A Leftist Critique of March for Our Lives

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Ross Eliot at a gun show in Portland last October

The March for Our Lives movement has been getting a lot of attention lately. It’s always inspiring to see young people getting active towards causes that bring about positive change. However, this particular one exhibits fundamental problems that demand examination. A helpful way to illustrate what’s wrong in a substantive manner is by making political comparisons with the modern Tea Party. Let’s rewind for a moment and see how that’s important.

Back in 2009, American conservatives hit especially hard times. During a two term Republican administration under George W. Bush, the country became mired in Eastern wars with no end in sight, plus entering the worst economic depression since 1929. The middle class, long in decline, contracted even more sharply. People who leaned right politically suddenly found long held assumptions shattered, with establishment Republicans unable to offer satisfying answers. On top of that, Democrats had elected Barack Obama as president, a Black man (with an Eastern sounding name no less), overturning centuries of cultural and racial precedent.

For Americans with a liberal bent, that provided an outlet: Reject the Bush era wars and policies by voting for Obama and give him a chance to fix things. Even among us leftists who expected little from corporate Democrats anyway, there was a hopeful sense afoot, at least enough to keep off the streets for a while and see what would happen next.

That’s why, when rage erupted against government bailouts for the financial industry, whose unregulated greed had caused the economic crash, it came from the right, even though leftists had been leading critics of corporate welfare for decades. However, that anger became channeled aside almost immediately. When news pundit Rick Santelli made his famous rant against the banks, he explicitly did so in the name of Capitalism, calling for a “New Tea Party.” Many American conservatives resonated with his message, something Republican party apparatchiks tied strongly to Wall Street, couldn’t effectively voice.

What emerged from all this was a movement of people with very legitimate grievances against the status quo, yet guided and amplified by wealthy interests such as the Koch brothers. Foregoing any critique that could effectively address economic inequality, the Tea Party ultimately recycled familiar failed ideas. Instead of corporate accountability, their 10 point plan advocated striking down environmental regulations and subsidized health care, besides supporting lower taxes and more respect for the Constitution…etc, etc.

Shift forward to 2018 and it’s the Democrats in trouble. They self-sabotaged a popular candidate out of their own presidential primary in favor of one with a more business friendly platform, only to see her lose against Donald Trump, whose constant bungles would have made any other politician’s campaign self implode. Despite everything but a Mt. Rushmore sized neon sign advertising that Americans are hungry for serious political and economic reform, Democrats have still largely been content offering half-hearted resistance in the face of Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric, support for White nationalism and whatever the scandals du jour may be.

In other words, March for Our Lives materialized at a similar point in time but reversed. It’s also inspired by perfectly legitimate concerns: violence in American society is widespread, unavoidable and everyone knows someone affected. Women abused by partners, soldiers with PTSD from unnecessary wars and even whole communities of color terrorized by police departments. Of course, violence isn’t unique to the US, but a particular form of mass murder has become notorious within American society, what emergency drills call an active shooter. It’s specifically such an individual who caused the deaths of 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida last February, spurring the movement’s formation.

There are naturally significant differences besides similarities. The Tea Party arrived after economic catastrophe on a national scale as part of longtime worsening trends. Members of society most affected by it came from lower class and marginalized populations whose mass displacement into homelessness, addiction and suicide can never be fully quantified. March for Our Lives, on the other hand, mobilized in response to school shootings, a phenomenon on the decline for decades, despite sensational incidents played up in the media. Victims of class warfare are nameless, frequently unsympathetic figures. Solutions to economic problems, guaranteed incomes for example, often seem vague or too radical. Murdered tenagers, on the other hand, are universally relatable. People want tangible solutions and the issues appear more clear cut: simply curtail guns to stop guns killing people. Fundamental critiques of the social inequities that cause violence are more difficult to digest or be summed up in a meme.

Here’s how it broke down in practice. The Tea Party took widespread outrage against economic injustice and directed it safely away from taking up measures that might threaten the status quo. Right wing business interests funneled money toward the movement and conservative media outlets gushed enthusiastic coverage. By the same token, almost a decade later, March for Our Lives quickly allied with powerful economic forces. Democratic billionaire Michael Bloomberg provided assistance and high end fashion brand Gucci became its first large doner, besides other corporate backers. Citibank got in on the action, making moves to pressure clients toward more gun restrictions as did Walmart and other major retailers. Even prominent universities pledged they would not look askance at applicants disciplined by their high schools after walking out of classes for anti-gun protests. Then on March 24th, mainstream media outlets suspended ordinary schedules to provide live streaming coverage from Washington DC and other local marches.

Contrast that with the treatment of movements bringing other serious social problems to the fore. Would Gucci fund an event against police terror? Lyft drive anti-war demonstrators around for free? Citibank support protests highlighting Wall Street corruption? Look at news coverage for some perspective. The January 20th Women’s March culminated one year after the first, a year during which sexual violence, workplace discrimination and cultural misogyny rose to a level of awareness never seen before. Powerful men fell from grace, even well known offenders who had previously lived immune from conduct criticism. Significant subjects were raised that affected absolutely everyone in society. Despite this, the massive event took place with scarcely any attention from major networks.

Women’s issues, though directing affecting more than 50% of the population, are just one of many fallen by the wayside in comparison with the current media obsession around gun control. It’s a shame, because social violence is a serious problem and should be addressed as such. Like anything else, it’s the big picture that counts, yet March for Our Lives becomes fixated on minutia, often with little concern for facts. As observed before, school shootings are rare and declining, yet the movement claims them as an epidemic, just as it demonizes semi-auto rifles, which are only used in a tiny fraction of crimes. It doesn’t make for sensational headlines, but the vast majority of murders involve handguns, close proximity to the victim and only a few shots fired. Still, fear becomes drummed up around “assault rifles,” “high-capacity magazines,” and “high-powered” firearms.

Just as the Tea Party channeled conservative angst in a safe direction, March for Our Lives, strongly supported by 1% elites (that many liberals opposed during the Occupy Wall Street movement), appropriates frustration with the emerging Trump era and dilutes it. Suddenly, people who previously opposed regressive economic forces have found themselves on the same side as Walmart, the notorious destroyer of small businesses. Taking just two cases of many, Citibank cynically profited supporting the murderous South African apartheid regime and just last year was forced into settling 97.4 million dollars after a money laundering scandal. Picking up the gun control bandwagon provided much needed good press for both companies.

Still, despite the community destruction and very real bloodshed caused by corporations, it’s rare to find mainstream criticism. CEOs in suits, after all, don’t cast an alarming shadow for most people.  Every cause needs a villain and the NRA, with its uncritical backing of Trump and incompetent public relations might as well come from Hollywood central casting. Tone deaf 2nd Amendment supporters openly march with rifles, playing up to embarrassing stereotypes and tying their gun ownership with any number of regressive issues. No wonder armed people on the left have been keeping quiet for fear of social ostracization. Many times lately I’ve seen individuals who own guns for protection, perhaps because of violent former partners or whose grandparents generation fought off the KKK, sit silently while friends (oblivious to that) ask: “Why would anyone need an AR-15?”  

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Of course, there’s an answer and it’s especially alarming to see liberals clamoring for greater firearm restrictions at the same time as the far right is becoming more radicalized. Emboldened by scarcely veiled support from the Oval Office, domestic fascism has become just another legitimate point of view and White Nationalists gone on the offensive. Tragically, many who formerly claimed solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters pointing out systemic racism in law enforcement, now expect Black populations to disarm and become dependent on those same police for community defense. That scenario is even featured in a major work from the White Power canon, The Turner Diaries, where racist insurgents rejoice after state gun control measures leave neighborhoods of color completely vulnerable to extermination.*

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Of course liberals aren’t thinking about that when they opine against semi-auto rifles, despite their historic use in America** by marginalized populations to defend against lynch mobs and other collective attacks. It’s more comforting for them to imagine cartoonish redneck hillbillies being persecuted or camo wearing militia members rounded up. But just as the War on Drugs served as cover for the large scale incarceration of Black and Brown people, who would really be targeted during a War on Guns?

March for Our Lives deserves congratulations for enthusiasm and making effort to spotlight media bias in reporting about shootings in urban versus suburban schools. It may still find its own footing and offer up productive solutions toward reducing violence, however, that’s unlikely so long as the organization marches alongside regressive social forces. The measures it proposes do nothing to challenge institutional racism, skewed economic systems and toxic forms of masculinity, all of which are much larger factors behind violence of all kinds, not simply school shootings or particular tools used for violence. Americans should demand real solutions, not distractions that ignore root causes.

*Andrew Macdonald aka William Pierce. The Turner Diaries. Barricade Books, New Jersey, 1978 (1996 edition). 145.

**For further reading see:
Charles E. Cobb. This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible. Duke University Press, Durham. 2016.
Nicholas Johnson. Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms. Prometheus Books, New York. 2014.
Akinyele Omowale Umoja. We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement. New York University Press, New York. 2013.

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Open Letter to Conservative Christians

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This letter is my response after a week of listening to Right wing religious talk radio while at work. Of course, with all the money activists can collect from George Soros, soon I won’t need a job at all! That myth was a particular obsession of theirs, but with so much foolishness being broadcast, it would have required a twenty page letter to counter even their most absurd theories.

2/13/17
KKPZ
9700 SE Eastview Dr.
Happy Valley, OR 97086

Dear Rose City Forum,

As someone who finds value receiving feedback, whether positive or negative in my own endeavors, I thought you might appreciate some from me.

The FM function on my radio ceased working last week, so I have been tuning into RCF on my lunch breaks with much enthusiasm. I perhaps differ from your typical listener, being a long time militant Leftist and Atheist, who focuses on providing small arms training and knowledge among subculture communities, yet come from a Christian background which provides an interesting context to absorb your program from. I always enjoy hearing perspectives different from my own.

I was particularly struck by a few items, most shockingly upon hearing ill considered apologies for the police officers who beat Rodney King, but also from the extended piece using an old television show plot with examples to demonstrate supposed values lost by modern society. I found it amusing, since the same folksy anecdotes used to castigate dishonesty and lack of concern for others, while promoting alleged Conservative values, are essentially the same ones that formed who I am.

I became a Leftist because I believe strongly in fair reward for honest labor, consequences for failure and despise freeloaders. Of course, the most egregious examples countering my values to be seen in America are endemic throughout the skewed Capitalist system. Yet instead of hearing righteous anger directed by RCF at, for example, massive rewards given to Wall Street bankers after driving their companies into the ground or other injustices of economic equality, RCF instead seems primarily concerned with condemning broken windows and minor social disturbances in reaction to, say, instances of State Terror in Ferguson, as revealed by investigations into their police dept. or endorsing the election of a President who openly admires a totalitarian, anti-democratic state like Russia. It’s baffling to imagine such cognitive dissonance.

At any rate, until I either repair or replace my radio, I plan to continue tuning in. Thank you for providing much insight into your though process and segments of society that I wholly oppose.

Sincerely,

Ross Eliot
http://www.occupy2a.wordpress.com

A Brief Pause Before Punching Nazis

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In the rush of emotions surrounding Donald Trump’s first several days in office, hardly a moment has been more cathartic for those opposing him than the ubiquitous image of alt.right leader Richard Spencer blindsided by a fist to the head from a black clad assailant. It’s an easy act to swallow and the memes practically write themselves.

Spencer calls for his vision of racial cleansing. Groans.
Spencer makes misogynistic remarks about women. Boos.
Spencer raises a right hand in the iconic Heil Hitler salute. Hisses.
Spencer hits the ground after his face collides with the Black Bloc. Applause.

Now, I’ve never actually punched a Nazi, but I did shove a rather large racist man into a concrete wall once while delivering a Give-No-Fucks tongue lashing at point blank range and felt the euphoria only extreme self righteousness can deliver while watching him literally sprint away.

It was worth it, even though I got fired the next day.

As satisfying as such an action can be, whether delivered at the cost of employment, or safely viewed on Youtube, it’s important to keep in mind who the serious enemies are. Most damaging human depravity comes through the policies of respectable people in suits instead of shrill, small time agitators. Richard Spencer is a noisy blip of racism enjoying peripheral glow from Donald Trump’s victory. He can only fantasize about equaling the damage done to communities of color by skewed drug sentencing laws, for-profit prison systems and years of warfare in the East.

Now, I will never support legal restrictions on even the most regressive speech or opinions, but during a period of low-level insurgency against vulnerable populations, people must make their own ethical choices of how to best respond. Self defense can take many forms. Just remember that while Spencer’s kind are more visible currently, deeper and more serious problems have persisted under every administration, regardless of party.

I also want to encourage a healthy hesitance over resorting to violence. Clearly this is not a pacifist weblog, yet the current enthusiasm over “punching Nazis” plays into very unappealing macho worldviews regarding problem solving. I salute the individual who struck Spencer, but acknowledge this is all much bigger than knocking down one man or even removing one president.

Trump, the NRA and Inauguration Day

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There’s a narrative the NRA is pushing that I want to break down. Unsurprisingly, they are reveling in Donald Trump’s victory, calling it “a stunning political upset–led by America’s gun owners.”(1) Their bold assumption is essentially that the election constituted a national referendum on gun rights, as embodied by themselves.

Indeed, during times when many Republican leaders shrunk from association with Trump, the NRA provided complete, uncritical support. While establishment icons from the Bush family to Colin Powell, Mitt Romney and even the Koch brothers turned against a candidate who bragged about sexual assault, smeared a Gold Star family and changed policy stances at the slightest breeze, the NRA never wavered. As I wrote in October, they stood almost alone by refusing to even acknowledge issues that made so many high profile conservatives spurn Trump. Of course, this seemed particularly odd, given his mixed record supporting their main focus, the 2nd Amendment.

If there is any reason for them to take credit, it is Hillary Clinton. While Democrats, in general, spent the last twenty years viewing gun control as a losing issue, Clinton mistakenly sensed a change in the air and attempted taking advantage of the one place she could be perceived as politically Left of Bernie Sanders. Clinton and the NRA leadership may have little in common, but one thing shared is their overestimation of the firearm factor.

Instead of guns, the single greatest element in the 2017 presidential election was sheer dissatisfaction with the status quo. Angry voters from every direction sought a standard bearer. Clinton tried haphazardly to bear that mantle, which fell much more naturally around Sanders shoulders, enough that it took a rigged primary system to make her the Democratic nominee. Trump, on the other hand, harnessed this groundswell and rode it to victory, even trampling roughshod over his own party elites. The point is, Democrats apparently didn’t hold Sander’s weaker record on gun control against him and at the same time, Republicans rejected candidates with much stronger pro-2nd Amendment claims.

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The NRA oversells their value in Trump’s win and by the same token, paints all opposition to him as anti-gun. They do this using conflation. On the cover of America’s 1st Freedom for January, images of gun control promoting billionaires George Soros and Michael Bloomberg hover above a crowd of placard waving anti-Trump activists. An article inside then declares: ‘“Not My President” protesters symbolize a looming threat to gun rights–one that didn’t accept defeat on election day.”(2) However, for all their alleged symbolism, if you look at the anti-Trump signs being carried, they say nothing about firearms at all. Instead, the messages read: “LOVE TRUMPS HATE” and “REFUSE TO ACCEPT A FASCIST AMERICA” and “UNITED AGAINST HATRED.”(3)

There are many issues uniting Americans who despise Donald Trump. Gun control simply isn’t one of them. If anything, the wave of racist attacks and actions unleashed by his victory has made the Left more conscious of their vulnerabilities, as seen by increased gun sales to women and minorities, greater interest in groups such as The Liberal Gun Club and even just my own personal experience of more Lefty Portlanders seeking information about firearms and Concealed Cary Permits.

This Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump is scheduled for inauguration as President of the United States, while again, protests oppose him nationwide. With Republicans primed to control every branch of government, the NRA needs enemies justifying scare tactics in their fundraising. Now that Obama and Clinton are removed, they will continue using anti-Trump activists instead. Don’t believe it.

As Trump is sworn in, I will be out on the streets of Portland with thousands of others who refuse to accept naked authoritarianism at the helm of State power. He cannot take office without a great cry against his lies, contempt for women and minorities and complete disregard of the Constitution. The tone must be established that armed Americans have a duty and presence in opposition, despite how the NRA portrays reality. I will be proud marching among comrades from every background in this and implore everyone who cares about creating a just, equitable future to join with us.

(1) America’s 1st Freedom, January 2017, p. 33.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid. p.32.

An Armed Leftist Education

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Several weeks ago, I was interviewed by Brian Wheeler, a reporter from the BBC, regarding an article in progress about liberal gun owners in the US. He didn’t credit me specifically when it came out, but answering his questions made it clear that my own political journey has been far from ordinary.

Many other leftists I know became radicalized through literature. They often cite Emma Goldman or Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky as pivotal figures who opened their eyes and formed an emerging political consciousness, perhaps for college classes or simple personal exploration. Yet, though an avid non-fiction reader, nothing of the sort captivated me early on.

I was certainly no leftist upon entering the workforce. However, my two first teenage jobs were union, (UFCW and Teamsters) and fostered a deep sense of working class pride that never left. I loved attending meetings and networking with others who shared that bond. I couldn’t understood the resentment some people felt over paying our minimal shop dues. We enjoyed health benefits and earned better wages than non-union workers. How could anyone not see the connection?

Still, it wasn’t until until my first warehouse job at twenty years old that I truly became radicalized. It was for an international religious charity cooperating with a well known corporation on a military base south of Seattle. I had to sign a stack of binding non-disclosure agreements to get hired. The whole thing was a giant tax scam. I accepted shipments of merchandise that the corporate retailer could no longer sell, one example being, the demand for Happy New Year 1989 greeting cards was rather low by 1997. We would document the value, in that case, about $1.75 per card, then convert it into charitable donations so the company could write the MSRP off their taxes. I remember the mathematics very well. Each pallet usually totaled about $177,000 and we processed hundreds of them. Be aware, eight other affiliated warehouses in the US were following exactly the same program. I’m sure many other corporations run similar schemes.

It was virtually all complete garbage. Individual charities who received the stuff probably either recycled everything or dumped it in landfills. My supervisor explained the whole process to me. This was completely legal and every day I went to work seething with rage at helping respectable institutions avoid their share of the tax burden. We would sometimes cope with the tragedy of it all by singing patriotic anthems at the top of our lungs while unloading trucks. Everyone else in the warehouse must have thought we were completely mad.

My supervisor, an ex-gutterpunk, had been a leftist activist since the first Gulf War. It was from him I learned the brutal legacy of US military interventions in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. He taught me working class history, from Bacon’s Rebellion to the Pinkertons, while getting a hands on course in corporate welfare. Besides serving as political mentor, he also taught me how to shoot guns and considered firearms proficiency just another part of the activist toolbox. In that regard, I was late to the game. Many gun owners come from communities where knowing how to handle them is taught at an early age. Not for me. No hunters in my family.

My decision to become armed was an intellectual one, not something I grew up with. It wasn’t until learning about the Ludlow Massacre and Civil Rights era militias who battled the KKK that it became clear educated citizens with rifles could be highly valuable community members. I wanted to be one of them.

The BBC writer who interviewed me was quite interested in mainstream US gun culture and wondered how I could be considered distinct from it. My answer was, while many right-wing groups like the NRA have uncritically supported President-elect Trump’s stated agendas, there needs to be recognition that not all armed Americans accept his regressive views or ignore the often times violent persecutions against people of color unleashed since his election. Resistance to unjust policies will come from all quarters. Just as I learned on the job as a youth, firearm education is just another area of useful knowledge for any well prepared leftist.

The Tet Offensive and Trump

tet-offensive-colt-1911-full-rightIf a perfect metaphor to symbolize the current state of American politics is sought, look no further than the world of commemorative firearms. You can find ads for these in many leisure periodicals, usually featuring triumphant patriotic themes or personalities like John Wayne and General George S. Patton, emblazoned with gold filagree.

This is a time when the president-elect of the United States not only coddles White Nationalists and openly admires Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, but has already broken longstanding protocols keeping peace with China and implied willingness to break international treaties controlling nuclear weapons. A candidate who ran as an outsider to “drain the swamp” of status quo politics, now stacking cabinet positions and government departments with insider apparatchiks.

Therefore, how appropriate under such circumstances that the first issue of the NRA’s political magazine, America’s 1st Freedom since Donald Trump’s election, contains a full-page ad for a Colt .45 pistol commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive.

The Tet Offensive. A series of intense battles in 1968 that is widely considered to signal when the United States began loosing the Vietnam War.