By Luis Meiners ISL United States
July 25 marked two months since the murder of George Floyd by the police. The rebellion against structural racism and police violence sparked by that murder continues. With millions on the streets, it has become the largest social movement in the history of the United States. Despite repression by Trump’s government, and by the Democrats, the rebellion will have lasting consequences in the evolution of the political situation and the development of the class struggle.
This ongoing process develops in the context of an acute crisis with multiple dimensions, both internationally and in the United States. After the premature reopening driven by capitalist profits and the reduction of public spending, much of the country faces the worst moments of the health crisis unleashed by the Covid19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of new cases are recorded daily and there are reports of collapsed hospitals in Texas, Florida and California.
The Trump administration’s response to the pandemic and rebellion have drawn harsh criticism, even within the establishment itself, and a drop in its popularity ratings. According to different surveys, more than 60% disapprove of its handling of the pandemic and more than 65% disapprove of the response to the protests. Even a conservative, right-wing network like Fox News has voiced criticism of the government.
This has a clear effect on the prospects for the November presidential elections. Trump is not only losing in national polls, but is also behind Biden in swing states such as Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He could even lose in “safe” Republican states like Texas or Arizona.
Against this backdrop, Trump’s strategy is to shake up his most radicalized base with a “law and order” rhetoric. With this objective, and that of trying to stop the rebellion, he has unleashed a repressive offensive by sending federal agents to different cities.
A repressive offensive
On June 26, after a month of protests and after the failure to quell the rebellion with the mobilization of the national guard, the imposition of curfews in dozens of cities, and the threat to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, Trump signed an executive order for the “protection of monuments ”. This order establishes that “it is the policy of the United States to prosecute to the fullest extent permitted under Federal law, and as appropriate, any person or any entity that destroys, damages, vandalizes, or desecrates a monument, memorial, or statue within the United States or otherwise vandalizes government property.”
This was accompanied by an inflamed rhetoric against “anarchists” and “the radical left”, and a repeated accusation against the “liberal democrats” that supposedly failed to impose order in their cities. The latter, despite the fact that the Democratic governors and mayors had been among the first to call in the national guard and had tried to stop the protests with strong repression. It thus demonstrated how the tough rhetoric against the protest has a strong electoral content, seeking to radicalize and mobilize a right-wing base.
Following this executive order, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created a special unit, the “Protecting American Communities Task Force” (PACT). It recruited agents from various agencies under the orbit of homeland security, mainly from the Customs and Border Patrol, to constitute a rapid deployment force against the protests.
The debut of this repressive escalation continues to unfold in Portland, Oregon. Since the beginning of July, more than one hundred federal agents have been deployed in the city under the pretext of defending federal government buildings. These forces have dedicated themselves to suppressing the protests by escalating the use of state violence. The repression with rubber bullets, tear gas, flashbang grenades, has caused dozens of injuries, including one person with a skull fracture. On July 15, videos went viral on social media showing unidentified agents making arrests in unmarked vehicles.
The brutality of the deployed forces and the tactics used has generated a massive rejection. This includes establishment media like the New York Times and CNN, who have published articles calling the Trump administration’s methods fascist. The Democratic mayor of Portland has demanded the withdrawal of federal forces, and along with governors and mayors of this party, they have repudiated the actions.
However, the “opposition” of the Democrats is very limited. There are plenty of examples of this. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ended up agreeing to the presence of more federal agents in that city. In Seattle, Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan sent the SPD to crackdown on the CHOP protests in early July, and so did the Democratic Mayor of New York City Bill De Blasio sending NYPD to clear the Occupy City Hall encampment. The same can be said of “progressives”, like congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez whose response in the face of this repression is limited to putting forward a bill requiring federal agents to identify themselves at all times. It should also be noted that the actions of federal agencies and their use for internal repression have been enabled by successive governments (of both democrats and republicans) that have expanded their attributions.
The response from below
Far from beating back the protests, the presence of federal forces in Portland has had the effect of multiplying them. Thousands have taken to the streets in that city to continue saying Black Lives Matter and demand the withdrawal of Trump’s troops. More people join the protests every day. A “wall of moms” form a line of protection, “dads” with leaf blowers keep tear gas away, organized workers from different sectors such as “teachers against tyranny” and health workers with their work clothes are present, and even a wall of veteran soldiers.
The increasing presence of thousands on the streets has forced officers to retreat into government buildings, even though they continue the brutal repression. Over the weekend, protests that have been ongoing since the murder of George Floyd grew in response to the crackdown. In Seattle, thousands took to the streets again and faced state repression. In Austin, a protester was shot dead from a vehicle.
There is widespread rejection and multiplying actions of solidarity with Portland, showing that the protests have changed the balance of forces. Conditions exist for the protests to force the retreat of this repressive offensive. The absence of national coordination is an obstacle to the full development of this potential.
Two months of protest have significantly changed the US political landscape. They have shown, once again, that action from below can produce rapid changes in “public opinion”, in the general level of consciousness. The protests have achieved partial gains, even if small when compared to the demands. But the fundamental achievement has been to shift the terrain of political debate towards the left. Demands such as defunding and even dismantling the police have become mainstream.
The movement has also exposed the systemic conditions that fuel the racist violence of the repressive apparatus, the root causes of murders such as George Floyd´s. This has reduced the margin for the maneuvers of the system, led by the Democrats, who seek to enclose the mobilization in a maze of small reforms to move it away from the demands for systemic change.
The protest have changed the balance of class forces. This has created a greater opening and opportunities for the struggles of the working class as a whole. This is a fundamental development in a scenario of economic crisis and politics of austerity. Politically, it has put into question the continuity of the Trump project. This, however, does not mean ignoring the danger that the repressive attempts to confront the protests imply. These two elements mark the dynamics of the coming months. Within this framework, conditions exist to face a fundamental task, the need to build a socialist party independent of the two parties of capital. The challenges and opportunities have never been greater.