A tragedy and a victory

Both white supremacy and bigotry against Muslims and other immigrants are not just deplorable. They are murderous and must be fought. Recent weeks have seen both a tragedy and a victory in this all-important struggle.

In Portland, Ore., three white men who came to the defense of two Muslim women on a commuter train on May 26 were stabbed, two of them to death, by a white man shouting anti-Muslim hate speech. There can be no doubt that such vicious, violent behavior has been stimulated and reinforced by the Bigot-in-Chief in the White House.

But it also shows that there are many brave people in this country willing to stand up against the racist offensive that Trump and his ruling-class buddies have deliberately unleashed in order to divert attention from their criminal dismantling of the social safety net that millions rely on, inadequate as it is.

In the same period, a historic people’s victory against white supremacy was won on May 19 in New Orleans.

That day the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was hoisted from its pedestal and removed to an unknown location. Lee was the commander in chief of the armies of the 19th-century slave-owning, secessionist “Confederate States of America.” His statue was the last of four prominent CSA monuments to be removed recently in New Orleans.

For the last six decades anti-racist, civil-rights activists have fought for the removal of these racist symbols. The latest struggle, led by Take ‘Em Down NOLA, began in 2015.

This coincided with a wave of actions against Confederate flags and monuments sparked by white-supremacist Dylann Roof’s mass murder of Black worshippers at a Charleston, S.C., church on June 17, 2015. Activist Bree Newsome heroically scaled the Statehouse flagpole in Columbia, S.C., 10 days later and physically removed the Confederate flag flying there.

Long history of racism and fightback in New Orleans

NOLA campaigners against the Confederate statues possessed similar guts and determination as they persisted with marches and rallies for removal, even as city and state authorities allowed gun-carrying racists, neofascists and Ku Klux Klan members to camp out for weeks to “guard” the monuments.

The racists seemed ready to shoot people — in order to keep in place more than just the looming monuments, more than just a lying version of history that deliberately fails to remember that New Orleans was once the biggest U.S. “market” for the selling of enslaved African people.

What these right-wingers want to preserve is the system of intertwined racism and economic oppression the monuments continue to represent.

Can we forget the murderous treatment of Black people in New Orleans during and after the Hurricane Katrina disaster? Institutionalized racism has a long history.

After the abolition of slavery and the Civil War’s end, and during the ensuing Reconstruction Era, the economic powers-that-be struggled to deny legal and economic freedom to people of African descent in the U.S. South, and by extension the entire country. One tactic was the infamous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that gave the go-ahead to racist separate-and-unequal “Jim Crow” laws. The case was originally brought by Homer Plessy, a free man of color arrested and convicted after he challenged segregation by deliberately sitting in a “white” railroad car in New Orleans.

It is significant that the first Confederate statue taken down in New Orleans celebrated the Battle of Liberty Place, when an 1874 insurrection by a paramilitary, racist white organization attempted to topple the biracial Louisiana state government elected by free Black people and white allies.

It is no accident that at present there is increased organizing by right-wing fascist and neo-Nazi elements, some of it in defense of Confederate flags and monuments. These tactics are meant to prevent worker solidarity by creating divisions across lines of nationality, religion, unionized and low-wage temp work, and other differences.

This increase in terrorist reaction comes at a time when workers and oppressed people are rising up as corporations cut jobs in search of greater profits and the Trump administration attempts to savage the social safety net in order to fund the imperialist war machine. Once again, big business needs on-the-ground, KKK-style threats against progressive advances.

But we have to remember that Klan- minded “leaders” are also in suits, uniforms and judicial robes. They are present in corporate boardrooms, legislatures, courts and police forces.

Directives and laws forbidding removal of CSA monuments have been OK’d by the governor of Alabama and the legislature of North Carolina. On a national level, the blatantly racist Trump administration attacks oppressed peoples and workers, attempting to push back the gains of decades.

We are not in a struggle about “symbols.” We are in a fight for justice and freedom that has been waged in this land ever since the first European “conquerors” invaded the home of Native peoples, and proceeded to enrich the existing European ruling classes using genocide, enslavement and oppression.

New Orleans offers us another history, if we will learn. The largest U.S. rebellion of enslaved people occurred there in 1811, led by Charles Deslondes. Called the German Coast Rebellion, it was carried out by a heroic army of more than 200 people battling with hoes, axes and cane knives for their freedom — physical, legal and economic.

As the statues come down, New Orleans offers us the lesson of continued resistance — and the example of victory.

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