On Saturday, June 26, I took part in a bus ride, sponsored by UNITE/HERE in Philadelphia, to join in the Freedom Ride For Voting Rights, sponsored by Black Voters Matter. We were all reminded of the work and sacrifice brave activists-like John Lewis-undertook so that ALL Americans can vote. the rally at the north side of the Capitol Mall to advocate specifically for the For The People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and statehood for the District of Columbia-a district of about 700,000 American citizens who have no say in their federal government. we’re the only nation that doesn’t allow representation from people in its own capitol.
This past month, we recognized and commemorated the Tulsa Race Massacre, in May 31-June 1, 1921, when a white mob descended upon and destroyed the predominantly Black business district of Greenwood-a thriving neighborhood of stores known as “the Black Wall Street.” Triggered by rumors of a Black man sexually assaulting a white woman, a gang of white men went to the county courthouse demanding the Black man be surrendered to them-and a group of armed Black men, some of them veterans of World War I, confronted them. Later, a white mob rampaged through Greenwood, some of them deputized; at the end of the massacre, an estimated 300 people were killed, and a thriving community was demolished. (https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/tulsa-race-massacre) (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/31/black-wall-street-was-shattered-100-years-ago-how-tulsa-race-massacre-was-covered-up.html) This May 31, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation recognizing the massacre, and recommitting the administration to addressing the racial problems we face today. (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/05/31/a-proclamation-on-day-of-remembrance-100-years-after-the-1921-tulsa-race-massacre/)
This begs the question-who writes history, and who decides what “history” is? For a century, the story of the Tulsa Massacre was never fully discussed, either in high school or college history classes; it was swept under the rug, and serious scholars worked to unearth the truth. The true study of history goes beyond the classroom and the official textbooks; just as we must come together to study our problems today, and deal with them, so must we also band together to study our history.
The Tulsa Massacre is another example of the racism that permeates our society, and our need to deal with it to this day. Over the course of the year, Republican-dominated state legislatures are passed, or are trying to pass (like in Pennsylvania), a series of laws that world hamper the ability of certain demographic groups-seniors, students, people of color-to vote, which is the basic pillar of democracy. Just like with the original Jim Crow laws after Reconstruction, the trick is to not phrase these bills to prevent specific people from voting, and to continuously call them “voter integrity bills.” (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/state-voting-bills-tracker-2021)
Voter integrity? Do they think we’re buying that bullshit line? Or is it a line they put out through their favorite media, to the people who still vote for them? The Republicans don’t’ give a damn about their voters; they just want to infuriate them with the latest scary thing, such as “urban crime” and “Willie Horton,” feeding into the racism lurking in the subconscious of America.
Also, we must remember that June is LGBTQ Pride Month, the month commemorating the Stonewall Riots, when in June 1969, patrons in a crappy mob-owned bar faced a raid by police, and all of a sudden they felt like “Enough is enough!”, and battled riot cops for three days, thus jumpstarting the contemporary Gay rights movement.
At the head of the riots were two transgender women of color-Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. The legend was that Johnson, who like Rivera was a sex worker, was the first to throw a brick at a cop during the riots. Together they formed the activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) as a support system for young trans-people. But alas! The leading Gay Rights groups didn’t want to be associated with trans-people, sex workers, or drag queens, and Johnson and Rivera were all but written out of the history of Stonewall, and LGBTQ history in general. Johnson was found dead in the Hudson River, and the police called it a “suicide;” and Rivera died in 2002. (https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/who-was-sylvia-rivera) (https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/who-was-marsha-p-johnson) In June 2019, the City of New York dedicated two statues to Johnson and Rivera, commemorating their efforts as LGBTQ rights-after their passing. (https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/marsha-p-johnson-sylvia-rivera.htm) It’s again the question, “Who decides what is history?” The role Johnson and Rivera, and other marginalized people in our country, must be more full told.
That’s our job-to study our nation’s REAL history, and not the coloring–book versions we were fed as kids. We must especially look at the contributions of working-people, low-income people, and people on the edge of society-like the drag queens and sex workers at Stonewall in June 1969. And when we do, we can realize the power they acquired by banding together in solidarity, and we, in this portion of the 21st century, can therefore learn our own power. We have a long, strong legacy of freedom fighting in this country-think about John Lewis getting beat up at the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the March on Selma in 1965 for voting rights. Let’s follow their examples, and pick up where they left off in the struggle.
Stay safe, stay strong, and stay together! America will be free! Bye!
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I have just self-published my manifesto, Under The Workers Cap, printed by Minuteman Press (https://www.minutemanpress.com/), where I articulate my social and political beliefs, based on my study of American History and my activism in the Labor movement and the community. It’s on sale for $10.00 plus postage.