I wrote this essay after witnessing the protest in front of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia on January 20th, 2020. A year later, as I read it out loud, I am more convinced than ever about the concepts outlined and the conclusion reached.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Audio Essay Recorded 2021.01.20
The ghosts of the American Civil War continue to haunt us today.
The Civil War officially ended with the surrender of the secessionist leadership of the Confederate Army on April 9, 1865.
Six days later, Abraham Lincoln was murdered by Confederate assassins.
The death of President Lincoln was also the death knell of his peace plan — to reconstruct and industrialize the south, integrate the U.S. economy through rail and internal improvements, reform land rights and redistribute power away from the Southern Aristocracy to landless white peasants and former black slaves.
Yet since the end of the civil war, the failed promise of uprooting the cancerous seeds of poverty, racism and exploitation means they have only grown and strengthened throughout the land.
Without hyper attention to organize a collective solution, we may see this wonderful and messy project called Democracy come to an indefinite pause in the near future.
As 2020 unfolds, I sometimes feel like the ideology that drove the mind of the Southern Confederate traitors, who ultimately surrendered after losing the battle they started, are now finally, many generations later, on the verge of winning their war.
Labor, dear friends, is at the heart of slavery.
What does liberty and tyranny have to do with labor? Lincoln provided an answer.
The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one.
We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor;
While with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor.
Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names, liberty and tyranny.
The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one.
Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty.
Liberty is more than just freedom from tyranny.
To be free, you need to own the product of your labor and the tools to produce it, on land that is yours.
When you own the means of production and you sell a product, you retain your freedom.
But when all you have to sell is your labor, in essence, you are selling yourself and losing freedom. This forgotten concept of wage slavery was widely discussed around the time of the civil war.
Frederick Douglas, the great abolitionist, author, orator, former slave, and U.S. Ambassador to Haiti after their successful slave revolt against France, remarked on labor by writing, “experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.”
In Alex Gourevitch’s essay, Our Forgotten Labor Revolution, he writes, “Lincoln himself had declared, prior to the war, that free labor was not the same as wage labor: ‘The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while . . . [This] is free labor.’ The promise of American freedom was that everyone might enjoy this full independence.”
Through Lincoln’s 1863 emancipation proclamation and the Union Army’s victory over the secessionists, the United States outlawed labor’s most degraded form called chattel slavery, which makes one person the owner of another person as his property.
Gourevitch outlines how “the Civil War saw the largest, uncompensated expropriation of property in American history: the abolition of slavery. Nullifying slave owners’ property in persons meant returning personhood to the slaves. It also extinguished roughly half the value of all Southern assets, which in today’s prices amounts to roughly $3 trillion.”
Many men have killed and went to war for losing far, far less.
What do you think the Confederates did after the Civil War? Did they accept and repent for starting the war? Did they accept the terms of surrender? Or did they reorganize and redouble their effort to take back what they believe is their God given right?
The ideological psychosis that drives a culture to justify slavery has been with us since Babylon. And yet we will continue to fight it just the same.
And never forget — wage and chattel slavery are two wolf heads on the same slave driver coin.
Unfortunately, only one side of the coin has been worn down.
The Failed Reconstruction of the South
“Here was a possible meaning of Reconstruction: all forms of economic dependence are incompatible with free citizenship.
In the name of freedom, being without property and dependent on employers was a condition that also had to be abolished.
Free people had a right to some share of the means of production — be it land or some other productive property.
They even had a right to take it from those who opposed this equal freedom…
Northerners who fought in the name of this freedom or who supported the Northern cause also believed they had a right to property, to a full and equal freedom.” Alex Gourevitch
The night Lincoln was assassinated, his powerful wartime Secretary of State William Seward was knifed repeatedly by another assassin but luckily survived his wounds.
Newly appointed Vice President Andrew Johnson lucked out when his would-be assassin allegedly got drunk instead and decided to abandon the whole intricate plot.
After Lincoln’s murder by Confederates, Johnson became president. He was a Democrat from Tennessee. And he was a slave holder.
With a Confederate loyalist installed as president, the plan to rein in the oligarchy of the south and expand economic freedom for all was left in the hands of the Radical Republicans, who were a strong left wing force who pushed Lincoln through the war to always do more for the people against the feudal lords of the Confederacy.
As you could imagine, the Radical Republicans were a little fired up about 600,000 dead American soldiers and a nation turned upside down through a war of choice, a war of rebellion against natural law.
And at the end of it all the great Lincoln who preserved the Union against these small vain tyrants, was slain at a theater with his wife five days after the Confederacy surrendered.
The Radical Republicans wanted to punish the British aligned Southern oligarchs and were against allowing these ex-Confederate military officers who sought to retake political power in the South, which was occupied by Union troops under marshal law.
The Radical Republicans passed legislation that directed the federal government to ease the transition from slavery to freedmen through the establishment of political, economic, and civil rights for former slaves.
They passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Act that gave ex-slaves “any of the civil rights or immunities belonging to white persons, including the right to…..inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property, and to have full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and estate, including the constitutional right of bearing arms.”
Yet the promise of land reform, 40 acres and a mule, and support to form black militias as protection from the confederate wolves, were all explicitly reversed and annulled by President Johnson who “emphasized wage labor, not land ownership, for blacks. Almost all land allocated during the war was restored to its pre-war white owners.”
As Johnson vetoed and blocked Reconstruction legislation, Congress impeached Johnson. Yet the conviction failed in the Senate by one vote in 1868.
During this time the southern and northern ruling classes began to align their interests. According to Gourevitch, “Northern Republicans [aligned with former Confederates] agreed to end Reconstruction of the South when the industrialists, merchants, and financiers that made up the heart of the party started to fear that workers [in the North] were taking the promise of emancipation too seriously.”
By 1872, Congress voted to completely shut down the Freedmen’s Bureau. Around this time, Jim Crow laws exploded throughout the U.S., which enforced racial segregation. The secessionists continued to consolidate political and economic power.
Thirty years after the war, in 1896, Jim Crow was codified by a Confederate ideology in the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld Plessy vs. Ferguson. The separate but equal legal doctrine became the law of the land.
Reconstruction failed because workers were seeking to liberate their labor from another’s control both in the south and the north. Despite a battle won, the war continues on…
Jefferson Davis, the Confederate Führer — A Case Study in Anti-American Hero Worship
With this history in mind I arrived in Richmond, Virginia on Monday, January 20th, 2020, I sought to witness a gun rally in front of the Virginia State House on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Richmond served as the capital of the Confederate States of America.
The President of these Southern traitors was Jefferson Davis who organized the rebellion at the White House of the Confederacy based a few blocks from the Virginia State House.
I heard about the absurd idea that large statues of Confederate Leaders are adorned along Monument Avenue. So I wanted to see them with my own eyes.
As I ruminated on the Civil War and all the union dead caused by an oligarchic clique, I wondered why a country would permit the rehabilitation of Confederates.
As I headed west along Monument Avenue, the roundabout came into focus.
There he was, Jefferson Davis, in beautiful grandeur, displayed as a war hero.
What would the world think if citizens in Vienna, Austria, or Munich Germany created a similar worship statue of Chancellor Adolf Hitler? The attempt at rehabilitating traitorous war criminals would be internationally condemned.
As I continued to drive down Monument Avenue, I saw more worship statues of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, and Confederate Navy Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury.
These traitorous-insurrectionist-worship-statues are littered throughout Richmond like rehabilitated Nazi soldiers.
Confederate symbols like these have been publicly placed throughout the U.S., subconsciously encoded in the dark id of our culture. As of 2015, researchers documented almost 200 schools named after confederate traitors.
The U.S. military alone has ten bases named after Confederate soldiers. And don’t forget that the confederates LOST. And we are naming our military bases not only after traitors, but LOSERS. This is a scandal and a disgrace. Maybe this is why the U.S. hasn’t won a war since World War 2…but I digress.
So when and where did this movement come from? When did it become acceptable to publicly worship anti-American traitors?
The chart below shows the formation of the fascist white robe Ku Klux Klan in 1866 as a storm trooper movement to intimidate the freedmen.
Yet only a handful of confederate sites were erected for a generation after the civil war, which makes sense since much of the Union soldiers hated everything the traitors stood for. Plessy versus Ferguson opened the era of public worship like never before.
There appears a short lull of insurrection worship for a few years after the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. Yet the number of reactionary-traitorous-worship-monuments exploded in response to labor and civil rights struggles around the 1960s.
And the Confederate monuments kept getting built through the 1990s and into the 21st century.
Apparently, some continue to hope that the insurrection will happen again. Or maybe these statues should serve as a reminder of the near universal status of the U.S. worker as dependent on wage labor with little to no property and no hope for true freedom and independence.
Meanwhile, the day of reckoning moves closer.
So this brings me to MLK Jr. Day in Richmond, Virginia
I must confess I’m extremely fond of Martin Luther King Jr.
I’m obsessed with listening to his speeches and reading his writings.
The more I learn, the more I find one of the most courageous, philosophical individual who was promoting universal love and strategic organizing, propelled by a network of the most conscientious activists in the nation.
Before his assassination on April 5, 1968, King was organizing a Poor People’s march on Washington, D.C. to address the wage labor issue where people did not own the means of production and thus were not free.
The fact that 75 percent of Americans widely disliked King at the time of his death is probably why it took until the year 2000 for all 50 states to recognize the federal holiday, which was officially signed into law in 1983.
In Virginia, MLK Day was combined with the century old Lee-Jackson Day named after Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. And in the year 2000, Lee-Jackson Day was moved to the Friday before MLK Day, which falls on the third Monday of every January.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) was incorporated in 1998 and, according to VCDL President Philip Van Cleave, pro-gun citizens have been showing up to lobby Virginia State Representatives at the Virginia Capitol building in Richmond every January 20th since 2003.
However, the tension was ratcheted up for Virginia’s Lobby Day in 2020 because Democrats flipped the Virginia Senate and House and, with a Democrat as governor, the Legislature is in a position to pursue a progressive agenda, including raising the Virginia’s minimum wage, which is currently the federal minimum floor of $7.25 per hour.
The Virginia Senate also passed bills “to require background checks on all firearms sales, limit handgun purchases to one a month, and restore local governments’ right to ban weapons from public buildings and other venues.”
And despite the first four words of the second amendment discussing government rules around gun ownership (i.e. A well regulated Militia), many gun owners tend to focus on the last four words (i.e. shall not be infringed).
Attendance for the gun rally expanded beyond Virginia as VCDL, with Trump’s encouragement, put a call out to militias from across the United States to provide security for the rally.
Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency banning any weapons on Capitol grounds until the Tuesday evening after the rally. To add more fuel to the fire, six neo-Nazis who are allegedly part of The Base were arrested just days before the rally.
The Georgia arrests came a day after three other suspected neo-Nazis affiliated with The Base were arrested in Maryland. One of the men, Patrik Mathews, fled Canada earlier last year after his white supremacy ties were discovered. A former reservist in the Canadian Army, Mathews trained as a combat engineer and is an explosives expert.
With all the threats of violence, the annual Martin Luther King Day Vigil and Day of Advocacy was cancelled.
Thankfully, the day ended without violence.
But I’ve been struck by a comment made by the Virginia Delegate, Lee Carter from Manasass, who received numerous death threats and was forced to stay at a safe house out of fear for his safety instead of doing his job as a legislator on lobby day.
He is often the most progressive member of the Virginia Legislature by introducing bills on public worker rights to strike and raising the minimum wage.
But when responding on his views about gun laws he said, “there are a lot of other proposals that mainstream Democrats are floating that I don’t support because my fundamental view on this is anybody who Nazis would want to murder should have the means to stop a Nazi from murdering them.”
Reflections from MLK Day in Richmond
As I walked through the crowd, I felt the ghosts of the American Civil War and imagined that this is what a modern day Confederate insurrection will look like 160 years later after the first Confederate shot on Fort Sumter.
But I saw no overt bigotry at the rally.
And despite the rally being predominately white males with beards and guns, there were a small number of females and non-white Americans also carrying guns and supporting the rally. In fact, there was deep solidarity in the crowd.
Yet I would advise these fellow citizens to turn their gaze and celebrate MLK Day by doing good works that remind us of the need to eliminate poverty for ourselves and our fellow Americans, in which 60% can’t afford a $1000 emergency.
This is the hand to mouth existence that was once described as wage-slavery, in which a person lacks ownership of the means of production, without surplus, without land, with ever increasing debt and deeper holes of poverty.
I would have preferred that we marched together to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond a few blocks away and demand low interest loans through the federal reserve discount window to rebuild infrastructure throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and create high paying, union wage jobs.
Why not protest how small businesses and construction firms are ready to employ millions of workers to rebuild the country yet are getting nothing from the Trump Administration while Fed Banker J. Powell gooses the stock market and repo market for all of Trump’s rich banker friends?
The whole economy is on the verge of collapse. More than $6 trillion has gone to prop up Wall Street zombie banks over the last several months. Without the U.S. federal reserve, the markets would be down, down, down.
Instead of addressing the rise of dictatorships, the economic crisis, the cusp of large scale warfare with nuclear potential, and now a global flu pandemic, many are lulled to sleep from over stimulation and pure exhaustion, dreaming a false consciousness that smart humanitarian billionaires care about us.
And if working classes remain divided and pitted against each other, our failed union cannot repel the rising 21st century Confederate ideology.
Of course, many of the people at the rally are extremely wealthy.
Being a gun enthusiast can be an expensive hobby as your collection expands and you spend hundreds of dollars on ammunition enjoying the bullet’s explosion. So I presume, many of the well off at the rally don’t give a shit about poor people.
Before leaving Richmond I found hope as I walked along the James River during sunset and saw the remains of a bridge that Confederate Traitor Jefferson Davis used when he fled Richmond, defeated, as the Union Army led by General Ulysses Grant entered the city.
Davis was eventually captured by Union forces in Irwinville, Georgia.
Despite being routed on the way to inevitable surrender, the retreating Confederates burnt down Richmond and blew up the bridge over the James River, which only delayed the Union victory by days while creating damage and immiseration for Virginians.
A day later, President Lincoln toured the charred city by foot and he visited the former White House of the Confederacy and the Virginia State Capitol.
And he left these immortal words, a few days before his death.
“Thank God that I lived to see this.”
I too look forward to seeing the day when the confederate ideology is vanquished from the earth.
And only a united front union will defeat the confederates, as was done before.
I just hope we unify before they burn everything down on their way out.
You can also find the essay on Medium.