A visit to Chico California, the largest city near the devastating Camp Fire |
by a Refuse Fascism organizer |
The worst fire in terms of deaths in California history (at last count, 76 dead and over 1,200 missing) has been raging since November 8th. The Camp Fire has completely destroyed the town of Paradise, a home for many retired people who could not afford to live anywhere else, and also ravaged other towns in the area. The fire is still burning. A small team from Refuse Fascism in the San Francisco Bay Area traveled to the fire zone to connect people with the movement with the message: in the name of humanity, the Trump/Pence regime must go!
Someone who escaped the Camp Fire in northern California described being stuck on gridlocked roads trying to drive away while the fire raged on all sides, that “it was like the gates of hell opened.”
When we heard that Donald Trump was going to come to the fire zone, we knew that Refuse Fascism had to be there. Trump is exactly what the fire zone in northern California, let alone the world as a whole, does not need. Saturday morning, before leaving to fly to California, he talked to the press and regurgitated the fascist lies he had been running before, blaming “mismanagement” of the forests for the devastating fires. This is his way of making a fascist jab at the liberals who run California, showing he doesn’t care at all about all the people who have been burned to death, and all the lives destroyed, and once again spouting his contempt and hatred for climate science – and science in general for that matter – and his relentless drive to transform all of society in a fascist direction.
The reality is that behind the explosive intensity of the California fires lies the reality of global warming, drying out forests and grasslands, creating the conditions for fires that jump across multi-lane freeways and 300 foot lakes. While it is hundreds of years of capitalist development that is behind the climate catastrophe, Trump has thrown gasoline on an already burning fire with his denial of climate science, breaking out of climate treaties (however inadequate those treaties were) and doing everything possible to unleash more fossil fuel drilling, mining, and consuming. For this reason alone he had no right to come to California fire zones and pose as some friend of the people in great need.
So we wanted to go to stand in front of Trump and his parade in the fire zone and raise a banner and tell the world that Trump and Pence must go, that this is a fascist regime, and that people need to rise up in mass non-violent mobilization of millions and drive the regime from power.
No one from the public was allowed to know where Trump was coming and when, but we made the assessment that he would likely go to Chico, the largest town in the area. During the 160 miles drive from the Bay Area to Chico, mostly through rural California, thick smoke from the Camp Fire choked the air the entire way.
As it turned out, Trump did go to Chico. And he was greeted not by an angry public, but by a band of flag-waving Trump supporters. Hundreds of Trump supporters were told where he would be, and mobilized to show up while everyone else was kept away. A few protesters were able to figure it out and make a statement opposing Trump and his visit. But in most of the accounts the anti-Trump people were not mentioned, and all of this was treated by the mainstream press as some kind of legitimate political statement in support of Trump in the fire zone, instead of what it was, one more lie spewed out by the regime.
We were in Chico, and not able to find Trump, so we went to a large tent encampment of people driven from their homes from the fire. There are so many refugees, and a number of different churches in the area that have opened up their buildings to house them. We went to a large encampment beside and in the parking lot of the Walmart in Chico. There were probably hundreds of tents in a field and in spaces around the Walmart. The people in the tents all had tragic stories of loss and devastation. One man told me he everything he had had burned up, but everyone in his family was safe, and he still had a job, so he felt almost lucky in a strange way. Another woman told me they had run for their lives from the fire and found out later from a TV crew that was allowed into the fire zone that their house was still there.
People had a range of political opinions, all over the map, from Trump supporters to people who insisted to me that “racist” wasn’t a strong enough word for Trump, he was a fascist (Butte County, where the fire was burning, supported Trump and the Republicans in the last election). But a lot of the people didn’t even know Trump was in town – or what his purpose was. People were focused on some survival questions – two big ones were that the encampment was being told it had to shut down (more on this later) and also the fact that rains were coming, predicted for next Tuesday. The rains were critical to stopping the still burning fires and cleaning the air – but at the same time, they were going to make life hell for people living in tents.
But not everyone was ignoring Trump’s visit. Some knew Trump was there, and a common sentiment was that Trump never should have come in the first place, because of what he represents and had said about the fires.
Part of what was sort of astonishing about this encampment was the massive degree of support the victims of the fire were getting from the people in the area and beyond. There was a whole separate area (in a parking lot outside a closed Toys R Us store) where there were piles of clothes, shoes, toiletries, all kinds of things that people needed which had been donated and which were there for the taking. And in addition to that, there were all kinds of people who were contributing what they could – I spoke to a nurse who had just, on her own, set up a tent as part of the encampment at Walmart and was giving out medical advice and basic supplies (aspirin, bandages, etc.). There were people passing out free lunches, and other food. There were people passing out free weed (“with papers, ready to roll”). There were people with masks to protect you from the foul air from the fire. People were passing out water in cans from Miller/Coors. Comcast we providing wifi and cell phone charging for the entire encampment.
While it is striking and important that this whole encampment and all of this support had apparently “sprung up” from people without government intervention, and this does point to the capacity of people to act out of a generosity of spirit, this is America, 2018, and there were other things going on in this encampment as well. One is that Trump supporters and organized fascist groups were active in the encampment. There were pop up tents from groups like “New California” which promotes dividing California into two states, one coastal and urban, the other rural – if you just look at this group’s website for a bit you see virulent racism and fascist code words denouncing the “communist” state government in California and the supposed hordes of immigrants coming from the south to the border.
In one of the areas which was giving out free clothing, when we started to talk to a young woman about the battle against the Trump regime, an older woman came up and demanded that we stop talking about politics, saying “it divides us,” and explaining that everyone there was on a Christian and humanitarian mission. The whole way she put this and presented herself had the aura of Christian fundamentalism, but she did not want to talk and I was not able to figure out more about exactly where this woman was coming from, and how widespread views like hers were underneath the surface of the support for the people driven from Paradise.
A further thing I was not able to really figure out is what had happened to the very large rural population of immigrants from Mexico and other places in Latin America. This is a very big part of the work force in California agriculture, this is a big part of who you see on the streets in the rural towns near Chico, and there were very few of these people in this encampment. You know this section of the people was hit by the fire, and hit at the same time by the fascist clampdown on immigrants. So this is something to investigate.
Another thing that was ominous about the encampment is when we went to eat at a chain restaurant outside but not far from the encampment, we ran into a small parade of people in Homeland Security shirts, and mixed in with them, heavily muscled men in Trump t-shirts. What were they doing there? What did the presence of these Homeland Security and Trump forces have to do with the fact that the encampment at Walmart was being shut down? They were certainly not providing services to the people driven from home by the fires.
On the evening news Saturday night in the Bay Area, Trump’s visit to Paradise and Chico was highlighted, and his comments that the problem was “mismanagement” and his crude dismissal of global warming were broadcast again. Appearing with California Governor Jerry Brown and Democratic Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, Trump again dissed climate change and climate science openly at the press conference. Brown and Newsom did not challenge this idiocy but instead thanked Trump for coming, and for contributing federal funds to cope with the disaster.
Shame on Brown and Newsom for even appearing with Trump, let alone welcoming him, and shame on them for not even disagreeing when he denounced climate change and claimed that the problem behind the fires is “mismanagement.” We see in this, once again, the role the Democratic Party is playing overall – not calling out the fascism that is more and more openly in command, refusing to name it and refusing to call out the people to stand up against it. Newsom campaigned in the recent election using Trump as a foil in his campaign ads, saying that he and California would stand up to Trump. But in the bitter reality of the fires, what you saw from Newsom and Brown is the claim that a little cash and aid from the Feds is reason to unite with Trump and the implication that in this there is some totally illusory victory for the people.
All of this points to why we need to step outside the framework of normal politics and build a mass movement of millions to drive out the regime.