Cities around the nation suffered major protests and violence over the weekend as anger over the murder of George Floyd–and many others–continued to rage. One of Floyd’s killers was arrested over the weekend, but the other three who supported and participated with him have yet to be charged.
Watching coverage of the rioting this weekend was heartbreaking. Cities seemed to be dealing with at least three different groups. 1) People protesting police brutality against blacks; 2) People looking to incite violence and/or destroy property as a provocation to violence; 3) People looking to loot and/or steal property while the police were otherwise occupied.
A significant majority of participants in the protests fell into group one, usually going out of their way to remain non-violent and non-threatening. But they were often overshadowed by people in group two, especially after dark, and it became clear that people in group two consisted of several opposing factions, including anarchists trying to destroy the state as well as supremacists disguised as anarchists trying to create a mess they could blame on “leftists” or “antifa” (which stands for anti-fascist) to further their Nazi dream of starting a race war. Group three were merely opportunists, and many of them were likely fueled by the economic catastrophe brought on by the failure of the federal government to respond adequately to the Covid pandemic.
This paroxysm of violence was understandable in light of yet another instance of police killing unarmed black citizens, and it’s not difficult to support the anger protesters felt toward the police. But it’s critical that activists look at the bigger picture here. The overarching goal is justice for George Floyd and every other citizen of color in the future. And the only way that’s going to happen is if we dump Trump this November, along with as many Republicans as possible. All Trump did this weekend was fan the flames of violence on Twitter while doing NOTHING else. He reportedly hid in his bunker in the White House as loud protests raged nearby, and by Sunday evening the #bunkerboy and #bunkerTrump hashtags were trending on Twitter in response to his notable absence. Most presidents would address the nation and urge calm, but Trump is a divider, a supremacist, an authoritarian, and a coward, so he naturally stayed out of sight.
But the grave risk now to the protest movement is that it starts to play into Trump’s hands. Dictators will stoke violence, then use that violence to scare voters into supporting them. “These thugs are destroying America, so I will send in the military to save you! I’m so strong!! And while I’m at it, how about some martial law? And why don’t we postpone the upcoming elections until it’s safe.” We’ve already seen Trump stoking violence, so it’s no surprise that a number of white supremacist groups have been infiltrating protests trying to stir up trouble. (In fact, once they are identified, protesters will grab them and hand them over to the cops.) We’ve also seen a flurry of activity on social media by Russian bots and troll farms trying to fan the flames of violence and encouraging supremacists to take to the streets. It’s a recipe for violent conflict, and it allows Trump to respond with greater and greater force, and to stoke greater and greater fear among voters. It’s been said that authoritarian regimes gain power the same way a Boa Constrictor kills its prey–each new power they grab they never let go of, tightening until democracy is dead. And we know that Trump–and his supremacist advisers like Miller and Bannon– have been thinking along these lines for many years. Trump has already talked about sending the military to Minnesota and designating “antifa” as a terrorist organization (it’s not an organization and he doesn’t have any meaningful power to designate terrorist organizations, but he doesn’t care) to create a new liberal boogeyman for him to demonize. We simply cannot allow looters, anarchists and Nazis to give Trump an excuse to grab more power and stoke more fear. Because the vast majority of protesters are neither causing violence, destroying property nor looting.
Protesting is essential to democracy, especially in times of great injustice. But we have to reinforce the point that real power comes from political organizing and voting. Republicans have known this for decades. If we elect a more diverse group of mayors, sheriffs and district attorneys committed to justice, fewer George Floyds will be murdered because cops will be held more accountable. And this holds true for an entire range of other issues that overlap this crisis. We will also have better education, healthcare, housing, tax fairness and wages. Voting, and then holding our elected officials accountable, is a lot more effective and a lot less dangerous than protesting. And we can’t lose sight of that fact. Real political power comes from organizing your community and getting everyone to vote.
Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”