Erica Garner: The White Progressive’s Dilemma

Erica Garner died at 27 years old in the closing days of 2017. She left behind an 8 year old daughter, Alyssa, and a 4 month old newborn son named Eric after her dad. Little Alyssa starred in the 2016 campaign video for Bernie Sanders along with her mom. In the short glimpse of their lives, Erica reveals the sorrow in both their lives since an NYPD officer killed the man who was daddy for Erica and pop-pop to her daughter. “Are you ok mom? Do you miss pop-pop” asks the little girl in the film. Now the same child has the added trauma of losing her mother, her protector and guiding light. A tragedy happening in quick succession to Black and Indigenous children of the world because of Western led capitalism and neo-colonialism.

Erica Garner was typical of the young Black women found in cities across America: working class, committed young mom, weaving through the maze of capitalism to provide the basics of life for her family. Erica was unknown outside her circle of family and friends but when she died on December 30th her name trended worldwide on Twitter.

Her rise from ordinary to extraordinary was born of a routine tragedy in America:  State forces murdering citizens; and of the brave action of an ordinary citizen, Ramsey Orta, who dared to film the crime.

The powers that be hoped that Erica, after making a few statements at a press conference would slip back into obscurity.

The ruling class holds working class people of color in utter contempt. They can’t empathize with us or imagine us having the ability to feel the same pain or joy. Our life value is low and our death is at best irrelevant.

To the NYPD, Bill De Blasio, and President Obama, Eric Garner was just another surplus Black man. His death meant nothing and his family’s feelings meant nothing.

Erica kicked back against the devaluation of her dad’s life, her reflex changing the trajectory of her legacy forever. Erica’s defiance was the sick-and-tired reaction of a generation raised in the illusion of color blindness but faced  too much injustice to believe it.

Erica led protests every week regardless of the weather. She spoke at conferences, rallies, and wrote articles. In 2016, she endorsed Bernie Sanders and went to bat hard for him. She spoke at his events, made a powerful video for his campaign, and put in groundwork campaigning in South Carolina. She  wasn’t “liberal” for endorsing Sanders. He appeared to be the most progressive candidate with the highest chance of winning. If Bernie won, she had plans for running for congress. Erica understood the importance of taking power.

When Sanders fouled the Democratic nomination, Erica moved on and endorsed the Green Party ticket even though it was being projected that Hillary Clinton would win. Erica was principled.

Erica did not have a college degree, she was an organic working class intellectual whose knowledge came directly from her fight against the oppressive system. Erica used her platform on social media to criticize the Democrats, capitalism, Israel, US wars, and the police state. “When i think about capitalism I think about slavery, share cropping, bank scandal wall street donors… #HillaryClinton’s people” she summed up on twitter.

Even with the everyday stresses of being a working class Black women and mother under capitalism along with the added stress of being an activist with the NYPD on her back, Erica vowed “I’m in this fight forever” weeks before she died.

White Progressives and Working Class Black Women

Bernie Sanders betrayed Erica Garner and flowery condolences from his twitter page can’t change that. Two days after her death Bernie hovered over a Bible to swear in Bill De Blasio into his second term as mayor of NYC. Months before, when Erica was still alive Sanders publicly endorsed De Blasio putting his campaign cred behind the “blue lives matter” mayor.

Bill De Blasio is a poor people hating, elitist character who used the spectacle of a black wife and kids to make himself appear progressive. More significantly De Blasio was the one who made Erica’s life hell since the summer day in July when her dad’s life was snuffed out.

Either Bernie Sanders wasn’t listening to Erica or just didn’t care the effect his betrayal would have on her emotional, mental, and physical health. And in turn how his betrayal would effect the little girl who appeared in his video.

Bernie Sanders neither listened to Erica or cared about her wellbeing. His settler colonial status, patriarchal upbringing, and his acculturation into the ruling class made him physically unable to really see a working class Black woman and value her opinion. This misogynoir thing is so hard–he tried to see her but he’d blink and only see stereotypes and Charlie Brown wonk wonk.

He didn’t have the decency to stay out of sight of De Blasio’s inauguration two days after she died. He was in NYC to swear in her antagonist but did he stop by to see her family?

He made a social media statement about her but he also did the same for the notorious right wing supreme court justice Antonin Scalia.

Bernie Sanders has not been called out by his supporters for betraying Erica–someone who put her heart and sweat into his campaign. The only way for former supporters of the Bernie campaign to not appear as racist and classist as he, is to reject the Bernie2020 nonsense. Our future depends on setting our sights on something better than the crumbling façade of a liberal reactionary.

Erica Garner’s life and revolutionary potential was cut short but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a revolutionary. She was a revolutionary, not brought into the fight because of abstract ideals but because of the oppressive details of her life. She had her sight on power, kept her eyes constantly on the prize, and made moves based on the conditions on the ground. Erica didn’t have the support that she needed because of the shortcomings of our movement–revolutionary self criticism is the only thing that can help a movement move forward in the right direction.

Revolutionaries and movements change the dna of nations and communities; let Erica’s story change us.

“WE are not democrats. WE are not republicans. WE are Black in America which means we will NEVER be American. Cant u tell 300 yrs later?”

–Erica Garner 1990-2017

Forthcoming: Erica Garner was NOT homophobic & What Erica Garner’s Death says about Black Lives Matter

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