Photo: 'Know Nothing' Revival? Pro-Palin Protester Making a Point
A Call to Take
By Sharon Martinas and Sabina Virgo
Oct. 20, 2008 - We are in an untested place in the United States. We face economic crisis, coupled with climate crisis, joined by a crisis of natural resources. Within that disturbing mix, a presidential election is but moments away.
With charges of 'socialist agendas' and 'terrorist associations' swirling around us, the right-wing has chosen this moment to increase division - and to raise the volume of American racism.
It is almost as if our own history is playing 'gotcha' with us. Almost as if the right-wing populism of the "Know-Nothing Party" of the 1800's, and the racism of the American Independent Party of 1968 (George Wallace for President) have both come back. And have jumped through time and found new life in the words of Sarah Palin and John McCain. It seems likely that if the Republican Party believes it is facing defeat in November, they will not go gently.
They have not, in any of their last eight years in office, been willing to listen to the voice of the people. On the contrary, based on their past behavior and (mis)use of power, it is reasonable to believe that they may use all resources available to them to retain state power. Voter suppression. Voter fraud. Fixed electronic voting. Institutional violence (the suppression of dissent) An October surprise.
The election is coming – and the use of some, or all, of the above may be only days away.
While we believe that the fight against institutional forms of electoral fraud and violence is of critical importance, we believe it is but one side of the struggle. The other side is the struggle against 'non-state' racist violence. That is the side not talked about much. But we believe that side to be vital– and we believe that it must be confronted directly, and challenged.
All of us know about the existence of disciplined, armed, white nationalist groupings in the United States. Although their names and belief systems are no secret to anyone, they get little media coverage (and probably want even less.) Based on what we know about them, it is highly unlikely that these 'non-state' forces will gracefully accept a change in governance led by a man of African descent.
We assume that the various Aryan Nation formations, along with their many brethren of other names, are looking with satisfaction at the response to Sarah Palin's rallies. We assume that the upsurge of racist reaction to the McCain-Palin rhetoric gives them hope for the future. We believe that they see this moment as an historic opportunity to both expand their reach and consolidate their base. And that point of view makes sense, because, in fact, their 'base' is being readied for them.
We have all heard about Sarah Palin's ability to 'energize the base', and we have seen what the empowerment of hate - what the stirring up of 'the base'- has already brought. To mention just one example: after McCain said that ACORN (an organization with chapters in communities throughout the country) was guilty of voter registration fraud and was "destroying the fabric of democracy in America", ACORN offices were broken into, and their staff received death threats.
This should not come as a real surprise to us. We have seen this kind of motion before in the United States. Mass violence and mob mentalities are not strangers to us. We all know something about what the empowerment of hate has led to: lynchings, church bombings, anti-immigrant violence, racist murders, murders of gay youth, clinic bombings, and drastic increases in domestic violence. Just for a moment, stop and think about what unchecked hatred has already brought to this country. And what it has brought within other countries. We believe that the examples we have mentioned prove not only that it can happen here, but that, in many ways, it already has.
It is unclear if the ACORN death threats are the work of already organized hate groups. Most likely, they are the work of the 'newly empowered base', just starting to feel its oats, and functioning on its own parallel track. But just as the economic, climate and resource crises joined and increased their impact, so may the new and the old forces of hatred and violence converge, each amplifying the strength and the acceptability of the other.
We are at a critical point in the United States. We believe that new opportunity exists for the racist underbelly of this country to gain momentum and power - opportunity for them to come out of the shadows and breathe the light of day. And we believe that this opening exists, in somewhat different ways, no matter who wins the election.
We are at a critical point in the United States. But we believe this to be true: that new opportunity exists for us as well - and that we are capable, both nationally and locally, of challenging racism (and racists) in our communities. We believe that in struggle, as in science, changing the momentum of an object is easiest in its earliest stages of motion. The faster the object moves, the more difficult it is to change its trajectory. History has already shown us what disaster the failure to act in time has brought to the nations and the peoples of our world.
We believe that if we are not already involved in this struggle, now would be a good time to engage. There are many ways we can do this. We can work with the many grassroots structures which were set up to support the candidacy of Barack Obama - and we can encourage them to support his Presidency by pledging to stay organized independently to fight any nativist/racist attacks.
Or, in a different reality, we could encourage those same independent groupings to stay organized and directly confront both the policies of a McCain/Palin (very) White House, and the racist activity that may follow that victory.
Or, we could join issue organizations within our communities and make the same pledge;
Or, we could work within specifically anti-racist national or local formations;
Or; we could form our own organizations or networks, should no appropriate ones exist where we live.
Whatever we choose to do, however we choose to do it, we can share our belief in the need to push back against racist speech or action wherever and whenever we see it. There are, most certainly, many ways of doing this work. Whether in person, on the phone, or on-line, we can share ideas with each other. We can share our experiences and our learning with each other. And as we all do our work, each of us will be helping to build a national movement to fight racism and racists. Please consider our thoughts. If you agree, act now. It really could happen here.
We welcome your comments.
[Sharon Martinas, San Francisco firstname.lastname@example.org Sabina Virgo, Los Angeles email@example.com ]