What Joe Biden Should Promise Black Lives Matter Protesters — Now — As They Face Trump’s Storm-troopers
“Declare victory, vacate the street protests — and render Trump’s storm-troopers moot. Redirect the battle to the campaign trail. When elected, I will work with you to reform America.” What if Joe Biden, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, sent this message to the Black Lives Matter leadership? It might read as follows:
My friends in the Black Lives Matter movement, to all of Black America:
You have won your struggle. You have won it! Black Lives Matter has made its point, a righteous one: Black lives do matter now, in this summer of 2020, in a way that, historically, they have not mattered before. You have established a new truth: Black lives do matter. Amen.
Ever since the horrific killing of George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis, the Black Lives Matter movement has argued its case in the streets, with protests that have been massive — the largest protests in all of American history — and that have been, for the most part, peaceful. Those few “protesters” causing violence did not get the BLM memo about peaceful protest.
At long last, White America has heard you. Viewing George Floyd’s killing, White America, in that awful moment, came to know something of what you have long known about America’s “systemic racism” — and what it saw is sickening, shameful. White America now believes you and, importantly, White America has joined you in protest. To be sure, not all of White America believes. But a mighty swath does — and wants to advance to a New Day in which Black and White America, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed, can sit down at “the table of brotherhood,” together.
Which is why, as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, I, Joe Biden, ask you, Black Lives Matter, to consider the following — at this perilous juncture when the current (and soon-to-be-former) president, Donald Trump, has deployed federal storm-troopers into the streets of America’s cities to “quell” your protest:
Declare victory, vacate the street protests — and render Trump’s storm-troopers moot. Remove yourselves as the target — before the storm-troopers find their target and, crucially, before Donald Trump hijacks your cause in the name of “law and order” and exploits it to win re-election.
Why? Why would you relinquish that which you have struggled so hard to achieve?
One: Because, again, you have already made your point. And, two: Because Donald Trump, unholy racist that he is, wants your cause — your righteous cause — to end in the streets. In blood. Your blood.
What other message can we read from Trump’s dispatch of federal law enforcement into the streets, many wearing no identifying insignia, who kidnap BLM protesters and shove them into unmarked vehicles? In the United States of America that we all love? These are the goon squads of a would-be dictator. Trump is literally trying to weaponize your cause — turn your righteous cause of Black lives mattering into a “mortal danger” threatening “the American way of life” that must be put down by force.
This is the nightmare scenario now unfolding: You now stand to lose the ground you have gained, under the onslaught of Trump’s storm-troopers, in the service of his campaign to “take America back” — back to the days of unchallenged white privilege, racial discrimination, basically to the culture of slavery. This is not the way your dream, your victory, should end. No, it should not end in the streets, in your blood.
Rather: Your victory should end in that New Day — of the equality and respect and dignity you have argued for so stirringly in the streets, of the equality and respect and dignity denied Black America for centuries.
To that better end, then, I hereby make this promise:
When I am elected President of the United States, I will work with Black America to deliver — at long last — on policies and programs that will hoist Black America onto equal footing with the rest of America. That is my solemn pledge. Better healthcare: Black America with its inferior healthcare is dying in this pandemic at far higher rates than the rest of America. Better housing. Better schools for a better education. Equal access to “the room where it happens” — to leadership and decision-making. Better life and freer living, without racism’s toxic stress and trauma. And, crucially, better policing and better criminal justice.
Now, this is the point in the movie where someone in the Movement asks: “Why is Whitey making this pledge? Is this a trick?”
Why am I making this pledge? Because this white American is sickened and ashamed, not only at the racism so vividly exposed in George Floyd’s death. This white American is sickened and ashamed at the specimen of White America now inhabiting the White House, who is in effect ruling by the anti-everything precepts of white power. If this specimen of White America is re-elected, American democracy is well and truly destroyed. Trump’s chances of re-election, dim now, would be enhanced hugely, and possibly successfully, if he can make his “law and order” case in the streets — by “quelling” the “thugs” and “anarchists” and “domestic terrorists” that he now labels you.
But if you declare victory and vacate the street protests, you deprive Trump of his pseudo-adversary. Again, you have already won — won White America’s respect and belief. Staying in the streets only gets you more exclamation points — again, at the risk of losing it all to the ensuing whirlwind if Trump’s war on BLM succeeds. Besides, the street is not the only venue for protest; there is the campaign realm.
Now, I am cognizant of the power BLM wields at this moment: “Why,” you no doubt ask, “would we surrender that power by ceding the streets?” As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” But surely you know the “demand” exerted by Trump’s storm-troops is, in physical terms, incomparably superior to unarmed protesters; the result would be strife, perhaps civil war, politicized and ugly. Why sacrifice your new moral capital — polls show a historic rise in BLM’s approval among all Americans — for blood in the streets, when you can convert that capital into both the moral reckoning America needs and the policies and programs Black America needs, to be achieved in the Biden administration? For now, throw your moral capital into the campaign realm — into voter registration, voter security, select candidates. Redirect the battle into creating the premises for a New Day.
Of course at this point you may say, “This is another politician desperately scrounging for votes.” Let me just say, I am not desperate: My polls are great, too; my campaign is polling well ahead of Donald Trump and is pulling away by the day. When I said, “When I am elected President of the United States,” that prospect also becomes more real by the day. I make my pledge from a position of strength.
There is also a moral aspect to my pledge: As a white American struck to the heart by George Floyd’s killing and moved deeply by Black America’s plea for respect and dignity, now that White America has heard that plea, and knowing that, at present, White America has the power to bestow it, White America cannot in good conscience now withhold it — the respect and dignity — that Black America pleads. It would be my deepest honor that, in the Biden administration, Black America is — at last — made whole.
I know your lion heart may still resist my message — to vacate the streets. And how many times has White America betrayed Black America in the past? But I hope you feel how a wide swath of White America is now with you, as am I. I hope you join me, in trust, to vacate the streets and go forward in coalition.
(By the way, vacating the streets would expose the provocateurs doing violence — and those provocateurs include Donald Trump.)
History is replete with the stories of power-mongers who wreak havoc on their peoples to stay in power. Donald Trump epitomizes the old adage, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” On top of Trump’s absolute corruption — which corruption now includes resorting to armed force against the American people — we also have the upheaval of a deadly pandemic and economic collapse. In short: Our world, our America, has exploded, with all of America’s component parts flying about us. It is our task, our historic task, to guide those component parts safely back to ground again. And it is our opportunity, our historic opportunity, to reconfigure those component parts and build back better. Coming to terms with America’s original sin — slavery and its legacy of racism — will redeem all of us.
This is not the campaign I expected, nor did anyone. I have never seen America so broken, so hurting, in such peril. But: This is not the end of America’s story. I have always said: Never underestimate America. History is also replete with the tragedy of absolute power destroying those who resist. To avert tragedy — always the American way — we must be strategic in parrying this monstrous president.
Dear BLM: Vacate the streets, redirect the battle to the campaign realm, and seize the initiative with me to build a New Day in America. Thank you.
The author’s just-previous post, “Trump’s Storm-troopers: An Ominous Signal for November,” is here.