Can we rebuild the United States after President Trump is gone? And how would we do it?
It’s a good question, and it’s looking more important as new evidence of his criminality emerges on what feels like a near-daily basis.
You would be forgiven if watching the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump last week left you with the feeling that the constitutional system of government is on life support. Even acknowledging that Trump is corrupt and guilty of everything he’s charged with, it’s disheartening to watch Senate Republicans twist themselves into knots to justify a craven vote to not call any witnesses or see any evidence for a trial in which they’re supposed to be impartial jurors.
But if there’s anything consistent about Trump, it’s that he doesn’t see the U.S. as an example of democracy, freedom, or any other positive ideal. He said as much on national TV shortly after the election, both-sides-ing away Russia’s campaign of murdering journalists by saying, “You think our country’s so innocent?”
You could almost say he started out thinking we weren’t any better than anyone else, and since then has worked to make that statement indisputable truth.
But let’s look forward. Let’s assume that, despite his near-inevitable acquittal by the Senate, Trump loses in November (because the alternative is unthinkable), and after much complaining and pouting and calling the election “rigged,” he’s finally shown the door when Chief Justice John Roberts goes ahead and swears in a new president. This country’s systemic problems were already deep. If the constitutional glue holding the U.S. together has proven to be so brittle, what’s to stop the nation from flying off into 50 (or more) mini-nations, joined only by a flag or a common currency or the ability of federal agents to run airport security scanners and crack suspects’ iPhones?
The first and perhaps only job of a new president, after what is likely to be a very close race, is going to be to start the long, arduous process of rebuilding our corroded institutions and installing new protections against a return to Trumpism.
At this point, it’s pretty dubious to continue asserting that the U.S. is exceptional after everything this administration has done to undercut almost every norm established by the much-lauded Constitution. So let’s start with dropping all that “American exceptionalism” talk, take an industrial-strength dose of humility medicine, and start looking around the world to see how we can do better.
The nativist sentiment that permeates U.S. culture has always been rooted in a suspicion of foreignness, whether it comes from people, products, or ideas. Historically, we’ve convinced ourselves that no one was as good as us, therefore we couldn’t possibly learn anything from anyone else.
But we’ve known for a long time that wasn’t true. Consider health care, which any honest observer will admit is a complete mess: the U.S. “system” is a largely cartel of under-regulated private insurance companies that have near-monopolistic holds on their markets. (Most companies, even if they offer insurance to their employees, have an extremely limited selection of options.) Meanwhile, costs for care and pharmaceuticals skyrocket out of all proportion to their actual value, and there is little to no transparency in pricing from one market to the next, or even among hospitals within the same market.
Time to go with something else? Many would like a Medicare-style single-payer system for everyone, with the government buying most or all care for the population. That would follow the example of countries such as Norway or the United Kingdom. Or we could adopt a universal coverage program, such as the Canadian model in which the government insures everyone. For the free market crowd, the Swiss model provides an entirely private health care and insurance system that nonetheless covers everyone and is heavily regulated by the government. Switzerland has higher out-of-pocket expenses compared to other European countries, but the cost is still minuscule compared to U.S. rates.
No system is perfect, but quite a few are a lot better than the one we’ve got now.
We could do the same for policy directions large and small. The EU’s privacy law has become the standard for ensuring people’s personal data isn’t exploited by technology businesses. Norway is often credited with having the most humane prison system in the world, with a correspondingly low rate of recidivism. (Or, we could act on one of the good ideas that has come from recent organizing in the U.S., and abolish prisons outright as inherently discriminatory, cruel, and ineffective institutions.)
And let’s not overlook that fundamental bedrock of democracy: elections. Ours are corrupted by billions of dollars in dark money, and the laws are inconsistent from state to state (and from year to year). Voter suppression is rife, especially for people of color, the Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act, and an archaic 18th century electoral system means that the presidential election is decided in one of a handful of swing states, while Senate representation is designed to give disproportionate power to less populous states.
Any number of things can be improved in American society. In many cases, someone else already is doing a better job. Maybe it’s time we drop the pretense that we know everything, recognize that our “traditions” can be outdated and barriers to progress, and open ourselves to the best ideas from around the world. After all, we’re going to have a long rebuilding process ahead of us once Trump exits the national stage. We might as well do it right.
CHRIS WINTERS is senior editor at YES! He covers economics and politics.
What do we mean when we talk about “socialism”? Here are ten things about its theory, practice, and potential that you need to know.
Over the last 200 years, socialism has spread across the world. In every country, it carries the lessons and scars of its particular history there. Conversely, each country’s socialism is shaped by the global history, rich tradition, and diverse interpretations of a movement that has been the world’s major critical response to capitalism as a system.
This story originally appeared at YES! Magazine.
We need to understand socialism because it has shaped our history and will shape our future. It is an immense resource: the accumulated thoughts, experiences, and experiments accomplished by those yearning to do better than capitalism.
In my latest book, Understanding Socialism (Democracy at Work, 2019), I gather and present the basic theories and practices of socialism. I examine its successes, explore its challenges, and confront its failures. The point is to offer a path to a new socialism based on workplace democracy. Here are 10 things from this book that you should know.
1. Socialism is a yearning for something better than capitalism
Socialism represents the awareness of employees that their sufferings and limitations come less from their employers than from the capitalist system. That system prescribes incentives and options for both sides, and rewards and punishments for their behavioral “choices.” It generates their endless struggles and the employees’ realization that system change is the way out.
In Capital, Volume 1, Karl Marx defined a fundamental injustice—exploitation—located in capitalism’s core relationship between employer and employee. Exploitation, in Marx’s terms, describes the situation in which employees produce more value for employers than the value of wages paid to them. Capitalist exploitation shapes everything in capitalist societies. Yearning for a better society, socialists increasingly demand the end of exploitation and an alternative in which employees function as their own employer. Socialists want to be able to explore and develop their full potentials as individuals and members of society while contributing to its welfare and growth.
Socialism is an economic system very different from capitalism, feudalism, and slavery. Each of the latter divided society into a dominant minority class (masters, lords, and employers) and a dominated majority (slaves, serfs, employees). When the majority recognized slavery and feudal systems as injustices, they eventually fell.
The majorities of the past fought hard to build a better system. Capitalism replaced slaves and serfs with employees, masters and lords with employers. It is no historical surprise that employees would end up yearning and fighting for something better. That something better is socialism, a system that doesn’t divide people, but rather makes work a democratic process where all employees have an equal say and together are their own employer.
2. Socialism is not a single, unified theory
People spread socialism across the world, interpreting and implementing it in many different ways based on context. Socialists found capitalism to be a system that produced ever-deepening inequalities, recurring cycles of unemployment and depression, and the undermining of human efforts to build democratic politics and inclusive cultures. Socialists developed and debated solutions that varied from government regulations of capitalist economies to government itself owning and operating enterprises, to a transformation of enterprises (both private and government) from top-down hierarchies to democratic cooperatives.
Sometimes those debates produced splits among socialists. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, socialists supporting the post-revolutionary Soviet Union underscored their commitment to socialism that entailed the government owning and operating industries by adopting the new name “communist.” Those skeptical of Soviet-style socialism tended increasingly to favor state regulation of private capitalists. They kept the name “socialist” and often called themselves social democrats or democratic socialists. For the last century, the two groups debated the merits and flaws of the two alternative notions of socialism as embodied in examples of each (e.g. Soviet versus Scandinavian socialisms).
Early in the 21st century, an old strain of socialism resurfaced and surged. It focuses on transforming the inside of enterprises: from top-down hierarchies, where a capitalist or a state board of directors makes all the key enterprise decisions, to a worker cooperative, where all employees have equal, democratic rights to make those decisions, thereby becoming—collectively—their own employer.
3. The Soviet Union and China achieved state capitalism, not socialism
As leader of the Soviet Union, Lenin once said that socialism was a goal, not yet an achieved reality. The Soviet had, instead, achieved “state capitalism.” A socialist party had state power, and the state had become the industrial capitalist displacing the former private capitalists. The Soviet revolution had changed who the employer was; it had not ended the employer/employee relationship. Thus, it was—to a certain extent—capitalist.
Lenin’s successor, Stalin, declared that the Soviet Union had achieved socialism. In effect, he offered Soviet state capitalism as if it were the model for socialism worldwide. Socialism’s enemies have used this identification ever since to equate socialism with political dictatorship. Of course, this required obscuring or denying that (1) dictatorships have often existed in capitalist societies and (2) socialisms have often existed without dictatorships.
After initially copying the Soviet model, China changed its development strategy to embrace instead a state-supervised mix of state and private capitalism focused on exports. China’s powerful government would organize a basic deal with global capitalists, providing cheap labor, government support, and a growing domestic market. In exchange, foreign capitalists would partner with Chinese state or private capitalists, share technology, and integrate Chinese output into global wholesale and retail trade systems. China’s brand of socialism—a hybrid state capitalism that included both communist and social-democratic streams—proved it could grow faster over more years than any capitalist economy had ever done.
4. The U.S., Soviet Union, and China have more in common than you think
As capitalism emerged from feudalism in Europe in the 19th century, it advocated liberty, equality, fraternity, and democracy. When those promises failed to materialize, many became anti-capitalist and found their way to socialism.
Experiments in constructing post-capitalist, socialist systems in the 20th century (especially in the Soviet Union and China) eventually incurred similar criticisms. Those systems, critics held, had more in common with capitalism than partisans of either system understood.
Self-critical socialists produced a different narrative based on the failures common to both systems. The U.S. and Soviet Union, such socialists argue, represented private and state capitalisms. Their Cold War enmity was misconstrued on both sides as part of the century’s great struggle between capitalism and socialism. Thus, what collapsed in 1989 was Soviet State capitalism, not socialism. Moreover, what soared after 1989 was another kind of state capitalism in China.
5. Thank American socialists, communists, and unionists for the 1930s New Deal
FDR’s government raised the revenue necessary for Washington to fund massive, expensive increases in public services during the Depression of the 1930s. These included the Social Security system, the first federal unemployment compensation system, the first federal minimum wage, and a mass federal jobs program. FDR’s revenues came from taxing corporations and the rich more than ever before.
In response to this radical program, FDR was reelected three times. His radical programs were conceived and pushed politically from below by a coalition of communists, socialists, and labor unionists. He had not been a radical Democrat before his election.
Socialists obtained a new degree of social acceptance, stature, and support from FDR’s government. The wartime alliance of the U.S. with the Soviet Union strengthened that social acceptance and socialist influences.
6. If 5 was news to you, that’s due to the massive U.S.-led global purge of socialists and communists after WWII
After its 1929 economic crash, capitalism was badly discredited. The unprecedented political power of a surging U.S. left enabled government intervention to redistribute wealth from corporations and the rich to average citizens. Private capitalists and the Republican Party responded with a commitment to undo the New Deal. The end of World War II and FDR’s death in 1945 provided the opportunity to destroy the New Deal coalition.
The strategy hinged on demonizing the coalition’s component groups, above all the communists and socialists. Anti-communism quickly became the strategic battering ram. Overnight, the Soviet Union went from wartime ally to an enemy whose agents aimed “to control the world.” That threat had to be contained, repelled, and eliminated.
U.S. domestic policy focused on anti-communism, reaching hysterical dimensions and the public campaigns of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Communist Party leaders were arrested, imprisoned, and deported in a wave of anti-communism that quickly spread to socialist parties and to socialism in general. Hollywood actors, directors, screenwriters, musicians, and more were blacklisted and barred from working in the industry. McCarthy’s witch hunt ruined thousands of careers while ensuring that mass media, politicians, and academics would be unsympathetic, at least publicly, to socialism.
In other countries revolts from peasants and/or workers against oligarchs in business and/or politics often led the latter to seek U.S. assistance by labeling their challengers as “socialists” or “communists.” Examples include U.S. actions in Guatemala and Iran (1954), Cuba (1959-1961), Vietnam (1954-1975), South Africa (1945-1994), and Venezuela (since 1999). Sometimes the global anti-communism project took the form of regime change. In 1965-6 the mass killings of Indonesian communists cost the lives of between 500,000 to 3 million people.
Once the U.S.—as the world’s largest economy, most dominant political power, and most powerful military—committed itself to total anti-communism, its allies and most of the rest of the world followed suit.
7. Since socialism was capitalism’s critical shadow, it spread to those subjected by and opposed to capitalist colonialism
In the first half of the 20th century, socialism spread through the rise of local movements against European colonialism in Asia and Africa, and the United States’ informal colonialism in Latin America. Colonized people seeking independence were inspired by and saw the possibility of alliances with workers fighting exploitation in the colonizing countries. These latter workers glimpsed similar possibilities from their side.
This helped create a global socialist tradition. The multiple interpretations of socialism that had evolved in capitalism’s centers thus spawned yet more and further-differentiated interpretations. Diverse streams within the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist tradition interacted with and enriched socialism.
8. Fascism is a capitalist response to socialism
A fascist economic system is capitalist, but with a mixture of very heavy government influence. In fascism, the government reinforces, supports, and sustains private capitalist workplaces. It rigidly enforces the employer/employee dichotomy central to capitalist enterprises. Private capitalists support fascism when they fear losing their position as capitalist employers, especially during social upheavals.
Under fascism, there is a kind of mutually supportive merging of government and private workplaces. Fascist governments tend to “deregulate,” gutting worker protections won earlier by unions or socialist governments. They help private capitalists by destroying trade unions or replacing them with their own organizations which support, rather than challenge, private capitalists.
Frequently, fascism embraces nationalism to rally people to fascist economic objectives, often by using enhanced military expenditures and hostility toward immigrants or foreigners. Fascist governments influence foreign trade to help domestic capitalists sell goods abroad and block imports to help them sell their goods inside national boundaries.
Usually, fascists repress socialism. In Europe’s major fascist systems—Spain under Franco, Germany under Hitler, and Italy under Mussolini—socialists and communists were arrested, imprisoned, and often tortured and killed.
A similarity between fascism and socialism seems to arise because both seek to strengthen government and its interventions in society. However, they do so in different ways and toward very different ends. Fascism seeks to use government to secure capitalism and national unity, defined often in terms of ethnic or religious purity. Socialism seeks to use government to end capitalism and substitute an alternative socialist economic system, defined traditionally in terms of state-owned and -operated workplaces, state economic planning, employment of dispossessed capitalists, workers’ political control, and internationalism.
9. Socialism has been, and still is, evolving
During the second half of the 20th century, socialism’s diversity of interpretations and proposals for change shrank to two alternative notions: 1.) moving from private to state-owned-and -operated workplaces and from market to centrally planned distributions of resources and products like the Soviet Union, or 2.) “welfare-state” governments regulating markets still comprised mostly of private capitalist firms, as in Scandinavia, and providing tax-funded socialized health care, higher education, and so on. As socialism returns to public discussion in the wake of capitalism’s crash in 2008, the first kind of socialism to gain mass attention has been that defined in terms of government-led social programs and wealth redistributions benefitting middle and lower income social groups.
The evolution and diversity of socialism were obscured. Socialists themselves struggled with the mixed results of the experiments in constructing socialist societies (in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.). To be sure, these socialist experiments achieved extraordinary economic growth. In the Global South, socialism arose virtually everywhere as the alternative development model to a capitalism weighed down by its colonialist history and its contemporary inequality, instability, relatively slower economic growth, and injustice.
Socialists also struggled with the emergence of central governments that used excessively concentrated economic power to achieve political dominance in undemocratic ways. They were affected by criticisms from other, emerging left-wing social movements, such as anti-racism, feminism, and environmentalism, and began to rethink how a socialist position should integrate the demands of such movements and make alliances.
10. Worker co-ops are a key to socialism’s future
The focus of the capitalism-versus-socialism debate is now challenged by the changes within socialism. Who the employers are (private citizens or state officials) now matters less than what kind of relationship exists between employers and employees in the workplace. The role of the state is no longer the central issue in dispute.
A growing number of socialists stress that previous socialist experiments inadequately recognized and institutionalized democracy. These self-critical socialists focus on worker cooperatives as a means to institutionalize economic democracy within workplaces as the basis for political democracy. They reject master/slave, lord/serf, and employer/employee relationships because these all preclude real democracy and equality.
For the most part, 19th and 20th century socialisms downplayed democratized workplaces. But an emerging, 21st century socialism advocates for a change in the internal structure and organization of workplaces. The microeconomic transformation from the employer/employee organization to worker co-ops can ground a bottom-up economic democracy.
The new socialism’s difference from capitalism becomes less a matter of state versus private workplaces, or state planning versus private markets, and more a matter of democratic versus autocratic workplace organization. A new economy based on worker co-ops will find its own democratic way of structuring relationships among co-ops and society as a whole.
Worker co-ops are key to a new socialism’s goals. They criticize socialisms inherited from the past and add a concrete vision of what a more just and humane society would look like. With the new focus on workplace democratization, socialists are in a good position to contest the 21st century’s struggle of economic systems.
Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, NYC. He taught economics at Yale University, the City University of New York, and the University of Paris. Over the last 25 years, in collaboration with Stephen Resnick, he has developed a new approach to political economy that appears in several books co-authored by Resnick and Wolff and numerous articles by them separately and together. Professor Wolff's weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated on over 90 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV and other networks.
This was the Facebook post of a Phoenix police officer.
In a different post, a Philadelphia police lieutenant recounted a courthouse scene in which a defendant and his family walk off an elevator: “… indignant about the fact that those of us actually working are going the other way. I fucking hate them.”
Another lieutenant commented: “I fucking hate the [sic] too.”
An online database called the Plain View Project has collected more than 5,000 bigoted, racist, sexist, Islamophobic Facebook postings and comments like these by former and current law enforcement officers in jurisdictions across the country.
The database was started two years ago by attorney Emily Baker-White, who was investigating a police brutality claim as a fellow in the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia when she came across vitriolic public Facebook posts by several police officers.
“One stirred me,” Baker-White told CNN. “It was a meme of a police dog trying to run after something. Its teeth were bared, it was being restrained, and the text over the picture was, ‘I hope you run, he likes fast food.’”
She created the database, she said, to show the pervasiveness of such online behavior by police officers.
Recently, the project’s findings have triggered internal investigations, a few terminations, suspensions, and reassignments of officers in several police departments nationwide.
Last week, the Philadelphia Police Department used it as the basis for reassigning 72 of its officers—an action Police Commissioner Richard Ross called the single largest removal of officers from street duty in his three-decade career.
“We’ve talked about from the outset how disturbing, how disappointing and upsetting these posts are,” Ross said at a press conference. He called them “inconsistent with the department’s promise of fair and equal treatment for all residents. They will undeniably impact police-community relations.”
In St. Louis, circuit attorney Kimberly Gardner said she would no longer accept cases from 22 officers whose comments and postings are included in the database. Seven of them have been banned permanently, meaning her office won’t issue charges based on their investigations, won’t apply for search warrants they seek, and won’t consider cases in which they are essential witnesses.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams in a statement called the language in the posts “embarrassing and disturbing.” She said she has asked the department’s Professional Standards Bureau to “look further into this matter.”
Dallas police said it is investigating the database information, and plans to make the results of their investigation public.
Additionally, the database contains comments and postings from officers in Twin Falls, Idaho; York, Pennsylvania; and Denison, Texas.
The revelations come at a time of simmering outrage over bias and brutality in American policing, particularly in Black communities, where the shooting of unarmed Black men by the police have fueled the Movement for Black Lives.
And while some have raised concerns over the officers’ free speech rights, the comments and posts offer a disturbing glimpse into the impulses of some of the uniformed men and women charged with serving and protecting the very communities they disparage.
“The public should interpret this as a snapshot of how some police officers behave—and, perhaps, what they think—when the veil is lifted and the police subculture is exposed,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
Stinson said he was “impressed with the ‘outside-the-box’ methodology used by the Plain View Project to tackle a hard-to-research area.”
A former police officer, he created a police crime database to track and study arrests of police nationwide. “I’ve been surprised by how seriously some police departments, particularly the Philadelphia Police Department, have taken this in terms of seemingly taking officers off the street while internal investigations are conducted,” he said.
In total, the Plain View Project database contains postings and comments by 2,800 current and about 700 former officers. They include racist memes and comments to posts celebrating violence, many of them against people of color.
In response to a man in handcuffs, for example, one officer posted mockingly: “‘they beat me up.’ You’re lucky you POS. You should have been shot dead!!!”
A differentPhilly officer posted a year before the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia: “I can’t wait until someone has had enough, and just plows through these idiots!” The text was above a video of anti-Trump protesters.
The posters in the database range in rank from officers to captains.
Screenshots of their comments or posts are published along with metadata collected from publicly available sources showing their badge numbers, titles, salaries, and employment status—current or former.
The site also provides a link to officers’ Facebook pages, so users can view the original post.
In Philadelphia, Ross said his department has hired a law firm to sift through posts identified as offensive to determine whether they are protected under the First Amendment. He said he expects several dozen will be disciplined and some will lose their jobs.
Additionally, antibias and antiracist training will be conducted across the department, which will launch periodic audits of officers’ social media accounts.
Baker-White’s group said the postings it included in the database were selected because the viewpoints they expressed “could be relevant to important public issues.”
“We do not know what the poster meant when he or she typed them. We only know that when we saw them, they concerned us.”
Lornet Turnbull wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Lornet is an editor for YES!, a Seattle-based freelance writer, and a regional freelance writer for the Washington Post. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TurnbullL.
Will they speak in anger and frustration of the time of the Great Unraveling, when profligate consumption exceeded Earth’s capacity to sustain and led to an accelerating wave of collapsing environmental systems, violent competition for what remained of the planet’s resources, and a dramatic dieback of the human population? Or will they look back in joyful celebration on the time of the Great Turning, when their forebears embraced the higher-order potential of their human nature, turned crisis into opportunity, and learned to live in creative partnership with one another and Earth?
A defining choice
We face a defining choice between two contrasting models for organizing human affairs. Give them the generic names Empire and Earth Community. Absent an understanding of the history and implications of this choice, we may squander valuable time and resources on efforts to preserve or mend cultures and institutions that cannot be fixed and must be replaced.
Empire organizes by domination at all levels, from relations among nations to relations among family members. Empire brings fortune to the few, condemns the majority to misery and servitude, suppresses the creative potential of all, and appropriates much of the wealth of human societies to maintain the institutions of domination.
Earth Community, by contrast, organizes by partnership, unleashes the human potential for creative cooperation, and shares resources and surpluses for the good of all. Supporting evidence for the possibilities of Earth Community comes from the findings of quantum physics, evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, anthropology, archaeology, and religious mysticism. It was the human way before Empire; we must choose to relearn how to live by its principles.
Developments distinctive to our time are telling us that Empire has reached the limits of the exploitation that people and Earth will sustain. A mounting perfect economic storm born of a convergence of peak oil, climate change, and an imbalanced U.S. economy dependent on debts it can never repay is poised to bring a dramatic restructuring of every aspect of modern life. We have the power to choose, however, whether the consequences play out as a terminal crisis or an epic opportunity. The Great Turning is not a prophecy. It is a possibility.
A turn from life
According to cultural historian Riane Eisler, early humans evolved within a cultural and institutional frame of Earth Community. They organized to meet their needs by cooperating with life rather than by dominating it. Then some 5,000 years ago, beginning in Mesopotamia, our ancestors made a tragic turn from Earth Community to Empire. They turned away from a reverence for the generative power of life—represented by female gods or nature spirits—to a reverence for hierarchy and the power of the sword—represented by distant, usually male, gods. The wisdom of the elder and the priestess gave way to the arbitrary rule of the powerful, often ruthless, king.
Paying the price
The peoples of the dominant human societies lost their sense of attachment to the living earth, and societies became divided between the rulers and the ruled, exploiters and exploited. The brutal competition for power created a relentless play-or-die, rule-or-be-ruled dynamic of violence and oppression and served to elevate the most ruthless to the highest positions of power. Since the fateful turn, the major portion of the resources available to human societies has been diverted from meeting the needs of life to supporting the military forces, prisons, palaces, temples, and patronage for retainers and propagandists on which the system of domination in turn depends. Great civilizations built by ambitious rulers fell to successive waves of corruption and conquest.
The primary institutional form of Empire has morphed from the city-state to the nation-state to the global corporation, but the underlying pattern of domination remains. It is axiomatic for a few to be on top, many must be on the bottom. The powerful control and institutionalize the processes by which it will be decided who enjoys the privilege and who pays the price, a choice that commonly results in arbitrarily excluding from power whole groups of persons based on race and gender.
Herein lies a crucial insight. If we look for the source of the social pathologies increasingly evident in our culture, we find they have a common origin in the dominator relations of Empire that have survived largely intact in spite of the democratic reforms of the past two centuries. The sexism, racism, economic injustice, violence, and environmental destruction that have plagued human societies for 5,000 years, and have now brought us to the brink of a potential terminal crisis, all flow from this common source. Freeing ourselves from these pathologies depends on a common solution—replacing the underlying dominator cultures and institutions of Empire with the partnership cultures and institutions of Earth Community. Unfortunately, we cannot look to imperial power-holders to lead the way.
History shows that as empires crumble the ruling elites become ever more corrupt and ruthless in their drive to secure their own power—a dynamic now playing out in the United States. We Americans base our identity in large measure on the myth that our nation has always embodied the highest principles of democracy and is devoted to spreading peace and justice to the world.
But there has always been tension between America’s high ideals and its reality as a modern version of Empire. The freedom promised by the Bill of Rights contrasts starkly with the enshrinement of slavery elsewhere in the original articles of the Constitution. The protection of property, an idea central to the American dream, stands in contradiction to the fact that our nation was built on land taken by force from Native Americans. Although we consider the vote to be the hallmark of our democracy, it took nearly 200 years before that right was extended to all citizens.
Americans acculturated to the ideals of America find it difficult to comprehend what our rulers are doing, most of which is at odds with notions of egalitarianism, justice, and democracy. Within the frame of historical reality, it is perfectly clear: They are playing out the endgame of Empire, seeking to consolidate power through increasingly authoritarian and antidemocratic policies.
Wise choices necessarily rest on a foundation of truth. The Great Turning depends on awakening to deep truths long denied.
Empire’s true believers maintain that the inherent flaws in our human nature lead to a natural propensity to greed, violence, and lust for power. Social order and material progress depend, therefore, on imposing elite rule and market discipline to channel these dark tendencies to positive ends. Psychologists who study the developmental pathways of the individual consciousness observe a more complex reality. Just as we grow up in our physical capacities and potential given proper physical nourishment and exercise, we also grow up in the capacities and potential of our consciousness, given proper social and emotional nourishment and exercise.
Over a lifetime, those who enjoy the requisite emotional support traverse a pathway from the narcissistic, undifferentiated magical consciousness of the newborn to the fully mature, inclusive, and multidimensional spiritual consciousness of the wise elder. The lower, more narcissistic, orders of consciousness are perfectly normal for young children, but become sociopathic in adults and are easily encouraged and manipulated by advertisers and demagogues. The higher orders of consciousness are a necessary foundation of mature democracy. Perhaps Empire’s greatest tragedy is that its cultures and institutions systematically suppress our progress to the higher orders of consciousness.
Given that Empire has prevailed for 5,000 years, a turn from Empire to Earth Community might seem a hopeless fantasy if not for the evidence from values surveys that a global awakening to the higher levels of human consciousness is underway. This awakening is driven in part by a communications revolution that defies elite censorship and is breaking down the geographical barriers to intercultural exchange.
The consequences of the awakening are manifest in the civil rights, women’s, environmental, peace, and other social movements. These movements in turn gain energy from the growing leadership of women, communities of color, and indigenous peoples, and from a shift in the demographic balance in favor of older age groups more likely to have achieved the higher-order consciousness of the wise elder.
It is fortuitous that we humans have achieved the means to make a collective choice as a species to free ourselves from Empire’s seemingly inexorable compete-or-die logic at the precise moment we face the imperative to do so. The speed at which institutional and technological advances have created possibilities wholly new to the human experience is stunning.
Just over 60 years ago, we created the United Nations, which, for all its imperfections, made it possible for the first time for representatives of all the world’s nations and people to meet in a neutral space to resolve differences through dialogue rather than force of arms.
Less than 50 years ago, our species ventured into space to look back and see ourselves as one people sharing a common destiny on a living space ship.
In little more than 10 years, our communications technologies have given us the ability, should we choose to use it, to link every human on the planet into a seamless web of nearly costless communication and cooperation.
Already our new technological capability has made possible the interconnection of the millions of people who are learning to work as a dynamic, self-directing social organism that transcends boundaries of race, class, religion, and nationality and functions as a shared conscience of the species. We call this social organism global civil society. On February 15, 2003, it brought more than 10 million people to the streets of the world’s cities, towns, and villages to call for peace in the face of the buildup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They accomplished this monumental collective action without a central organization, budget, or charismatic leader through social processes never before possible on such a scale. This was but a foretaste of the possibilities for radically new forms of partnership organization now within our reach.
Break the silence, end the isolation, change the story
We humans live by stories. The key to making a choice for Earth Community is recognizing that the foundation of Empire’s power does not lie in its instruments of physical violence. It lies in Empire’s ability to control the stories by which we define ourselves and our possibilities to perpetuate the myths on which the legitimacy of the dominator relations of Empire depend. To change the human future, we must change our defining stories.
For 5,000 years, the ruling class has cultivated, rewarded, and amplified the voices of those storytellers whose stories affirm the righteousness of Empire and deny the higher-order potentials of our nature that would allow us to live with one another in peace and cooperation. There have always been those among us who sense the possibilities of Earth Community, but their stories have been marginalized or silenced by Empire’s instruments of intimidation. The stories endlessly repeated by the scribes of Empire become the stories most believed. Stories of more hopeful possibilities go unheard or unheeded and those who discern the truth are unable to identify and support one another in the common cause of truth telling. Fortunately, the new communications technologies are breaking this pattern. As truth-tellers reach a wider audience, the myths of Empire become harder to maintain.
The struggle to define the prevailing cultural stories largely defines contemporary cultural politics in the United States. A far-right alliance of elitist corporate plutocrats and religious theocrats has gained control of the political discourse in the United States not by force of their numbers, which are relatively small, but by controlling the stories by which the prevailing culture defines the pathway to prosperity, security, and meaning. In each instance, the far right’s favored versions of these stories affirm the dominator relations of Empire.
THE IMPERIAL PROSPERITY STORY says that an eternally growing economy benefits everyone. To grow the economy, we need wealthy people who can invest in enterprises that create jobs. Thus, we must support the wealthy by cutting their taxes and eliminating regulations that create barriers to accumulating wealth. We must also eliminate welfare programs to teach the poor the value of working hard at whatever wages the market offers.
THE IMPERIAL SECURITY STORY tells of a dangerous world, filled with criminals, terrorists, and enemies. The only way to ensure our safety is through major expenditures on the military and the police to maintain order by physical force.
THE IMPERIAL MEANING STORY reinforces the other two, featuring a God who rewards righteousness with wealth and power and mandates that they rule over the poor who justly suffer divine punishment for their sins.
These stories all serve to alienate us from the community of life and deny the positive potentials of our nature, while affirming the legitimacy of economic inequality, the use of physical force to maintain imperial order, and the special righteousness of those in power.
It is not enough, as many in the United States are doing, to debate the details of tax and education policies, budgets, war, and trade agreements in search of a positive political agenda. Nor is it enough to craft slogans with broad mass appeal aimed at winning the next election or policy debate. We must infuse the mainstream culture with stories of Earth Community. As the stories of Empire nurture a culture of domination, the stories of Earth Community nurture a culture of partnership. They affirm the positive potentials of our human nature and show that realizing true prosperity, security, and meaning depends on creating vibrant, caring, interlinked communities that support all persons in realizing their full humanity. Sharing the joyful news of our human possibilities through word and action is perhaps the most important aspect of the Great Work of our time.
Changing the prevailing stories in the United States may be easier to accomplish than we might think. The apparent political divisions notwithstanding, U.S. polling data reveal a startling degree of consensus on key issues. Eighty-three percent of Americans believe that as a society, the United States is focused on the wrong priorities. Supermajorities want to see greater priority given to children, family, community, and a healthy environment. Americans also want a world that puts people ahead of profits, spiritual values ahead of financial values, and international cooperation ahead of international domination. These Earth Community values are in fact widely shared by both conservatives and liberals.
Our nation is on the wrong course not because Americans have the wrong values. It is on the wrong course because of remnant imperial institutions that give unaccountable power to a small alliance of right-wing extremists who call themselves conservative and claim to support family and community values, but whose preferred economic and social policies constitute a ruthless war against children, families, communities, and the environment.
The distinctive human capacity for reflection and intentional choice carries a corresponding moral responsibility to care for one another and the planet. Indeed, our deepest desire is to live in loving relationships with one another. The hunger for loving families and communities is a powerful, but latent, unifying force and the potential foundation of a winning political coalition dedicated to creating societies that support every person in actualizing his or her highest potential.
In these turbulent and often frightening times, it is important to remind ourselves that we are privileged to live at the most exciting moment in the whole of the human experience. We have the opportunity to turn away from Empire and to embrace Earth Community as a conscious collective choice. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
There’s a corridor within the Lower Rio Grande Valley through which rare and endangered species of wildlife move freely from Mexico into a national refuge and across the rest of South Texas. It’s an oasis for rare birds and butterflies, ocelots, and other wildlife.
It’s also where, this week, construction crews began tearing down forest, between the National Butterfly Center and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, to build part of President Trump’s border wall on a levee high above the river. In the weeks ahead, more than 350 acres will be destroyed to clear a path for 33 miles of concrete and steel wall.
It’s a scenario likely to repeat itself over the next few years.
On Friday, Trump signed a sweeping compromise measure to keep the government funded, but he also declared a national emergency on the U.S. southern border, claiming “an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.”
The action allows him to commandeer more than $6 billion from the military and other sources—money Congress has refused to give him—to build the border wall that he promised his supporters Mexico would pay for.
“Today they began tearing down the forest in the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, four miles from my house. I have no words.”
That was a social media post on Thursday by Tiffany Kersten, a biologist and board member of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.
“We don’t have a border crisis; we don’t have a security crisis.” The clearing, she said later in an interview, is taking place near where she lives in Mission, Texas, outside McAllen, which has been ranked by SmartAsset as one of the safest cities in the U.S. “What we have is a crisis of misinformation,” Kersten said. “Illegal immigration has not been this low in 46 years. I don’t know at what point in this country we determined that facts no longer matter.” According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there were 303,916 apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally in 2017, the lowest number since 1971.
The real emergency, immigrant advocates say, is the plight of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the U.S. and the separation of immigrant families there. They say the president’s action makes it more imperative state and local governments work to protect immigrant communities.
A chorus of lawmakers from both major parties as well as legal experts are also upset, saying Trump’s emergency declaration usurps the “power of the purse” the Constitution grants to Congress.
Many commentators noted that Trump undercut his own argument by saying he didn’t need to declare an emergency but was doing so to speed up construction. In a Tweet, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked how Trump’s action can be a legitimate national emergency if he himself admits he didn’t need to do it. She and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a joint statement, called the move a clear power grab and urged Republican colleagues to “honor the Constitution by defending our system of checks and balances.”
The president’s “unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security or our military and our nation,” Pelosi wrote on Twitter.
This week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom pulled most of the 360 National Guard troops from the Mexican border, leaving a few to combat transnational drug smuggling. In his State of the State address on Feb. 12, Newsom called the border emergency a “manufactured crisis” and said his state will “not be part of this political theater."
In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, construction equipment started showing up earlier this month, sparking outrage among community members and activists.
In addition to the refuge, land targeted for wall construction also includes the National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre nature preserve, as well as the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park—land that the federal government doesn’t own. On Thursday, a judge dismissed a lawsuit by the butterfly sanctuary to block the wall construction. But it and other landmarks may have earned a reprieve in the bill Trump signed to avoid another shutdown.
Meanwhile, a wall through Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, the headquarters of the World Birding Center, would divide the visitor center from the rest of the property, including the trails, according to an article in the Sierra Club magazine.
Activists have planned a protest and march for noon Saturday at the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
This week we may have passed a cultural milestone.
This was a week when the world’s richest and most powerful gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss how to make the world better. As a confab of the elite, Davos has come to symbolize the persistence of a particularly extreme form of capitalism. No one there among the presidents, prime ministers, and billionaires is seriously looking at upending the system that lifts them ever higher while dropping the have-nots ever lower.
But while the Davos set gabs about global poverty, Financial Times commentator Edward Luce points out on the “Deep State Radio” podcast,the word “inequality” isn’t on the agenda. They are certain they can save the world and maintain their exalted position in it.
The scene is divorced from reality as most Americans experience it. This is all happening during a federal government shutdown now extending into its second month that has made 800,000 federal workers go without pay, plus another 1.2 million contractors who not only aren’t being paid, but won’t receive back pay when the shutdown ends. (As of Friday, Jan. 25, there was a tentative agreement to reopen the government for three weeks so a budget could be negotiated.)
Trump administration officials told them to just suck it up, with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross admitting to CNBC he didn’t know why federal employees were going to food banks when they could just take out loans.
But something else was unfolding at the same time, something even more symbolic. A new crop of progressive congressional representatives arrived in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Getting the most press among the newbies is 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bronx-born, Twitter-native, and worm in the heads of right wing pundits. She made waves calling for a Green New Deal, proposing a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent to pay for it, and, last week, marched in the second anniversary Women’s March, worked to end the federal shutdown, and called in to a 57-hour livestreamed game of Donkey Kong 64 to support trans rights.
That’s Donkey Kong, the Nintendo video game from the ’80s. The online game was organized as a fundraiser for Mermaids, a U.K. charity that supports trans youth. It was run by Harry Brewis, known online as “Hbomberguy” and for a series of “Measured Response” videos in which he calmly dissects right-wing talking points and conspiracy theories. Brewis ended up raising about $340,000 for the charity.
Most remarkable about the event—besides a congressional representative showing up—is that the video game community has long been seen as a refuge of misogynistic, right-wing “GamerGate” types. That some people are turning that around and opting for inclusion is a sign of culture shift and progress.
The worlds of Davos and Donkey Kong could not be farther apart. There’s the obvious: the world’s wealthiest assembled in one resort location to save the world for capitalists, and a group of gamers raising money for a cause that benefits a marginalized community.
What resonates with people more today: a 70 percent top marginal tax rate (which was the average top rate from the 1930s through the 1960s) or the status quo in which ordinary people have a higher tax burden than the superrich? Who’s more in tune with the world right now, Michael Dell (net worth approximately $23 billion) or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who famously couldn’t afford a second home in Washington, D.C., until she started receiving her congressional paychecks?
Every once in a while, one of our leaders seems so in tune with the times that they become legends. Think Franklin Roosevelt intoning that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” to rally a nation in the depths of the Great Depression, or John F. Kennedy calling the country to service: “Ask not what your country can do for you ….” Even Donald Trump’s revanchist “Make America Great Again” resonated with a large number of people, marking a significant cultural moment in American life—one that we hope will go down in infamy.
When these moments have passed into history, the words linger as a shorthand version for cultural turning points that were in reality more complex, nuanced, and hard-won.
We may be in the next such moment right now, although we haven’t had a pithy quote yet to encapsulate it. (I hope it doesn’t turn out to be Wilbur Ross’ “let them eat cake” gaffe.) Maybe Ocasio-Cortez will become the one to deliver that cultural marker, maybe it will come from someone else. But all the trends are pointing to a shift in collective consciousness.
The Rosses, Dells, and other superrich and superpowerful went to Davos because that’s where their people are, the community they care about, where they could be assured of hobnobbing with their fellow plutocrats. Likewise, Ocasio-Cortez went to her people where they were, where the price for entry into the club wasn’t a nine-figure bank account, but the desire to welcome and lift up one another.
Ocasio-Cortez’s people also wonder if the world can support billionaires, and why anyone should have a billion dollars to begin with. Like the idea of bringing back a 70 percent marginal tax rate, they are questions that are getting asked more often. When enough people ask those questions, that’s a turning point.
Chris Winters wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Chris is a senior editor at YES! He covers economics and politics. Follow him on Twitter @TheChrisWinters.
The midterm elections of 2018 have been portrayed as a strong victory for Democrats looking to put a check on the excesses of President Donald Trump. But there’s a warning embedded in the results.
Beyond Democrats’ gain of nearly 40 seats to take control of the House of Representatives, the specter of widening national division looms even larger.
Election returns show rural areas (as in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, Georgia, etc.) turned even redder, while more urbanized areas (coastal California, downstate New York, the Washington, D.C., area, but also parts of the urban and suburban Midwest such as Dallas, Kansas City, and Des Moines) went from blue to bluer.
What happened? Basically, returning voters voted only slightly more Democratic in 2018 than in 2016. But the key difference is that new, first-time voters, jumping from 10 percent of the electorate in 2016 to 16 percent in 2018. That increase accounted for more than half of the Democrats’ margin of 9.3 million votes, driving their House sweep.
There’s a silver lining to all this, but it’s unclear whether it’s applicable to other parts of the country or if it’s an outlier. The biggest illustration of a promising new reality is election night’s most surprising Democratic victory, one that defies the growing urban-rural chasm.
The gerrymandered district combines once-Republican Oklahoma City with two reliably GOP rural counties. Its voters supported Trump by 13 points in the 2016 presidential election. It also handily elected Republicans to Congress since 1975, including two-term incumbent Steve Russell by margins topping 20 points. FiveThirtyEight gave Republicans 6-in-7 odds of easy triumph this year.
Then, the 5th District handed Democrat Kendra Horn a 51-to-49 percent victory as a stunning 80,000 more voters turned out than in the 2014 midterm. Horn out-campaigned the complacent Republicans. (Full disclosure: I live in the district and worked as a low-level door knocker in the Horn campaign. Like every other observer, I was shocked when she won. I thought she would lose respectably.) Her media strategies (boosted by a last-minute donation from Michael Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC) and a door-to-door movement of scores of regular volunteers were pivotal in her 3,300-vote victory margin.
Horn’s campaign also was boosted by a larger electoral movement. Analysis of the district’s 269 precincts from inner Oklahoma City to its sprawling suburbs and gated exurbs, to rural Pottawatomie and Seminole counties finds a wholesale, multiracial, urban-suburban-rural voter shift against Republicans of astonishing proportions.
From the last midterm election in 2014 to 2018, voter turnout in the district surged by 23 percent for Republicans, but a volcanic 110 percent for Democrats. Every precinct showing substantially increased Democratic voting, and of the 269 precincts, 257 swung toward Democrats; just 10 shifted Republican. In the 40 rural-county precincts, hardcore Trump territory, 39 turned more Democratic. Democrats won two-thirds of new voters in those rural areas, three-fourths in Oklahoma City, and 88 percent in the suburbs.
The 5th District’s 2018 results revealed different White voting blocs, all of which moved toward Democrats. Reversing decades of White flight to the suburbs, the Whitest and youngest areas of Oklahoma City are now downtown as thousands of young apartment dwellers flood booming central districts. “Anti-racism” commentator Tim Wise says those young urban Whites amount to gentrifiers in minority neighborhoods who call the cops when Black people intrude in “their” new pottery studios, but those millennial districts nonetheless voted 75 to 90 percent Democratic, rates similar to Latinx, Black, Asian, and Native American populations. Wealthier White districts adjacent to downtown that once housed conservative oil and commerce elites also registered Democratic landslides.
At the opposite end, exurban and rural voters harbored even bigger surprises. Gated, guarded Gaillardia, 15 miles from downtown, overwhelmingly White and wealthy, tripled its vote for Democrats. The district’s two arch-red rural counties saw their Democratic proportion of the vote double. In between, racially diversifying suburban areas, where Republicans had trouble across the country, also shifted decisively left.
Oklahoma City’s trends reveal the increasing geographical and political alliance of younger urban Whites with races of color. Nationwide in 2018, Whites under age 30 voted Democratic by 12 points; urban Whites show 40-point pro-Democrat margins.
The Oklahoma 5th District’s broad-based blue trend appears the exception rather than the rule, however. In 70 of the state’s 77 counties (all rural), Republican votes increased more than Democratic votes. Only the urban areas or counties with universities or significant Native American population moved toward Democrats, even amid a vigorous campaign by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson.
Nationally, the canyon between White and non-White, and between urban and rural widened. Rural, older White voters like Trump more and more. Urban, younger, and newer voters, the opposite.
The assumption that Trump’s angry base is motivated by job and income losses—troubles liberal reforms can address—is misplaced. Census data show Whites in Trump-voting areas actually gained thousands of jobs and dollars in real income under former President Barack Obama’s economic stimuluses from 2010 to 2016—and saw more improvement than other races did.
My belief that racist, xenophobic, and religious bigotries were just convenient, self-serving conceits (ones we all avail to varying degrees) has been shaken by discovering the severe damage older Whites in Trump’s bastions are inflicting on themselves. Trump supporters are becoming more entrenched in aging exurban, small-town, and rural areas, where drug and gun deaths, suicides, murders, violence, and other crimes perpetrated by Whites are rising rapidly, along with extremist politics.
The racialized fears of a multicultural America driving those voters are more organic, ingrained, and permanent than concerns about economics; reforms, time, and “education” have not softened them.
One place where this trend is breaking down is in Oklahoma’s once bright-red 5th District. From a revived downtown to its diversifying suburbs, to depopulated oil towns and farms that once epitomized “Trump country,” this is an amplified version of the national trend in which new voters voted in much larger numbers and very differently from returning voters. That’s a compelling lesson for progressives: Jettison past-oriented appeals to White voters and embrace future-facing strategies that expand the electorate. It seems that those new voters truly are the future.
Mike Males wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Mike is senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, San Francisco.
In the latest in a long string of attacks on immigration, this week Trump declared he would issue an executive order ending birthright citizenship. Established by the 14th amendment to grant citizenship to freed slaves, the idea that all people born in the United States are U.S. citizens, regardless of race or where their parents came from, has long been upheld by the courts and the Constitution. But this is not the first time White supremacists have tried to restrict the rights of citizenship along racial lines.
In a little-known episode from World War II, nativist agitators who had led earlier efforts to exclude Asian immigrant communities—and paved the way for Japanese American incarceration—attempted to strip U.S.-born Nisei of citizenship, claiming their “racial characteristics” made them “unfit for American citizenship.” The legal fight that ensued is both a reminder that we’ve been here before and an example of our long history of resisting attacks on our right to call this place home.
The first major battle to protect birthright citizenship came from Chinese American citizen Wong Kim Ark in 1898. His parents, like all Asian immigrants at that time, were ineligible for citizenship—deemed “unassimilable” and therefore unqualified for naturalization—but Wong’s birth in San Francisco in 1873 made him a citizen of the United States. He remained in California after his parents returned to China, and twice traveled to visit them overseas. After the second trip, in 1894, the collector of customs claimed Wong was not a citizen and denied him re-entry.
Wong decided to fight back. He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, where a 6-2 majority held that under the 14th amendment, children born in the United States are citizens of the United States—regardless of whether their parents were U.S. citizens.
Wong Kim Ark’s legal battle established an important precedent for protecting the rights of non-White citizens targeted for exclusion. But a clear edict from both the Constitution and the Supreme Court did not stop the efforts of nativists and nationalists who fought to keep immigrant communities of color from attaining equal access to the rights of citizenship.
After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the subsequent increase in immigration from Japan, groups such as the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West pushed a hostile campaign to keep “Asiatics” from entering the country and obtaining citizenship. Relying on racist Yellow Peril tropes warning of “hordes” of Asian immigrants “invading” the U.S., they steadily chipped away at the rights of Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian American communities during the early 20th century. A series of restrictive immigration laws culminating in the Immigration Act of 1924 created an “Asiatic Barred Zone” and banned entry from virtually all Asian countries, while alien land laws, anti-miscegenation laws, local ordinances prohibiting Japanese students from attending White schools, and other policies curtailed the everyday rights of Asian Americans. The combined message was clear: You are not welcome here.
This exclusionary movement laid the groundwork for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, stoking White fears of the immigrant other and siphoning away Japanese American political power. But it didn’t stop there.
In May 1942, as Japanese Americans were being forcibly removed from the West Coast by the U.S. military, the Native Sons of the Golden West held their annual Grand Parlor. There, they voted to strip Japanese Americans of citizenship: “first to prosecute, then to carry through to the Supreme Court of the United States, if necessary, a suit challenging the United States citizenship of the Japanese; and second to draft and sponsor an amendment to the Constitution of the United States which shall have for its object the exclusion of all persons of Japanese ancestry from American citizenship.”
With the backing of the American Legion, John T. Regan, longtime Grand Secretary of the Native Sons, sued Cameron King, registrar of voters in San Francisco County, to remove the names of 90 Nisei from the voting rolls for the August 1942 primaries and to bar them from voting for the duration of the war. On the surface, Regan v. Kingtouched only on voting rights, but its real purpose, laid bare by the Grand Parlor resolution, was to overturn the 1898 Wong Kim Ark decision and revoke birthright citizenship.
The racist underpinnings of the case became even clearer when Regan went to court. California Attorney General U.S. Webb argued the case in Federal District Court in June 1942, where he explicitly told the judge it revolved around “the citizenship and right to citizenship of all peoples and all races who do not fall within the characterization or description of White people.” Webb’s argument rested unabashedly on White supremacist ideology, stating that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were made entirely “by and for White people.”
The judge rejected the Native Sons’ plea, citing Wong Kim Ark, but Webb then appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—drawing the attention of the Japanese American Citizens League.
If we take one thing away from this history, let it be the knowledge that we have always fought back.
The citizens league had previously decided not to challenge the forced removal and incarceration, instead offering the federal government their cooperation. The decision was deeply unpopular with those who saw it as a failure of their responsibility to the community, and it earned them widespread resentment, particularly among the Nisei whose citizenship rights had been erased. But the citizens league claimed their reluctant cooperation with a temporary injustice did not undo any permanent rights. Regan v. King was different: To lose the rights of citizenship would be a very permanent loss.
Despite some initial hesitation on the part of the citizens league leadership, National president Saburo Kido and past president Walter Tsukamoto agreed to prepare an amicus brief in opposition to the Native Sons’ appeal. But both Kido and Tsukamoto were by this time imprisoned in relocation camps, where they had no access to the legal files and office facilities needed to organize a proper case. At the suggestion of A.L. Wirin of the Southern California ACLU (who had initially brought the Regan case to the citizens league’s attention) they reached out to Hugh Macbeth, who then recruited the NAACP’s Southern California branch president Thomas L. Griffith.
The citizens league filed the amicus on February 17, 1943, listing Kido, Tsukamoto, Macbeth, Griffith and Wirin as counsel. The brief argued that the Native Sons’ lawsuit affected not just the Nisei but all people of color in the United States, and threatened the rights of Native Americans, African Americans, and all Americans of Asian ancestry. Two days later—the same day the Court considered the appeals of Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Minoru Yasui—U.S. Webb presented the Native Sons’ appeal, contending that Wong Kim Ark had been “erroneously decided.” However, before Wirin could deliver the citizens league’s position, the judges held an impromptu, whispered conference on the bench and sustained the lower court’s decision, declaring it “not necessary” to hear any further argument. Webb made a last desperate appeal to the Supreme Court, but a few months later, the Court officially declined to hear the case, killing Regan for good.
Thanks to a strong coalition among the citizens league, NAACP and ACLU, and the earlier fight of Wong Kim Ark, this attempt to strip Japanese Americans of citizenship during World War II ultimately failed. But, as evidenced by Trump’s latest executive order, White supremacists’ efforts to restrict the full and equal participation of immigrants and people of color in our democracy haven’t disappeared either. The targets of exclusion may have shifted over time, the language of justification become less transparent in its quest for a “White man’s country,” but what we are witnessing today is part of a much larger arc of history.
However, if we take one thing away from this history, let it be the knowledge that we have always fought back, that each and every time they tried to kill our spirit and deny us what is rightfully ours, they did not succeed. From the origins of the 14th amendment in Black Americans’ struggle to claim a place in a nation built on their stolen labor, to Asian American legal battles such as Wong Kim Ark and Regan v. King, to the broad coalitions of immigrant activists leading this movement today, we will always stand up and fight back.
Midterm elections often get “nationalized,” becoming a comment on the party in power rather than a vote for representation. But in 2018, more is at stake than a vote against President Trump.
1. The pink wave
Forget talk of “blue waves” or “red waves” sweeping aside the political opposition. Truth is, most congressional districts are so gerrymandered that the chances of swinging them are minuscule.
What is undeniable, however, is the record number of women running for office in state and federal elections. Some might say this is backlash against President Trump and partly inspired by the #MeToo movement. But this pink wave has been a long time coming. The first “Year of the Woman,” in 1992, saw the election of four female senators and 24 female representatives to Congress, a record at the time. As of Sept. 18, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, 53 women have filed to run for U.S. Senate, and 476 for the House of Representatives—more than one for each open seat, and a new record number. At the state level, 61 women are candidates for governor, 64 for lieutenant governor, more than 100 for other statewide elected offices, and more than 1,800 for state legislatures.
2. The shift in Florida
Florida has been the largest swing state since the 1960s. George W. Bush won the state by 5 percent in 2004, Barack Obama by 2.8 percent in 2008 and by 0.9 percent in 2012, and Donald Trump won the state by 1.2 percent of the vote in 2016. It’s always close.
Then came Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico when it made landfall on Sept. 20, 2017, cutting off power to all 3.4 million residents and knocking out 95 percent of cell networks. A painfully slow and neglectful recovery has followed under the Trump administration.
Now, an estimated 300,000 climate change-impacted refugees from the island territory live in Florida. The inclusion of that many refugee voters could well turn the Sunshine State blue permanently. These people are citizens, and so they can’t be deported and will remember who abandoned them in a time of need.
Law professor Ian Haney López of the University of California, Berkeley, author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, says the diaspora may spill over into other states, such as Georgia and North Carolina, with similar political results. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant Puerto Rican bloc in those states could tilt those states from red to blue,” Haney López says.
3. Racial unity
Cell phone cameras show police shooting unarmed Black men with impunity. Conservative states from Arizona to Kansas to North Carolina are still trying to keep people of color from voting. A predominantly White-male Congress has undermined health care and other social programs that help low-income and minority groups.
One response from Black America has been to step into the policymaking fray. As of this printing, the database Black Women in Politics has been tracking more than 444 Black women running for office in 2018. Stacey Abrams’ victory in the Democratic primary for governor of Georgia was sparked by a surge in Black voters.
Research from Haney López shows that people are broadly supportive of racial unity, ending violence against communities of color, and taking government back from the rich. Those messages transcend traditional political boundaries. “It does better with not only progressives and racial justice advocates—it does better with the roughly 60 percent of the population in the middle, including many Whites and many Republicans,” he says.
4. Empowered Native Americans
Perhaps it was the extended demonstrations at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in 2016 that lifted Native American voices. Maybe it’s the growing awareness of catastrophic climate changes. But Native Americans are showing up in government.
Mark Trahant, the editor of Indian Country Today, is tracking more than 100 Native candidates for public office across the country, half of whom are women. That includes Debra Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe who is running for a New Mexico House of Representatives seat. After winning her primary for the urban Democratic-leaning seat, she’s poised to become the first Native American woman elected to Congress.
Many candidates are running on platforms embracing a list of largely (but not entirely) progressive causes that appeal to constituencies even beyond the Native community. Paulette Jordan of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians is running for governor as a Democrat in deep-red Idaho. “What got her through the primary was her talking about her rural values as a native Idahoan,” Trahant says.
The presence of so many Native women running for office also is having a profound effect on how young Native girls see themselves and their lives. “Wherever Paulette Jordan goes, you see flocks of young girls following her,” Trahant says.
For all of the attempts to disenfranchise voters in some states, other states are taking steps to safeguard elections and voting rights. Seven states have implemented automatic voter registration in advance of the 2018 elections, says Max Feldman, counsel in the democracy program of the Brennan Center for Justice.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order restoring voting rights to 24,000 people with criminal convictions, and a similar measure will be on the ballot as a voters initiative in Florida. “Bottom line is we’re seeing a lot of energy around pro-voter reforms,” Feldman says.
The technology of democracy remains a challenge. In 2016, 44 states used voting machines that were at least a decade old, and most of those machines are no longer manufactured.
Congress this year approved $380 million to help states upgrade and secure their voting systems.
“That represents a significant investment, but that’s very late in the game for states to upgrade their voting systems in 2018,” Feldman says.
Nonetheless, it can be done. In 2017, Virginia upgraded all of its voting machines and systems only two months before the gubernatorial elections. The election drew the highest turnout in 16 years for a gubernatorial race, and it all went off without major issues.
Midterms are said to be a referendum on the incumbent president, but probably nothing is more at stake than elections for state legislatures. Whoever controls the state houses in 2018 will be in charge of redistricting after the 2020 Census—and that happens before the 2020 presidential election, when President Trump actually will be on the ballot.
Turnout in midterms is historically low, but there are signs that this year might be different. Pew Research saw a surge of voting in the primaries by more than 50 percent over the 2014 midterms. Call it the Trump Effect, or call it something else, these midterms are shaping up to be one of those turning points that determine the direction of the nation for decades to come.
It may be because the right to vote is essentially on the ballot in this election. The conservative writer David Frum in January wrote in The Atlantic about the dilemma we’re now facing in the United States: “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”
We’re now seeing that situation play out in the midterms. In the five years since the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, gutted the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, many states in the South and the Midwest controlled by Republicans have enacted voter registration laws that disenfranchise minority voters.
Consider Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is running to be the first Black female governor in the nation’s history. Her opponent, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, has been aggressively purging voters from the registration lists, aided by a draconian “100 percent match” law that allows tiny changes in spelling, such as a typo or a dropped hyphen in a last name, as grounds for disenfranchisement.
Last week it was revealed that, in addition to purging a half-million voters from the rolls in the past five years, Kemp was refusing to process 53,000 voter registrations, 70 percent of which are for Black or Latino residents, and requiring them to cast provisional ballots. As a candidate, Kemp has refused to recuse himself from his role as the overseer of Georgia’s elections system .
It’s easy to believe that, short of intervention by the Supreme Court (now with a solid far-right-wing majority in place, thanks to Brett Kavanaugh), the right to vote will remain a contested battleground.
But let’s assume for the moment that well-intentioned people will take control of state houses and governor’s offices. What would a fair voting system look like?
There have been many experiments in the states, the original “laboratories of democracy.” Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have voting by mail for all elections: no lines at the polls, no easily hackable voting machines, no party operatives challenging your right to vote if they don’t like the way you look. These states don’t have a single election day, they have an election window. There’s evidence that turnout is higher, too.
Arizona’s Proposition 106, passed in 2000, took the job of drawing districts out of the hands of the legislature and gave it to an independent redistricting commission, something several other states also do. That’s made races more competitive and also increased participation. More states are looking to follow that example, such as Utah, where Proposition 4 is on the ballot this November, asking voters to approve creating a commission to submit maps to the legislature for approval.
Maine approved ranked-choice voting this year. The method has been touted as more representative of voters’ intents. It also prevents a spoiler effect in races with more than two candidates. Presidential elections likely would have gone another way both in 2000 and 2016 had such as system been in place nationally—the tally would have tracked more closely to the popular vote, even with the Electoral College still in place.
Automatic Voter Registration has long been the Holy Grail of a robust democracy: get a driver’s license or state ID, get registered to vote. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., use it. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 20 states have introduced or carried over bills that either implement or strengthen it.
Why not go further? What if voting were compulsory, as it is in Australia and some Latin American countries? Obviously itincreases turnout, but it also makes it difficult for anyone seeking to disenfranchise voters for any reason. Races become about candidates and issues, not about thwarting entire classes of voters.
The registration system has its roots in racially based disenfranchisement in the 19th century. In France and Sweden, if you’re a citizen, you can vote, period. Even North Dakota does it. It doesn’t mean you don’t need other protections (see North Dakota’s Voter ID law above) but it does mean that there are fewer barriers.
There’s an even more radical possibility: proportional representation. If one political party wins 49.9 percent of the popular vote in congressional races, as the Republicans did in 2016, they would be entitled to 49.9 percent of the seats (as opposed to 55.2 percent they actually took).
Proportional representation is enshrined in the Constitution in how House seats are divided among the states—populous states such as California and Texas get more seats than Wyoming and Vermont. But how states elect people to fill those seats is far from proportional.
Gerrymandering of districts and a winner-take-all system skew the results in favor of whoever controls the state legislature. In North Carolina in 2016, Republicans earned 53.2 percent of the votes in congressional races, Democrats won 46.6 percent, while the rest went to third-party candidates. In a proportional system, that would give Republicans seven seats in the House of Representative and Democrats six. Instead, because of blatant partisan drawing of the districts, Republicans now hold 10 seats and the Democrats just three.
Despite state judges determining those district maps were unconstitutional, North Carolina will still head to the midterms with races weighted heavily in favor of Republican candidates because there wasn’t time to redraw the districts fairly.
It might take a constitutional amendment to enact proportional representation over the entire country, so it’s a long shot. But it can eliminate the problems of gerrymandering and with spoiler races. And if not everyone can get everything they want, most people will get something, and third-party candidates would have a more realistic shot.
None of these ideas are outlandish. Each of them has been implemented somewhere. All that is required is that our political leaders be well-intentioned.
Perhaps that’s a stretch of the imagination in the current political mood. But it happened once before in 1789, when a group of people came together to create a system of government that embraced a robust democracy. We’re a country still capable of thinking that big.
Organized hate groups span all geographic areas of the United States, from White nationalists in Washington state to neo-Nazis in Alabama to radical traditionalist Catholics in New Hampshire. While persecution of classes of people happens everywhere, the drivers that push people to join hate groups are unique to specific places. In this way, hatred can be a study in geography as much as anything else.
A new model tracking organized hate groups upends a long-held, simplistic view of the issue, one that placed a generalized blame on education or immigration, for example, positing that a person’s education level could be a sole indicator of whether they would join a hate group.
New research from the University of Utah provides a much more nuanced picture of what gives rise to organized hate groups that can better serve those working to dismantle them. In the Midwest, economics is a more influential factor than immigration. On the East Coast, more religious areas correlate with more per capita hate groups, while education has little influence.
Richard Medina, University of Utah assistant professor of geography and lead author of the research, said public perceptions of hate and its motivating factors are often oversimplified. “Drivers of hate are dependent on regions and cultures and all the things we see and study in geography,” he said. “It can be really complicated. People don’t just hate for one reason.”
Medina’s group had been working on the research before the White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, where a woman was killed in the violence. Emily Nicolosi, University of Utah graduate student and co-author of the paper, said that what happened in Charlottesville started national conversations she believes the research can support.
“The motivators and drivers of hate look very different in different places,” Nicolosi said. “If you look at the maps, you can see that these sort of regions emerge where the [different] variables are playing the same role.”
The research used census data to track specific socioeconomic variables, such as population changes over a five-year period, poverty, and education levels. Researchers mapped population percentage of White non-Latinos because places changing from strong racial and ethnic similarity are more likely to experience a negative reaction to change. Poverty is a driver of hate because extremist groups promise the impoverished a way out of financial difficulty or provide a group to blame. The group also measured conservative religious and political ideology.
The hate groups were mapped down to the county level in each state. The states with the most hate groups per million people in population were Montana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Vermont. Comparing the socioeconomic map with the hate group map showed which factors were the strongest indicators in different regions of the country.
What drives hate?
In general, the research reveals that less diversity, more poverty, less population change, and less education all correlate with more hate groups. But how influential those factors are depends on where you live.
On the West Coast, high poverty and a large concentration of White people in an area are the most influential factors driving hate groups. While the region generally has racial diversity, non-White people moving in and changing a demographic quickly can become targets, Medina said. In the southern parts of California and Arizona, lower education levels and higher poverty levels are the most important indicators.
In the central United States, economic factors—such as poverty and employment levels—are most likely to push people into hate groups. Immigration is less of a factor because fewer people are moving into the region compared to the coasts.
Population shift is the most telling factor on the East Coast. Areas with more people leaving than coming have more hate groups. This trend is also present throughout the country, Medina said, but is most prominent in the East. Rates of education, poverty, and diversity have less influence there.
The measurements of ideology—by concentrations of religious people and Republicans—created somewhat different regional maps. Counties with strong religious communities have fewer hate groups on the West Coast and parts of the Midwest and Southeast. Yet, most of the Midwest and East Coast see more hate groups as counties grow more religious. Similar geographic trends are seen when tracking hate groups and Republicanism.
This mapping reveals what fuels different biases, Nicolosi said. Movement organizers working for social justice must recognize the most important factors in their own communities to create positive change.
Politicians can better understand their constituents and the cultures influencing them, Medina said.
How to change minds
Citing research such as this, Medina said creating interactions with people from different races, religions, and places is one of the most effective strategies to combat organized hatred.
And that is what Peace Catalyst International does, creating opportunities for interaction and relationships between Christians and Muslims in both the United States and Indonesia. City by city, the group brings together people from different religions, organizing meals and group discussions. The dynamics of each city or region play out differently, so local organizers must respond accordingly.
People can be transformed by one relationship, Brown said. “The xenophobic, anti-Muslim threat is a very real threat and a growing threat in our community,” she said. Her organization wants to “provide viable theological and ideological ways for [people] to cling to peace rather than ... moving toward fear.”
Similar to the work Peace Catalyst International does, Life After Hate helps create relationships across ideological divides. The organization was co-founded by Christian Picciolini with a mission of researching extremism and helping radicalized people disengage from hate movements.
In his 2017 TEDx Talk, Picciolini describes how feelings of abandonment and anger toward people he saw as different led him to join the neo-Nazis at 14.
The birth of his son and interactions Picciolini had with customers in his record shop pushed him away from the hate movement. “A gay couple came in with their son, and it was undeniable to me that they loved their son in the same profound ways that I loved mine,” Picciolini said in his talk. “Suddenly, I couldn’t rationalize or justify the prejudice that I had in my head.”
Picciolini underscores the importance of the research findings. The most effective way to change a radicalized person’s view is to understand what is driving their prejudice, Picciolini said in an interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s about changing their perspective just a little bit,” he said. “Because often when you change their perspective just a little bit, it allows them to see the cracks in the foundation of the ideology that they believe in.”
Both extremism research and the rush to understand and combat organized hate groups are happening at a time when technology is helping to target potential recruits. Hate groups use similar strategies as ISIS or al Qaeda, focusing on individuals who feel victimized or isolated. Hate groups tap into beliefs that racial or religious groups are attacking Whites, as seen in a Ku Klux Klan recruitment flier distributed at a North Carolina high school in 2017. An appeal to religious conservatism is an effective tactic in North Carolina, Medina said, though playing off a fear of losing one’s culture is used across the country.
The research begins to offer a measurable picture of where in the country different types of messaging will attract members. And Medina would like to investigate further, for instance, the roles that specific religions play; the current study groups all religions together. He also plans to work with researchers who will do qualitative studies to learn about motivations directly from citizens.
“[Hate] is not uniform. But people treat it like it’s a uniform phenomenon across the country. It just doesn’t work that way.”
The #MeToo movement does not exist to change the minds of misogynists—male or female. It is not about standing up, waving our arms, and screaming, “Hey, this violence happens to our bodies all the time and you should care!”
For misogynists, the commonality of sexual harassment and assault of women is evidence that women who demand justice are hysterical and self-seeking, driven by personal vendettas, or a desire for fame or money.
We are seeing this play out between U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist who alleges Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when she was in high school three decades ago. It comes againstthe backdrop of the #MeToo movement and 27 years after another dramatic showdown over sexual harassment allegations against another conservative Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas.
Kavanaugh, if confirmed, could help decide the future of Roe v. Wade and abortion rights in this country, yet he refused to state during his confirmation hearings whether women should have agency over their own bodies. Instead, he dodged questions about abortion in cowardly, meaningless rhetoric.
Is it hard to imagine that as a 17-year-old he believed he had a right to take a woman’s body—well, agirl, actually, as Ford was only 15—and then staunchly deny the assault happened? Is it much of a stretch to imagine him deciding what he wanted, when, and how?
For misogynists, sexual harassment and assault are a result of “the way men are.” It’s the natural order of things. Speaking out against it goes against the natural order of things.
And just as Anita Hill was seen as a transgressive woman thwarting the career of the supposed real victim when she testified in 1991 against Clarence Thomas, Ford is being cast as an impediment—at best, a liar and at worst, a fraud. She has received death threats and has been forced to move. She will always, henceforth, be known as the “woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh,” despite her Ph.D. in psychology, positions at Stanford, and numerous academic publications.
Coming all these years after Hill’s, Ford’s testimony, if it happens next week, will give us insight into whether the #MeToo movement has done anything to change the thinking of thosewho believe women should just “deal with it,” that the assault on a woman’s body is not a deal breaker, is not a sign of a man’s immorality. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has set a Friday deadline for Ford to respond to a request for her to speak to the committee.
A reserved law professor who knew she’d face relentless attacks on her character, Anita Hill had refused to be silent and testified in humiliating detail the sexual harassment she endured.
All these years later, will the committee similarly attack Ford’s character or respectfully give her the benefit of the doubt? Will they treat her as an autonomous human being with rights over her body and life or as an irritating roadblock to their pursuit of power?
To be a non-misogynistic woman in theera of Donald Trump is to live in a constant state of dizzying rage, and I can’t help but think that Ford will be attacked during her testimony and Kavanaugh will be confirmed—just as was the case 27 years ago.
A man who openly bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” was elected president, with a full 53 percent of White women voters supporting him. Trump and the Republican Party threw support behind Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, who sexually assaulted teenage girls while he was in his 30s and admitted to “dating” girls as young as 15. None of this signaled a problem for the GOP. Moore lost, thankfully, but only barely and only because Black women showed up in droves to vote against him.
The Trump administration has been one reminder after another that the sexual assault of women is not a deal breaker for a large portion of Americans, that our bodies are not our own, that our health care, particularly as related to reproduction, should be decided by hordes of cisgendered men who will never face the ramifications of the laws they pass.
As women fight for safety, equity, and bodily autonomy, our rage is not mere screaming into a void, but rather the catalyst for the incredible vitality of the #MeToo movement. It is a time when every one of us survivors sees herself in Anita Hill, even those of us too young to have witnessed her courageous stand. She sat before that committee and broke the rules. The women who spoke out against Harvey Weinstein exemplified this same bravery. Every woman telling her story of assault has done the same. And now, Christine Blasey Ford.
Tarana Burke, the Black woman who founded #MeToo in 2006, states that the movement is intended to help victims “find entry points for individual healing” and “galvanize a broad base of survivors to disrupt the systems that allow for the global proliferation of sexual violence.”
It’s about seeing ourselves in one another, in lifting our voices above the din of misogynists around us. It’s about fighting loudly in a world that truly does not care what happens to our bodies, raising sons and daughters who see it differently, who refuse to be touched against their will, who refuse to be silent when it happens anyway. These harassers and rapists may not lose their jobs. They may get a slap on the wrist and their careers stalled, but every time a woman like Christine Ford or Anita Hill stands, millions more will stand, too.
Ultimately, we don't need the approval of misogynists. We don't need their consent or even their compassion. They may win the Kavanaugh battle, but it won't be without extreme disruption, as we are witnessing now. They have no choice but to face us, and as more and more women fight for their rightful place in the world, they'll have no choice but to step aside. The floodgates have opened, and the waters flow toward justice.
Janelle Hanchett wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Janelle’s first book, I’m Just Happy to Be Here, was published in May. She lives in Northern California with her four children and husband. Follow her on Twitter @renegademama1.
Boots Riley’s debut film, Sorry to BotherYou,offers a renewed sense of urgency in how werespond to the racist and capitalist divides that impact us all. Satirical, dystopian, part sci-fi. Emotionally and intellectually, it’s everything we didn’t know we needed.
Cassius “Cash” Green represents many unemployed young Black males looking for work and their subsequent climb to the top after they finally land a job. After getting a low-level telemarketing position, Cash learns the secret to how many people of color get ahead—assimilation. His “White voice” talent propels him to success, and after being struck in the head by a soda can thrown by a protestor, he eventually becomes a viral sensation for Coca-Cola. But his success means leaving behind his multicultural group of co-workers who are organizing a strike for higher pay. He must choose between individual success and greater good, individualism and collectivism.
I spoke with actor and activist (and YES! Media board member) Danny Glover to talk about the film and his role as Langston, Cash’s older co-worker who helps him discover his secret to success. Warning: Some parts of the plot are spoiled below.
This interview has been condensed.
Zenobia Jeffries: This film deals with all the societal “isms” that challenge us daily—racism, classism, capitalism, sexism. Even viralism—I just made that one up. But I first want to start with your character, Langston. I found it interesting he, an older Black man, gives the younger Cassius “Cash” Green the secret to success—using his “White voice”—yet he’s not used it himself to advance.
What is there to be said about code-switching today versus when you were younger?
Danny Glover: The illusion that we’ve made some progress is just that.
On the one hand, Langston is saying, “Cash, man, look here.” And he may have thought, “Look at [him], what does this old man have to give me? What does this old man have to tell me?” But what he tells him helps him become successful, he climbs the ladder.
[Cash] would think that millennials can use their own voice. They don’t have to specifically use a “White voice.” It may have been the case in my generation, and it could be in this sense that Langston knows that you just can’t get by and be expected to succeed ... race is still an issue. Even though millennials tend to think we’re out of that right now, we’re postracial.
The idea that we’re postracial is trumped by the fact that I tell him to use the White voice, and he uses [it] and becomes successful.
We realize the key to success is always going to be that.
Jeffries: What was it about the script that made you want to be a part of the film?
Glover: Sometimes you read a script and you don’t know what the outcome is, you don’t know whether even the director can execute what his vision is. But the idea that somebody comes up with this company called “Worry Free,” [Cash’s client, the world’s leading provider of indentured servants].
[The film speaks to] the process of alienation and the kind of propaganda that goes around what is considered the good life, the translation of the American Dream. So when does the American Dream become “worry-free”?
The idea of the American Dream in a sense is a euphemism for something else that certainly, in the real world, has no foundation basically. It’s always been that commodification of the obtaining of material objects. Whatever it is, it’s always shifting. At one point the American Dream was to buy a house, have your job for 40 years, and then retire. Buy a car.
So all those kind of things epitomize this vision of prosperity. It doesn’t in any way envision what it is in terms of human transformation, or the needs that human beings have for basically being whole—spiritually whole and everything else. It assumes that what you buy in some sort of warped way has this profound impact on your spiritual well-being.
People have always had to organize in some sort of way to deal with injustice. And that’s part of what is happening. It’s not often glorified within the American Dream, but that’s a reality of it, too.
Jeffries: There has been an increase in movements organizing around economic injustice, like Occupy and those to raise the minimum wage. What messages do you hope people take away from the film?
Glover: The overall messaging? I would hope that people are entertained by the project in itself and the imagination around this project.
This is a Black filmmaker. Black filmmakers don’t always get a chance to make such films as intuitive as this, and which have so many different kind of references and bring about so many diverse [issues] in one place. And in a sense, some would say it’s unreality, that the film raises.
The film has that element to it, people standing up organizing [around jobs]. But there are some other things. The 20th century and the 21st century [are] the [periods] of self, self-adornment, all these things that do not correspond to building community.
I think young people, or millennials, are inundated with this whole image of themselves as separate from anything, seeing themselves disconnected from community. What happens with building community is the community has its own objective and validates itself thought substantiating itself as one. It does not in any way dismiss the individual, the individual’s needs. But the community needs become much larger than the individual needs.
Jeffries: Is there a specific type of activism you hope the film will spark?
Glover: I’ve been fortunate to be in some films which I think spark discussions.
The interesting thing about the Color Purpleis the issues around the exploitation of women, spousal abuse, and other aspects like that, which adds to an enormous discussion. It was phenomenal back in the day, and that same discussion is going on right now as in 1986.
This film complements so many of the discussions that we have today around labor, around collective bargaining, around organizing, as we see happening now, whether it’s the teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, the gentrification of our communities, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of living wages. All these things.
One thing that I hope it really generates is the sense of necessity to mobilize and organize.
Jeffries: The reality show in the film, I Got the Sh#*@ Kicked Out of Me, was perfect. What is there to be said about the weight we give to reality shows and viralism of social media fame?
Glover: I’m kind of old-fashioned about that. Even though it’s a part of our everyday way in which we conduct ourselves in the world, I don’t put too much of my attention on that.
When I think about that, it’s the antithesis of building community. It plays more on the chaos communities have felt. It makes me think of Martin Luther King’s [speech] “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
I live in San Francisco, where I’ve worked in the Mission District, which is mostly Hispanic. I watched in some sense the gentrification of that community. I was there eating in a restaurant, and I saw all this incredible nightlife, it almost reminded me of some aspect of the West Village of New York City, and it had an impact on me. There had been Mexican restaurants and people shopped there, and it was defined by the people who lived there and was defined by the language, whether [from] Nicaragua, Mexico, or wherever. There was something special about that, and [then] I didn’t see that anymore. I just saw the nightlife, and adjacent to that were people living on the street.
When I think about all the things we have on our plate, one of the major questions [that comes to me is], “Who are we in this part of the 21st century?”
Jeffries: In the current sociopolitical climate in which we find ourselves, it almost feels like no matter what we do, the folks in control are still winning and we’re losing. The film gives an example of that when Cash blows the whistle on Worry Free’s slave labor and experimentation on humans.
Can you talk about the importance of being persistent in mobilizing and organizing, no matter what, when you’ve done all you can do?
Glover: “All I can” is a physical manifestation. I don’t know how we look at sustainable activism in a way, because [of] all the things that happened historically.
I just listened to a program about bananas when bananas were king. And it takes us through that period in Central America [of] United Foods. I was thinking about all [that] history. We live in this very contrived, very short period. Most of our life of activism, if we’re lucky, is 50 years. So within that period, what I’ve taken into account is what happened before we got to where we are.
When I was 20 years old in 1966, I thought the revolution was now. In that point and time, I didn’t see myself living past 40 years old. And in some romanticized way, we look at this thing in our youth.
But also, you can feel in the air—at least in the public space you occupy—you see the language change, you see the attitude change, you see the bodies changes, you see all these particular things that brought us to that moment. At the same time something revealing in our selves the manifestation of what our moment is.
We don’t take into account where we’ve gone. It is movement.
The Black Lives Matter movement, that doesn’t go away. You crush one movement, and another arises.
All those White kids [from Occupy], they either got bought off or they were in some sense [suppressed]. [But] what came out of that? “The 1 percent.” There wasn’t the term used [so widely] before, that I can remember.
What I’ve learned in my 72 years is that something is happening. We have to encourage that. Understand its relationship to the past and perhaps in what happens at this moment. Revitalize it [through] radicalism, because it’s only been radicalism that has altered this country, knocked it off its axis of what it sees as its predetermined destiny.
Jeffries: One example of what that radicalism would be?
Glover: It’s a thought process. It’s like the Sweet Water Foundation in Chicago. Emanuel Pratt took an old shoe factory and then converted that into what he calls aquaponics, an urban fishery. We’re talking about how do we revitalize this community? How do we transform ourselves?
An 18th-century ad tells us that a dozen or so men, women, and children of African heritage were scheduled for buyer’s inspection one Saturday, just outside the entrance of the London Coffee House in Philadelphia. The Stamp Act protests and other famous anti-British demonstrations took place not far from the auction block where this enslaved group would have stood chained, their naked bodies ready for prodding and probing. The establishment owner, William Bradford, published—in his newspaper The Pennsylvania Journal, books and other materials—the works of revolutionaries such as Thomas Paine, in addition to the Declaration of Rights from the First Continental Congress. The Founding Fathers and other influential, wealthy men came to this venue to talk politics, make deals, and often to buy and sell human beings.
Today, coffeehouses are still meeting places for business dealings and idealogical musings.
Last month, two young Black entrepreneurs visited a Philadelphia Starbucks to meet with a business associate. A store employee called police minutes after the men arrived. The video of the arrest went viral. It’s not easy to forget the image of these men standing quietly in handcuffs—an eerie resemblance of enslaved men before them. Upon his arrival, their associate—a White man—made futile attempts to speak on their behalf. One of the young men later told a reporter that he feared for his life.
Centuries before a green-and-white mermaid logo became synonymous for lattes and free Wi-Fi, coffeehouses like the London Coffee House served as de facto organizers of financial markets in port cities on both sides of the Atlantic. People were lured by caffeine, of course, but moreover by the open exchange of ideas and the chance to mingle in elegant but affordable comfort. These English-style coffeehouses became “really important to the development of capitalism [in] London [from] the 17th to 19th century,” says Markman Ellis, author of The Coffee House: A Cultural History. During that period, the legendary London financial infrastructure was still forming. “People would go to a particular coffeehouse in order to meet a particular kind of merchant” who specialized in procuring the goods or capital for that industry, says Ellis.
For example, William Lloyd’s Coffee House in London specialized in being the first in getting marine news, such as arrivals and shipwrecks. Maritime businessmen met there with ship operators to arrange the trading of cargo and invest in future voyages. Merchants and traders profited from the transatlantic slave trade before abolition “not only in the buying and selling of slaves,” Ellis says, but also in the “whole marine business of ship insurance and mortgages to sea captains.” This commerce network sparked the creation of Lloyd’s of London and helped other businesses across Britain, such as Barclays prosper.
In the Cornhill section of London, there were coffeehouses that connected people with interests in the particular colonies, such as the Virginia Coffee House and the Jamaica Coffee House. Traders, bankers, and Lloyd’s merchants also met in coffeehouses in Bristol, England, to enrich themselves with profits from over 2,000 slave ships processed in that city between 1698 and 1807. It’s not surprising then that English-style coffeehouses spread to the British colonies very early, says Ellis, although there were fewer of them. There was one in Boston before there was one in Paris, he adds.
“[In the colonies], as the coffeehouse world is emerging, you don’t have large scale commercial banks to the same extent that you have [them] in the 19th century,” says Edward Baptist, scholar and writer of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. This scenario “means that the movement of capital in many cases is individual-to-individual, across mercantile networks that are knit together by relationships and family networks,” Baptist explains. While there was no real aristocracy in the colonies to navigate, coffeehouses became a “transition point” to connect people, “allowing erosion of the traditionalist grip on both politics and the economy of the Atlantic world.”
“From the 16th through the 19th century, the use of enslaved people’s bodies, futures, and families, the exploitation of their own hopes [was] everywhere and constant” in the economic system, says Baptist. Slavery-based commerce—and not just slave ownership—allowed Northerners and other people outside the plantation system to partake in the immense financial profits from slavery. Coffeehouses—a great place to connect goods and capital streams with seekers—facilitated the very aspect of slavery that amplified capitalism. “[In this system], enslaved peoples’ bodies are not only bought and sold, but made into part of these processes of credit and more rapid flow of finance,” Baptist says.
William Bradford opened his London Coffee House (there was an earlier one) in Philadelphia in 1754 at the corner of Front and High (now Front and Market) with funding from 200 merchants who wanted a place to assemble. Nearly 40 years later, just 100 miles away, the New York Stock Exchange was launched by merchants and traders in the Tontine Coffee House at 82 Wall Street. Shipowners registered their vessels with the exchange, and a monetary value was assigned to their freight, including the living cargo from Africa. “The aspiration of the city’s founders was to be the leading slave trading port in the Americas,” says historian Leslie Harris. At its height of activity in the Triangular Trade, New York City lagged only behind Charleston, South Carolina, in number of imported enslaved Africans.
“When we think about the end of slavery in the North, it is important to note that in New York and Philadelphia, no slaves were freed by abolition laws,” says Harris. Rather, formerly enslaved and those born to them continued to be bought and sold as indentured servants for years after legislation was passed. Indentured or freed Blacks could have also worked in the coffeehouses. After emancipation, however, they were kept out of the jobs they once performed because they were seen as competition by the White working class.
Today, the global coffee chain Starbucks markets itself too as a public space. But for whom? Like the drinking houses of prior centuries, the company touts an “all are welcome” policy, but their atmosphere, as well as the price and type of drinks on the menu, and discrimination by some employees, may imply otherwise.
The modern coffeeshop, for many, represents a more conducive working space than the cubicle system. But in the likeness of its predecessor, it doesn’t seem to be intended for all of us to experience it in the same way. “Capitalism rests on the work, endeavors, and exploitation of non-White people,” says Baptist. “And so does some of the assumptions about who gets to participate in what level of the economy, who gets to make decisions, and who gets to move in those kinds of innovative spaces.” He continues: “Those ideas seem in some cases to be very deeply cemented into many folks’ understanding of who capitalism is for.”
According to Baptist, the emergence of public spaces such as English-style coffeehouses is seen as a democratizing process. These establishments, despite their role in the commerce of slavery, provided people across social classes—originally White men, but later people of color and women—with places to launch revolutions. In addition to American colonists, some abolitionists organizing in 1790s London, such as Olaudah Equiano, “valued the openness of the coffeehouse to all kinds of people” and chose to use these spaces instead of private homes or religious edifices, says Ellis.
Twenty-first-century Philadelphia has Black-owned coffeehouses, in the tradition of those abolitionists, running quiet radical movements of their own.
Arielle Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, may have lacked the access to capital that William Bradford, Starbucks’ founders, and others had, but she has leveraged her personal savings, city grants, and other innovative financing solutions to launch her business. Now one of the most popular comic book establishments in the country, Amalgam has become an alternative to the traditional “White, hetero-normative spaces,” she says.
While companies like Starbucks step up to address historical social ills, there are other emerging spaces that welcome everyone.
Johnson says, “[We] support and highlight the voices of people of color and LGTBQ, as well as professional and business development opportunities.”
Tasha Williams wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Tasha writes about economics and technology.
Public spaces are for everyone, but how we perceive them and interact with them is contextual. Some activists are making statements on public canvas all around the world. And it’s catching on.
In 2015, a concerned father came into Berlin street artist Ibo Omari’s shop, asking for a couple of cans of spray paint to cover up a swastika that was painted on a children’s playground. Two weeks later, another swastika appeared nearby.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Omari felt personally affected by the images, considering the rise of Germany’s far-right political party in recent years. To combat the spread of racism and hate in his community, Omari started the #PaintBack Project.
Isabelle Morrison wrote this article for The Affordable Housing Issue, the Summer 2018 issue of YES! Magazine. Isabelle is a solutions reporting intern for YES! Follow her on Twitter.
“We represent hip-hop culture, and graffiti is a part of hip-hop culture,” Omari says. “We wanted to make the separation between a tag and a hateful message being spread with a spray can.”
With the help of other street artists and members of his nonprofit, Die Kulturellen Erben, or “The Cultural Heirs,” Omari has been transforming the swastikas, which are illegal in Germany, into art. The first swastika Omari came across in 2015 was transformed into a mosquito flying away from a net.
“Mosquitos, they have a right to exist,” Omari says.