Report Back from and Critical Analysis of Triangle People’s Assembly
The Triangle People’s Assembly (TPA) wants to “[unite] all the organizing forces in our communities, schools and workplaces,” for the purpose of acting “as the front line of resistance.” Resistance to what exactly? Their involvement in “local struggles for Black, immigrant, Muslim, worker, woman, environmental and electoral rights and power,” should serve as a sufficient answer. One of the key goals of TPA is to build peoples’ power, but my experience at their most recent meeting reveals several critical defects standing in the way of revolutionary change.
It’s very name, a People’s Assembly, betrays the lack of explicit class orientation behind this movement. Why is this important? I’m not calling for a subordination of Black or immigrant interests to working class interests, I’m positing that without an explicitly working class orientation, Black and immigrant interests can never be consistently and effectively defended. The working class is fractured, this is an indisputable fact. The infant mortality rate for African Americas in North Carolina is 2.35 times higher than non-Hispanic whites. In Wake county where TPA is based it is 3.05 times higher. Those numbers alone should highlight the fractionalization of the working class as do differences in incarceration rates, wage disparity, etc. These are real immediate problems that need to be faced and solved, but they need to be solved in working class terms, the only way they can be solved.
What do I mean when I write these problems must be solved in working class terms? Luckily many members of the TPA have furnished me with the perfect example. Rather than pleading at city council meetings for local government officials to tear down Confederate statues, members of the TPA and other local organizations tore down a Confederate statue themselves. The power was taken directly in to the hands of the working class rather than pleading with the bourgeoisie to comply with their demands. Unfortunately, given the TPA’s limited framework this article by governor Roy Cooper was uncritically cited as a victory. In short, after having successfully carried out the removal of a confederate statue, TPA is content with Roy Cooper offering advice to the legislature which has no obligation to follow it. Rather than seeing the power of the working class emerging from their own actions, the TPA sees only the power of the people as emerging from the halls of capitalist government.
As to the meeting itself, most of the time was spent talking about how to influence local government officials, what powers they do or do not have, when and where various city and school board council meetings are. Mention of writing draft legislation even came up. The strategy was clear, ask the capitalist state for what we want. Make no mistake, the people at this assembly are quite disillusioned with the promises of politicians, but their attempts are directed at trying to hold politicians accountable rather than presenting them with a series of accomplished facts (such as an already toppled statue). A reasonably lengthy conversation was had about researching what powers certain officials do or do not actually have. The premise being that, when asked to do something, officials would simply respond that they couldn’t even if they wanted to. TPA’s response to this blatant inability of the capitalist state to meet our needs isn’t to figure out a way to meet those needs ourselves, but instead to do research in to if those politicians are telling the truth or not. In addition to lacking a clear class-perspective, the lady sitting next to me summed up the motivation to heckle government officials at city council meetings, it feels good to go and do it.
Delving deeper in to the specifics of what was discussed, the main subject on the agenda for that meeting was gentrification. A majority of the time was spent talking about what affordable housing actually is versus what politicians mean when they say affordable housing. Somewhere around the middle of this conversation, a candidate for mayor of Raleigh strolled in and asked permission to speak. This was granted and he gave a brief “vote for me” speech. Once he left everyone acted disgusted that he had shown up despite the fact that we could have physically prevented him from speaking if we so desired. We had complete control of the space. It wouldn’t have even needed to conclude in a physical act, we could have just told him no you can’t speak here and he probably would have left. He came alone.
So did I just sit there and stew in boiling impotent ultra-left rage that this TPA wasn’t a pure proletarian organization? On the contrary, I suggested we leverage the NWU’s Worker’s Write campaign to talk with the construction workers putting up the new buildings. We could center our conversations around how much they are being paid versus how the buildings they are constructing are beyond anything they could afford. Given that a veteran UE 150 member was present, it isn’t inconceivable to imagine we could struggle to unionize the construction workers assuming they weren’t already. Additionally, thanks to S. Artesian, I suggested creating a fund for purchasing personal body cams as a means to combat police brutality. This is really a brilliant example of seizing power for ourselves rather than begging the capitalists for what we want. Cops have body cams but the state won’t release the footage, so we take our own footage instead.
Assuming gentrification will continue to be a central point for TPA, it is worth looking at gentrification in more depth to understand how to solve it. Before I even begin, no, it will not be solved by vandalizing the property of incoming yuppies. All this could possibly accomplish is an even further heightening of the police presence that accompanies gentrification. Gentrification, simply, is the removal of housing from the working class in order to improve upon that housing so it can be used by the offspring of the bourgeoisie. If this sounds reminiscent of the healthcare situation in America that’s because it is. Access to healthcare, another fundamental need, has been denied to the working class on an ever broader basis and awarded to the capitalists so that they can, on average, live 14.6 years longer if they are men and 10.1 years longer if they are women. This is entirely the point, the working class is denied the ability to even reproduce itself in the same condition it originally found itself. Things are getting worse as time moves forward. The answer to these two problems is one in the same, we need control over our own social reproduction. Housing, like healthcare, like water, like electricity, like education, like public transportation, needs to be placed under the control of those who have a material basis to distinguish need from profit. To be even more explicit, this does not mean that the modern education, public transportation, water, or electrical system already fall in to the category of being under the control of those with a material basis to distinguish need from profit. The only class in capitalist society which has a real material basis to distinguish need from profit is the working class. Allowing the capitalist state control over these resources will not solve the problem.
Moving forward my interactions with TPA will continue in the same vein, to try and inculcate an explicitly working-class orientation that refuses to prostrate itself before the capitalist state and learns to rely on its own powers instead.