|Volume 50 Number 22, June 13, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Hyde Park protest, London
The global protests that followed the public killing of African American George Floyd by police in Minnesota have continued throughout the world this past week and have constituted a major upsurge against all forms of racism and especially the racism of the state, as well as the increasing use of police powers as a method of government. In many countries protests have also demanded that the legacy of colonial rule must be brought to an end.
In Britain too, the protests have continued unabated in opposition to the impunity of the police and apparatus of the state, the government's attitude to the Covid-19 pandemic and healthcare more generally, the legacy of slavery and empire, as well as other manifestations of Eurocentrism, especially those that exist in the education system. The protests, in which young people have played a leading role, have called on everyone to re-examine and reject all that is anachronistic and reactionary, that which is so harmful and clearly out of step with the times and the needs of the people.
One focus of the widespread protests has been the demand for the removal of statues and other symbols that glorify slavery and empire and reflect the values of the white men of property, the powers-that-be, both in the past as well as today. The people of Bristol have demanded for over twenty years that an offensive statue of Edward Colston, a notorious human trafficker, mass murderer, and Member of Parliament in the late 17th century, be removed. Their attempts have all been thwarted by the powers-that-be to such an extent that even the current Mayor of Bristol, who speculated that his own ancestors might have been trafficked by Colston, was unable to remove the symbol of crimes against humanity. It is to their great credit that Bristolians finally decided to take a stand and to speak and act in their own name. They removed the offending statue and deposited it in the ocean where so many of Colston's victims were also deposited.
The removal of this offensive symbol prompted other local authorities to act on long-standing demands and announce that they would review decision-making processes regarding the appropriateness of the public representation of history. In the wake of the protests, many institutions and companies in Britain have also felt compelled to publicly state that they too are opposed to racism and the legacy of slavery and empire, including major universities, manufacturers such as Unilever and publishers such as Hatchette and Penguin. At the same time, there has been a concerted effort in the press to reduce the entire upsurge to one that is only concerned with the removal of statues, or questions of so called "law and order".
The government and the powers-that-be have been at sixes and sevens over the protests. There have even been public disagreements between some police forces and the Home Secretary. Nevertheless, government figures and some other politicians have generally been quick to condemn street protests as "lawless" or hijacked by "outsiders", or allegedly "unlawful" for not conforming to social distancing guidelines. Others have tried to claim that racism is not a major problem in Britain, or that Britain is the best place to live if you are a "black person". In short, the current upsurge has more thoroughly exposed those who defend state racism as well as the government's criminal negligence, whether in regard to the Windrush Scandal and the "hostile environment", deaths in Grenfell Tower, the third anniversary of which tragedy is on June 14, or as a result of Covid-19. The Prime Minister has told people not to attend protests and has tried to defend the indefensible, while the government has taken steps to criminalise protests and to respond to the upsurge through the use of police powers, or the tried and tested formula of promising commissions of enquiry, of which there have been many. The comments of the Prime Minister, who is personally notorious for making racist remarks and refusing to apologise for them, speaks volumes in the current circumstances.
Action in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, Canada
The worldwide protests, as well as those in Britain, have shown that when people speak and act in their own name, they are a mighty force capable of making history and moving society forward. They also show that people are opposed to the old values and to decision-making mechanisms which exclude the vast majority. Today people demand new values as well as new decision-making powers. The current upsurge is a demonstration that people are prepared to speak and act in their own name to bring about the New together with their own empowerment.
In these circumstances it is vital that people maintain the initiative and stand together to defend the rights of all. It is vital to continue to oppose and condemn any attempts by the powers-that-be to criminalise protest, to encourage more police violence, or the intervention of sinister forces with state protection. People must persevere in transforming themselves into an organised force which can realise all of their aims for a new society, which guarantees the rights of all, in which the people are empowered and themselves at the heart of decision-making.