Rebecca Gilson takes a look at the astronomical scale of Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police, arguing that now is the time to make bold, radical demands—not compromise.
The last two weeks have seen an uprising against police brutality, the extent of which was previously unfathomable. The spark that ignited the protests was the brutal murder of Geroge Floyd by Minneapolis police. The fuel was the rage of Black Americans, that has been building for over 450 years of oppression at the hands of the US state. From large cities to small towns, organic, spontaneous, multi-racial, and militant protests are growing. Demands to defund the police now no longer seem fringe, as protesters everywhere embrace a radical agenda.
Protestors must not have their demands corrupted or co-opted into liberal “Get out of the vote” campaigns or Campaign Zero’s #8cantwait. A strong response to the irresponsible and dangerous reforms has appeared in the #8toAbolition demands, written by a group of activists for police and prison abolition.
Why would protesters compromise now? Already, our actions have resulted in wins, which have previously been debated and delayed for years, or which were simply dismissed as impractical. Protests in Minneapolis forced the firing of the four police officers who murdered Geroge Floyd, saw them arrested and charged, and pressured the city council to commit to disbanding the Minneapolis police. The case concerning the murder of Breonna Taylor was re-opened. Many municipalities have finally banned the use of the carotid restraint, and the Portland, Oregon school superintendent discontinued the use of police officers in schools. The list of this movement’s achievements goes on and on.
These successes were not won through voting or calling elected officials, or from any “acceptable” form of working within the system. They were won by the power of normal, ordinary people coming together and shouting with a unified force: we demand more. They were won by continued disruption and riot (which Martin Luther King labeled “the language of the unheard”) around the country, with the support of millions. They were won with the support and solidarity of ordinary workers who refused to transport police to protests, or to drive arrested protestors to jails.
Systemic racism in this country, of course, goes far beyond the police. Before the George Floyd murder, we saw an impressive outbreak of rank-and-file workplace activity around coronavirus safety, largely among Black and immigrant workers who are systematically pushed into underpaid and unsafe conditions, and substantially over-represented in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
We now know the collective power of standing in solidarity with one another. We should use that power to expand our demands to address other injustices that Black people, people of color, and the working class and poor still suffer: Medicare for all, massive investment into public schools, public housing, the release of immigrants and incarcerated people to protect them against COVID-19, and more.
Demonstrations around the world have been a source of inspiration and hope, as we’ve watched COVID-19 devastate our communities and lives. The solidarity of hundreds of thousands of people demanding justice shows that there is a strong desire to change the system. However, building a mass movement that can win transformative changes will require action beyond spontaneous protesting in the streets. It requires building strong lines of trust and solidarity between communities, activists, and organizers. We should channel the movement’s spontaneity and grassroots participation to our advantage and work democratically to develop co-ordinated national demands and actions. This kind of organizing, in combination with the economic power of workplace strikes, will bring the system to heel.
So let this be a call to action, for all those who think another world is possible. We must grow and expand this movement, we must discuss and debate, and we must build solidarity between all who are oppressed. When we fight together, we win!