It appears that radical movements are back.
On Jan. 31 in New York City, the radical group Decolonize This Place led their third massive demonstration. These protests were triggered by Governor Cuomo’s announcement that 500 new cops would be deployed to fix “quality of life” issues — such as homelessness and fare-evasion — in the New York subway.
Their demands include free transit, an end to cops in the MTA and full accessibility for disabled persons. These are radical ideas which have logical justifications. If we are to posture as an equitable society, then all people must have equal freedom to move. If you are poor and can’t afford a car or the subway fare, you hold a fundamentally oppressed place in society. Likewise, if your community has been systematically segregated into poor neighborhoods with little access to transit — as most black communities have been in the United States — you lack the right to move freely.
If we are to promote racial and economic justice, it cannot be through the criminalization of poverty. Arresting fare-dodgers while many of the criminals who caused the 2008 global financial meltdown work blocks away on Wall Street is a gross miscarriage of justice.
Unlike many sanitized protest movements, Decolonize This Place doesn’t screw around. Their protests are not about asking nicely: In their own words, they’re here to “f*ck sh*t up.” They use tactics from mass fare-jumping to literally chaining open the emergency exits to let crowds onto the subway platform. They smash open fareboxes. On Friday, they occupied Grand Central before being forcibly dispersed by the police.
Many people think this kind of activism is over-the-top, rash, idealistic and counterproductive. But it’s perhaps the most critical form of organizing.
The Greensboro sit-ins were dismissed as the radical work of outside agitators. Militant squatters around the world — including the recent #Moms4Housing movement— are cast as “bums,” but have secured many affordable housing victories. Radical rent strikes have led to major concessions from landlords, cities and speculators. Occupy Wall Street brought wealth inequality to the fore of American politics.
Real radical movements channel the raw anger of oppression. When the richest country on earth willfully denies human dignity and equity to its residents, it’s time to fuck shit up. The organizers of Decolonize This Place live blocks from Wall Street — the epicenter of global capital — but lack transit, housing, food, clean air, clean water and healthcare. They have every right to smash and break things.
This message is particularly poignant on the eve of the Iowa Caucus (or, by the time you read this, the day after the Iowa Caucus). Bernie Sanders is leading in the polls. He is the people’s candidate. He is bringing millions of young people and working class people into the political process and into contact with serious leftist ideas. His policies, from Medicare-For-All to the Green New Deal, could make the world a materially better place.
But if he is elected, the struggle for universal access to transit, food, housing, healthcare and a clean environment cannot be tempered. The struggle for economic, racial and environmental justice cannot stop.
The long perpetuated myth that progress is inevitable is false. Only with radical agitators can we move towards a more just society. We must question and attack the foundations of oppression, not tinker at the edges of a broken system.
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Harry Zehner is the opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.