Lights for Liberty – Raleigh, NC and Washington, DC

On Friday, July 12, thousands of people participated in over 750 events around the country (and around the world) to protest the racist, inhumane, and fascistic US border regime, specifically the policies of the Trump administration. Two such events, in Raleigh, NC and Washington, DC were attended by Struggle for a New World writers.

Raleigh, NC

One of over 20 events statewide, the Raleigh Lights for Liberty protest was organized by the Carolina Peace Center, and held across from the state legislative building. Attended by around 200 people, the protest consisted of a moment of silence, a candlelight vigil (many candles were repeatedly snuffed out by the wind), the reading of the names of those who have died, and several speeches and chants.

D_T95DfWkAIC0fHphoto taken by Spectrum News RDU

Speeches were made by protest organizer Faisal Khan, head of the Carolina Peace Center, as well as Reverend Edgar Millan, a local pastor and chair of the Hispanic/Latino Committee of the North Carolina Council of the United Methodist Church. Besides these speeches, a middle school age son of immigrants, a local immigration lawyer, a local pediatrician, a local psychiatrist, and an 18- year-old member of local synagogue Temple Beth Or spoke. Each speaker spoke from their particular backgrounds, with the middle schooler speaking of his fears for the future and how he dreamed of a world where families like his aren’t used as political bargaining chips, and the paediatrician reading part of the report made by a doctor who visited the camps and reaffirming that these camps are state-sanctioned child abuse.

Every speaker diagnosed a common problem and prescribed a common cure. The problem is the racist policies of the Trump administration and the Republican Party, and the cure is calling your congressperson and voting for the Democrats. Mr. Khan ended his concluding speech by encouraging the crowd to vote in November, and said that next year things would be different. The official message was that we must “Make America Humane Again,” as was written on a sign propped up in front of the microphone. Those who lead the protests are unwilling and unable to articulate the fact that America has never been humane, that what is happening at the border is the product of the system and its twin parties, and that voting blue will not solve this. The speakers urged us not to let the situation be normalized. But in 2021, with a Democratic president, the odds are good that many protesters will return to their normality while the border regime grinds on under more acceptable liberal leadership.

Washington, DC

Hundreds of people attended the rally in front of the White House in Washington, DC, which was sponsored by a variety of immigrant rights organizations, LGBT organizations, and faith-based organizations. An even wider array of activist groups and organizations were in attendance. The speakers included immigrant activists from a variety of countries targeted by US policy, faith leaders, a representative of the American Federation of Teachers, and a lawyer who had worked to expose the conditions in the camps.

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All of the speakers called on the crowd to take further action, to oppose all manifestations of racism and xenophobia, and to refuse to become complacent. Many discussed the violence they had personally experienced at the hands of the U.S. immigration system, both as they crossed the border and after. Others discussed how they, as citizens, had acted in solidarity with more vulnerable communities.

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There were two speakers whose presence was surprising. A former White House staffer spoke, discussing her own family’s experience coming to the United States as refugees from Sri Lanka. She contrasting the Trump administration negatively with the Obama administration, under which she had worked, and led the crowd in a chant of “USA” that was picked up with enthusiasm.

Congresswoman Nora Torres, who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala as a child, also spoke, directing anger against Trump and calling on the crowd in both English and Spanish to continue to organize. Torres had voted in late June to appropriate $5.4 billion in so-called “emergency funding” for the border, which she and other supporters claimed would only be used for humanitarian purposes. Since that vote, ICE has opened three new detention centers, and jailed migrants remain in the same horrific conditions.

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Conclusion

A recurring theme, common in protest signs and echoed even by the speakers who decried the role of US imperialism in Latin America and systemic white supremacy in this crisis, was that the current situation at the border is some kind of deviation from supposed “American ideals”.

On the one hand, this is positive in so far as it shows that the furious opposition to the very existence of these camps is a popular sentiment extending far into the liberal center of US politics. The large crowds responded with resounding support to calls for continued organizing against them. However, efforts towards such organizing will be weakened and ultimately fall short of any effective change if they cannot emphasize that this crisis is fundamentally the result of the state’s own “American ideals”.

If such large numbers of people are willing to stand publicly against the camps, it should be made clear to them that the Democratic Party is as responsible for what has happened there as the Republican Party, and that a true response must go beyond stating opposition to a particular Trump administration policy, which could easily be continued into a Democratic administration, as US imperialism’s “War on Terror” was from the Bush to the Obama era.

The calls for more action and organizing are absolutely correct and must be embraced and carried forward in practice. We must continue to stand in solidarity with migrants and all oppressed peoples, shoulder to shoulder in a popular front against rising fascism. But our message must be clear: the problem is systemic, and so too must be the solutions.

Close the camps, free them all!

#FreeRonnieLong

On March 6th, 2019 a group of students and faculty from Winston-Salem State University, a local HBCU, as well as pastors and other community activists (including a writer from Struggle for a New World), traveled an hour and a half to the state capitol to protest the continued incarceration of Ronnie Long by the state of North Carolina. The recently elected Attorney General is the son of a longtime civil rights lawyer, and many people had hoped his election would lead to a long-overdue reevaluation of the Ronnie Long case. However, in a case coming up later this month, the state will argue against the introduction of new evidence that the defense believes will definitively prove his innocence.

In 1976, then 21-year-old Ronnie Long, an Afro-American man, was arrested and charged with raping the wealthy white widow of an executive at Cannon Mills, a textile company that had bought an old plantation to build its plant into what was still effectively a company town. The prosecution’s evidence was his identification by the victim based solely on a leather jacket, a footprint that “could” have matched his shoes and the testimony of the lead detective (who was later found to have lied under oath). The defense presented numerous alibis for his activities the night of the crime and pointed out inconsistencies in the scant physical evidence the prosecution provided. An all-white jury, four of whom either worked for Cannon Mills or had a spouse who did, deliberated for approximately half an hour and delivered a guilty verdict to a racially segregated courtroom, which nearly sparked a riot. Ronnie Long has spent the 43 years since in prison, maintaining his innocence, and after decades of legal effort and periods of street protests on his behalf, his lawyers have forced the state to slowly release forensic evidence that had been hidden from the defense during the initial trial. This new evidence, collected by the SBI, shows there were no DNA matches, no hair matches, no fingerprints – in a word, no physical evidence implicating Ronnie Long.

The largely Afro-American group of protesters gathered outside the NC Department of Justice, but before the protest could begin officials from the Attorney General’s office invited the group inside. Several people from our group spoke, older faculty members as well as younger student organizers, about the egregious miscarriages of justice involved in Ronnie Long’s 43-year incarceration. Then the state officials responded, with the empty platitudes typical of officialdom about how “conflicted” they felt that they were “forced” to argue in court for his continued incarceration. There were tense moments when the students interrupted, or Ronnie’s wife Ashleigh Long snapped back at their evasions, and several of the older protesters tried to calm them down. Several students spoke again to express their displeasure that the so-called Department of Justice felt it had no choice, and to emphasize that they did have a choice. Then the officials spoke again, trying to placate the protesters’ objections without offering any concrete concessions. One white official asked us to “remember who makes these laws,” pointing off into the distance to reference the NC General Assembly a few blocks down the road, and many in the room voiced agreement. The meeting concluded with one of the older faculty emphasizing that, while the meeting inside was appreciated, we still fully intended to hold our rally out in the cold and make our voices heard in the streets.

We filtered outside and stood on the steps and did a few chants. The idea of marching to the State Legislative Building had taken hold in several of the lead organizers, and when proposed to the group was met with enthusiasm. We marched on the sidewalk the couple of blocks to the NC General Assembly, where we were quickly but discreetly surrounded by capitol police. Two of the older faculty stepped into the building while the rest of the protesters stood outside, chanting and holding the space. The police tried to make us leave, but when we pushed them for clarification admitted that we were allowed to protest so long as we “didn’t block the entrance,” a rule they proceeded to enforce more or less at whim. The typical chant of “No Justice, No Peace” evolved into “No Justice, No Vote,” until the representatives from our district emerged to speak to the crowd.

Our district’s representative and senator both spoke briefly, saying little and promising less. When pushed by the students on whether they were willing to use their influence to help the case they both hesitated to make concrete statements. The older activists spoke out to try to reassure the younger generation that these politicians were “on our side,” which received a cool reception. Many in the crowd used the opportunity of the circle to pass out flyers to capitol visitors, and then decided to march back to where we had started. We marched back down the sidewalk and reassembled on the steps of the Department of Justice to close out the rally, remind people of the appeal hearing on the 20th, and pile back into the vans to head home.

Though the case against the state’s unjust conviction has been fought for far longer than most of these students have been alive, they nonetheless saw their own possible futures – and for many, their own family members’ present – in Ronnie Long’s incarceration. Though older activists maintain leadership roles and try to smooth over their harsh words as they deem expedient, the young Afro-American students were by and large uninterested in listening to well-dressed officials and politicians in positions of power wring their hands about how powerless they were. The students of WSSU want justice. They have been organizing for justice, and they will continue to do so. With luck they will reach out to other HBCUs in the state to join the rally for Ronnie Long’s appeal hearing. It will take much more than luck, however, to reach the white activist community. Despite a number of predominantly white socialist groups in both cities, the author was one of only four white activists in attendance. A weekday event at noon will limit the ability of many to attend, especially non-students, but this single observation is very much symptomatic of a trend. Socialist organizations that wish to expand their membership beyond the “organic” growth that reproduces the South’s continued de facto segregation must look to the struggles already being fought in Afro-American communities and find ways to join them without overtaking them and colonizing the Afro-American freedom struggle.

More information about Ronnie Long’s struggle can be found here, including an email to contact the campaign as well as the petition for his release. You can write to Ronnie Long to express solidarity at:

Ronnie Long
0247905
PO Box 460
Badin, NC 28009

You can also write to the NC Attorney General’s Office to demand they cease prosecuting an innocent man and release him as soon as possible at:

Attorney General’s Office                                                                                                              9001 Mail Service Center                                                                                                        Raleigh, NC 27699-9001

Against Bolsonaro, Against Trump

On January 24th, 2019, representatives of the Brazilian Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) joined the DSA at the Verso Books loft in New York City for an event titled “Against Bolsonaro, Against Trump.” One of Struggle for a New World’s writers was in the audience and wrote this report.
One DSA representative, the New York State Senator Julia Salazar, spoke first. The audience could not help but be struck by the shift in tone between the initial speech by Salazar and the women of the PSOL. Salazar spoke in relatively simple terms about how she represented people rather than profits, but defended the Democratic Party and even the Republicans as being “tolerant” of her because of the popularity of her positions. Scarcely a word was uttered about the dangerous direction the imperialist United States is heading as indicated (but by no means caused by) Trump. Indeed, all serious analysis of Trump was left to the analogies drawn by the Brazilians, displaying once again the backwardness of the more popular and politically capable elements of the US left relative to their equivalents in other countries.
Fernanda Melchionna spoke first and with the most explicit internationalist focus. Like Sâmia Bomfim, who spoke after her, she judged the Trump regime to be the result of failures of the socialist left to respond to the crisis and pose an alternative to the masses. Further, Melchionna emphasized that Clinton’s victory over Sanders likely strengthened Trump’s hand. Underlining that the struggle against capital in all its forms was international, so too must the movement against it be, she urged the US audience to draw a lesson from the rise of fascism in Brazil. Unfortunately, beyond insisting on a democratic and socialist politics distinct from the deal-making with which she characterized the PT’s pre-coup governance, she did not outline any meaningful strategy for how the PSOL would replace the PT as the leading left force in the eyes of the masses themselves, or what strategies outside of protesting fascism and running for office could actually be employed.
Sâmia Bomfim, who followed Melchionna, moved the discussion more towards the specifics of Brazilian life under Bolsonaro. Emphasizing, as did Melchionna, that corruption is endemic in Brazil even preceding PT rule, but that the PT weakened the stance of the socialist left by engaging in compromises with corrupt businesses and religious reactionaries who today work hand in glove with the Bolsonaro regime. In a striking note for the US audience, Bomfim condemned Bolsonaro’s push for gun control, stating that this would not lessen violence, since it would leave guns in the hands of the (heavily militarized) police and criminals. Beyond a Brazilian particularity, Bomfim emphasized that gun control had been shown, in its examples from other countries, to not work for the stated goal of decreasing gun violence.
Additionally, and recalling Melchionna’s argument that the Trump campaign had succeeded because of the failure of the Sanders campaign, Bomfim dwelled for some time on the point that those who voted for Bolsonaro, like those who voted for Trump, were likely overwhelmingly not any richer or more privileged for their candidate’s victory. Most of them voted for a fascist candidate out of desperation with the current state of the capitalist system in their lived experience, and are shocked to find that despite his anti-system rhetoric, Bolsonaro serves the same system in Brazil, with all its blood and corruption.
A political history was also invoked by Bomfim, as a cause for the descent of Brazil back into fascism. Bomfim emphasized that Brazil’s history includes slavery and military dictatorship, neither of which really reached a definite end, and thus were not actually overcome. The process of reemergence of the ugliest, unfinished business of Brazil’s history, Bomfim cautioned, could be seen in many other countries as well.
Finally Talíria Petrone, an Afro-Brazilian activist, took the microphone. Her impassioned speech, while seemingly the most particularly Brazilian at all, should resonate with US readers. Repeating that Brazil was the last country in the region to formally outlaw slavery, and that the relations of slavery inherited from Portuguese colonialism had not been overcome, she repeatedly called the audience’s attention to the fact that of the famous gun violence which wracks Brazil, of the murders and rapes of women and LGBT people which are the ugly reality Brazilians know from their news, the overwhelming majority take place in the favelas and other areas dominated by Afro-Brazilians. Of the Brazilian working class, it is the clear descendants of slaves who are still treated as slaves and subjected to slavery-esque exploitation and the violence that slaves were subjected to.
Petrone made the point that the majority of the Brazilian working class and people are women, and are black, and thus to stand up for black people and women is to stand up for the majority. The Afro-Brazilian poor and their neighborhoods are disproportionately the target of the violence of the militias and militarized police which Bolsonaro praises. The war on the impoverished and oppressed does not, however, merely target the urban majority, but also the Indigenous and their previously semi-protected land. Emphasizing that capitalism’s obsession with production for the profit motive meant the squandering of resources which are in a very real sense finite, Petrone warned that in addition to attacking these communities which Bolsonaro warns are not “integrated” into Brazilian society, the attack on Indigenous land for profits also threatens to make life unlivable for all Brazilians through environmental destruction, just as capitalist development on a global scale threatens the future of the planet.
Like all the speakers, Petrone emphasized the relative continuity between the years of military dictatorship and the current Bolsonaro regime. Their criticisms of the PT aside, they acknowledged that there was a period of relative democracy, but that the democracy did not really reach into the favelas, hence the ease of restoring police terror on the descendants of slaves, who never reaped the benefits of even the most “democratic” and “modern” periods of Brazil’s modernization. In a country where femicide is the fifth highest in the world, Petrone said, the victims overwhelmingly came from black neighborhoods and are coded as black. To them, the experience has been passing more or less directly from Portuguese colonialism under the banner of the Roman Catholic Church, to a neo-colonial existence sponsored by US imperialism, which imports arch-reactionary neo-pentacostal ideology to justify the violent “correction” of homosexuals (including the rape of lesbians), the murder of trans people, and the subjugation of women.
Surprisingly, given the current coup attempt in Venezuela, backed by Brazilian president Bolsonaro and US imperialism (including both the Democratic and Republican parties), it took a question during the question and answer period to even bring up what is assumed to have been on everyone’s mind: how did Brazil’s socialist left appraise events in Venezuela? Both Petrone and Melchionna answered the question, but Melchionna did so with a more specific appraisal of the PSUV and Venezuela: it was their view that Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution was right and correct under Chavez, but had “degenerated” under Maduro. Detail was not offered as to the source and form of this “degeneration”, but in spite of this, the PSOL representatives made clear that they completely opposed imperialist intervention to install yet another fascist leader in the Americas.
Other than their own word, quite left out of the discussion was the question of how, if they were to achieve more electoral support, the PSOL would avoid the compromises the PT made which are blamed for the latter’s downfall. However, the event was all in all a sober reminder of the pressing and universal need to organize all poor and oppressed against their marginalization, unite their struggles, and bring down forces of capital for whom fascism is an acceptable alternative to scaling back its rapacious development.

#FreeMaxZirngast!

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On December 12th, 2018, some of Struggle for a New World’s writers attended a solidarity event in New York City for Max Zirngast. Max Zirngast is an Austrian journalist, political scientist, and socialist who has been studying and organizing in Turkey for several years. While there, he has been heavily involved in participating in and reporting on the struggle of the peoples of Turkey for democracy and human rights. At the event were two speakers from Turkey, as well as a US speaker, all of whom knew Max Zirngast personally from his work on and in Turkey, and from his outreach to socialists in other countries. In their respective talks, a consistent thread emerged: the fact that Max’s cases is not about an individual socialist, but about the much broader trends they represent.

Guney Isikara, a PhD in Economics at the New School, spoke at length about the process of Max Zirngast being taken into custody by anti-terror police and imprisoned in a maximum security prison, without even a shred of evidence implying anything that might reasonably be considered “terrorist activity” being produced.

Instead, this academic and journalist working on Turkish politics was questioned at length on why he owned so many books on Turkish politics. Finally, he was accused of membership in the TKP/KIVILCIM, an organization which a 2012 Turkish court case determined did not even exist. The real reason for his arrest was Max Zirngast’s personal political activism, entirely of a legal and peaceful nature, and his writings of political analysis, written together with Guney Isikara, for Jacobin Magazine.

Isikara emphasized that his Jacobin co-writer’s case was receiving more international solidarity and attention because of Zirngast’s national origins, but that the arbitrariness and clear political motivations behind the imprisonment were the same as with the many other political prisoners in Turkey, from the HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, to other journalists such as Adil Demirci.

The next two speakers, from the CUNY Graduate Center, Yasemin Yilmaz and Daniel Barry, spoke about the broader historical context in Turkey and the world. Yasemin Yilmaz emphasized that while foreign observers might consider that a crisis in democratic legitimacy had emerged during the post-Gezi crackdowns in Turkey, that the regime of censorship and repression under Erdogan had existed from the first days of his attempts to consolidate power, and indeed had roots stretching back decades through the many coups in Turkish history. Daniel Barry emphasized the importance of international solidarity due to the interconnectedness of the ruling classes and their victims in the capitalist world system. He noted that while an Austrian political prisoner in a Turkish prison might seem a foreign cause to many US readers, that current trends in the US and around the world mean that anyone who takes a similar principled stance against the system could one day soon be a victim of such repression, and the importance of unity and solidarity against this.

Struggle for a New World’s writers were glad to attend this event and learn more about Max Zirngast’s case, and to stand in solidarity with a socialist political prisoner. We demand his immediate release from his imprisonment by the Turkish state, and seek contact and collaboration with others who are inspired by his cause.

We are inspired by solidarity between writers, academics, and journalists, who speak out for truth against the ideological apparatus of the ruling classes. Max Zirngast is a shining example of this revolutionary stance that intellectuals can take, and an internationalist spirit that we were glad to see amplified in New York City, thousands of miles away. Let us all be a voice for Max Zirngast, and expose the bogus charges against him as nothing more than punishment for honest political activity as a journalist and a socialist.

As Max Zirngast stated simply and defiantly in court: “I am a socialist, I defend universal values.” His commitment to the defense of these universal values and his work as a journalist reporting on the realities that the Turkish state wants to keep concealed from the outside world are the clear reason for his imprisonment. Let us not abandon such heroes, but bravely take up their cause and expose those same realities that all ruling classes want concealed. We must see Max Zirngast free, and we call on our readers to join the campaign to support him, as his friends and the New York City Democratic Socialists of America did. The Free Max Zirngast Solidaritätskampagne website contains more information on his case and what you can do to support him, and we encourage everyone to be in touch with them today.

#FreeMaxZirngast! Free all political prisoners!

– Struggle for a New World editorial collective