speech by Joan Braune at Spokane Citizens Stand Against Racism, Sunday August 13, 2017
As we all know, yesterday in Virginia, several hundred fascists held a rally called Unite the Right. They should have called it “Unite the Left,” because that’s what’s happening. But first, let’s talk about the weekend.
This weekend, self-admitted Nazis, KKK members, and neo-fascists came together at a monument to the Confederacy to terrorize people of good will, especially African Americans, and other minority groups. The fascists came with their flaming torches, their shields, their guns, sticks, and knives, their swastika flags and KKK hoods.
They marched unannounced on a church where anti-racist activists, led by Dr. Cornel West, were gathering to pray and to strategize together. The fascists surrounded the church carrying lit torches and had to be dispersed by police. That was Friday night, but the police allowed the event to proceed the following day.
The fascists attacked counter-protestors, throwing water bottles at them and stabbing at them with flag poles. They surrounded on all sides with their torches, a small group of terrified but outstandingly courageous anti-racist University of Virginia students, taunting the students and throwing objects at them.
Fascists initiated confrontations throughout the city. Several teamed up to beat an unarmed African American man with sticks in a parking garage while yelling racial slurs.
And on Saturday morning, a twenty-year-old fascist geared up his car, rammed into a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators, backed up, and hit them a second time before speeding off. He killed 32-year-old Industrial Workers of the World member Heather Heyer, who was there with friends from the Democratic Socialists of America. Nineteen people were injured in this terrorist attack.
Thousands of Americans called upon President Trump to denounce white supremacy. On Saturday, he held a press conference. There was violence on “many sides, on many sides,” he said. He promised to restore “law and order,” which is a racist dog-whistle. Then he told a country reeling from violence unleashed by his own aggressive nationalism, “My administration is restoring the sacred bonds between the nation and its citizens.”
Not many people were happy with the President’s speech, but one group that was, was the Daily Stormer, an anti-Semitic neo-Nazi blog that recently terrorized the Jewish community of Whitefish, Montana. This is what they had to say about Donald Trump’s speech:
Trump’s comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He said the nation should come together. Nothing specific about us.
He said we need to study why people are so angry and implied there was hate on both sides!
So he implied the Antifa [antifascists] are haters
There was virtually no counter-signalling of us at all…. Also he refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him….
When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good.
That’s what a neo-Nazi group had to say about the President’s speech yesterday. No condemnation of white supremacy, and the president condemned anti-fascists too…. really really good. That’s what they had to say.
We know why Trump won’t stand up and condemn fascism and racism, don’t we? We know he’s relied on fascist and racist rhetoric, memes, and slogans in his campaign and his presidency, that fascists are part of his base and his donors. We know that his staff includes fascists:
Like Sebastian Gorka, who is affiliated with a Nazi group in Hungary called the Vitezi Rend
Like Stephen Miller, who last week used an old anti-Semitic slur (cosmopolitan bias) to silence a CNN reporter’s defense of the United States’ immigrant heritage
And like Trump’s own chief strategist Steve Bannon, who frequently cites his appreciation for fascist writers like French Nazi collaborator Charles Maurass and Italian fascist Julius Evola. That’s Bannon, who was editor of Breitbart News, which he himself called “the platform for the alt-right”
And when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe gave a statement denouncing the white supremacist violence yesterday, a Breitbart reporter yelled out to the governor, demanding a condemnation of anti-fascists. The governor, to his credit, ignored Breitbart. Who was it, again, who ran people over with a car in an act of racist terrorism? Wasn’t that the fascists?
We are gathered here in peace. Without taking a side among the many venerable traditions on the left, I need to challenge this false notion purveyed by the President, that there is violence “on many sides,” this idea that the left and the right are equally guilty, this false notion that there is an “alt-left” that is just as bad as Nazis. Among the many venerable traditions of the US left, we find traditions of pacifism and traditions of self-defense. We can count among our heroes Martin Luther King and John Brown, the Berrigan brothers and the American Indian Movement, standing Rock and Malcolm X, Dorothy Day and the Black Panther Party. There has long been a pacifist option on the US American left, and there has long been a tradition of self-defense, and those with opinions across the spectrum on this question have worked together effectively on many, many occasions. The “violence on all sides” nonsense spoken by the President yesterday needs to be understood for the divisive, ideological drivel that it is. There will always be debates on the left about tactics. But resisting fascists does not make one a fascist. Those who fight for white supremacy and those who fight against it are not moral equals. We need to stand together. We need to unite the left.
It won’t be an easy road for us. We live on occupied land, in a country built on bones and tears, genocide and slavery, imperialism and exploitation, colonization, racialized imprisonment, and state terror. We have yet to reckon with our past or our present, to make amends for country’s legacy of racist violence, and to build a society of true equality. Our struggle is not against a few government officials but against structures of violence, oppression, and exploitation, structures that infect even our own minds and hearts. We will need to work long and hard, and offer real alternatives. Fascism emerges as a political option at the moments in history when capitalism is in crisis. At moments of economic distress, of hopelessness and economic and political upheaval, people will shift either to the right or to the left. They may choose to shift right, choosing nationalism and bigotry, or they may choose to shift left, challenging economic injustice and standing up to racism; which choice they make depends on which side can provide meaning and community, something to fight for, not only against. As Naomi Klein has said (the title of her excellent new book), “No is not enough.”
We will win…not only because our numbers are far, far greater than those basement-dwelling, internet-addicted racist cowards who acted out a legacy of anti-Black terror this weekend, but because we on the left have what fascists can never supply. If you look at the rhetoric of the fascists, their advertisements aren’t based on facts; they are about a false promise of utopia; they promise meaning, purpose, and identity to those who feel lost, angry, and empty. Lasting meaning and purpose cannot be found through racist hate…the temporarily relief of expelling their rage on hapless victims will not bring them peace. We will fight to defend their victims and we will hold fascists accountable for their hate. And we will offer a movement that can win. Because we on the left have love, community, purpose, and meaning. We know that human beings are made for community. We are proud of our diversity—we are not color blind—and we are proud too of what Stephen Miller mocked as our “cosmopolitan bias”—by the way, as a person of Jewish and socialist descent, cosmopolitanism is to me a mark of pride in my heritage, and it’s part of why I fight for justice and also why I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. We are proud that across all our beautiful diversity we are citizens of a larger nation as well, the nation of humanity. The nation of humanity that will insist that Black Lives Matter and will fight to make those words a reality. And for those teetering on the periphery of fascism, for anyone tempted by hate, to those who may be listening online to the rhetoric of people like Richard Spencer, Nathan Damigo, Lauren Southern, James Allsup, Milo Yiannopolous: come home to humanity. When we on the left go out and talk to white people about racism, this has to mean not only that we tell liberal white friends not say that they are colorblind or not to just repeat other platitudes, but that if we have people in our social circles whose views are plainly despicable but whom we might be able to influence, we try to talk them around rather than patting ourselves on the back for blocking them on social media. Not everyone can be reasoned with—don’t bother with Richard Spencer—but the superiority of our views does not excuse us from the need to organize the unorganized. If those tempted by nationalism join with us instead, the community and purpose that they have sought, they will find in community with those whose homeland is the world and whose citizenship is humanity. The fascists wanted to unite the right. They united the left instead. I believe that we will win.