Fighting Back in Michigan

Kim Hunter

Posted October 31, 2020

George Floyd protest in Detroit (Photo: Steve Neavling, Detroit Metro Times)

I’m a member of DSA Metro Detroit and of the Black Brown Alliance within that chapter. I write poetry and short stories, and have earned my living in media most of my adult life, so much of this will be geared toward messages and ideas. But I’ll start with the basics.

I am a part of We Make Michigan (WMM), a Fight Back Table. Please find the pledge we are using to sign people up and be ready to move into the streets if needed. The Table is geographically and ideologically diverse with everyone from anarchists, Black Lives Matter activists, clergy and party functionaries, to labor and social justice groups of many stripes, including liberals and revolutionaries.

In October 2016, I told anyone who would listen: Everyone to the left of Atilla the Hun needs to form a popular front, a broad coalition because that’s how fascists are beaten back and defeated. While we do need to call out bad actors, the focus must be more on people having what they need to survive, and on building the most democratic processes that reflect the will of the people. We have to use these principles and values to reach people where they live.

The Fight Back Table of WMM is divided into four main groups: (i) Research — which looks into how fascists have been beat back in the past; (ii) Media and Communications, my group obviously; (iii) Constituents, working with elected officials, clergy, those labor leaders who aren’t more directly involved, etc.; (iv) last and in my view the most important, the Action Councils, on-the-ground local groups all over Michigan that will be in street talking to and organizing folks for nonviolent action on the ground, and also talking to local media.

We see three main phases to operations at the moment. We’re now in Phase One, pre-election. We’re obviously still organizing, gathering, training. We’ve supported press conferences pushing the ideas that:

  1. every vote must be counted;
  2. the election is unlikely to be decided on election day, that because of early and absentee voting, we have more an election season than one day; and finally
  3. we need to be ready to move in to the streets if needed for nonviolent action where we all have each other’s back.

Those last two messages are crucial in Phase Two — Election Day, where the stuff will likely hit the fan. We must maintain a positive, victory-focused view. We have, and we need, artists and cultural workers to help us do that, but we all need to have a vision and focus — using Trump mostly as a pivot to focus on the need to move past this regime as a step toward protecting ourselves and creating breathing room.

If need be, we will be in the streets and telling the various folks charged with counting, certifying and sending electors to “do your job as you’ve always done it.” We will address delays, lies and shenanigans as needed, always emphasizing what we want and need over and above any malfeasance.

But “Subject to change” will likely be the words we’ll live by, especially with Phase Three, which begins a few days after the election. The possible machinations are myriad with what could happen with vote counting and the (heavily gerrymandered) Republican legislature in Michigan and the electors. That is all up in the air, and that doesn’t even address the possible court actions and challenges, right-wing gangs and/or the National Guard being deployed.

With regard to rightwing gangs, although we have people who watch them from a distance, I don’t know whether they’ve been emboldened or chastened by the discovery and dismantling of the plot against Governor Whitmer. Of course everyone hopes the latter. One of the reasons the Action Councils will be so crucial is to monitor on-the-ground activity in order to help squash lies and rumors as they may arise.

I was asked about the socialist perspective on all of this. In the short term I believe the socialist contribution is the same as everyone’s: let’s be present and committed to get over the hump, which is nothing uniquely socialist but seriously demanded by the nature of the current emergency.

Even if Trump leaves office, racists and fascists will still feel and be empowered as never before and we will still need a large, relentless coalition to beat them back as best we can. And yes, voting their opportunists and true believers out of office, out of the courts and the legal system will still be a major project.

It’s in the longer term, assuming there is one, once we have carved out space for more than emergency actions, socialists can bring in-depth theoretical tools and analysis of capital and our relationships to capital to help create strategic goals.

We can begin by pointing out that many, not all but probably most, capitalists pretend to be “neutral” on Trump when you can’t be neutral on police killings, kids in cages, the climate crisis, COVID-19, etc. I believe it’s helpful to be clear about “capitalists” that we’re not talking about the grocery store owner or even the person than owns a few gas stations, but multi-millionaires and billionaires, people who own most of the wealth.

But just being anti-something is never enough, so we need to also focus on the fact that wealth is created by labor and that for true justice, folks who need to work for a living need to have as much democratic power over economic activity as they are supposed to have over political activity, that you can only really influence politics if you control the wealth.

The fact that what I just said is an unruly mouthful relates to my next point. With respect and love, I say we have to learn how to talk to regular folks using words everyone can understand.

Without going into historical detail, I can tell you the most right-leaning factions of the 1% have made that their business since about 1964, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. That’s not just because of their head start, but largely because of rightwing lies and misinformation, most people in the United States have no idea what capitalism is, to say nothing of socialism.

This is so despite the rise of the DSA, Bernie, AOC et al. Whatever people are thinking or saying in socialist venues needs to be translated into language that is sensible and understandable for people waiting for the bus, working at the nail salon and trying to stretch their food dollars to the end of the month, while keeping the lights on.

That “translation” is kinda-sorta what I do in my day job for non-revolutionary groups engaged in essential social justice work. I provide media support, which, in part, means I’m supposed to create messages that regular folks can understand. Sometimes, I actually do that.

One of the ideas that may be useful to hold the coalition together is that everything that was already bad about the society was made worse by COVID, and we’re not going back. All the moratoriums that are happening or should be happening with utility shutoffs, foreclosures, rent and mortgage payments must be enforced beyond COVID. All the income support from public dollars that people should be getting, all the releases from prisons and jails, must continue post COVID. It should not have taken a pandemic to get justice, and we demand justice beyond the pandemic.

To close I encourage socialists to join in, be useful, take leadership from the most affected, Black, Indigenous and people of color, Queer, immigrants, women, low-income folks, formerly incarcerated. Once we get over this hump, then let’s be ready to argue for justice in a way people can relate to.