Moments at War
20 July 2020 – Matt Meyer
America, I declared—in a 2017 speech which became the basis for my subsequent book of a similar title—has always meant “White Lives Matter Most.” Even decades prior, long before I understood that to call the USA “America” was a slight to every non-US-identified person of Turtle Island from the northern tip of Canada to the southernmost point of Chile, I wrote that the US was much more like a pressure cooker than a melting pot. As July 2020 shapes up to be the beginning of another “long. hot summer” throughout the dying US empire, we might also deftly note that the USA is currently “At War.”
I first observed and quickly purchased a striking red on black button with those two simple words on it in the mid-1980s, after being introduced to New Afrikan People’s Organization leader Ahmed Obafemi. In my twenties at the time, I had recently become National Chairperson of the War Resisters League, and I felt that the juxtaposition of that button with WRL’s broken rifle (an international symbol of nonviolence and disarmament) was a fitting visual statement of the dialectic between a self-declared “peace movement” (which was predominantly white) and a Black liberation movement only too aware of US genocidal policies long inflicted through structural and direct violence. The New Afrikans were but one of many tendencies of the internationalist Black left, asserting that despite centuries since the Middle Passage and creation of a new people on a hostile foreign shore, Black folks in the US had never chosen to be US citizens, and in fact made up a potentially independent nation—which would have to fight the US to survive. Another vital influence was the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, whose Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael) liked to remind folks that any form of positive social change—reform or radical—could only be realized through three things that we the people had to do: Organize, Organize, and Organize. Both of these tendencies and many others share lineage from Minister Malcolm X, who poignantly noted that a people forced to defend themselves for mere survival should never consider that defense a form of violence. “I never call self-defense violence,” Malcolm asserted, “I call it intelligence.”
Fast forward fifty-plus years. In the week before our international meeting on 24 July 2020 of contributors and commentators of the “Movements of Movements”—the two-volume compendium of radical public intellectuals and profound agitators, of World Social Forum networkers and global game-changers—here in the US things go from one disaster to the next. Young Black female Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia is informed that the old, white Governor of her southern state is suing her over her order that city residents be required to wear life-saving face masks in public, to help curve the intensifying death toll steadily rising throughout the US. At protests in Portland, Oregon, apparently federal US troops emerge from unmarked care with no signifying badge, name-tag, or identifier, picking off obviously targeted and unarmed protest leaders, who they take away without charges, words, or legal justification of any kind. It is the closest thing I have seen in this country to what we called “disappearances” in Latin America in the Eighties. It is the mark of the petty dictator, which of course is what we now live under. But it goes well beyond anything directed by a white house in Washington DC. It is America at War.
This war will not be quickly or easily over, will not shift much based on elections, and will have its directly militarized and personal components as well as its devastatingly structural and institutional ones. Already, a new and unprecedented level of grassroots-based mutual aid groups is learning from decades of work done by more advanced radicals from Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific, and the Middle East. Liberal and neoliberal solutions doled out as well-financed offers of cooptation in contrast to the more immediate brutal repression and the creation of new political prisoners and death-cult policies will attract some for sure, but ultimately they pale in the context of the triple crisis of economic collapse, police/military terror, and a health pandemic whose federal response seems growingly to match previous genocidal policies against Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples on these shores. It is a war within the context of the corporate war against Mother Earth, and the growing resistance against extinction and continued climate catastrophe.
Even in New York City and New York State, where successes in “flattening the curve” of the Covid-19 virus has meant much immediate relief in terms of hospital and health care, even in this internationalist, liberal epicenter which has momentarily passed the curse of being the global Coronavirus epicenter, the carrot and stick, divide-and-conquer ruling class maneuvers seem to have a more limited effect than usual. One young leader of the emerging #PeoplesStrike movement, an NYC based Afro-South American socialist who himself was victim of a targeted right-wing physical attack, declared that “almost like an act of faith, the response has to be a revolution.”
I do not expect to live to see such a revolution or even radical change in my lifetime. But I do note that the US left’s incessant quibbling about theories or tactical divisions may be simmering down. As assassinated Black Panther leader Fred Hampton used to admonish, “it is time to settle our differences.” The question now is ‘Which Side Are You On?’ and what form of militant resistance will you help organize for? If these questions keep being asked, and concrete answers sought in the creation of constructive, alternative programs, positive things may emerge from the belly of the beast in this crisis-laden moment. We can we certain, at least, of two things: Nothing short of an ideologically diverse, non-sectarian, multi-generational, united front connecting a wholistic critique of racist, capitalist patriarchy will build into an effective movement for social change. And no such potentially emerging movement will be led by older males of Euro-American descent whatever their charisma, skills, and access to money or media. This is a Black-led moment, within the US and elsewhere, based not merely on past injustices but on contemporary realities of working-class and social conditions. The leadership of our movements must reflect the realities of our moment.