It took 381 days – from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956 – for the Montgomery Bus Boycott to end segregation in mass transit in the United States. It began with Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, and it ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation was unconstitutional. But it took 381 days for our elders and predecessors to desegregate the public transportation system.
We have less than five months to save the nation — and ourselves.
We have taken the first step. We have put our bodies in the streets and stood strong against retaliation from law enforcement, the national guard, and the government. We have maintained momentum and held the attention of the media for longer than just a moment. But this is just the first step in a very long march. And the terrain is unknown.
America as we know it is gone.
If life as we once knew it wasn’t pushed over the edge with the Coronavirus, it was dragged into the earth with the murder of George Floyd. But there is still no clear vision of where we are going. And no clear strategy for how to get there. The only thing that is certain is that there is no going back.
COVID-19 is forcing us all to envision and move towards an America where the health and well-being of all its people is the priority of the nation. It has forced us to redefine what is essential and who is a hero. The coronavirus has made the people of the United States take an honest look at the way we deny groups of people the basic resources to survive — and how that denial is a weakness that can bring the nation to its knees.
And as we were all looking at that together, at home, trying to re-envision what comes next as we faced a forced and completely unprotected re-opening of the economy … we suddenly found ourselves watching the murder of George Floyd. And we watched America as we knew her die with him.
What rises from her ashes is unclear.
We have truth, numbers, and momentum on our side. What we need now is strategy.
If over the next five months we fail to organize our force into something more than a collective outcry expressed through a collection of protests, then we will fail to secure justice for George Floyd. We will fail to end the brutality. We will lose the chance to demolish every last vestibule of racism uncodified and engendered in the United States of America. And we will be unable to lead the way in the modern Reconstruction Era.
If we organize strategically and sustain our momentum, though, the Black community will lead the coalition that ends white supremacy and refuges the United States into something that may actually be the greatest nation this world has ever seen. To get there, though, we are going to have to put forth an effort like this world has never seen before, as well.
We don’t have just one war to fight. We have two. Well, two wars and an election. We are living at the intersection of a pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. We don’t collectively survive either if we don’t take the White House. And we have less than 5 months to secure our win.
The current explosion of protests has been effective and powerful both emotionally and politically. But they will only take us so far.
The fact is, our enemy’s center of gravity rests within the Republican party. They are in line with the National Fraternal Order of Police. They are in control of the federal response to our demands for change.
And ultimately, they know how to end the efficacy of protests. They know how to infiltrate them. They know how to coopt them. They know how to pacify them. And they know how to shut them down completely. Not only do they know how to do these things, but they are wildly successful — and they enjoy it.
The Art of War
In the Art of War, Sun Tzu writes …
Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.
In other words, on a competitive landscape of endless potential, change your game up, yo.
Sun Tzu also said …
Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
So not only do we need to change, we need to give our opponents something they aren’t expecting. To do that, we need to transform the way we are organizing our protests, we need to diversify our targets, and we need to take the offensive.
There is no convincing the white supremacist that there is value in the lives of and justice for Black Americans. There is only power, leverage, and competition. They have power. We need leverage if we are going to win this competition.
Donald Trump doesn’t love much, but there is one thing that he and his Republican loyalists value almost as much as power: money. Donald Trump’s most prized possession is control over the American economy. COVID-19 almost took that away from him.
For a moment, Trumps goals of ending social services, denying healthcare, forcing people into a dangerous workplace without the resources to survive — they were almost completely shattered. People began to understand that you shouldn’t have to lose your home or starve your family because the government couldn’t create the conditions where work and fair pay was possible. People began to understand that one person lacking healthcare could topple the existence of every single American. They began to understand that the people we treat the worse are actually the most valuable — and the people that consider themselves the most valuable are worth absolutely nothing. They understood unemployment wasn’t enough, rent couldn’t be paid, utilities should be for everyone, workplaces needed to be restructured and cities needed to be revolutionized.
And the GOP recognized this push for stability and equality as an end to their regime.
A National Work Stoppage
The push to re-open the economy on the backs of Black and Brown workers isn’t about health or safety. It isn’t even about ensuring the survival of the economy. It’s about control. It’s about power. It’s about force. Where the military is Trump’s greatest source of physical power, the economy is his greatest source of political power. And we need to take that away from him.
Twenty million strong, Black people make up just over 12 percent of the American workforce. If Black leaders issued a stay-at-home order for Black workers across all industries, that alone could deal enough damage to shake the American economy to its core.
Defensively, a workforce stay-at-home order from Black leadership can help protect the community from the police, the military, and the Coronavirus. Offensively, the stay-at-home order would put control of the American economy directly in the hands of America.
A stay-at-home order for Black laborers would also be very difficult to counter. The Trump Administration would not be able to send troops to the doors of Black workers to force them back into the COVID ripe brick and mortar plantations. They could not shoot rubber bullets or tear gas at them. And they could not arrest our workers for staying home.
Practically, it might be difficult if not impossible to mobilize and financially support all black laborers through the next 5 moths of coordinated resistance. Fortunately, we might not have to pull all Black workers at the same time.
In a perfect world we could mobilize the resources and build the infrastructures necessary to fully compensate every member of the Black community to survive both the pandemic and the resistance for the next five months. If this perfect world exists somewhere, we should absolutely mobilize this infrastructure and these resources. In the likely reality that this world is, in fact, far from perfect — we need to organize strategically.
According to data, close to 17 percent of the Black labor force is currently out of work (that we know of). And with states reopening and the federal government stalling on providing support, Black folks that are out of work by choice or by chance are not getting what they need to survive. We should have already been mobilizing to support them and their families in light of the Coronavirus. In the shadow of the murder of George Floyd, it is a strategic imperative.
Fortunately, there is wealth to be found in Black communities.
Of the 11 million millionaires in the United States, over 8 percent are black. That means there are over 880,000 Black millionaires that can and should be mobilized to pull together the resources necessary to maintain a 5-month stay-at-home order. There are also 5 Black billionaires and numerous Black businesses worth millions of dollars that can and should be mobilized into action. These businesses can play a dual role in supporting stay-at-home campaigns and providing resources to Black communities directly.
This infrastructure must be built immediately and the amount of funding and resources we can supply to Black workers must be identified and strategically allocated immediately. Depending on how many workers we can support, we can either launch a stay-at-home order across the board, or we can provide the PPE, resources and funding necessary to immobilize different industries in strategically chosen places at pre-identified times.
The Plight of Black Laborers
Black laborers are over-represented in many industries that are both essential to the survival of the economy.
For example, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Black workers make up 12 percent of the total workforce, but they make up 15 percent or more of the workforce in industries such motor vehicle manufacturing, areas of food manufacturing such as sugar and animal processing, education, waste management and healthcare. They make up 20 percent or more in industries such as retail, transportation, childcare, social services, the post office and government. And they make up 25 to 30 percent of the workforce in industries such as security, travel arrangement, the post office, buses and taxis.
Depending on the strength of our infrastructure we could, for example, shut down retail and food manufacturing for the Fourth of July. Or we could end waste management for the month of September. We could disrupt what’s left of the transportation industry altogether or we could bring the government to a standstill on any day of the week. We can do one of these things at a time or many. And we should.
Sun Tzu also said …
All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
It might be strategically advantageous to keep White America guessing.
Keeping the Democratic Party in Check
While we launch a coordinated offensive geared at taking control of the economy, we need to shore up our defensive weaknesses. That means confronting the Democratic party.
We cannot afford to allow racism and police brutality to become wedge issues that the white nationalists use do divide us and keep us from the polls. But we can also not afford to allow the Democratic party to wobble and flop in the face of pressure.
It is unconscionable that Democratic governors and mayors have pushed forward with the economic reopening when we do not have the proper worker protections, PPE, testing, tracing, healthcare and support structures in place to make doing so safe and salient. We need them to do their part in holding the line by protecting Black workers against the Republican party.
The Republicans are not counting on Black voters to defeat the Democrats. The Democrats, on the other hand, are. Rather than continuing the powerless chant “We won’t vote for you if you don’t do what we want,” we need to use protest to push the Democrats to do their part. And in exchange we need to show up at the polls and with mail-in ballots in numbers this nation has never seen. And we need to follow through on that.
We can launch a successful stay-at-home-campaign to protect Black workers and advance the Black agenda without them. But we shouldn’t have to. We should enjoy the benefits of their full financial, political, and social support. And we should protest them under one slogan to push harder if they aren’t pushing hard enough.
If we strategically apply protest pressure and economic leverage against local, state, and federal governments, we can gain control of the systems that have historically controlled, exploited and enslaved us for the first time in American history.
We cannot maintain control of them, though, if we do not vote.
The change we want to make cannot come about without structural changes in the forms of policy and practice. We can’t pass the laws that will reorganize the criminal justice system and end the systemic practice of police brutality if we do not elect legislators that will pass those laws and vote out those fighting against them. We cannot prosecute people that violate those policies if we don’t vote in the politicians that enforce those laws as well as those that choose the judges and officials that enforce those laws. We will not have our demands met if the Republicans maintain control of the White House, Congress, and other state and local positions of authority the day after the 2020 election.
And so just as passionately as we want our voices heard — we need to demand our vote be counted.
The pandemic has created new obstacles to voting for Black people and their allies in the Untied States. We need to counter these obstacles — not with rhetoric about the importance of voting — but with a plan to support every single person standing with us in this struggle in their march to the polls or the mailbox. And we have 5 months to ensure those resources and that infrastructure is put in place as well.
But if we do this – if we mobilize the vote, strategically diversify our protest targets, and take control of the American economy – we can end this long dark night the nation has been in for over 400 years. We can end the chaos of the past three and a half years. We can do it nonviolently. And we can win.
As Sun Tzu said …
… the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.