On August 16, 1819, 60,000 men, women, and children gathered in St. Peter’s Field in the heavily industrial city of Manchester, England to demand political representation and better living conditions. It was the most massive assembly to have taken place at the time, amounting to roughly half the population of Manchester. Wearing their Sunday best and accompanied by musicians, they carried banners and signs calling for liberty, a parliament of the people and repeal of the Corn Laws. It was a peaceful, celebratory, yet emphatic crowd: little did they expect the brutal response of their “own” government. However, the ruling class was terrified of insurrection that would topple them from power, as had the French Revolution 30 years earlier. No sooner had the speeches begun than the rulers sent in the British cavalry, backed up by local volunteer militias, to strike them down, disperse the crowd, and arrest the leaders. The sabre-wielding forces wantonly murdered 18 men, women, and children, and injured 650. This pivotal incident became known as the Peterloo Massacre, and this year marks its bicentenary.
As Mike Leigh, director of the film, Peterloo, writes about its continuing significance:“Despite the spread of universal suffrage across large parts of the globe, poverty, inequality, suppression of press freedom, indiscriminate surveillance, and attacks on legitimate protest by brutal regimes are all on the rise… Peterloo is of seminal importance.” This article looks back on the events of 1819 and the lessons they hold for us today. It draws on the book, Peterloo by Jacqueline Riding and the film by Mike Leigh, as well as the contemporaneous commentary of several leaders and participants.
While the US ruling class clamps down on the freedom of migrants seeking asylum and survival in the US, ordinary people are mobilizing to liberate the incarcerated. These protests have taken many forms. Immigrant rights organizations educate immigrants about their so-called legal rights to avoid detention, communities and religious institutions provide sanctuary, lawyers negotiate to stop the police from sharing arrest records with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of Homeland Security), and activists confront anti-immigration institutions with direct actions.
In recent weeks (Summer 2019), there have been more direct actions and civil disobedience to stop detentions. Direct action protests and civil disobedience can use illegal or legal disruptive tactics to change conditions and policies. Instead of negotiations and voting, they include strikes, demonstrations (think Yellow Vests in France), mutinies, prison rebellions, attacks on right wing rallies, urban rebellions, and sit-ins. They are instrumental in securing reforms and making revolutions. While individuals can use direct action, such as assassinations or suicide bombings, they are not effective and usually harm co-workers or the public. Successful, militant protests involve large numbers of participants, unity, collective outrage, and organization.
Imagine if thousands of anti-racists operating in a planned cohesive manner opened the prisons and released the children and individuals held in these camps! Are we headed for this? Would this strategy succeed?
This article explores the value of direct action and civil disobedience, and recent and historical examples of workers defending their brothers and sisters. We welcome your examples.
As I write this, actual and potential wars threaten the lives and stability of millions, instigating massive migrations to seek peace. The United Nations reports that over 70 million people fled from wars and conflicts in 2018 (www.unhcr.org/576408cd7) while 258 million people migrated for political and economic reasons in 2017 (UN. International Migration Report, 2017). Armed conflicts continue in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as Pakistan and India clash over control of Kashmir, and long term conflicts simmer in Gaza, Venezuela, the South China Sea and other places. Any one of these limited wars may trigger a world war, even a nuclear one. Continue reading “TURN the Guns Around! GI Resistance to War”
In Bring the War Home, University of Chicago History Professor Kathleen Belew presents a picture of the broad and coordinated nature of the white power movement, which ultimately aims to destroy the U.S. Government and establish an all-white state. She provides convincing evidence that many supposedly “lone wolf” attacks are actually part of this grand conspiracy, most notably the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Builing in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and for which Timothy McVeigh was executed. She documents that federal agencies have long been aware of the mass character of the white power movement, and yet law enforcement and justice agencies have not responded in proportion to the threat, and the media has almost completely ignored its cohesive character. Although the author sees violent white power at home as a consequence of a violent foreign policy, what she does not consider is whether the growth of such a mass racist movement is useful to those in power. Nor does she contrast the undersized response to it with the aggressive targeting of foreign-inspired terrorism or left-leaning opponents of racism. She also does not discuss the extent and success of anti-racist opposition to white power activities. Continue reading “A Book Review: ON THE MATTER OF WHITE POWER IN THESE UNITED STATES”
People represent themselves in many ways. They indicate their pronouns to reflect gender identification or introduce themselves as belonging to a national or “racial” group. Adoption of the concept of intersectionality has made people further refine their identification with overlapping characteristics, such as an African-American woman or a biracial gay immigrant. People also define themselves as high or low income, employed or jobless, and professional or service worker. Those not included in a particular classification may advance the causes of those in another group, for example whites opposing racism and men opposing sexism. But the fragmentation of identity by personal characteristics leaves many to believe they can only unite with and owe their deepest loyalty to those in the same group or groups. This reduces those in other groups to allies rather than comrades. Continue reading “Uniting by Class vs Identity in the Fight Against Racism”