Did You Hear that Big Bang in America?
It is time to push for a truly intersectional political movement
“We live in a nation where freedom is what we represent, yet we are still fighting every day for the basic freedoms of all of our people, Let the Supreme Court ruling be proof of how far we have come. Let the deaths of sisters and brothers be proof of how far we have to go. No one is free until we are all free.”
– Jussie Smollett, EMPIRE, BET AWARDS
This past Fourth of July Weekend, now a distant memory, was an extraordinary time. In the smoke of traditional firework displays and family barbeques, many of us wondered what had just happened in America. The most important symbol of slavery, the Confederate flag, was finally being pulled down in South Carolina. Meanwhile, America with all its enduring racism and its persistent change, was being honored. Reflecting the deep radicalization of Black youth, Usher’s t-shirt at the Essence festival had the 4th of July crossed out and Juneteenth emblazoned on it. “HAVE WE TRULY ACHIEVED OUR INDEPENDENCE?” was written on the back of his leather jacket.
The night before, all across the country, much of the LGBT community and supporters celebrated the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. That, and a display of unexpected legal triumphs, on ACA, housing, and redistricting, gave testament to the feeling that significant change is still possible in America. It was a Big Bang.
Our universe and souls are exploding. Pieces of our varied consciousness and experiences are expanding in all directions. We attended a funeral in the morning and a wedding the same night. We were not sure when to cry, when to dance, when to throw rocks, when to congratulate, and whether we should yell or utter, “That it still isn’t enough! Don’t jump for joy people, we are not yet all free!”
How do we sit with all that this is? The concurrence of the events and the reactions to them are historic and mind boggling. The question of inequality is so deep and pervasive that the right and left are taking shots at an answer. Not since the sixties have we had so many key vectors erupting at one time. Whether it be about race or love, when there is real change, there are deep feelings, and strong reaction.
The Black Lives Matter movement brings to the foreground the historical recognition and fundamental assertion that no one in America is free until Black people finally get freedom and respect. This is still the fundamental truth of American politics.
Meanwhile, the immigrant rights movement, once at the pinnacle of movement momentum, finds its victories stalled by the same legal system that just recognized historic rights for the mainstream LGBT community. As droves of young Black people have entered the movement with vibrancy, a revolutionary spirit, and love, we remember that it was just a few years ago, when the Young DREAMers Movement took the stage in dramatic fashion. They sparked the immigrant rights movement to take more militant action, they challenged President Obama on deportations, and through their action they moved millions of Latino voters to be politically active. Immigration again became a racial justice litmus test for Latino political choices.
It reminds us that that this political moment too will pass. The ebb is around the corner; it always is. What will be left behind? What institutions and benchmarks will have made Black communities stronger and more able to exert power and leadership? What alliances will have been tested and built? What leaders and organizations will have emerged with a clear sense of task, place, and capacity to carry it out? What would the LGBT victories have done to leverage further racial and economic justice? Where is the intersection that makes it all more than the various parts?
If we look forward to 2016, there is nothing to say that this moment will persist to shape next falls’ presidential contest. There is little talk of racial justice from Hilary Clinton’s camp. There is little visible leadership from Latino politicians standing in solidarity with Black people. There is no clear call from the political mainstay for a united front against racism. It’s certainly not going to come from Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush!
In fact, the opposite is true, shrewd politicians will utilize this moment to take advantage of fear and racial anxiety. They can craft a reverse momentum to wedge, wage fear, and win. If progressives side step this question, by either ignoring electoral politics all together or by avoiding race in the hope of a more comfortable populism, we will lose, and much more than an election.
This is a time to take a brave and alternate track, one that is serious about governance and power. We must build the bridges and make the case for an intersectional, new majoritarian, popular, and inclusive political movement for power. We need a political movement that embraces this moment. We need a broad force that seeks to connect and make sense of the varied developments, one that puts the pieces together into a coherent agenda that resonates with all the people who are now paying attention to what’s happening in America.
Stay Tuned as we reflect next on Bayard Rustin’s famous article: From Protest to Politics.