Resist: A tale of two marches
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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness" - Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities."
Last week, the Bay Area hosted two marches that encapsulated the difference between resistance and "resistance," between self-reliance and dependence on government and between inclusion and exclusion.
If you wanted the former of each, you were in Oakland on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
On January 15, the Anti-Police Terror Project led an international coalition, which included Third World Resistance and many other groups, to put on the fourth annual March to Reclaim King's Radical Legacy at 14th Street and Broadway in Oakland. About 400 to 500 people gathered on the patch of ground outside City Hall, which has been informally known as Oscar Grant Plaza since the days of Occupy Oakland, to hear Cat Brooks set the tone for both the rally and the march to follow.
"King has been largely sanitized by America," said Brooks, co-founder of the APTP, to a cheering crowd, before remarking sarcastically, "He's the safe Negro they teach you about in school."
The truth about the man was far different.
"King was a revolutionary," said Brooks. "He got arrested again and again and again and let me tell you, they would not have killed him if he was a 'good' Negro. They let the 'good' Negroes live."
To honor King's true revolutionary character, rather than the sanitized version of his life, APTP organized a multi-day campaign addressing a multitude of issues, from stopping police terror to supporting indigenous activists opposing development of the West Berkeley Shellmound, a sacred site and burial ground of the Ohlone, to demanding the city of Oakland provide housing for the homeless.
"If you are not about the business of liberation at this point," Brooks told the crowd, "you are complicit in the oppression."
Or, as the crowd later chanted, "If you fuck with any, you've got to deal with the many!"
This was no idle boast. APTP and its coalition partners worked hard to have their own security volunteers along the route - no small feat when the parade's intended path was secret until the last moment - and deployed at least one drone to provide early warning of any fascists intent on interfering with the march. Because of this, the Oakland Police Department was conspicuous by its near-absence (while some officers blocked roads, they stayed several blocks away from the march) and the California Highway Patrol was mainly concerned with blocking our access to the freeway.
Next time somebody claims that the presence of police is "necessary" for march security, remind them of this action. APTP conducted a major march over several hours through the heart of Oakland with no police assistance, no issues, and no fascists showing up to cause trouble.
So much for the best of times.
A sea of problematic hats
Which leads us to the San Francisco Women's March Saturday, January 20. To the credit of local organizers, they did make a real effort to center the voices of leading people of color and trans activists at the pre-march rally, where thousands of people crammed on the lawn in front of City Hall.
"We are gonna get your feet on the streets, because we've got a lot of work to do," said Alex U. Inn, 2017 Pride grand marshal, to a cheering crowd. "Our immigrant brothers and sisters are living in fear.
"We're living in a nightmare where Muslims and refugees are being terrorized," Inn said. "That is not OK. Our LGBTQI brothers and sisters are being terrorized. It's only the 20th of January and we already have two transgender women dead and one lesbian burned alive."
Inn was referring to the deaths of trans women in Massachusetts and Los Angeles, and the burning death of a lesbian in Washington, D.C.
Cecilia Chung, senior strategist at the Transgender Law Center, echoed these themes.
"Our body is not up for negotiation," she said. "We are not here to be objectified and we're not going to be objectified any more.
"When we talk about #MeToo, let's talk about ending the violence that comes with it," Chung said. "Otherwise, we're doing a half-assed job."
However, most of the other speakers stayed in line with the national theme of the march of increasing voter turnout and pitched a mantra that all these problems (and that of Donald Trump occupying the White House) could be solved if only everyone just went out and voted.
Looking at the (mostly white) crowd I couldn't forget the fact that in 2016 the problem wasn't that white women didn't vote, it's that most of them (on a national basis anyway) decided to vote for a fascist who believed grabbing other women by the genitals was appropriate behavior. We had the same problem in Alabama last December, where 52 percent of college-educated white women (and 73 percent of white women without college degrees) voted for Roy Moore (despite his reported affair with a minor and a legion of other sins) according to exit polls. Until and unless enough white women are willing to stop voting for fascists, mobilizing ever-greater numbers of them to go to the polls is not likely to be a net positive.
And then there are the hats. For a year, multiple trans activists have engaged in a national conversation with Women's March participants over how polarizing and exclusionary a hat which literally reduces a woman to her genitals is, especially for women who have historically been excluded from women's spaces because their genitals didn't fit that mold. How depressing, therefore, to see a pink sea of the damn things last Saturday in even greater numbers than were present at the Oakland Women's March last year.
I get that the Women's March fills a need for many people because it seems accessible and safe in the way other actions do not. There's undoubtedly a value to this, especially if it gets those attendees to show up at other actions. However, that doesn't seem to be happening. Much like what Pride has evolved into, the Women's March is in danger of becoming the one time a year many of these folks come out - and as with Pride, neither community nor a revolution can be built in only one day a year.
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