Yannick Giovanni Marshall
When the floodwaters are at our shoulders, when the school boards require a fair hearing to be given to the Nazi position, when capitalism’s ecocide has Mad Max’d every temperate zone, depopulated every savannah, killed every polar bear and when war, disease and debt empty another truckload of disposable people into the abyss, there will be a Democrat on TV preaching that the next election is the most important one of our lives.
In January, White House press secretary for the Biden administration Jen Psaki advised people who felt “emotions” about the failure of voting rights legislation to pass in the US Senate to have a margarita and go to a kickboxing class. Activists, the party seems to imagine, are people with disposable income and leisure time who grit their teeth, tie their hair in a bun, and take their frustration at the “congressional gridlock” out on a speed bag.
Rich white Democrats, or now, rich, “increasingly diverse” Democrats will not save us. It is unreasonable to believe the Democratic party will get anything useful together in time to put the breaks on the re-energised American Nazi movement, or the end of a liveable climate, or that its supporters in the liberal media will ever let through a serious enough analysis of white supremacy or capital at a time early enough to help people. If there is to be a future, one worth living, if in any version of this story human life is saved, the only thing certain is that the Democratic Party will not have had a hand in it.
The Republican party is taking a battering ram to the gates of colonial democracy. Angry that a society of mass incarceration, racist killings, immigrants asked to drink toilet water, and engineered Black political disenfranchisement is not racist enough, they fight to install a racist king who promises them a return to a bigger and better Jim Crow. On seeing this, the Democratic leadership, the putative opposition, do not give as good as they get, do not scramble to man the stations to protect what, it bears repeating, is a discriminatory society. Instead, they appear on cable news to give voice to delusion.
“Republicans or Democrats, we should all be concerned about the decay of our political institutions regardless of party.” Statements like these, spoken by every liberal representative, reveal that the party not only mis-imagines activists, but it also cannot appreciate that the apologists for noose-brandishing, N-word-shouting crowds at the Capitol retracing the footprints of forebears attempting to lynch Walter Ford blocks away from the US Capitol a century earlier, may not be open to appeals for a “multiracial democracy” and “coming together as Americans”. Democrats appeal to a moderate Republican right that does not exist.
Democratic Party representatives threaten would-be autocrats with “history will not remember them kindly”, as if a critical book authored by a red-faced liberal scholar is enough to dissuade them from the pleasure of salvaging and updating Jim Crow policy, extending the power of the traditional slave owning classes, and pursuing the windfalls of environmental destruction.
Warning racists that they are doing injury to their legacy, threatening them with “history” should itself draw suspicion that the party intends to be unserious. There are not many histories of political struggle where one side threatened the wholesale disenfranchisement and incarceration of its political opponents while defending state atrocities against ethnic minorities and the other side’s response was a potentially bad review.
The inability to predict and counter racists banning any history unflattering to racism and setting up a stars and stripes marionette show of happy slaves and holocaust denial in its place is in itself disqualifying for any party that claims to be the opposition. In fact, it does not follow that a party is the opposition simply because it is large and has a different name. As observed by the late Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, “the United States is also a one-party state, but with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.”
Democrats are the moderate right they have been waiting for. Together with their GOP counterpart, they run unopposed. It may be time to suspect that they may not be in the business of seriously opposing an accelerated anti-Black, anti-Brown, anti-Indigenous, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic movement, but may be just saying they are while stroking the hair of people who go to kickboxing classes for stress relief after national registries for Muslims are debated.
It is not farfetched to believe rich, white Democrats have made a calculation similar to the one many white liberal South Africans made, as the spectre of apartheid rose in 1948. That is, they may quietly recognise that there is no urgency and things should not be too bad for them under the new regime.
Not being first among the targeted, rich white Democrats may be fated to be “patient with cruelty”, as Black liberation theologian James Cone once put it. Or as South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko observed about the white liberal, “at the back of his mind is a constant reminder that he is quite comfortable as things stand and therefore should not bother about change. Although he does not vote for the [most racist party] (now that they are in the majority anyway), he feels quite secure under the protection offered by [them] and subconsciously shuns the idea of a change. This is what demarcates the liberal from the Black world. The liberals view the oppression of Blacks as a problem that has to be solved, an eye sore spoiling an otherwise beautiful view… On the other hand, in oppression the Blacks are experiencing a situation from which they are unable to escape at any given moment. Theirs is a struggle to get out of the situation… This is why Blacks speak with a greater sense of urgency than whites.” It may be time for good people to stop being frustrated and lamenting that the Democratic administration and liberal members of Congress seem like such a feckless, uninspiring bunch. It may be time to stop accepting the “democracy is messy” and “democracy is hard work” scam, when the other side seems to be pulling off “unprecedented” and “shocking” miracles for the racist movement on a daily basis.
It may be time to stop pulling the slot machine lever every few years and hoping that next time it will come up all equitable society, especially when on the heels of global protests against anti-Black police violence and the Defund the Police campaign, the Democratic president proposes to expand police budgets. Especially when the Democratic mayor of New York intends to reinstate disbanded plainclothes police “anti-crime” units famous for stop and frisk violations and the killings of Black and Latino youth and keep the practice of solitary confinement in the torture-infested city jails.
When key Democratic senators work with the other side to strip the ballots and bottled water from church ladies queuing up to vote without the use of German Shepherds, billy clubs, whips or riot gear, it may be time to admit that in settler-colonialism, the settlers’ house always wins.
This pessimism will be aggressively countered with claims that tampering with devotion to the Democratic party plays right into the hands of those traditional white supremacist forces here decried. And at the end of the day, its result will be no different from the “Blexit” and the depression of Black voter turnout the anti-Black right aims for.
But extortion only works if no one has made good on the threat. “Vote or we will lose our democracy!” threats cannot spur people to the polls if polling places are shut down in Black neighbourhoods. They do not work when Black people are purged from election boards and voter rolls and the White League rides again, this time in electric vehicles, “with no object in view but the common good of both races, to unite…in an earnest effort to re-establish a white man’s government”.
They fall flat when US states “run out” of voter registration forms and congressional districts are redrawn to disenfranchise non-white majority communities. When it is known that any election outcome unfavourable to racists will from now on be called fraudulent. When conservatives have been caught red-handed planning to seize voting machines, have tried to forge elector documents, and are calling for armed voting, confident that whatever they do, they will be granted the traditional impunity given to open white supremacists in this colony.
Even if Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema stop supporting the Republican segregationist agenda against voting rights, in the colony the choices have always been between one party that wants to release as much forces of white supremacy as is feasible and the other party that offers it appeasement, trying to persuade it that its less explicitly racist programme – for example crime bills in place of lynch law – would be sufficient.
It is between one party with its governors who openly energise crowds with phrases like “don’t monkey this up” and the other party with its governors who have secretly worn blackface. The best American electoral politics has ever offered Black people is a promise to use shoe polish less. Freedom from racist attacks and racial discrimination is considered an unreasonable ask. A deterrent to the Nazis swinging their log at society’s door cannot even be considered – much less support for an anti-apartheid movement in the US.
The choice to not be serious was just that, a choice. The blame for depressed turnout cannot now be laid at the protest-worn feet of the victims of this unseriousness. The people are returning their caps to head – no longer cupping them in hand while waiting at the Party’s door. They will no longer accept “we’ve tried” as an answer and increasingly they refuse to believe it to be true. It may be time to stop waiting for that class of people who will only fist pound the bar counter, spilling their margaritas, when the Brownshirts breech the gates. Godot is dead.