By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
This week tens of thousands of people in the United States flooded the streets to demand racial justice. It is one of many issues that has been building for years, reaching the tipping point and seeming to explode in a national awakening. We also saw that in the last two weeks with national protests for living wages.
Four years ago when we organized the occupation of Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza, we listed 15 crisis issues that the country needed to face, poverty wages and the injustice in criminal enforcement, including racially abusive police practices, were two of them. None of these 15 core issues has been adequately dealt with. In each there are people working to build support for their cause; each has the potential to explode on the national scene -- some already have.
This article examines five current campaigns and mobilizations that are demanding social, economic and environmental justice.
Demand Justice: End Racially Abusive Policing
The Staten Island grand jury decision in the Eric Garner killing, coming shortly after the Ferguson grand jury and the killing of 12 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, followed by police lies about Tamir's killing, has created a national eruption calling for justice. People have repeatedly flooded the streets across the country since the Ferguson grand jury decision.
In our last newsletter we described how people in 170 cities took to the streets and shut cities down over the Ferguson grand jury decision. Since then, protests have continued, even throughout a holiday weekend and then at 1:01 pm on Monday thousands walked out of high schools, colleges, work and took to the streets in a national die-in. One woman, Knox College Women's Basketball Player Ariyana Smith, took action by herself protesting during the Star Spangled Banner at a basketball game with her hands up and then falling to the ground for 4.5 minutes when it was over. Smith explained it was a last resort.
After the Staten Island grand jury decision, protests in New York City and throughout the country were so large that even the mass media had to extensively report on them. The nationwide protests are already resulting in government officials announcing plans to review policing in their communities and more action by the federal government to investigate local police. The NYPD knew this was coming, thousands had marched protesting Garner's death this summer, so they sent investigators to Ferguson to gather intelligence on professional agitators.
Police abuse, harassment of African Americans and killings of civilians has been going on for years. There is a long history of the NYPD (and other police) killing unarmed African Americans, as well as a history of grand juries not indicting police who kill citizens. The injustice in the US justice system has become so evident that the United Nations is strongly criticizing police and prison practices in the United States as well as torture abroad.
While politicians are now talking about changes to police training, increased use of cameras on police and other reforms and the Department of Justice is taking action, protests must continue and be sustained in order to achieve the necessary changes . For example, there are sustained protests planned at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC every Monday at 4:00 pm.We must be uncompromising in our consistent demand for justice.
Demand Justice: End Poverty Wages
Another issue that is increasing its people power and political strength is the reality of millions of US workers receiving poverty wages. In the last two weeks we have seen two national days of action by people seeking living wages. Economic injustice has deep roots but now it is beginning to be addressed.
Three years ago these mass actions would have been unthinkable, but over the past three years people protested at Walmart and workers walked off their jobs on the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday. This year there were protests and walk-offs at 1,600 Walmarts in 49 states, the largest ever. The protests will continue to grow until Walmart starts paying people living wages.
Two years ago 200 fast food workers in New York City walked off their jobs. This has also grown into a national movement. This Thursday in more than 190 cities people walked off their jobs and protested for a $15 an hour living wage and union rights. The movement has not only grown geographically but also now includes more categories of workers. This year, baggage handlers, skycaps, wheelchair attendants and aircraft cleaners from 10 major airports supported the strikers as the Fight for $15 movement continued its spread to new industries.
And, in two years of organizing, 8 million low-wage workers have seen raises. The lesson from this experience is that organized people can build power and create change.