Updated: Jun 27
Over the course of the Civil War, the Commanding General of the United States Army was, in order of service,Winfield Scott,George B. McClellan,Henry Halleck, and finally,Ulysses S. Grant who, unlike his predecessors, gave the traitorous enemy no quarter until, of course, he met Lee at Appomattox. And everything has been peppermints and roses ever since, EXCEPT . . .
"Demonstration, Legislation, Reconciliation"
That was the formula. That was the progression the Reverend Al Sharpton took to heart when he started preaching in New York at the age of fourteen. He learned it from Martin Luther King who was murdered.
Demonstration, Legislation, THEN reconciliation. This REMAINS the formula and the progression we MUST pass down to the next generation and which they must hand on further down the line into the unknown. We must pass it down, no matter what happens to us because we have not yet won.
The proof that one truly believes is in action. You have to join every other movement for the freedom of people. --Bayard Rustin
"County by county. City by city. You tell us what kind of police force you want." -- Andrew Cuomo
It is by no means clear that the ongoing protests in reaction to the murder of George Floyd will lead to any meaningful change. It is by no means clear that the bulk of the white protesters might not “outgrow” their current activism as they are inevitably trudged through the organizations and institutions of US capitalism. Anyone who dismisses these concerns is someone profoundly ignorant of US history, no matter how many books they have written or classes they have taught.
But some people still call out for “reconciliation”! Are they well meaning?
Some people say NOW is the time we should forget about racism and heed the ringing plea of poor Rodney King. Are they serious?
Just “move on!” they tell us. Are they for real?
“We don’t see it,” they say. "What racism?" they ask. They have interrogated themselves and subjected themselves to a sincere examination. And they find no fault with themselves or with “America!”
It is beyond ignorant to deny the existence of White Supremacy Racism. It is beyond vicious. Ignorance can no longer be the vile shield and ugly bludgeon of seething (self consuming) hate. Denying the reality and potency of White Supremacy is like denying the existence of the Covid virus. It is stupid. It is disrespectful. It is dangerous to deny such powerful realities because they are “myths”.
People who stay home (and wear masks when they have to go out) are trying to save lives. Those who don't, don't care. That is the BEST that can be said of them. The first wave of the current deadly viral infection has not subsided except in one state: Andrew Cuomo's New York. Another surge is likely. And if it comes, no state will be immune. But who would SERIOUSLY propose we should not take measures against the virus? Who would seriously claim we should take no action? (That’s a trick question of course.) And the vicious myth of White Supremacy is much more deadly, much more insidious, and much more prevalent than any microbial virus. The myth of White Supremacy proves the power of grand and dominant myth which transcends and infuses so many institutions far removed from police precincts.
The dead bodies with their breath crushed out of them are only the tip of a momentous iceberg. The school children punched in the face BY COPS or whose heads were stuffed into plastic bags BY COPS are only the cutting edge.
New York’s governor has required every locality to have a community discussion about policing and then to turn that into a legislated ordinance. How many communities will be happy to leave their police departments just the way they are? How many protesters will be willing or able to participate in the grinding discussions face to face with business leaders and police chiefs?
Democracy is mostly a grind. It’s mythology of glory is too easily expropriated by self dealers, too easily monopolized by the powerful, and too easily perverted by it’s enemies. It’s a myth worth reclaiming, worth reinvigorating. Let’s hope it is not betrayed. No doubt, it is a myth that will survive even if not one additional police department is reformed inside or out of New York.
Demonstrate, Legislate, Reconcile
The protesters on the street are living in democracy. More than that, they are enlivening it, giving democracy a chance at new life, but they are only partly right when they chant “This is what democracy looks like!” They represent only the first stage of democracy. Legislation must follow. And THEN reconciliation.
Democracy, the idea that a people can collectively rule themselves, may itself be a myth. But it is a living myth. It was a laughable idea in Athens, until they made it work for a time. It was absurd when Diggers and Levelers fought for it — with and against Cromwell during the English Civil Wars. And then they were crushed. But their ideas survived among some of the fighters in the American Revolution, enough for a bit of its spirit to be cautiously enshrined in the Philadelphia Constitution ratified in 1789 by nine of the thirteen former colonies. A seed barely sprouted, democracy is a living myth insinuating itself delicately and tremulously into law and custom. Though it’s tendrils are often crushed or poisoned, democracy is living myth, blindly staggering into the future, creating itself from nothing but air and the soil of humanity. Democracy, like Albert Camus’ vision of man is “impossible”. That’s why it is a myth which *may* never die.
“The South Shall Rise Again!”
Other myths live too, fueled by hatred and resentment. What is White Supremacy Racism but a myth based on a racial hierarchy crafted to justify slavery and colonialism? Myths fueled by greed and fear and spite have long lives too.
That’s why we need to look at the mythology of hate and the symbols of White Supremacy. And that’s why we need to urge states and towns and county courthouses to remove them. And once they've done away with these emblems of treason and oppression, THEN maybe we can find reconciliation.
It's already happening in a helter-skelter way. In Boston people even defaced a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first Black regiment in the Civil War and their commander Robert Gould Shaw. Other mistakes, much worse, can happen.
The myth of Nonviolent Resistance is something fostered by our immaturity. That’s because most of us learn about Martin Luther King the way we learn about democracy. We only learn these things as school children who must be protected from the darker aspects of democracy (the darker aspects of us). We have an overly bright vision of nonviolent resistance too.
If we think about the dark side of nonviolent resistance as led by Dr. King, we might see Bull Connor’s fire hoses sending children sprawling. We might cringe to remember Bull Connor’s police dogs with gnashing teeth lunging into the terrorized faces of cowering innocents. But Bull Connor didn’t ask those children to be on the street. Dr. King and his advisors did. They knew Bull Connor was an idiot and what he would do. And they knew what the images of Bull Connor’s violence would do.
It takes a form of ruthlessness born of desperation. Are we that ruthless? Are we that desperate?
When protests started in reaction to George Floyd’s lynching, I was afraid that the demonstrators would be portrayed as rioters and that trimp would win. It didn’t happen. Not yet. But it still could. trimp might be a moron, but he has formidable backing in high and low places. Both mindlessly and calculating, they will seek to turn the tables. They will seek to turn the tide.
The LEAST sophisticated enemies of democracy are well practiced at turning our words and our values against us. They are not about to stop now. THEY are desperate. We must keep them on the defensive lest they gain an advantage from OUR excess of enthusiasm or from OUR prudence and circumspection. We must keep them off balance and force THEM to make mistakes.
We should lawfully press for the removal of Confederate on all fronts. We should be relentless. We should be non violent. We should be uncompromising. We should be aware of what we might be provoking. Don't forget that in August, 2017 Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia by someone defending a memorial to Robert E. Lee.
Using words and facts, and ideas, we should rip open the history of the symbols and the men. With petitions, letters, and demonstrations orchestrated with the police, we should set history right. With informed testimony and self assurance, we should tear down the smugness of ignorance regarding HOW and WHY such monuments were erected and why they are still celebrated.
We should be relentless. We should be non violent.
Non violence is not about being nice. We should own our dark side and put it to decent use. We should be non violent, but we should know what we are doing. We should not fear provoking a backlash because that backlash is already brewing. We should BE AWARE of what we are doing. There are cowards and hair-on -fire imbeciles out there seething now. These cowards and weaklings have not balked at brandishing their guns in state capitals. Cowards and weaklings with guns are very dangerous indeed. We should know this and take it into consideration. We should be nonviolent. As gentle as lambs and as wise as serpents.
We should not believe ANY victory is guaranteed. The US has not used mass murder in the sense of outright bloody massacres in our streets since 1937 when that regular practice pretty much died out. But it WAS a practice carried out by public and private armies on a steady basis for half a century after the Civil War. We may have forgotten, but we have not healed. Even after the US stopped wholesale massacres against its own people, our government continued to passively or actively support bloody attacks on democracy all over the world. It continues to do so right up until this day. It continues even now to slaughter, choke, strangle, beat down, and shoot at its citizens on a steady basis, killing US on the level of retail.
Cowards and crazies have won before. It happened in Italy and Germany before the last world war. Is it somehow possible that maybe enough of us will believe in the impossible NOW and push on to threaten the source of deadly infection represented by confederate mythology? Maybe enough of us will believe we can lawfully attack the very heart of White Supremacist HATE and have its emblems destroyed. None of us should believe that new symbols of hate won’t be quickly invented even if we were somehow successful now. But that might be the next generation’s battle.
There is something ugly about forcing the hands of frightened angry cowards. That's why every step needs to be considered as carefully as possible. Of course, forcing the hands of frightened angry men with guns is something that Black people, female and male, young and old, do every day just by walking down the street or driving down the road. Maybe we can afford to spare ourselves that ugliness for now?
*********************** Joe Panzica is the creator of Democracy STRUGGLE'S. He is also the author of the unpublished Saint Gredible and Her Fat Dad's Mass and is working on a second novel: I Want to be Evil. He is not going to be tearing down any confederate monuments any time soon.