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Lights of Liberty Vigil Remarks

Many folks have said “this is not who we are.” This is precisely who we are.

American concentration camps are not new. Look at our criminal justice system, a leviathan devoted to criminalizing, degrading and discarding masses of black and brown people. American torture is not new. Rape. Ripping families apart. This country was founded on genocide and slavery. That is not some rhetorical device. It is historical truth.

Now the covers are off. The underbelly has been exposed. The crudest forms of white supremacy have resurfaced under Trump. But let’s not kid ourselves. The atrocities we are witnessing today are natural products of our heritage of hatred.

This is the culture of settler colonialism. This is settler culture—violent, sadistic, and unabashed. Until we recognize that—until we name the problem—we will never be able to seriously address it. We stand on invaded land. This country sprang from military occupation. From conquest. From the ideology of conquest. The demonization and degradation of The Other is part of our DNA. The displacement and containment of subject peoples. The naked cruelty. The cult of guns. We live in a toxic culture. We all breathe its fumes.

What made you think you were immune? How could you wage your endless oil wars… Iraq… Afghanistan… Syria… Yemen… Libya… all of Africa… how could you rattle your saber at Iran and North Korea… how could you choke the world with your military bases… how could you topple, or attempt to topple, governments in Brazil and Venezuela and Cuba and so many other countries… how could you sell your weapons to ruthless regimes… how could you darken the skies with your drones… how could you hold the entire world hostage to your insatiable lust for domination and believe the venom you were spewing everywhere would not also erupt at home?

And don’t talk to me about the Republicans. The Democrats are just as culpable. It was the Clintons, the Obamas, and their class allies who constructed and refined our immigration policy. They built our modern detention and deportation machine.

Their corporate cronies have profited from ICE and CBP contracts, as well. Their party is deeply complicit in the regimes of permanent war and mass incarceration, and in the crafting of a security state that survives only through massive surveillance, profiling, confinement, and repression.

The Republicans are the party of the bosses and the Democrats are the party of the bosses. The Republicans are the party of white supremacy. So are the Democrats. The Republicans are the party of austerity. The Democrats are, too. The Republicans are the party of permanent war and ecological catastrophe. Ditto for the Democrats.

Yes, there are real differences between Democrats and Republicans. But neither party’s agenda is capable of sustaining life on this planet in the long term. Neither party offers a genuine vision of economic democracy, peace, and climate repair. There are individual exceptions, of course. Like AOC. But she and other dissident politicians are to be neutralized by the Democratic establishment on behalf of their corporate overlords. As always, working-class and poor people will be left to defend themselves.

We must recognize that we live in the belly of the beast. Our task is not to restore some mythic democracy. Those of us who love humanity, who respect human dignity and human rights, who stand with the oppressed, who seek the survival of the species, have only one task: we must wage a permanent struggle against monopoly capitalism and its lethal structures of racism, patriarchy, and endless war.

I am here today because I believe in the potential of mass mobilization. I believe the left must meet people where they are. I believe the resistance—or at least elements of the resistance—can be radicalized. But I also believe the left must distinguish itself from liberalism. That we must explain our politics to the masses. That we must offer an alternative analysis that everyday people can understand and that they can use to confront the contradictions in their own lives.

So what contradictions are present on this podium today?

It makes no sense to say “close the camps” while condoning military and economic policies that generate refugee camps throughout the world.

It makes no sense to say “families belong together” while supporting neoliberal policies that shatter families by slashing social spending, decimating unions, destabilizing jobs and governments, and imposing market forces.

If concentration camps for immigrants are crimes against humanity then our racist prison system is also a crime against humanity. If the drowning deaths of poor refugees are a disgrace then the deaths of Hurricane Katrina victims are also a disgrace.

If you are outraged that fascist goons destroy water bottles left in the desert for migrants then you must be outraged by the poisonous water reserved for black and brown people in Flint, Michigan, and by the water sources contaminated by the Dakota Access Pipeline, and by the undrinkable and dwindling water supplies in Gaza and other sites of colonial occupation.

If ICE agents are racist thugs who should be abolished, then ALL police forces that brutalize black and brown people, criminalize poverty, and maintain a monopoly of violence on behalf of the ruling class should be abolished, as well!

If we are driven into the streets by the death, in U.S. custody, of Jakelin Maquin, a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl, then why do we passively accept the death of Aiyana Jones, the seven-year-old black girl murdered by the Detroit police?

Why, for that matter, do we remain silent while transgender people of color are attacked in our communities and throughout the world?

We cannot separate these injustices because they spring from the same rotten source—a system of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy designed to insulate some lives while crushing others. A system that enables capital and technologies of repression to cross borders while violently subjugating poor and colonized people who attempt to do so—even when their only desire is to return to their ancestral home or to flee with their families to places of relative security and prosperity. That system connects us all, whether we live in Ithaca or the Occupied Territories.

As the crisis of capitalism intensifies we can expect more suffering throughout the world. We can expect more waves of refugees. We can expect more right-wing populists looking to exploit racism and nationalism to advance their reactionary agendas. But none of this should drive us into the arms of liberals who can offer only a gentler, more multicultural capitalist dystopia.

Only a radical break with politics as usual will enable us to combat the forces arrayed against us. Only a democratic socialist alternative can replace the mechanisms of displacement, confinement, militarization, and ecological devastation that threaten the lives of laboring people everywhere.

So we workers must do more than mobilize for one evening. We must organize for the long haul. If you live in Tompkins County, I urge you to join Showing Up for Racial Justice, the Democratic Socialists of America, or the Tompkins County Workers Center. If you are a person of color, join Black Lives Matter Ithaca.

These organizations have their own flaws and internal contradictions, to be sure. But they are fighting organizations. And the crises we are witnessing today demand not just vigilance or indignation, but an unyielding commitment to struggle, a permanent revolution from below.

Thank you. Free Palestine!

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