Intifada at Benton Harbor
by Shemon Salam
Yes, the Intifada at Benton Harbor. The meaning of Intifada is popular uprising and that is exactly what happened at Benton Harbor from June 17-19 when people took to the streets and said enough is enough. They did not have to look far to see the disparity in their lives. Just across the river, another town, St. Joseph , a city of 8,800 comprised of 90 percent whites flourishes with fashionable restaurants, businesses, and shops; and had an average unemployment rate of 2 percent.
As expected, most of the media coverage has been a recount of the rioting. These newspapers representing the interests of rich and powerful corporations cannot possibly understand this "violence." Yet they boast of the heroism and bravery of the bombers that drop bombs on children and women in Iraq. They cannot possibly give any credibility to the demands of oppressed people, in this case black people. This is the media's capitulation to the state's demand of accepting state sponsored violence compared to discrediting any action taken by everyday people.
It is standard behavior, and I am not here to condemn the media per se. There is a bigger issue—the Intifada that refuses to be put down in this country. The images of the armored personal carriers roaming in the streets should be enough to evoke an image of occupation in Benton Harbor. Whether in the West Bank, Gaza, or Iraq, the tactics of the United States Government and its lackeys are the same—to crush all grassroots movements that challenge its power.
Initiative on the street that overflows the traditional and corrupt voting system the government has setup cannot be allowed. Once suffrage was an end goal of many civil rights activists, but today it has been hijacked by powerful interest groups and corporations. Voting in this country has been marginalized to two parties that care very little for the people, and if they do come to the aid of the people, it is coincidental or during an election year. People are fed up with an electoral system that has not delivered a better life.
In our society people are not allowed to take control of their own lives as the residents of Benton Harbor tried to do. We should relegate our lives to simply voting and praying for the honesty in our elected officials. One of the greatest crimes people can take is to initiate alternative channels of democracy. To be clear the rioting in Benton Harbor itself is not democracy, but a legitimate expression of people's discontent with the status quo.
No the uprising in Benton Harbor was not perfect. People from the city were hurt, property was destroyed, but if the government has the right to level countries like in the case of Iraq for oil then people have the right to demand jobs, healthcare, and education for their children; and that is all that was being demanded when the uprising happened.
During this time, other minority groups need to stand in solidarity with the people of Benton Harbor. Some of the sound bites that have reached the alternative media like "Democracy Now" or the "World Socialist Website" show a reoccurring theme in the frustration of peoples around the world. "If I don't get no justice, there ain't gonna be no peace," said Sims, 26, who wanted to protest Wednesday night. "I'm going to be heard, one way or the other" (Democracy Now). Similar demands are made by Palestinians, Iraqis, Latinos, Muslims, women and other peoples oppressed by U.S. imperialism. It is this bond that oppressed people must seek and in the process destroy any vestiges of racism or discrimination that lurks in their own thinking. After all, divide and conquer has been the strategy of oppressors for ages and it is about time that we unite our struggles with our oppressed comrades around the world.
I will not hang my head in embarrassment for what happened in Benton Harbor. I will respect the right of self-determination that all people have in the world. I will understand the circumstances that put those people in such a position to riot. I will stand in solidarity with the people of Benton Harbor, and recognize the similarities other struggles have to this one. When I talk to people I will say: in Benton Harbor people said no to U.S. sponsored racism and demanded justice.