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Chicago FRSO: ‘We still have a world to win and nothing to lose but our chains’

By staff |
December 6, 2020
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Kobi Guillory speaking at Chicago protest.
Kobi Guillory speaking at Chicago protest. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Fight Back News Service is circulating the speech that was delivered by Kobi Guillory of Freedom Road Socialist Organization, December 5, at the annual People’s Thanksgiving event. The event raised more than $3000 for Fight Back!

Vladimir Lenin said there are decades when nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen. By that math, 2020 has been centuries long. It's been a year of crisis and uprising, a year in which it became clear that U.S. imperialism has been dying for a long time both internationally and domestically.

In January, the Trump regime assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. Soleimani was a leader in the fight against ISIS, and his death sparked protests of hundreds of thousands across the Middle East, as well as solidarity demonstrations in the U.S. Here in Chicago, over 1000 people marched through downtown and nearly took Lakeshore Drive while being physically attacked by CPD. America committed this war crime to reassert itself as the world police, and the masses internationally responded by calling for an end to U.S. presence in the Middle East.

This year has also seen continued struggle against U.S.-backed regimes. Palestinians have continued to demand freedom from Israeli occupation, and millions across the world have boycotted and called for divestment and sanctions against the apartheid state of Israel. Our kasamas from the Philippines are demanding an end to the terror law imposed by the fascist Duterte, as well as an end to U.S. military support of the Duterte regime. Recently, the people of Bolivia voted to oust the fascist, anti-indigenous government that came into power through a U.S.-backed coup. All around the world, in Puerto Rico, Chile, Iraq, Colombia, Somalia and so many others, U.S. imperialism is falling.

The weakness of the U.S. has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by the COVID-19 pandemic. While other countries such as China, Vietnam and Cuba enacted lockdowns, built hospitals and ensured that their people had the resources to stay home, America bailed out corporations while giving nearly nothing to the people. The profit-centered response from the government has resulted in over a quarter million coronavirus deaths in the U.S., compared to less than 5000 deaths in China, where the virus was first identified.

The people whose labor keeps the system alive have been dubbed essential workers, but the government and their employers have treated them as expendable by taking little or no precautions for their safety. Workers have had to fight for PPE, sick leave, sanitary work environments, and other measures that would be taken for granted in a country that values human life. Service workers and healthcare workers, most of whom are Black, Latino and Filipino, went on strike at UIC to demand safe working conditions and an end to racist policies this summer. CTU [Chicago Teachers Union] threatened to strike if the city opened schools with in-person teaching, a strategy which would have failed due to the city's complete lack of preparation toward making sure that schools didn't become COVID hotspots. In a country that doesn't care about us, workers have used strikes and other actions to take care of each other.

It's no surprise that the virus has hit Black, Latino and indigenous communities the hardest. Nationally oppressed people are the most likely to be essential workers and least likely to have access to quality medical care, so of course Black, Latino and indigenous people are dying of COVID at nearly three times the rate of whites. Decades of neoliberal disinvestment from Black communities has resulted in the closure of dozens of hospitals and clinics on the South and West sides of Chicago. The systemic racism of America has turned the virus into a weapon of white supremacy. This is especially clear in jails, prisons and detention centers, which have always been hazardous to the health of people imprisoned there.

Mass incarceration is a decades-old tool of repression against Black communities. Police have used torture and frame-up tactics to convict political prisoners like Assata Shakur, Jalil Muntaqim and Leonard Peltier, and later used those same methods against people like Gerald Reed, Tamon Russell, the Hernandez brothers, and hundreds of known survivors. The fight to free political prisoners, torture survivors, and the wrongfully convicted has been ramped up this year because of the coronavirus. It is impossible to maintain social distance in a cage, especially when prison guards spread the virus and wardens deny the prisoners PPE, sanitation, and basic necessities like clean water. Early on in the pandemic, thousands of people joined car caravans and virtual actions around the demand to “Free them all.” Those who have been kidnapped and locked up in prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers need to be set free, and those of us on the outside must continue to mobilize in greater and greater numbers until that happens.

Killings by police and other racists with guns are another feature of American racism. The militias who used to terrorize indigenous people and enslaved Africans now patrol cities wearing badges and blue uniforms. After the murders of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, millions of people took to the streets in all 50 states and around the world to fight for an end to police terror. Legalized lynchings have been a police practice since police have existed in the U.S., so every city has George Floyds and Breonna Taylors. In Chicago, Rekia Boyd, Pierre Loury, Ronnieman Johnson, Flint Farmer, and so many others were killed by CPD and denied justice. The uprising came out of the rage of people who have been exploited, dehumanized and terrorized for centuries. Local and federal police across the country responded to protests with tear gas, beatings and mass arrests. More and more people have learned that the police are enemies of the lives and wellbeing of Black people, which is why the demands of this Black-led rebellion have mainly focused on the police.

Two demands in particular - the demand for community control of the police and the demand to defund the police - have taken center stage. Calls to defund the police come from the recognition of what decades of neoliberal policies, defunding everything except police and prisons, has done to Black communities. We need schools, hospitals, homes and food, not police. Both capitalist parties oppose defunding the police because police protect and serve capitalists and their property. Some local governments have bent to mass pressure and taken tiny amounts from their police budgets or made empty promises about police reform. These promises or reforms have been walked back in less than a year because capitalists only make concessions to maintain power. In order to see the changes we want and to make those changes permanent, we need to take power away from capitalists. That's why we link the demand to defund the police to the demand for community control. If we want police to stop killing us, we need to take control of their budget and policies. We need to be the ones to defund the police. We, the people, need to hold police accountable and work towards a world without police. No politicians will make the changes we need to see.

Last month’s election, particularly the removal of Donald Trump, showed the results of the rebellion. Record high voter turnout showed that people are more politically engaged than they have been in a long time, but the lack of a party representing the interests of the working class means this election was a choice between covert racism and overt racism. Black organizers overcame systemic voter suppression to remove Trump, and the Democratic party has shown its gratitude by blaming its poor election results on the Black Liberation movement. Calls to defund the police don't alienate people from the movement, but police impunity and neoliberal policies are alienating people from the Democratic party. As we move into the Biden administration, with potential cabinet picks like Rahm Emanuel, who closed dozens of schools and hospitals and covered up the murder of Laquan McDonald, it is clear that the struggle continues.

With the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, tens of millions unemployed and facing eviction, thousands dying every day of COVID-19, and rampant racist violence from police and fascists emboldened by Trump, the Democrats are committed to helping corporations at the expense of people's lives and wellbeing. That is why FRSO is committed to building a party for the working class. U.S. monopoly capitalism is dying, but it won't be dead until we kill it.

As we honor those who have devoted themselves to the struggle this year, we should also focus on where the struggle needs to go. This year, solidarity has been building between the working-class movement and the movements for Black, Latino and indigenous liberation. The ruling class has spent centuries sabotaging solidarity because they know how much of a threat we pose when we fight together. The strategy of Freedom Road is an alliance between the movement of the working class and the movements for the liberation of oppressed people. Revolution is the only way forward, and unity of exploited and oppressed people is the only way to win a revolution. Over the coming years we will continue building and connecting these movements until we're strong enough to overthrow this system and build a socialist society that values people instead of profit. This year has been tough, but the fight will continue because we still have a world to win and nothing to lose but our chains.