‘American Spring’: June 19 protests defiant, demand radical change

June 23, 2020
Black Lives Matter protest in Oakland, California on June 19. Photo: Annette Bernhardt

Demonstrations and rallies occurred in towns and major cities in California’s Bay Area on Juneteenth, June 19, celebrating the end of slavery in Texas in 1865.

The abolition of slavery was legalised in December 1865 with the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Blacks were finally recognised as citizens.

The Juneteenth celebrations were also actions of defiance against President Donald Trump’s government, police departments and the system of racial injustice and national oppression of African Americans.

What began as a response to anti-Black police violence and the murder of George Floyd on May 25 is now a deepening “American Spring”, demanding revolutionary change to a system that puts white lives above Black lives in all walks of life. Incremental reforms cannot solve what is integral to capitalism.

The movement is not waiting for traditional civil rights leaders and elected officials. New leaders are stepping forward.

Oakland waterfront shutdown

Local 10, Local 34 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the African American Longshore Coalition led the rally at the Port of Oakland. Demonstrators drove in a convoy and others marched with them from the port to Oakland’s Police Department headquarters and City Hall. Up to 25,000 people participated.

"You represent the potential and the power of the labour movement," said longtime radical activist and Marxist scholar Angela Davis at the rally. Davis said she hopes that other labour unions will join in the effort of "abolishing the police as we know them" and "re-imagining public safety".

Other rally speakers included actor Danny Glover, who called in to voice support, and Michael Brown Senior, the father of Michael Brown Junior, the 18-year-old Black man who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

"We're not working today. We're standing in solidarity," ILWU president Willie Adams told the rally at the Port of Oakland. He also said that dock workers in Genoa, Italy, had stopped work in solidarity with the protest.

"Good cops have got to start checking those bad cops,” said Adams. “You cannot stand by and let something happen. You're just as guilty."

“The mood in downtown Oakland was exuberant,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle, “as cars honked, music from James Brown played and over 100 bikers sped up and down Broadway with raised fists.

“A troupe of drummers performed in front of City Hall … as the crowd swelled to thousands around Frank Ogawa Plaza, which activists are calling Oscar Grant Plaza for the Black man killed by a BART [transit] policeman in 2009.”

Rapper and film director Boots Riley told the crowd in front of Oakland City Hall that the port work stoppage and other labour efforts would maintain pressure for meaningful change. “We don’t want to just ask for things to get better,” said Riley. “We’re going to say, ‘It’s going to get better or else.’”

One Oakland resident, Gwendoline Pouchoulin, displayed a homemade sign that read: “All Black Lives Matter”, and another with a quote from author Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up power is by thinking they don’t have any”.

“I think if there’s a moment to show up, it’s now,” she told the SF Chronicle.

The ILWU shut down 29 ports from Seattle to Los Angeles.

Activists painted “Defund the police” on the street in front of San Francisco’s city hall.

Tulsa defiance

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, “the morning of Juneteenth was quiet, dreary, and anxious,” wrote Victor Lucherson in The New Yorker, “except for the burst of canary-yellow paint on Greenwood Avenue that spilled across the asphalt in loud, bright and confident letters: “black lives matter”. The street mural was painted in the middle of the night after city officials denied artists a permit.

Blacks in Tulsa celebrated June 19 over the three-day weekend. Others wore Black Lives Matter hats, facemasks and shirts. They remembered the 300 Blacks slaughtered by white mobs 99 years ago in the Greenwood community. The so-called Black Wall Street was a prosperous conservative Black area that whites saw as uppity and an affront.

After the massacre, no one was held accountable. The white rulers removed the crime from the history books. The massacre was not taught in schools and the history of Black Wall Street was suppressed. The accomplishments of the Black community were spread by word of mouth and family stories.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence refused to utter the words “Black Lives Matter”. They praised the police and their violent methods.

At Trump’s June 20 campaign rally, held just a couple of kilometers from Greenwood, only 6200 people showed up ‒ far fewer than the 100,000 he predicted.

Armed thugs outside the venue were met by defiant BLM protesters. The police declared the area a Federal zone and moved men armed with long rifles out of the area. No confrontation occurred.

Trump supporters were deflated and the White House blamed BLM protesters for the small turnout.

Make Juneteenth a national holiday

The Black community and others are demanding that Juneteenth, not July 4, be celebrated as the true Independence Day for African Americans and made a national holiday.

As Frederick Douglass, former slave and radical abolitionist, said clearly when he asked in his July 5, 1852 speech: "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?

"This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

“What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?”

Debates on strategy

The debate in the movement today is not about past strategies and tactics, but “what to do next”. The main division is over reforming versus defunding the police.

The Democratic Party establishment is for reforming the police without dealing with the central issues behind why the mass movement has grown. Whites have joined the struggle because they, like the Black community, reject a policing system that treats all Blacks as less than human.

Further, most whites are doing so because they are fed up with a country that gives white skin advantages over Black people. There is little “white guilt” in their decision. Blacks seek equal treatment to that of whites. That is their concept of “law and order”.

The demand to abolish the current police force is step one. Community control, independent prosecutors and creation of a safety force must follow to revolutionise policing.

In addition, police “unions” must be thrown out of labour councils. Police unions act like a cartel that protects its members, no matter their crimes.

The police, thus, must be defunded, as many unionists and activists are demanding.

The nurses union in the state of New York, where COVID-19 led to the highest number of deaths in the country, have made it a central demand and are calling for funds to be diverted away from the New York Police Department “to help address racial disparities in health care at hospitals that primarily serve the city’s poorest patients”, according to the New York Daily News.

The union, which represents 42,000 nurses, is also calling on the state government “to increase the tax rate on the ultrawealthy and to create a tax on second and third homes to better fund public and safety-net hospitals”.

“Establishment” reformers argue that defunding goes too far ‒ seeking to limit their demands so as not to frighten more moderate whites. It is why the Democratic Party caucus in the Senate and House are opposed to demands to defund, dismantle and abolish the present police force. Instead, they place their hope on electing Joe Biden as president and then pushing the BLM movement to the sidelines.

Yet, BLM began organising during Democratic President Barack Obama’s presidency, when he failed to effectively take on the police and protect Black lives.

The more militant wing of BLM sees the mass movement as an ongoing struggle for freedom. They reject those who call for a refocus on the presidential elections. The left wing knows that, historically, every victory towards Black equality was won on the street or in civil war, not in elections.

At the same time, most radical activists say they will vote against Trump.

Uprising will continue

The sweep of protests will likely continue through the November elections and beyond, because the far right threatens violence if Trump is not reelected. To prevent a dictatorial undemocratic action by the Trump regime, mass struggle is the only defence.

Police continue to attack and kill unarmed Black men around the country. Cops who feel the heat for change are resisting by calling in sick, as occurred in Atlanta, after two cops were arrested for murdering Rayshard Brooks on June 12. Others are using more vicious force on Black men and youth.

A white Trump supporter shot a protester in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 15, where a monument of a Spanish Conquistador was being torn down. Cops watched on before arresting the shooter.

Four Black men and one Latino man were recently found hanging from trees (two in California and Texas and one in New York). All were called suicides. In Alabama, Bubba Wallace, the only Black NASCAR driver, found a noose hanging in his garage stall near the Talladega speedway track on June 21.

So far, only white extremists have infiltrated and carried out violence after peaceful protests.

Meanwhile, social consciousness and confidence, especially among youth, is growing among participants in the mass movement. Not only in the US, but in many other countries, from Australia to Britain and France.

The “American Spring” is spreading.

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