Michael Hamer is a Black organizer in the South that relishes the idea and task of building political power for the gender and racially diverse working-class.
How I See Things
This current political moment is unlike anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime.
There has been an explosive uprising among poor and oppressed people across the United States and the world. The catalyst and at the center of this most recent upsurge is the high profile lynchings of Black people at the hands of police. While George Floyd’s murder by Derek Chauvin was the spark that lit this most recent flame, the realities of the terror imposed by law enforcement and the rising up of Black community’s and their allies against the violence doesn’t start or end with George Floyd.
We are witnessing that people are being deeply moved and responding to these high-profile murders at the global scale from Europe to China. What makes this time even more exciting is that there are new and some not so new organizations, locally and nationally, who have been coordinating and building Black people’s collective resources and power since the resurgence of the Black Freedom struggle against racism and police violence in 2012. These organizations are taking this moment to deepen and broaden their work on police repression and state violence.
There are organizations doing work at the county level to defund and/or demilitarize the police. They are moving forward specific political and policy demands that our people and our communities are being safeguarded against all forms of state violence.
Within the context of these fights, it is incredibly exciting to see so many people actively engaged in open, concrete struggle against the New Confederacy (reactionary sections of the wealthy and white middle class that use the Republican Party as their tool to push forward their austerity driven and racist agenda). There are various manifestations of the New Confederacy. One of those is the openly defiant and racist sections of the intransigent police and white vigilante mobs. There are courageous people who have taken tremendous risks and real stands against that kind of violence over the past month. And they are doing so publicly, in the news, within our cities and towns. This display of bravery and open defiance is something I’ve never witnessed in my life.
Mass Demonstrations and Electoral Organizing
We are noticing locally that there are a number of opportunities for our grassroots political organization to provide logistics and infrastructure for people over time who are being swept into motion by the moment. If the state forces continue to respond with terror campaigns and police repression, we will need an organized permanent vehicle that will be able to articulate our demands and affirm political program. There are number of people I come across every day that are becoming interested in joining organization and joining our chapters since the uprising commenced. We have been stressing to people that the org is permanent and will exist even when these moments come, when they subside, and even once the corporate media decides not to provide coverage.
In reflecting on everything above, what remains so clear to me is the importance of using our grassroots political organization to build and wield the political power of working-class people across race and people of color across different classes. Some of the current organizing work I do is putting a demand to city and county commissioners to defund the police. What we are in struggle with them to do is move away from policing and accountability models that result in more law enforcement and to invest in various programs and resources to meet our community needs. However, my county government is controlled by Republicans and they continue to want to maintain support and resources in the current policing institutions and methods. This is despite the open outpouring of support to defund police.
Therefore, our ability to have an alliance of constituencies and organizations that can deliver what our community’s need and desire in the face of opposing alliances is centrally dependent on the need to concentrate on removing the New Confederacy from government as a part of the whole process and project of building an emancipatory movement.
What I and other organizers like me are seeing is that we need people in government making the right decisions. Otherwise, it is incredibly difficult to move our agenda forward. At the county level, the Republicans refuse to even speak to our movement demands to fully fund education or to use the federal CARES money to assist people struggling to maintain housing. It is clear that the right is our enemy and we have to move consistently against them.
At the city level, Republicans are not in the picture. Therefore, we are focusing on removing the right-wing of the Democratic Party from power because it is paramount to our ability to advance a more radical agenda. Over the past 4-5 years we have worked hard to get activists and organizers from our movement elected to our city council. There are two very important lessons we are learning when it comes to having our folks in governing positions. We have to both correct their mistakes and protect them from attacks. The orientation of correcting them has to take on a genuine curiosity of why they made the decisions they did given how power is distributed and concentrated on the governing body. Additionally, we have to protect them from our enemy. We have to use our political power and political capital to protect them from a state government that is looking for any reason to take more power away from city governments that are trying to chart an alternative path. And we have to protect them from forces who are opportunists and are just looking for a reason to break the power that left and left progressive movements have built.
Marrying these mass demonstrations with grassroots political organizations that build power through the electoral and legislative arena is critical. There are a number of people I organize with who have been fighting around specific issues – education, housing, or addressing state/police violence – for years. They have been newly invigorated and moved as a part of this upsurge. Therefore, the role of my organization is to let people know that in addition to these massive, incredible uprisings, there is a way to move forward our agenda electorally and make sure that people in government are responsive to our movements and come out of the movements we are building. I want to be clear about two things. First, a powerful moment is a foot and there is a need for all of us to play a role in supporting people’s movements and organizations leading at this time. Second, while we are at work, our most threatening enemy is at work. The New Confederacy is salivating at the prospect of holding onto their governing power in order to beat back our movements and any advances we make.
My Hopes and Dreams
Even though it is hard to get a hold of this truth at times, I feel hopeful knowing that the future is an incomplete project and therefore not set in stone. Every future is the result of organized people’s movements responding to the conditions under which they live. The wind in some ways is at our backs. Given the new momentum around the country with these uprisings. Given the disasters of COVID19, capitalism, climate, conquest, and war. There is hope in continuing to engage in and build grassroots political organizations and political power in a way that larger numbers of people can enter into struggle and stay in political struggle towards our collective liberation.