“No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” chanted the militant crowd that gathered on Monday, Aug.14, just before toppling a Confederate statue in front of the old Durham County Courthouse in Durham, N.C. Next, on Friday, Aug. 18, the people of Durham rose up in a mini rebellion to stop the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan from hosting a public rally. In response, cities, counties and institutions across the country have moved to expeditiously remove Confederate statues; many have been displayed for 100 or more years. This was a result of mass struggle. Direct action gets the goods.
Prior to the Durham demonstration, thousands gathered in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, Aug. 12, to protest the “Unite the Right” rally. American Vanguard member James Fields Jr. intentionally plowed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather Heyer and badly injuring 19 others. The hundreds of activists arrested during the J20 protests at Trump’s Inauguration face charges that carry more jail time than this Nazi who killed Heather Heyer.
The nine people so far arrested in the toppling of Durham’s Confederate monument each face two felonies and three misdemeanors. Meanwhile, fascists who beat a young Black man, Deandre Harris, in a Charlottesville parking lot (and were caught in the act on videotape) also committed other heinous acts in that city, but face no charges whatsoever.
This has occurred nearly three years since the rebellions in Ferguson, Mo., and across the country in response to a white police officer murdering Black youth Mike Brown in cold blood, and then leaving his body lying in the street for hours to roast in the summer heat. That murder sparked the Black Lives Matter movement that has rocked the foundations of U.S. white supremacy.
The Durham branch of Workers World Party responded to the need for direct action, especially after several of our comrades returned from Charlottesville, many still in shock from the traumatic events. We put out a call for militant action to our close comrades in Black Youth Project 100, Durham Beyond Policing, Southerners on New Ground, Industrial Workers of the World and local Antifa.
We salute the courage of our comrade, Takiyah Thompson, who climbed to the top of the statue as other comrades held the ladder for her. When the rope around the statue fell into the crowd, the people there responded to the failures of politicians to take any meaningful action to remove these monuments to racism. They took matters into their own hands! In a righteous and bold expression of people’s power, the statue was toppled, and history was made.
It is crucial at this time of the rise of neo-Confederate forces that our movement not just retreat to defensive measures. The far-right is emboldened by Trump and an entire administration that supports and protects white supremacy, and is also desperate because of the rotten conditions resulting from capitalism at a dead end.
We had to have a bold answer to the white supremacists killing an anti-racist protester. Without this bold action — which has now spawned many more offensive actions — there was a serious risk of white supremacist and paramilitary right-wing organizations continuing to snowball and recruit. We had to stop them in their tracks, and not allow them one inch or one moment to breath without their feeling the power of the people reclaiming our righteous course of history.
Resisting genocide and reclaiming public space for the working class
Confederate monuments were erected across the U.S. South directly after the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction, an unfinished revolution where Black people fought for their freedom. When the federal government betrayed Black people and pulled out its armed support for their freedom, the white slave owning landowners did everything in their power to recapture Black people and hold them in bondage again. This was the period of enforcement of the Black Codes. During this period, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations were utilized as paramilitary shock troops. The Confederate statues were erected to re-establish white power and were a public expression of white supremacist ideology.
The Confederate monument was placed outside of the Durham County Courthouse in 1924 during the Jim Crow era, long after the Civil War and at a time of massive growth of the KKK. It was a deliberate attempt to intimidate Black people and remind them that their relationship to power had changed very little since “Emancipation.” It was also a clear expression of the purpose of the courts and the prisons: to continue the institution of slavery. As Marxists, we understand the evolution of the repressive institutions of slavery into the prison-industrial complex in today’s stage of capitalism.
Durham’s Confederate monument was dedicated “to the boys who wore the grey.” Comrade Takiyah Thompson commented, “The boys who wore the grey are the boys who wear blue today.” In the U.S. South, the police have their origins in slave patrols sent out to recapture freed Africans. This legacy is deeply embedded in the police today. In fact, many police departments actively recruit from white supremacist organizations and collaborate with them in secrecy. This was documented as having occurred during the 1979 Greensboro Massacre.
We understand that Confederate monuments are symbolic structures that represent and reinforce less visible structures of white supremacy and capitalism. They are open expressions of the true nature and intention of incarceration and disenfranchisement that target Black workers.
The existence of these Confederate and white supremacist monuments are open declarations that capitalist institutions are inherently invested in the exploitation and bondage of Black people. This is clearly evidenced by the ways these institutions invest in protecting these monuments and repress those who damage them. Confederate monuments not only symbolize systems of white supremacy, they are essential tools of cultural warfare utilized by the ruling class.
North Carolina’s legacy of genocide and sterilization of women of color: Why the threat of white supremacist violence cannot go unchallenged
As members of the Durham community and residents of North Carolina, we know that the concept and fact of genocide did not end at the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. Genocide exists in our communal memory far more recently. Up until 2003, North Carolina was the national capital of eugenics practice, which forcibly sterilized working-class women, especially Black women, but also Indigenous and other women of color, and disabled and poor women.
As Nazis, the KKK, and other white supremacist organizations continue broadcasting their racist and anti-Semitic poison, and continue to advocate for eugenics and genocide publicly, they enjoy the support and protection of not only the ruling class and the state, but also liberals.
Time and again, liberals and moderates have elevated the abstract concept of “freedom of speech” both to defend the supposed rights of Nazis to organize and to attack those who oppose them. In concrete terms, this values speech over the lives of Black, Brown and other working-class people.
It is more important than ever to crush the symbols that legitimize these murderous institutions.
We must continue our struggle until all symbols of white supremacy have been destroyed. Just as Durham’s Confederate statue easily crumpled and folded in on itself as it crashed to the ground, so can the systems of white supremacy and the capitalism that it represents, when confronted by organized worker power. When we organize and support one another in direct action, the systems set up by the ruling class don’t stand a chance.
Gentrification, colonialism and the people’s right to public space
The placement of this and other Confederate monuments in the South was and still is a deliberate and malicious show of white supremacist force on the part of the racist ruling class. Durham’s Confederate monument claims public space — close to North Carolina’s “Black Wall Street” no less — in the same ways that out-of-town wealthy white hipsters claim more space downtown for themselves, displacing oppressed nationalities and working-class people.
The city purposely constructs public benches and then prevents those whose land and homes have been snatched up from sleeping on them. As more expensive breweries, hotels, condo complexes and restaurants claim public space in downtown Durham, Black people are increasingly pushed out of our spaces and policed. By taking militant direct action to remove the statue, we took a step towards reclaiming public space for people of color and the working class.
On Friday, Aug. 18, when over 1,000 people flooded the streets of Durham to chase the Klan away, police in riot gear did not show up until late afternoon, when they were setting up downtown to get ready for Third Friday Artwalks, a largely white-attended event.
Klan and government go hand in hand
Sam Marcy, founding chairperson of Workers World Party, wrote in an important theoretical book, “The Klan and Government: Foes or Allies?”: “The far more important problem is the reciprocal relations between the capitalist government and the Klan. More often than not, the former is made to appear rather hostile to the Klan. The public impression conveyed is that the government is forced under the law (the First or ‘Free Speech’ Amendment to the Constitution) to defend and secure the Klan’s rights.
“In reality, however, the capitalist government has covertly encouraged and promoted the Klan over many decades. It is often completely overlooked in current discussions and in the press and media reports that the durability of the Klan rests on solid long-term bonds to the state, and that the two share a common political ideology, for the most part. When the ruling class had the opportunity to wipe out the Klan more than a century ago, it failed to do so. The Northern industrialists and bankers were more interested in reaching a compromise with the ex-slaveowners than with the newly freed slaves.
“The U.S. government capitulated to the Southern planters and ex-slaveowners after the period of Reconstruction when it withdrew federal troops from the South without establishing an independent citizens’ militia composed of the Black people and poor whites. It also left them politically defenseless and deprived the Black population of economic power by failing to grant the newly emancipated people the land which they had tilled for centuries.
“The violence against Black people which had begun on a minimal scale during Reconstruction began to take a tremendous toll after the U.S. government finally withdrew its troops. It was in this period that lynchings, the most barbarous form of counterrevolutionary terror, became the hallmark of the reactionary attempt to keep the Black people in semi-bondage. As many as 5,000 lynchings took place between the 1880s and 1951.
“Nothing so much emphasizes the need for an independent citizens’ militia as what happened immediately after the withdrawal of the federal troops. It is to be noted that only in the 1950s and 1960s, when the question of self-defense was raised in a serious way, did Black communities become freer from the unrestrained terror of the earlier period.
“Self-defense actually began during the so-called Tulsa riots of 1921. This attack on the Black community in Oklahoma for the first time in many years found an unexpected response in the form of what we would now call self-defense.” (This book can be read online at www.workers.org/marcy/klan/.)
Support self-determination and the right of oppressed people to militant direct action and self-defense!
Workers World Party has a proud history of supporting the right of oppressed people, particularly Black people in the South, to defend themselves against the state and white supremacist forces. WWP historically supported the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, along with the Brown Berets and other organizations of the oppressed.
Mae Mallory, a Black militant activist for self-defense, sent letters from prison in 1962, requesting support. In response, WWP formed the Monroe Defense Committee, to build national support for armed Black militants in Monroe, N.C., including Robert F. Williams and Mabel Williams. They were building community self-defense in the tradition of the Deacons for Defense who established chapters in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in 1964-1965. The Williams had formed armed barricades in their house to defend themselves from racists. They eventually had to flee to Cuba, and then later to China.
In this period, it is important to note that it was comrade Takiyah Thompson — a young, queer, Black woman — who took militant direct action that helped to bring this statue down. As communists, we believe that self-determination must be supported in practice, not just in theory. This means supporting the leadership of women of color, people of color and gender nonconforming people. It includes organizing in their defense when their leadership ignites violent state and vigilante repression. The leadership of the most oppressed is paramount. It is the critical and central component of maximizing solidarity and unity — both in the immediate tasks that our movement faces, and on the long road to building a socialist revolution.
The events of the last few weeks in Charlottesville and Durham underscore what we face in the new political period. There are several lessons that can be drawn here. The sections of the ruling class which elevated Trump to the presidency have emboldened the most racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, misogynist, male-supremacist, murderous scum in this decaying capitalist society. At the same time, the broad progressive movement that defends workers, oppressed Black, Latinx and Native communities, women, LGBTQ people and immigrants, has also grown rapidly — and it has demonstrated a new willingness to wage a militant fightback against these forces.
Organizations of oppressed people, along with the growing Antifa formation, have elevated the issues of self-defense and the need to take bold action to fight the fascists and racists. The Charlottesville police, who allowed Nazis to attack the multinational demonstration, like the cops in Greensboro who colluded with Nazis in carrying out the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, proved once again that they and other repressive forces of the state are squarely on the side of the white supremacists and against the people. It is incumbent upon our movement to be united, self-reliant and combative.
The battlefront against these fascist and racist forces in the U.S. is but one front among many others across the globe. U.S. imperialism is waging a bloody war against all those fighting for liberation and self-determination. In Venezuela, the Bolivarian Revolution, a movement of Black, Indigenous, and other working-class people, is facing heavy attack from far-right and fascist forces that receive political and economic support from the U.S. government.
The threat of war against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has recently escalated. The reason? They dared to defy the U.S. and other global powers, and have developed technology and weapons as a bulwark against the most advanced killing machine this planet has ever known. The peoples of Syria and Palestine and elsewhere around the globe have continued to wage a valiant struggle for self-determination and to get imperialism’s boot off their neck. Victory in any of these and other struggles is a victory for the entire working class.
TIMELINE OF DURHAM DEVELOPMENTS:
August 14: Takiyah Thompson and other Freedom Fighters tore down Confederate statue in Durham.
August 15: Following a press conference, Thompson was arrested and charged with two felonies and three misdemeanors. The Durham County Sheriff’s office began conducting raids of local organizers’ homes.
August 16: Loan Tran and Dante Strobino were arrested and charged while in court supporting Thompson. Peter Gilbert was arrested at his workplace. White supremacists appeared in the court’s parking decks, stalking the crowd.
August 17: “Arrest Me, Too” solidarity event was held in front of the Durham County Courthouse. Nearly 100 people volunteered to turn themselves in, saying, “If they are guilty of fighting white supremacy, I am guilty too.” The sheriff refused to arrest the masses of people, but took those with warrants: Elena Everett, Raul Jimenez and Zan Caldwell. Later that day, Taylor Cook turned herself in for arrest.
August 18: A “#DefendDurham: Pack the Court” event was held in support of the four additional Freedom Fighters who had been arrested and charged.
August 18: Reports of a KKK rally were heard in Durham. A mini uprising of nearly 2,000 people, many of them community members, flooded the streets to #DefendDurham. The courthouse, banks, schools and other businesses closed for the day. A small handful of KKK members retreated into the courthouse. Riot cops showed force and arrested one demonstrator. #DefendDurham formed at a meeting of many left and progressive organizations in unity, vowing to defend and support one another.
Looking Ahead: September 12 — Court date in Durham for all organizers
- That the Durham County Commissioners, Durham Sheriff’s office and District Attorney’s office drop all the charges and stop investigating anti-racist activists involved with the Aug. 14 action.
- That the city of Charlottesville drop all charges against anti-racist protesters from Aug. 12.
- That North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper expedite the removal of all Confederate statues across the state.
- That the Durham County Commissioners and City Council members attend public forums to allow the community to speak out on their concerns about public Confederate displays.
- Abolish the police, prisons, ICE and the Pentagon! Tear down all institutions of white supremacy! Black Lives Matter!
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