Work Left to Be Done: NJ Community United Protests at Camden County Dem Headquarters

Like many of you (though not all!) I took a deep breath Tuesday night. Thankfully, the Guadagno campaign gambit of embracing Trumpism and immigration tactics fell flat here in New Jersey (and similar tactics failed in Virginia as well). We have a governor-elect who is making a $15 minimum wage a priority, and the legislature is putting progressive bills at the top of the queue. This is all good news.

Which is why it was an important that NJ Communities United protested outside the Camden County Democratic Committee Victory Party chanting “whose schools, our schools!” and Camden Education Association President Dr. Keith Benson responded to the election by penning an op-ed pointing to the continued oppression of state control over the Camden City School District. There are still school districts in New Jersey where the rights of people of color are stripped by state control, and that oppression is supported by bi-partisan consensus.

Ta-Nehisi Coates powerfully wrote about the dynamic of black communities being excluded from progress during a series of exchanges with Jonathan Chait — laying out how black communities have rarely had the luxury of enjoying electoral victories, because of the pervasiveness of racial discrimination that continues through times of leadership by both parties:

We certainly do not find such a period [lacking white supremacy] during the Roosevelt-Truman era, when this country erected a racist social safety net, leaving the NAACP to quip that the New Deal was “like a sieve with holes just big enough for the majority of Negroes to fall through.” Nor do we find it during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, when African-Americans—as a matter of federal policy—were largely excluded from the legitimate housing market. Nor during the 1980s when we began the erection of a prison-industrial complex so vast that black males now comprise 8 percent of the world’s entire incarcerated population

This is not to create false equivalency across party lines — especially at a time when Republicans are drawn towards an ugly nativism. It’s simply to point out the dangers in our current New Jersey moment, and the need to stand with and amplify voices of color trying to ensure that progressivism addresses injustices in their communities. One of the dangers of becoming the anti-Trump party is that, while opposition can be good politics, it also becomes a mechanism to ignore advocates of communities of color facing racial discrimination.

Imani Gandy captures the dynamic by comparing King’s frustrations with “white moderates” and the conflicts between Black Lives Matters activists and white progressives in the 2016 primary:

[A]s with the white clergymen who criticized King’s protests as “untimely and unwise,” so too have many white progressives criticized Black Lives Matter protests in similar terms. The sentiment seems to be: “We’re in an election season. Black people should just chill out or else they’re going to hurt Sanders’ chance of election. Now is not the time.”

I firmly believe it’s possible to be excited and supportive of a political moment in New Jersey when Democrats can enact much-needed progressive policies, and also stand in solidarity with our communities of color that have faced discrimination and oppression across parties. More than that, I believe it’s imperative for white progressives to do so, because it’s often too easy to dismiss fighting oppression as bad politics. Coates captures the dynamic, and its hypocrisy, showing how protest by the Civil Rights Movement was both unpopular and criticized for being too radical. That modern protests are similarly unpopular, that policies such as state control that target the rights of communities of color have a base in both parties, is part of the challenge of our moment. And protests like the one by NJCU, and op-eds like the one by Dr. Keith Benson, are critical for keeping these issues in the public eye so that the past does not repeat itself.

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