The Capire team spoke with Cindy Wiesner about the vision of United States grassroots movements and the challenges of feminist and anti-racist struggles. Cindy talked about Donald Trump’s defeat in the US 2020 elections, the diversity of neoliberalism and the struggles against it. She also addressed the Black Lives Matter movement and their anti-racist proposals, and spoke about feminist economy and the struggle for environmental justice.
Cindy Wiesner is the executive director of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ), a US-based alliance of grassroots community organizations, regional and national networks. GGJ is a multiracial, multisectoral, intergenerational movement-building alliance. It has come together to say “no” to war and occupation, not only around the world but within the communities in the United States, to say “no” to the climate crisis and global warming, and to propose a just transition to a anti-racist, feminist, regenerative economy. They are active in international social movements alliances, such as the Jornada Continental por la Democracia y Contra el Neoliberalismo, and also members of the World March of Women.
Daughter of a Salvadoran mother and a Colombian-German father, Cindy was born in the working class part of Hollywood, California and started to get involved with politics in college in the early 1990s. She was very influenced by the anti-apartheid movement, the anti-intervention movement in Central America, and also the struggle against police brutality. She became a feminist, she came out as a lesbian and she also decided that it was powerful to organize people on the streets against the war, but also build fighting organizations of the working class. Read the interview below.
Since before the elections, we have followed the intense work that you carried out with the political objective of removing Trump from the government. Considering the advances in the organizational and grassroots mobilization for Black lives, for women and also with the leftist organizations, we would like to hear your analysis on what defines the electoral defeat of Trump.
In 2016, when Trump got elected, we knew that we had to really come together in a way that the US movements had not come together in many decades. We knew his administration was going to come after every civil, labor, social justice advance or victory. He began to attack and cut. He basically was cutting back the safety net with healthcare, housing, education, washing his hands from any responsibility the State should be able to have for its people. We knew that we needed to fight him at every level. Against Trump’s strong anti-immigration hysteria, his climate denial, his drill-dig-burn orientation to land and resources, but also his very clear racism. For the past 4 years we’ve seen one attack after another and, even though we defeated Trump now, the reality is that it is going to take decades to actually get back to where we were and push beyond there.
Our task is to build back, but to build much more boldly—this is what the multiple crises are showing us. We have to continue to push. We have choices, if we continue with this trend of global right-wing authoritarianism and what I call “the diversity of neoliberalism” like the Biden/Harris administration, or if we build something completely new. For Grassroots Global Justice and many of the organizations and alliances that we are part of, we have an opportunity now for the whole reorganization of society. What seemed impossible nine months ago is now possible. It’s gonna take deep organizing, it’s gonna take a strategy, it’s gonna take action, it’s gonna take legislative demand and it is also gonna take electoral power, but we have an opportunity to provide an alternative vision.
This summer in the United States, we had the biggest mass mobilizations in our whole history. An estimated fifty million people going onto the streets in response to the murder of George Floyd and many other Black people. We witnessed a Black-led multi-racial front in every city/town coming out in the pandemic by the millions, everyday, in permanent mobilization in defense of Black lives. It really showed the reckoning with racism and white supremacy at all levels. It was so significant because it also inspired mobilizations all over the world.
The 2016 election in this country created what is now known as the Squad, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and in these past elections, the Squad expanded to even more radical folks. It’s important for us to think about this very comprehensive, multilayered, really political agenda that begins to make the demands around, for example, of People’s Bailout instead of a corporations’ bailout, the Green New Deal, the demand of the Movement for Black Lives that is called The Breathe Act, the demand coming from students to cancel their student debt, Medicare for All, just to mention some of the top movement demands, but also challenging the undemocratic process of topics that are not even up to what is really challenging on the electoral college.
As many people may have learned, there is the popular vote, which basically doesn’t really count, and there is the electoral college system that defines the presidency. And that electoral college should be abolished because it was created during slavery and it only exists to give priority to the white ruling elite. We have to abolish that because it is incongruent with the popular vote of one person, one vote. In the aftermath of the elections, the social movements are positioning ourselves to be able to articulate a coherent set of transformative demands, but it’s not easy and I think that’s going to be the challenge for the movements: to come together in this kind of post-Trump regime and be able to continue fighting both Trumpism and neoliberalism.
Trump’s electoral defeat has been an electoral defeat of the authoritarian, fascist, racist, and misogynist right-wing. But even defeated, he continues with an important presence in society—expressed even in the voting numbers. At the same time, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris present a democratic appearance, although we know that the project of the Wall Street democrats is related to what we call the “authoritarianism of the market.” How do you evaluate the character of the Biden administration and its composition, thinking about the challenges of democracy and the struggle against neoliberalism in this new scenario?
There’s going to be a level of relief that Trump is no longer in office because of the damage and attacks, and in a lot of ways, the genocide, because of the pandemic. The number of people dying from Covid-19 in the United States is shameful, and is a result of how the Republicans and Trump have mis-managed the pandemic. When people talk about Biden they say that he is empathetic. “He cares about people. He will not be vulgar.” For many people that matters and that will be enough and that is when they will stop paying attention to the politics. We have been in an abusive relationship with Trump, so Biden will feel better and different. We as a movement have to understand that for people this is important, not having that level of terror and fear is important. But, then, it is about how the movement positions itself to continue building on this momentum and be clear that a neoliberal approach may be kinder, but not better or take care of the needs of all.
We have a two party system. There are no viable alternatives in terms of other parties; most of us on the left have a huge critique on the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has taken for granted the Black vote, the Latino vote, the women’s vote, and the progressive vote. Time and time again they keep creating strategies and putting resources to try to convince white folks that voted for Trump to vote in Democratic Party, spending more time/resources on the center/right and not on the progressive/the left. This is a failed strategy, this is why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. If there would not have been an uprising this summer, Biden would have lost, because of the Democratic Party insistence in not speaking to the relevant issues of Black people, Latino people, working class people, etc. They take our vote for granted.
The protagonists of change were fueled by the uprising this summer, and we were able to be part of a momentum channeling the uprising and electoralizing that movement. We had unprecedented numbers of Latino votes, of young people voting, Black folks voting and particularly in Black cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Latino/a cities like Phoenix. The places that came to be contested were the places that delivered the votes for Biden/Harris.
President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris are appointing many women, Black people, Latinos/as to positions in their cabinet, and I think that people feel that this is important. We have Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first African-American, the first South Asian, the first daughter of immigrants to be in that position as vice president, and we have to be very clear around this notion of the diversity of neoliberalism. In his campaign, Biden talked about four areas of prioritization which were racial justice, climate justice, economics, and the pandemic. That is great! It is a great priority, but then when we see who he has put in his cabinet to run the different departments, it is a lot of people from the Obama era, people that have ties to Wall Street, to the industry, people that are part of the problem. But we have the first Black man nominated to run the Department of Defense, being put forward as the head of the Pentagon and everyone is thinking that this is great, but he is on the board of Raytheon Technologies, a military developer of weapons. That is why this question of identity and the diversity of neoliberalism is really important for us to understand that, yes, there will be many firsts, he will use the representations of people, but then, because of that, many people will not interrogate what their politics are or how their past practice has been and that is dangerous. We need to keep mobilizing and keep pressuring and developing an agenda that goes beyond our movements but that becomes part of a bigger moment, so that people start articulating why we need a Green New Deal, why we need the Breathe Act, Defunding the Pentagon, etc., why we need the things that we demand.
We have been having a lot of conversations in the Rising Majority [a coalition that seeks to develop a collective strategy and shared practice that will involve labor, youth, abolition, immigrant rights, climate change, feminist, anti-war/anti-imperialist, and economic justice forces] around what we mean by democracy and radical democracy. We’re very clear that we live in a bourgeois democracy and that is not the democracy that we believe in. So, how do we continue to articulate and practice radical democracy? It’s very important to us to have a relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Americas and around the world because we have so much to learn and there is an opportunity of real deep sharing. Being able to look to Chile, for example. What started as a fight about fare hikes have resulted in a change of the Constitution and the way they did it was through a Constituent Assembly. Those are very important lessons and experiences. What seemed impossible is possible. That is the lesson of this past year.
How do you see the anti-racist proposals of defund the police, and their relationship with foreign policy and militarization?
About six years ago when the Black Lives Matter movement was born out of the tragic murder of Michael Brown, there was massive mobilizations and the slogan that came out around Black Lives Matter just resonated and millions all over went to the streets. Since then, they have been trying to figure out how do you go from a spontaneous movement to an organization and that is not easy and is not something that happens all the time. They really went for it and, a couple of years later, they created a network called the Movement for Black Lives, which is made up of about 150 affiliates. They built different focuses around policies, political education and building a Black-led multi-racial united front. This movement is primarily led by Black women that are feminists, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, many of them queer, and there is a lot of gender nonconforming folks. That core of leadership is very visionary. They created a vision that was a Black radical agenda and, within that, they wanted to combat incrementalism. Many people were saying that the police just needed training on race or that they needed cameras on them as a way to have them not being so terrorists. But these approaches have not reduced police violence at all. Part of the bigger vision, I would say, is that the Movement for Black Lives has an abolitionist perspective, the Angela Davis articulation around feminist abolition, abolition of prisons, raising the question: how do we live and redefine safety and security? How do we think about repair when harm is done? This is the political foundation that gives birth to the ideas and slogan of “defund the police.”
They chose the “defund the police” as a slogan, and that slogan is so controversial. The Democrats and centrist Democrats are blaming the losses of the party on the statewide level because of “defund the police,” because some of the candidates were supporting this. Biden has been very clear that he does not support this. Even Bernie Sanders has said that he doesn’t support this. Trump and all of the Republicans, they think that this is the most blasphemous thing, like Satan! [laughs] What happened was that it made people question why police departments get millions and millions of dollars. And in fact, in a lot of cities, almost half of the city budget goes to the police. It really began to create a new paradigm around “why are we funding these people that are killing people, terrorizing Black communities and immigrant communities?” All of this became a wake-up call, especially to white America, to see the murder of Black people day after day. It is nothing new and it still happens. Two days ago they murdered another young man in Ohio. Every day there are murders, just like in Brazil and other places.
What I think that is really smart about the Breathe Act is that they created a whole legislative agenda that says that if you divest from the police, you can invest in a lot of other important issues like mental health, education, jobs. And these proposals have come from the Movement for Black Lives. They were able to very quickly not just be on the streets but also to give this articulation of proposal around the defunding of the police.
And how does this connect with foreign policy and militarization?
When it comes to militarization, there is a growing movement that has been organizing around what we call the defunding of the military industrial complex, divesting from the Pentagon, from military bases, from jails and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. Being able to be clear about how much of our federal budget is militarized—again, like local and state level budgets, almost two thirds of our national budget is militarized. We have been making the connections between the divestment of the police and the divestment of the military industrial complex. That is very significant. It’s part of our work and demands to really begin to think about campaigns around divestment and forcing the questioning in what the US government invests in and where the taxpayer money goes. In this past year, we have been part of this process called the Feminist Foreign Policy initiative, where we will launch our report on a feminist foreign policy approach: how do we understand the nuances of what it means to articulate our position on things like sanctions. We know that sanctions kill—it’s just a slow death of starvation or withholding of medicine for the masses. Also, what is our position on diplomacy, what are our recommendations on war and occupation.
Some in the left in the United States have a reactionary position when it comes to Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba. And part of what we are trying to articulate is a new organization and we know that Biden is going to come in with his whole perspective about resetting the US as a global power. He had said that Trump was an “anti-globalist” nationalist, therefore the US was being perceived as weaker, so he thinks that we need to reclaim that global hegemony. That is dangerous. Especially with Biden being “nicer” and empathetic, I think that the foreign policy agenda is going to be more complicated for people in the US, but clearly also for people around the world. My prediction is that Biden is going to pick up again in terms of more global aggression of war, supporting occupations, militarization, and potential interventions in countries like Iran or Venezuela. We articulate why it is important to us to continue focusing on this attempt at repositioning and not to be comfortable with the Biden-Harris administration because it can go back to the Obama era or even the Bill Cliton era of aggression, war, and occupation.
You carry forward the proposals of regenerative feminist economy and also participate in this process of convergence towards a Green New Deal. From the outside, however, we have seen repercussions of the idea of the Green New Deal linked to a new push towards the financialization of nature, the green economy. Could you explain to us a little more about the strategies of the left and the movements in that proposal?
As part of the Environmental Justice and Climate Justice movement, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network, and the Climate Justice Alliance, we have been following the COP [United Nations Conference of Parties annual negotiations on climate] process for many many years. We were in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010. We were also at the People’s Summit at Rio+20 along with the World March of Women, La Via Campesina, and Friends of the Earth. We have a critique of carbon market mechanisms and the reliance on what we call false solutions, which basically are market-based solutions that are being pushed forward not only by the UN but also by corporations and by many of the international climate organizations as a way to resolve the issue of global warming. There is a whole critique on fracking, nuclear and geoengineering and “technical fixes” to the ecological crisis. We believe that it is important to stop carbon emissions at the source, which means stopping the pipelines, stopping fracking and stopping nuclear as an energy source. We are articulating that we need a just transition to a regenerative economy. A component of that is really thinking about local living economies, bringing the concepts of food sovereignty, energy democracy, the commons, and the rights of nature, and this means really reconceptualizing the reorganization of society and how we live.
We live on a finite planet. There is a limit and we have seen it, with the increase of floodings, hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, etc. These once-in-a-while catastrophes are now becoming normal—it is almost seasonal. Every year, now, the whole coast of California is on fire, there are hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast and other parts of Central America, a complete devastation. So, when the Green New Deal was born, it didn’t come from our movements, that would not have been our articulation. It came from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, the Sunrise Movement, which is an organization of young people and it touched the radical imagination of many people—that we needed to bring together this new kind of economic and political contract, creating jobs and a green economy. Once the Green New Deal got traction, the grassroots organizing sector felt that it was important to bring our politics and our solutions into the legislative level. All four alliances of It Takes Roots are now part of the Green New Deal Network which is a new national formation that is organizing how to push a legislative agenda through Congress. We thought it was important for us to be on the table and that was a big decision despite the way it was initiated because we wanted to shape and define what the Green New Deal should really be, so that it is not based on a green capitalist and greenwashing model, but what we actually want is for it to be based on what we believe, which is an anti-racist, feminist regenerative economy.
That is a big struggle, and you are right: everybody is defining the Green New Deal and there is no common framework around what it means—that is part of the problem. We developed a report that got launched last spring called the People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy and it has 14 planks on how do we see a regenerative economy from an indigenous perspective, a Black liberation perspective, a food sovereignty and agroecology perspective, to a feminist perspective. That is what we are fighting for! The Green New Deal is a transitional demand and we are fighting right now with our allies in the climate movement, the unions, the Sunrise Movement, and progressive elected officials to push within what we believe that needs to be in that proposal. But yes, we have to be careful when the UN and the climate negotiations happen, and corporations promote the Green New Deal, because they are so great at co-opting it and finding ways to make profit out of it, with all the greenwashing, or they will include false solutions as part of the framework of a global Green New Deal.
For us, it is very clear that indigenous sovereignty and defense of land, defense of the forest and incorporating rights of nature has to be front and centered within that. We have been in conversation with Friends of the Earth in Latin America, and MAB [Movement of People Affected by Dams], and others, to really think about how we define what we mean by energy democracy, by nationalization of energy and what are some of the problems with some of those models. It is a debate around the bold solutions that we need to have that respect indigenous sovereignty, but also national sovereignty. Part of what is important is how we keep putting front and centered that the climate crisis is only going to get worse and that is why we need very radical bold solutions that are coming from the grassroots and from people that are being impacted. Like feminists have been saying and we echo this: we need to center life, not capital, in the economy. This is an opportunity to contend with the dominant and failing ideas, politics and practices. The year 2020 has shown us we need something transformative and led by the people who have the revolutionary solutions.