Every time an atrocity happens — like the massacre of little children at Sandy Hook or of nine African-American people in church in Charleston, S.C. — it pulls on our heartstrings. Orlando is no different.
Since the killing of 49 people, overwhelmingly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, at the Pulse Bar on June 12 in Orlando, Fla., our hearts have been heavy. The dead are our compañeros/as fallen in the struggle, and they could have been any of our LGBTQ and other comrades who socialize at gay bars. The “gay bar” has been a place of refuge, often the only place a queer person can feel comfortable, relax, hold hands, kiss without fear of harassment or immediate violence.
Since Orlando there has been much talk of love and solidarity. It is encouraging that people in our LGBTQ communities are not getting caught up in anti-Muslim hatred.
Communists talk of love, too. Because there is no greater love than the love a revolutionary has for the working class. How wonderful if love alone could suffice! But until we abolish capitalism we must struggle, organize and fight back. Because from the very second the tragedy occurred at the Pulse Bar, the corporate media have been messaging how this incident can be used to intensify repression, to heighten Islamophobia, to strengthen the state apparatus.
The act, committed by Omar Mateen, an Afghan American, was, of course, heinous. But we do not blame the shooter. We blame the capitalist system that creates the kind of conditions that compel individuals in this direction.
Authorities are focusing blame on Mateen as an individual, and now are going after Noor Salman, his spouse, who is Palestinian. We reject the scapegoating of Noor Salman! Whether she knew or not does not matter. She herself may have been a victim of domestic violence.
If we look at the bigger picture, who actually should bear blame?
Anti-gay Gov. Rick Scott of Florida has the blood of the Pulse martyrs on his hands. Scott supported the anti-trans “bathroom bully” bill. He signed a bill to permit clergy and businesses to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision granting same-sex marriage. He, like most others in the media, barely mentioned the attack was against LGBTQ people. Instead he spewed anti-Muslim racist rhetoric.
If you want to blame a religion, blame the U.S. Christian right, who backed 200 anti-LGBTQ legislative bills in the last six months. But the cause is not religion — it’s the capitalist system that produces these divisions.
Since Sept. 11, Muslim people in the U.S. and abroad have been besieged, vilified, scapegoated and terrorized. Racist round-ups, occupation and war on Muslim communities started long before this election year, but have been heightened by demagogue Donald Trump.
In this climate, if Mateen was struggling with his own sexuality, with mental illness or other issues, it is not surprising that, without a revolutionary class outlook, he turned his rage against another oppressed group.
Capitalist society, corrupt and sick, breeds alienation — alienation from the fruit of our labor and alienation from each other. Individual “effort” is touted, so if you are homeless or jobless, it is made to be your fault. If you are Black or Brown, queer, Muslim, woman, Native, your boundless oppression is made to be your fault.
Solidarity forever begins today
The answer to alienation is solidarity. Now more than ever we must build solidarity and show our utmost unconditional solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
To build solidarity, we must clarify some issues raised in the wake of the Orlando tragedy. Like the fact there has been “genocide comparing,” which of course we shouldn’t do.
We must answer media statements that the killing of LGBTQ people in Orlando is “the worst mass murder in U.S. history.” But Wounded Knee and the history of Indigenous people in the U.S. testifies that is not true. What about the deaths of countless enslaved peoples of African descent, the massacre of African Americans in Tulsa, Okla., in the 1920s? And so many other tragedies that could be named.
Indeed, the LGBTQ massacre at Pulse was not the first. Over the years, many gay bars have been attacked, and scores of LGBTQ people have died. In 1973 an arsonist set fire to a New Orleans bar and 32 people died. Many were never identified since repression was so fierce that people, afraid and closeted, did not use their real identification.
We must build solidarity because at Orlando the overwhelming majority of the 49 victims were Latino/a, African-American and other people of color. They now join the list of those victimized by this anti-LGBTQ system.
June 11 was a Saturday “Latin-themed night” at the Pulse. The bar was packed with Brown and Black people. Florida has the third largest population of Latino/a people in the U.S. — 24 percent and growing. Ninety percent of those killed were Puerto Ricans, who make up the largest segment of the Latino/a population. The deaths are a blow to Puerto Rico, struggling to free itself from U.S. colonialism, and another reason not to compare the loss of precious lives.
Puerto Rico is experiencing the greatest mass exodus of its people in 50 years. A horrific economic crisis is causing this forced migration. Puerto Rico’s debt to the U.S., imposed by colonialism and capitalism, exceeds a whopping $72 billion and demands cancellation and reparations.
The Pew Center estimates the island’s population is dropping yearly by 11,000 people due to high unemployment and the cost of living. Annual departures more than quadrupled between 2010 and 2013, with many people moving to central Florida. Orlando has a strong appeal for young, unemployed Puerto Ricans because of the many entry-level jobs at Disney World and other parts of the tourist industry.
The vast majority of victims were Puerto Rican, but many were also from Mexico, Venezuela and other parts of Latin America. Their families and friends are struggling with the high cost of getting their bodies home or with hospital bills. Many families are coming to grips for the first time with knowing their loved ones were gay.
This tragedy reminds us that, despite progress made by LGBTQ communities like the right to same-sex marriage, life is still hard for queer people, and will continue to be so under capitalism. For example, a bigoted Food and Drug Administration ban on gay men donating blood meant that many loved ones of the victims could not give much-needed blood.
LGBTQ youth deal with bullying, harassment and violence every day. One study shows that students hear bigoted verbal abuse more than two dozen times a day. Eighty percent of queer youth report severe social isolation.
The problem: not guns alone
Yes, it has gotten better, but we still have a long way to go. We must escalate the struggle. How do we go forward?
There is growing mass anger on the issue of gun control, and we understand that heartfelt wish, which is really a desire to live in peace. Mothers of color have lost children to so-called gun violence. People are flabbergasted why anyone sane would want to buy a weapon that only serves to kill many people at one time.
But gun control alone is not the answer. If shop owners had been prevented from selling rope, would that have stopped lynchings of African-American people after slavery or in the 1920s? Of course not. Because the problem is not the tools, but the context of the society they are used in. A nation founded by violence will foster violence.
As long as you have the contradictions — social, political and economic — of capitalist exploitation, an individual will find a way to do harm, certainly as long as there is no care for people with emotional and mental disabilities.
And murder and tragedy will continue as long as the ruling class is allowed to foster divisions, as long it allows Klan-like groups to exist and arm themselves, but destroys groups of the oppressed; as long as Dylann Roof, the shooter at the Charleston tragedy, is treated to a hamburger when he is arrested, while a Black or Brown person is given a beating or death. The unspoken truth in the gun-control debate is this: The most dangerous gun is that held not by a Muslim but by a cop.
Guns are a $4 billion industry. They are profitable. They are most dangerous in the hands of the right wing, and so will continue to be sold to terrorize the oppressed and sow divisions among the working class.
Resistance and revolution
We are saddened indeed by Orlando, by yet another atrocity, yet another senseless tragedy. There are surely more to come.
But we are heartened nonetheless. We are encouraged by the outpouring of solidarity. We are heartened by the recent response of New Yorkers when two Muslim women were harassed violently and called terrorists on the subway. Passengers shouted the bigots down, saying, “We are diverse, of many backgrounds, and we protect our own! Racists, stop your s**t and get off the train!”
This is our class, the working class — every day becoming more and more conscious, every day becoming more and more clear that it is not a lesbian, gay, bi, trans or queer person who is the enemy, it is not the religion of Islam, or a Black youth or an undocumented worker who is the problem.
Consciousness is growing every day that solidarity is what we need. Now that consciousness has to turn into action, into struggle.
Trump has opened up an avalanche of dangerous racist rhetoric. Hillary Clinton is not much better; she is just smarter and more established.
But soon, very soon, there will be an avalanche of resistance to both.
The tears that so many people shed this week — not just in Florida, not just in this country, not just in Puerto Rico or Latin America, but around the world — are not signs of weakness.
They are the water that will make a flood of resistance and revolution. It is these tears and this pain that will wash away oppression once and for all.
Long live the Pulse Martyrs!
Queer Pride forever!
Gutierrez is campaign manager for Workers World Party’s Moorehead-Lilly 2016 presidential campaign.