Reactions to Charlottesville — a Discussion
September 9, 2017


Chude Allen  Miriam Glickman
Ron Bridgeforth    Bruce Hartford
Cathy CadeMarion Kwan
Hardy FryeEugene Turitz


Cathy: Protesting White-SupremacyAnti-Racist Protests
Chude: Whose Lives Matter?Times Are Getting Tougher
Marion: Hatred Against Blacks and Immigrants    Race and Class
Gene: How People RespondedWhite Assumptions
Bruce: The Logic of TerrorismCulture and Race
Ron: Being Black in AmericaAngry Whites in Berkeley & Elsewhere
Miriam: Why Are They So Angry?The Perspective of Age
Hardy: The Contradictions We FaceSelf-Empowerment
 Countering the Bourbons
[On August 11-12 2017, white-nationalist, Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, and armed-militia organizations assembled in Charlottesville VA for several large events promoting white-supremacy. Ostensibley, they were objecting to the city ordering removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a public park in the aftermath of the 2015 Charleston SC massacre of nine Afro-American church members by a white-racist. On a deeper level their gathering was an assertion of "white power" enabled by Trump/Republican victories in the 2016 election and subsequent administration actions and statements.

On Friday evening, the 11th, a hundred or so white men paraded with burning torches through the Univerity of Virginia campus chanting slogans such as: "White lives matter!" "Jews will not replace us!" and the German Nazi motto "Blood and Soil!" They then brutally attacked a small group of nonviolent counter-protesters who were trying to protect the Thomas Jefferson statue from neo-nazi vandalism. At a much larger rally the following day, more than 500 whites (mostly men) carrying Confederate and Nazi flags, anti-semitic and racist signs, and wearing Trump "Make America Great Again" campaign hats shouted similar slogans. Many of them were carrying guns, clubs, wooden shields, chemical sprays, and other weapons. The media loosely grouped them under the label "Alt-Right."

Confronting and challenging the "Alt-Right" white-supremacists were as many as 1,000 anti-racists from a variety of organizations using tatics that ranged from traditional nonviolence to aggressive "anti-fascist" (Antifa) assaults. Some of the Antifa counter-protesters were also armed with guns, clubs, shields, and other weapons. Skirmishes and brawls broke out injuring a number of people, some of them severely. A Nazi sympathizer rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. A police helicopter observing the tumult later crashed due to an unknown cause killing two Virginia state troopers, bringing the death toll to 3.

Trump's initial response to these events was to condemn "many sides" as equally responsible. He chose not to specifically condemn hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white-power militias. In reaction to the Charlottesville events and Trump's false-equivalency between white-power hate groups and equality & justice protesters, there were nationwide anti-racist rallies, marches, forums, and public statements.]

Bruce: We said we wanted to discuss what happened in Charlottesville and the aftermath of that. In the past, when we've had discussions around a particular topic one of the techniques we used was to go around the room once with everyone giving their initial thoughts, and then letting the discussion go where it will.


Cathy: Protesting White-Supremacy

Cathy: After the demonstrations in Charlottesville I really wanted to be part of a nonviolent demonstration in support of anti-racism. But because of my knee pain and disability it seemed I was not going to be able to demonstrate in a way that would be non-violent and reasonably safe for me. After all these years of being able to stand up for what I believe in, it was really hard to feel like I could not go.

Then, I got an email from a friend who is disabled, saying that some people from the Berkeley Ed Roberts Campus, a disability rights and universal access non-profit, were being part of a gathering at the University of California Berkeley that was going to be nonviolent. I asked a tenant where I live to drive me up there. There were a lot of people at this demonstration. They made way for me, and I found this small space that was reserved for people with disabilities so that we could see the stage. There were some younger women monitoring this area so that other demonstrators did not stand between us and the stage. It was all very sweet and really worked. It felt great to me.

Then I had to get home. I went down to University Avenue where the buses weren't running because of the demonstration, and I put my thumb out to hitchhike.

Bruce: Once a wild one, always a wild one... [general laughter]

Cathy: I figured that anybody who was a racist wasn't going to stop for me, a woman with a beard. Eventually a very pregnant young woman and her partner who was a filmmaker asked me if I would like a ride, and they drove me to my front door.

I was struck by the fact that my rescuers embodied major parts of my life story: pregnancy and photo documentary.


Chude: Whose Lives Matter?

Chude: I was watching one of the videos of the Nazi fascists that both frightened me but also interested me in the sense that what I was watching was that they were chanting, "White lives matter." And it was showing people answering, "Black lives matter."

And I thought afterwards, that's not the appropriate give-and-take from the side of us who are against racism. It's completely clear to me that when you say, "Black lives matter," and white liberals say, "All lives matter," you have to say, "No, wait. Until Black lives matter, we have to say Black lives matter."

But if whites are saying "White lives matter," it is important for people involved in the anti-racist movement to say, "Yes, all lives matter." We are not saying that white lives don't matter; it's all lives matter. So it has been haunting me, because I have no idea what teeny-weeny percent of those very hateful people really might change if they actually believed that they mattered.

I want to finish by saying that I really do believe that whites have to believe that they matter as human beings. And that whatever politics we're doing, we're not saying that whites don't count. Because historically, white supremacy and racism have been such terrible things, we still have to believe that human beings are human.


Marion: Hatred Against Blacks and Immigrants

Marion: The strangest thing, talking about yin and yang, positive and negative, about the same time almost to the minute that I heard about Charlottesville, I was in Miami Florida attending a wedding. I had this flashback about tragedy and thankfulness and joy and relationships coinciding, and I was just sort of floored by that, because it took me a day before I realized what was going on. I wasn't looking at the television; I wasn't looking at the news; I was busy attending a wedding of a close relative.

The wedding was between a nephew of mine whose father arrived in Miami, and so he is second-generation from China. He has married somebody from Puerto Rico, and his sister a year before married a French-American. So I thought the world is so racist and so diverse at the same time, and I'm living in these two worlds actively. Living in these two worlds. How am I going to compromise myself with these factions? That came across really sharp for me, personally. I know that the world is turning, and no matter how much some want to push it back in time, multiculturalism is here to stay in America. And the Pew study, the research center, does point to that fact. I thought, "OK, I need to learn to live with both." But what impressed me about what's happened in Charlottesville was the shift from Black hatred to other hatred, all other hatreds.

Ron: You mean the hatred of Black people.

Marion: Hatred of Black people. From there, it shifted to — and I thought of the Jewish population, the Jewish Americans who are living here. I was thinking, "What the hell happened?" White supremacists are attacking Jews and turning away from focusing on being anti-Black. The same thing that happened when Trump stopped all the immigrants from entering the United States at the airports, the Muslims. At the same time I thought about that and then I thought about the difference between that and 100 or so years ago when the Chinese were forbidden to enter the United States.

So I thought, "Geez all this stuff is coming back." And it's getting messed up. And it's getting rehashed, and there's a rebirth of this. And the root that I'm thinking is promoting this is of course a new administration of our presidency in the United States, that is encouraging people from opening up, like they have the freedom to express whatever they want. And so the backlash, to me, about being with the white supremacists to me was that now is the time for them to act out. So all these feelings were coming up for me. And that's a lot to say. That's where I'm at, and I just need some — I don't know if I'm looking for closure; I'm just looking for discussion about it. So that's why I'm here too; I'm really glad to be here.

It's Trump and his Administration's acts of revenge and protection of their wealth, their resources, and their supremacy over colored Americans and over anyone not born Christian. So the backlash for this Administration, it seems to me, is that white supremacists now has the backing of Trump to exercise their freedom to express their hatred openly on any peoples and on any faiths that they wish.

That's where I'm at. I don't know if I'm looking for any closure; I'm just looking for discussion about it. I'm really glad to be back here, and talking about this.


Gene: How People Responded

Gene: So I was away back East when all the stuff was going on, and for part of that time, I was with three other people who had been in the Movement from different places in the country. People from Vermont; one was from the Minneapolis area; and the other person was from Baltimore, and I'm from here. And so as the stuff was taking place, we were all emailing and phoning and texting with people in the different areas about what they would do and how they were responding.

People really wanted us to find out what was going on here [Bay Area], because that was happening. It was kind of interesting, because I felt, in a certain way, very schizophrenic about it all, because I wasn't here, like you are saying, not being able to be part of it. Although the band I have was part of it, so I was getting emails about that and how they were going to participate. So there were ways that I felt very connected, but in other ways not.

I started to feel a whole lot that — it seemed to me that a lot of what took place here, in the Bay Area, especially was much more about white people than about other people. And all the discussions were how were we going to respond, and most of that discussion was amongst white people. And in a lot of ways, I haven't heard or read — and maybe it's my lack of not reading — what other people have been saying about what went on. So one of the reasons, to me, for having this discussion was to hear if there is a lot that's very similar.

The issue of racism, I think, still has to be the focus of what I and we respond to. And figuring out what that means for us, what does it mean to sort of say, "How do we change, in a sense, the relationship?" It's not the question of whether white lives matter, but why are white people the most important people? Or how do you change the dynamics so that white people give up some of that? Or here, my organizing says, "How do we work with people who don't have a voice to have a voice? How do we start doing that?" And how does that happen in terms of these kinds of events? Maybe they can't.

So since I've been back, which was just last Thursday, I've had a couple of conversations with people, and there's a certain amount of discussion about the Antifa and that response to things. And I just kept feeling like what's really strange to me is that at least here in Berkeley, unlike Charlottesville, but here in Berkeley, those of us who are called or consider themselves progressives are the majority. These people coming into the community were an infinitesimal minority. And what was disturbing to me was that we — and I don't mean this group — but we as the majority acted just like they do when they're in the majority.

Miriam: They? Like who's they?

Gene: The fascists. In other words, what they want to do is start fights and kick somebody's ass. And all of a sudden, many of the people that I know, they want to do the same thing to them.

And they want to know how I feel about that, and I go, well the whole question is about nonviolence. I don't have so much of a problem with figuring out a way to fight back when I'm in a very small minority of people. How you defend yourself can be open to a lot of questions maybe. But I certainly don't feel that as part of a majority that I'm going to try and shut them down violently. And yet many of the people I know, that's what they want to do. And it's really puzzling to me about how you change that dynamic so that when you can respond in other ways, whatever those ways are, that there is a choice — well, when people really get off on being able to say, "Hey, it was kind of neat to see somebody tear gas this guy." I thought, "Why was that so good? Why were people getting off on that?" Yet people I knew got off on that. And that really disturbed me and sort of made me feel like us being out there talking to people about some of the things that we know and we've done and we've been part of is important.

And they want to know how I feel about that, and I go, well the whole question is nonviolence. I don't have so much of a problem with figuring out a way to fight back when I'm in a very small minority of people. How you defend yourself can be open to a lot of questions maybe. But I certainly don't feel that as part of a majority that I'm going to try and shut them down violently. And yet many of the people I know, that's what they want to do. And that's really puzzling to me about how you change that dynamic so that when you can do it other ways, whatever those ways are, that the choice — well, people really get off on being able to say, "Hey, it was kind of neat to see somebody tear gas this guy." I thought, "Why was that so good? Why were people getting off on that?" Yet people I knew got off on that. And that really disturbed me and sort of made me feel like us being out there talking to people about some of the things that we know and we've done and we've been part of is important.

In the current Street Spirit newspaper, which is the homeless newspaper, there is an article by this woman Carol Denny who talks about the fact that she says there are 30 SNCC veterans around here, and we need them to talk to us. She is saying this, and she doesn't know about us as an organization. So it would be easy enough to say, "Carol, there are people here. "

But it's sort of interesting that in this article she started off by saying that as she showed up for the demonstrations she met a friend of hers who said, " ey, we get to kick some Nazi ass." And she goes, "Really? Why do you want to do that?" And he goes, "Oh come on Carol, it's fun." Or something like that. And she starts from there saying, "I guess I'm still a Kumbaya nonviolent person." But at least somebody wrote that, you know? And it sort of surprised me; I just saw it two hours ago. I find I'm having that conversation with my kids who were there, and they didn't go off to beat somebody up but they kind of got off on it. It's interesting.


Bruce: The Logic of Terrorism

Bruce: Charlottesville — which we started referring to as "C-ville" for short — and then all that happened afterwards stirred up a lot of stuff in me, and affected me strongly. I think most of you know how I got involved in the Freedom Movement, that the very first protest I was on was directly related to the American Nazi Party and being attacked by Nazis. And being Jewish and growing up knowing about and studying the Holocaust.

Cville affected me so much that I wrote and posted on our website three pieces in response to it. One was on the theme of we have to deal with this shit again? That we beat them before, and we're going to beat them again by organizing mass movements. The second one was around the whole question of free speech and hate speech which is what you Gene were raising. And the third was my feeling of real satisfaction and pride at the way the country reacted negatively against these Nazis and white supremacists.

Because I remember in the 1950s and early 1960s when that was definitely not the case. While I'm interested to know what people thought about what I wrote, today I want to talk about something from a different perspective. And that is watching Cville and then watching — as you know, I'm working with this group Indivisible — and watching how Indivisible people reacted reminded me of lessons I'd learned about terrorism and intimidation when I was in the Southern Freedom Movement.

For example, Indivisible people immediately said, "We got to mobilize; they're coming to San Francisco; they're going to speak at Chrissy Field; we'll demonstrate" — referring to publicly announcement plan by Alt-Right supporters to stage something similar here. And a number of people immediately said, "If you go to Chrissy Field, you cannot bring Indivisible banners or buttons or wear T-shirts that say Indivisible, because I'm known as a member of Indivisible, and you will be putting my life in danger from terrorist Nazis and white supremacists."

And other people agreed saying, "Yeah, that's right. Yeah, we can't do that if someone feels we're putting them in danger even if they don't participate." And no one, including me, felt they could dispute that consensus, even though I did disagree. So when Indivisible did go to protest, there were no banners, T-shirts, buttons.

Now one part that I reacted to on this was that I think young people today are incredibly fragile psychologically, and it kind of annoys me that they are so self-involved and fragile and weak. But the more important thing is it brought back to me the logic of terrorism, the logic of Klan terrorism in particular. If you look at the logic of political terrorism, going all the way back to the Romans, the logic of terrorism is, "Do as we command, or we'll kill you." And the "you" includes all members of your family, all members of your community, whether they're actively opposed to us (the terrorists) or not. The essential logic of terrorism is intimidation.

And historically people have had two responses to that. One response is, "We gotta fight back. Resist." That's the response that comes naturally to Freedom Movement veterans like us. The other response, which we don't think about that often is, "Don't provoke the terrorists and maybe they'll leave us alone. Don't cause trouble. Don't stir up that mess." So what terrorism does is it splits communities into two opposing groups, into two factions. One faction saying "resist," and the other faction saying "don't," you'll provoke them.

And that poses to us, the resisters, this incredibly difficult moral dilemma — do we have the moral and political right to put other people at risk without their consent, because we want to resist? And you know, thinking back historically, practically the entire Jewish community of the Mideast was in fact wiped out by the Romans, slaughtered in the Coliseum, crucified along the roads, because a small number of Jews rebelled against Roman tyranny.

One of my favorite books is Barbara Tuchman's, The Guns of August, about the First World War. And there's a passage in there that has stuck with me. When the Germans invaded Belgium, if anybody resisted, they would randomly round up 10 people and shoot them, not the resistors, just random people. And she's describing how she visited cemeteries in Belgium, and saw rows and rows and rows of gravestones that simply said, "Shot by the Germans, 1914."

I remembered what we experienced in Alabama and Mississippi, how people were fired, evicted, physically attacked, sometimes shot it — some of them because they were trying to register to vote, but a lot of them hadn't tried to register to vote yet they suffered retaliation anyway. We would knock on doors, and people would say, "I don't want to be part of that mess." "That mess" was the phrase people used.

We were putting people in danger whether they were part of the "mess" or not. And we had to decide whether that was something we were willing to do. But that's a hard choice, because if you decide not to resist — and by doing so putting your family and community at risk — then tyranny wins. The consequences of no resistance are, I still believe, far worse than the consequences of resistance. Obviously I decided that resistance was necessary regardless of the consequences.

But that is a tough choice we never talked about. You know, we talk about all the great things we did and the Movement did, but we never really talk about that aspect of it. And seeing how Indivisible, which is not a group of dedicated and experienced political activists, but are rather a sort of a random selection of people who are horrified at Trump, reacted to the threaat of Alt-Right terrorism brought that question home to me for the first time in a long time.


Ron: Being Black in America

Ron: I have nothing. I haven't given this a lot of thought. A lot has happened. It was heartening to see people stand up. It was disheartening to see how much bull was being spread around about history and [Confederate] monuments and all that nonsense. And it was good to learn some history that I didn't know, that those monuments, if you want to call them that, were put there as a sort of marking the land, intimidation, just an extension of white supremacy.

The thing about challenging white supremacy, that is extraordinary. My wife Diane sent me a reference about United Nations Memorial in New York City. I think it came online in 2015. It's about the Middle Passage, about all the millions of folks who were lost. It's a marvel and such and symbolic of a person, the gender is not clear, but slavery provided the economic engine that gave birth to capitalism in America. And all descendents of white folks have benefited from it. Period.

Even if you came afterward, you gain access to the resources that were available to white folks, whether it was the GI Bill, whether it was this that after World War II, that were not available to people of color. And that's a tough nut to crack, and that's why we can't get a discussion about it. People would have to own it. White folks would have to own it, that what they have is not legitimate, that what they have is a result of 15 million dead. When we get there in this country, maybe we can begin again. But until we get there, I think it's just all obfuscation.

I love the letter that they sent to the New York Times, those four clergy people, that kind of referenced Dr. King's Birmingham Jail Epistle, that we really believe in where you're trying to get to, we just don't want to be uncomfortable getting there. And I thought they could've added to the reference, "the perfect movement," and I would've said "or candidate."

I live in East Oakland, and I go to middle schools once or twice a week and talk to the boys and talk to the librarian. And I look at those boys very carefully, because there are all-boys' classes, a couple of them, in seventh and eighth grade, just looking at them really hard, trying to decipher who will survive America in this room. I mean, it gets down to that, that they are so at risk of just not getting through the year. A whole lot of conversation does not seem to be really relevant.

You know, you do what you can. Somebody asked me to come over to speak to and be part of an Indivisible here in Berkeley a couple weeks ago, at a church I think. And I — no. I don't really see any value of talking to those audiences, you know? I want to talk to kids, because that is who is at risk. That's just me. Anyway, yeah, we've got some hard battles ahead, because I don't know. Gene raised the question of white candidates not running, and I think that doesn't work, because power has to be taken. It can't be given. If they give it to you, you're not going to keep it. So I'm not sure that works at all, and I would never ask anybody to do that.

Miriam: Wait, just clarification question. You're saying white candidates shouldn't run? Or shouldn't question running?

Ron: I don't think it's realistic to ask them not to run.

Miriam: Oh, OK.

Ron: I just don't. Again, that's all about power and money. What do they used to say about Washington [DC]? They came to serve and stayed to get served. No, anybody going into politics, there's something else driving them, and maybe they want to get into a position of power like Bernie [Sanders] did. But again, Bernie set up a [campaign] that looked more like Scandinavia. No people of color up there. And it shows in his politics.

You know, the whole "identity politics." All that says is do not move the discussion from white folks, because when you start talking about Asian folks, brown folks, black folks, white folks are no longer the center of the conversation. And that is about white supremacy. That is the only thing we want to talk about. Keep you in your place. And so this is not something I normally say to people, because why?

You know, I have friends, supporters, saviors who are white. Yet I know there are certain conversations we're not going to have, because I sit with those boys in East Oakland. And if you really look at their lives, you're going to weep. That's because their parents are denied access, because that access goes to other folks. And so, I don't know, Charlottesville? Good stuff. Got to do more. I will not try to tell people how to fight this battle. I don't tell people what not to do. I just ask that you do something.

Just because a white person doesn't see the world the way I see the world, doesn't mean they can't do something that moves it a little closer. But in the final analysis, we've got to fight for it. It's really kind of amazing when I'm starting to look back at this history of ours and just all of the things that have been done and continue to be done. Jeff Sessions [Laughter] that boy! Finally got his dream job, and he wishes he could take this country back to the admixture that existed in 1920 in terms of the percentage of whites and the percentage of people of color. That's his goal. We'll see. We'll see.

So if anything good comes out of it is that people understand that they have to fight, really anyway you can, everywhere you can. No quarter is going to be given. And stay healthy. It's one of the things we're trying to do. You know, my doctor said you got a 20% chance of having a cardiac or stroke event in the next 10 years.

I said, "Really?" He said, "Oh yeah." I said, "Well, why?" He said, "Your blood pressure is well-managed; you've got this; you've got that; you know you're doing everything." I said, "So why is it so high?" She said because you're old, and you're a Black man. And that's what the data shows. This country is lethal.

When you talk to those little eighth graders and seventh graders — I hear other black men telling them — all kinds of black men come in there. I say, "Look, stress. You're built for stress. On the way from home to school, you endure more stress. And yeah, we're telling you that it makes you strong and all that, but I'm telling you that it kills you."

The fact that I'm 73 is really an anomaly. So, there's a lot to it. Everybody has to pick their battles and do what they can. I don't know about the bigger picture. Too many things are going on. It's amazing the things that have happened and the way the voting has been gerrymandered and the decisions the Supreme Court made about funding. It is really an oligarchy in this country, but I'm not trying to go live anywhere else. You know, I lived somewhere else, and now I'm living here. Got blood in the ground. So it's real relative.

We're not poor, even by Oakland terms. We're not poor, because poverty will kill you. I tell the kids when they ask me, "How you doing today, baba?" I say, "I am blessed. I was given the gift of breath this morning, and I know that so many weren't." So now it behooves me to find something positive to do with that.

Miriam: Let me just interject. Mike Miller is circulating a [draft] letter [to the New York Times in response to an Op-Ed column about Cville and antifa], you saw?

Ron: Been watching it and reading it. I thought the last comment by Betty Garmin was right on target. [That the media is focusing too much attention on antifa defensive violence and not enough on the far more serious white-supremacist violcence.] I'm like on that one, you know?

A lot of folks chiming in, including Charlie Cobb and all kinds of people. And I personally would not sign that. I thought she covered it better than me, which was to say I don't get to judge how people fight this battle. I don't get to judge that. And they referenced our movement — the original letter — the original op-ed in the New York Times, they referenced our movement which I thought was really cool. We need to hear more about that.

And they got some things a little off about the Deacons of Defense and all that, but I wouldn't want to be in a march where I've got people in masks and hoods walking next to me carrying God knows what. I'm too old to run, and I don't want to fight. So I get that part; I really do. But I didn't think it was important enough to step on their original Op-Ed, which is to say I love the way they finished it, "Come out of your house; join the movement." You know, it's not going to be perfect, but if you're in the mix, then you can give some.

And I thought about the macho stuff that these [antifa] guys are doing with themselves. I get that, if that's what it is. Actually, I did that. [General laughter]. You can put a lot of people at risk doing that stuff. Sometimes I look back in my past and I'm like "Oh my God. I did that? I am so blessed that nobody died." When you're youthful, boy you think you know it all. And the group culture — it only takes one crazy [person] in a group of five to pull them all off the track. So, I don't know if that answered your question. Obviously, I have thought about it more than I thought I thought about it. [General laughter]


Miriam: Why Are They So Angry?

Miriam: I've been handling this by trying to understand the people that basically — I don't like what they're doing. So I'm trying to understand why these young white men are so angry and what's going on with them. I read Hillbilly Elegy, which talked about one group, and I want to do some more reading. I guess I think we're doing something wrong as a country, to have so many angry young men, and I don't know where to go from there.

I would support universal healthcare, universal prekindergarten for four-year-olds, some things that would make life better. I think in a lot of countries in Europe you can be poor and live decently, because housing is available and healthcare is available if you need it. I'm trying to understand what it is that we're doing wrong. And whatever it is, it's big, because there are a lot of groups all over the country that are part of this.

I am lucky to have one friend who supports Trump and supports all that nonsense, you know anti-immigrant, yeah there were two sides, because look at these black-dressed people [referring to the Antifa group]. Trump speaks to him, although he doesn't like Trump personally, but Trump is speaking to more than my friend Brian. So what have we done wrong? And what do we need to change about this country? That there are all these Brians around. So that's what I'm trying to do. I'm just trying to understand.

I think Arlie Hochschild or someone wrote a book. There's another book out I think by a woman about class in America. I do want to comment that Bruce's thing about how different the reaction of the leadership of the country is now than it was in the Civil Rights Movement. That was comforting to me. Yeah, we have moved. The country has moved. I wish I had more answers. But I don't think necessarily that deciding how to demonstrate against these folks is what we ought to be looking at. We ought to be looking at why are these folks where they are. That's me.


Hardy: The Contradictions We Face

Hardy: I was interested in a couple of questions. One is the role the Black women played {UNCLEAR} as compared to — kind of pushed aside a lot of Black males {UNCLEAR} from the public arena. I went to the first demonstration [in response to Cville], and I just wanted to see what would happen, because I believe in conflict theory. When I saw conflict theory, my view is that when you look over a 40-year period, a lot of stuff started and became anchored in the Movement around simply trying to disrupt this conflict.

Not so much {UNCLEAR} down with ideology {UNCLEAR} on one hand which is the Communist Party talking to us in one ear, etc. and yet most of us at our age was willing to read all the stuff, {UNCLEAR} or to slow our Movement down in relationship to making change.

So I went to the [protest] here [in Berkeley], and what I saw was I saw two groups. There was the anarchist group who were kind of dangerous to people like me who can't run anymore. [They were] raring for a fight and throwing rocks and putting rocks in socks and stuff like that, and some people got hurt apparantly. I stayed back at the edge, and I left at one point when I figured they were going to break out, and I couldn't run fast, so I would've just got run over.

What bothered me a little bit about it was they were not actively trying to talk to the people who are on the edge of this whole thing. There were a bunch of people who were on the edge of the whole thing, who were in the park. And that confrontation was very different. They're arguing a little bit about — trying to gain information, and nobody was interested, it seems to me, in trying to organize them and giving them information. It was either you were for knocking out windows, etc. which, I went through that stage. I knocked out a lot of windows in my day. But they didn't have anything to say that would educate a lot of these people on the edge, at least while I was there for about two hours.

Now, how does that [protest] relate to where I think we are. You know the day after the president's inauguration, when you get 600,000 people people out in the street, that's a lot of people compared to where we were some time ago. And you have to deal with that. And I hadn't seen demonstrations in the last few months that were more similar to what I saw around the heated part of our discussion around Vietnam, where you could go to San Francisco, and there would be a demonstration, and you would have thousands and thousands of people out there.

So partly, I think that's where we gotta go on doing our part. I think that also, the demonstrations [were partly] build around the young woman who was killed in Charlottesville. I mean you know a lot of people turned out and rejected it. But I think were on the cusp of a bigger movement. It's not going to be like the old Civil Rights Movement with a lot of spirit we got from participating in it, with the culture and music, etc, because that's not where we're at now. I think where we're at right now, there are harder questions that have to be institutional confrontation with each other. We're into this mess right now.

And there are some real interesting constitutional questions, and so what I do is I sit around and I look at the right-wing, left-wing and the other wings and just sit there and try to understand what people want. And I think there's a contradiction {UNCLEAR}.

I mean healthcare is a fantastic issue. I don't know his brother; I want to interview him one of these days, but this Black guy who started something in Oakland or Berkeley; I don't know his name, but he is on TV now a lot. When he went on to interview a lot of white people and talk to the Klan and all these other people, the kind of questions that they discussed with him were interesting, and what some of these right wing-nuts said raised questions about basic issues that affect everybody. Healthcare. 14 million people without health care? Or 16 million people without health care? I mean that's a lot of people not got healthcare, {UNCLEAR}.

So my view right now is just to try to hang on and play the role, trying to figure out a role that I can play. Like I'm meeting with a bunch of freshmen at Berkeley, Black freshman kids, at a seminar that they're putting on where I'm just go sit around and let them talk, and I talk back with them about these issues.

Right now, I think the more conflict that occurs, the more the contradictions emerge. And that's what needs to be challenged. I mean, thinking about throwing 14 million people off of healthcare. I mean, it doesn't even make sense if you try to raise {UNCLEAR}. The idea that we don't have a warmongering population ready to go stomp the North Koreans. Well, stuff like that that seems to me that politicians and the right-wing can get away with, they're not capable of getting {UNCLEAR}. I don't see the same kind of hatred.

I see contradictions being raised around these issues. And as a consequence, I think it will prepare us and prepare the left to support the bases. If anything, what I really like is that somehow going to the streets has become more legitimate, back. And see, we've got to remember now, when we first started talking about going to the streets, everybody thought we were crazy, even people on our side thought it was crazy. Now going to the streets is not — it's an element of the movement that people suggest is okay to do.

Now, the fact that we don't have a leader, that's able to call for a massive — put a million people in D.C. is a different question. What I'm going to ask my Congresswoman [Barbara Lee] when I see her — I'm going ask her, "Why don't you just call for a meeting for people to go to Washington and sit down? Like the Poor People's Campaign?"

I mean, we got these people unemployed; we don't have wagons and mules but we have a bus. Just go to Washington and sit down. Think about the idea that people can shut down Washington, D.C., just like the Congress and the budget can shut down D.C. And we've got plenty of people to do it, because there are a lot of people that are unemployed. But nobody will call for that. And clearly, the Democratic Party is not ready to call for it, but Barbara Lee, when I see her, were friends, and I'll just tell her, "Why don't y'all put a million people in the street?" And the Poor People's Campaign was rooted in the structure change — healthcare. There are about two or three issues. Anyway, other than that, I'm just trying to deal with my health. That's all.

Miriam: All right, so we've all had turns so it's now open. Anyone want to add to what we've said? Cathy.


Anti-Racist Protests

Cathy: The 40,000 people who demonstrated in Boston against racism two days or something after Charlottesville, that was so incredibly important to me and inspiring. I mean, I still can't quite believe it, that it happened. And you know, besides my own personal past, that having that happen just totally opened me up to wanting to demonstrate in Berkeley. And feeling like it could be done. I mean, all those people showed up, and the racists didn't because all those people showed up. And the same thing happened here. That's huge. So I take a lot from that.

[When white-supremacists attempted to stage a rally on Boston Commons they were so out-numbered by a huge crowd of counter-protesters that they slunk away in defeat]

Hardy: See, I think this society is going through a major contradiction. I was thinking about the Boston thing the other day. Boston is known on one hand for being a tough town with a history of racism and ethnicity and at the same time, {UNCLEAR}. And so you see the same people today saying, {UNCLEAR}, and when you go to a sporting event, and somehow they forget that these guys are Black. Every once in a while they call out in the audience. I think that these contradictions are so great now, we don't have hard and fast rules about race like we used to have. {UNCLEAR}.

Now if you want to talk about institutional racism {UNCLEAR} definitely rooted there. But I think there's a basic contradiction that operates that on the one hand they want to be racist and they want all this, but I haven't seen them make a very sophisticated argument about why they're getting the short end of the stick and being anti-Black. On the other hand, I see Black people being confused as well. When I watch the Black kids talk about racist stuff, I find it very interesting how they talk about it.

Bruce: You know, I was thinking about what you said about Boston. And Boston, among northern cities, has some of the most intense, institutionalized racism of any city in America. In the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s for sure, Boston was badly split between a very racist, white, Southy — South Boston, opposed to school integration, and so on; and a liberal, intellectual component. So I would be interested to know, of those 40,000 [on Boston Common], what was the breakdown? Did that include people from South Boston? And I'm using that symbolically; obviously it's not necessarily geographic.


Times Are Getting Tougher

Bruce: But the other thing I was thinking is when I look at what we were doing in the 1960s, the 1950s the 1960s were a time of a rising tide for everybody — economically, socially, politically. I mean, if you look at the stories of the people who've posted on our website, over and over for both Whites and Blacks, activists say, "I was the first one in my family ever to be going to college, the first one in the history of my family to have the opportunity to go to college, and I went and sat in and got arrested." I was one of those people, so were some of the rest of us in this room.

Coming out of the New Deal and its reforms, yes, there was enormous racial discrimination, but the tide was still going up for everybody. And that gave us a lot of hope and confidence and a certain kind of freedom. But when Hardy is saying that there are contradictions, that caused me to think that we are now in a completely different situation, because now the tide is running out for society. In the 1950s and 1960s, income inequality was narrowing. Now income inequality is the worst it's been since the 1920s.

And now there are existential threats to people's existence, global warming. So that's making the contradictions, and the desperation, and the panic, and the fear far more intense. I think that is profoundly affecting how people are reacting to all of these pressures. And Trump is both a cause and a symptom. I mean, in a very real way, his election was a symptom of economic inequality, of desperation, of pain and suffering, and looking for someone to blame, just total disgust at the whole political situation. But he is also a mover and shaker and a cause of white supremacy and liberating this kind of — 

Remember Bevel? He had enormous problems, but when news reporters would say to him, "Aren't you provoking all this violence with your Birmingham and your Selma [protests]? You're causing this violence." And his answer was, he said, "Racism is like a boil, an infection in society, and you cannot cure it until you rip it open and you expose it to the sun, painful and ugly as that might be." And I think that in some ways that's where we're at today, except that in our situation, we're doing it with the tide going out and not the tide coming in.

And that's a little scary to me, because the real fascism that we saw in Europe came about in a time when the tide was going out — the Depression, the aftermath of World War I and so forth. So on the one hand, I'm really buoyed and encouraged by the response we saw after Charlottesville, but I'm also very scared about what the future could hold, because Trump and his base and the Republican Party have not yet decided to turn to repression.


Race and Class

Hardy: What bothers me with your analysis, Bruce, though I agree with most of it, is that we tend to think that society and its views around race, class, etc. are pre-Vietnam almost, in terms of white-supremacy. People do believe that. But for white-supremacy, how many people turned out for that white-supremacist march in Charlottesville? Not that many.

Bruce: About a thousand, I think?

Hardy: I mean, I don't think it was that many. But anyway, the point is that I see the society living through major contradictions. These contradictions, all of a sudden for the first time, they know that only 1 or 2% control the economy. They know these things. They know that these people are willing to put them out of healthcare.

One thing the media does around healthcare that I like is that they always have one or two Blacks that they interview; they interview a lot of white people who say that all of a sudden, "Hey man, my wife got cancer."

These kinds of things are forcing them to address institutional racism and classism, it seems to me. And as a consequence of whenever they get to the point of saying "no," then that's when you have the potential. I think you have the potential that you get a better across base movement. The point is that the class issues aren't clear anymore; the race issues aren't clear anymore, and more than that is that what is clear is that there is inequality that exists, and they're talking about taking from people, basic necessities that we think are needed.

The fact that this guy can sit around and say that Trump is willing to do whatever he's done today, at the expense of other people. It seems to me that it has to be penetrating somewhat. Maybe I'm wrong.

Ron: You know, Miriam asked the question about why working class, middle-class, white young men are so angry? My quick answer was that they don't want to share.

Hardy: They don't want to what?

Ron: They don't want to share.

Hardy: Yeah, right.

Ron: But all of it is a mask, like it's always been, back to after Reconstruction where they pitted the races against each other to keep the class contradictions from rising to the top. That's what they did in the South, right? They had populist stuff going on, and then like, "No, no, no. It's all right. As long as you're better than Black people, it's all right that you're poor." The huge wealth inequality is what is being masked, and they're using race to do it.

And all that other stuff they're doing. And gender. And they [white working class] are buying it. I mean, that's how they could elect Trump even though, what? They said they don't like him, but he's a white male who's got money. And that's better than this Black man who gave you all this stuff. So I don't know. I'm talking about Obama. But yeah, I can't get inside the head of people who allow themselves to be manipulated like that, who vote against their own self interest, who are so fixated on the idea of difference and race. I don't know what that is.

Hardy: A lot of Christians do it every day.

Ron: Go ahead. Talk about that.

Hardy: In poor communities. I mean, God's not done shit for people, and yet they buy into it. Every Sunday. And take their money and give it to people to do it. So it's not — 

Ron: For something else.

Hardy: You can't use the ideology that would, in fact, get people to buy into it sometimes. The question becomes, How do you get people to say, "If what I'm getting meaningfully out of society through religion has to be different, except that I feel better, but I don't have it."

Ron: That's what's going on. It's a feeling. All of this stuff is. You know, they want to feel powerful.

Hardy: But they won't feel powerful — one thing to remember now — they won't feel powerful, one thing they don't want to get rid of — they're not the ones who are pushing to get rid of healthcare, Obamacare. [like that] guy talking about Obamacare said, "Oh, I get Medicare." They don't know the difference.

Ron: It's not the young men you were talking about then.

Hardy: Well, yeah, right.

Ron: It's the women. It's the older men who are responsible for some stuff.

Hardy: Right.


White Assumptions

Ron: And know that they're going to lose people if they don't have this medical care. But these young men — Just spoiled. You know? They want it, but they don't want to be challenged about it. They were raised to believe that they're supposed to be on the top, and nobody gets to challenge it. Every movie from John Wayne to Bruce Willis to Steven Segal to who's the latest one? That boy from Boston? Him and his brother, anyway.

They were raised to believe that they don't have to follow the rules. They've got all these movies and TV shows. They say they get to act out and break the rules, and they're always right. And these people go to the workplace and find that somebody from East Asia is their boss. [General laughter]

Not making them happy. I have no sympathy for them. And all these books about Hillbilly Elegy and all that stuff, I find to be apologist for what is just plain racism and white supremacy, and they will lynch you and jail you and put your kids in jail and use that money. They're lobbying in these small towns in the Midwest so that they can have a federal prison. Why? Then they use people like me or my kids as enslaved, so I don't have any sympathy for them.

Chude: In terms of Ron's comments, I do think there's class stuff there that needs to be differentiated. I honestly don't think that all white males have been raised to think they have privilege. I think there may be some white males that have been very badly hurt by this system, some very early, and they're very angry. That is partly what Miriam is talking about. I think if you grow up in a very poor home and you don't have healthcare and you don't have food and you don't have all those things, it does make you angry.

That you might strike out to the wrong place is about white supremacy and racism, and I think that's manipulation by the higher powers, the people with control. One of the things I like about much of what Bruce has written on the website at various points about Movement history is to show that when it became too expensive for the higher elites in a small town or in a city in the South — when the demonstrations and everything made it too expensive through the boycotts — the racist violence stopped. They stopped it.

So the focus there is not on the poor whites; they're the pawns. The focus is on who is running the show and manipulating them. Now how we begin to organize such that those who have been manipulated can be changed, that gets into that question of how we educate and communicate with people.

I want to raise a slightly different question which goes back to something Ron had said earlier also. Last week I heard on the CNN book channel a discussion about a new book that is come out on the Woman Suffrage movement, and you'd think there had never been anything written about it to listen to these highly educated professional women [talking on the show]. "Oh I learned all these new things." There was only one thing that I didn't know. In other words, no, we did know these things.

As much as some people don't like Communists, some very good Communist women were writing things so that when I got in the Women's Movement in 1967, there actually were already some good books to learn about the history of the Woman Sufferage movement. What interested me is that these were Black and white women.

But in any case, [the women on the book show] said that they were pushing the whole idea of getting a woman elected. These were all pro-Hillary people. And they said that 52% of the white women who voted, voted for Trump. They would not touch the question of racism. Nobody mentioned racism. Nobody mentioned white supremacy. These women, black and white, and the audience talked about all kinds of ways that we need to organize and get together.

The euphemisms. "We need to come past our differences. A lot of those white women, they might have been scared; they might have been all of those reasons that people went for Trump other than Hillary." Because they don't think racism is important. They could discount that. In the same way that a certain percentage of those women could discount sexism, because they are so embroiled in the patriarchal, sexist mindset. They are equally embroiled in the racist white supremacist mindset.

I don't think we can pretend that's not true in organizing people. Now these are not the young'uns, but the thing was that women were talking about supporting women candidates whether they are Republican or Democrat. Well no! Yoo-hoo, everybody. The fact that you have a vulva rather than a penis does not automatically mean that you are for social justice and equality for the majority of people in the world. You can be just as elitist. Betsy DeVos, is now doing yet another reactionary thing. Trump has women, white women, around him who are reactionary. Hello!

You know, this does not speak to the people in the streets, per se, except that I think that some percentage of white women, goodhearted white women who are going into the streets because they are horrified by all the different things that have happened, not just with the individual Trump but with the conservative administration. I don't think they understand how serious it is, to look at this issue of white supremacy and to look at the issue of the patriarchal mindset on the part of so many women.

I think it's there, and as much as some of the other questions that were looking at, it's important. And I don't think that women's liberation means that you become just as violent and idiotic as young males. I mean I have to say that too. You know, macho females are still caught up in that macho mindset, and that also, I don't think, is where it is. I think we have to talk about male and female, people of color, and who, I agree with Marion, now are becoming more and more mixed. I mean, you have a lot of people in this country now that are in mixed relationships.

Gene: Or that are mixed themselves.

Chude: If they're not mixed themselves, right. Or their children now are. I mean it's still a small percentage of the population, but compared to when we were in the 1960s, it's a huge change.

Bruce: So-called "miscegenation" was illegal when we were in the 1960s.

Chude: Well, miscegenation wasn't illegal as long as it was white males raping and assaulting nonwhite women.

Bruce: Right.

Chude: But intermarriage was illegal, yeah. So just to add to the thing, because it just happened last week that I saw this, and realizing that hey, we can't say we're against racism and then go about our business as if [just saying] that means we're against racism. On that point I agree so much with you Ron. It's so much deeper. White supremacy, it means always white folks, unless they have done their work, always think in terms of white is central; white is key; everybody else is identified. And you only have to listen to white people talk about people, and you get it immediately. "So-and-so came, and he was Black and oh yeah, there were these three women." And they aren't identified as white, because they are just like me, and we're the dominant group. It's the people of color who get identified. That is white supremacy.

Ron: And I thought I was radical. [General laughter]

Bruce: Yeah, you've got to watch out for Chude. [General laughter]


Culture and Race

Miriam: So awhile back, I asked Hardy, "When there are these mass shootings, it's almost always white men doing it. And even though you would think that the Black men were more bitter, they're not doing the mass shootings. So Hardy's answer was, and you tell me if I'm saying it correctly, is that the Black boys knew growing up that their situation wasn't good; whereas the whites thought that they would be fine until they became young men and couldn't get jobs, and they weren't fine. So this whole issue of where these angry white guys come from I think relates to that.

Hardy: The shift in culture and all the stuff that I see from walking on the street in the Bay Area, where — I will give you an example, a kind of a strange example. I remember doing some work at McClymonds High School, and me and my research assistant were walking out of the school one day, and we heard this {UNCLEAR} and everybody was {UNCLEAR} and I was supposed to be a Black young leader right? And we just kind of turned around, and she was Vietnamese. And my wife is working down there and I see these Vietnamese kids coming out of McClymonds 'cause that neighborhood is changing — better get in now, 'cause it's gone.

So you get all these contradictions. I mean, watching these shows they have on TV. I mean, miscegenation and mixed marriages, who cares? That's OK. Everybody loves everybody now. But I mean, you don't just wake up one day and {UNCLEAR}.

And institutionally, I think there's no doubt about it, the institutions are the ones — and a lot of it has to do with class base, because I think they're preparing a Black bourgeoisie to share [power] with, and soon. My friend had a program where he was interviewing Afro-Americans as an ancestral thing. Now they've got him interviewing whites, McCain and {UNCLEAR}, and it was clear that they're going use him to say — he's going to play a role of showing that {UNCLEAR} some good white people. Basically. And he winds up with bullshit I couldn't believe. I called him and told him too. I mean, he wound up with McCain being the offspring of George Washington. [General laughter]

I said goddamn! So I mean, how do you live in that world? How do you — We've got a Chinese lady that walks around my neighborhood, right? And she must be 65 or 70 and she's always picking up cans and things. But she and I got a deal. I save the cans for her and all that kind of stuff.

You see a lot of this kind of stuff happening that was not happening when we started in the 1950s and 1960s. Now you just can't — I don't know if you can ignore that. I go to the clinic, and I see the same thing when I go to Kaiser [health facilities] it's like a damn Third World in there. And people are talking to each other, and people are working there.

Ron: The Bay Area is deceptive [re how multicultural it is].

Hardy: There's been changes in race relations through contact that wasn't there before. It's just not George Wallace's day when you couldn't even speak to a white person. It's just not.

And the cultural — rap, I find rap interesting; I don't like the music, but I find it interesting. You see white kids — and I see them down on there behind Berkeley High School. I mean, they've got a little friction here and there, but it's still very different from the society I grew up in as a kid, where you don't even cross the line. You know, you don't go over.


Angry Whites in Berkeley & Elsewhere

Gene: So I go back on the question of, in a certain sense of what it is that we are supposed to do, or what we should do.

Cathy: Who's we?

Gene: Us. In this group for instance, or people like us. We approach things by saying we have a certain history which gives us an ability — that we have something to offer to people in terms of what's going on around us. And what is it that we have to offer?

And for me, it has to do with the basic style of organizing, which has to do with, whichever groups we are working with. We need to find out what the important issues are to those groups. And at the same time, to have for myself the perspective of what I think is important not necessarily as particular issues. But the questions of antiracism; the questions of white supremacy; the classism; the questions of capitalism.

Those are all important issues to me, but I want to know, because I don't think I do know what are the important issues to the people with whom we are working. We're saying, "Why are the young men, white men mad?" Now I know some people who work in other places with white people, and they have to find out from them what are the reasons that they are mad. I look at Berkeley; there's a group of white people in Berkeley who I don't think would define themselves as racists or classist, but they have taken on the role of working for the big developers. And it's a group called BARF; they are Bay Area Renters Federation. [General laughter]

And they are financed by one of the Silicon Valley conservatives. And they show up at City Council meetings to scream at people in the community who want to block the development of high cost housing. And they scream, "Oh you old white people! You just want to keep your houses for yourself! You just want to make the money off your property! You just want to do this!"

And the current council questions them. The prior council said, "Uh-huh, uh-uh." So there was, even in Berkeley, up until the last election, a majority of the City Council who listened to these folks. And they get very angry. I mean they say nasty things. They call us NIMBYs if you want to preserve your diverse, integrated neighborhood, your community, forgetting that NIMBYs were people who were trying to keep Black people out of their neighborhoods. But that's what they call us. All these kinds of things. "And you're denying white people the right to — You're denying us [they don't say white people], you're denying us the right to live in Berkeley."

I haven't exactly figured out why we have to provide them with housing. I'm not sure about that when the University doesn't want to build housing, when Silicon Valley doesn't want to build housing in Woodside for their employees; they want them to go to San Francisco, then force people over here. So then why are we the ones who are supposed to provide housing, when we've been providing more housing than any of the other communities, or many of the other communities around. But is it because they feel they shouldn't be denied? I don't really think so. I think that they actually have a very reactionary politics. I've had conversations with some of them, and they're really reactionary conservatives, not only around race but around economics. And their belief is that people who have money should have the power to do whatever they want.

Ron: You're not sure they're not getting paid?

Gene: Well they may be getting paid. No, no I think they are getting support. I don't know individually if they are. But all I'm saying is that I don't think it's their angry whiteness alone which makes them that way. I think there's politics involved. I think there are people pushing them. I don't think that the coal miners who are supposedly the angry backbone of Trump's campaign suddenly became Trump supporters. I think their bosses came and told them, "Well the only way you'll get back a job is if you elect to this reactionary so that we can make money."

There's nobody amongst them who says, "Well, wait a minute. You profited off of our work for the last 150 years. How come you're not giving us better homes? How come you're not paying for healthcare when you've done that?" I mean, that's as logical a response to them as Trump saying, "You've got to open up the business and get rid of all the controls on smoke emissions and stuff like that." I mean it's all politics there. It's not accidental. I don't think that these people are angry just out of — 

Cathy: They're scared.

Gene: Well, they're scared, but they're also being manipulated. They're also being shoved.

Bruce: Yes. Manipulated. And used as props. I don't buy the "angry coal miners for Trump" meme. There aren't that many Appalachian coal miners left. That workforce has been declining for decades as the coal companies switched from tunneling to moutaintop removal as a way of cutting labor costs and switched production from Kentucky tunnel mines to Wyoming strip mines. I think the "angry coal miners for Trump" thing is a phony public relations myth created by Republican campaign operatives. It's a false symbol with very little reality behind it.

I mean, what comes back to me is mostly around housing. People are terrified of losing where they live. And they look on the street, and they see all the homeless people, and they're not very far from them. So to me, that's an issue. That's an issue. But not to deal with the issue by saying, "Well, let's arm all the people in the community so we can go take back what's rightfully ours."


The Perspective of Age

Gene: When I look at a community like here, I say, "I need to talk to people that I want to work with in South Berkeley in particular, but wherever, to say, 'Well, what are your issues? What are the things?'"

I think what we have to offer is this sense is that the power and the community should come from the base. That's what we have always advocated. The leadership of the community should come from the base. We should not be imposing leadership on people. That's an important principle to me. And even within this small group that I'm working with, I see how easy it is to get away from that.

And I see the fights that start, and I see, you know, somebody says, "I want to run for office," and everybody's getting behind him; he gets in office, and then he's no longer interested in anybody. And I'm going, "Well, I said that beforehand." People want to support him, OK.

I have to say one thing. When I was talking to my daughter, I realized that certain things aren't as crucial for me anymore as they used to be. I'm 76 years old. I'm not going to live to see these terrible things. Even if Naomi Klein is right, I'm not going to see the planet end. Now I feel badly that my granddaughter could, but it doesn't have the same impact on me. And I can't fight these battles the same way I did in the 1960s. I have to say, coming out of the 1950s, where I thought I wouldn't live to be 30, because I thought that the world would be destroyed by nuclear armament, nuclear war.

I would say that once I got involved in the Civil Rights Movement, I didn't think about that anymore. I just said, "We can do this. We can make these changes." I could feel that positive, and I was willing to do that.

I don't need that anymore. I'll do the things I need to do just because I believe in them. Maybe I got religion, I don't know. I believe in these things. I believe that the people on the bottom have a right, not necessarily to be on top, but at least to have their voices heard, to help them develop their strength, to fight for these things. I believe in that.

I believe that people should be able to do things in ways that essentially aren't harmful, and that's a very broad term. It's true; I don't care if I harm a developer who wants to make a lot of money out of developing the building. I'll harm him, personally harmful. I have certain, I guess what we would call principles, and I'll try to do things by those principles. And I think we all share those things, and we should be talking to people but these are still important principles, that there are people who are powerless, and we want to help them get power or get some sense of power.

And that has to do with race, and that has to do with sex or gender — 

Male: — and class — 

Gene: — however you want to say that, but that these are still important issues. And, that we know something about organizing around those issues. And as I say, I don't care whether it's exactly housing, or healthcare, or am willing to do — if people come and say, "Healthcare is the most important thing that we need to fight for," I'll organize around that.

Ron: Why do you think that's important to organize?

Gene: Why do I think it's important? Because I think that's how people get their voices heard. And I believe that the society will be better when more people have the ability to make their voices heard.



Marion: Well, actually, regarding what Gene said, I want to reiterate that there is a word called "self-empowerment" that you're talking about, and another word is "grassroots" that we have forgotten. And I tend to agree with you that without self-empowerment, no matter what other powers come to be that you're surrounded with, you've got to feel that you are important enough to partake in it so that you start getting engaged by being empowered.

And it's all starting with your inner self, who you think you are and what you're capable of. So I remember in the 1960s and 1970s that we talked a lot about that among the students, and when I was in that movement, we talked about that a lot. I hadn't heard that word again for a while. I think it does start with individuals feeling like they have a right to be a part of everything. If they don't, then they will just watch the powers that be keep on going without thinking that they can actually be a part of the change that they want to be.

So I can really identify with your drive, because I have that too. But the thing that intrigues me a lot is some of the stuff you said to radical, supposedly liberal, women who would say one thing and then do what's more familiar. It almost reminds me of a sexually abused woman who would rather be kicked around by her husband than change, than walk out and go to a halfway house for women. Because it's what she's familiar with. She's familiar with all the beatings, and she doesn't know what else to do. And at least she knows what's coming, at least she knows what's sane or insane; and she'd rather be in something familiar.

And I wonder whether that's part of it. But another thing that I've always been concerned about is the lack of education or lack of history that can change you, if we can see the history of abuse, of one sex over another. If we really understand, and again, that comes from grassroots organizing for these women. That's just an example of how they go from saying one thing and doing something else. It's because they feel safer being in a negative environment, even though it's going to kill them.

There's a lot to be said to me about how do you change a psychology of a group of people? Regardless of whether their white supremacists or young Black males or Chinese-Americans. You know, I've really been working through that a lot, learning about how I go from being politically aware and savvy to working with other Asian Americans, to have them see what I think is not working with Asian Americans, and how can I bring them forward? Because I see an awareness that I don't think they're seeing, and that's my challenge.

So I have my own little bit that I have to work on, and I know what I need to work on. I know exactly what I need to do, but it takes time. But it's like, where are the roots of the problems of why are we not getting it? Why are we not reaching white conservatives?

And what you're saying about it, Gene, about housing and rich white folks wanting their own bit, I agree, it's not white. It's conservatives. Why are they not willing to share? Why are we not sharing our bountiful harvest if we have it? And somebody else doesn't have it? Why are we just think about ourselves and not sharing it? And that's kind of an interesting thing about white conservatives wanting their upper-income housing. They think they have a right to it, but why are we not talking about sharing the profits? How can we help others have their housing? So it's not that one is wrong, but how can we shift it where the focus is more about inclusiveness instead of exclusiveness? And what's going on? And that's where I feel like there's this tension that's not being addressed.


Countering the Bourbons

Bruce: So what I was thinking about while I was listening to everyone is that the movement we were part of, there were three main things we were dealing with: segregation, voting rights, and then later, economic issues. And winning on segregation and voting rights was really hard, and was a brutal, hard, difficult struggle. But intellectually, understanding the issue, wasn't that hard. It wasn't a complex issue "white only." It's not intellectually challenging. Defeating it was difficult, but it wasn't a complex issue.

But as soon as we got into economics, where you begin to deal with class and race and power and greed, then it got very complicated, and we didn't solve it. I mean, let's be honest; the truth is, we didn't solve it. So somehow in my old age I've become a historian. I don't know what I did to deserve that, but there it is. So I do a lot of history. What I've seen in reading American history is that in this country there has always been a significant portion of the white population that have been stone cold, absolute racists and bigots and nativists from the Puritans on down to today.

When I went to school, the Puritans stepping onto the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, all that was a beautiful myth story. The truth is that they were religious bigots who would make the Taliban look like liberals. Then you have the slaveowners, the plantation owners who came over in the 1600s because they wanted to be Dukes and Earls and have peons and slaves, and they had that mentality of "We are superior beings, and everyone who is not us is just livestock for our use." And not just by race but also by class. And you can follow those mindsets of bigotry and racism and greed and power all through American history. p In the 1800s, they called themselves "Mugwumps" and "Know Nothings." They became the "Jingoists," and KKK, "America Firsters," and "White Citizens Councils" and so on. Throughout our history there has always been this portion of the American population — the white population — who in my opinion are, and always have been, dedicated racists, bigots, greedists, and so on. And there is no changing that. I think that yeah, once in a while, an individual will flip over, but by and large, I don't believe it's possible, politically, to change that group of people.

But then there's another group which are the people who use division and racism as their path to riches and power. King called them the "Bourbons," and in his speech at the end of the March to Montgomery, he delineated how segregation was imposed not immediately after slavery but in the late 1800s to defeat the Populists, because the Populists were challenging the wealth of the Bourbons — the wealthy planters and mine owners and factory owners. They themselves may not personally hold racist ideology but they use it, and deliberately fomment and incite it, for their own political purposes. And we saw that over and over again in the South. Politicians inciting white hatred and violence when it was convenient for their personal power and greed, and then turning it off when it became inconvenient — such as when our economic boycotts began to bite their businesses.

For us as anti-racist activists, our problem is that there are whites who are not inherently part of that committed Mugwump, racist, fraction but because of desperation, and fear, and being scared, can be influenced by the Bourbons to vote for right-wing Republicans, or to attack Black Lives Matter, and so on. I'm talking about whites who twice voted for Obama and then voted for Trump. If we allow them to be won over and influenced by the Bourbons, we're going to lose. I mean that's the fact of the matter.

If we want to have any hope of preventing what could be worse catastrophes than even Trump today, we have to fight to win over that portion of the white population who are reachable. Which, at least in the North, we did during the Freedom Movement and afterwards. When that swing portion of the population is not swayed by Bourbons, the hard core racist fraction is held in containment and constriction. Which today they're not.

So I think it is important, and Gene in some ways referred to this, that we try and understand not how to convert or change the hard-core racists but how to win back or win over or influence those whites who are influenceable and are being driven into the arms of the racists by their class desperation. So that's why I think it's important that we look at this. And it's very complex. It's not simple like segregated, "go to the back of a bus."



If you were part of the Southern Freedom Movement, and are listed in the Veterans Roll Call, you are encouraged to add your comments to this discussion by emailing them to (If you add a comment, please indicate where in the transcript it should be inserted.)

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