Letters, July 2016

Sanders, Stein and Soltysik; Gorilla lives matter

Sanders, Stein and Soltysik

Now that Bernie Sanders is #ReadyforHillary, we should pause and consider what challenge the left is offering this election cycle against the crushingly dominant ideology of pragmatic lesser-evilism.

On the June 30th episode ofThe Nightly Show Diane Guerrero, who plays Maritza on Netflix’s politically charged dramedy Orange is the New Black, summed up the most common liberal argument in Hillary Clinton’s favor: while we may not like it, the two choices on offer are “what we have”, so better hold your nose and turn out to the polls lest we want to see Donald Trump in the White House!1 With Bernie Sanders now firmly defeated, no serious progressive commentator contends that the Democratic Party presents a left-wing alternative to the existing political establishment. As opposed to Bernie Sanders’ social democratic program and calls for “political revolution” that mobilized large numbers of people (albeit into a capitalist party which was never in serious danger of being transformed from below), it’s untenable to spin a narrative of Hillary Clinton being anything other than a creature of the establishment. Her candidacy promises to be a safe pair of hands as the CEO of American capitalism like any other. Thus, hold your nose and vote “D.”

How can the radical left reach out to those layers of the Sanders support base – or to workers and oppressed people more generally – who are not inclined to support Hillary Clinton? Ideally the left would have its own presidential campaign, one based on radical-democratic opposition to the existing state order. A campaign acting as a mass agitator, educator and organizer, raising a set of immediate economic, social and democratic demands, and linking them to the need for international socialism. Unfortunately, we have not one but many claimants to being that sort of campaign: the Socialist Party USA, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Workers World Party, Socialist Workers Party, and now Socialist Action are all running competing candidacies. Generally these campaigns are useful for spreading basic class politics to a bigger audience than what would typically be possible, but their long-term impact is blunted because they seek to organize handfuls of people into a particular sect rather than a project that can become a mass party. 

At least these comrades are starting from basically the right premise – that elections under capitalism are an arena of struggle and that it’s possible to agitate and organize around class-independent politics through an electoral campaign. The same can’t be said for groups like the International Socialist Organization and now Socialist Alternative, which endorsed Jill Stein post-Bernie as part of the “huge space for the creation of a new broad left party of the 99%.”2 True enough, a decent chunk of ‘Bernie or Bust’-ers are going to be sympathetic to Jill Stein and the Green Party, and general revulsion for Hillary Clinton can work in her favor. But votes for the Green ticket builds the profile of the Greens, not of any working-class political vehicle.

Ideally, there would be a project for socialist unity at this stage in the election cycle, which would cohere the various left groups around a shared candidacy and some kind of common platform. A united socialist campaign, even if starting on the smaller end, would not only be a useful agitation and propaganda exercise now but would lay real groundwork for a party in the near future. But in the absence of that, we should work to strengthen one of the current socialist presidential campaigns – preferably Mimi Soltysik and Angela Walker of the Socialist Party USA, whose campaign offers more political space to push for the principled unity our movement needs.

– Gabriel Pierre


  1. http://www.cc.com/episodes/36dtke/the-nightly-show-with-larry-wilmore-june-30–2016—diane-guerrero-season-2-ep-02128
  2. http://www.socialistalternative.org/2016/07/07/socialist-alternative-convention-marks-huge-step/



Gorilla lives matter

During the 2016 Memorial Day weekend, news stories, memes, and postings on Facebook, about a toddler falling into a gorilla enclosure, resulting in zookeepers shooting a gorilla erupted in my corner of the social media. The memes bemoaned the killing, rather than tranquilizing of the gorilla, which some comments indicated would have taken too long to make it safe to remove the child from danger, and stated that the ‘protective’ gorilla was a better creature than the inattentive bitch of a mother, although, both parents may have been present at the zoo, and crowds were a barrier to remedial parental action. Some even stated that the child and parents would have been better shot. Many ill wishes were expressed against the child and mother and in mourning for the gorilla, an endangered species.

As the 2016 elections in the USA approach, and it looks likely that the major candidates for President are to be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In this Trump-Clinton land, probably the first time such elections so totally surrounded by social media as both campaign and response, windows into the thinking and warped moral patterns of bourgeois America are especially noticeable and discerned.  While the warped culture is seemingly most exposed by Trump and his racist and nativist supporters, it is also evident with regard to the Clinton campaign, as Hillary defends the ending of most welfare support for women and children and the buildup of police and prisons during the administration of Bill Clinton, during the 1990s, and a confrontation was indeed initiated against Black Lives Matters, an anti-police brutality and anti-police murdering of blacks and other people of color protest movement, by former President Bill Clinton, who characterized the movement as defending super predators.

Two of those alleged super predators included, in Ohio, in the past few years, a black child playing with a toy gun and a young black  man about to purchase an air gun  at a Wal-Mart who were killed by police. The nationwide death toll of gunning down of black men , deaths of black people who are arrested and held in jail, the heightened awareness of the existence of police brutality being made by efforts of Black Lives Matters, and similar efforts to raise awareness of Native American encounters with police, make police brutality, especially against people of color a top social media topic,  at least for me, on Facebook.

The Black Lives Matter movement has given rise to counter movements, especially by racist white Americans of ‘All Lives Matter’ and even ‘Blue Lives Matter.’ Now, amidst an electoral campaign season that denigrates the probability of anthropogenic climate warming and mass extinction, the possibility of an outsized role of a black parent and a black child in furthering the endangerment of a gorilla species, has seemingly fused racists, animal rights defenders,  misogynists, and zoo critics in the chattering in, and editorializing directed at, and circulated with commentary in the Facebook social media (and, I assume Twitter, etc., as well).

Not only is the tragedy that a lowland gorilla at a Cincinnati Ohio zoo was shot instead of tranquilized a topic. The responsibility of and child neglect by a black woman ( or in many memes. the bitch) for the death of an endangered species has become the center of social media commentary. Luckily, many people, especially parents recognize that a child can become endangered with even the slightest lapse of attentive consciousness of what happens in day-to-day life.

In the Miami New Times of  Monday, February 3, 20141 Chuck Strouse writes about an alleged  historic practice in the American South of using black babies for alligator bait. A advertisement for a toilet and bath soap, Stainglo, shows a crawling African American baby about to be consumed by an alligator, with the saying,  ‘For the Removal of Colorations’. Strouse wrote,

“It has been pretty well documented recently that, during slavery and into the 20th Century, black babies were used as alligator bait in North and Central Florida.”

I wonder where this practice and other abuses of images of people of color and especially black females / mothers plays in a subterranean American historical social psychological role in this discussion. Certainly the Ronald Reagan promoted image of welfare queens, i.e. black mothers, having profitable baby after baby, on relaxing welfare dole, fits right into the racism displayed, often violently at Trump rallies, and in Bill Clinton’s verbal slap to African Americans during the primary battle of Hillary Clinton against critical Black Lives Matter activists, plays into subconscious thinking and language selection in discussion of the zoo incident.

So, with the images of black children and young adults being gunned down by police in my mind after seeing a post by a black female friend on Facebook about the story of a toddler getting into, actually falling, into,a gorilla enclosure at the zoo, and the toddler dragged through the water like a twig or fish by the large and strong animal, people afterwards anthropomorphized the gorilla as being initially protective of the child and frightened by the crowds. She said she wondered if the critical tone towards the mother was the fact that she was black. She found out that she was. The Facebook friend said that it seemed as if a bunch of white folks had suddenly become animal protectionists against the sullied cultural target of the black mother.

It took a while for me to find that the parents were in fact black, and even ran a daycare. Certainly, a child with serious, if non-life threatening injuries, and possible lifetime of nightmares, will be joined in suffering and in having nightmares by the child’s parents and siblings. The daycare operation and integrity of the family may be threatened by authorities, customers, or random members of the public.

Fortunately many witnesses, fellow parents, and non-shallow thinkers saved the weekend of reading postings, by defending the parents, saying that bad things happen all the time, to good people, and that crowd dynamics, zoo enclosure design, and negative race and gender images poisoned discussion about the tragedy of a zoo animal being put down.

And, while no one has yet posted, again, the alligator and black baby stories, in reference to this weekend’s gorilla-child-mother-zoo social media maelstrom , one other person besides, myself, posted comments about how people of color, from Africa, the Philippines, and other places were exhibited in zoos and other public spectacles in the United States and Europe, at the turn of the 20th Century, deep in the era of racial imperialism and white man’s burden.

So, maybe the lesson to be drawn is that capitalist zoos are not really good, or at least not an unmitigated good, for primates – human or gorilla. Yes, gorilla lives matter, but, I hope, those of our fellow humans matter more. And, about anthropomorphizing about the intentions of gorilla, what can we say about the humanity of human behavior as images of a dead refugee toddler on an Aegean Sea beach and a black child’s life threatening experience with a zoo gorilla, coincide with widespread apathy for the dead beach toddler or the antipathy and death wishes against the child and parents who experienced a near tragedy at a zoo outing. How protective are humans? So, how can we judge the potential actions of another primate, much stronger and unpredictable. Kill? Unfortunately, better safe than sorry.

– David Smithers


  1. http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/black-babies-used-as-alligator-bait-in-florida-6531453