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Barbara Ransby on the Biden Problem: Social Movements Must Defeat Trump & Also Hold Dems Accountable

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Amid a mass uprising against racism and state violence, social movements are not just fighting hostility and backlash from President Trump, but also dealing with a “Biden problem,” according to historian, author and activist Barbara Ransby. “I think it’s fair to say that Joe Biden is not our dream candidate, by any means,” she says. “We should be critical of Joe Biden. We should be ready to hold Joe Biden accountable come January. But we should be clear about the need to defeat Trump in November.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. This is The Quarantine Report. As the antiracist uprising and movement to defund police continues across the country, President Trump called the phrase “Black Lives Matter” a “symbol of hate” Wednesday. He made the charge in a tweet attacking New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s plan to paint “Black Lives Matter” in huge, large letters on Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower. Trump said the city’s plan is, quote, “denigrating this luxury Avenue.”

This came just days after the president approvingly retweeted a video Sunday of a man in The Villages retirement community in Florida shouting “white power” at antiracist protesters. Trump shared the video with the caption, “Thank you to the great people of The Villages. The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall,” unquote. The man who shouted “white power” was driving a golf cart with a “Trump 2020” sign on its windshield. The video was removed from Trump’s Twitter feed about three hours later.

Meanwhile, Trump is also doubling down on his defense of the statues of racists, slave owners and colonizers that protesters have been pulling down across the country. Last week, he signed an executive order to prosecute people who deface federal monuments, and withhold federal funds from cities that don’t protect the statues. On Tuesday, he tweeted he would veto any bill that renames military bases named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee or others.

In the same tweet, he called Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” Cherokee writer Rebecca Nagle tweeted, quote, “Just a reminder that when Trump calls Warren Pocahontas the person being harmed isn’t the white woman who spent most of her adult life falsely claiming to have Native 'heritage'. It’s Native people, especially the Powhatan.”

Well, our next guest, a fierce advocate of Black Lives Matter, says that while we must defeat Trump in November, we also have to organize against Joe Biden. That’s the focus of professor Barbara Ransby’s latest piece for In These Times headlined “Our Biden Problem.” In it, she writes, quote, “[I]f Biden is nobody’s dream, Trump is a nightmare. … Do we hold our noses yet again and support a candidate so grossly out of sync with our values, or do we sit on the sidelines and let an aspiring fascist hold power?” Barbara Ransby is a historian, author and activist adviser to the Movement for Black Lives. Her latest book, Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Professor Ransby.


AMY GOODMAN: As Joe Biden came out this week in Delaware to give a speech blasting Trump’s approach to the coronavirus, if you can talk about the decision that people have to make in November, and what you’ve decided?

BARBARA RANSBY: Right. Well, thank you for having me again. It’s an important discussion, and it’s a difficult discussion. And, you know, I will vote for Joe Biden, essentially as a way to vote against Trump. But I think we need to be sober and clear about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I think it would be false to become cheerleaders for Joe Biden, and I think that’s a lot of what electoral politics sort of trains us to do. You know, we have to defend our guy at all costs — and it’s usually a guy — and we have to mute criticisms. But I think people are tired of being lied to by politicians and by people who organize for politicians. And I think it’s fair to say that Joe Biden is not our dream candidate, by any means, to gear ourselves up to both defeat Trump, but also to hold Joe Biden accountable for the progressive agenda that is in motion right now.

I think the other lesson in this is that — you know, presidential elections are important, and I think this one is probably the most important of our lives, and I don’t think anyone should sit it out. I don’t think we have that luxury. So let me be clear about that. But what this moment also teaches us is that people in the street are voting for a certain agenda that whoever is elected is going to have to contend with. Now, as much as Trump is championing his racism and trying to mobilize his base around racist ideas, we are still making wins, from Minneapolis to New York to L.A., under one of the most racist presidents that this country has seen. So, I think, in the same way that a movement arose under Barack Obama, even though that was a very different kind of historic presidential administration, we also see this movement, and movement including a lot of white people, rising up under Trump and actually moving the needle on progressive change.

So, we should be critical of Joe Biden. We should be ready to hold Joe Biden accountable come January. But we should be clear about the need to defeat Trump in November. I think we can hold both of those things.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Trump tweeted, ”NYC is cutting Police $'s by ONE BILLION DOLLARS, and yet the @NYCMayor is going to paint a big, expensive, yellow Black Lives Matter sign on Fifth Avenue, denigrating this luxury Avenue. … Maybe our GREAT Police, who have been neutralized and scorned by a mayor who hates & disrespects them, won't let this symbol of hate be affixed to New York’s greatest street.” Can you talk about President Trump referring to Black Lives Matter as a “symbol of hate”?

BARBARA RANSBY: Yeah, it’s just one of a litany of outrages coming from President Trump. It’s said to be provocative. It’s said to be insulting. It’s said to be denigrating. And it’s not surprising, sadly, because the mantra of his administration has been to stoke racism. So this is another example. To say that “Black lives matter” — an affirming statement — is insulting is just to underscore how little Black lives actually matter to him.

But what I also want to say about that, you know, there’s been the occupation at City Hall in New York, Nelini Stamp and a number of wonderful young activists who have been leading protests all across this country, including in New York City. The statement “Black lives matter” is the beginning of a conversation; it’s not the end of a conversation. So, I think the artists who have done murals all across the country, the beautiful illustration in Washington, D.C., which not only wrote “Black Lives Matter,” but then activists came along and wrote, in the same font, in the same-sized letters, “Defund the Police” — you know, there’s a very specific message there about defunding police but also funding our people. And so, there’s push around participatory budgeting. There’s push around investment in all the kinds of social programs that have been defunded over the years, that are causing such suffering among our people.

AMY GOODMAN: As a growing movement calls for defunding the police, Joe Biden is pushing to increase police budgets. In an op-ed for USA Today, he called for 300 million more dollars to go toward so-called community policing. Biden wrote, quote, “I do not support defunding police. The better answer is to give police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms, and to condition other federal dollars on completing those reforms.” Earlier this month — last month, Biden faced criticism for remarks he made about police training, during a meeting with African American community leaders at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware. This is what he said.

JOE BIDEN: The idea that instead of standing there and teaching a cop when there’s an unarmed person coming at him with a knife or something, shooting him in the leg instead of the heart is a very different thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Police should shoot him in the leg. Professor Ransby?

BARBARA RANSBY: Right. I mean, Biden is so out of touch on this question and many others. It’s really depressing. What we can hope for with a Biden administration is that he is surrounded by people smarter and more committed and clearer than he is. And I hope that that will be true.

I think he can also be pushed. I mean, I was heartened by the unity task forces that were set up several weeks ago with people like AOC and Pramila Jayapal and others, Sara Nelson. I was very heartened by that. I don’t know what’s happened to those task forces. I see the new DNC Platform Committee is not inclusive of all those progressive voices.

But yeah, I mean, that’s extremely out of touch. You know, Mariame Kaba wrote a brilliant piece in The New York Times a couple weeks ago, really one of our former Chicago activists, now in New York, but who has done so much research, along with Angela Davis and Ruthie Gilmore and others, around abolition, both of prisons and police. And she lays out the case that many of the reforms, and including bloating police budgets, have only pulled police forces toward more violence, toward more both dangerous and incompetent interventions in situations where other skills and other interventions are necessary.

So, I don’t know that Biden has read that literature, but I don’t really think it’s a question of education. I think he has to be pushed with enormous resolve and enormous force by the movement that’s growing, that people want defunding and want funding of other kinds of services and interventions in our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about these primary victories and losses. I want to first go to Jamaal Bowman, the former middle school principal, who defeated New York Congressmember Eliot Engel, the 16-term Foreign Affairs Committee chair, in an upset victory in last week’s primary. Bowman ran on a Green New Deal, Medicare for All platform, recently joined protests demanding an end to racism and police brutality. Yesterday, he spoke about his win and campaign tactics on Democracy Now!

JAMAAL BOWMAN: We connected with those who have been — who had been mostly disenfranchised and ignored by Congressman Engel in our political system for decades. We wanted to connect with them first. We didn’t just target those who consistently vote in primaries. We targeted everyone. Those who are registered Democrats but have become disengaged from the system, we wanted to let them know that their voices mattered, that they were important, and we needed their brilliance and experience to help us craft the policy that we’re going to be fighting for in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have the apparent victory of Bowman here in New York, but then, in Kentucky, former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath has been declared the winner over the progressive state Representative Charles Booker in last week’s closely watched Democratic Senate primary. McGrath received 45.4% of the vote; Booker received 42.6%. It was incredibly close, even though McGrath outspent Booker by a margin of 10 to 1. Booker’s popularity soaring in recent weeks as he took part in Black Lives Matter protests and spoke against police violence. McGrath will now go on to face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November. So, can you talk about what’s happening in these races around the country?

BARBARA RANSBY: Right. I think that’s really important when we talk about electoral work, Amy. I mean, Booker’s near win, even though it wasn’t an absolute win, is significant and shouldn’t be undermined or shouldn’t be minimized. Sometimes we see wins as absolute. So, the fact that he was able to garner so much momentum, I think, is really significant and speaks to potential future wins, particularly in the South.

Now, Jamaal Bowman, you know, what a great candidate. I mean, if we could clone more people like him — former middle school principal, humble guy, smart, courageous, really not afraid to take a stand around progressive issues, including foreign policy issues like Palestine, which is often so controversial for politicians, so difficult for politicians to take a principled stand in support of Palestine. So I think that is a major victory.

Here in Chicago, several years — a couple years ago, we were able to elect nine progressives, several socialists, to the City Council, and they have been able to create space for all kinds of discourse that simply wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. We haven’t had the kind of wins that we want to have just yet, but there are a lot of things in the works, and those city councilpeople are working — those alderpeople are working closely with movement activists. So, I think when we look down ballot, when we look elections at the local level, there is really cause for hope.

And I also want to say, these are not just triumphant individuals who emerge out of nowhere. I want to give props to Justice Democrats, I want to give props to the Working Families Party, both of which endorsed Jamaal Bowman. I also want to give props to the Electoral Justice Project, people like Kayla Reed and Jessica Byrd, coming out of the Movement for Black Lives, who have done so much voter education and really pushed a lot of us on the left to take the electoral work more seriously, to be ambitious for certain kinds of wins.

So, I think while the Democratic Party is still wedded to corporate interests, there is a left flank in the Democratic Party. We’ll see how that plays out over time. But people are pushing for victories small and large, and I think Jamaal Bowman’s victory is a large one.

AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Ransby, I want to thank you for being with us, historian, author, activist adviser to the Movement for Black Lives. Thanks so much for joining us.

When we come back, we look at the disappearance and likely murder of Vanessa Guillén, a 20-year-old soldier at Fort Hood last seen in April. There have been arrests. Stay with us.

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Did the Army Ignore a Soldier’s Murder? Questions Mount over Vanessa Guillén Disappearance

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