In Episode 80 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg examines the actual politics of the Cuban protests—and how much of the response by supposedly progressive forces in the United States has been highly problematic. While opposing the embargo, and the inevitable attempts by US imperialism to exploit and co-opt the protests, we must guard against words and actions that abet the repression. Hundreds have been detained and at least one person killed as the protests have been put down by security forces. By uncritically rallying around the regime and portraying the protests as CIA astroturf, we not only make ourselves complicit with rights abuses—we help bring about exactly what we fear, showing the protesters that their only allies in the US are on the political right.
The government of Eswatini, Africa's last absolute monarchy, has launched what Amnesty International calls a "ruthless crackdown" in response to pro-democracy protests, with dozens killed and many others tortured, detained or abducted. At least 150 protesters have been hospitalized for injuries, including gunshot wounds sustained from live ammunition fired by the police. The military has also been deployed to the streets. Protests broke out last month, following the mysterious death of a 25-year-old law student, Thabani Nkomonye, in May, allegedly at the hands of the police. His body was found on a field in Nhlambeni, outside the city of Manzini. In late June, these protests grew into daily marches in several cities and towns around the kingdom. While the demonstrations were mostly peaceful, there were instances in which businesses linked to the monarchy were looted and torched. The protests have waned since the wave of repression was unleashed, but the opposition People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) pledges to carry on the struggle.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged states to dismantle systematic racism against African and African-descendent peoples, in a June 28 report focusing on law enforcement around the world. "The status quo is untenable," Bachelet said. "Systemic racism needs a systemic response. There needs to be a comprehensive rather than a piecemeal approach to dismantling systems entrenched in centuries of discrimination and violence. We need a transformative approach that tackles the interconnected areas that drive racism, and lead to repeated, wholly avoidable, tragedies like the death of George Floyd."
The New York City Council on March 25 passed five bills and three resolutions aiming to increase the transparency and accountability of the New York Police Department (NYPD). One bill ends qualified immunity for police officers, meaning that individual officers may be sued for rights violations. The move makes New York the first US city to ban the use of qualified immunity for police officers. The legislation also creates a new "local civil right," protecting residents from unreasonable searches and seizures as well as from the use of excessive force. Another measure requires the NYPD to issue quarterly reports on vehicle stops, including information on the demographics of targeted drivers, whether vehicles were searched with or without consent, and other information.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed suit in federal court against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) Jan. 14 over its handling of peaceful protests and use of excessive force. In her complaint, James charged that the NYPD unjustifiably used pepper-spray and batons against Black Lives Matter protesters in violation of official department policies, asserting that such action caused protesters to suffer both physical and psychological harm. Additionally, James charged that officers corralled protesters without an opportunity to disperse, resulting in mass arrests without probable cause. James stated that this use of excessive force violated protesters' First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
In Episode 61 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg warns that following Trump's instrumented right-wing insurrection at the Capitol building, violence in the final lead-up to Inauguration Day could provide the expedient for execution of his long-planned coup d'etat—precisely as had been foreseen in the novel It Can't Happen Here. Despite fascist-abetting denialism from elements of the "left," even members of Congress are now asserting that the ransacking of the Capitol was carried out with complicity of elements of the security forces. Republicans meanwhile engage in despicable propaganda that equates the insufficient Democratic support for the Black Lives Matter uprising or protests against ICE putting kids in cages with Republican support for an attempted right-wing putsch. The statement by the Joint Chiefs of Staff holds out hope that leaders in the Pentagon may refuse Trump's orders. But a popular outcry to #StopTheCoup could be critical in giving them the courage to do so.
Police and demonstrators clashed in Paris Nov. 28 as some 45,000 filled the streets to protest a new security law, with large mobilizations also seen in Bordeaux, Lille, Montpellier and Nantes. The new law would severely restrict publishing of the images of police officers. The issue was given greater urgency by video footage of Paris police savagely beating local Black music producer Michel Zecler days earlier. President Emmanuel Macron said the images "shame us," but critics point out that their release could have been barred if his new security law had already been in force. Four officers have been suspended over the incident, but there have been no arrests. (Al Jazeera, NYT, EuroNews)
Progressives in the United States show little awareness of the disinformation specially targeting them. Denialism about Russian interference in the US elections, and the horrific realities of Russia's client state in Syria, is now translating into denialism about how dangerous the Trump presidency is. Syria solidarity activists have long been aware of the flood of pro-Assad disinformation on social media. Research from the University of Washington corroborated what activists have observed—it documented four times as many disinformation tweets about the Syrian White Helmets volunteer first-responder group in 2017 compared to factual tweets. In 2016, we saw the same pro-Assad sites and writers post memes and articles that trashed Hillary Clinton, equated Clinton and Trump, or even portrayed Clinton as the worse choice. They dominated "Leftbook" social media and helped depress the progressive vote. Ten million fewer Democrats voted in 2016 than 2012—a decisive factor in Trump's win. We are seeing a replay now. Biden and Harris are denounced far more than Trump on some "left" sites, while Trump's incipient fascism is downplayed.