When politicians start fretting about “mob rule” and “law and order” it’s often a racist dog whistle. But it’s also about fear of the power of ordinary people.
The Black Lives Matter movement has shaken and frightened politicians all over the world.
Almost every elected politician—Tory and Labour—will say they support the aims of the movement when put on the spot. But they wish it could be a bit more polite and deferential.
They want the movement to be safe and quiet. They want it to play by their rules.
When protesters in Bristol pulled down a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader, it brought a huge sense of celebration and empowerment.
But not for Labour Party leader Keir Starmer.
As far as he’s concerned, bringing down the statue was “completely wrong.” It should have come down long ago, he said, but “it should have been brought down properly and with consent”.
What he meant is that the ordinary people who pulled down the statue should have left it alone for Bristol’s Labour politicians to sort out.
But Labour has controlled Bristol council since 2016. All four of Bristol’s MPs are Labour. All of them left the statue standing.
For years campaigners fought to have a plaque put on the statue that mentioned slavery. Even that was blocked.
In just minutes, the collective action of ordinary people did more to remove a symbol of racism and oppression than years of trying to do things “properly”.
In doing so, they showed we have the power to take political decisions into our own hands and change things ourselves. That’s far more democratic than leaving it up to a handful of politicians to make decisions on behalf of everyone else. And it’s just one example of the power the movement has to change things on a much bigger scale, right across the world.
In just a couple of weeks, the Black Lives Matter movement has involved at least tens of thousands of people around the world in a movement to change society.
In Minneapolis, thanks to the power of the movement, city councillors have been forced to say they will “defund” the police department. That would have seemed impossible even days ago.
Now there will be new struggles, and the power of working class people will be critical.
It will also be at the heart of a revolutionary transformation of society that could eradicate racism, oppression and inequality all over the world.
That takes organisation, and a focus on the actions of ordinary people, not of politicians.
Those at the top hate the idea of revolution because it means taking their power away and smashing the system that benefits them.