contemporary political cultures we detect today. In other words, Americans’ political attitudes are in part a direct consequence of generations of ideas that have been collectively passed down over time, via institutions such as schools and churches and also directly from parents and grandparents… As we shall see, however, some outcomes have attenuated over time with interventions such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.” (p.14). There is a chain of mental events that began long before us and continues long after us, and the more we participate in it the closer we are to God. These laws helped to change racist attitudes. We tend to think that we have to change peoples’ attitudes before we can hope to pass laws, but the historical evidence is that attitudes formed over centuries of white supremacy are only superficially changed by persuasion campaigns. A lot of political science and political thought revolves around asking how can people be mobilized or persuaded. Instead, Deep Roots discusses how social practice and historical institutions like slavery can dominate public opinion across generations. In the words of Acharya and company: “Scholars and political analysts focus on… what contemporary factors serve to change people’s minds… the bulk of this research, which focuses on contemporary factors and contemporary interventions, implies that large changes in the political attitudes and behaviors of Americans are rare, costly, and short-lived.” (pp. 12-13). In a later podcast we will talk about how a well organized group of liberals were able to pass the Civil Rights Act, etc., but for the moment I just want to underscore that the research shows this legislation is one of the most important factors shifting public opinions on racial matters. The leaders of the civil rights movement can be applauded for pushing for these laws, and so I wouldn’t want to feed the narrative that white America was the agent behind any of this change. It’s complicated. We’ll get to it. We live in a political climate where people on the right and left more and more doubt that government can do anything to change the world we live in. It is good to point out how wrong that is, so that we don’t miss real opportunities to help.
The data leads the authors to conclude that the Civil War polarized the south between places with a low and a high slave population before the war. Before the Civil War density of slave population was a poor indicator of political leaning, with everyone who could vote tending to be pro-slavery (p. 110), but from the Civil War on the places where there had been higher numbers of enslaved people tended strongly to be more conservative (p. 116).
Acharya and company point out that East Tennessee had a lower slave population than West Tennessee. William Brownlow was from East Tennessee and served as governor from 1865 to 1869. His political path was typical. “Himself a slaveholder, Brownlow at that time argued that ‘God always intended the relation of master and slave to exist’ and that church and state ‘provided for the rights of owners, and the wants of slaves.’ However, Brownlow’s support for slavery conflicted with his strident pro-Union sentiment in the years leading up to the Civil War, during which he campaigned vigorously across the state trying to unite Tennesseans against secession and to cast slavery as an economic wedge issue. ‘The honest yeomanry of these border States, four-fifths of whom own no negroes and never expect to own any,’ he incredulously complained, ‘are to be drafted, forced to leave their wives and children to toil and suffer, while they fight for the purse-proud aristocrats of the Cotton States.’ After the war, Brownlow’s position on slavery changed yet again, and he aligned with abolitionist and republican institutions.’ Brownlow eventually became a Republican governor of Tennessee, developing an extremely testy relationship with cotton interests from the eastern parts of the state. His attitude throughout was representative of that of many upcountry whites: once defenders of the institution of slavery, they later came to oppose secession over the issue, all the while holding firm racist beliefs.” (p. 106). In the immediate aftermath of the civil war it was not clear if southerners who had not owned slaves would have more solidarity with white former slave owners or with their fellow toilers the newly freed slaves. Jim Crow came about to maintain the flow of wealth to a white minority by splitting the southern working class along race lines, and to ensure that the Black vote never communicated into political power. But Jim Crow took time to impose on the South because the North governed the south for several years after the Civil War as an occupying army. The eventual reintegration of the rebel Southern states after the Civil War was premised on a compromise whereby the South gave up outright slavery but was allowed to remain segregated in a strict racial hierarchy. The disciplining of black bodies by their slave masters became a public task, and the reliance on slave labor was in large part preserved by the way that the 13th amendment was applied in the South. That Amendment reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” In other words, anyone who broke the law could be impressed into forced labor. The state took over the relationship of master to slave in the southern economy. A huge number of things was made illegal for black people, things like not having a job. If someone didn’t work, they could be arrested and forced by the state into servitude. Black people who organized for better wages or working conditions were lynched. Black people who tried to buy houses or land or who tried to vote could be lynched. Black people who went to the law for justice were lynched. The whole white community would publicly lynch such people in a carnival atmosphere. The resulting shared guilt reinforced racist attitudes which led to more lynchings. On February 23rd of 2020 in Brunswick Georgia Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead after two white men, not police, tried to arrest him while he was out jogging. Brunswick Georgia is part of Glynn County, which had an antebellum slave population of 2,839 and a white population of 825 according to the 1860 census, which is a very high slave population. The two murderers Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael saw Ahmaud run past their house and followed him on suspicion that he was responsible for a break in where Travis’ handgun was stolen from an unlocked truck. Gregory McMichael was a former cop, but the presumption that as a civilian they had the right to convict and execute Ahmaud without any evidence speaks to an older tradition of Jim Crow. The first prosecutor recused herself from the case, because she was friends with Mr. McMichael. The second prosecutor refused to arrest McMichael saying that McMichael’s actions were legally sanctioned under Citizen’s Arrest. Yes, we know that is how Jim Crow works: selective application of the law to give white people the power of life and death over black people. It’s unlikely McMichael would have been arrested and charged if a video of the lynching had not caused a public outcry. That being said, here’s a quick Public Service Announcement:
ahem My fellow white people,
When a video of a lynching comes out, don’t share it on social media. Share the story or a petition or a group to organize for justice, but do not share the video. Sharing a lynching snuff film on social media will cause terror to black people who see it, fulfilling the purpose of such a murder, which is to terrorize black people and reinforce the idea that their bodies are available for abuse by white people. I posted the video of Ahmaud Arbery in a moment where I was outraged at the injustice of it, and I immediately took it down when I saw black people on my timeline calling for us not to post it. They are right. End of PSA.
Shelby County in Tennessee is where I live. It had a population in 1860 that was 35% enslaved, which is fairly high. The story in Memphis is a little different. Here is how I understand it. If you want to know more, you should read Wanda Rushing’s Memphis and the Paradox of Place, Globalization in the American South, from which I learned most of what follows regarding Memphis history, and then follow that with Zandria Robinson’s This Ain’t Chicago: Race, Class and Regional Identity in the Post-Soul South. One great thing about Zandria Robinson’s book is that as you read it you can take breaks to listen to some of the great Memphis hip hop she discusses. I learned a lot there about the recent cultural achievements in my own hometown.
Memphis was not the site of any major Civil War battle, though it was a major hub for trading cotton. The Yellow Fever epidemic destroyed the old city government. The place had no government for a decade during the 1870s. Anyone with money left town. What was left was a lot of poor Irish, Italians, Jews and Blacks who had to work together somehow to bury the thousands who were dying of the plague and thereby try to stop the disease from spreading. The way it was told to me was that locals sent out handbills to all the area around complaining that we had no hospital and no police. This attracted every imaginable sort of criminal. We still name certain neighborhoods after the men who came into the vacuum of legal institutions to establish themselves as city bosses: Rozelle-Annesdale for instance. E.H. Crump was probably the most important, and there’s a statue of him at the entrance to Overton Park. The parks and sewer system date from this time, when wealthy people from outside came in to make Memphis their property. They wanted big luxurious park spaces in the European style. They also wanted to commemorate a legacy of white supremacy which did not entirely fit the actual history of Memphis, but the idea of that legacy was important for justifying the dominance of the new regime which was white supremacist. That’s why they had the cotton festival. There was a parade where at each station some racist psychodrama was played out. At one station a Black man was depicted averting his gaze from a beautiful white woman. They named one of the parks after Nathan Bedford Forest, the founder of the KKK, buried him there and put up a statue of him riding a horse. In the sixties, when the city wanted to build an interstate through Overton Park some hippies and ladies clubs banded together and won a court case to stop it. That’s why Sam Cooper Boulevard dead ends at Overton Park. It was a landmark case that affected a lot of other places as well. In 1968 the national guard was called in to put down a sanitation workers’ strike, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. In the decades since there’s been a lot of white flight to the suburbs, and south main was gentrified, or what they used to call urban renewal. After decades of activism trying to get the city to take down the statue of Nathan Bedford Forest, some of which I took part in, the statue was finally brought down thanks to social pressure generated by local activists like Tami Sawyer and political machinations by Mayor Jim Strickland. They sold the park to a private company who took the monument down. Privatization was used to dismantle white supremacy, how’s that for a plot twist?
I love my city. The food is good. The people are friendly, and there’s plenty of injustice to fight. I like to think we started out fighting the Yellow Fever together, and that all these uppity carpetbagging white supremacists are just hanging out until they can find their next grift somewhere else. Events here don’t usually make national news, and the local radical scene tends to be vaguely drawn back and forth by the larger progressive movement, but I think people have tended to focus on our local issues for better and for worse.
1977 was the year Elvis died, and a year later I was born. After I’m gone that big river will keep flowing without me, but I’ll have been a part of it. There is a chain of events that began long before us and continues long after us, and the more we participate in it the closer we are to God. If Spinoza is to be trusted then I’ll live on to the measure that my actions helped other people, and I like to think I’ve done some of that. I may do more, but I’ve learned to be humble. I found out trying to be the whole thing keeps you from even being as big a part as you can be. Just show up and work is my advice.
I’m not particularly attracted to activism that is specific to my identity. I haven’t been active working for veterans rights, although it’s a real crisis in this country. I’m a socialist, so all of these oppressions matter to me. In any given moment I lift up the most urgent issues, and usually that’s not anything personal to me. To me socialism is the idea that we are more free together, and that all of the problems matter. Deciding what to focus on at any given time is more about judging where one can make progress against the worst injustices. This podcast is part of an ongoing project of mine to understand and account for the socialist tradition. It requires some congratulations and some apologies. What ties all of this together for me personally is the idea of grace.
Spinoza’s idea of the afterlife includes a concept of grace, that when we make our lives about helping other people we participate in God, that the more we participate in God the more connected we are to that big river of time. I have to say I haven’t always made myself proud, but I’m going to keep trying until the day I die. My attitude to that is the attitude of all stoics: I don’t intend to be around when my death happens so it is of no concern to me. My time in the Navy, and my encounter with the people of the Middle East, changed the course of my life, and I hope we here in this country never lose sight of the million ways our fate is tied intimately to the fate of all people everywhere. I drank from the Nile, so the legend is I’ll always return there.
As noted before Spinoza’s conception of an afterlife doesn’t really satisfy people who want their small identity, who they are specifically, to go on up to heaven and continue to be them. In fact, according to Spinoza the more we let go of the idea that our little ‘me’ is important the more we participate in what never dies. It also doesn’t exactly satisfy people who worship their ancestors. The infinite sequence of events that we make up a small part of includes mostly people whom we are not directly related to. Spinozan grace, or a close relationship with God, is directly translatable to Marx’s idea of international solidarity. It includes all of the people who contributed to make the world you inhabit, all of those who grew the food and built the machines, all of those whose thoughts inspired the actions that created our nations, businesses, clubs and movements. All of those people are part of the past we inherit and bequeath. It includes the common wind that whispered ‘freedom’ to Toussaint Louverture and the sky over Epicurus’ garden. Look up any time you like and catch a glimpse of forever. No one person can see it all, and the more we participate in it, the more of ourselves we give to the course of human history, the more we have a share in eternal life.
If Ms. Myrtle were to ask me “Hey baby, who’re your people?” I might have to answer Spinoza. My great-great-grandfather was kidnapped by Norwegian pirates and jumped ship in NYC, but my family doesn’t speak Norwegian or celebrate constitution day on May 17th. I had to google when Norwegian independence day was. I might have to say Don is my people. Don is one of the great Memphians interviewed by Zandria
I attend to the African American experience in particular. The experience of having been enslaved, and now being less so, is the core of the rationalist experience and the best of the American project. The idea of Freedom is the highest passion, the passion we call reason. Reason demands of us that we work most of all for a greater share of freedom for the most downtrodden. The more you do that the greater share of grace you will have, the closer to the progressive action of God and the greater share of eternal life you will have. The Black experience of liberation, still incomplete, is something that always brings us back to this passion for freedom, something that always brings us back to reason.
Until our next episode, go join the activity of the social mass towards freedom and win for yourself riches in heaven.
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Brooks, Kinitra D., and Kameelah L. Martin, eds. The Lemonade Reader: Beyoncé, Black Feminism and Spirituality. Routledge, 2019.
Carruthers, Charlene. Unapologetic: A Black, queer, and feminist mandate for radical movements. Beacon Press, 2018.
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Kazin, Michael. American dreamers: How the left changed a nation. Knopf, 2011.
Lepore, Jill. These truths: A history of the United States. WW Norton & Company, 2018.
Marik, Soma. Revolutionary Democracy: Emancipation in Classical Marxism. Haymarket Books, 2018.
Mason, Paul. Live working or die fighting: How the working class went global. Haymarket Books, 2010.
McAward, Jennifer Mason. "Defining the badges and incidents of slavery." U. Pa. J. Const. L. 14 (2011): 561.
Nadler, Steven. Spinoza's “Ethics”: An Introduction." (2007).
Rushing, Wanda. Memphis and the paradox of place: Globalization in the American South. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Art: Erin Bakken
Music: Fire, Then Nothing by Da Sein