Sam Goldman and Coco Das discuss the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in the proper context of the fascist movement he is a part of. Recommended reading: Coco’s recent article The Rittenhouse Trial and Two Sides in Contention: A Beautiful Rising or Rising Fascism and Reflections on Kenosha by Paul Street. Follow Coco Das on Twitter at @Coco_Das and Paul at @Streetwriter17
We’re continuing to pay special attention to the three trials with tremendous stakes:
In Charlottesville, Virginia: The federal civil trial of 24 white supremacist groups and individuals who came to Charlottesville in August 2017 and unleashed fascist violence that led to the murder of Heather Heyer.
In Brunswick, Georgia: the case against Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan who are on trial for hunting down and murdering Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old Black man who was out on a jog.
And in Madison, Wisconsin: The criminal murder trial for Kyle Rittenhouse who traveled with an AR-15 to a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha where he shot and killed two protesters and wounded another.
All three concentrate the fascist mobs and threats of violence that are being unleashed to build the fascist movement and consolidate power & it reflects the ways in which there is an assault on the rule of law in this country and the most vicious overt white supremacy that threads it all together.
ALSO: PEN America released a report this week exposing what they are calling educational gag orders that outline how lawmakers in nearly half the country this year have tried to muzzle educators in regards to topics that include racism, sexism, and American history. As detailed in the report from January to September, a total of 54 bills concerning K-12 schools, higher education institutions and state agencies were introduced, the report says. Eleven of those bills have become laws in nine states, including Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Read more here: pen.org/report/educational-gag-orders
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After the discussion with Coco Das, Sam interviews Vara Ramakrishnan with Strike for Choice on their plans to take action on Dec 1 and how you can join. Dec 1 is the day the Supreme Court will hear Dobbs vs Whole Womens Health, the case which poses an imminent threat to abortion rights and the possible wholesale gutting of Roe v Wade. You can take action wherever you are to refuse to go along with the evisceration of this essential right with the hashtag #StrikeForChoice. Find out more at www.strikeforchoice.org
Music for this episode: Penny the Snitch by Ikebe Shakedown.
Sun, 11/14 8:18PM • 54:21
Coco Das 00:00
All three of these cases really are about the violent reassertion of white supremacy; the domination of white people over all others… You have this deputizing of violent enforcement… There’s a direct line from the Confederacy to the fascists of today. Kyle Rittenhouse is part of that continuum… It’s actually absurd that he should be able to claim self-defense. He went into this situation holding an AR-15.
Sam Goldman 00:45
Welcome to Episode 85 of the Refuse Fascism podcast. This podcast is brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers and host of the show. Refuse Fascism exposes, analyzes and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in this country. In today’s episode, we’re sharing two interviews.
First, a conversation with Coco Das, an incisive writer, gem of a person, frequent contributor, producer and guest of the show, co-editor of RefuseFascism.org, and someone I’m proud to call a friend, on her latest piece that’s up at RefuseFascism.org titled: The Rittenhouse Trial and Two Sides in Contention: A Beautiful Rising or Rising Fascism. Then we’ll share information about Strike for Choice actions that are being called for on December 1, the day the Supreme Court will hear Dobbs v. Whole Women’s Health, the case that poses an imminent threat to abortion rights and the possible wholesale gutting of Roe v. Wade. You’ll hear from Vara Ramakrishnan, a Strike for Choice activist, on their plans to make visible support of abortion rights and make visible their refusal to go along with the evisceration of this essential right.
But first, let’s talk about some developments from this week as they relate to the continued fascist threat. We’ll be paying attention to what develops with Steve Bannon, who has now been indicted for contempt of Congress. We do have to note that zero — yep, zero — Republican members of the Senate or House that participated in January 6 have been subpoenaed by the January 6 Commission. As the AP reported, a federal appeals court on Thursday temporarily blocked the release of White House records sought by the U.S. House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. This grants for now the request from former President Donald Trump. Oral arguments on this will be heard November 30th, so stay tuned for more.
Congressional investigations this week released documents detailing just how forcefully the Trump regime elbowed out the CDC from the initial response to the COVID 19 pandemic. According to Politico, “The emails and transcripts detail how in the early days of 2020, Trump and his allies in the White House blocked media briefings and interviews with CDC officials, attempted to alter public safety guidance normally cleared by the agency, and instructed agency officials to destroy evidence that might be construed as political interference.” It’s hard to overestimate the impact of this except to say that without these actions and others like it by the fascist Trump-Pence regime, there’s a chance that this pandemic would simply now just be over. Imagine for a moment if Jared Kushner and Scott Atlas, named in these emails, were actually put on trial for the mass deaths they caused. Instead, we are dealing with a reality where spreading, constantly evolving, COVID misinformation is a battle-cry for the fascist cause.
In related news, Michael Flynn spoke this weekend at a stop on the “Reawaken America” tour, for which he is a prominent part of, a project that brings together Trump loyalists, anti-science conspiracy theorists, so-called doctors and evangelical leaders to spread the triple plagues of fascism, COVID misinformation, and COVID itself. This horror show has flown under the radar up until this point, but Flynn’s statements were so sound bite-able that it finally broke through, covered by mainstream outlets and trending on Twitter. He said, “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion, one nation under God and one religion under God.” In response, there is talk about how Trump just uses religion cynically, talk about what constitutes “real Christianity;” that Flynn isn’t a real Christian, speculation that he’s not talking about Christianity at all, just Trumpism, or Q, and talk about how the Constitution is a secular document.
We’ve spent some time on this podcast getting into the heart of the theocratic element of American fascism with some of the foremost experts on the subject. I highly recommend people go back and listen to some of those episodes. Here I’ll say that there are two sides of this statement that are important. One is that yes, this fascist movement is to be taken seriously in its push to bring its favored forms of Christianity into the center of American governance and to weaponize that. They’re making real advances even now, while they are ostensibly out of power. Just look at abortion rights. So what does that tell you about what they’ll do when they retake the Congress and potentially the White House by hook or by crook? They are deeply entrenched in the judiciary and the military, which Flynn came out of and where his brother still has his hands on the levers of power. Where the broom doesn’t sweep, the dust won’t simply vanish. This is something new-ish.
But there’s also something old going on here, which is that white evangelical theocracy is not simply a religion for these people or even for this country. It is an identity that the most powerful reactionary movements throughout our history have woven deeply into the fabric of this nation from today’s Qanon and Oathkeepers and megachurches, going back to the segregationists of the 50s and 60s, back to the first wave of the Ku Klux Klan, the Confederacy, and even back to the “Nativists” pre-Civil War, in many cases, going back to the first extermination of settlers. They see themselves as the rightful heirs of the empire in a moment, where the ruling consensus of a sensibly pluralist democracy that has held the country together to one degree or another for 150 years is palpably failing. So this is something that we need to be studying, examining, and strongly repudiating.
In my interview with Coco, she brings up the way fascism is advancing on the state level. To that end, I want to highlight something that happened this week. Virginia elected officials shared their plan to burn books they deem unfit. Their book burning list includes an American Library Association, “best book for young adults,” and that they did this on the eve of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a massive pogrom that took place in 1938 across Germany, killing over 90 Jews, burning hundreds of synagogues, destroying Jewish businesses and arresting 30,000 Jews, should not be lost on us. Book burnings, especially of what were deemed sexually explicit or devious books, were a key part in the Nazi campaign. Before the burning of synagogues, there was the burning of books. The first large burning came in the spring of 1933, May 6. The German Student Union made an organized attack on Dr. Hirschfield’s Institute of Sex Research. Its libraries, its archives of around 20,000 books and journals were publicly hauled out into the street and set aflame. Virginia’s book burning plan is one particularly egregious element of a larger campaign to undermine and erase any understanding of how we got here that differs from the standard American mythology.
PEN America released a report this week exposing what they are calling educational gag orders that outline how lawmakers in nearly half of the country this year have tried to muzzle educators in regards to topics that include racism, sexism and American history. As detailed in the report from January to September, a total of 54 bills concerning K-12 schools, higher education institutions, and state agencies were introduced. 11 of those bills have become laws in 9 states, including Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma. In sharing this report, they wrote, “PEN America intends this report to sound the alarm and recognize these bills for what they are: attempts to legislate constraints on certain depictions or discussions of United States history and society in educational settings to stigmatize and suppress specific intellectual frameworks, academic arguments, and opinions; and to impose a particular political diktat on numerous forms of public education. Taken together, these efforts amount to a sweeping crusade for content and viewpoint-based state censorship.” We’re linking the report in the show notes, and will be talking about this more in the next episode.
We’re continuing to pay special attention to three trials with tremendous stakes. In Charlottesville, Virginia, the federal civil trial of 24 white supremacist groups and individuals; those who came to Charlottesville in August 2017 and unleashed fascist violence that led to the murder of Heather Heyer. In Brunswick, Georgia, the case against Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan, who are on trial for hunting down and murdering Ahmaud Arbury, an unarmed 25 year old Black man who was out on a jog. And in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the criminal murder trial for Kyle Rittenhouse, who traveled with an AR-15 to a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha where he shot and killed two protesters and wounded another.
All three of these cases concentrate the fascist mobs and threats of violence that are being unleashed to build the fascist movement and consolidate power and reflect the ways in which there is an assault on the rule of law in this country, and the most vicious overt white supremacy that threads it all together. Today’s interview focuses on the Rittenhouse trial. In my chat with Coco I mentioned the article in The New York Times titled “Menace Enters the Republican Extreme.” It details the way in which “threats of violence have become commonplace among a significant part of the party as historians and those who study democracy warn of a dark shift in American politics.” One example included from just this past week was held Representative Paul Gosar tweeted an anime video depicting him killing representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and swinging swords at President Biden, and how with overt threats of violence, it is now normalized, with no censure, let alone condemnation, from top GOP members. As Bob Avakian wrote, “The Republicans have become a fascist party ready to use violence not only against masses of people, but also against its rivals and the ruling class.” The “norms” are coming undone. The question is what will replace them?
With that, here’s my interview with Coco Das. Welcome, Coco. Thanks for joining us.
Coco Das 10:48
Hey, thanks, Sam. It’s good to be here.
Sam Goldman 10:51
It’s really good to have you. Anybody who has a heart — and people on the other side, too, who are completely without a conscience — have been paying attention to this case, because it is clear to people, in my opinion on the side of humanity and on the side of fascism, that this is a case of tremendous stakes. I wanted to take a moment and start with why did you feel you needed to write something about the Rittenhouse trial? And how do you see that relating to fascism in this country?
Coco Das 11:21
I think like a lot of people, I was getting information about the trial itself, how messed up it was, things about what the judge was allowing or not allowing, the restraints on the prosecution that were not restraints. The defense of Kyle Rittenhouse got all this freedom and there were so many restraints on the prosecution. I was getting bits and pieces, but out of some collective conversations and correspondence with the Editorial Board of RefuseFascism.org — which includes Sunsara Taylor, Andy Zee, you, me and Paul Street — it was clear that there was something bigger going on here that wasn’t getting into the debate and discussion of it.
It really was interesting for me to go back through the timeline and put this really firmly in the context of what was happening in the summer of 2020 and why Kyle Rittenhouse and other members of militias — armed right wing fascist militias — went to Kenosha as a response to something that was a really big crisis for this fascist movement. Millions of people all around the country and in fact all around the world rose up in righteous protest, overwhelmingly nonviolent protest, people from all walks of life, many Black people. I should say this was in response to the horrific torturous murder of George Floyd, which was videotaped for people all over the world to see; nine minutes of knee on his neck. People righteously rose up in rebellion against this. Trump actually came to power on this. He said the police should be more brutal.
There was this context where these millions of people are rising up, and the fascist movement which came to power on the basis of virulent open white supremacy, aggressive white supremacy. It put that movement on the defensive. It put Trump on the defensive. He had to go hide in his bunker. They tried all this stuff, the National Guard, the secret federal force, to bring repression down and stop these protests, and it didn’t work. Then the fascist movement had to regroup. In my opinion, this was the biggest crisis that the Trump-Pence regime had encountered; more than impeachment, more than any of the normal channels that people were saying would be the end of the Trump regime. This was actually the biggest crisis for them.
Then there was a process of regrouping. Trump doubled down on the white supremacy, doubled down on the celebration of genocide and slavery in this country. He went to Tulsa, Oklahoma on Juneteenth weekend 2020, and that was very deliberate — he’s going to go and have his lynch mob-style KKK style rally on Juneteenth, the weekend that people celebrate the emancipation of enslaved people, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the worst race riot, white supremacist riot, in the history of this country. He starts there, and then he just keeps going from there. July 4, Mount Rushmore, goes on these wild rants about Antifa and Black Lives Matter and his political enemies. He’s whipping up this violent rhetoric, this fascist rhetoric that’s really regalvanizing the movement to respond to these protests.
Then at the end of the summer, there’s the horrible shooting at close range in the back of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. That video also goes viral and also gets a response, and people in Kenosha rise up righteously to protest this wanton violence and shooting down Black and brown people in this country. Another thing I’ll say about Black Lives Matter, the beautiful rising, we’re referring to in the title, these protests became a sort of a repudiation of not just what happened to George Floyd, but the whole history of white supremacy and the brutality against Black people. It actually opened up a whole debate and changed the terms of debate on race in this country, so that Confederate statues were coming down. People were really questioning — white people, people of other ethnicities, as well as Black people — were really questioning what this country was about. This was a nightmare for the fascists.
In Kenosha, there’s also this rising of these protests in response to this brutal police shooting which left Jacob Blake partially paralyzed. Then, in the context of what Trump was doing to re-galvanize the movement, these right wing fascist militias, organized groups of armed fascists, were starting to go into these protests and harass, intimidate and do violence against people. I believe it was in Portland, where they were pepper spraying protesters and one of them got shot and became a sort of martyr for the fascist movements. Kyle Rittenhouse was a 17 year old, Trump-loving, gun-loving young member of — not an official member, but an admirer and maybe an official member. I don’t think we know, but an admirer and follower of this movement. He goes to Kenosha to police and patrol the protesters. No matter what people say was going on, that’s what he went to do. To protect private property with an AR-15, which he obtained illegally from a friend in Wisconsin.
Then there’s a direct line from Kyle Rittenhouse, what happened after he killed two men and shot three men, he became sort of a touchstone and a hero for this fascist movement, which really does require this kind of violence in order to consolidate power. In order to control dissent and enforce their agenda. That really is a nightmare for humanity, and that people do need to rise up against this, they do need to rebel against this. The only way they can actually do that is through this kind of violence. It’s a central tenet of fascism, that fascist mobs, as well as the state violence helps to bring the consolidation of the fascist program, which aims to remake all of society and government and to implement an open dictatorship. The only way they can really do it is through this kind of violence, so he becomes celebrated. Then there is a direct line from Kyle Rittenhouse to January 6.
Sam Goldman 18:13
I think it’s really important to pull back that lens in a few ways. One is, it makes perfect sense to me that people are outraged as fuck at Schroeder — I think I’m saying his name, right, the judge in this case. It’s outrageous this shit he’s done, including his pretrial decisions such as regarding jurors. All of it is grotesque. It makes sense that people’s attention is there, in the same way that it makes sense that people are furious at the hypocrisy that the media is portraying, that Rittenhouse is the victim or Rittenhouse as a caught up teenager who is caught up in the moment; whereas they portray Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown, who were gunned down, as criminals. I think it makes sense that people’s attention goes there.
But I think that it’s essential right now, because the stakes are so high, that we pull the lens back and talk about the story that’s bigger than the judge, the story that’s even bigger than the fascist thug Rittenhouse, into what’s at play and where’s all of this going and what these cases have to do with this large struggle that’s going on in society of whether fascism gets consolidated, regains its total foothold in society, or whether something better can come about. The pattern that we’re seeing, to me, makes very clear that whatever sense of normal politics people were hoping was going to return to this case, along with what we’re seeing in the Ahmad Arbery case and what we’re seeing in Charlottesville as well, point to me the institutions that people thought could handle this and help beat back fascism are ill equipped to do so.
This is a moment where we need to all be paying attention, and all be doing the work to not just look in the surface but dig deeper in terms of why is this happening? What does this represent? And yes, what is my role in all this? Beyond that of a passive consumer of the news? What role do I have?
Coco Das 20:15
I really agree. It’s really important to understand the importance of two sides in contention. All three of these cases really are about the violent reassertion of white supremacy; the domination of white people over all others. They can only achieve that through the same kind of violence that was used to enforce Jim Crow, even slavery. That’s what they want. They want everybody else to be cowering. But just as they can’t actually achieve that without this brutality and violence — I’m speaking for myself here but, you know, this is part of what Refuse Fascism has been organizing for — we’re not going to drive this scourge out of our society and out of our government, without a massive response from millions of people. It is going to take the kinds of action that we saw during the beautiful rising; millions of people in the streets.
It’s not going to be done through these normal channels and institutions that Trump’s GOP has shredded. They don’t care about these norms and rules. They’ll tear all that up. It will take a movement of people who are willing to step outside of the normal channels and rise up. It really is going to take a beautiful rising of people to repudiate this whole fascist program and drive it out. I think we’re in a process of seeing them re-consolidate. They have state power in many of the statehouses. They’re advancing, they’re having victories in abortion rights, in crushing abortion rights, crushing voting rights. If this trajectory continues, they will win back the White House. They’ll win back federal power, and they’ll do it with the utmost revenge.
If that is allowed to happen through relying on business as usual and relying on the norms, then it’s going to create a future that’s really an existential crisis for not just ourselves in this country, but for humanity as a whole.
I think that the danger that you’re pointing to is real, and it’s ominous. I think that people a lot of times are looking at what’s going on and they’re still seeing these as separate, egregious incidents. They’re lacking the kind of analysis that you are bringing into it, that these assaults are part of a common thread here and this is all part of a fascist movement. I wanted to highlight a section of what you wrote. I think it’s how you open your piece. You write, “Kyle Rittenhouse is a fascist youth who joined an armed militia on a self-appointed patrol of a protest for Black lives. What is being fought out in his trial for murder is not self-defense as he so tearfully claims but the green-lighting of extra-legal fascist violence – for the “right” of armed white supremacists to surveil, harass, intimidate, assault, and yes, murder protesters in service of a whole fascist program. The two men whose lives he took, (a fact which is not under dispute), were his victims, and heroes who were standing up for justice.”
I want to bring people’s attention to what his defense is fighting for, and what the millions of his supporters are fighting for, the kind of world and future that they’re going for. I hope you could speak a little bit more to the connection between the extra-legal violence that we saw in Kenosha that’s represented in this trial and what we’ve seen January 6 and onward in the “Stop the Steal” movement. Paul Street mentions in a piece that’s also on RefuseFascism.org, and I’ve heard Jason Stanley also put it this way, that fascism is lawlessness in the name of law and order. I think you see that concentrated here, but what they’re fighting for, what that side is fighting for, is a society where anyone who is a white male is the law. Anyone who is a proponent of this white supremacist mentality is the law. I don’t want to actually equate that with being a white male, because his victims were actually white males, but anyone who is fighting for this fascist program is the law and everyone else is criminal, and how dare anybody try to resist this domination and natural order of things. It’s actually absurd that he should be able to claim self-defense. He went into this situation holding an AR-15 and the complete degradation of the rule of law. The claim that Kyle Rittenhouse just by virtue of who he is, is the law. He’s an extension of the law and everyone else is criminal.
Sam Goldman 24:56
I was thinking how the greenlighting that you’re speaking of, what does that look like? I personally see it in what’s going down in Texas in many similar ways. It’s mob rule. It is violence. It is violence to prevent a person from getting an abortion. It is violence to punish those who provide care. Those are acts of violence, in my opinion, in the same way that we’re seeing — again, this is my opinion — that the rash of threats and harassment that elected officials across the country have faced post the election that continue to occur and will only heighten as the midterms approach. That rings in the same way as this extra-legal violence. There are other ways that you might see this unfolding, and I would love to hear your thoughts on that.
In particular, what is this connection you alluded to earlier between Rittenhouse and January 6? I would just add to that, that you would use the word direct line, that direct line from Rittenhouse to January 6. I think that’s true, and we should talk about it. In the same vein, I think that this is something that this case really illustrates — there’s a direct line, as revolutionary leader Bob Avakian has said, from the Confederacy to the fascism today, a direct connection between their white supremacy, their open disgust and hatred for LGBTQ people, as well as women. There were willful rejections of science and the scientific method, the raw American First jingoism and trumpeting of the superiority of Western civilization and their bellicose wielding of military power, including their expressed willingness and blatant threats to use nuclear weapons to destroy countries. This was something that Avakian had said in a speech in 2017 and has been laid bare as very, very accurate.
Even without them being in power, I think that what they are harking back to with all the violence that that entails is important for all of us to recognize, because it does underscore this moment that we’re in where society is being ripped apart. There are two sides at play in the way that you’re speaking to, in your piece about these two sides in contention. Is it going to be a beautiful rising, that Black Lives Matter is all a part of that spirit? Or is it going to be rising fascism?
Coco Das 27:17
To go back a little bit, what you see here, that’s also at play with the Texas law and the mobs of people descending on school boards and sending death threats to election officials is that you have this deputizing of violent enforcement. Think of how much they’re actually accomplishing with that. It does put a chilling effect on righteous protests, the way that they have actually co-opted the idea of protest. They’re protesting mask mandates and the vaccine life-saving measures. I don’t even want to call those protests.
So it does put a chill on protest. It does, as they’re hoping, make people think twice about going and opposing them. Actually, we did see this play out in DC in December when the Proud Boys kept coming back to DC. Many people argued with us that we should not go out there and meet them. We’re not saying meet them in street brawls, but what difference it would have made if in December, people had flooded the streets not fighting for Trump, but saying no, we refuse to accept a fascist America. What a difference that would have made.
Then you have more and more people actually who are willing to step out and do violence for this fascist movement. Trump really understood how to galvanize that and how to whip people up. So when I say there’s a direct line — that you said was also very crucial: “There’s a direct line from the Confederacy to the fascists of today,” — and Kyle Rittenhouse is part of that continuum demonstrated to people that you can go and brandish a weapon and kill two people and you can become a hero to this fascist movement and you can be celebrated and feel completely justified in what you’ve done. Then you’ve got hundreds of people who feel completely justified through this embracing of the Big Lie that Trump actually won the election in storming the Capitol, violently, the siege. Six people, I believe, died — six or seven people.
In the aftermath of that, if you combine that with deputizing this citizen force, which also happened in Nazi Germany. It’s a big part of how fascism consolidated in history. You couple that with the state power that fascists in this country do have in Texas, in Georgia, and different parts of the country, where you can further unleash these mobs, but back it up with your state’s laws, back it up with the brute force of the police and National Guard or whatever you have at your disposal. Then they are at a tremendous advantage. But they still fear. They are terrified of people rising up like they did in 2020. Actually, the force that they fear most is the “us” in our millions who are on the side of humanity.
Sam Goldman 30:14
I was thinking about people listening, and we as listeners of Refuse Fascism, most of us, if not all of us, I’m sure are using the ‘F’ word to describe what’s happening, are saying “fascism.” Many might be like myself, wondering why we continue to be confronted, even with all of the fascist violence that we’ve been seeing, forced individuals and whole institutions that study democracy, continuing to not call a spade a spade. I was thinking about the New York Times. They published, I think it was yesterday, an article by Lisa Lerer and Astead Herndon titled “Menace Enters the Republican Mainstream.” It does a tremendous job, in my opinion, at highlighting some of the the serious, egregious departures from normal politics, the overt violence. It doesn’t actually talk about how white supremacy is at the core of a lot of this violence, and the hatred of women is also at a core of a lot of this violence. But it does do a damning indictment of the GOP and this shift that we have seen.
I wanted to read an excerpt of that very briefly, “From congressional offices to community meeting rooms, threats of violence are becoming commonplace among a significant segment of the Republican Party. 10 months after rioters attacked the United States Capitol on January 6, and after four years of a president who often spoke in violent terms about his adversaries, right wing Republicans are talking more openly and frequently about the use of force as justifiable in opposition to those who dislodged him from power.” I was just wondering what your thoughts are as to what’s with this refusal, this adamant refusal, to even name the problem? What’s served by that?
Coco Das 30:14
I read that article last night, and I tweeted: “I think there’s a word for this. What is it?” Honestly, I find it really frustrating. I don’t exactly know. I guess that when you talk about fascism and it harkens back to what it took actually to defeat Hitler and the fascist powers in World War 2, that people don’t want to quite confront something on that scale or something on the scale of the Civil War — civil war is kind of pre-fascist, but something like that — is happening here. We’re on that trajectory, and it’s going to take tremendous sacrifice to stop it. I think there’s also just a complete lack of understanding or a will to even understand what fascism is. Who throws around the word fascism a lot? It’s these anti-mask, anti-Vax lunatics.
Sam Goldman 32:27
Who are wearing Jewish stars.
Coco Das 32:50
Who are wearing yellow stars! I mean, it’s such a perversion; it’s such insanity. And yet people who do very good exposure of this violent ethos in the GOP will not use the word fascism. It’s actually very dangerous. I think it’s dangerous. It’s damaging. As much interesting exposure as that article did, and people are doing around the anti- democratic GOP, it’s much deeper than that. It is a fascist movement. Fascism has defining features. It has a trajectory, and it has a certain way that it’s defeated and certain ways that it’s not defeated.
All of us who do have this understanding, we have to insist that we do better on this. People do their work. This is not something mysterious that can’t be understood. There’s also this misconception that calling someone a fascist is just an insult, that there’s no substance to it, but Refuse Fascism called Trump a fascist for very good reason. The reasons that we called the Trump-Pence regime fascist have all been borne out to be true, culminating in this January 6 coup attempt. It is a fear that this reality that the world as we know it is being torn asunder, that it’s really happening and it’s not going to be resolved easily through the election of Biden or more Democrats in power. That article actually speaks to one reason why that’s not the case. Yet it won’t consider that what this is concentrating is a very dangerous 21st Century American fascism.
There’s a sort of modulation of okay, this is the level of concern and terror you should have — but don’t go beyond that. Don’t take it too far, because if we say that one party of this democracy has become thoroughly fascist, what does that say about the system, and ability of this system to progress, to become a more perfect union? Whatever it is that they are telling you is the goal, the end game that we’re just constantly going to be better and better. What does that say about all that? It throws all of that into question. But this is a difficult question. It’s something everybody listening should really write to us and tell us your thoughts about it. There’s something right in what you’re saying: there’s this tightrope that they’re walking. There’s this line that they can’t cross because it throws into question so much more than just this present moment.
Sam Goldman 35:37
Yeah, definitely write to us and write to Coco and share your thoughts. You can reach Coco @Coco_Das. Let her know what your thoughts on this question are and your thoughts on her article. Then go and read The Rittenhouse Trial and Two Sides in Contention: A Beautiful Rising or Rising Fascism. You can get that in the show notes or on the homepage at RefuseFascism.org. I want to thank Coco again for joining us and spending some time digging into all of this with us. Do you have anything else you want to say?
Coco Das 36:17
No, it’s always good to talk to you and try to hash some of these things out. It’s gonna take conversations like this on a grand scale to really confront and understand what’s going on.
Sam Goldman 36:28
You can check out the article by Paul Street that Coco mentions, “Reflections from Kenosha” up at RefuseFascism.org. It’s really, really worth reading. In it he clearly outlines the stakes involved in the case. He writes, “a not guilty verdict will amount to a declaration of state-sanctioned fascist thug war on human rights and social justice advocates from coast to coast. Kyle Rittenhouse must not be permitted to get away with fascist murder.” A link to his article will be in the show notes, but also you can go to RefuseFascism.org and get it there right at the homepage.
Here is Vara Ramakrishnan with Strike for Choice on their plans to take action on December 1 and how you can join. Have a listen. Today I am talking with Vara Ramakrishnan to discuss action that people can take in response to the case that involves Mississippi, the case that we’ve been talking a lot about on the show, Dobbs v. Women’s health. It’s going to be heard in front of the Supreme Court, oral arguments on December 1. A lot of people have been thinking that we just need to prepare for the worst, that there’s nothing we can do. Well, I’m glad to be talking to someone who does not think that now is the time for capitulation or compromise, but action. To do that, I’m glad that I get to chat with Vara. She is a activist with Vigil for Democracy and participating in Strike for Choice actions on December 1. Welcome, Vara, and thanks for joining us.
Vara Ramakrishnan 38:03
Thank you for having me. If we don’t do anything, then nothing happens that we care about. So if nobody acts on this, we can assume that the Supreme Court is going to act according to its leanings, and that’s pretty obvious. We have a six-three fundamentalist court and they have all been pretty clear about their intentions, that they’re not going to treat Roe as established law, and they will overturn it. So that’s the likely outcome by next June. To be clear, the oral arguments are on December 1. They usually take a while to deliberate on it. They are expected to issue a ruling on this case next summer.
By summer 2022, we can expect that abortion will be pretty much illegal in America. That will be the case if we allow things to proceed. When I think about this nation going backwards in that way having abortion be illegal, it almost makes me physically sick. I don’t think I want to live in a country that pushes more than half its population back into the dark ages. Medicine has evolved and there is no reason why people with uteruses should not have access to that medical care. The other thing is that if this law changes in America, the rest of the world suffers. People everywhere will be affected by this, because the aid that America gives to other countries will change drastically. They will put all kinds of restrictions on medical care where abortion might also be provided right now. In countries where there’s already a fascist authoritarian regime trying to consolidate power, they will look to America. They will cite America’s laws to then be worse than their own. This is not the same as Mexico or some other smaller economy that’s not widely understood as the leader of the free world changing its laws. This is the US changing its laws. It’s very serious for everybody.
The reason there’s still hope is because if you look at the history of the Supreme Court, yes, they’ve made jarring, ugly rulings that go against civil rights and against humanity. But in cases where publicity has been high, they have almost always ruled with public opinion. So right now, the justices may be feeling arrogant, may be feeling like they can get away with it. But if there’s mass unrest on December 1 and beyond, we can win and women can have their abortion rights. People who might be suffering miscarriages or other medical emergencies during a pregnancy don’t have to be sentenced to death by scaring their own doctors. So that’s the hope.
Now, in terms of protest, I believe there has been a hijacking of the public understanding of what protest is in America. I watched it unfold with great dismay. I tried very hard in 2016 to get involved, to try and change what happened then. But I didn’t have a platform. I was one voice. The powers that existed at that time really wanted it to go the way it did, which is you get a huge mass of people together, you pick a date, that’s a good medium, Saturday, you pick a location, that’s an empty Main Street where there’s really no businesses functioning, and you march through there saying, “We will be heard.” Well, you’re not heard. Nobody’s hearing you. You can say that and feel good. When there’s an audience, you can say anything and feel good about it, but it has no impact.
That is what has been spoon-fed to America. So the fact is, every suburban citizen who thinks they protested has actually wasted their time. They might have had a good time. They might have made some friendships. They might have made buddies who they can talk politics with, because sometimes it’s lonely when you understand politics. So maybe you can talk to your family. You met somebody at a Saturday march, that’s your people. Now, that’s good. But again, we are over five years into autocracy. Those Saturday marches are not going to do anything.
Looking back to my childhood, when I actually didn’t know that I was absorbing the politics and what was going on. Now I think back about it often — it does a few things. One is that pretty often, the entire city would be at a standstill. You couldn’t get to school or anywhere that you wanted to go, and so you didn’t go. It used to be called “ban,” which is “closed,” in Hindi. It didn’t matter if Hindi was not the language spoken where you were, you knew what a “ban” was, which is, hey, it’s like a snow day. So cool if you’re a kid nothing happens, you better hope that you have enough food and whatever supplies because there’s no buses running, there’s no grocery stores, nothing, it’s just a still, still city. This would happen as a show of power to win concessions from the government. This doesn’t happen here at all, we need that. Because the thing is even one day is a massive shock to any functioning, well-run economy, which America is right now.
So if we can bring things to a standstill, or at least to a lower mode of functioning on one day, then that exposes the power that people have. So that’s what the point is of a strike. We want to show our power, so we should study how people who are powerless, who are trying to claim back our power. We can learn from those things and use those things in nonviolent peaceful ways. An important thing they do is multiple simultaneous actions. To bring the city to its knees, you want to jam three locations, five locations, seven locations at a time. There’s a conversation that somebody had with a police chief of a major city — I think it was LA, but I’m not certain — asking what the nightmare scenario is? What the chief had said is yeah, you know, if you say 10,000 people at City Hall, it’s something we have to worry about and deal with. But we know how to deal with that. Instead, if you have 1000 people at 10 different locations across the city, then I’m really terrified. I don’t know how to deal with that. I don’t know what will go wrong, and I have to be on edge. And it probably won’t be okay.
When we organized protests, even the Saturday thing, everybody show up at this one location, march to another location. Done. Going back to what I said about 2016, what I wanted, what I begged and hoped that people would do is to say, let’s put out a call and recruit medics and recruit food trucks. Let’s keep the porta potties for a week or 10 days. Tell the women not to go home right after the Women’s March. If we had done that, it would have been a different regime, even if Trump managed to stay in power, because then it shows that you’re not willing to be governed in the way that they want you to be. It shows that you’re not manageable. Part of doing an action is being visible. If you did this, and nobody knows that you did it, then there’s no sense of community. There’s no press from it. There’s no way to build to the next one.
Sam Goldman 44:28
Let’s talk about the big question. Why should people take action on December ? What’s going on here? What’s motivating you to protest? That’s what I was going to ask you about, because when a lot of people hear about the word “strike,” people think I stay at home and I just don’t go to work and that I’ve done my job. One of the things that I really unite with in terms of what you’re saying is creating a situation where it is clear to the whole world that we aren’t going to let pregnant people be slammed backwards and either condemned in some situations to death by not having access to an abortion, or at least having their future foreclosed and being reduced to an incubator.
I think that having a situation where it is made crystal clear by people that they’re not going to go back, that we are going to fight with everything we have for abortion rights to be protected, defended; it would be tremendous. It is very refreshing to hear what you’re saying about protest that isn’t domesticated; protest that isn’t done on the terms that are convenient for those who rule. That’s really important. It’s something that has such high stakes for so many people, the fact that this alarm is not being sounded is devastating. It would make a profound difference if there was visible resistance. If you could speak a little bit about how do we make that visible.
Vara Ramakrishnan 46:01
There are many ways from small to big. The key is now we have a date, that is a Wednesday. It’s a weekday. It’s actually also a day when Congress is in session; both the Senate and the House are in session. Everybody’s going to be in DC. Since the Supreme Court is in DC, the justices all live around there, there’s actions that are being planned in DC, kind of escalating towards December 1. That’s one thing. But the strike itself, what we’re asking people to do is to commit early. Now we have three weeks at this point to say that I commit to strike and to see what it’s about and to post about it, to talk about it so that in your immediate circle there’s nobody around you who is unaware of what your plan is in three weeks, or as you come down.
So that’s part of it: to commit to saying I will not go to work, or I will not do my unpaid labor, and I’m not going to fix lunches or whatever it is that you do just that one day. You’re going to check out of that. If you’re going to school, you’re going to ask for a day off. You’re going to tell your professor: Listen, I need to walk out. If you shop and you spend, you’re going to say I’m not going to spend any money that day, and you’re going to declare that. The last option is a hunger strike to say I’m going to skip lunch or breakfast and lunch, just one day. Everybody understands that it’s not easy to skip a meal. If you’re going to make a point of doing that, it matters. Now, again, all of this, on the day off if you’re able to not just stay home, but to go to your town square with a simple sign and we’re creating materials that people can print out or get inspiration from and then make their own.
StrikeforChoice.org is going to be the center where all of this will be available. Right now, it’s got a simple signup form that talks about everything you can do, but all the resources you need, all of that, will be available on the site. So that’s the strike portion of it.
The other thing is that we do want to combine it for the direct action, and there’s already a lot of excitement and engagement over that. There are two companies that have emerged as villains in this story from Texas that everybody knows about. One is Whole Foods, that’s based in Texas, headquartered in Texas in Austin, and has almost 500 stores, mostly in the US, a handful in Canada and some in the UK. The largest number of their stores is in Texas, and they have been silent about the Texas vigilante law. So going to your local Whole Foods store with just a small number of people, five to 10 people, just your friends who care about this issue, in costume — maybe just green T shirts like the South American women did, maybe in red cloaks, if that appeals to you. Maybe T shirts with your messages about abortion and Raging Grannies are going to go in their aprons and their hangers and whatever messages they want to take. So treat it like a costume party and show up at your Whole Foods store. Leave without spending anything, but creating signs saying, we are your spenders, how come you don’t care about us?
Because the fact is, people with uteruses do the vast majority of grocery shopping, everywhere. It’s shameful that they’ve not bothered to acknowledge that there are no abortion rights in Texas right now. It’s virtually gone and it’s been that way for two months. It’ll be three months by the time this comes around; September, October, November, the law has completely killed all abortion rights. The other villain is AT&T, which has been the single largest funder of these Texas legislators who dreamt up and created this law, which has also then inspired the other copycat laws that are spreading across the southern states. AT&T has over 5000 stores across America. If you’re in a rural area and you’re a person who’s concerned about abortion rights, you’re probably a couple hours from Whole Foods, but there’s going to be an AT&T store at your rural mainstreet. So that’s an option. Again, at those two locations we’re simply saying noon.
We want people to think about this not as an organizing event. You don’t have to be an activist, you don’t have to be an organizer. Almost everybody knows how to throw a dinner party. They know how to do a costume party. They know how to organize the girls night out. You don’t have to treat this like a rally. It’s not. It’s something you’re asking your folks: Hey, do you care about this? Because I care about it. Will you go with me and commit to it? When somebody sends you an evite, you don’t say maybe. You say yes or no. Maybe is rude when somebody invites you to a dinner party, but maybe it’s okay to rally. Most people “maybe” to rallies and they don’t go because they don’t know they’ll be missed. When you’re gonna be missed if you don’t show up to walk through Whole Foods with your four friends with signs, creating a spectacle there, leaving a flyer with the manager who shows up saying, Hey, what are you doing here? This is what we’re doing. Give them a little flyer, let it be known.
Now, wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a group of folks going to every Whole Foods store in the country on December 1st at lunchtime? Even if you’re not striking, if you just go through at lunchtime and send that message. That’s going to be heard. That’s a story that the media will want to run and think that it’s going to take what 2500 people. That’s nothing. That’s one rally in one town. We just have to spread out across the country. That’s kind of what we’re hoping. Now some folks want to do it at a different time. They want to do it after school, so they might be doing three o’clock, four o’clock. They may want to go to the federal courthouse. Whatever has meaning to you. On that day, if you can be in a public place, if you can be in an outfit or with signs or banners that make a spectacle, that makes it clear what’s going on that day in the Supreme Court where the 6 theocrats are deciding all our fates, then that matters.
Sam Goldman 51:24
Well, I want to underscore that people need to not accept in advance the shredding of the rule of law, the demolition of bodily autonomy and the enslavement of women and the absolute nightmare that could come to be if people don’t wake up and take action. People really need to sit with and confront what it means when abortion is not legal. Then people need to act, and not start planning for what life is going to be like after Roe. Excuse my language, f*** that, it matters that it’s safe, it matters that it’s legal, and it matters that it’s accessible. All three of them.
I encourage people to check out StrikeForChoice. Commit to take visible action on December 1. I agree with Vara. It is an action that anybody can take. There’s no special activist training that you need. Go out, make some noise, be visible: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology. Thank you for listening to Refuse Fascism.
I wanna hear from you, share your thoughts, questions, ideas for topics or guests, or lend a skill. Tweet me @SamBGoldman. Or you can drop me a line at [email protected] or leave a voicemail by calling 917 426 7582. You can also record a voice message by going to anchor.FM/ Refuse-Fascism and clicking the button there. You might even hear yourself on a future episode.
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We’ll be back next Sunday until then In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America! Be sure to check the show notes for how to connect with Strike for Choice and Vigil for Democracy on social media. My feeling is that we’re gonna need to project all the beautiful actions that people take on December 1st as part of amplifying and continuing that resistance. Vara thanks so much for joining us and sharing your perspective.