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Democrats and Banks Won’t Steal Juneteenth or Pride

From Juneteenth to Stonewall, the capitalists want to co-opt Black radicalism. Don’t let them.

Carmin Maffea

June 25, 2021
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Photo: Christina House/Los Angeles Times

Every year, Pride Month ushers in the summer. For some, this is a celebration of the Stonewall uprising. For corporations and the Democratic Party, it’s a time to co-opt what was once a radical quer movement. Pride month marks a riot led by a Black trans woman, who threw bricks at the cops and alongside other people of color, queer folks and leftists fought the police in the streets for days. But today, it has become not only a profit scheme for corporations, but a means to portray themselves as allies while covering up their complicity in LGBTQ+ oppression. Bank of America, for example, has presented itself as an ally of the queer community, all the while profiting from privatizing and seizing houses from people. At the same time, 42% of Black trans women experience houselessness.  Similarly, despite denying imprisoned trans folks gender affirming surgery, Kamala Harris drapes herself in rainbows and calls for LGBTQ+ rights. 

This is what the capitalists do. They will pacify, commodify, and sell us our “resistance” for their profit. 

This summer, the hypocrisy of corporations and liberals towards liberation is even more apparent than usual. In addition to the usual Pride Month pandering, the U.S. government made Juneteenth a national holiday in a clear attempt to co-opt what was a radical movement in the streets last year. We get a national holiday, while Black queer people still disproportionately face material oppressions like houselessness, unemployment, and lack of access to medical care. We get a national holiday while imprisoned people are still forced to do semi-slave labor. 

Joe Biden and the Democratic Party may pay lip service to our struggles, but they are the same ones who condemned and violently repressed fighters for Black lives and liberation. Clearly, this is an attempt to quell the rampant anger and growing militancy of those fighting for Black and queer lives against an inherently racist capitalist system and state. However, our collective memory is anything but short term. 

The memory of chattel slavery is present in the slave labor that exists in prisons today, the hyperexploitation of Black women in workplaces like Bessemer, at the tombstones of Black revolutionaries like Marsha P. Johnson, and at the graves of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The Democrats can’t trick us, co-opt our anger, nor stop our tradition of combat that has existed since the first mutiny on ships carrying enslaved women, men, and children. The United States relies on the racist system present under capitalism, with or without Juneteenth as a holiday. 

Juneteenth, June 19, was first celebrated in 1865 when the Emancipation Proclamation was finally enforced in Texas at the end of the civil war, after Black people’s revolutionary fight for freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation, was written in response to slave rebellions across the South and Black people flocking to Union army camps, had only “granted” freedom to enslaved Black people in ten states. However, with the proclamation, Black enslaved people rose up all over the country in rebellion, joining the Union army to destroy the slavocracy. Forcing Lincoln and the Union to concede to the enslaved Black men and women to free themselves and also forcing Lincoln and the Union to enforce that freedom in the deepest state in the South- giving Juneteenth its significance. This historic day that recognizes one of the greatest victories against slavery and the oppression of Black people on the United States, is being used by Democrats to betray the very spirit of the day, providing symbolic concessions rather than material ones such as defunding or abolishing the police, emptying prisons, or unions for precarious workers. 

Biden has already suggested increasing police budgets across the country. During his presidential campaign he promised to invest 300 million dollars into police budgets, while at the same time suggesting that police should shoot people in the leg instead of the heart. Further, he plans to go through with that campaign promise by including greater funding for police departments through his Covid relief package.This will increase the resources of the police and their ability to further harass, jail for subcontracted profits through prison labor, or murder Black people. Meanwhile, people are still facing charges from the movement last summer, which was continuing the Black radical tradition that Juneteenth. Naming Juneteenth a holiday is a cheap way to provide cover for the institutional racism that Biden and capitalist corporations hold up. 

This is the same co-optation that we see in Pride, which started from a radical tradition led by Black women and is now used for corporate marketing. We must redirect our collective anger towards the benefactors and protectors of this oppressive capitalist system: the bourgeoisie and the state.

This Pride, let’s continue the Black and queer revolutionary tradition — the 250 rebellions on slave plantations that preceded the Civil War, and the influence of black soldiers in the Union army that forced through the end of slavery. This tradition was alive when Marsha P. Johnson and her comrades fought back against police at the Stonewall Inn for their right to live freely as people of the LGBTQ+ community. And this Black and queer revolutionary tradition was alive and well when protestors were on the street fighting against the state’s militarized police forces, screaming for justice for Black trans man Tony McDade, who was murdered by police. 

This Pride, let’s recognize that queer liberation, Black liberation, and the struggle of all oppressed people is deeply connected with the struggle against the racist capitalist system. Our fight is to rid all humanity of the chains of oppression and exploitation. We must resist when bourgeois parties try to co-opt our movements with their symbolic gestures, and we must grit our teeth and fight when they try to suppress our movements with their violent hands. Let’s honor the Black revolutionaries who gave Juneteenth its significance and fight for socialist revolution for true Black liberation. 

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Carmin Maffea

Carmin is a revolutionary socialist from New York.

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