A coalition of non-profit social justice and liberal political organizations gathered at the Austin City Hall on December 13th with the aim of convincing the city to put a hold on renewing the police contract. The contract has not been rejected, but the negotiations were delayed until March 2018, which was seen as a victory by the coalition.
The groups attribute part of their results to an assist from DeRay Mckesson, often referred to simply as DeRay, a Baltimore native and self-proclaimed national leader of the Black Lives Matter movement. He flew in to testify on behalf of Campaign Zero police reform initiative. In fact he came and claimed another platform somewhere he doesn’t belong. DeRay didn’t come to help our community, he came to reinforce the prominence of liberal, non-profit led organizing which has deflated the local and national struggles against police brutality, moving them out of the hands of the masses and into the hands of the capitalist ruling class.
So, who is DeRay? He is often portrayed as one of the organizers of the Ferguson and Baltimore uprising and one of the most influential leaders of the “new civil rights movement.” Nothing could be further from the truth. While nameless, mostly young community members were putting their lives on the line, fighting day after day, night after night, against the Ferguson Police Department to demand justice for Mike Brown Jr., DeRay drove his car from Minneapolis parachuting himself (as he did in Austin) into a context that was brand new to him and immediately sought the spotlight. Despite his inexperience as an organizer and his lack of connections with the larger St. Louis community, he seized the momentum of the uprising and started collecting followers on Twitter by live streaming the uprising “from an activist perspective.” Soon after, neoliberal education group Teach for America started curating DeRay’s image thanks to his loyalty and support for the program, making DeRay a celebrity activist.
Despite having a very slim record as an organizer on-the-ground, but thanks to his corporate backing, DeRay managed to collect quite a few personal awards and TV appearances. He launched his creature in 2015: Campaign Zero, a campaign aimed at reforming the police with the incentive of usage of body cameras (which allow cops to justify police department budget increases), and which consciously stayed away from unequivocally demanding convictions for killer cops. He also ran in the mayoral race in Baltimore in 2016, collecting an embarrassingly low percentage of votes.
His connection to Austin comes through the Austin Justice Coalition, which is the local backer of Campaign Zero. This is unsurprising. We have written before about the state of the Black Lives Matter movement in Austin, with one pole of leadership under AJC, and particularly Chas Moore. The organizers in these spaces are not above accepting $250 from former police chief Art Acevedo as well as portraying any organizers who criticize their practices as do-nothings and provocateurs.
When DeRay came to Austin, the coalition and media moved quickly to center him in their reports and propaganda. In his testimony, DeRay made the following statements, which were the most prominently featured quotes in news coverage and social media:
“Mckesson stressed that reformers aren’t anti-cop, just as demanding high standards and accountability for educators doesn’t make you anti-teacher. ”
“It isn’t about being against teachers, it’s about saying that we think kids should have a great education,” Mckesson said. “This isn’t about anti-police, it’s about making sure that there are standards for the community to hold people accountable.”
There is so much to unpack with this quote. We specifically want to highlight how it embodies the reformist, neoliberal, and counter-revolutionary approach of non-profits and careerists like DeRay.
Let’s first point out how he made sure to sneak in his neoliberal school reform agenda into his testimony. He’s so used to teachers and public school advocates calling him out, like a slick politician, he’s incorporated his counter to their criticisms into his stump speech on police reform so he can kill two birds with one stone. Just as he believes he is advocating for “great education” when he shills for neoliberal education reform, we can assume that “great policing” is the goal of his police reform efforts.
We do not need “great policing” or “better-trained” officers. We need to overthrow this white supremacist, capitalist state. And the police are the state’s first line of defense any time we move towards this goal. There is no amount of reform or policy that can change this. We do not need cops who treat us nicer when they evict us or arrest us for petty crimes. There is no policy that will demand they stand down when the working class rises up in the streets, workplace, etc.
What drives DeRay’s reactionary position home is when he says “this isn’t about anti-police.” This is a favorite line of liberals and rightist activists, and we should take them at their word.
Any organizing in relation to the police that isn’t fully against them works in favor of the police and their bourgeois handlers and against the working class and oppressed. Any person who seeks liberation must be against the police, without question.
What is so damaging about DeRay’s presence and his dominance over the media coverage is that even if anyone involved in the contract negotiation coalition, whether organizer or community member, understands the need to oppose the police, they have ceded their leadership and message to someone who negates that very position. But outside from DeRay’s participation, the actions of Austin’s liberal left demonstrate their inconsistency as well.
In many circles, radical liberals eagerly adopt the language of police abolition, while continuing to wander again and again into the labyrinth of policy reforms and bourgeois government. This isn’t unforgivable at face value, but we will continue to resist them trying to drag the working class into their quixotic efforts and the fact that they seek to defame anyone who resists or criticizes this process.
It is ironic that in private, many of these organizers in Austin will express the sentiment of being ‘against the police.’ But that disappears when they get in front of a podium. They are allergic to using their platform to express the correct position of the working class. They dance around the fact that there is no good cop and that the police are an institution of class oppression when it comes time to confront them. It is because these mostly petty-bourgeois individuals, specifically professional organizers, are seeking careers and write-ups for their grant proposals, and are not interested in revolution. So they submit to the language and rules of engaging with the bourgeois ruling class and their government, and they police others who do not. This is the nature of opportunism – to consistently bend political positions if it means it will appease the audience they seek favor from, regardless if it’s a betrayal of the working-class line or even their own beliefs.
Meanwhile, those who maintain the stance that the police are not to be negotiated with or spoken to are painted as extremists. The vast majority of the working class are extremists by this measure, who would rather never see a cop again in their life than go into a room and try to figure out a way to make the pig contracts more “accountable.”
We see no need to spend seven hours at city hall observing three-minute speaking limits in order to make these points. Our absence from city hall is not the measure of our willingness to fight for the working class. The working class’s demand is for the pigs to unequivocally get out of our community, which as far as we know, was not expressed at city hall on this night.
The real police contract is non-negotiable under a capitalist society. The ruling class enlists the cops to repress, control, and weaken the will of the working class to fight back against their exploitation. For this, the cops are given innumerable privileges and a status of impunity. This is the case regardless of if one cop out of one hundred faces jail time for murdering unarmed civilians or has “better training.”
While some postmodernists pay lip service to the idea of expelling the pigs, it is absurd to believe that this will be achieved through any sort of technocratic contract negotiation, or by hiding this perspective from the masses. As Marx said, “A communist disdains to hide their views,” and we disdain to hide our total opposition to the police. Additionally, to paraphrase Gonzalo, we only negotiate “what has already been established on the battlefield, because no one is going to give up what they have not obviously lost.” The police have lost nothing in our communities so far except their PR standing (and barely even that), yet the opportunists seek to negotiate while the battle is in its infancy.
Through the building of our forces, we will confirm our ability to defend our communities on our own terms through self-defense and building dual power. The working class has already shown as much organization and spirit to fight in Ferguson and Baltimore as any non-profit coalition and then some. They held down Ferguson for weeks. In Baltimore, high schoolers had cops on the run. Their actions are as valid as any petition or three-minute testimony, and are in fact more valid. They are not fleeting instances, but illustrate the power of the working class that must be harnessed, reproduced, and led by a communist party.
The message that Ferguson and Baltimore sent in those battles will reverberate longer than anything that happens with this police contract dispute. Our future is more street battles like Ferguson, Baltimore, and North Lamar’s resistance to ICE repression in our own city, not more meetings at city hall. The meetings we will be attending will be among the community members themselves, determining our own goals and solutions, not begging with the representatives of the ruling class.
Still, many non-profit activists and revisionists will tell you with a straight face that they are carrying on the legacy of revolutionary groups such as Panthers, ignoring that the organizational purpose of the Panthers was always against collaboration with the police state. The fact that some of the Black Panther Party’s leaders (the ones the state couldn’t kill or neutralize) were incorporated into non-profits and political careers following the party’s decimation cannot be seen as a validation of that path, but instead as evidence of how the state works to absorb and destroy revolutionary movements. The existing NGO hegemony over organizing is the legacy of the state’s smashing of revolutionary movements.
This is why we continue to call on Austinites, especially the working class, to stop participating in the charades at city hall and propping up leaders whose main interest is in preserving the foundation of this system. Reject the neoliberal charlatans like DeRay, who has never met a microphone or camera that he doesn’t like. The petty-bourgeois mentalities of opportunists, non-profits, and liberal organizations fear revolution, and belittle the uprisings of the people as mere catharsis. We have slid backwards since the height of revolutionary energy in this country, when groups such as the Black Panthers demanded the pigs get out of their communities, not requesting that they reform. We seek to honor the memory of the revolutionary leader, Fred Hampton, who the Chicago police assassinated in his own home, and will continue to demand the police leave our communities. This is demand is not up for negotiation.
So what is the vision?
We understand that among the people there is a contradiction; on one hand the people are well aware that the police are the enemy, that it is the police who shoot their kids and cart them off in the thousands to prison, yet on the other hand, many in our class have a valid concern that they face violent crime and the threat of becoming victims to it. We understand that at times the masses are in danger and they may have no one else to call upon but the very repressive force of the pigs. We find this reality abhorrent and seek to improve community work which can eliminate this problem.
By organizing the community for itself, and taking a hard line against the police, against their history their function and their purpose, we can make our neighborhoods safer and turn them into no-go zones for pigs of all types. The police are always going to be limited in their function of “crime prevention” because no one can trust them, no one should trust them. On the other hand, communities can trust their own members; we have thousands of eyes and ears, nothing slips by the hood. It is the presence of the police who rush in and prevent the masses from solving their own problems which allows anti-people crimes to flourish. By pushing the pigs out, we free up the creativity of the masses of working folks to fight crime in a sensible and human way. With the help of the people’s revolutionary organizations, there is no crime against the people which we could not respond to. We do not need a few men in badges to come in to a place they do not live or understand to enforce the capitalist laws—we need to organize the people to enforce the people’s codes. Unlike the pigs, our people could be elected by the community itself, and they could be subject to recall at any time and be true defenders of their community. With mass participation there is no job too big.
This is not simply a dream; it has been accomplished in history and in areas of the world where people’s revolutionary forces have fought for power. People’s militias double as a type of social workers who serve the masses. They are able to prevent violence peacefully in many cases and respond with defensive violence in other cases. To get to this we need power, and power is exactly what we organize for, because as Lenin said, “without power all is illusion.” We mean people power, which is always positioned against the phony solutions of the “non-profits” and liberals who insist we appease both the ruling class and those they brutalize, exploit, and dominate. Our solution is for our people, not the pigs.
No more pigs in our community!
Dare to struggle, dare to win!
—Red Guards Austin, December 2017