Ettinger: Respectability Is Not Enough. We Need More.

Peaceful protest at Monument Ave

By Eve Ettinger

April 26, 2021

As we recover from the last president, we have to be willing to hold the Biden administration accountable as well.

President Biden wrapped up his first 100 days in office this past week, and many on the left have been celebrating this time with a collective sigh of relief. Finally, a president who doesn’t embarrass us publicly; finally, someone who upholds the dignity of the office of the president and is willing to listen to vulnerable citizens experiencing systemic oppression.

They’re also not wrong to recognize we have things to be grateful for. Biden rejoined the Paris Accords and passed the American Rescue Plan. He cut $1400 stimulus checks and expanded child tax credits, funded needed infrastructure for internet access, and provided the funding for a more rapid and thorough vaccine rollout. Last weekend, he also acknowledged the Armenian Genocide in a statement, which makes him the first U.S. president to do so. 

These are unquestionably good things. And yet, like a woman fresh out of an abusive relationship who is stunned and delighted to find a man who will regularly text her back and not make her feel ashamed of her emotions, we are satisfied with so little after the Trump presidency.

The System Works But That’s a Small Step

You could see the sheer exhaustion expressed by Black activists last week, when the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd last spring was found guilty by the jury verdict. And this news was rapidly followed by the crushing report of Ma’Khia Byrant’s death by a police shooting just hours later.

The refusal to celebrate the Chavin verdict as progress among the left-wing activist community should be observed with sober respect. To celebrate the system working the way it’s supposed to as if that’s a triumph is to celebrate a truly anemic victory. 

We must not be satisfied with oppression being sustained by people who use indoor voices, acknowledge climate change as real, and respect the use of they/them pronouns. Respectability is not real change. 

Protesting Works

One thing is clear from last summer’s citizen uprising and the sustained months of BLM protests across the nation: protesting works. Derek Chauvin was not originally going to be prosecuted for killing George Floyd, but protesters taking to the streets night after night changed that.

The protests seem to have deeply shaken those who wish to see power remain in the hands of latent whit supremacy. Thirty-four states (Virginia not among them) have seen proposed bills introduced by Republican lawmakers that would restrict the right to protest by punishing those convicted of unlawful assembly with a variety of draconian measures. That includes denying them any future state-based aid services (like unemployment benefits or other aid programs) or granting immunity to those who hit protesters with their cars. Those benefiting from systemic oppression are afraid of the power of the people. They have heard the protest chants and want to silence these rightfully angry voices. 

One of the only benefits of having a president who values his dignity is the ability to use the power of protest to make him feel guilty and reconsider his policies. Last week we saw the Biden administration pivot after initially announcing plans to keep Trump-era refugee caps in place–the loudly voiced objections from activists and representatives were heard and they announced that these caps will instead be lifted in May. Protest worked, and the policy changed. 

Biden Sets The Tone

 The first 100 days in office often are seen as setting the tone for what to expect from a new presidential administration. What we have seen from Biden is tepid, mostly. Some progress on some egregious, urgent issues, but mostly he’s just trying to re-grease the wheels of bureaucracy to keep all the parts moving after four years of inept handling. 

This summer, with vaccination numbers on the rise and herd immunity in sight, with the open air spaces generally acknowledged by the CDC as covid-safe, those of us who are interested in any actual progress on issues of gun control reform and police abolition need to keep up the energy of last year’s uprising. Sustained protesting works, and allowing ourselves to feel sated by as paltry a bone as the Chauvin verdict is to abandon hope of real change.

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