Our first screening of the Do Not Resist documentary was a success. There may have not been as large of turnout as we and other attendees hoped for, but everything in the beginning starts small. What is moreso important for us, and all who fight against oppression, is the qualitative factor. It is in this sense that our event was a success. Our goal was to have workers come out and collectively discuss the role of police in our lives and we accomplished that. The basis for this success was our orientation towards reaching the local working class. Although we did utilize social media as one way to accomplish this, our main efforts were placed on pounding the pavement. We did not expect workers to come to us, we knew we had to go to them, which meant going to the trailer parks.
To the liberal this all sounds trivial, for them outreach = facebook event pages and signal boosting. Overall the liberal method of rallying people has an over-reliance on the digital terrain and the college campus. For us, we know that workers and the poor generally are not as plugged into the digital terrain that liberal activists and the middle class are. The liberal has the “field of dreams” orientation. This “build it and they will come” attitude which has the expectation that the working class will come to them. Clearly we can see based on the state of the left in the New River Valley that this orientation is not conducive for mass mobilization of workers. No wonder when we look around at these liberal-dominated events and demonstrations we see mainly white, middle class, academic democrats and little to no workers in attendance.
It may not seem like such a significant thing, but actually going to where working class people live and engaging them on their terrain is one of the best ways to overcome the separation between leftists and workers. It is a real test of the capacity of leftist organizers to have actual working class mobilization. If we are failing to achieve this mobilization then it is something we are responsible for. Something that either we have failed to do, or have done incorrectly, not something that can be dismissed due to external factors such as the weather, or even worse, blaming workers as if it is their “failure” to see the importance of what we are doing as leftists.
When presented with the idea of going into trailer parks to engage workers, the first response by many leftists is one of skepticism. Are these not the bastions of the so-called deplorables? Are these not the hubs for the backwards white working class rednecks who wave the battle flag of the confederates? Yes and no. We do not apologize for reactionaries regardless of their class, we do not want to invite conscious white supremacists into our spaces, with that said we do argue the need for leftists to go into these spaces that are normally labeled as “dangerous” and full of “backwards” people (much like the same argument made by liberals to avoid the ghettos of the inner city). Yes, we did see a few confederate battle flags, and many gadesen flags, a few pro Trump stickers here and there, but we took the initiative to engage these people (who only were a minority in the entire trailer parks). We at least extended the recognition to them that we cared what they thought about, as workers, regardless of their political affiliations (we ran into zero conscious white supremacists).
This led to us even being invited into some pro-Trump peoples’ homes to further discuss why we were inviting them to a documentary about the police. We were successfully able to debunk their incorrect ideas about immigrants being bad, or even that Trump had their interests in mind as he wields his executive power to the detriment of workers. We equally attacked the Democrats to show how they are just as responsible, if not moreso in many instances, for the immiseration of workers domestically and internationally. We too want Hillary thrown in prison, along with all other capitalist politicians and their allies. And even though some of these people are less likely to join our core initially we at least showed them respect, that we value their thoughts and that leaves us in a better position to win these people over down the road, at the very least make them reconsider working against us if they are provoked to. We must break the stereotype advocated not just by the right about the left, but also realized by the liberal left in practice – that leftists are elitists, that leftists look down on these workers for being “trailer trash”. Through our concrete practice we showed workers that we will listen to what they say and that we invite them to our spaces to engage in a real democracy where they can discuss collectively what the issues are for them as workers. This does not mean that we have to tolerate or excuse oppressive behaviors or language, but simply give people a chance before outright dismissing them based largely on liberal-elitist assumptions.
We found that oftentimes what superficially indicated a worker being right-wing is just that, its superficial. Meaning that these social symbols that white working class people identify with are largely vague assertions of rebellion and desires for respect towards their own personal autonomy (“dont tread on me”). Are they problematic? Yes, but workers are not trained leftist academics who are professionals in anti-oppressive language. They are the products of historical and material reality which includes a system that propagates oppressive theory and action upon them, whether that be in regards to white supremacy, patriarchy, or class. But the key difference between the liberal left which enforces their self-defeating, self-isolating standard and the “backwards” workers in the trailer parks is that the workers have actually experienced the systemic violence enacted on them though evictions, job terminations, police brutality, court orders, fines, penalties, and fees doled out by their local elites. This places them at a political advantage in understanding that you do not plead or petition those in power, but must combat them as an enemy. This is one of the most crucial realizations that elude the liberal left. And it is this truth that places us, as militant leftist organizers, in a strategic advantage in organizing workers to fight their class enemies.
Despite our area being overwhelmingly white, the trailer parks were diverse. We encountered Black, Latino, elderly, young, and queer people throughout. We only encountered one person who expressed pro-cop sentiments, everyone was cordial, and their responses ranged from muted to highly enthusiastic. We found that many people were eager to express their ideas, which reveals to us that workers are starved for an outlet, as they are effectively censored and erased from the public, whether it be through the local media, the local political parties, or the local governmental bodies. There is no worker democracy in the New River Valley, but part of our objective is to create the space to realize it. This is what the function of the local documentary tour is fulfilling. The workers have the correct ideas, in regards to knowing how they personally are being exploited and oppressed by local elites. It is this information from workers that we wish to collectivize and utilize in determining our point of attack against localized class enemies. The topic of police is also salient in that we can educate, beyond what workers already know, who really are their friends and enemies, who we can expect to repress us as we fight for workers’ power.
The documentary screenings by themselves are not going to build workers’ power, it is the process leading up to the screenings that are the substance of what we do. We bridge the division between ourselves and local workers, we conduct social investigation through the promotion of the event. It was through our door-knocking that we discovered the truth about a local slumlord who owns most of the trailer parks. Residents told us how much hostility there is between tenants and slumlord because of their lack of services and resources, compounded with increasing expenses placed on worker-tenants, to the point that the slumlord will no longer have open office hours due to the volume of complaints directed at them. Had we gone the route of the liberal-left means of event promotion we would have never discovered any of these facts.
Of particular interest during the screening of this documentary a mentally ill, homeless man came into the library’s community room, he did not seem so interested in the film or the discussion, he helped himself to the snacks we provided. None of this was of an issue by the organizers or attendees, but the staff of the library called the cops on this man because he had been banned from the Blacksburg library. We don’t know why he was banned, which very well could be based on legitimate concerns, but we struggled against the staff and the cops who came to kick him out. We immediately stopped our event to go monitor his treatment by the cops, we told them he posed no threat at any time to anyone during our meeting, the cops asked us what we were doing and we said we were making sure he is treated fairly. Thankfully the cops did not get rough with him, we would like to think it is because they knew they were being watched. Afterwards we went to talk to the staff about how we can resolve these issues without calling the cops. This was an immediate example of how we can intervene, even with little resources and no major organization that has won significant political victories. Every moment is an opportunity to further our efforts at developing independent working class power, today’s event was no exception.