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Let This Radicalize You

The Rittenhouse Verdict was outrageous, but we can’t allow ourselves to fall into despair. We need to take radical conclusions from what happened.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

November 21, 2021
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Photo by BuzzFeed News

“Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair”
– Mariame Kaba

Many of us are reeling after the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict. He brought a gun to a Black Lives Matter protest, murdered two people, and claimed self defense. The trial was a caricature of a 30’s style white supremacist court case in the South. It would be funny if it wasn’t completely infuriating. According to the judge, the people killed weren’t “victims,” but could be called “looters.” The gun charge was dismissed before the jury could even deliberate. Rittenhouse was allowed to choose the jurors’ numbers from a bag like he was on a game show. 

The New York Times apologized for the white supremacist verdict, saying that it’s just tough to disprove “self defense.” Tell that to Marisa Alexander, a Black woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a single shot to scare off her abusive husband. Or tell that to Cece McDonald, a Black trans woman who served almost two years in prison after defending herself from transphobic attacks. Cyntoia Brown-Long spent 15 years in prison after killing the man who was sex trafficking her. It’s impossible to imagine that a Black person would get this treatment. 

Rittenhouse is a hero of the far Right, and they are about to go on the offensive. There were Proud Boy actions in New York City and California over the weekend. They are selling “I’m with Kyle” t-shirts. After a temporary setback after January 6th and Trump’s electoral loss, this court case has built right-wing morale. 

The courts just declared open season on Black Lives Matter protesters, especially those of us who are people of color. The racist judge, nominated by a Democrat, and the jury just said clearly: you can bring a gun to a protest and shoot people with impunity. After all, you’ll just be shooting “rioters” and “looters.” 

Joe Biden responded by saying “The jury system works, and we have to abide by it.” While in 2020, he spoke out against Rittenhouse, he has since failed to condemn or say a single word against Rittenhouse, neither against white supremacy nor this blatantly unfair court case. 

In the meantime, Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman, two Brooklyn lawyers, were charged with federal crimes under Joe Biden’s Department of Justice for allegedly throwing a molotov cocktail into an empty police car. They pled guilty and are facing 10 years in prison. Antifa activist, Dan Baker, was sentenced to three years for a poster and a flier. 

From the Jim Crow South to the current militias who patrol the border, the capitalist state has an alliance — often explicit — with armed right-wing vigilantes. Kyle Rittenhouse was essentially deputized by the cops — that’s why they gave him water and allowed him to flee Kenosha. It’s why despite murdering two people, he is walking free. 

This whole situation is outrageous, so let it radicalize you. 

It’s disgusting, so let it radicalize you. 

It’s infuriating, so let it radicalize you. 

There is no structure under capitalism that would allow justice, so if you want justice, your only choice is radicalization

This system needs to be torn down. And it has a name: capitalism. This system, as Karl Marx explained, “comes dripping from every pore with blood and dirt.” The blood of the indigenous people slaughtered, of the Black people enslaved, and of the women killed for being “witches.” It continues to run by the unpaid labor of overwhelmingly women in the home. It runs on hyper exploited workers who make Jeff Bezos rich beyond imagination. It runs on the semi-slave labor of imprisoned people, disproportionately Black and Latinx. 

This system needs to be torn down and no one will do it but ourselves. 

Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair. 

I see people all around me despairing. Last summer, there was a huge uprising. We were in the streets every day. There was so much potential in the air, and radical possibilities were everywhere. 

And now, all of the problems we fought against are still there. While last summer, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris promised to be the lesser evil, promised to care about Black Lives, and promised to put an end to Trumpism and the far Right, the attacks on oppressed people have only continued. Children are still in cages at the border. White supremacists are walking free. Black Lives Matter activists are still facing charges. The Democrats are increasing police budgets, electing cops to office and refusing to put up any fight to protect the voting rights of the very people who elected them. And nothing is being done to avert the climate catastrophe that is coming and in some ways, already here

And what’s worse, is that unlike the Trump administration, people aren’t up in arms or in the streets. Protests against Rittenhouse were tiny. This is what the graveyard of social movements looks like.

Radical possibility has dissipated. The streets are mostly empty. Outrage is muted. But let this radicalize you. 

And that means taking radical conclusions about what happened. 

The Democrats are a co-opting dead end. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. And they, alongside the Republicans, are responsible for Kyle Rittenhouse walking and for this entire system built on the misery of the working class and oppressed people. That’s why people call them the graveyard of social movements. They aren’t the lesser evil; they are a co-opting machine that sucks all the air out of leftist movements. 

When you look for someone to blame, blame them. And don’t buy into it anymore. 

But it’s possible to change things — we shouldn’t fall into despair. 

Because if there is something the past years have shown, it is that class struggle and mass uprisings happen. Black Lives Matter, the massive Chilean protests, the Yellow Vest movement and more. And in those moments of uprising, there are windows of possibility. Moments when police stations burn and the masses support it.

But spontaneous uprising won’t cut it. We need people who are organized beforehand, who come armed with lessons from the past, connections with their co-workers and communities, and who are organized into a revolutionary socialist organization. People who in moments of calm have armed themselves with a goal and a strategy to change everything, rooted in the uprisings and lessons of the past. 

We need people who know the tricks of the Democratic Party misleaders and refuse to buy their toxic lesser evilism. We need democratic assemblies at protests to decide the way forward for the movement, as well as in workplaces all over the country. We need people who know that the most powerful tool we have at our disposal is our ability to stop capitalist production, and who in these moments of possibility, argue to shut down the streets as well as our workplaces. Our comrades in Argentina were able to shut down subways when the union bureaucracy killed a leftist. We should be doing that here. We produce everything; we make the whole society move. The pandemic showed us that the working class is essential. We can shut it down for Black Lives. And we can and should run it ourselves— not for corporate wealth, but for the benefit of all of society, especially for the most oppressed amongst us. 

We need people who know that capitalism and racism go hand in hand that are organized in a group— a revolutionary socialist party— who fight to abolish this system. Who agree that to abolish prisons or the police and to fight for a system where Black Lives Matter, we will need to overthrow this economic system.  It should organize the people most willing to fight, the folks who have the most left politics and direct our collective anger against the system, and organizing us into one fist, one weapon united by a common goal and a common strategy to crush this system. 

And it’s a thing that is possible. As Ursula K. LeGuin said, “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” And not just dispersed human beings. Human beings organized into a party, with a strategy. 

After all, it is our duty to fight for our freedom. And it is our duty to win. 

It is possible to win. 

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

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