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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Toni Morrison: In Defense Of Life

  • Q-This leads to the problem of the depressingly large number of single-parent households and the crisis in unwed teenage pregnancies. Do you see a way out of that set of worsening circumstances and statistics?
  • A-Well, neither of those things seems to me a debility. I don’t think a female running a house is a problem, a broken family. It’s perceived as one because of the notion that a head is a man. Two parents can’t raise a child any more than one. You need a whole community-everybody-to raise a child. The notion that the head is the one who brings in the most money is a patriarchal notion, that a woman-and I have raised two children, alone-is somehow lesser than a male head. Or that I am incomplete without the male. This is not true. And the little nuclear family is a paradigm that just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for white people or for black people. Why we are hanging onto it, I don’t know. It isolates people into little units-people need a larger unit.
  • Q-and teenage pregnancies? 
  • A- Everybody’s grandmother was a teenager when they got pregnant. Whether they were 15 or 16, they ran a house, a farm, they went to work, they raised their children.
  • Q-But everybody’s grandmother didn’t have the potential for living a different kind of life. These teenagers-16, 15-haven’t had time to find out if they have special abilities, talents. They’re babies having babies.
  • A-The child’s not going to hurt them. Of course, it is absolutely time consuming. But who cares about the schedule? What is this business that you have to finish school at 18? They’re not babies. We have decided that puberty extends to what-30? When do people stop being kids? The body is ready to have babies, that’s why they are in a passion to do it. Nature wants it done then, when the body can handle it, not after 40, when the income can handle it.
  • Q-You don’t feel that these girls will never know whether they could have been teachers, or whatever?
  • A-They can be teachers. They can be brain surgeons. We have to help them become brain surgeons. That’s my job. I want to take them all in my arms and say, ‘You baby is beautiful and so are you and, honey, you can do it. And when you want to be a brain surgeon, cal me-I will take care of you baby.’ That’s the attitude you have to have about human life. But we don’t want to pay for it. I don’t think anybody cares about unwed mothers unless they’re black-or poor. The question is not morality, the question is money. That’s what we’re upset about. We don’t care whether they have babies or not.
  • Q-How do you break the cycle of poverty? You can’t just hand out money
  • A-Why not? Everybody gets everything handed to them. The rich get it handed-they inherit it. I don’t mean just inheritance of money. I mean what people take for granted among the middle and upper classes, which is nepotism, the old-boy network. That’s shared bounty of class.

Teenage Mothers Are Not The Problem

There is this pervasive shaming and stigmatization of young parenthood disguised as “teen pregnancy prevention”. It is so normalized by the corporate media that many don’t question the depravity of shaming young parents and few find it disturbing. But it is so very disturbing. From MTV’s Teen Mom to the Candies Foundations and United Ways offensive and and misinformed “teen pregnancy prevention” ads.

What is the purpose of stigmatizing young parenthood and shaming young parents? What is the purpose of drilling into girls that the worst thing they can do is have a baby young?

So that when a teenage young woman gets pregnant she is so filled with feelings of failure and shame because she is sentencing her baby and herself to a horrible life that she contacts a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) who then confirm all her fears and add a few more before assigning her an adoption counselor who tells her what a brave selfless decision she is making as her stomach aches for her newborn and she ends up pumping milk for her child now in the care of strangers.

 

Recently, under it’s “Good News” section, Huffington Post ran a congratulatory story about a teenage mother who pumped gallons and gallons of milk for her baby who was being raised by strangers. It is curious that this is the image of teenage mothers that the corporate media portrays positively: a young mother pumping milk for her baby that she is aching for.

What is the message that this sends? That teen mothers are only acceptable are only worthy of praise when they are doing the “best” for their babies and allowing them to have “adult” parents.

There are never news stories about teen mothers lovingly caring for their children even though this is the honest reflection of the vast majority of young mothers.

“Teen pregnancy prevention” papers over the real problems that make life a challenge for families young and old. Capitalism+White-Supremacy+Misogyny. The huge intertwined ball of systemic oppression whose existence is a constant attack on working-class families of color all over the globe.

How about fighting for rent control so that teen mothers have access to truly affordable housing?

How about fighting for a real living wage so that teen mothers don’t have to work two jobs to care for their children?

How about fighting to end the gender pay gap that has women of color earning less than white men, white women, and men of color?

How about fighting to provide a real safety net for women with abusive partners so they can leave the relationship without making themselves and their children more vulnerable?

How about dismantling the white supremacist classist educational system that suspends and expels working-class children of color at outrageous rates starting in preschool.

How about dismantling the school to prison pipeline that targets working-class children of color for consumption.

How about dismantling the prison industrial complex that profits from tearing Black and Brown families apart.

How about working to create a world that is hospitable to young families…to all families.


A child is not the problem. A young mother is not the problem. A young family is not the problem.