Politics can’t be left in the hands of the politicians
Voting rights activists protest at the Capitol in Washington, Aug. 2, 2021. | Jose Luis Magana / AP

Much depends on the outcome of the debate now raging in Washington on the infrastructure and $3.5 trillion economic and environment legislative packages. One thing is sure: Whatever the result of current negotiations, the discussion would not even have been possible but for the mass anti-racist and ultimately anti-fascist democratic uprisings of 2020.

The country owes a debt of gratitude to the tens of millions of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and their white counterparts who, after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, marched from the streets to the ballot box in November to defeat Trump and his coup-plotting confederates.

Anti-Black along with anti-immigrant racism were at the center of the Trumpian counter-revolt so vividly symbolized by the attempt to hoist the Confederate flag atop the Capitol dome on January 6th. For this reason, what was true in 1865 remains even truer today: Anti-racism remains at the center of resolving the crisis.

But in what does “anti-racism” consist, and will the Biden-Harris administration find the will—along with the material, moral, and political capital—to meet the challenge? Answering this question is at the heart of the current Congressional wrangles between so-called “centrist” and “left”-liberal factions in D.C.

In some respects, the atmosphere remains favorable.

The country owes a debt of gratitude to the tens of millions of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and their white counterparts who, after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, marched from the streets to the ballot box in November to defeat Trump.| Kirby Lee via AP

Today, public sentiment for the freedom movement’s equality goals remains widespread, particularly among communities of color. “When asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, 83% of Black Americans surveyed espoused some level of support, with 58% saying they ‘strongly’ backed the cause. Overall support was slightly lower among Hispanic and Asian respondents—60% and 68%, respectively,” according to reporting by The Hill on a Pew poll.

Support among whites hovers at near half: “47% of white respondents said they either ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ supported the resurgent movement.”

Countrywide, majority approval of measures to address efforts at reining in racist policing apparently failed to convince right-wing opposition, as evidenced by last week’s collapse of Senate negotiations to enact barely minimal reforms. GOP opposition to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, of course, extends to nearly the entire Democratic agenda, including raising the debt ceiling on bills accrued during Trump’s time in office.

Clearly, meaningful measures like Chicago’s recent creation of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability will have to come from the ground up. By combining door-to-door grassroots organizing, street protests, and electoral activism, the Chicago movement led by groups like the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression was able to build a united front on issues with wide public support from unions, community, and religious groups. The lesson of the Chicago anti-police violence movement is that politics cannot be left in the hands of politicians—the people must take hold of and exercise power.

Not surprisingly, consensus on goals remains elusive inside and outside the democratic camp among moderates, liberals, the left, and the sometimes hard-to-define independents. The compromise infrastructure proposal in the Senate, put forward by Mr. Manchin, removed several hundred billions of dollars worth of measures aimed at Black and Latino communities. The Guardian reports: “Measures…to address historic inequities were cut as part of a bipartisan deal backed by the president—among them, a $20 billion initiative to rectify the damage caused decades ago by highway construction in Black and Latino communities was reduced to just $1 billion. The plan also scrapped a $400 billion proposal to improve long-term care for older and disabled Americans. The program would have helped lift wages for care workers, who are predominantly women of color.”

On top of this, efforts to pass voting rights remain stalled. According to reports, the chance of legislation passing was so remote that even Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was reluctant to schedule the bill named for John Lewis for a vote, until being convinced by a massive online lobbying effort. The same fate applies to the all-important PRO Act and Family Act legislation, all of which hinge on changing or eliminating the Senate’s filibuster.

The Biden-Harris administration itself has faced sharp criticism on the voting rights issue. Several speakers at an Aug. 28 Voting Rights march in D.C. questioned the president’s willingness to put muscle behind the John Lewis bill and other initiatives.

Legal setbacks also complicate the picture. Courts ruled against efforts to forgive debt held by Black farmers, and the Supreme Court in August forbade efforts to extend eviction moratoriums after a sit-in on the Capitol steps led by Rep. Cori Bush of St. Louis. A path to citizenship was another casualty, this time due to the Congressional parliamentarian’s ruling to disallow immigration reform in the budget reconciliation process.

Important steps have been taken in other areas, most notably the child tax credit that aims to cut family poverty rates in half. With respect to economic measures, at this stage increasing the minimum wage to $15 would make the single biggest contribution to working-class Black and brown families. Addressing the racist wage differential which has grown steadily since the turn of the century, of course, would be a step toward real equality.

A growing factor is the administration’s civil rights missteps, particularly with regard to the border crisis with Haitian migrant workers in Texas, several hundred of whom were unceremoniously shipped back to Haiti without even a hearing, to say nothing of their brutal treatment at the hands of Border Patrol agents on horseback. Several thousand have now been returned as the Biden administration continues to enforce policies developed by Trump.

These actions recently prompted a response from Rev. Al Sharpton, who recalled to the Washington Post last week that, after winning the election, Biden declared, “Black America, you had my back, I’ll have yours.” Sharpton continued, “Well, we’re being stabbed in the back, Mr. President. We need you to stop the stabbing—from Haiti to Harlem.”

Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, center, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and other activists led a demonstration to advocate for voting rights, in the Hart Senate Office Building, July 15, 2021. Elected leaders are valuable allies, but the movements for progressive change leave the struggle to politicians alone. | J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Public responses to the administration’s important mask mandates have also met with mixed reactions in various quarters. Confidence in Biden’s COVID messaging now stands at just under 50% for the first time. Here, high opposition among GOP cohorts and drops in support among sections of independents are the main factors.

With the midterms just a little over a year away, erosion among other constituencies could prove problematic. Support, for example, among African Americans for the president and vice-president’s job performance, while remaining very strong at 71%, has dropped by five points since the mask mandate for federal workers was implemented. African Americans are disproportionately represented among public workers generally. Some 70% of Black adults have gotten vaccinated so far, the lowest of any group in the country.

While it’s hard at this stage to predict a direct correlation between these factors and possible voter turnout, the 2016 election demonstrated that small drops among people of color and women could prove decisive in determining who controls the House and Senate. Indeed, even in 2020, despite the several million strong popular vote victory, Democrats won the Electoral College by only some 77,000 votes in several swing states.

The broader implications of Biden’s foreign policy, particularly the Cold War tones directed at China and other countries, are also of grave concern, given the spate of anti-Asian violence in 2020. Hate crimes are at their highest levels in years. Yesterday it was China, today Haiti, tomorrow Bolivia, Venezuela, or Cuba, and ever present are Somalia, the Middle East, and/or Russia. And let’s not forget Mexico. Here, the immigration crisis is, in its very essence, a crisis of imperialism and its drive to lower the price of labor.

It’s often forgotten that as much as racial hatred is a willful subjective enterprise, it is also an objective process built into the very structure of the economy itself. Both work in tandem, spinning out ever more viscous and crude forms of hatred, violence, and militarism.

Speaking of militarism, the House last week passed a bipartisan $768 billion defense bill adding $25 billion to the president’s defense budget. The military-industrial-financial complex is an immensely powerful force in and of itself, and it demands to be fed. The Democratic caucus split down the middle on the issue, with half joining with the GOP. Taken as a whole, the increase will be the largest in eight years, outpacing even Trump.

In the face of all of this, most worrisome at this stage is an apparent crisis of inaction with regard to the current bills before Congress. With scores of voter suppression laws before state legislatures across the country, the mass democratic movement did not meet the political moment at the poorly attended but militant Aug. 28 Voting Rights march. The question looms large: Why was the turnout so small in light of the challenge?

Joe Sims argues that enhancing and sustaining the democratic fightback will require a larger and more militant Communist Party. | CPUSA

Was fear of COVID’s Delta variant the reason? Or is the country experiencing a return to post-2009 delusion, when Obama’s election along with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate lulled folks into a false sense of confidence? Or have the powers-that-be warned allies away from mass protests, for fear of alienating centrist forces?

It’s a truism that left-center unity hinges on the most advanced positions of the political center. But such positions are not frozen in time. Needless to say, the issue is what will it take to move them? Unity is not a static thing to be achieved in back rooms while negotiating on high. The admirable positions taken by progressive members of Congress need to hear the shouts of masses cheering them on. In fact, everyone needs to hear it. The leverage sought by the people’s representatives in Congress lies in the streets, factories, and campuses—it must be organized.

Here, the upcoming women’s marches across the country on Oct. 2 will be an important test. Of course, there are ebbs and flows in any mass movement—and permanent states of mobilization are hardly realistic. On the other hand, the democratic and working-class movement has many streams with considerable resources, some of whom should be expected to step up. Civil rights and other oppressed communities require their allies in labor and other movements to initiate and enjoin the struggle as well—not to do so could invite disaster.

As Frederick Douglass said many years ago, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will.” It’s time to put on our marching shoes, yes. But more is needed. Much more. The time is way past due for mass militant in-your-face uncompromising fightback, including strikes, occupations, boycotts, etc. And this requires a larger, bolder, and more revolutionary Communist Party fighting tooth-and-nail working with allies and building united fronts on issues.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Joe Sims
Joe Sims

Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.