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Uprising: Mass Protests Rock the Nation

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In an act of political desperation, President Donald Trump ordered a contingent of federal law-enforcement officers to impose order in Portland, OR. Under the direction of Attorney General Bill Barr, agents from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Bureau of Prisons were deployed to protect federal property from vandals. On July 14th, these agents, dressed in quasi-military uniforms and without identification, initiated attacks on protesters at the federal building and, over the next couple of nights, extended their military suppression campaign throughout the city. Their campaign resembled an all-American version of the Hitler-era Nazi Brownshirts.

The Portland demonstrations were kickstarted by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on March 25th and the next day, March 26th, protests broke out throughout the country. The New York Times estimates about 2,500 protests swept the country drawing in “tens of thousands” of demonstrators.

Portland has been, for the last seven weeks, the site of demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism. Local politicians and law enforcement had let the demonstrations playout, hoping they would ebb with time. However, the arrival of the federal agents led to more people protesting; one of the protestors was a nude woman, dubbed “Naked Athena,” who wore only a face mask and a stocking cap, and faced off against the over-armed federal agents. State and local authorities, including the governor, two senators, state attorney general and mayor, have demanded Trump withdraw the troops.

The Portland protest followed the June 1st demonstration in Washington, DC, at which federal agents violently broke up a peaceful protest just outside the White House. An estimated 1,000 demonstrators were tear gassed and fired upon with rubber bullets so that Trump could have a photo-op holding a Bible upside down outside of St. John’s Episcopal church across Lafayette Park. Trump is now threatening to send federal troops to Chicago, New York and other cities with Democratic mayors. “We’re sending law enforcement,” he pronounced. “We can’t let this happen to the cities.”

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The protests in Portland and Washington, DC, are the most media profiled demonstrations spreading throughout the country and, sadly, their actions have overshadowed the growing round of uprisings taking place throughout the country. Civis Analytics, a data analysis firm, reports that between 15 million to 26 million Americans have participated in demonstrations in the weeks following the killing of George Floyd.

Equally significant, an estimated half a million people turned out in 550 demonstrations that took place as part of the June 6th Black Lives Matter protests. According to the Civis Analytics, more than 40 percent of U.S. counties — at least 1,360 — had a protest, including at least 50,000 people in Philadelphia, 20,000 in Chicago’s Union Park and up to 10,000 on the Golden Gate Bridge. Equally revealing, in nearly 95 percent of counties that had a protest, the majority of protesters were white; nearly three-quarters of the counties are more than 75 percent white.

Various polling companies have reported comparable findings as to the number of people who have come out in recently protest. These include:

+ Kaiser Family Foundation – 26 million during June 8-14 period.

+vN.O.R.C. – 18 million for period of June 11-15.

+vPew – 15 million for period of June 4-10.

In early June, CBS News reported “public health experts watched in alarm – the close proximity of protesters and their failures in many cases to wear masks, along with the police using tear gas, could fuel new transmissions.”

However, that same month, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) released a study, “Black Lives Matter Protests, Social Distancing, and COVID-19,” that stated the following:

… we find no evidence that urban protests reignited COVID-19 case growth during the more than three weeks following protest onset. We conclude that predictions of broad negative public health consequences of Black Lives Matter protests were far too narrowly conceived.

In addition, the report notes: “… we find no evidence that net COVID-19 case growth differentially rose following the onset of Black Lives Matter protests, and even modest evidence of a small longer-run case growth decline.”

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An uprising is sweeping the country. While initiated in response to the killing of George Floyd and anchored in the Black Lives Matter movement, the uprising speaks to deeper concerns wracking the nation. The rising tide of protest has fueled calls throughout the country to “defund” or restructure police departments and end police use of chokeholds. It has led to efforts to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi state flag; the Gettysburg, SD, police department cars, buildings and patches; and by NASCAR. It has provoked actions to topple statues of former slave owners and fostered a movement (including some within the military) to rename military bases named after Confederate generals.

The uprising is compounded by the spreading Covid-19 pandemic and the deepening economic crisis. They represent two of the major failings of the Trump presidency and will likely contribute to the undermining of his reelection effort. Trump’s — and individual state governors’ — failed plans to “reopen” the economy contributed to the spread of the pandemic. Trump has failed to offer a workable plan to suppress the pandemic, offering no support for widespread testing. The proposed forced reopening of schools is fostering growing opposition to Trump administration policies.

Trump has not yet deployed federal agents against workers and ordinary citizen protesting their living conditions, but this could happen if economic conditions get worse and demonstrators get more militant. The deepening pandemic is leading to a drastic decline in working-people’s wages and this may only worsen if wide-scale unemployment persists and enhanced unemployment benefits are ended. On July 20th, an estimated 20,000 essential workers in 160 cities, from Boston to San Francisco, walked off their jobs and took to the streets demanding racial and economic justice as part of a nationwide “Strike for Black Lives.” This mobilization followed work-site protests that took place at Amazon, Target, Instacart and other sites; teacher strikes are likely if schools are forced to reopen.

The current round of protests might just be the first, early phase of a deeper, more systemic social crisis to come. The mounting failure of the nation’s health care system might get worse if a second wave Covid-19 pandemic develops, thus fueling deepening despair and popular rage. The closing of an ever-growing number of small business, especially retail outlets, is indicative of the economic crisis. The enormous student debt crisis will likely only get compounded by the floundering job market. The #MeToo activists have raised accusations against A-list teen celebrities, video-game streamers and developers, wrestling professionals and other personalities. As the moratorium restricting evictions is lifted, protests recalling the Communist-led Rent Strike Wars of the Great Depression may spread through the country. And going unsaid is the deepening environmental crisis.

Such protests could shift the political focus of struggle from the issues of racism and police brutality to the structural problems associated with growing inequality in the country. The “American Dream” of middle-class upward mobility is over and the establishment politicians, led by Trump and Biden, don’t know how to address this historical change in the social economy represents. This round of uprisings also suggest that ordinary Americans are not only come out to express their political beliefs but joining together to overcome privatization and the deeper feelings of despair that all-to-many people feel.

The outcome of the 2020 elections will be telling. If Trump is re-elected and the Republicans hold onto the Senate, class and social conflict will likely intensify; if Biden is elected and the Democrats take back the Senate, a liberal capitalist band aide will be employed hold togeher the floundering system; and if Biden is elected but the Republicans maintain control of the Senate, the nation will return to the political stagnation that market Pres. Obama’s second term. And each possible will likely promote further popular uprisings.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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