The letter from the Old New Left that was published in the Nation has all the wrong content and tone of the elders lecturing young activists. The statement is signed by many comrades who I love and respect, but it is finally too pompous and pretentious, too in-bed with the Democratic Party establishment, too limited to electoral politics as the only or the primary path to change. Of course it is urgent that Trump be defeated, and I support all principled work in that regard. But our job is movement-building for a radical world that is possible: to strengthen, expand and link the social struggles for well-paid, unionized and meaningful work, the movement for Black Lives and Undocumented and Unafraid, universal health care, an end to the massive US prison complex, borders that recognize the rights and dignity of refugees, queer rights, and shifting the massive US military budget to revitalized work in robust education, dignified housing, the green new deal, and infrastructure. We cherish creative theatre, film, music, humor, and an expansive view of demanding the impossible.
There was apparently a debate about whether my name could or should appear, endorsing the Old New Left letter. I am not an endorser, and it should stay that way.
April 17, 2020
I was fortunate to be invited to take part in a zoom discussion the other night on “The Black Freedom Movement Then and Now: Organizing Traditions” with veterans of SNCC and lots of younger, mainly black activists. There was lots of talk about lessons learned from the ’60s, including how the Freedom Movement benefited from the election of so many local black elected officials, especially mayors.
But I didn’t hear one mention of Joe Biden.
That’s not to say that these activists and organizers aren’t concerned with the national elections or that Biden’s support base doesn’t include black voters. It does. In fact, if Biden is successful in defeating Trump in November, he will owe his success primarily to a large turnout of African-American voters, especially from the urban centers of battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where Democrats lost the election in 2016.
I mention this only to show the disconnect between the SNCC tradition of organizing, which was community-based, and that of some current left and socialist activists who seem to be totally wrapped up in the debate about whether or not to endorse Biden and the Democrats.
In previous posts and continually on our Hitting Left radio show, I have been clear about my own willingness to support any Democratic nominee running against Trump, including Biden. This despite his record of antipathy towards the left and progressivism in general, his threats to veto any Medicare-for-all legislation if he’s elected, his weak stand on climate change, and his history of support for imperialist wars abroad and mass incarceration here at home.
That’s because, in my view, Trump and Trumpism represent the most reactionary political force in the world today and the most immediate and serious threat to peace and human freedom in the post-WWII era.
Tactically, I’m taking my cues mainly from leading progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders who, to one degree or another, are supporting Biden’s election as a way of defeating Trump and pushing forward our progressive agenda.
AOC, whose team is currently meeting with Biden’s to try and push that agenda forward, points out:
“We have to live in the reality of those choices even if many people would be ‘uncomfortable’ with that. It’s for me personally very important to be in solidarity with the families that I represent in supporting Joe Biden in November.”
Last week, some 60’s SDS members issued a public letter in response to a tweet by the DSA stating that they weren’t endorsing Biden.
The letter was addressed to today’s “New Left.” I’ve been asked by some friends and younger activists why I didn’t sign the letter. (I was the national secretary of SDS in 1968).
In a nutshell, I didn’t sign it because I didn’t like its patronizing tone and I don’t agree with its non-struggle approach towards Biden and the DNC.
I also don’t think the exclusively-white group of signers should have designated themselves as the representative of the ’60s New Left, which often rightfully took leadership and inspiration from SNCC and the Black Freedom Movement. There’s nothing drawn from our own experiences as young radicals in the ’60s that shapes this didactic warning to DSA’ers.
The perennial contradiction between “we” and “me”—a basic human tension with vast social, cultural, and political differences and dimensions—lurched violently toward an exclusive “ME” in our country in 1980 and the “Reagan Revolution” with its racist dog-whistles, its opposition to any concept of collectivity or the “public,” its weaponized individualism, and its anemic, libertarian definition of “freedom.” “Public safety” became “own a gun;” “public education” became a product to be bought at the market place; “public health” was reduced to “take care of yourself.” The word itself—“public”—in some contexts became consciously coded racially: public welfare, public housing, public aid, public transportation. US v. THEM. Saint Ronald Reagan, godhead of the Right and the icon to whom every Republican leader bends a knee and genuflects piously, famously said this at his inauguration: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” That’s the dogma we are suffering now.
“The only means to fight the plague is honesty.”
On the morning of April 7 we were part of an energizing stealth descent on Cook County Jail—clandestine communications and secret app, coordinated disciplined directions about traffic laws and tactics, several pre-cased assembly spots, a message at 10 am telling us where to meet up, 20 cars in a parking lot at 10:30, windows quickly painted by the tag team with slogans (#FreeThemAll, #MassReleaseNow), rolled out following the lead car (10 mph, flashers on) and arrived at CCJ at 11:00. Like a rolling flash mob, we suddenly multiplied and became hundreds of cars from all different points and directions, blasting our horns and circling the Jail for an hour. The cops took awhile to arrive, and 45 minutes after we started they began to disrupt our loops. Ecstasy—energy, determination, solidarity. JAIL SHOULD NOT BE A DEATH SENTENCE! FREE THEM ALL!!