Video Protection

New Orleans   There’s a very clear lesson emerging from all the news these days:  keep your cellphone handy and learn how to press video record.  It might not save your life, but it might bring you or someone else justice, and that’s still important.  You can be a good neighbor by bringing in someone’s trash can or making a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy, but you can also be Johnny-on-the-spot when the stuff goes down and be the one who has the video on their cellphone that might make all of the difference in the world.

We see the evidence almost every day during police encounters.  Someone with a quick cellphone video in Minneapolis bared the lie on the police report of the death and resistance of a black man on the streets there. The video made it clear that one cop’s knee was on the man’s neck, and he was telling them he couldn’t breathe.  This sounds like a rerun doesn’t it?  All four of these policemen were summarily fired.  The investigation was quick and conclusive.  What does it take for the police to learn that they need to do right or the public is increasingly aware and ready?

Videos are exposing the commonplace racism that African-Americans, especially black men, are experiencing regularly.

In a gated community in Oklahoma, a black delivery driver was blocked by two men from exiting after making his delivery.  They claimed they were from the homeowners’ association, and demanded to know where he was going and how he got the gate code.  He wouldn’t tell them the name of the customer, because it was private, despite their threat to call the police.  He recorded them on Faeebook Live.  He called the police himself.

In New York City’s Central Park an African-American, Harvard-educated birdwatcher asked a woman to leash her dog, as is required by the park.  She refused, and be began recording the exchange.  She threatened him, and then did call the police and falsely claimed she was being assaulted by an African-American man.  Eventually, the police didn’t come, and she leashed and left with her dog.  His sister posted the video and internet sleuths were able to identify the woman and her dog.  Marks on the cocker spaniel, led to her being forced to return the dog to the rescue agency that had allowed her to have it.  Finding that she was working for Franklin-Templeton investment group led to her being fired when even they couldn’t tolerate her racism.

Good manners may have died.  The rouge police may be out of control.  The rich, privileged, and entitled may think they own the world. There are many morals to this story, but one of them is that it makes sense to practice your cellphone skills.  Practice your draw from pocket to hand.  Make the route from your trigger finger to the video icon seamless even in the dark and without your glasses.  A fast finger on the smartphone video recorder may end up being what saves you and our community.  They “gotta learn.”


Mutual Aid and Governmental Responsibility

New Orleans     Mutual aid or solidarity work has long been a feature of political activity in times of crisis and often at all times.  ACORN affiliates around the world have been involved at different levels in such work as we have tried to respond to the crises the pandemic has wrought on our members.  Our offices in Delhi and Mumbai are still providing daily meals to thousands in the slums where we organize for example.

The ACORN Union in England and Wales had mobilized up to 5000 volunteers to assist community residents in the sixteen cities where we had branches in our largest effort globally.  This week in they launched a national campaign called “Housing is Health” with demonstrations of various sorts throughout Britain.  Cancelling the debt accrued from deferred rent payments, suspended during the crisis was central, but partially, they were moving the membership from service back into action.

They understood that members needed to not be confused about ACORN, its mission, or its purpose.  Where do we draw the line between government responsibility and the voluntary good will and good works of neighbors?  This is an ongoing tension between the right and the left, with the left understanding that government has to be accountable and get on the job, and the right pretending that government is unnecessary and charity can somehow replace the weight that tax dollars can bring.

It was interesting to see this argument jump into the mainstream in a recent New Yorker article about mutual aid.  The article makes a good point about how often the media obscures the fact that mutual aid is covering up the fact of government mismanagement and callousness, as we’ve seen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Harvey.   The question that really engages the reporter is whether such neighbor-based good works sow the seeds of permanent change or are temporary.  On one hand, he quotes Harvard political scientist Nancy Rosenblum saying that “there is little evidence that disaster generates an appetite for permanent civic engagement.”  On the other he references Rebecca Solnit and her classic, A Paradise Built in Hell, and her hope that mutual aid is “a series of networks of resource and labor distribution and as an orientation, the former may become less necessary as ‘normal’ returns, but the latter may last.”

I think this is less point, counterpoint, than a way of saying the same thing.  The experience – in the whole – won’t last, and it won’t bring permanent change.  Far from it, but the change it brings to the participants, even if not to society and government as a whole might last and change them forever.  That’s a good thing, and might seed other efforts to create change and to force governmental accountability, even if new forms of organization do not evolve out of the crisis.  Admittedly, this is an exercise in mining the silver lining in the clouds, but it is what we do.