DAY 15 – Is This What Democracy Looks Like?
A crowd of several hundred people moves down St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland, holding signs and chanting slogans. They are calling for an end to police brutality, racism, homophobia, sexism, and capitalism.
They cry out in unison: “The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”
Near Jacks Casino, a woman has a microphone on stage. She shouts about justice, about ending violence against women, about wanting a real candidate to vote for. She is tackled by cops and they arrest her for an outstanding warrant. Her name is Kathy Coleman. As they push her into a police vehicle, a row of bike cops block the scene from the view of cameras eager for a shot.
“Alright guys! Bike Unit! One step! Move! Move back!” bellow the cops. They push the crowd away. Kathy disappears from view.
Her voice, contorted with fear, makes it through the wall of bulletproof vests and combat helmets. “Help me! Do not leave me with them!” she pleads.
The march has already continued on. The journalists scamper after everyone else.
“Please don’t leave me!”
But they do. Kathy goes to jail.
A line of cops on bicycle separate protesters from the cloud of journalists who rush up and down the line, snapping close-ups of signs and people they think will get the most hits, the most retweets. These journalists are, in turn, contained by metal fences stacked 10 feet high, rendering the whole scene as opaque from the outside if viewed from most angles.
Delegates to the convention walk relatively unaffected back and forth, doing business as usual. No one in the crowd knows when the march is briefly allowed within a block of the Quicken Loans Arena.
The first amendment to the constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It’s hard to see how this group of people, pushed unseen through a cattle-chute for a few blocks, hidden in some places from view of the public, is what “freedom of assembly” means.
It’s hard to understand why people chant “this is what democracy looks like” here in the streets of Cleveland.
While most journalists are a world away, ensconced in a safe space of Quicken Loans Arena, spectators to the spectacle on stage or elsewhere drinking cocktails at private parties, the Black on Black Center on Kipling Avenue in East Cleveland is filled to capacity. There’s no A/C, so people bring in fans. The local Food Not Bombs/Seeds of Peace collective provides vegan slaw and cucumber and hummus sandwiches.
The audience sits packed together for three hours in the stifling heat to listen to Monica Moorehead and Lamont Lilly speak. They are the Workers World Party candidates for President and Vice President of the United States. They are on the ballot in three states — New Jersey, Utah and Wisconsin — though they plan to be on 40 ballots by November.
The Moorehead/Lilly platform addresses the protesters grievances from earlier nearly point for point. They speak about how the Trump campaign has given the green light to racists and xenophobes. They speak about the deepening crisis of capitalism and its relationship to racism. November 8th will come and go, they say, but they aren’t going anywhere.
Even though the hall is packed, why haven’t more people heard about this? Where’s the media?
Most third-party candidates are familiar with this question, and Monica answers honestly. “We have to remember the mainstream media is part of the state, part of the repressive apparatus. Being part of the state doesn’t necessarily mean you use guns or any type of violence against people, like the police, like the FBI or CIA that overthrows governments or destroys movements, like the FBI did with the Black Panther Party or Young Lords, but it does mean [the media] represents the super rich. It represents the interests of the billionaire class.”
And, she says, they naturally push the ideas of those in power.
“Our campaign is anti-capitalist. It’s anti-imperialist. It’s anti-racist. We stand with the people. We’re for the self-determination of oppressed people. We’re for the liberation of women and LGBTQ people. In other words, we’re for full equality for all people.”
Lamont agrees. “Any organization or party talking about revolutionary change — not reformist, not bandaids on broken bones — really dismantling the system from the root to the fruit, and placing the oppressed at the forefront — you’re not going to hear about that. They don’t want you to hear about that. Anything but that.”
“We were in Rockfort, Rockfort Illinois. There were multiple working-class black folk in the audience who said ‘We only came tonight because we wanted to hear what you all had to say as candidates. As candidates for president and vice president. Because the other candidates sure as hell aren’t speaking to our issues and our conditions.”
“I think some folks on the left, some revolutionaries quote-unquote, have been a little critical of that. But yo, again, use every weapon, every platform, every tool you have to reach the masses and raise consciousness. Everyone. The Black Panther Party also used candidates, they used the same platforms, and we certainly would not question their pedigree of revolution.”
They both emphasize this is a protest campaign, a way to gain access to a platform to emphasize the ideas they believe are most important today. Monica explains: “We felt that it was very, very important, especially to run two black candidates in this particular election.”
Black Lives Matter
“We wanted to lend a revolutionary voice to the Black Lives Matter movement. Along with, of course, defending immigrants, which is a big part of our campaign because of Donald Trump, and a general program of fighting capitalism, replacing capitalism with socialism.
“But our main focus – it’s important to have a priority – and because of this movement, this movement, the Black Lives Matter movement – for us – is the most dynamic movement in the country right now. It’s the movement that’s most in motion, that’s most visible, because it’s led by oppressed youth, young people. It’s led by women. It’s led by trans women of color.”
“We wanted to show our solidarity with this campaign, with using our campaign with the Black Lives Matter movement. But it doesn’t change our view as far as the capitalist elections. We still feel they’re fraudulent, that they’re not going to change anything fundamentally for the better for the masses.”
“I think Hillary Clinton thought she was going to have smooth sailing towards the nomination. And she really didn’t. Because there is, and there continues to be, a sort of uprising against capitalism, a political uprising against capitalism. Which [Bernie Sanders’s] campaign represents, and of course, there was a movement behind him of mainly young people. Mainly young white people, that came out of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The contradiction with the Sanders Campaign is that he didn’t deal with the issue of police brutality or fighting racism.”
Is it possible if they had shown solidarity, married antiracism to (at least the word) socialism, that he would have been boycotted like the Moorehead-Lilly campaign?
“Absolutely.” Monica says. “He would have been ostracized by the democratic party.”
“I think the main word he used in terms of why he didn’t come out in defense of the Black Lives Matter movement, which means coming out against police repression, is that he felt it would be ‘divisive’. Divisive towards who? When really, we feel just the opposite. It can build solidarity and unity.”
“But he wanted to deal mainly with the class issues. The economic issues. Which, by the way, when you deal with racism it is a class issue. Because racism is the central issue in this country in terms of keeping people divided. So that, if you have unity and solidarity, and it brings people together on an antiracist basis, then the next step is to fight on economic issues. The stronger the workers are, the stronger the struggle will be, and the movement will be, to fight for jobs, and housing, and medical care and so forth, but it’s very difficult to do that when you’re not showing solidarity.”
Sanders and socialism
Lamont says he appreciates that Bernie Sanders helped to bring the word socialism back into the mainstream, but is not under any illusions that he’s actually a socialist. “It’s democratic socialism. It’s a fraud of what socialism really is. It’s a poor representation of the oppressed masses having the means of production in their own hands.”
He speaks on how the socialist movement is just coming back from the 1980s, how the conditions then were so bleak. “I’m an 80’s baby, and communism and socialism were straight demonized in school. We were taught communism was bad. Socialism was a cult.
“Even to this day, my mom is still uneasy. I’m serious. Until she just read the 10-point program on our brochure. She says, ‘yeah! this is cool!’ and I say ‘yeah mom, that was the socialism I was taught to hate as a kid.’ So you have a brand new generation. Clean slate.”
“I just hope that the young people in this next generation do their research well. Go several sleeves back on the google sheet. Don’t just go to the first result you see. If you love the Black Panthers, google why the Black Panthers subscribed to revolutionary socialism, to Marxism-Leninism. Google why the Young Lords subscribed to revolutionary socialism. Google who Hugo Chavez is.”
“I know people are tired. Because I’m fxxking tired. When you get tired, go back and study the history of our ancestors, of past freedom fighters.”
If the media is boycotting their campaign, how is it they get the message out? Diamond Lavish Reynolds filmed Philando Castile’s dying moments and the police response, but Facebook removed the post. Despite its accessibility, social media is still owned by the ruling class. So how reliable is it, even as a medium?
Lamont is passionate on this point, describing himself as a child of the 1980s and self-professed lover of Twitter. “I talk to a lot of the younger comrades about this. A lot of the ‘internet revolutionaries’ or ‘internet marxists’ or ‘internet socialists’. We’ve got to use every weapon at our fingertips. Social media aligned, conjoined with grassroots people organizing on the streets. Knock on doors. Look at people in their eyes.”
Monica agrees that the human touch is lost on the internet. You cannot see someone’s soul. “The thing about just using Facebook to get the word out about a certain mobilization or meeting or something is that it lacks the one-on-one outreach, talking to people one on one. A lot of time you see people just on their smartphones and this is how they communicate and so forth. And that’s limiting.”
“We’ve got to be out in our communities, not just on our computers and Facebook and Twitter.” Lamont adds. “Those platforms are directly linked and many times owned by the corporate capitalist system. And they’re making money off us. So we can only expect them to interrupt our modes of communication.”
“We cannot substitute the street for social media. We have to have both.”
So, is voting still important in the United States?
“I think what the people have to do on a very grassroots, ground level is begin to build institutions independently and autonomously on their own grounds. For self-reliance, self-determination and liberation. Is the vote a weapon? It’s a very watered-down weapon right now.”
“Depending on the bourgeois system to create the channels of liberation, that is mental slavery. If you’re depending on your oppressor to grant you justice, to grant you economic mobility and to grant you, you know, healthy communities and healthy families, you’ve already lost. You’ve already lost.”
Monica and Lamont understand the limitations as revolutionary presidential candidates. They know that their message will be ignored or censored by the media. But despite that, they both want to end the interview with a very targeted message.
A friend of Kathy Coleman’s, who watched her be arrested earlier that day, was invited to speak earlier from the podium. She ended her address by asking why violence was so endemic in communities of color – black people doing violence against black people. The candidates spoke about how this was an outcome of white supremacy and capitalism, of people being deprived of the ability to love themselves and each other because they have been taught to loathe instead.
Lamont explains what he means by the necessity of love. “I’ve been mentioning the word ‘love’ recently because we forget that sometimes. I come from a family of love. It’s love man, it’s love. Assata Shakur talked about this, and so did Huey P. Newton. It’s love as revolutionaries that’s gonna actually keep us fueled. Not hate for the oppressor, but love for the people.
Should we hate the oppressor? Of course we should. Should we despise our oppressors? Of course we should. But it’s love for the people, love for the youth, love for the next generation, love of liberation, love of the sisters, love of kinship, love of revolution that has to be our fuel. Hate trends. It comes and goes. Love will carry you for generations. Generations! Love will make you give you life. Love will let you lay it all on the line.”
Monica agrees. Che said it best: the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. “That’s the kind of love we’re talking about.”
To some it might seem cliched, this talk of revolutionary love. But it is the kind of message that’s easily obscured behind police barricades, pushed out of mind at the private cocktail parties, and lost in the thrill when you get hold of your first all-access press credentials. These ideas are no-platformed in the mainstream, but they’re still there.
From Baton Rouge to Cleveland — the people are in the streets this summer, screaming.
The writer is traveling “across the United States, speaking with the working class and people living on the margins about what challenges and struggles they face living in the U.S.” This is Fivek’s article for “Day 15,” published with the writer’s permission. Check her website at noplatform.org.