by Keaton Weiss
At least seven times this week, I’ve sat down and tried to write about what’s going on right now in this country. And every time, I found myself staring at a blank screen, not because I didn’t know what to write about, but because I didn’t know what not to write about. So many layers, so many angles, so many challenges, so many pitfalls, and yet so many opportunities. The prospect of picking and choosing which thoughts to put into writing, and then organizing them in such a way that they made sense to you, my dear readers, just seemed impossible. And, quite frankly, it still does.
So instead, I spent most of the week reading as much as I could about this spontaneous, long overdue popular uprising we’re experiencing right now on the streets of every major American city, and, thankfully, lots of minor ones as well. And then it occurred to me that in lieu of writing something myself, I would compile a list of what I consider essential, must-read articles from recent days for those looking to understand, and respond appropriately to, our current moment. Here they are, in no particular order (hyperlinks provided, of course. Just click on each title to read the articles for yourself.)
1. America, This Is Your Chance – Michelle Alexander, The New York Times
Okay, so I somewhat lied when I said these were in no particular order. Because Michelle Alexander tops any list of writers you simply must not miss in times like these. If you only have time to read one of these articles, please make it this one. It’s the most comprehensive take I’ve read so far, and, like all of her work, brilliant and indispensable.
“Our only hope for our collective liberation is a politics of deep solidarity rooted in love. In recent days, we’ve seen what it looks like when people of all races, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds rise up together, standing in solidarity for justice, protesting, marching and singing together, even as SWAT teams and tanks roll in. We’ve seen our faces in another American mirror — a reflection of the best of who we are and what we can become. These images may not have dominated the media coverage, but I’ve glimpsed in a foggy mirror scenes of a beautiful, courageous nation struggling to be born.”
2. Liberals: Don’t Be Afraid of Calls to Defund the Police – Joan Walsh, The Nation
Joan Walsh, to put it mildly, is no Michelle Alexander. In fact, I don’t very much care for Joan Walsh. And while this piece is maybe not quite essential reading to most of you who found yourselves having stumbled upon a blog called “Due Dissidence,” it is a great piece to share with your sheepish white liberal friends who have been texting you about how nervous they are that the GOP will criticize them for calling to defund the police. The last line of this piece says it all:
“I’ve finally realized: It’s time for those of us who grew up in the shadow of the Reagan revolution either to shut up and listen, or exit stage left.”
That’s a sentence forty fucking years in the making. Ok Boomers. No, really. Ok. This is a start.
3. Twilight of the Cop Consensus – David Roth, The New Republic
The New Republic has been fantastic these days, and this piece is no exception. David Roth contextualizes the issue of defunding the police in such a way that’s both accessible and provocative.
“At every level, the state long ago accepted the reactionary position holding that it was fundamentally illegitimate; a bleak bipartisan consensus emerged that correspondingly accepted the notion that it also fell to the state to oversee the efficient management of its own cruelties. Every line item on every budget shrank accordingly, with the exception of the armed forces that would duly monitor the progress of this secular decline.
In this context, it’s important to recognize that the emerging movement to defund police forces is about more than that particular laudable goal. More fundamentally, it’s about reversing the dereliction that left states and cities spending more than half their budgets on harm-infliction and the meager rest on literally everything else.”
4. A Boot is Crushing the Neck of American Democracy – Cornel West, The Guardian
Cornel West is a force of nature, and easily among the five most important public intellectuals of our time. In this piece he asks the existential question of whether or not the American experiment can be salvaged from the ruins it has become.
“The fundamental question at this moment is: can this failed social experiment be reformed? The political duopoly of an escalating neofascist Donald Trump-led Republican party and a fatigued Joe Biden-led neoliberal Democratic party – in no way equivalent, yet both beholden to Wall Street and the Pentagon – are symptoms of a decadent leadership class. The weakness of the labor movement and the present difficulty of the radical left to unite around a nonviolent revolutionary project of democratic sharing and redistribution of power, wealth and respect are signs of a society unable to regenerate the best of its past and present.”
Can’t put it much better than that.
5. Martin Luther King Knew That There’s Nothing Peaceful About Nonviolence If You’re Doing It Right – Alexander Livingston, Jacobin
It’s a long headline, but the piece itself is quite brief. A concise but very informative and insightful article about MLK and the fusing of liberation and class struggles.
“Nonviolence is not about playing by the rules, working within existing institutions, or keeping protests unthreatening. Nonviolent direct action is direct action. It’s not saintly self-sacrifice or high-minded moralizing but a theory of power and a repertoire of tactics for using it. Effective nonviolence is about wielding collective action to disrupt the normal workings of society.
Martin Luther King Jr knew this better than most.”
6. If You’re Suprised by How the Police Are Acting, You Don’t Understand US History – Malaika Jabali, The Guardian
A historical look at policing, and how it makes total sense that they’d respond to these protests as they have.
“It’s time to look beyond the romanticization of American police and get real. Just as America glorifies the military and Wall Street, and some Americans whitewash the confederate flag and plantation homes, the history of policing is steeped in blood.”
7. Humanity Is Escaping From The Abusive Relationship With The Police State – Caitlin Johnstone, Caitlinjohnstone.com
Caitlin Johnstone is such a terrific and prolific writer, it’s perfectly likely that by the time I post this she’ll have released another article that’s even better. But this one really hits it out of the park.
“The powerful do not care if you have an abortion. They do not care how many bullets your gun can hold, they do not care if two guys get married or what gender pronouns you use, and they do not care if everyone is a racist or if no one is. They care about maintaining and expanding their ability to exert control over other people. If they can use prejudice or the threat of revoking rights to advance those agendas then they will certainly use them, but beyond that, they do not care.
For this reason, many who see the abusive nature of the oligarchic empire have come to look upon these issues a bit disdainfully, seeing social justice issues as a power-serving distraction from the actual issues they don’t want us pushing for like dismantling the war machine, ending plutocracy and making sure everyone has what they need. This is a major part of why, when racism suddenly became the number one hot topic in the news for days on end amid protests against police brutality, many anti-establishment types viewed it with suspicion.
But what actually seems to be happening here is a lot more interesting than some impotent and irrelevant distraction. Because people aren’t just out protesting racism, they’re calling for the complete dismantling of the entire police state, which is an essential part of the glue holding the US-centralized empire in place.”
So there you have it: seven essential articles to guide you through these times. One thought that did occur to me this week is that we on the left have been talking of a revolution for the past five years, since the launch of the first Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. As it turns out, police brutality, and its implications, was the issue all along that could have sparked it. A question I’ve been asking myself all week is, how did we miss it? Why did we miss it? And why now has the entire country awakened all at once?
These pieces all helped me get closer to answering those questions, and I hope they do the same for you.