A bit over two months ago, the state claimed another victim.
A bit over two months ago, George Floyd was murdered. It was not the only such murder in recent memory, but it was the final straw for many, many people. Shortly thereafter protests erupted all across the country under the banner of black lives matter. Some of them turned into full on riots for a while, and then settled back down into more peaceful protests. In Portland, Oregon, on the other hand, the demonstrations never really calmed down, and local police kept escalating over a period of several weeks. Reports from on the ground detailed near constant use of tear gas and other heavy handed tactics that, in time, affected nearby apartments, not just protestors in the street.
And then the feds got involved.
A few days ago unmarked federal officers, later revealed to be US marshals and DHS agents, showed up in Portland. Among other things they’ve fired huge amounts of crowd control munitions into protests and straight up kidnapped people (a tactic now being emulated by local police in New York City). Portland has become a flashpoint for the frustrations of the body politic in many ways, with armadas not just of leftists, but of moms, teachers, veterans, and others showing up in solidarity.
And across social media, libertarians have been trying to figure out exactly what to make of all this. Many libertarians, including members of the dreaded boogaloo movement, have been out in force at many black lives matter protests, although we do seem to be less present in Portland in particular. Our presidential and vice presidential candidates have both spoken out strongly in support of the protestors, but when they do while most voices are supportive, a substantial minority condemn them. Some prominent libertarians have engaged in a considerable amount of hand wringing about the matter, citing Marxist influence among the protestors and communists being involved more generally, and claiming everything from “the enemy of my enemy is not my friend” to “you were calling for our heads, and now you’re calling for help” to simply saying that the protestors should obey the law and go home.
What, then, should we be doing? How should we as libertarians feel about this? I say we should unequivocally support the protestors, and we should be out in force with them.
Don’t get me wrong-I understand at least some of the arguments. The legal argument is completely weak sauce mind you-first off, when did libertarians suddenly start conflating law with morality? And even if we are going to argue the law, the law does not seem to be on the side of the feds-see the relevant Oregon legal code here, the graffiti charges used as a pretext here, and the good ol’ first amendment is here. I do, on the other hand, understand the frustration with the left. I’ve seen the same posts you have bashing libertarians, blaming us for all of the world’s ills, arguing for more government control, thinking we’re crazy when we were angry about the bailouts, saying we cost one bastard or another the election, and so on. I still think Marxism is a terrible ideology, built on a theory of value that doesn’t hold water and used as justification for some of the worst regimes in human history. And to borrow from the left, the emotional labor of having to explain that taxation is extortion, that war is government sanctioned mass murder, corporate welfare isn’t any better just because your side does it, letting an armed gang run your society is probably not the best of ideas, and both major parties have a terrible track record of nominating awful people as candidates, which is not the fault of third party voters AGAIN gets really old. And yes, whatever we might agree with commies on, we took a very different thought path to get there and we will wind up arguing about 12 other things in short order. All of this is true and understandable.
But let’s look at the other side of this. Most libertarians, I think, are motivated by outrage over abuses of state power. The abuses that happen to us, and the abuses that happen to others. The abuses that are inherent in the system.
We are all victims of the state-its rapaciousness, its incompetence, and its violence. We’ve certainly been going on about it for several decades now, if nothing else. Can we agree though that while they all suck, certain abuses are more serious and more pressing than others? And if so, would it be reasonable to say that murder is, if not the most serious abuse of state power, then at least least in the top two or three? If so, that leaves war and police abuse as the most pressing concerns…and guess what’s been in the news lately.
Libertarians-some of us anyway-seem to have this intellectual blind spot that says that any idea that didn’t come from our camp-even when it agrees with us-is wrong. To hold this not only is intellectually narrow minded for its own sake, but it also severely limits our choice of allies on any given issue, which means that we will continue to be politically irrelevant and ineffective, no matter how right we are. I’m fortunate enough to count many lefties as friends, from garden variety milquetoast Democrats to card carrying Trotskyists. Guess what-all of them have arrived to their worldview through much the same process of research, reflection, caring, and frustration that we did, and, what’s more-the progressives and far lefties share about 80% of our concerns. 10% of our solutions, to be sure, but there’s a lot of common ground and a lot of agreement about what’s messed up. We don’t have to nor should we work with them all the time. But we should have the intellectual honesty to recognize when someone other than us is on the right side of a particular issue.
Just as an example, watch this documentary about the Black Panthers. I know, it’s a little long, but it’s a fascinating piece of history with a great soundtrack. Yes, ideologically they were Marxist. But if you look at their actions, almost everything they did are things libertarians should cheer. They were armed, they took on the police and held them accountable-and shot back when it was necessary. But more importantly they were the private organization that provided charity and important relief to make their community better without a dime of government money or intervention. Their breakfast program fed over 20,000 people at its height. Whatever they might have been thinking, in their actions they did not confuse society with government, and they actively worked very hard to make society better. They actually did everything libertarians have been saying people should and will do for as long as I’ve been in the movement. Are we really so blind as to dismiss this as simply the raving of communists?
I’m not calling for across the board bottom unity, because there’s plenty we disagree on and plenty of things to oppose the left on. But what I am saying is that we dismiss the intelligence of people other than us not only at our peril, but at our loss. The more perspectives we have, the more we understand the experience of the people we’re trying to reach with our message, and the more chances we have to get good ideas.
So…about those protests. Libertarians have been raging about cop murder and police abuse for all 20 years that I’ve been in the movement. As this reason article will tell you, we’ve been raging for a lot longer than that. We’ve been warning of the encroachment of the police state, of the death of the right to protest, of a tyrannical government for just as long. We’ve also been talking a good game for decades about the second amendment being about the right of rebellion against one’s own government.
Cop murder is now in the public eye in a huge way. It’s in focus in a way that it wasn’t in 1992 after Rodney King, it never was in the late 90s, despite Peter McWilliams, Amadou Diallo, Waco, Ruby Ridge, or any number of abuses, and it wasn’t even this in focus after Ferguson. It’s triggered a moment of reflection about very uncomfortable truths about our country’s past and present-I hope it’s the moment of reflection, but it’s more likely a moment of reflection. And people are rebelling, rising up to demand something better, and the federal government is doing everything it can short of outright killing people (yet) to beat them back them down into submission.
We weren’t the ones who were able to get these issues in the public eye in a huge way. We were ahead of our time, ignored, and maligned.
We got to the same idea through a different set of principles and reasoning.
We may even disagree about what the long term solutions are (personally I think that repealing bad law such as the drug war is much more fundamental to the problems, while the mainstream seem to mostly just be focused on the bad behavior of the enforcers).
But again, so what?
Prioritize the issues. Yes, repealing the income tax would be great, but it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Corporate welfare is still terrible, but it isn’t kidnapping anyone just yet. Gun rights are holding steady at the federal level, and despite notable exceptions like my state of California, the trend is actually generally positive at the state level. Right now what is a threat is police, the enforcement arm of the state.
Right now the commies are on the right side of the most pressing issue of our day. Right now they, along with moms, veterans, teachers, and ordinary people who can’t stand at least one major aspect of state evil anymore are getting their asses kicked for being on the right side of that issue. Right now they look like this.
But they’re also resisting. They’re doing more with bike helmets and cardboard to beat back the feds, stop abuse, and demand better until they are heard than most boog bois can dream of-see here and here, for instance. They are so much of what libertarians have talked about for 40 years and more in theory put into reality.
If we’re going to keep saying all this, it’s time for us to put our money where our mouths are.
They’re out in the streets, standing up to that tyrannical government.
Where are we?