If you have "no place to go," come here!

Spotting organic protest, and appropriation

Robert Borosage and Richard Long, CAF:

As[1] powerful protests of the New York Eric Garner grand jury decision – We can’t breathe – swept across [Note lack of agency] the country, low wage fast food and retail workers walked off their jobs in some 180 cities, demanding a living wage and the right to organize. (Dave Johnson has pictures from various cities) People are stirring, no longer willing to put up with an economic and political order that gives them no way to breathe.

The Garner demonstrators are not looking for a technical fix – putting cameras on police, retraining them, de-militarizing them. They are demanding justice. The police who killed Eric Garner were on camera. New York already outlaws police choke holds. To let the police walk without charges, the grand jurors had to ignore their own eyes and the law. They had to decide that Garner’s death, though tragic, was just collateral damage in the struggle to defend order, simply a cost of occupying neighborhoods scarred by poverty, racial isolation, mass unemployment, lousy schools and mean streets. The protesters understand that verdict leaves millions with no way to breathe.

The fast food and retail workers are also protesting injustice – an economic order in which they have no way to breathe. Their stories are heart-rending.

I think a few years ago I might have found this post more insightful than I do now; in fact, I might even have written one like it; after all "we can't breathe," is a great metaphor, and very appropriate for those with black lung disease, or "choked" by debt.

The thing is, though, that #wecantbreathe comes directly from Eric Garner's last words:

"Get away [garbled] ... for what? Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I'm tired of it. It stops today. Why would you...? Everyone standing here will tell you I didn't do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me (garbled) Selling cigarettes. I'm minding my business, officer, I'm minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. please please, don't touch me. Do not touch me."

Video of the arrest shows four officers wrestling Garner to the ground and restraining him.

" I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe," he said, as officers restrained him.

It feels to me like Borasage is appropriating the slogan. He didn't invent it! And the people who did invent it don't have Borosage's funding, or Campaign for America's Future's place "at the table" in Washington. So make up your own damn slogan! And if the institutions and groups you are funding and backing can't come up with one that works, look within yourself and find out why.

NOTE [1] "As" means simultaneity. It doesn't mean co-ordination or causality.

NOTE I believe deeply that the work of the Fergusians and, say, Our Walmart is the same work -- granted, from 30,000 feet in my magic armchair. But people have to recognize their work is "the same" all on their own, organically. It's not a matter of appropriating other people's slogans, especially when they're based on the actual dying words of a dead person who might, or might not, agree with what you are doing. Sheesh.