The first lines of my novel, White Knight, read: “Barney Blatz, a white man, stares at his bony fingers on the keys of the manual Olympia typewriter. ‘Babe. Do you think the title should be “Fight Racism” or “Smash Racism”?’ he asks.”
Blatz, married to a Black woman, is an organizer in the Black community, a child care teacher who organizes the parents against the school system. It’s set in San Francisco in the late seventies, as the sixties movements stumble toward Reaganism. The subtitle of the novel is How one man came to believe that he was the one who caused the San Francisco City Hall killings and the Jonestown Massacre. You can buy it HERE.
What does this story have to do with the Bernie Sanders movement? Racism remains the key issue in our society and in our movement. While Barney Blatz did fight it, he didn’t smash it. Neither did Bernie or Barack Obama. Racism is alive and well. Barney Blatz fought it sometimes clumsily and sometimes elegantly. He made a ton of mistakes, but learned from them. He went quite crazy, as events in the city spiraled out of control in the late fall of 1978, but he learned from that too. Maybe that’s all we can do is learn from our experiences. Learning is the process of evolution.
So I have some experience in the movement, much of which is related in the book, which is fiction but relatively autobiographical. It is certainly tries to be an accurate depiction of the emotional experience of San Francisco at that time.
When I was young, we used to say you can’t trust them if they’re over 30. I get why young people feel this is true. It’s not universally true by any means, and there are exceptions up the wazoo, but as people get older they tend to be more comfortable with the status quo. I don’t think it’s true of Bernie, or me, for that matter, I’m still pretty out there. But one benefit of experience is the capacity to take the long view. In 1968, probably all the way to Reagan’s election, many of us thought the revolution was imminent. Any fucking day now, okay?
We learned that things don’t happen as quickly as we need them to. This is a heavy lesson. We are taking on the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Let that sink in for minute. We are taking on the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Even as it beats its chest, everyone can feel that its power is on the wane. This system is collapsing from its internal contradictions. Some of us have been predicting this collapse for 150 years, but one of these days, we’ll be right. Like a wounded grizzly bear, it’s death throes can be dangerous. Hitler and World War II are two of those death throes, the chaos in the middle east is another.
We need to build the revolution from the ground up. We need to do what Barney Blatz did, immerse ourselves in the day to day struggles of poor and working people. Organize them. We used to say that racism was the Achilles’ Heel of capitalism, by which we meant that the righteous rage engendered by racism in communities of color was ultimately relentless and unstoppable. We meant that the movements against the empire, the U. S. empire throughout the world, will be led by the people the empire oppresses the most, people of color. In the sixties, it was Viet Nam, it was China, it was the Congo, it was Cuba, it was Nicaragua, it was El Salvador, it was South Africa, and of course it was the South of the U. S. and the cities of the U. S.
So we need to understand that our revolution is being led, not by Bernie Sanders, though his campaign is an essential component of it, but by Black Lives Matter and the Latino immigration reform movement.
Internationally, our movement has been weak ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Whatever you think about the USSR, it did support people’s movements throughout the world, providing a counterpoint to U. S. imperialism and the jihadists. It goes back to Afghanistan, doesn’t it? The U. S. bankrolled Bin Laden and the Taliban to fight the Soviets, bankrupting the USSR, hastening its collapse, and setting the stage for the current chaos in the middle east.
It is true though that democratic socialism of the Sander’s variety is relatively healthy in Latin America: Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Chile, and Argentina. This is an enormously hopeful change from the eighties when such movements were violently opposed by the U. S.
Going forward, it is essential that we link arms with these movements.