Capitol invasion splits badly for Republicans

The dramatic, destructive, and disturbing attack on the Capitol building, incited by Donald Trump, and resulting (so far) in 5 deaths, doesn’t seem to be working out too well for Trump or his supporters.

Protest polarizes. Social movements and their events work by pushing people to take sides. When things go well for the activists, a dramatic campaign stiffens the spine of institutional allies, engages passive observers, and creates doubt and division among opponents.

Making things go right is the result of good choices about tactics, locations, demands, and allies–and it’s not always in control of the planners.

But think, for example, about the March from Selma to Montgomery, in which well-dressed and well-disciplined activists calling for the right to vote suffered horrific violence from state troopers at a bridge named after a Confederate general and leader in the Ku Klux Klan. Committed activists grew more committed, allies distracted by other matters–most notably, President Lyndon Johnson, developed focus, and some of the resistance wore down.

In almost caricatured contrast, the assault on Congress backfired in almost every way. Trump bears a great deal of the responsibility. In a crazed calculus of confrontation, Trump reasoned (that can’t be the right word) that pressuring loyal allies to abandon the Constitution and refuse to recognize the electoral votes that cost him the election, would keep him in the White House. When they refused, Trump accelerated the pressure, calling out a bizarre coalition of the willing to show strength and intimidate squish Republicans who somehow took their oaths of office at least a little seriously. Most notably, he loosed his allies on the most obsequious of all, Vice President Mike Pence.

On the Galling Double Standard of What Happened at on Capitol Hill | Vogue

Bizarre costumes and incoherent claims probably didn’t help, but the scuffles with police, the destruction of property, the looting and disrespect, and especially the violence, all made it harder for most Trump supporters to stay on board.

It will get harder.

Although most Republican representatives stayed in the fold, voting to reject votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, about half of the sprinkle of Republican senators who’d pledged to do so, backed off and voted to recognize Joe Biden’s victory and certify the elections, leaving only 6-7 senators voting to reject electoral votes. Most visible among them, Senators Josh Hawley (Missouri) and Ted Cruz (Texas), who both reek of presidential ambitions. Experienced attorneys with Ivy League law degrees, they certainly knew the weakness and dishonesty of the arguments they made, but also made a calculation that trying and failing to win Trump a second term by a grandstand effort would pay off for their own ambitions.

Note that other very conservative and equally ambitious contemporaries in the Senate, Tom Cotton [Arkansas] and Ben Sasse [Nebraska], made a different bet–that standing up for law and order and tradition and the Constitution would bring a bigger payoff. The destruction at the Capitol made it much easier for advocates of the institutional path.

But it’s hard right now to think that anyone will be able to hold the entire 46% of the American electorate that Trump twice collected, and Trump’s crusaders in the Senate are already paying a price.

Hawley, for example, lost a book contract and the support of an early mentor, former Missouri senator, John Danforth. His newfound national visibility has come packaged in ridicule, and accompanied by calls to resign.

But his opponents have also paid a price. Republican senators Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) have been jeered at airports for failing to support the president. In a historical moment when both peaceful protesters and vandals have appeared at the homes of members of Congress, this has to be uncomfortable.

My point: the Capitol invasion banged right into the growing split within Republican ranks, undermining rather than promoting unity.

It’s even worse at the grassroots. No doubt, plenty of Trump supporters are uncomfortable in standing with costumed people who mix Molotov cocktails, carry zip-tie cuffs and body armor, and brandish Nazi and Confederate symbols. Looking around at their putative teammates, they’ll bow out of the game.

The fracturing of the coalition will speed up as law enforcement goes after the most egregious transgressors. Already, some invaders caught in photos and videos–sometimes ones they took themselves–have issued admissions and apologies. Members of state legislatures have resigned, and local police forces and school boards are investigating their employees who posted themselves violating the law.

The easiest to identify, like the enthusiast taking a podium for a joyride, have already been arrested. There will be more arrests and prosecutions. Identified transgressors have appeared on no-fly lists already, and those who escaped identification have faced jeers when they boarded their flights.

Prosecution,punishment, and social sanction all make it easier to draw a sharp line between political populists and their one-time allies affected by conspiracy theories or visions of revolution, who’ve turned themselves from cranks into criminals.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, now democratic socialists, institutional Democrats, and old-school main street Republicans have made a common cause with defending the institutions of governance.

The other day, a student who described himself as far left told me that he’d spent hours online working to identify people who participated in sacking the Capitol, and sending names and documentation to….the FBI. I know he’s not alone. Watching the failed matador defense of the capitol grounds, critics of racist policing are going to have to develop more detailed ideals for public safety.

It’s not that the white nationalists and Trump true believers are going to go away, it’s just that they’re going to have a much harder time mobilizing support and attention, as they become increasingly marginal. Trump himself, thrown off Twitter and Facebook, and virtually every other social media site you’ve ever heard of, is having a harder time finding a platform than a polar bear in the summer.

All this means that those who remain are going to be those who are more willing to take extreme and disruptive approaches and are less amenable to either reason or self-interest.

Nothing easy is on the horizon.

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(More) conservative protest in the pre-post-Trump era: storming the Capitol.

The chaotic insurrection effort at the Capitol building today showed that 14 more days is far too long for Donald Trump to continue to serve as president.

As promised, Trump showed up early in the day to speak at a rally in support of his baseless charges that the presidential election was stolen.

Mostly, his speech reprised the recitation of imagined achievements and accumulated enemies familiar from his campaign appearances. But the enemies list got longer, now including former Attorney General William Barr, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Their sins: not supporting Trump aggressively enough, and then clinging too tightly to the norms of Constitutional governance.

Trump (again, falsely) claimed an electoral landslide, whined about being cheated, and demanded that his followers fight on to keep him in office. He proclaimed that he would never concede, and announced that he would march with them to the Capitol building to stop Congress from accepting the Electoral College results. Then Trump went back to the White House.

The supporters marched on, and somehow forged a column that got through the blockades around the Capitol, and then invaded the building. (At least one video circulating seems to show police removing the barricades to invite the insurgents in.) You’d have to go back to 1814, when the British invaded (without guitars) to find anything remotely similar. Ironies abounded as the folks who march to support blue lives battled with police.

Trumpians raced up the Capitol steps, and surged through the hallways, claiming space on the floor of the House and the Senate, occupying Statuary Hall, invading offices, rummaging through desks, breaking glass, and looting–taking selfies all the way.

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Although it seems likely that at least some of the vandals planned the incursion, it looks like a lot of the insurgents just got caught up in the moment.

There was little apparent coordination on a plan once security personnel had evacuated the members of Congress, nor any consideration of a common message.

There were oddly costumed demonstrators, a variety of flags brandished (see the Confederate flag above, almost covering what I’m pretty sure is a portrait of John C. Calhoun, the chief political theorist of Southern secession to preserve slavery), MAGA hats, but not many masks in deference to a global pandemic.

The vandals’ seemingly easy access to the building and their ability to disrupt the functioning of the national government raised obvious questions about policing.

Tweeters were quick to notice that blockades, arrests, beatings and chokeholds, tear gas, and gun shots came far more slowly to this group of white demonstrators than to discipline the Black Lives Matter demonstrators of last summer, much less the occasional Black or brown motorist, jogger, shopper, or sleeper.

Trump’s belated effort to promote public order came with a one minute video, in which he reiterated his unsupportable grievances about the election, and declared his love for the insurgents before encouraging them to go home.

PHOTOS: Pro-Trump protesters swarm Capitol in protest of election results |  News Headlines | kmov.com

Coordination of public safety was scattered at best, partly a function of a dysfunctional and disinterested administration, partly a result of the odd governance of Washington DC. Note that it was VP Pence who called out the National Guard, although the Vice President has no authority to do so. It took hours for a collection of law enforcement agencies to clear out the building, and, slowly slowly, the surrounding areas.

Congressional leaders announced that they would reconvene and accept the results as soon as the building was cleared, and presumably, when the tear gas had cleared as well. They were determined not to give the insurgents even the whiff of a victory to claim. It looks like at least a few of the members had abandoned their plans to challenge the votes from some of the swing states.

Reporting at this stage, no matter how earnest and well-intentioned, is unlikely to be fully reliable, so we’re waiting to get a fuller story, much less tease out implications, but here are a few guesses:

The insurgency will further challenge at least some Republican politicians’ faith in the president, exacerbating a growing split in the party.

Speaker Pelosi and Senate Leaders McConnell and (now!) Schumer will be trying to coordinate some way to remove–or at least muzzle–Trump to avoid more damage. (Twitter has, temporarily, frozen his account.)

Congress–and state legislatures–will install bigger barricades and staff more police and security forces, making it harder for people to confront–or even connect with–their representatives.

Maybe, there will be more urgent support for DC statehood–a governor could do things to protect public order that the mayor could not.

Maybe, there will be a little bit more support for modest gun safety regulation–depending on just what all happens next.

We’re living through an odd and disturbing chapter of the American story; I’d be fine with skipping the last few pages, and getting onto something different.

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Conservative protest in the pre-post-Trump era

Streams of disappointed Trump supporters are spilling into Washington, DC, partly in response to the president’s enthusiastic invitation. Expect to see devotees of QAnon mixed in with some social conservatives, white nationalists, gun rights enthusiasts, and fans of reality television.

It’s hard to know at this point the extent of the likely turnout and the likely disruption, nor how long it will all last. At this point, Washington DC expects growing numbers and disruption through, at least, Congressional consideration of the electoral college results. At least one group of demonstrators has revised its park permit, raising the expected number of demonstrators from 5,000 to 30,000.

But much is uncertain: although demonstrations of the disappointed are common after national elections, there’s a lot that’s likely to be different this time. Comparisons with protests from the left 4 years ago are instructive:

Lots of different protesters with different aims turned up to protest at Trump’s inauguration. Most notably, on inauguration day, Disrupt-J20 filled a few blocks with protesters determined to disrupt, leaving some broken windows, a vandalized limousine, and a trail of scuffles with the police. Local police arrested hundreds of people, and most of the charges were ultimately dismissed. The next day, hundreds of thousands participated in a much larger and far less confrontational Women’s March. (The safe bet is that Trump supporters will outnumber J20 activists and be far less numerous than than the half-million Women’s Marchers in DC–along with millions elsewhere across the United States.)

Although many national Democrats were quick to align themselves with the efforts of the massive Women’s March, I’m unaware of any that endorsed the people who smashed the front windows of Starbucks or the Bank of America.

It matters.

Donald Trump’s inauguration, like every previous inauguration, demonstrated the precedence of rules and procedures over passions. Barack Obama, outgoing president, and Hillary Clinton, defeated challenger, sat on the podium and listened to Trump’s American carnage speech, probably seething inside, but deferring to institutional politics. The demonstrators showed that the passions remained–and would return throughout the Trump era. This is normal protest politics in America, even if buttressed by much greater participation than ever before.

This is something different. The outgoing president has evinced not a bit of commitment to the institutions of politics or governance, and shown that he’s willing to do….a lot…to try to stay in office, regardless of how the election turned out.

Trump has fed a torrent of misinformation to breed distrust in American institutions, actively recruiting allies in government and in the streets.

I’m not aware of anything like this since the end of the Civil War. (Let me know if I’ve missed anything.)

And then there’s the tactics. Basic first amendment principles allow for peaceful assembly to petition government, disciplined with “reasonable” time, place, and manner restrictions. The content of the grievances and ideas of protesters aren’t supposed to matter at all: Proto-fascists and communists can hold signs and enter the public debate, but people who break windows or attack police can be prosecuted.

In 2017, some of the Disrupt-J20 arrived ready for trouble, carrying gas masks and helmets for defense, and some carrying sticks or rocks for something more aggressive.

(I’ve sat through hours of video of those demonstrations, and seen guns only carried by law enforcement.)

Likewise, some of the Stop the Steal folks will come prepared for trouble, but their preparations are quite likely to include firearms. Already, Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, has been arrested for destruction of property (he burned a Black Lives Matter banner flown by a DC church), and found to be carrying large capacity firearm magazines that violate local laws. A DC judge banned him from the District, presumably until the various charges are resolved.

Even if Tarrio won’t defy a court order to march, he can confidently predict that his white nationalist group will be well-represented, and–like the local police–we can expect that some will be armed. And, against the strong recommendations of DC officials, there are sure to be counterdemonstrators.

Will they rush to the airport, bus station, or parking lot when Congress, after a heated debate, affirms the Electoral College result and announces Trump’s defeat? If not, what will they do instead?

Under normal circumstances, mainstream allies would issue statements supporting the right to protest, deploring violence, and affirming a commitment to institutional politics, even while acknowledging that their faith is sometimes tested. Hard core partisans might break windows, but their numbers and influence will be limited, while the much larger faction of protesters would keep clear of the danger.

But this time, there’s no reason to believe that Trump will do so, and just how many Congressional Republicans will follow his lead remains an open question. Really! Trump is expected to address the demonstrators and endorse their claims!

Demonstrators and local police will get mixed signals from government. Street fighting and injuries, involving protesters, counterprotesters, and police are a much greater risk, and more guns in more hands are unlikely to make anything more peaceful.

So, will we see liberal Democrats endorsing harsh policing while conservative Republicans defend defiance of public order? Yipes.

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Pushed to protest, how many Republicans will be pulled to join?

After a sharp rejection from the Supreme Court, and after similar–if more detailed–dismissals from dozens of lower courts, Trump’s promise to fight on to hold the presidency must move beyond the legal system. Protesting in the streets is a step that remains available. But will it help in any way?

Watch Live: Trump Supporters Gather in DC Again Before Electoral College  Vote – NBC4 Washington
https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/trump-supporters-maga-rally-protest-dc-saturday/2506267/

Saints and psychopaths turn out in the streets without worrying about their likely impact, but most people consider the consequences. Most will show up only when they think their efforts might matter.

There won’t be an official count on turnout. Neither the park service nor the police do that any more, and activist and media counts, particularly when offered from a worm’s eye perspective of the crowd, can’t be taken as certain. Reports estimate “thousands,” but observe fewer people than pro-Trump demonstrations weeks ago.

When fewer turn up to march, it’s the most stalwart who remain, and who become far more visible. At today’s demonstration, we have the white nationalist Proud Boys, noted conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, recently pardoned short-lived National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and newly elected incoming Congressman Bob Good (Virginia). Good, who decided to run for an already Republican seat when he learned that the incumbent had officiated at a same-sex wedding, proudly announced that the crowd knew the pandemic was a fake.

Yipes!

It’s hard to think that there are large numbers of regular Republicans, much less non-partisan activists, who will want to be in that company. And here’s the dilemma for the Trump supporters who hold on.

The Republican Party has demonstrated the way slippery slopes work far too clearly. One-time vigorous opponents, like Senators Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz, warned about the damage Trump would cause their party–until the candidate won. In office, Trump demanded–and got–more and more Republican deference to his own cause, and any bright lines that Republican politicians might have promised themselves they’d observe, disappeared. But this doesn’t have to keep happening.

It was bracing to see that 17 Republican state attorneys general and more than half of the Republicans in the House signed onto the Texas call to invalidate millions of votes in other states. But none of the Republican senators, including Trump’s most rabid supporters, did.

There’s no longer a needle’s eye to thread, and regular Republicans are less and less likely to want to keep dancing on the head of a pin with the likes of Alex Jones and the Proud Boys.

As institutional routes to power disappear, the protests won’t stop. They’ll probably get smaller and less disciplined, maybe more dangerous and disturbing. The question is who will be willing to join in.

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Rosa Parks bus defiance, anniversary.

Today’s entry reposts on the anniversary of Rosa Parks’s refusal to move to the back of a Montgomery bus.

Fifty-seven (now, 61) years ago today, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  When local activists learned about her arrest, they organized a city-wide boycott and filed a lawsuit, kicking an emerging civil rights movement into a higher gear.

Mrs. Parks’s non-cooperation was courageous, but it wasn’t an isolated act.  She had been an activist for most of her life, and was chapter secretary of the local NAACP.  She had taken a summer course at the Highlander Institute, where she read about civil disobedience, the Constitution, and the Brown versus Board of Education decision.

She also wasn’t the first person to defy segregation laws on the city buses; earlier that year, Claudette Colvin (at right), then fifteen, was arrested for the same offense, but local activists were reluctant to organize around her.  She was young, less experienced, pregnant, and not married.  Image matters.

The Montgomery bus boycott spurred similar efforts around the United States and brought global attention to the civil rights movement.  It also introduced Martin Luther King, then a young minister, to national visibility.

Mrs. Parks herself became an icon of the movement–and indeed, in American history.  When I ask my students to list heroes of the American civil rights movement, she is second only to Martin Luther King in mentions.  Often, students know no other names from the movement.

Twenty-five years after her arrest, Mrs. Parks’s celebrity brought her an appearance on a game show, To Tell the Truth.  In the video below, you can watch celebrities question her–and two impostors–about the bus boycott.  It’s bizarre and compelling.  The last questioner is comedian Nipsey Russell, who uses his brief turn to shout out to other important, courageous, and now lesser-known heroes of the movement.

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Music and politics (1st covid): Who’s not gonna take it?

Florida man–and others–march maskless through a Target to protest wearing masks, urging byshoppers to drop their own masks and join the pandemic. In the background, you can hear another shopper taping and commenting. (Yes, there’s a curse.)

In the background, you’ll also hear Twisted Sister”s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” an appropriated anthem for the cause.

Twisted Sister’s frontman, Dee Snider, who wrote the song decades ago, was appalled and scatalogical, tweetingNo…these selfish assholes do not have my permission or blessing to use my song for their moronic cause. #cuttheshit.”

Nothing so new here; once art of any kind goes public, people attach their own purposes, and the creator often has little influence on how something is used. Copyright law provides some protection for songwriters–and the list of musicians who’ve demanded that Trump stop using their stuff at his rallies is long, including The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Adele, Aerosmith, and R.E.M.

Sometimes, though, the artists are pretty intentional. It’s hard to find any ambiguity in the new songs Van Morrison is releasing to protest restrictions on public life in the UK. He sees public health efforts aimed at reducing the Covid carnage as infringements on his freedom.

Sigh.

Truth: My appreciation for Morrison as a musician and composer has only grown over the decades, and I’ll pull out old songs and find new things to like. I think I can separate the politics and the art.

But I may also give Twister Sister’s stuff another listen.

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Labor Day, 2020

(2020) Here’s a repost and re-edit of the Labor Day thinking here. In a the COVID-19 crisis, inequality is more stark than ever. The president of the United States trumpets the recovery of the stock market, which has done precious little for people who have to work to earn a living. Between the Republican Senate and the White House, it’s been virtually impossible to extend necessary help to unemployed people, and to the states–which means more lay-offs on the horizon. It’s critical to think about the way in which the organized engagement of working people could make this all different…and better.

Successful politicians exploit, buy off, and sell out the movements that sometimes buoy their campaigns.  This American story is an old one, and it’s one that leaves activists disappointed, wary, and cynical, often especially about the politicians who do the most for them.

Emancipation statue in Boston patiently waiting for removal

[Recall that candidate Abraham Lincoln promised to put the preservation of the union higher on his list of priorities than ending slavery, and that abolitionists criticized President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (issued after two years of war), which ended slavery only in the territories that had seceded.]  Most do far less.

So, why is the American day to commemorate Labor held at the end of the summer, months after May Day, the workers’ celebration day virtually everywhere else in the world? How do you respond to a movement by creating an occasion for a cook-out?

President Grover Cleveland, a hard-money Democrat, and generally no friend to organized labor, signed a bill making Labor Day a national holiday at the end of June in 1894, at the height of the Populist movement, and just after the American Railway Union, led by Eugene Debs, had launched a boycott and strike, starting in Pullman, crwyIllinois. Protesting the Pullman Palace Car Company’s treatment of its workers, including harsh wage cuts, railway workers across the country refused to handle any train hauling a Pullman car.

The Federal government used an injunction, then troops, to battle the union and get the trains moving.  In July, just after announcing a national day to celebrate the contributions of American workers, President Cleveland ordered federal marshals–along with 12,000 Army troops, into Chicago to break up the strike.  Workers fought back, and 13 workers were killed, and at least several dozen injured.  Debs was tried for violating an injunction, and went to prison, where he discovered the writings of Karl Marx.  Clarence Darrow provided a vigorous, but unsuccessful, defense.

Debs would go to prison again, for his opposition to US entry into World War I, and would run for president five times as a Socialist.

But I digress.  President Cleveland created a distinctly American Labor Day, emphatically not on May 1, which had already been the occasion for vigorous and disruptive workers’ activism.  (Read about the Haymarket affair.)

May Day remains the day for international workers mobilization.  Instead, our Labor Day is a time to mark the end of summer by cooking outdoors and shopping for school supplies.

The  US Department of Labor’s website gives credit for Labor Day to the American worker, but makes no mention of the Pullman Strike or the Haymarket demonstrations.

So, commemoration can actually be a way to neuter the historical memory.  See our discussions of commemorative days for Martin Luther KingCesar Chavez, and Fred Korematsu, all significantly more difficult characters than what they’ve come to represent.

P.S. Organized labor’s cumulative difficulties and declines have begun to lead to new strategies. One involves organizing workers that unions in the past had largely overlooked. Established unions have tried to expand their reach by organizing in retail stores and in fast food outlets, working to unite less skilled workers. Most recently, as example, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate teaching assistants at private colleges could organize unions and bargain collectively. But I’m not quite convinced that graduate students are the new vanguard for the working class.

Likely more promising are efforts to use politics to improve the fortunes of American workers. Collective bargaining is one way to raise wages. Another is to mandate higher minimum wages for everyone. The Fight for $15 has had claimed some important successes in new ordinances in generally liberal cities, and has shifted the debate elsewhere. Bernie Sanders campaigned for the Democratic nomination by endorsing the proposal for a new minimum wage, and Hillary Clinton, competing for his voters, Members of the Wisconsin Jobs Now group, representing Fight For 15, which favors a $15 an hour minimum wage, march down E. Chicago St. shortly before entering the Summerfest grounds for Labor Fest in 2015.essentially endorsed the effort.

This past year, all of the Democratic hopefuls endorsed dramatically increasing wages. One future for labor is through Democratic Party politics.

2019: Reading over something I initially posted in 2011, I fear that the big story is basically the same: 1. Economic and political equality has generally increased, with the fate of less educated workers substantially worse; 2. government has done more to slant the slope of the political battlefield against workers generally and organized labor in particular…esp. see Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; 3. the current political battle pits conservative politicians against government workers.

But,

When well-honed routines of organizing are no longer working, organizers have to innovate. The Fight for $15 has made substantial inroads, particularly in the Democratic Party, and organizers now see immigrants as allies rather than competition, mostly. Family Leave campaigns provide a route to build bridges between different classes of workers which, ultimately, could have large payoff. Most generally, the campaign for workers welfare is transforming to a larger concern with political and economic inequality: it’s what’s left as viable strategy.

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An athletes’ boycott is a strike for racial justice.

It’s not like the racial justice protests stopped; they just stopped getting as much attention, particularly if activists were disciplined and not destructive. And racialized police violence certainly didn’t stop, as the taped police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin,The Associated Press tragically demonstrates. But national attention shifts, back to Covid-19, to the Democratic and Republican conventions, to the economy, or just to managing daily life.

Citizens have been thoroughly primed to respond to the next tragedy that comes to light and, alas, they keep coming. After the video of police officers shooting Blake in the back seven times circulated across social media, angry residents occupied the streets, marching, chanting, and demanding something better. And, particularly late at night, a few demonstrators have started fires, and Kenosha’s police overreacted in kind, unleashing tear gas and rubber bullets. This is how a demonstration now looks like a riot.

It wasn’t just police and protesters for very long. Well-armed white men showed up announcing that they would defend property against the protesters. Semi-automatic weapons are prominent in all the pictures, making a makeshift militia that is neither disciplined or well-organized; people who agreed showed up. And Kenosha police welcomed them, expressing thanks and providing water.

Black Lives Matter supporters march through Kenosha Tuesday during unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.A teenager from a neighboring state fired his AR-15 at demonstrators, killing two men, and critically wounding a third, and then walked away as police stood by. So much is wrong here: police deference to armed gunmen; a seventeen year old illegally transporting and sporting a semi-automatic weapon in public; stories of that murderous boy posting racist tropes on social media, attending a Trump rally, effectively encouraged by national politicians and local law enforcement; harsh policing and a stark divide between the police and the citizens they’re supposed to protect.

And it all keeps happening.

Then professional basketball stepped in. The first piece I saw was Los Angeles Clippers coach, Doc Rivers, give a press conference after a playoff game in which he reacted against the fear promoted at the Republican convention when, after all, it’s Black people who are being hurt. He said:

It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach. I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We got to do better. But we got to demand better. It’s funny, we protest. They send riot guards. They send people in riot outfits. They go up to Michigan with guns. They’re spitting on cops. Nothing happens.

Rivers isn’t the first coach to speak out on racial violence: Steve Kerr and Greg Popovich have also been forthright and public about racism, the current president, and the moment. (I’m struck that both Kerr and Rivers played for Popovich toward the end of their athletic careers, and imagine that conversations went beyond how to handle an opposing team’s pick-and-rolls.)

Then the Milwaukee Bucks, who were leading in the playoff series against the Orlando Magic, decided it was no time for games. In a powerful statement, the team announced that they had to do something more.

Bucks guards George Hill and Sterling Brown spoke for the team, demanding that the Wisconsin legislature return and take meaningful action against police violence. (That may not happen so quickly.) The team didn’t take questions, and left asking viewers to educate themselves and the problem, and promising to do the same.

Orlando refused to accept the Bucks’ forfeit, announcing their own boycott. Then all the other teams scheduled to play playoff games joined the action off the court. When workers refuse to do their jobs for a political cause, it’s properly called a strike. But these players had the support of management.

Almost immediately, the vice president of the Bucks, Alex Lasry, tweeted his own statement, supporting the players, “Some things are bigger than basketball. The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.” The team’s owners supported Lasry and the players.

It’s not so surprising that the National Basketball Association supported the players and the cause. Remember, the Miami Heat wore hoodies in 2012 to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin by an overly eager neighborhood watch volunteer.  NBA  superstars  like  Stephen  Curry  and  LeBron  James  have  been politically outspoken, particularly on racial violence, for a long time. I don’t know whether the owners and the league supported them because the leaders agreed or because it was good business, but the message has been clear–and very different–until recently–from the other professional sports leagues.

Then, the strike spread to baseball, starting with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds and beyond. Then soccer, then tennis. In the polarized politics of the moment, athletes don’t want to sit on the political sidelines and committed to using their platforms. Like everything else, it took years of political organizing, and often risky action by individuals. (It’s easier than ever to remember Colin Kaepernick!)

Athletes can draw the spotlight, and at this moment, it’s on racial justice.

And note: always edging a little bit ahead of the NBA on politics has been the WNBA. The WNBA Players Wear Shirts With 'Bullet Holes'; Games Canceled In Protest | HuffPostWashington Mystics knelt before their scheduled game, and refused to play. They were wearing tee shirts with Jacob Blake’s name spelled on the front, and seven holes torn in the back of each one.

The world pauses and we get to think about things as they are–and maybe change them.

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We were warned about the post office…..

Today, a coalition of groups is staging a national campaign of protests in support of the United States Post Office.  (At right, see a demonstration in Royal Oak, Michigan.)Postal service supporters rally outside the Royal Oak Post Office on Saturday, August 22, 2020.
You can find your neighborhood event at this convenient website which, as of this morning, lists more than 800 of them.
At first glance, it seems odd that a basic government function appears at the center of a brewing political conflict about partisanship, democracy, rural America, and particularly elections, but here we are. And we’ve been here before.
The United States Postal Service provides vital public services that are used by businesses, individuals, and government, and has always enjoyed public subsidy. Private companies provide some of the same services, sometimes cheaper and faster, by avoiding responsibilities for the difficult and less profitable ones. The political challenge, for Republicans in particular, is that those less profitable areas include last mile delivery and post offices in rural America, which usually provides political support for conservative candidates for office.
Now, election services are at the center of the conflict. The new Postmaster General doesn’t come from the ranks of the service, but from the private sector and from the USPS supporters in West Roxburywell of big Republican donors. In addition to the longstanding goal of hollowing out government services, Louis DeJoy is serving a president who vehemently opposes absentee or mail-in voting for people who won’t vote for him.
It’s not surprising that the president is willing to lie about all of this; what’s a little surprising is that rural Republicans are at least a little willing to stand up for services to their constituents
The global pandemic makes voting in person a little scary and dangerous, particularly in areas where the number of polling places has been cut and lines are long. Mail-in voting, long in use across the United States, is an obvious partial remedy. Trump, probably mistakenly, sees only a personal threat. (In real life, Republicans also vote by mail, and the voting method  doesn’t offer consistent advantage to either party.)
Now, defending the post office, and public services more generally, has become Louis DeJoy Protestanother way to attack Trump–probably a bad battle for the president to choose.
As soon as whistle blowers starting alerting the rest of us to cuts in services and removal of sorting machines, people started protesting–first at DeJoy’s homes. Today, the move was to post offices across the country.
But it’s important to recognize that the attack on the post office–and on public services more generally–has been festering for years, and activists have been trying to alert the rest of us all that time.
I posted this 8 years ago, on June 26, 2012. Neither the Obama administration nor the Congress has delivered for the post office in the past.

Ten current and former postal employees stopped eating yesterday in Washington, DC, starting a hunger strike to protest continuing cutbacks at the United States Postal Service.  Organized by Community and Postal Workers United, they do not plan to starve themselves to death; they are, however, desperate to get public attention for their cause.

So far, this effort has worked–a little: Representative Dennis Kucinich appeared at their protest and endorsed the cause, and there’s been some coverage in local and national media.  But they’re fighting an uphill battle.

Fasting is never an easy route to political influence.  (We’ve discussed the strategy of hunger strikes here, as well as fasting campaigns by DREAM activists and prisoners.)  If postal workers thought they could depend upon allies in Congress or their union to stave off very large cuts in post offices and sorting stations (and jobs), they certainly wouldn’t be standing outside, hungry, in the summer in Washington, DC.

They have grievances about jobs and pensions, but their cause represents a much larger conflict in contemporary American political life.  Article I Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power “To establish Post Offices and post Roads.”  The idea was that a reliable communication infrastructure was essential to building a nation.  Even before the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin ran the post office in Philadelphia, which was located in the offices of his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette; both he and the city prospered.  Franklin served as the first Postmaster General of the United States.

Postmaster General was a Cabinet position for nearly 150 years, between 1829 and 1971, when the United States Postal Service moved from being a department to become a (somewhat) independent agency.  Somewhat?  Political figures wanted the Post Office to operate more efficiently and to cease operating as a haven for patronage.  They also wanted the postal service to cover its own expenses. At the same time, politicians didn’t want to allow the post office to operate just like a business and close unprofitable offices.  Ironically, the least profitable offices tend to be located in rural areas, often represented by Republicans in Congress, representatives who are generally reluctant to see their local post offices closed.  So, the USPS is supposed to support itself, to compete with corporations for the most profitable services, like overnight mail, and to enjoy a monopoly on the services that lose money, like 6 day a week delivery of circulars in rural areas.

With email and electronic banking, most customers are able to reorganize most of their communications to bypass the post office anyway.  Once Grandma figures out how to slide a $5 bill into an email….

The postal workers are focusing on one particular Congressional restriction, the requirement that the USPS pre-fund its pension liabilities 75 years in advance; neither Fedex or UPS are similarly encumbered.  So, the government agency is supposed to compete against the private sector, but also operate within special restrictions in that competition.  Does that sound like anything else in contemporary politics?  Does that sound like everything else in contemporary politics?

A leaner more business-like USPS would focus on profitable services and areas, leaving sparsely populated areas to pay more and/or enjoy less service–or to support a new business that somehow finds a way to survive by serving such areas.  (Hint: it hasn’t happened yet.)  It’s a somewhat different America than imagined by Ben Franklin.

Whether the four day hunger strike, in conjunction with sympathy events, can succeed in putting the future of the USPS on the political agenda remains to be seen.  The hunger strike got my attention; you?

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Good Trouble and school openings

John Lewis always encouraged young activists. He routinely recounted his parents warning him to stay out of trouble when he left home for Imagecollege and a leading role in the civil rights movement. Explaining the protests, the beatings he endured, the arrests and time in jail, he offered that he only got into “good trouble.”

He was a teen when he got involved in the civil rights movement, and the youngest speaker at the March on Washington at 23. The Parkland kids were even younger when they launched a new campaign within the gun safety movement. Although they avoided arrest and imprisonment, they suffered fierce harassment and threats. Good trouble.

Georgia opened public schools this week, despite a surge in Covid-19 infections (running about 3,000 infections and roughly 50 deaths each day last week). Donald Trump and Governor Brian Kemp are enthusiastic about returning to normal, and suggest that young people aren’t really threatened by the novel coronavirus.

When high schools opened, a few photos and videos appeared on social media showing teens bustling in crowded hallways, with only a smattering of masks visible. It looked like a normal suburban high school–a ripe site for spreading infections.

At least two students were suspended for posting the pictures and violating school policy about using phones in the hallways and posting on social media during school hours. The kids who posted were classic whistleblowers, bringing public attention to otherwise neglected threats.

The principal explained that the school was still figuring out how to manage passing between classes. It looks bad, he said, but masks are optional–and how could teachers police a mandatory mask policy anyway?

It’s hard to believe that policing social media is easier, or that high school students nation-wide really adhere to a very sensible policy about staying offline during school hours.

Fifteen year old Hannah Watters, suspended for five days for her violation of school rules, went public. Apparently, she hadn’t been in trouble before. In a charming interview on CNN, she explained that she was okay with this, because it was “good trouble.”

Maybe the best part is watching Laura Coates smile at Hannah’s hat-tip to John Lewis.

After the interview, Hannah announced on Twitter that the suspension had been lifted.

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