Categories
Social Justice

The Deep Roots of Anti-Asian Violence

| Kent Wong & Stewart Kwoh |

The following article was originally published in AFT Voices.

The outcry against anti-Asian violence triggered by the mass killings in Atlanta on March 16, when six Asian American women lost their lives, has ignited protests throughout the country. As we join together to denounce violence and to create a better future, we must also turn to the past to evaluate the fundamental causes that have resulted in the thousands of documented acts of anti-Asian hatred and violence, in many instances directed at Asian American women and elders. This analysis must include the long history of U.S. anti-Asian animus in the global arena.

Although Asian Americans have been an integral part of the United States since the 1850s, we have consistently been viewed as foreigners. Even Asian Americans like us, with deep, multigenerational roots in this country, are inevitably asked, “Where are you from?” We have lost count of the many times we have been complemented on speaking English without an accent, although English is our first language.

During World War II, 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in U.S. concentration camps. No similar acts were taken against German or Italian Americans, although the United States was also at war with Germany and Italy. Even after returning to their homes and communities, Japanese Americans were subjected to racial hatred and discrimination.

The long, tragic legacy of anti-Asian violence in the United States is directly related to U.S. foreign policy in Asia. During the Vietnam War, Asian people were dehumanized. The brutal massacre of Vietnamese women and children in My Lai, Vietnam, was conducted by U.S. soldiers who viewed the Vietnamese people as less than human. The U.S. military used napalm, Agent Orange, antipersonnel weapons and massive bombings to target and kill millions of civilians, all justified through the lens of white supremacy and anti-communism.

The dehumanization of Asian people has had tragic results for Asian Americans. In 1989, five Vietnamese and Cambodian schoolchildren were shot and killed in a schoolyard in Stockton, Calif., and more than 30 people were wounded, including a teacher. The white gunman expressed hatred toward Asian immigrants and blamed them for taking jobs from native-born Americans.

In the 1980s, Japan was blamed for the demise of the U.S. auto industry. Auto workers gathered in union parking lots to smash Japanese-made automobiles, venting their anger based on the misguided belief that Japan, not U.S. corporations, was responsible for their factories shutting down. In 1982, two unemployed white auto workers in Detroit killed Chinese American Vincent Chin with a baseball bat, mistakenly believing he was Japanese. The two killers were sentenced to probation and a $3,000 fine.

Today, China has emerged on the world stage as the main economic competitor of the United States, but too many see China as the enemy. We are witnessing a new Cold War perpetrated by leaders of both Democratics and Republicans and by U.S. corporations. This new Cold War has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half a million people in the United States have died from COVID-19, more than in any other country.

The former administration refused to accept responsibility for the disgraceful failure to contain the pandemic and instead chose to blame China and Asian people. The president referred to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu” and promoted the lie that Asians were spreading the virus in the United States. This racist messaging had a direct impact on the spike in anti-Asian violence. The organization Stop AAPI Hate has documented nearly 3,800 anti-Asian incidents since the beginning of the pandemic.

The demonization of the people of Asia by the U.S. government and U.S. military has had a direct impact on the rise in anti-Asian violence throughout the country. Today’s crisis is an opportunity for Asian Americans to stand with people of conscience to demand a multi-racial democracy that the United States has never fully embraced. Asian Americans have joined in the massive protests for Black lives. We mobilized at the airport to oppose the Muslim ban and have traveled to the border to protest the separating of families. And Asian Americans are opposing new Jim Crow voting policies in Georgia and other states and defending affirmative action.

It is time to confront the history of white supremacy in this country. The United States has never confronted the legacy of slavery, lynching, mass incarceration and police violence directed against Black people. Racism is at the core of the separation of families and the caging of children at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Muslim ban introduced by the last administration. The current attacks on voting rights are also motivated by white supremacy and intended to disenfranchise people of color. It is time to build a true multiracial democracy that represents the hopes and aspirations of the vast majority of people in this country.

Categories
Analysis Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Watch: Voices for New Democracy Immigration Forum

This weekend, Voices for New Democracy hosted the second forum in our new series of panels focused on pressing issues for today’s left: the future of the labor movement, immigration, economic democracy, and more.

Our latest forum centered on immigration, with presentations from our four panelists on key trends in the immigration landscape: the domestic political context for growing demands for immigration reform, the intersection of our racist criminal legal system with the deportation machine, the international context of neoliberalism in the Global South driving migration in the first place, and the need to link immigrant struggles with other social justice movements to effectively combat the white supremacist movement that threatens both.

Watch the full presentation and learn more about panelists below.

José Z. Calderón:

José Guillermo Zapata Calderón is an Emeritus Professor in Sociology and Chicano Studies at Pitzer College and President of the Latino and Latina Roundtable of the Pomona Valley and San Gabriel Valley.

As an immigrant and the son of immigrant farm workers, he has had a long history of connecting his academic work with immigrant rights organizing, student-based service learning, participatory action research, critical pedagogy, and community-based coalition building.  

After graduating from the University of Colorado, he devoted fourteen years to community organizing efforts, particularly in Northern Colorado. While working on his PhD at UCLA, between 1984 and 1991, he helped organize multi-racial coalitions to defeat an English Only movement in the city of Monterey Park and to elect various local leaders to political offices. More recently, he has connected his academic work with community organizing in California’s Inland Empire region.

Miguel Tinker Salas:

Miguel Tinker Salas is an authority on political and social issues confronting Latin America. He is the author of Venezuela, What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford, 2015); The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela (Duke University Press, 2009) Spanish edition Una herencia que perdura, petróleo, cultura y sociedad en Venezuela, GALAC 2014); co-editor with Steve Ellner of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and the Decline of an Exceptional Democracy, (Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007); co editor with Jan Rus of Mexico 2006-2012: neoliberalism, movimientos sociales y politica electoral, (Miguel Angel Porrua and Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, 2006) and author of Under the Shadow of the Eagles, The Border and the Transformation of Sonora During the Porfiriato, University of California Press 1997; Spanish edition, A la sombra de las águilas, Sonora y la transformación de la frontera durante el Porfiriato, Fondo de Cultura Económica 2010).

His expertise includes: contemporary Latin America, society and politics in Venezuela and Mexico, oil, culture and politics in Venezuela, the drug war in Mexico, Mexican border society, Chicanos/as and Latinos/as in the United States, and Latin American immigration.

Miguel Tinker Salas is currently a Professor of Latin American History and Chicano/a Latino/a Studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Lee Wang:

Lee leads the development of IDP’s strategic vision, working across program areas to ensure that the organization advances its goals and mission. Previously, she was the founding Director of the New York Immigrant Freedom Fund, a program at the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund that fights to free immigrants from detention. She started her legal career at IDP as a Skadden Fellow and has played a key role in building the organization’s ICE Out of Courts campaign. Lee is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and Yale College. In a previous life, she was a muckraking journalist and documentary filmmaker.

Leticia Bustamante:

Leticia Bustamante is a Project Coordinator for the Dream Resource Center focused on the annual Dream Summer program. Leticia graduated from UCLA in 2017 with a major in Political Science and minor in Labor Studies. Leticia is an alumni of the Dream Summer program herself, she formed part of the Labor Cohort for the class of 2016 and interned with the California Nurses Association. As a student at UCLA, she participated in the UCLA Center for American Politics and Public Policy (CAPPP) program in Washington, DC. She interned at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee where she investigated the economic effects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Categories
Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Organizing

Capitol Assault, Shay’s Rebellion and the Footballs of Mass Consciousness

| Steve Clark |

After 57 percent of white voters went for Trump in November and, then, a section of them stormed the Capitol this week, progressive people are asking, “What is the deal with white Americans?”

It’s a good question. Obviously, Trump made it ok to stand up for white supremacy, and he made conspiracy theory into a fine art. And he turned out his voters. But, it would be unfair and counterproductive to label them all “deplorable.” How should we assess the state of White America?

A crucial first step is to recognize that American society — along with the section that voted for Trump — is the on-going interplay of its three adult generations (Boomers, GenXers and Millennials), each of which has a unique character.

Only among the oldest generation, age 65+ (the Boomers), did Trump win a majority of votes (52%). Boomers are an idealistic generation, and, whatever their individual politics — left, right or center — each Boomer absolutely believes he or she knows best…and facing, now (late in life), an unsatisfactory end to their lifelong social and political endeavors, Boomers are desperately striving, one last time, to put their ideals into action. This is true of left and right Boomers as well as the middle. While rightwing Boomers are the core, both of Trump’s cabinet and his fan base, far fewer GenXers (45%) and Millennials (35%!) cast votes for him.

A generational conflict of this nature always occurs late in America’s Fourth Turnings, those every-80-year intervals when the evolving generational constellation fosters a mood of social crisis and transformation. Yet, precisely because this conflict emerges in every cycle but to little consequence, we can alleviate fears of it getting out of hand this time around.

Shay’s Rebellion

Take the case of Shay’s Rebellion, during the crisis era of the American Revolution. The colonies had fought a long war and won independence from England in 1783, completing a crucial first step in the Revolution. But the second step, after military victory, was the actual construction of a functional self-government. Initially, the former colonies (led by the era’s elder, idealistic, Awakener generation) set up government under the Articles of Confederation, a structure that left the central government weak (relative to the various states) but appealed to the anti-authoritarian streak that persisted (and still persists) in America’s idealistic psyche. But, without an effective system of finance, the new national government could not discharge its obligations to the younger citizen soldiers who had left home and family to join General Washington in defeating the British. Meanwhile, a postwar debt crisis led state governments to increase taxes on their citizens. Pinched and indignant, a few thousand former soldiers in Massachusetts led by Daniel Shays rebelled and marched on the local armory. State militia provided a strong defense; Shays and others escaped to Vermont but were tried in absentia. Two men in custody were hanged, but, eventually, the rest (including Shays) were pardoned, yet with pariah status. Shays died a lonely alcoholic.

A few years later, in 1791, soon after the Constitution was adopted and Washington became the first President, the Whiskey Rebellion kicked off in western Pennsylvania when the new government imposed the nation’s first federal tax (a whiskey tax). At the time, a host of Revolutionary War veterans had settled on this western frontier, claiming lands granted them as compensation for their wartime service. Led by former Major James McFarland, hundreds of veterans and their followers joined the rebellion, only to be squashed by federal troops sent by Washington. In the final confrontation, McFarland, himself, was killed.

My point, here, is that a large section (possibly, a majority) of the older generations — after defying existing government and demanding its capitulation in the early years of Fourth Turnings — ends up resisting new authority in midstream, even resorting to violence in vain efforts to impede this turnover of history.

We see the same thing, today, in the majority of struggling Boomers who continue to back Trump out of their own need of help and the persistent fear (true, in fact, and nurtured by Trump) that the government is in cahoots with the nation’s elite to cheat them of their rightful due. Most of these abide Trump’s racism because — in the lack of enough government spending to actually ensure their personal security — they feel pitted against minorities in a contest for survival. As one (white) Boomer who has spent most of his life in rebellion against our government’s failures (though enjoying, even in that, the benefits of white and male privilege), I understand anti-authoritarian (anti-government) sentiment, but progressive GenXers and Millennials — for good reason at this late date in our nation’s crisis — are intolerant of such dangerous thinking and destructive antics. If history is a guide, after this week’s showdown at the Capitol, today’s Trumpers will be singled out for the same kind of absolute suppression endured by Shays and McFarland.

Owing to the ongoing generational gestalt, today’s white rightwing oldsters have little chance of enlarging the cultural foothold they gained (over the last four years) through Trump’s articulation of their gripes. They will remain dangerous and sometimes destructive, but the majority of their younger followers will move to the center and left as the government implements programs of genuine social investment while continuing to beat down and lock up elder rightwing leaders.

WVO’s Consciousness Football

The Workers Viewpoint Organization’s consciousness football is another way to evaluate the white voter in America. WVO’s analogy dates to the late 1970s when the young, Boomer-dominated New Left was trying to figure out how to build a revolutionary party. It was obvious that “advanced workers” had to be the target of our outreach and recruitment, but their interconnections and roles relative to the total body of Americans — the masses — was little understood. In contrast to WVO, most leftists viewed the masses (and mass consciousness) as a giant pyramid, with the most advanced at the top and widening strata of less politically astute workers as one moved from the advanced to the middle and, finally, to the backward at the bottom.

WVO attacked the pyramid as belittlement of the masses, their consciousness, and their necessary role in social transformation. Noting Chairman Mao’s observation that “the masses are the makers of history” (not the advanced workers or the party, itself), WVO asserted that, far from a pyramid, the consciousness of the masses is shaped like a football.

As in the pyramid, the most advanced workers are a relatively small number, but, unlike in the pyramid, so are the relatively backward workers. The vast majority are the fat sections of the football between the two ends. In normal times, the ends are small in number and of little practical consequence, dominated by the mainstream in the middle. But, in times of crisis, the football elongates. The center is squeezed, and more people are pushed toward both ends. The backward and the advanced grow in number and activity, becoming more crucial in the political dynamics of the middle. Yet, the middle remains the largest section, and, ultimately, the way it moves determines the course of history. While its passive normalcy anchors the nation’s politics “in the middle” most of the time, in Fourth Turnings, it shifts left and right, until it finally draws a verdict on its true leaders and locks itself, to one end of the football or the other, for the duration of the turn.

Early in this Fourth Turning, after 9/11, neoconservative Boomers (Bush et al) got their shot at power, but their proposed resolution — a democratic renaissance in Iraq after a US invasion — proved not only imaginary but disastrous, and our nation stumbled along with centrist, neoliberal leadership (Obama) in Bush’s wake. Eight years into that, with their personal situations devolving, American voters, in desperation, took a deal with the devil (Trump) that promptly descended into chaos.

Minds Clear Now

However, with George Floyd’s murder on May 25 — and the nationwide rebellion against police violence that ensued — the middle sections of the American people largely cleared their minds. Aroused in the midst of a pandemic by one too many video-taped police killing of unarmed black men, America’s middle shifted its support to Black Lives Matter, and when Trump tried to mobilize the US military behind his call for law and order, the generals stood with the people and rebuked him. That was coup attempt number 1. Last week, desperate in his final weeks, he tried it again, also in utter failure.

The racist diehards who enjoyed a resurgence under Trump will now crawl back — or be beat back — into their old confines, but the beat-down will succeed only if the majority of white Trump voters are given the opportunity to join the rest of the nation in finding good, secure jobs in post-pandemic, post-industrial society. For this, the Biden Administration must step boldly forward with programs like the Green New Deal and a federal Job Guarantee. If white Trump voters see and enjoy real opportunity in their own lives, they will embrace intersectional collaboration for the greater good. That is the nature of the middle forces, whatever their race, ethnicity or gender, whatever the time in history.

Categories
Economic Justice Social Justice

What The Left Can Learn From the Story of the CWP

| Harrison Neuhaus |

Racist violence with minimal intervention from a sympathetic police force is a recurring theme throughout American history. The Left has long recognized affinity between the state and white supremacy as a key obstacle to social liberation. But as today’s Left grapples with a rising far-right and historic crises of legitimacy and reproduction, it’s especially critical that we learn from the lessons of our antecedents. Particularly in this moment of growing multiracial movements and a renewed labor militancy, and as we see echoes of this dark history in events like the now-infamous Charlottesville Unite The Right Rally and the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, it is especially important to re-evaluate the legacy of the often overlooked Communist Workers Party (CWP). 

In 1979, the CWP organized an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, NC, which was ambushed by white supremacists and neo-Nazis under the watch of a sympathetic police. Ku Klux Klan members and members of the American Nazi Party drove up to the peaceful picket, promptly unloaded several rifles from their cars, and massacred 5 demonstrators. The attack was led by an FBI/police informant, as well as an undercover ATF agent, yet police presence was minimal and attending officers did not intervene. The attackers escaped easily. 

This pattern has gone largely unchanged in the intervening years. Police have been caught coordinating with Proud Boys, posing with the Capitol Hill rioters, parroting far-right lies and turning a blind eye to their preparations for violence — all while forcefully dispersing even the most moderate protests by the left against police brutality. So it comes as no surprise that far-right organizations have long focused on infiltrating law enforcement roles, and that police are three times more likely to use violence against left-wing protestors, despite the consensus that far-right violence poses by far the greatest threat to the public

Yet what is especially critical about the CWP story is not the massacre itself, but rather what preceded it — and what made it such a target in the first place. The CWP had established a strong presence for several years in Greensboro, focusing on organizing predominantly Black textile workers throughout the area. Greensboro had long been a major textile producer, home to major national mills like the Cone Mills White Oak plant. Immersing themselves in the union, the CWP quickly developed a strong multiracial cadre that was successfully pushing strong organization and militancy among the workers. 

In many ways, their approach prefigured the way today’s nascent Left is developing: from the intersectional focus on multiracial solidarity to the emphasis on developing existing working class institutions. And this is precisely what made them a threat to local power structures. What ultimately unfolded was a converging of interests between the state, the local mill owners, and white supremacist institutions that have long used terror to maintain a system of racial capitalism — these forces could not avoid responding in some way to the diverse working class strength that the CWP was building among a particularly strategic set of workers who could bring the backbone of the local economy to a standstill. 

What today’s Left must recognize is that this model of multiracial rank-and-file organizing works, that it represents a genuine possibility for social liberation, and that therefore it will inevitably come into conflict with the state or its right-wing proxies. And as surveillance regimes only expand and become more sophisticated, it is especially critical that we remain vigilant about our security as we organize. Fortunately, many are taking these imperatives seriously. Some are even going further, which is why we are seeing the growth of organizations like the Socialist Rifle Association, which aim to coordinate community self-defense efforts. 

Ultimately, if the CWP’s history teaches us anything, it is that we must remain committed to organizing multiracial coalitions, informed by our diversity, while centering a common program that speaks directly to shared needs. The severity of the efforts to prevent this kind of organizing are evidence of its efficacy. But we must remember that this makes us the target of a number of powerful and loosely-aligned antagonists. Any meaningful challenge to hegemony will generate a response. If the Left is going to build lasting change, we need to be prepared for these obstacles.