Social change and chaos

It’s definitely good that a lot of people seem to have, just about, woken up one day in late May 2020 and decided that racism, racists, and racial disparities—particularly in violent injury by police—are not okay and that these things need kicked to the curb promptly.

That is certainly good and an improvement.

We clearly have systems which suppress demands for change (issuing from below), however, and suppress it, and when eventually something gives, our systems are a disordered mess.

That’s a modest price to get real, material gains in justice and inclusion.

I just have to believe that some better way is possible. Someday. It’s true that few if any complaints, demands or proposals now enjoying new energy are entirely new. It would be good if we had a process—e.g. a functioning political process—where merit and effort could make headway without having to wait until the system resistance breaks up, then try to grab what gains are possible during a melee which could end as seemingly arbitrarily as it began.

Meanwhile it isn’t like I even have complaint of being meaningfully inconvenienced, personally. It’s just fascinating to watch.

For example, the surging calls to end policing as we know it range from “reform but it has to work,” to “abolish it completely now.” Without just dismissing the reasons or sincerity of the most radical demands, I have to wonder about the simultaneous persistent calls to arrest Breonna Taylor’s killers. This would imply the existence of some sort of law enforcement agents, right? I do think that’s realistic. But, also, realistically the abolition movement includes dissenters explicitly saying “no do not arrest and charge killer cops.” Yep yep yep

Meanwhile, the City of Philadelphia apparently canceled a proposed $19 million increase to the police budget, and transferred $14 million of activity from the police to another department without cutting a cent of that, and online this quickly got circulating as “Philadelphia defunds police by $33 million.” The Inquirer seems to have revised the language of its own coverage, since, and good for them, but the elasticity of these newly popularized slogans is still something to see.

At the activist level, this popular Twitter thread encourages people 1) to demand simple, accessible budget summaries, and 2) to distrust any summaries and insist on the complete, raw numbers. This brought to you by “a government budget analyst.”

Obviously, wires get crossed.

Also meanwhile, all of this stresses one of the biggest ongoing contradictions within the fissile Democratic coalition, one which I recognized years ago: the inclusion of both determined support for labor unions, and of most Black Americans whose routine victimization at the hands of police is reliably shielded from reformers by police unions.

We got to watch this briefly here in Lakewood, this week, where a member of the Fraternal Order of Policy used FOP stationery to blast City Council members Rader, Kepple and O’Malley for participating in the Cleveland Black Lives Matter rally (which police characterized as a riot). The evidence of chaos, in this instance, is that this officer sabotaged whatever limited political capital he might have made here, by attacking not just a couple of “antifa radicals” but also the union loyalist president of city council O’Malley, and doing so with a bunch of blatantly false claims.

For my part I think policing is ripe for reform and I think even break-it-up-and-start-over programs are reasonable in some cities where police seem simply to have gone feral. In these conditions, I think there is a reasonable case for dismantling things and starting over, even if the result may involve a significant amount of activity resuming under a new name.

Even where I really understand where radical voices are coming from, I also think a few have just lost the plot. Which, y’know, you’ll have that; nothing extraordinary here. But…

The difficulty of shifting most people to new behavior patterns (see also: Ohio’s vote by mail primary, or American’s reaction to COVID-19, or supply your own example) is both the best argument for radical responses to policing’s demonstrated harms, and the best argument for retaining some degree of caution. This week I was rather displeased with Indivisble’s hamfisted assertion that all Indivisible activists wherever they live must insist that local government defund police departments which dwarf education and social services budgets. Motherfucker, please, Lakewood Ohio spends about four times as much on teachers as on cops, and if you want to shoot back “that’s good” then take several seats rather than telling your peeps in Lakewood that they need to give an earful to the progressives I have worked my ass off to elect with eff-all help from you obviously.

Big credit to Planned Parenthood for writing that “There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to defunding the police. It will look different in every town and every city.” Perhaps decades of being an organization dealing with individual local communities throughout the country provides some valuable experience idk.

Dear good heaven what a week personally. If I didn’t have the maturity to remind myself e.g. that lots of things are not about me, and that I don’t have to give my time to toxic people, etc., I would be out of my damn mind by now.

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