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Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

The #BLM Protests: Us and Them

| 66 Comments

Last March I did a post about why I don’t use the word “we” when discussing actions of the US government.  That “us” vs. “them” issue seems to come up a lot, often in the form of those who think it is terrible that there even is an “us” and a “them.” I’ve heard some state or imply that “polarization” comes from the heads of people who are just feeling confrontational, rather than being a reflection of actual divisions in the real world.  In a different way, that “us” vs “them” issue is at the heart of some confusion I’ve noticed recently, especially on Facebook.

Here in Minneapolis, there have been some protests against police murder and terror.  There are, of course, the inevitable justifiers–“Why aren’t you talking about what a terrible human being that guy was?” which is simply a way of saying that the police have the right to commit cold-blooded murder as long as the person they’re murdering meets their definition of a bad guy.  A more complicated question came up when the protests shut down the Mall of America and one of the airport terminals.  This generated howls of outrage about how it interfered with Daddy flying home in time for Christmas or Grandma doing the holiday shopping, and also kindly remonstrances, more in sorrow than in anger, about how those protesters are just doing it wrong.

Were those the best and most effective venues to protest? I don’t know. I know that the issues I have with Black Lives Matter have more to do with whether they are going to turn the whole thing into support for this or that Democratic candidate, and not where the protests take place. I know that when I was at the Fourth Precinct, I saw a lot of appeal to empty reformism, and simultaneously a lot of inspiring commitment and solidarity and genuine outrage at police murder. The entire Black Lives Matter movement is complex and contradictory, but the police crimes that have given it rise are ugly and atrocious and bloody well need to be fought.

But here’s the thing. When you say, “How is protesting at that particular place helping anything?” it doesn’t sound at all like you’re saying, “I am a part of this movement, and I am committed to this fight, and I am criticizing it because I want it to win.” It also doesn’t sound like you’re saying, “I agree with your principles, but your bad tactical decisions about where to protest are keeping me from joining you.” It sounds like you’re saying, “Oh, look at those people doing that thing wrong. They’ll never get anywhere that way. Not that I particularly care if they succeed, except in a sort of, gee, that would be nice sense. But it has nothing to do with me, or with the world I live in.”

Every mass movement in history has offended bourgeois public opinion, and in each one, there have been sections who sat back from the whole thing and said, “Tsk, look at those fools doing it all wrong. I’m not against them, mind you, but I sure wish they’d listen to me about how to go about it. Pass me the sports section, please.”

There was a saying in the labor movement of the 30s and 40s: An injury to one is an injury to all. When the police murder unarmed poor, working class, or minority people, do you feel you’ve been injured? Many of us do, and that is why this movement is “we” not “they.” And, until I become convinced that the Black Lives Matter movement is hopelessly dominated by identity politics, or until a movement emerges that I believe has a better chance of escaping the dead end of capitalist reformism, I will continue to say “we.” Tactics flow from principles, and principles are inseparable from commitment. If you are standing outside of the movement, pretending to give dispassionate advice from on high, do not be surprised if your advice is treated with contempt, and you are looked at with suspicion.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

66 Comments

  1. Hear, hear.

  2. #BLM’s supporters have good hearts, but the leaders seem to be firmly committed to identitarianism, which, among other things, explains why white police victims are invisible to them and they expect white people to be their “allies” in a war on black folks rather than their comrades in a war on poor folks. (I do wish someone would at least try to come up with a class breakdown of police victims. The available statistics (1 of 3 police victims are black, 1 of 3 people in poverty are black, and most people in violent encounters with the police are poor) continue to suggest it’s a class war that identitarians are presenting as a race war. (And, yes, maybe I just need to accept that Americans don’t give a damn about the working class, so the only way to raise the issue is to focus on race.)

  3. skzb

    Will: I agree that that is a problem. In fact, it is several problems all at once. The question is, are there gains to be made within the movement in terms of going forward with a class-based socialist program? I think there are, but I admit I could be wrong. In any case, the cause itself–the fight against police terrorism–is one of the most important things facing us.

  4. PS. I don’t think the leaders of #BLM intend to alienate the white working class, and the effect probably isn’t as strong as “alienate”. But the effect is to make them feel like this is a black fight, so there’s no need for them to join, and a suggestion that it would be presumptuous for them to join. All of which serves neoliberalism very, very well.

  5. Steve, I think their approach seriously hinders class-based programs but I see the argument that it should be supported anyway. I can’t make myself put any effort into #BLM because it looks like it’ll fade like #OWS or be absorbed into the Democratic campaigns as feel-good buzz words. But since most of the solutions proposed by #BLM supporters have nothing to do with race, the Dems might bring about some improvements in the way cops are trained—my current suspicion is there’ll be improvements that have nothing to do with #BLM, but #BLM will take credit for them.

  6. Given time, all grass-roots action movements, whether meritorious or not, get co-opted by political activists. It happens in every ideological vertical, the wealthy and the organized take over what the angry and desperate started. It happened to to the “Occupy” movement the same as it did to the “Tea Party” movement. It happened in the US government and the Soviet one (both, you may note, movements started by the angry and desperate).

  7. On a lighter note. I must admit I was half-way down your post before I realized that you weren’t going to somehow connect it to the Bureau of Land Management.

  8. I read things online by various people who claimed to be BLM leaders. They made it perfectly clear that they considered it entirely a race issue, and that their only interest in white liberals was as subordinate allies who could help them in their fight against whites.

    It makes perfect sense to me that they would not accept any advice from any whites, just as US generals would hesitate to accept advice from any vietnamese about how to run the Vietnam war, or advice from any afghans about running the Afghanistan occupation, or any iraqis about running the iraq occupation.

    Given that, I found it amusing to troll them a little. To give them the honest best advice I could, knowing they would respond only with abuse.

    When you stage a conflict, unless you intend to kill all of the enemy, you need some sort of plan for how to get the enemy to agree to your terms when you want to stop fighting. At “victory” you get what you want and you want it to be over, and if they don’t agree that it’s over then you at best have to kill them or something. A lot of US race relations problems come because in 1865 the Union armies had won, but they didn’t come up with a way to get it to be truly over for white southerners (or blacks). And here we are.

    Oh well. I had my fun. I told them the best truth I could see, and they abused me and ignored it, and I walked away, secure in my belief that people generally don’t think things out. With any luck they will forget me entirely, and if the time comes that it breaks out into open violence I won’t get singled out at all about it. I can hope that it’s over.

  9. skzb

    How charming. Maybe if there are more murders of the poor and minorities, you’ll have even more chance to show how clever you are. I’m pleased to see you care so deeply.

  10. J Thomas, I’m with Steve here. If you used “troll” ironically, it didn’t come across. Pointing out their tactics are winning them few allies who don’t share their ideology is a helpful thing to do, though probably pointless given that their tactics and their beliefs are so tightly entwined. Trolling only adds mud to murky waters.

  11. skzb. Good job of being snotty. In one stroke, you just destroyed any desire I had to support the BLM movement.

    Not really, but maybe you can use your cleverness in more constructive ways. When somebody says in effect, “either you are for me or against me”, my instinct is to get the hell away from that person.

  12. skzb

    Odd that you took it that way, David. But whatever.

  13. akzb, how would you expect anybody to take it? If the goal is inclusion, putting somebody down is not a good tactic.

    I can appreciate where J Thomas is coming from. Using the word Troll was a bad choice. I take it he was expecting an attack in response. I got the same feel that he describes in the first paragraph.

  14. skzb

    People on Facebook who are saying the things J. Thomas said are being treated with hostility, and they don’t seem to understand why. The goal of this post is to help them understand why. What they do with t his information is up to them. And if they do not wish to learn, that is their business.

    Look at what J. Thomas said: his comment is about how he mocked and trolled people who are concerned and outraged at police terrorism; he at no point in that comment gave the least hint that he cared that police are murdering unarmed people. And you feel that the problem is how people like him are treated? It seems to me by taking the time to explain to them why their comments are received as they are, I am doing rather more than they deserve.

    You can be on the side of the oppressed. You can be on the side of the police. You can remain neutral. But, if you are remaining neutral, kindly save me from your smug, supercilious advice about how to carry on a fight that you feel is beneath you.

  15. People react stupidly to things. Then they get random results. Sometimes things work out, often they don’t.

    “Laugh or cry, there ain’t no inbetween.”

    I’ve had a chance to interact with some of the BLM “leaders”, on Facebook. In earlier times that wouldn’t have happened, I might get the chance to read some memoirs later. These guys look like posturiing fools. What makes them “leaders” is that they come up with plans that people are willing to carry out. So they compete to come up with events their followers will like to attend, with no real thought for what they can accomplish. It’s about looking good so they will be taken seriously when they plan something else.

    They are going for the drama and apparently aren’t thinking that shit might get real. This is probably inevitable under the circumstances, because anybody who does otherwise will be sidelined. You may have seen something like that before, yes?

    I am concerned about this latest atrocity. It looks like the police did something indefensible, and then they announced that it’s policy and there’s nothing wrong.

    Like they’re doing their best to create a great big provocation. I think about why they would do that, and I don’t come up with any benign possibilities.

    I don’t see a place for myself in this war. I don’t want to be on the white side, and it looks like the black side won’t have me. It doesn’t look like a good year to be an innocent bystander.

    Maybe it’s just politics? They want to get out the vote for the GOP? Can they hold it at that? US MOUT tactics have gotten way more sophisticated since the last big domestic uproar. They’re way more effective at killing civilians and blowing things up with minimal same-side casualties than before. I don’t want them to use that stuff anywhere but I don’t get a vote.

    I’m afraid shit’s about to get real and I don’t like it one little bit. Bad for me, bad for you, it could lower consciousness worse than 9/11.

    Well, there ain’t no inbetween. It’s kind of funny if you look at it with the right perspective. People were worried about the USA as a world empire, but in 1-20 years we’re likely to be split into several nations that aren’t much of a threat to anybody except maybe each other. We’ll have a lot more pressing issues than climate change.

    I wasn’t expecting any of this and I should have. I just didn’t really believe it. I’m not so clever, and I have to laugh about it all.

  16. I have really appreciated your writing on this issue lately Steven.

  17. The police (at least in some areas) have a real problem. People that like to hurt people often choose to become police so that they can hurt people with official support. If a cop causes too many problems or hurts the wrong person, he might be fired. But he or she will gravitate to the next lower standard community where this behavior is accepted.

    Blacks have it worse than whites because it seems cops will kill or beat up blacks with little or no provocation. Whites are not immune either. So this is a double edged problem: Race and cop violence. I don’t know if the BLM has a plan to address this other than protests. Getting out the black vote would be effective, and maybe they are working on that.

    I think Steve would point out that the cops are only doing the bidding of the overlords – keeping the lower classes and minorities in their place. Maybe. It’s a good way to make it pitchfork and torch time.

  18. “how absurd it is that in the US, we have to rely on a UK newspaper to count the number of people being killed by police.” Roughly 3 people a day.

    http://usuncut.com/black-lives-matter/harvard-medical-police-killings-public-epidemic/

    Documenting the problem helps. Right now, the police are in denial that they have a problem. Unfortunately, this comes across as they don’t give a shit.

  19. The Washington Post has also been keeping count:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings/?tid=magnet

    And anyone concerned with police violence should be keeping up with Radley Balko:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/radley-balko

  20. Right on, Steven. I think a lot of people are critical of protesters inconveniencing them rather than those they hold responsible. I am trying to think of any protest movement that ever achieved anything at all without pissing people off. None come to mind.

    Of course, I do think “Occupy Wall Street” might have gotten further if they had occupied the Hamptons, but the real mission of any protest is to get the message out and not fade or be bullied or bribed into giving up.

  21. The great difference between previous protesters and the current social justice crowd is the previous ones picked locations that had a connection to what they were protesting. Protesting police violence at a police station makes sense. What racist thing happened at the Mall or the airport? Yes, sometimes you need to piss people off. But your reason should be clear. A few comments from the Minneapolis reddit about the Mall/airport protest:

    “It’s almost as if they’re trying to get the public to hate them.” (115 upvotes)

    “There’s a special kind of rage that comes from missing a flight or being delayed in an airport with small children and tons of luggage in tow. People who go through that never forget it.” (80 upvotes)

    “I’m amazed at the sheer stupidity of BLM. This is the kind of stunt that doesn’t win over a single person or change a single thing, and just creates deep grudges and racism with average Joe that’s going to take years, if not decades to reverse.” (52 upvotes)

    As for inconveniencing people, here’s another commenter:

    “In one of the other threads about this, there was a student at U of M that missed a flight home and and the dorms are shut down so he can’t just go back for the night, as well as someone that missed a flight to visit a dying family member.”

  22. skzb

    Yeah, back in the day, those sorts of remarks about inconvenience caused by blocking streets and access to buildings didn’t get those kind of upvotes. On account of there being such thing as upvotes.

  23. Can you name any protests at centers of transportation that weren’t connected to an offense? I think back to the protests I took part in: we marched and rallied in public spaces, usually with permits. We targeted administrative offices and legislative centers. No one had to try to guess why we were protesting where we were protesting, and I doubt we kept anyone from the bedside of a dying relative.

  24. Here’s a fine example, which I marched in, thanks to my father’s decision to drive up from Florida for it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moratorium_to_End_the_War_in_Vietnam

  25. One concern I have is just what happens WTSHTF? If it is just race based, who will be attacked. Certainly not the people with real wealth and power, they are insulated and protected. It will be neighbors and shop owners and others who are physically convenient to attack. Possibly for being white, or maybe just for being in the wrong place.

    So are we supportive white white liberals supposed to put blood on the door posts or how will we be spared? Or won’t we? ;>)

    I know some whites down South want a race war. Kill all the blacks and then go up North and kill all the liberals. They think they will win, of course (unless they run out of beer first). I don’t think they have a lot of imagination.

    As J Thomas noted, some stuff I read (supposedly supporting Black rights) seemed to me to be designed to alienate whites. My first thought on reading one is that it is a psy-op by the GOP.

  26. “It’s almost as if they’re trying to get the public to hate them.” (115 upvotes)

    BLM is not particularly organized. Part of how you get to be a leader there is to plan events that people will come to. If you can get a lot of non-BLM members to come and sign them up, that’s even better.

    And part of how to keep being a leader is to do things that excite the membership.

    They probably aren’t counting how many random civilians say they don’t like it. They’re counting how many BLM members do like it.That has to come first.

    “I don’t know if the BLM has a plan to address this other than protests.”

    I have the impression that protests are the end goal.

  27. skzb

    Will: Can you think of an effective protest at any time in history that didn’t inconvenience people, and that was not subject to exhortations, kindly or stern, by offended petty bourgeois about how the inconvenience was hurting their cause?

  28. Yes, my petty bourgeois commitments make it so that I cannot care more about what happens in these protests and be able to keep my peace of mind. Do protesters who make me uncomfortable perform a useful function to society? Certainly.

    I freely admit that a tone of dispassionate concern really masks a total apathy regarding what these movements represent and what they have to contribute to the world. If I cared more, I would be AT the protests trying to contribute instead of making sympathetic noises with an occasional “tsk tsk.”

    What I have issue with at the core of these protests about police brutality is the difficulty of police work itself. For every ugly news item where a policeman displays flagrant disregard for the social responsibility of his profession, there are complex cases which don’t make it to the headlines because things don’t appear in black and white. Could the officer have hesitated a few seconds longer to pull the trigger? Could better training have deescalated the situation before a firearm had to be drawn? Valid points, but when the guns are finally lowered and body count tallied, the question I want asked is when the energy this moral outrage requires and provides as fodder for the culture wars should start being channeled elsewhere.

    Emotional appeals to racial exploitation and class warfare have their place–they get us to start thinking. The problem is when people think that the end goal of social movements is the outrage itself. When something like a police street execution has happened, the hardest part is getting the people who might have the power, collectively, to sit down so as to figure out what has to be done. Instead what usually happens is to engage in finger pointing. As the rhetoric becomes more heated and emotional, those who are interested in actually doing anything can only throw their hands up in despair because they realize that for people to start making concessions at that point will only be seen as “selling out” their political base.

    Machiavellian considerations of power are inescapable in politics, and you can see it most dramatically in the social movements themselves which are trying to change things. Vague denunciations of the status quo help the cause, and most contemptible are those political rags which overstate their position either due to cynicism or laziness, sometimes it’s hard to tell which.

  29. I’m guessing the BLM philosophy is, “first you have to get their attention.” But then, what is the next step? It’s not clear to me. Anybody who is paying attention knows cops are killing people when it is not necessary. Sometimes after the person is arrested and handcuffed or in jail.

    The TV news makes it look like it is only a cop vs black problem and BLM seems to buy into this. One of Will’s links shows that cops are killing basically everybody at about the same rate (I did not know this). So this really is a cop problem, maybe a class problem.

    Unfortunately, the courts give cops so much deference and support that the system is broken. Then there is the swat team mentality that treats policing as a military operation and everybody they see as the enemy. What could possibly go wrong. An event where the cops broke in and tossed a flash-bang into a sleeping child’s bed was ruled by the courts to be the fault of the child. This is surrealistic.

    I was reading an article about how a popular drug test device used by the police had a 70% false positive rate. Just sampling the air gave false positives. When this was pointed out, the court said that the police have no responsibility for the accuracy of the tests they use. Again surrealistic.

    Ad infinitum.

  30. Steve, of course protests piss off people; as I said above, sometimes you want to piss off people. I doubt I’ve ever been at a protest that didn’t piss off someone.

    But you also want to be effective. If your message is a mess, you’ll do nothing. I keep coming back to this: tactics matter. Use asshole tactics, and you just look like an asshole, no matter how righteous the cause you’re trying to claim as your own.

    Well, unless what you’re really doing is playing to the choir and your cult’s biggest donors. Then the greater effectiveness is irrelevant.

  31. Jilin, I understand what you are saying about the difficulty of being a cop. But unfortunately, that is their job to operate under difficult situations. If they don’t or can’t do it, they need to find a different profession or at least get off the street. Being a cop is a difficult, tiring, frustrating and sometimes frightening job. I sympathize. It’s not a job for everybody. I doubt I could take it for long.

    Policing has changed a lot over the years, and that is part of the problem. There is a guy who makes a living giving paid seminars to cops, teaching them to shoot first, that they should not have to de-escalate or take any risks whatsoever. He also teaches them how to testify in court to avoid responsibility. When it is them vs us, cops against the civilians, what we are seeing is to be expected. Unfortunately this type of thing is dictated from the top down. As I said, the system is broken.

  32. Well, I would like to point out that these exchanges, while fun, can definitely turn into a vice. Even when feelings aren’t hurt, I always look back on adversarial relations with some regret.

    I think it was Pascal who said that all of man’s ills stem from his being unable to stay in peace in his own room. Granted, this was the same man who wasted his mathematical talent after a promising early start in the field. But I recently found I agree with him–to think that self-denial and penitence in lieu of worldly fame as somehow purifying, and that this was enough for him to call a life.

    I say all this to give an idea of the kind of person I am, so my views will be contextualized. I lost most of my personal beliefs because of something that recently happened in my life, but they were replaced by something else. People tell me I’m more humane, but at the same time, I care less about things than I used to.

  33. Jilin, I hear that. For me, politics are impersonal. I know good people of almost all political persuasions, and I know bad people whose politics are remarkably like mine. But many, maybe most, people include their politics in their concept of their identity, so they take disagreement personally, and cognitive dissonance is strong with them. The rest of us are left with a choice: do we let their mistakes go uncontested? The answer, “it depends”, is an imperfect guideline.

  34. The reason Black Lives Matter has trouble with effective leadership is pretty simple and pretty disturbing (this is relayed to me by people who have been taking part in the protests, so if it’s in error, it’s honest error): every experienced, seasoned community organizer or activist they’ve tried working with has put the interests of local government and the local DFL above the interests of the protesters. They’ve refused to cause disturbances, shied away from civil disobedience, and generally been toothless and dismissible. As a result, the BLM movement has an automatic suspicion of/contempt towards the sort of people who habitually organize marches and protests, and are turning to people within their own community with less experience. Does this make their voices more diffuse? Yes. But it makes them more effective than they were when they listened to the original organizers.

    As a community organizer by trade, this makes me want to tear my hair out. You have to stand by the community you’re organizing.

  35. Is there any evidence that #BLM is effective? I’ve been thinking about civil disobedience as practiced by King and Gandhi and, well, uncivil disobedience as practiced by #BLM and black bloc fans. As for “automatic distrust”, I’m doubtful that black identitarians are any good at reading the motives of organizers who don’t automatically validate ideas like shutting down an airport to protest the police.

  36. skzb

    Matt: That is the impression I’ve gotten, though only from observation at the protests.

  37. Will, certainly Black Lives Matter is effective. You’re talking about it all the time as are millions of other people. This is the first goal of any political movement: to be talked about. Compare their success in this regard to the current day socialists and greens in America, who have a relatively tiny share of media attention.

    Every subsequent police murder is generating more and more outrage largely as a result of BLM. This widespread penetration of the notion of illegal police violence through the public consciousness would never have arisen on its own. And moreover no political party or movement apart from BLM has been even one percent as effective at raising this issue.

    Of course if what you mean by “effective” is “imminently leading to revolution” or “immediately demilitarizing the police and regularizing their behavior” well, obviously not yet, but of course these things take time. It took the entire century from 1865 to 1965 for some semblance of black civil rights to be written into law after emancipation, and perhaps it will take until 2065 before actual racial equality exists in this country.

    And as for Gandhi, not only did his program of mass disobedience cause enormous disruption and “uncivil” inconvenience to millions of people (however legitimate it might have been), but it took him 40 years to achieve his goal.

  38. Miramon, can you cite anything comparable to the MoA or the airport protest by Gandhi or King? My impression is the symbolic value of the targets of their protests was never ambiguous.

  39. And a follow-up question: Given the abysmal state of class mobility in this country for people of all hues, why do you think there’ll be actual racial equality by 2065? Or do you divorce racial economic equality from this issue?

  40. “Every subsequent police murder is generating more and more outrage largely as a result of BLM. This widespread penetration of the notion of illegal police violence through the public consciousness would never have arisen on its own.”

    It’s hard to be sure how the world would inevitably be if it was different.

    I have the strong sense that BLM began *because* of the increasing outrage over illegal police violence. They have been surfing that wave. I don’t know how much they are creating the wave and how much they are created by it.

  41. “I have the strong sense that BLM began *because* of the increasing outrage over illegal police violence.” Ditto. It’s not as if the media was hiding these stories.

  42. I’m not aware of any strong parallels between Gandhi and King, nor any between them and BLM except that all three were or are essentially nonviolent. Gandhi’s vehicle was widespread illegal civil disobedience — famously inciting whole provinces not to pay taxes — and I think not so much symbolic protests, though no doubt there were some too. King was much more in favor of symbolic protests. BLM’s thing is using social and mainstream media for publicity. I mentioned 2065 rhetorically because in the past two centuries the 60s were critical years for progress towards racial equality in this country. I have no particular faith in the date.

    Of course it’s very true that the class mobility issue in this country is dreadful and this interferes with progress for racial equality.

    But all this is completely beside my point that BLM has been very effective in disseminating their message and making sure the movement is well known throughout all classes everywhere in the country. That’s my definition of “effective” for a political movement.

  43. “every experienced, seasoned community organizer or activist they’ve tried working with has put the interests of local government and the local DFL above the interests of the protesters. They’ve refused to cause disturbances, shied away from civil disobedience, and generally been toothless and dismissible.”

    I don’t know how to judge this. I can see it would obviously seem that way to BLM members. Do the activists they talk to know how to actually get results? Do the BLM organizers know how to tell whether the activists know how to get results?

    It’s predictable that BLM organizers want to be in-your-face aggressive prove-we-have-all-the-power-it-takes we-can-take-over-the-world about it. They’ll want to show that nobody can intimidate them, that they can break the laws and nobody can stop them, that they are powerful. Why should they compromise with anybody or back down from anything or let anybody boss them around? They are gaining supporters, they were nobodies before and the more people pay attention to them the more they know that it’s their turn to rule.

    They don’t know how much they can accomplish because they don’t know how big an army they can raise. They have to play it by ear.

  44. Miramon: “That’s my definition of ‘effective’ for a political movement.”

    Basically you’re saying the definition of an effective political movement and a new ad campaign for beer are identical. While I agree this might apply to the Black Lives movement – I’m one who thinks they’re a pointless waste of time & space – I can’t agree that’s the definition of an effective political movement.

    Police body cams, dash cams, FOIA etc are all the results of effective political organization, as well as tireless efforts by those who think results are more important than publicity. I know only a few of their names, but I admire their work, and most people probably don’t even know they exist.

    On the other hand, consider that in October 2011, when Occupy Wall Street was all the rage, one of Time magazine’s political writers wrote:

    “One of the juicier nuggets in TIME’s wide-ranging new poll is that voters are embracing the Occupy Wall Street movement as they sour on the Tea Party. Twice as many respondents (54%) have a favorable impression of the eclectic band massing in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park than of the conservative movement that has, after two years, become a staple of the American political scene.”

    And yet, today there are scores of national candidates, hundreds of local ones, catering to the tea party and implementing policies to further their goals, while one of the two men who started the whole Occupy thing has declared it a failure.

    I’d be interested to know how name brand recognition will do more for the current crop of protests than for earlier ones, if you’re willing to elaborate.

  45. Miramon, I’ve done a little researching (and may do more) regarding #BLM’s effectiveness. So far, it’s not conclusive, and there are strong arguments like yours, but here’s some of the argument against:

    Atlanta Black Star reports on a November Rasmussen poll that’s behind a paywall:

    ““Black Lives Matter or all lives matter is an ongoing political debate, but most voters aren’t convinced that the Black Lives Matter movement is interested in justice for all,” Rasmussen Reports said on its website.
    “Further, 22 percent of respondents said they are “not sure” whether the movement supports reforms for fairer law enforcement.
    ““There appears to be a lot of confusion in people’s minds with what Black Lives Matter stands for,” said Francis Coombs, managing editor of Rasmussen Reports. “People see protests, but where is this going?””

    While there are some wide gaps in agreement between black and white voters, they’re surprisingly similar in their confusion about what #BLM is trying to do:

    “The poll also found that 51 percent of Black voters say the Black Lives Matter movement supports reforms to ensure equal treatment under the law, and 30 percent say it doesn’t, with 19 percent unsure. On the other hand, 55 percent of white voters say the group does not support criminal justice reform, and 21 percent say it does, with 24 percent uncertain.”

    I would love for a follow-up on an earlier Rasmussen poll which you can find by googling this bit: “Thirty-one percent (31%) of black voters say black lives matter is closest to their own views, but just nine percent (9%) of whites and 10% of other minority voters agree. Eighty-one percent (81%) of whites and 76% of other minority voters opt instead for all lives matter, and 64% of blacks agree.”

  46. BLM is presented as a protest of cops abusing black people. That seems obvious and legitimate. But by framing this as only a black problem, it really weakens the odds of a successful outcome because they have lost maybe half their potential support base right off the bat.

    As I said, this is a cop problem, even when it isn’t directed at blacks. BLM probably would see that saying this is trying to steal their thunder or diffuse their message. But if they can widen their support to include ordinary (not just liberals) whites, the goal of stopping abuse by police might be reached sooner. Also, you cannot correct the cop problem against blacks unless you also correct the cop problem against whites.

    There seem to be plenty of examples of poorer whites being treated as badly as are blacks. Here’s an example in today’s news:
    http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/sadistic-cops-make-k-9-maul-unarmed-suicidal-teen-caught-planning-and-celebrating-it?akid=13819.308614.30pwgJ&rd=1&src=newsletter1048111&t=14

  47. “But by framing this as only a black problem, it really weakens the odds of a successful outcome because they have lost maybe half their potential support base right off the bat.”

    From Wikipedia:

    Founder Alicia Garza summed up the philosophy behind Black Lives Matter as follows: “When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. It is an acknowledgement Black poverty and genocide is state violence. It is an acknowledgment that 1 million Black people are locked in cages in this country–one half of all people in prisons or jails–is an act of state violence. It is an acknowledgment that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families and that assault is an act of state violence.”

    BLM at its core is not about police violence. It’s about improving the world for blacks.

    BLM is about police violence the way the Iraq war was about Saddam’s nukes. (Except that Saddam’s nuclear program did not exist, while police violence is real.) If Saddam had been able to prove he had no nuclear program, Bush would have looked for another reason to invade.

    BLM is not at all interested in ending police violence against whites, although many of their members are likely in favor of that too. If by some magic we could completely eliminate police violence against blacks, I expect that BLM organizers would be upset because they would need to quickly find a new issue to organize around, and so far this is the one that has legs.

  48. The argument that #BLM loses support because it frames the problem along racial lines doesn’t represent my own, lived experience. I’m white, and this theory suggests that I should therefore should somewhat disenfranchised because of the framing. I don’t. My personal experience is that it helped me focus on the problem of the militarization of the police. I find it frightening and evocative to realize that our policing system appears to feel quite comfortable with having an entire category of people that they can oppress at will. This helps me see the structural issues involved in policing society.

    I don’t actually have any trouble at all empathizing with people who face additional oppression because of a physical characteristic. And I think that when we natter on about whether or not #BLM is politically effective, we are turning our faces away from the very genuine, helpless rage that engendered it. #BLM didn’t come out of a carefully considered political response; it’s a visceral reaction to an intolerable situation.

  49. No one’s saying identitarianism doesn’t work for anyone. There are many well-meaning white people who are susceptible to race reductionism. As for the rage, the situation with #OWS applies: will #BLM channel the rage into an acceptable form (in this case, racism rather than class warfare) so that it can wither and die?

  50. “The argument that #BLM loses support because it frames the problem along racial lines doesn’t represent my own, lived experience.”

    Let me put that argument this way — if BLM could link up with white groups that are outraged about police killing of anarchist/libertarian/insane whites, they would have a bipartisan issue that might get results quickly.

    But they can’t. The two groups despise each other probably more than they hate the police. Racism is preventing an alliance which could get an actual solution to the ostensible problem.

  51. “And I think that when we natter on about whether or not #BLM is politically effective, we are turning our faces away from the very genuine, helpless rage that engendered it. #BLM didn’t come out of a carefully considered political response; it’s a visceral reaction to an intolerable situation.”

    Yes. That’s uncomfortable to deal with.

    We can’t fix it. There is no possible way to use free enterprise to get blacks to be as wealthy as whites on average. If we could manage that then the personal stuff wouldn’t matter as much, but we can’t. And then there’s the personal stuff….

    We can’t fix it, and the rage is growing on both sides. It’s one great big brick in the wall. We’re heading toward the nation getting split into several nations with ethnic cleansing — blacks and liberals will not be welcome in at least one of those nations.

    I want to stop it and I don’t see anything effective I can do. So I try to think about more constructive things.

  52. @J. Thomas: “The two groups despise each other probably more than they hate the police. Racism is preventing an alliance which could get an actual solution to the ostensible problem.”

    Is this a thing you know, or a thing you assume? I’m not tracking the politics closely, so maybe you have some specific example that you can cite. But this is the sort of thing people always say, often with not a shred of evidence. Is there a predominantly white political group fighting police brutality that has had a significant conflict with #BLM? Because I do not know of such an instance. More importantly, this is the sort of assumption that allows people to decide not to do anything. It is the counsel of helplessness.

  53. @J. Thomas: I don’t know that bearing witness is all that useful, but looking away from the rage and pain sure doesn’t do anything useful, either. And I think seeing, witnessing that rage, can help inform one’s future decisions and understanding, sometimes in subtle and indirect ways. If you’re right, and the situation isn’t fixable, then surely bearing witness is the only thing left, and we should do that. If there are constructive things to do, I do not believe that any of them start by looking away.

  54. Lydy, please don’t interpret what I said about framing as a recommendation that you not support BLM. I’m thinking about the larger picture and how BLM could be more effective in getting changes.

    If BLM is primarily an expression of rage, it puts a different light on things. If it is rage against the machine, there are plenty of whites who also feel that same rage and could theoretically be supportive. But most would not support BLM if BLM has no interest in improving the white situation also. To be blunt, why should they? Guilt for being white doesn’t go over when you have also been abused by the system. You sure don’t feel privileged when a police dog chews off your face.

    I wish BLM success.

  55. “If there are constructive things to do, I do not believe that any of them start by looking away.” I agree. And that’s why I wish BLM didn’t look away from the abuse done by police to the entire working class. I shared recently a Chomsky quote that seems relevant: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”

    It explains why it’s so much easier to talk about race than class in this capitalist country.

  56. @David: I don’t feel guilt for being white; I feel empathy for the people who fear being shot by the cops for the color of their skin. There’s zero guilt, there. What’s in it for me? Um, I’m a people, they’re a people. I think that there’s a weird way in which rejecting a racist narrative can be about rejecting empathy with people who are not like them, and this troubles me. This isn’t about white, liberal guilt, at least for me. I expect I have some, but as far as I can tell, it’s not my driving impulse, here. It’s empathizing with the rage and fear of helplessness.

  57. “Racism is preventing an alliance which could get an actual solution to the ostensible problem.”

    ‘Is this a thing you know, or a thing you assume?’

    Thank you. It’s a thing I mostly assume, so there’s a possibility I could be wrong.

    I see some people who are outraged about police killing whites who utterly dismiss BLM. And I see blacks who are central to BLM making no bones that their movement is entirely about blacks, and that the police thing is one line of attack for improving the competitive position for blacks. (They don’t use exactly those words.)

    Beyond that, I hear nothing whatsoever about any interaction between these different kinds of groups, who after all tend to consider each other racists. But they could be having secret communications, or even just discreet ones that I don’t know about. There’s room for them to cooperate if they want to, despite what I expect of them.

    “I don’t know that bearing witness is all that useful, but looking away from the rage and pain sure doesn’t do anything useful, either.”

    When I don’t think about it, I don’t feel so helpless. That’s a plus.

    There are lots of other things I can bear witness to, that aren’t so hard on me. But how many of them would get swept away in the chaos? If the USA splits up, and my area must accept a lot of refugees from ethnic cleansing, and the area can’t feed itself, we’re looking at a whole lot of disruption. I’d do better to move to Canada first, if they’d take me.

    One of my sisters refuses to move to Canada because she enjoys spring and fall too much. Another heard about a plan to get a lot of good people to move to south america where they could buy up land and make their own enclave and live the way they want to. They can get cheap land in a nation that doesn’t have a big tradition of respect for the rights of immigrants, or really anybody who lacks firepower. I’d rather live in a place that does respect people’s rights and freedom, that accepts diversity…. That is, like the USA used to sort of be.

    Oh well. I don’t really see that stuff happening within the next 3 years, which is as far ahead as anybody can reasonably look politically. It’s easier to deal with today and let 4 years from now take care of itself.

  58. I thought this was an argument I could accept. Just to show I’m listening and thinking. Coates takes the view that the lack of a consistently humane and professional police force undermines the legitimacy of our government.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/illegitimacy-and-american-policing/422094/

    I’m not well-informed enough to say whether the tactics of the protesters of BLM are effective or ineffective. But I can tell you that what constitutes the majority of internet activism feels, at least to me, frivolous. Maybe the right analogue for internet activism is to our legal system: legal action has the reputation of being taken for frivolous reasons, and the low opinion we have of lawyers reflects this view. But the system, however imperfect, is one that is founded on what most people would regard as a pursuit of desired ends–a process whereby legal redress can occur in a uniform way that (in theory) is available to all members of a society. I might not like lawyers, but I wouldn’t want to live in a world where their services weren’t available. The same perhaps goes for internet activism.

  59. skzb

    Jilin: Just to make sure we aren’t speaking at cross purposes, when I talk about the BLM protests, I’m not speaking of internet activism, but of the live, in-person activities. That said, we don’t disagree.

  60. “Coates takes the view that the lack of a consistently humane and professional police force undermines the legitimacy of our government.”

    Yes, certainly. Add to that, it’s cheaper for people to communicate in large numbers. With cell phones people can make flash crowds if they want to, they can have internet petitions, they can have things like BLM cheaper. Poorer people can organize without needing much funding from outside instigators.

    Also, as “middle class” people feel increasingly poorer and it all looks more out of control, “middle class” and FMCs (Formerly Middle Class) feel more like poor people and are less willing to just dismiss their complaints.

    On the other hand, a lot of people are getting poorer because they are not needed. Since Napoleon the government needed to be able to call up mass armies, so it had to take care of the masses. When vitamins were discovered, the US government justified requiring enriched flour because they needed healthy recruits. Similarly with efforts to reduce STDs among the lower classes — too many soldiers were too sick. But now we have an eminently professional army that can kick ass among a thousand times their number of armed civilians.

    Traditionally, when the economy was booming we would get a labor shortage. So when unemployment dropped too low it was necessary to slow the economy so that wages wouldn’t go too high. But now we probably have a permanent labor surplus. We have considerably more people than we need to work in the economy.

    The question is not so much whether the government is legitimate in the eyes of the public, as whether the public is legitimate in the eyes of the government.

    (I stole that last line from somebody, probably Lenin or Trotsky or possibly Stalin.)

  61. Thank you!

  62. skzb

    Oh, that is wonderful! I’m going to use it and pass it off as my own.

  63. Ms. Nickerson: “And I think that when we natter on about whether or not BLM is politically effective, we are turning our faces away from the very genuine, helpless rage that engendered it. BLM didn’t come out of a carefully considered political response; it’s a visceral reaction to an intolerable situation.”

    Knowing whether or not a large, angry crowd of people who are willing to physically force themselves into strangers’ lives are acting towards a specific goal determined by intellectual processes rather than simply pitching a fit is of extreme importance. I could never support a mob, which is what a collection of angry people acting out in public is, and thus so far I do not support, even morally, Black Lives Matter.

    The question posed in the OP, “Were those the best and most effective venues to protest?”, cannot be answered without knowing their ultimate goal. If they just wanted to generate awareness of their brand, they did fine. If they are working towards something concrete, then I’d say no, it wasn’t effective. I say that because nothing realted to their stated purpose was accomplished during their activity, and the only things I saw come out of their after-party, when they were congratulating themselves online for their skill and daring, were shout-outs about how the mob at the mall was just a diversion and the real goal was closing the airport. No reason for blocking the airport was given that I saw. They sounded like a bunch of kids playing a game.

    “… but as far as I can tell, [liberal guilt]’s not my driving impulse, here. It’s empathizing with the rage and fear of helplessness.”

    Undirected rage and fear is like a wildfire – it will simply destroy everything in its path. If they don’t have a goal and cannot put together a rational plan in order to bring about the change they feel is needed, then they’re letting everyone know they just want to pitch fits until someone else takes care of things for them. I understand such an impulse, but I have no sympathy for it.

  64. Clearly and concisely stated. Thank you

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