nyc post trump: ngo's and the cooptation of resistance
thinking about the destructive impact of NGOs, particularly this latest outbreak in NYC post-trump. during #abolitionsquare court outreach last summer, while passing out abolitionist literature, free cigarettes, bottles of water on the steps of 100 centre st -- folks coming out of jail were making remarks about it being more effective than many programs brought by NGOs into the communities. irregardless of its accuracy, i found it to be a particularly striking comment; how could packs of Newports and screams of fuck the police, possibly be considered more effective, even if just momentarily, than NGOs, with their vast resources, their constant funding, their seeming “expertise”? it begs the question: how truly disconnected, ineffective and out-of-touch are NGOs? and perhaps the more urgent question becomes: why do we continue allowing them space to co-opt resistance work?
i think arundhati roy best summarizes this phenomena: "NGOs give the impression that they are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state. and they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right. they alter the public psyche. they turn people into dependent victims and blunt the edges of political resistance. NGOs form a sort of buffer between the sarkar and public."
we definitely saw this outbreak of NGO-ization with the #NoBan protest at JFK airport. the first friday night drew thousands of protestors as folks around the country shutdown the militarized entry points into the illegally occupied territory of the united snakes. now, had a “peaceful” march not been immediately called for the day after by a large NGO in battery park, which might as well have been another state from far rockaway, tens of thousands of protestors *would* have (perhaps militantly) shutdown JFK airport again on saturday. instead, those protestors were directed by NGOs to gather into a space sanctioned by the state, far away from any airports, encouraging folks to express their distress at empty buildings instead of the colonial agents actively enforcing the repressive policies of trump. it worked exceedingly well. the organic anger that had formed was squashed as quickly as it arose. the march closed on time, the lawyers remained with an open diner tab at JFK terminal, and the organic anger was effectively co-opted by those who claim to be in "the resistance” as they collected a nice pay-check with a few pro-bono hours and called it a day. to be clear, most people in this world never get a chance to "call it a day"
right now we are seeing this play out across many radical movement spaces. it is one of the key tactics of empire -- the cooptation of resistance is an old trick that colonial governments and settler colonial states have used for ages. with an overtly white nationalist party in power, it seems amerikkka can no longer masquerade under the pretense of compassionate imperialism. video clips of obama cracking jokes no longer hides the drone strikes and deportations, the racism, the intensifying income inequality, the privatization of resources, the severe climate destruction. folks are waking up, starting to imagine another solution than what is offered by the repressive state-- and as expected, NGOs and local politicians have swept in to catch the distress before it materializes into anything remotely challenging to the status quo. as the contradictions of capitalism continue stretching to a breaking point -- trump is fast becoming another opportunity for the democratic party to re-establish its credibility and legitimacy — and it is foolish, and frankly, childishly naive, to pretend the democrats are any different ideologically to trump when it comes to war, profit, privatization, mass incarceration, income inequality. they both undoubtedly serve the same ruling class interests; one just has a bedazzled smokescreen, the other a more repugnant, off-orange one, but all that actually matters is the violent imperialist agenda that lies behind that smokescreen.
and so here we are: anti-trump marches are attended by NYC mayor de blasio, positioning himself as being on the side of New Yorkers -- while simultaneously thanking the racist, sexist, anti-queer, militarized NYPD who occupy Black, Brown, and poor communities, and lock up tens of thousands of people on Rikers Island for not having $2.75 subway fare. campaigns are popping up with lawyers asking marginalized communities to call and "ask" the same sell-out DAs literally putting their communities into cages, to stop prosecuting -- as if that isn't what they are paid and trained to do, as if appealing to the moral sense of the oppressor has ever worked. history shows us, repeatedly, that it does not. empire has no conscience, and thus no morality to appeal to. what cooptation does, is put communities who are already at risk, into further risk under a deceptive and repressive banner of reform -- while erasing the long-standing radical grassroots work that directly confronts and challenges the amerikkkan empire. it blurs the critical battle lines between resistance and the commodification of resistance. we must be clear which side of the line we are on. the final stand against empire will inevitably be at the front steps of the repressive organs of the state and those who execute its functions -- the courts, the jails, the prison camps -- which together keep the bloody agenda of neoliberal corporate globalization churning along.