‘Do It Like Durham’: What it means
Below is a speech given by LT Tran to a New York public meeting titled “Do It Like Durham” held on Oct. 14. Tran is one of 15 people facing charges in the Aug. 14 toppling of a Confederate statue in Durham, N.C.
We’re here this afternoon because exactly two months ago a Confederate statue came down in Durham, N.C. In the time since, we’ve seen statues come down, be defaced and challenged by people across the country. As 15 of us in Durham face exaggerated and heinous charges for the righteous takedown of a racist monument, we have returned to court several times — each time rooted in the power of the people and the knowledge that we have done nothing wrong, despite the Sheriff Department’s vigilant witch-hunt against organizers and activists in our community.
The past two months have seen a tremendous showing of unity and solidarity across organizations, communities, affinity groups, political orientations and more in Durham. There are some key lessons that I believe are lessons not just for Durham, but for our whole movement, and especially lessons that reinforce some fundamental tenets of how we wage class struggle as Marxist-Leninists.
‘Material conditions push us to fight’
First, I’d like to say: The queers are all right. I’d like to just read an excerpt from the statement written by arrestees whose recent court date was on National Coming Out Day:
“On this October 11th, National Coming Out Day, the queer arrestees are calling on LGBTQ people to come out of the closets and into the streets; and for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to take leadership from LGBTQ people of color and come out into the streets to defend your communities. We honor our LGBTQ ancestors of color, for whom being ‘out’ has always meant defending themselves and their queer communities from police and racist vigilantes. As we prepare to face charges on National Coming Out Day, we are coming out in the spirit of Lavender Menace: We’re here, we’re queer, and we will defend our communities by any means necessary.
“We reject ‘good protester, bad protester’ and ‘criminals of conscience’ messaging. The ‘crimes’ of tearing down racist monuments and armed community self-defense are no more moral than the ‘crime’ of stealing baby formula, selling drugs to feed your family or turning to sex work to survive. We come out in celebration of the LGBTQ community’s sometimes ‘criminal’ commitment to self-defense — it took angry trans women, drag queens and kings, butch lesbians and femme gay men, taking the streets armed with bricks and broken beer bottles to fight for their lives against the police, to pave the way for our survival and resistance today. We are coming out as the angry children of those pissed-off queers, and we call on Sheriff Andrews to come out as well — as an enabler of white supremacy, a cruel jailer, a protecter of property over people, and an advocate for murderous policing.”
I’ve been asked quite a bit in the past two months, by reporters and others who are not directly involved in the movement, why they see so many queer, trans and gender-nonconforming people put their bodies on the line. Several of the Durham arrestees are queer and/or trans people, particularly people of color.
I’m not sure that I have the most scientific response to this, or if there is even any answer at all. What I know, as a queer and gender-nonconforming person of color, is that many of us fight because, materially, we have much to lose if we don’t fight — our safety, our jobs, our homes, our lives because of capitalist oppression. On the other hand, many of us fight because, materially, we don’t have much to lose — our safety, our jobs, our homes, our lives are already in jeopardy or stolen from us because of capitalist exploitation.
This is true not just for queer and trans people; it is true for all oppressed workers in our class whose material conditions push us to fight. Because while we may all be “maladjusted,” some of us are more deeply “maladjusted.” With no opportunity to play into the good side of the bosses, we serve no function other than to be disposable.
It comes as no surprise that LGBTQ people are consistently on the front lines of struggles — from Black Lives Matter and the fight against white supremacy, police brutality and gentrification to labor, gender justice and the fight to defend undocumented people, Muslims and oppressed people against attacks. This is the legacy of queer and trans people in the U.S. and around the globe.
We know that it takes much more than identity to shape how we struggle, and oftentimes it is not just our identities that push us to fight. But for oppressed people in particular, understanding our identity is an entry point to identifying our class oppression. We must continue to make space for this, especially with oppressed people in our class whose consciousness most easily begins with their own identities.
‘Never underestimate the power of state repression’
Another key lesson from Durham that I’ve been sitting with is that we must never underestimate the power of state repression. But the answer is not paranoia or fear; the answer is to get organized. During the first week following the statue toppling, as organizers were targeted, arrested, getting their homes raided — not to mention being followed, doxed and threatened by white supremacists while the state turned its back on us — we had to make sure we were getting organized broader and deeper.
One strong example of this was an action organized on Aug. 17 which called for anti-racist fighters in our city to show up at the jail to turn themselves in, to say: “If you target some of us for tearing down white supremacy, then arrest us, too!”
Hundreds showed up for this action, with over 70 people turning themselves in. One after another, they were turned away by the sheriffs.
It is crucial that we do not hide — not only because we have done nothing wrong, but primarily because we have a duty to show our class that it is able to organize to confront the state. And we must.
We cannot think of state repression just in the sense of arrests and targeting, although these are primary tactics of the state to instill fear into the working class. We must also think of the ways state repression happens through the form of divide-and-conquer strategies that force us to break our solidarity and unity with each other.
The state will pit organizations against each other, will pit oppressed communities against each other, will pit the anarchists against the communists, will pit the workers who have a little more against the workers who have a little less. Wherever there is an opportunity to sow division, the state will take it.
Of course, this is not just the case for Durham. In this new period of both heightened resistance and encroaching fascistic crimes from the state, it is the case for all of us in the movement — and even those of us who are outside the movement but are no less susceptible to the divide-and-conquer tactics of the state.
I recently learned of Jeremy Lin, a Chinese basketball player who appropriated locs [abbreviation for dreadlocks] and was called out by Kenyon Martin [former professional basketball player]. Lin’s response to Martin, a Black man, was that he had a tattoo of Chinese characters. There are obviously many layers here. First of all, Lin shouldn’t have had locs, and second of all, Martin’s tattoo of Chinese characters draws a false equivalency.
But why does this matter for our movement? Well, it’s not about basketball. Here are two players, engaged in an industry where most basketball teams are Black and are owned by white men. Here are two players whose conversations and actions are under the microscope of corporate media, which is no doubt white supremacist and capitalist. We have to make sense of the nuances and contradictions of this situation in a way that is winning to our class. Not only must we affirm Martin’s right to be angered by Lin’s appropriation of Black hair, when Black people have had to face tremendous violence in order to wear locs. We also have to correct the Lins of the world who belong to an oppressed nationality — so that there is deeper understanding that the fight against racism is impossible if we disregard the Black liberation struggle, if we do not consider Black liberation to be a foundational component of how we will all get free.
‘We have a duty to defend the right of self-determination for all oppressed people’
But, most importantly, we have a duty to defend the right to self-determination for all oppressed people so that we can address internalized white supremacy and the harm it can do to each other without being exploited by the white-supremacist capitalist system into further division. As a vanguard party, we must also demonstrate that solidarity between Black and Brown people is not only possible, because of its historical presence, but also necessary, because of the decaying capitalist future we are facing.
We must demonstrate that solidarity between Black and Brown people is necessary because we refuse to let Donald Trump pit the people of Puerto Rico against the people of New Orleans — by comparing Hurricane Irma to Hurricane Katrina — as if both disasters were not the result of imperialism, of the colonization of Puerto Rico and of the entrapment of oppressed Black people within the U.S. on land stolen from the Indigenous peoples.
We must defend solidarity between Black and Brown people because the migrant justice movement is at a moment when history is repeating itself. With the recent removal of the [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] program, thousands of undocumented Latinx teenagers are being forced to express allegiance to a country whose imperialism made their homelands unbearable to live in. This narrative totally erases the experiences of Black undocumented people and further suggests that crossing a border is a greater crime than developers stealing land or a cop shooting people in the streets with impunity.
We must defend solidarity between Black and Brown people because when Durham arrestees enter court every month, we see the faces of our working-class sisters, brothers and kindred who are in the courtroom simply because they could not afford rent or could not renew their registration. We are not each other’s enemies. The prisons, the courts, the cops, the state — those are the enemies. We must fight together in order to remember and believe that.
Solidarity and unity are ideas that we must fight for. And they are practices we must wholly commit to, even in the most dire circumstances. I know that this is how we have been able to defend ourselves and each other in Durham in the past two months. I know that this is how the revolutionary left has been able to defend itself for many centuries of socialist organizing and struggle — particularly in the past 100 years, which have been shaped and marked by significant socialist revolutions and countless liberation struggles in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The success that we’ve had in Durham to continue to build a fighting movement against white supremacy, repression and the capitalist state should not be and is not limited to Durham. It is the success of our broader movement; it is the success of the many struggles that have come before us. And it is important for me to say this, among some of the most humble communists I have the honor of knowing: It is the success of our party, which has never backed down, whose faith in the working class guides us, whose sharp understanding of the national question and special oppression allows us to connect with and fight with our class.
Comrades and friends, I invite us all to take this win — not just the people’s removal of a racist statue in Durham, but the win that we are shaping by pushing our movement in a truly revolutionary direction.
When we say “Do it like Durham” we mean also: Do it like the Boston bus drivers’ union; do it like the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly; do it like International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal; do it like Take ‘em Down NOLA; do it like Equality for Flatbush; do it like the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly; do it like the guerrilla fighters of the Philippines; do it like the DPRK; do it like Palestine; do it like the working-class activists of Ireland; do it like the National Liberation Front of Viet Nam; like South Africa, like the South West African People’s Organization; do it like the #j20 organizers and defendants; do it like the Black Panther Party; like the Brown Berets; like Yellow Peril; do it like Act-Up, like Stonewall.
However you do it, do it like revolutionaries around the world who dare to struggle for national liberation and socialist revolution.