America, Empire and Us: The Benefits of International Solidarity

Solidarity demonstrations and support for the uprising in America and the Black Lives Matter movement are spreading around the world. The reaction to the murder of George Floyd quickly moved beyond America with people taking to the streets in the UK, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Canada, and Greece. Social media critics and conservatives have labelled the gatherings a pointless imitation of American fashions with nothing to do with their societies. Due to the ongoing pandemic there has to be a certain caution about mass gathering and clearly this moment is ripe for empty gestures such as celebrity and corporate statements, but the growing solidarity movement can have concrete goals rooted in the situation of numerous countries.

Every country has their own George Floyds as police violence and, potentially lethal, discrimination against diverse communities are by no means limited to America. This means that the attention garnered by events in America can renew focus on racism and discrimination around the world and assist local struggles.

One of the clearest examples so far is that of France. Demonstrations have taken place across the country with more to follow. On the evening of June 2nd at least 20,000 people defied a police ban to gather in Paris to support the Traoré family’s long fight for justice after the death of Adama Traoré in 2016. In a scenario similar to the murder of George Floyd the Traoré family have maintained that Adama’s death was caused by police restraining tactics. Their position was supported by an independent investigation which published its findings at the end of May and contradicts the state’s investigations that have distanced the police from Adama’s cause of death. As Assa Traoré, Adama’s sister, said at the demonstration:

Today, this is no longer the Traoré family’s fight, this is everyone’s fight….When you fight for George Floyd, you fight for Adama Traoré.”

Not only does the situation of the Traoré family tragically echo current events in America it is in a sense worse as Assa Traoré pointed out in an interview:

Cameras in France are pointed to the United States but what is happening in France is worse. The officers responsible for the death of George Floyd were sacked immediately. In France justice refuses any recompense. That is the French system.”

The demonstration in Paris came at a time of increasing tension. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International raised concerns about the police’s abusive and discriminatory actions during the two month lockdown which on occasion provoked night-time clashes in several areas. Numerous videos showed aggressive arrests and racist comments as police roamed the streets of working-class districts. The heightened awareness of racism within the police is bringing more incidents to light, for instance another investigation has been launched concerning racist comments on a police Facebook group in the last few days.

These recent incidents are only the latest in a long sorry story. 2020 started with the death of Cédric Chouviat, who died when officers fractured his larynx during an arrest. This June marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Steve Maia Canico who drowned in the Loire river after riot police charged a music concert while little has been done following the December 2018 death from a tear gas round of Zineb Redouane. Such incidents and the yearlong repression of the Gilets Jaunes movement have made police violence a common political topic despite attempts by the government and the police to deny any such notion of police violence.

It is not surprising then that the police appear nervous about the impact of the uprising in America. Both the demonstration called by the Traoré family and a march in support of migrant workers on May 30th were met with police attacks and tear gas after having been officially banned. Saturday June 6th saw further marches across the country, another ban issued, and ignored, in Paris and tear gas fired in Lille. As the size of the demonstration on June 2nd showed the uprising in America has galvanised the struggle of communities facing state discrimination and boosted the voice of the Traoré family and others seeking justice. Far from being a trendy imitation of America the solidarity demonstrations have greatly benefited local campaigns.

In addition, support of the uprising in America can provide a moment to reflect on another consideration; how to react to the reality of American decline. Even before the current nationwide uprising it was possible to see that the American state is declining as a superpower. A Democratic party election victory in November will certainly bring talk of an American renaissance and we should be careful about overstating the case, but the trajectory has been noticeable for some time. Here is a superpower with the most powerful military on earth that not only keeps losing its wars but now contemplates deploying those troops to secure the president’s doorstep. The American state is currently overseeing a disastrous response to the Covid-19 pandemic that has left more than 100,000 died. It was from the core of the American financial system that the economic crisis of 2008 originated. Its economic dominance is challenged by the Chinese state. In the Middle East, its policy is thwarted by the Russian military. Meanwhile, its principle alliance, NATO, has been declared braindead. In recent years, the world has often looked on aghast at the frequent violence produced by the toxic mix of racist police and vigilantes, the far-right and mass shootings.

The potential decline of the American state should not be lamented given its origin, history, and present reality. While discomfort, and even disgust, with the American state spreads we see some countries with growing solidarity movements becoming more dependent on the ailing superpower. For instance, advocates of Brexit may have a vision of an unfettered Britain freely trading with all and beholden to none but that is a delusion. Given the huge disparity between the British and American states any future trade deal will be heavily weighted in the interests of the latter, particularly if Trump remains in office. Having been an accessory to its imperial disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan the British state is on course to become further intertwined with America.

A similar situation is found in other states, for instance Greece. In Athens, where thousands marched to the US embassy on June 3rd and clashed with the riot police before marching again on June 5th, the state grows more attached to Washington. Tensions with the Turkish state and the hunt for energy resources in the Mediterranean are leading Athens closer to an America eager to shore up its tottering position in the region and exploit the privatisation offers put up by the crisis impoverished state.

Political positions calling for a greater distancing from the American state are then timely and necessary. The murder of George Floyd and the wave of police brutality that was unleashed during the past weeks makes that task all the more urgent. In the same way that the solidarity demonstrations show support to those on the streets in America while aiding local communities, international opposition to the policies of the American state would help numerous countries as well as those facing up to its police now and in the future.

Far from being an irrelevance the international demonstrations have real goals and prospects and come at a critical time for various states in their relationship with the chaotic superpower.

Neil Middleton


Photo: Guy Smallman