For Black communities around the country, Trayvon Martin is not just this week’s viral news story. His killing, and the continued freedom of his killer, symbolize how racism, both in U.S. society at large and in the criminal justice system, powerfully shape the lived reality of African Americans.
The unpunished gunning down of an unarmed teen has provoked a largely spontaneous and self-acting movement demanding the arrest of George Zimmerman and an end to racial profiling. Thousands have already marched. Over 2 million have signed online petitions, while millions more have declared their outrage on Facebook and Twitter. Untold numbers have published photos of themselves wearing hoodies as a simple sign of solidarity. While the core of this response has been from Black youth, huge numbers of people from all backgrounds have displayed their support as well.
Because of all this attention, the ruling class has been forced to respond. Even some conservative politicians and media commentators have called for Zimmerman’s arrest. They do not care at all about the lives of young Black men, but hope that the appearance of a state response will make this burgeoning movement go away.
Others have taken to character assassination, suggesting that because Trayvon Martin had been suspended from school, or smoked marijuana, he was a dangerous criminal. This strategy of blaming and criminalizing the victims of racist killings is all too typical of the corporate media. As Trayvon Martin’s mother said, “They’ve killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation.”
It is not difficult to see why the rulers would be afraid. The movement demanding justice for Trayvon Martin punctures the myth of the “post-racial” society, and implicitly calls into question the legitimacy of the central day-to-day institutions of the state: the courts and the police.
As the social media buzz increasingly turns into street actions, there is still another task that all activists and revolutionaries must emphasize: organization. Every week it seems a young Black man is killed by the police, and every so often (usually when a video is produced) the clear injustice sparks large, militant demonstrations. Politicians and misleaders insist on “calm,” and usually promise internal investigations, policy reviews or minor reforms. When the case enters the courts, the militant energy often subsides until the next major incident causes the process to repeat.
How can we challenge this cycle? How can we make these spontaneous movements into something enduring and powerful? Revolutionary socialists offer the following answer: Build organizations among the oppressed and all people of conscience.
The ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), of which the PSL is a part, is one such organization. ANSWER has played an important role in mobilizing people against the wars abroad, as well as against the attacks on oppressed communities inside the United States. ANSWER activists are organizing nationwide to help bring people out in the streets to voice their outrage over the killing of Trayvon Martin and to combat the corporate media’s attempt to assassinate his character.
We have a responsibility to spread the idea of organization. Every group of friends, classmates, co-workers and neighbors who are currently talking about Trayvon Martin, sharing articles and attending marches is the beginning of a potential organization. We need organization not only to explain the case of Trayvon Martin but to tackle the problems of racist police brutality and mass incarceration.
We need organization to help guide street demonstrations. We need organization to help bridge this fight against racism with the movements for housing, jobs, education and health care. We need organization so that those who are fighting for the first time today can learn from their experiences, developing new ideas and tactics in the process.
Ultimately, we need to be organized independently of the politicians, so the struggle is not diverted and there is a way for people to keep fighting even after the media buzz has passed.
Some people have called Trayvon Martin this generation’s Emmett Till. When 14-year-old Till was brutally lynched in 1955—and his racist killers were set free—it sparked the outrage of millions across the country and helped inspire the Civil Rights movement that took off a few months later in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott turned thousands of workers and youth into planners and organizers. It succeeded through organization and it changed history.
In the struggle to bring George Zimmerman to justice, there is an opportunity to spread organization against racism, mass incarceration and police brutality that can take us to the next level.