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Vol. 81/No. 32      August 28, 2017

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SWP talks with workers in Va. about racist actions

In response to recent developments in Charlottesville, Virginia, and furor in the liberal media portraying workers who voted for President Donald Trump as the social base of racist and right-wing activity in the U.S., members of the Socialist Workers Party have been knocking on doors in Charlottesville and around the country to discuss the issues with working people.

SWP member Ned Measel met David Slezak at his home. He is a retired teacher in Charlottesville who now serves meals at a homeless shelter across the street from the park where the Aug. 12 confrontation took place. “I had to listen all day to chants — ‘blood and soil,’ build the wall, Jews will not replace us, and f--k the faggots,” he said, referring to the ultra-rightists. “I saw some of them had machine guns.” He showed Measel some photos of armed white supremacists he took with his phone.

Slezak wanted to discuss broader politics in the U.S. today. “I’m a socialist. What do you think of Bernie Sanders?” he asked. “Sanders doesn’t present a course forward for the working class. He is seeking to take over the Democratic Party and give it a more radical reform program in hopes of shoring up the capitalist system,” said Measel. “Working people need to build their own party, a party like the SWP, that can lead workers and their allies in struggle against the ravages of the capitalist crisis today and chart a course to take political power out of the hands of the capitalist class. That’s what the Cuban people did in their revolution, something working people here need to emulate.”

Variety of opinions about statue
People had a variety of opinions about the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in downtown Charlottesville that the City Council wants to take down. “The statue is historical and it’s never bothered anyone, so it doesn’t need to come down,” Rae Dawn, 15, told Measel on her doorstep. This view was shared by a number of others, both Blacks and Caucasians, talked to by SWP members.

Unlike in Charleston, South Carolina, where 50,000 people marched in 2000 demanding the Confederate battle flag be taken down — leading to its removal from the state Capitol building — or where thousands gathered in July 2015 to see that same flag entirely removed from the Capitol grounds after white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African-American worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, there is no broad movement of workers in the streets of Charlottesville demanding the statue of Lee be removed.

In Charleston, West Virginia, about 150 people protested at the state Capitol Aug. 13 demanding the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson. A handful of members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans counterprotested, saying the statue was a historical site. The next day Socialist Workers Party members and supporters from the Washington, D.C., area knocked on doors in Huntington, West Virginia, where President Donald Trump recently held a rally attended by thousands of working people.

Most of the workers they met, both Caucasian and Black, said that they had voted for Trump.

“People say that this is a part of history, but it’s about bad history,” said Shawn Tackett, 42, an unemployed construction worker, who was remodeling his home. “The Civil War was fought to abolish slavery. The reasons they are for fighting for the monuments are wrong.”

Team members showed him Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes, which describes Radical Reconstruction following the Civil War, the Black-led working-class movement that overthrew Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s and the significance of the 2000 protests against the Confederate battle flag in Charleston.

“That’s why struggles over state governments displaying the Confederate battle flag, or over statues or holidays in tribute to political or military leaders of the slaveholders’ rebellion, continue to have weight in the class struggle many decades — indeed almost a century and a half — after it was routed in a bloody civil war,” Barnes writes in the Workers Power book.

SWP members and supporters are stepping up efforts to meet with workers on their doorsteps and introduce them to Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? and The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record, also by Barnes, and Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? by SWP leader Mary-Alice Waters, and to increase the circulation of the Militant.

“I’ve been to four funerals in the last week and a half,” said Tackett, talking about the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, where the drug overdose death rate is the highest in the country.

“We can solve it,” said SWP member Glova Scott. “Drug use and crime decline when workers go into struggle against the economic, social and moral disaster wrought by capitalism, that’s what happened during the big battles that overthrew Jim Crow. It’s through these kinds of struggles that working people will gain the strength and self-confidence to take political power and finally get rid of this dog-eat-dog capitalist system.”

In the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Mary Martin, SWP candidate for Seattle mayor, and SWP member Edwin Fruit met Lahtavia Mitchell, 26, who works as a housekeeper. “It’s sad that people can feel totally comfortable expressing hatred and prejudice for others,” she said. “On the other hand I see people feeling totally able to express their anti-racist stance too.”

“The historic gains of the powerful movement that overthrew Jim Crow cannot be turned back,” Martin said. “It still reverberates today. There is more fraternization among workers who are Black and workers who are Caucasian than ever before. The working class is less racist than ever before in U.S. history.” Mitchell got a Militant subscription to follow politics and the activities of the SWP.

SWP members in New York put all other activities aside Aug. 14 to join in a number of actions in the area to protest the killing of Heather Heyer by a white supremacist in Charlottesville and discuss the road forward for the working class.

SWP leader Róger Calero said he met Fredy, a construction worker who came to Trump Tower to “see what was happening with the demonstrations.” After an hour of discussion on a wide variety of political questions, Calero told the Militant, Fredy got a copy of the paper. He said he had a friend he thought would also like to talk with the SWP. “We plan for the three of us to get together and talk more,” Calero said.

SWP member Lea Sherman took part in a rally of some 125 people outside the Church of the Mediator in the Bronx that evening. They had an open speakers platform so she addressed the crowd. “There is much carnage on the working class,” she said, “including unemployment, the opioid crisis, no health care, cop violence, never ending wars. Neither the Democrats nor Republicans have any solutions. The road forward is the working class taking power. That is the road of the Cuban Revolution.”

Arlene Rubinstein and Ned Measel from Washington, D.C., and Edwin Fruit from Seattle contributed to this article.
Related articles:
SWP protests rightist acts, killing in Virginia
Liberals, left smear working class as racist
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