On August 13, the day after activist Heather Heyer was murdered and many others injured at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, about 500 leftists gathered at Goodale Park and marched to a solidarity vigil at the Ohio Statehouse.

Several who spoke from an open mic at the vigil addressed a fundamental question: What is the most effective way for the Left to combat racism and white supremacy? Can racism be eliminated in a capitalist system? Or is racism inextricably linked to and driven by capitalism?

 “We cannot rely on the police to protect us from violence,” said Rachel Reiser of the International Socialist Organization. “Right-wing vigilante violence, in many ways, is beneficial to the state. Right-wing violence against black people, Muslims, queer people, women, leftists, and activists is not prosecuted like it should be, because they are doing the state’s job for them, which is to keep oppressed people scared to death of fighting against the system.”

The Left has been growing and mobilizing since President Trump took office, Reiser noted. “But the growing Left not only needs numbers. It needs positive strategies. There is a lot of political difference in the movement today, and that’s great. But we need to have comradely debates about what’s the right strategy to move forward.

“I don’t think that the solution to this crisis is electing candidates,” she said. “And I especially don’t think that the right solution is to look to the Democratic Party. I’m a revolutionary. I don’t think that this problem can be solved within capitalism.”

Jasmine Ayres of Yes We Can spoke about mass incarceration of African Americans. “Either black people are inherently bad, or there is a system that is actively oppressing them, actively working to enslave them, actively working to murder them. And let’s be clear: this goes for both sides of the aisle.”

Ayres is running for Columbus City Council as a Democrat. “While I agree that elected officials are not going to solve our problems, [I believe that] community and elected officials together can make a difference with these problems,” she said.

 “Columbus has one of the highest infant mortality rates for black people in the country,” Ayres said. Columbus police shoot the most black people of any police department in the country. There is plenty of work to be done here.”

“There are many organizations working right now to make the world a better place,” said Andrew Porter, an organizer with Democratic Socialists of America. “The only way we can win is if all of us are together. They have all of the money. They have all the guns. They have all the cops. What we’ve got is each other, and the ability to overwhelm them and build democratic power to change the world.

“If we’re able to show solidarity with each other, that’s awesome,” Porter said. “But unless we stop them, nothing will stop them. The fascists are the ones who are holding up the current system that we have. Unless we have real democratic institutions to claim power, we’ll never win and we’ll never make anything better. Unless we have a broad-based, multicultural, democratic movement, we’ll be back here every week. We’ll be mourning the comrades we lost, instead of celebrating the world we want!”

Other groups at the vigil included the People’s Justice Project, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus.

“I’m thankful for all the left organizations that came together to stand in solidarity with our comrades affected by the horrific events that took place in Virginia,” said Kelly Weber of Socialist Alternative. “We will not let bigotry win; not now, not ever.  We will stand together and fight for what is right until there is no need to fight any longer.”

Solidarity is essential. And so are the respectful debates that Rachel Reiser called for. Finding the best way forward really matters. Can capitalism be reformed in a sustainable way by left Democrats? Or will capitalism always demand an underclass to exploit, and use racism as a tool to divide the working class?

Malcolm X was unequivocal about this issue. “It's impossible for a white person to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism,” he said. “You can't have capitalism without racism.” 

“Working class people of all colors must unite against the exploitative, oppressive ruling class,” wrote Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. “Let me emphasize again — we believe our fight is a class struggle, not a race struggle.”

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