History is made as social issues challenge politics

Something has happened that is really changing the world besides the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is changing our lifestyles, our economy and medical practices, but a greater social movement is underway as seen in numerous demonstrations by many thousands of protesters around the world. It is a protest against the dominating force of the small elite of ruling oligarchies who dominate a country’s economy and political system, oppressing and killing its citizens with impunity.

Protesting people are challenging the political status quo by making their voices heard. Although the rulers try to squash, limit and eradicate people power by force and erase that democratic right and space in some places, it breaks out anew elsewhere. In Hong Kong, we witness the freedom to protest eradicated as the Chinese draconian National Security Law, rushed through by the Communist Party, is implemented as an anti-terrorist law to crush free speech, and give life sentences to protestors.

Meanwhile, social movements in the United States and other countries are gathering pace and helping to change history. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is challenging police brutality and the discriminatory killing of Black Americans. They are demanding the equality and respect that is rightfully owed. The ruling elite of the right led by Donald Trump are trying to squash protests. In Washington, tear gas and flash bombs were used by police to disperse peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House, clearing a way for Trump to walk to a church and hold up a Bible for a photo opportunity.

In Ferguson, Mississippi, on 13 August 2014, police shot dead Michael Brown and there was an uprising by African Americans. Their demonstrations released a flood of anger and repressed feelings at the police oppression and deprivation of social justice. The police, predominantly white, were militarized and national guards with armoured cars turned their machine guns on the people in a show of intimidation and force.

The blatant public killing of unarmed African American man George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis on the 25th May 2020, showed that racist oppression and repressed anger was still there. Three police officers came to arrest George Floyd for allegedly passing a counterfeit 20-dollar bill. One of the police, Derek Chauvin, cruelly pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd while he cried, “I can’t breathe” for almost nine minutes. The murder was captured on cell phone video and the victim died soon after. The video went viral and ignited again a repeat of the Ferguson uprising, but this time it spread to almost 100 cities across the United States denouncing institutionalized racism and police brutality. The “Black Lives Matter” protest is still ongoing and has spread around the world as oppressed and exploited indigenous people and people of colour join the global protest and demand social justice and human rights.

President Donald Trump has been heavily criticized for tweeting a video in support of a white supremacist shouting “White power!” from a golf cart. The movement, consisting of black and white protesters, can be summed up as a mass protest against that one phrase, “white power.” It is now international, with native Americans, African Americans, indigenous people and people of colour in Canada, Brazil, France, the UK and many other countries are marching.

There is outrage and a mighty force of people rising up to challenge the status quo and the oppressive dominant attitudes of the white supremacists. In the current era, hatred and racism are often expressed on social media platforms such as Facebook. Facebook is now being challenged by some businesses, who are withholding advertising on Facebook until it changes its policies around hate speech.

What we have to understand is that racism is not just a few white supremacist people considering themselves superior. It is a “political and social power” issue. South Africa was ruled by white supremacist leaders for a century until Nelson Mandela came to lead a national protest. The US Congress and Senate is a majority of white politicians.

The American white supremacist ruling elites were shocked and deeply angered by the election of Barack Obama, the first African American to be President of the United States. Trump was subsequently elected and has done everything to destroy the Obama legacy and achievements, instead seeking to criminalize the protesters today.

Many things are being done today to try and rectify some of the racism in our society. From removing statues that glorify racists and slavers to bringing in new laws on policing, good steps are being taken. However, to have long term change, racism has to be eradicated in the hearts and minds of the people. It starts in the classroom, where education is the key and the next generation can learn, practice and live by the values of community equality and mutual respect, true social and civil justice and love of thy neighbour.

(Fr. Shay Cullen)