Alabama’s hounding of Marshae Jones and The Handmaid’s Tale

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06/07/2019 by socialistfight

The face of US fascism today, neo liberal agenda under attack from the right By Gerry Downing

“The investigation showed that the only true victim in this was the unborn baby, it was the mother of the child who initiated and continued the fight which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby.”

Police Lt Danny Reid of Pleasant Grove,  Alabama, December 2018

On 18 December 2018 a fight began between two young working class black women, Marshae Jones and Ebony Jemison, over a man, in Pleasant Grove, Alabama, outside a store where the three worked. The police allege that Marshae, then 27, who was five months pregnant, began the conflict and was winning until Ebony pulled a gun and shot her in the stomach five times, killing the foetus but not Marshae. Mark White, a lawyer who defended Marshae, said that investigators working with his law firm had found a cellphone video of the fight, which showed Marshae backing away at the time Jemison fired the gun. On the spot judgement was delivered by the policemen Lt Danny Reid in the above quote.

Marshae Jones

On 26 June Marshae was indicted by a Jefferson county grand jury for manslaughter and imprisoned in Jefferson county jail on a $50,000 bail bond, which was quickly raised due to the outcry over the case. The grand jury was convened by District Attorney Lynneice Washington (Democrat!), the first black female District Attorney in Alabama’s history. They allowed the shooter to walk free, saying she had acted in self-defence but indicted Marshae for manslaughter for “initiating a fight knowing she was five months pregnant.”

Zoe Williams, writing in The Guardian on 2 July commented: “A confluence of Alabama’s bizarre “stand your ground” gun laws and the ideological push to grant the foetus legal personhood has resulted in an indictment that looks – to outside eyes – like something directly from Gilead [1]. Its implications for the criminalisation of pregnancy are amplified by the precariousness of Roe v Wade under Trump’s conservative supreme court.”

We have condemned elsewhere the dick-waving “right to bear arms” gun laws in the USA, which sees more massacres of innocents than any other advanced nation. Last May Alabama passed a bill banning abortion in almost every circumstance – including rape and incest, the worst of all such laws passed by nine states and counting. Alabama is also one of 38 states which have now passed foetal homicide laws that recognize a foetus as a person, with all the rights and more of a citizen and therefore a potential victim. Alabama has prosecuted hundreds of women for using controlled substances while they are pregnant, under a 2006 “chemical endangerment” law. Obviously, such prosecutions discourage pregnant addicts from seeking medical treatment, endangering the life of the woman and the foetus.

This highlights the real purpose behind these misogynistic patriarchal laws; to deepen women’s oppression, so dealing a severe blow to the struggle of the whole working class for socialism. “The US right’s concern for the foetus doesn’t survive the trip down the birth canal” as Emer O’Toole wrote in The Guardian on 1 July in reference to the same bigoted right-wingers’ enthusiasm for the appalling treatment of caged immigrant Latino children on the Mexican border.

The black, female District Attorney said she was deeply wounded by the charges that a working-class black woman was being treated in a way that no wealthy white woman would have been. “There was a barrage of insults — desecration of my integrity, my character, my name, I am a black woman in black skin. So, don’t tell me how I don’t appreciate the sensitivity of a woman and the rights of women.” On 3 July Ms. Washington, who had signed the indictment, said: “I have determined that it is not in the best interest of justice to pursue prosecution of Ms. Jones on the manslaughter charge for which she was indicted by the grand jury, no further legal action will be taken against Ms. Jones in this matter.”

Several pastors from Alabama churches stood with Washington as she announced dropping the charges, obviously to defend her against enraged racist bigots.

What political lessons and conclusions?

So, what are we to make of all this? Is this a matter for concern for the working class and revolutionary socialists? It does not involve a strike or an occupation of a workplace or even a struggle against the misleadership of the trade unions or any reformist workers’ social democratic party. Fascism can only triumph when the organised strength of the working class is broken and all their organisations, trade unions, reformist social democratic parties, right, centre, left and centrist-revolutionary are smashed. Surely this does not affect these organisations?

Back in 1902 Lenin dismissed such narrow definitions of the class struggle:

“In a word, every trade union secretary conducts and helps to conduct “the economic struggle against the employers and the government”. It cannot be too strongly maintained that this is still not Social-Democracy, that the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects.”

And in 1940 Trotsky discussed the situation in the USA and the huge gap between the backwardness of the working class and their objective tasks there:

“The objective situation of the country is in every respect and even more than in Europe ripe for socialist revolution and socialism, riper than any other country in the world. The political backwardness of the American working class is very great. This signifies that the danger of a fascist catastrophe is very great. This is the point of departure for all our activity. The program must express the objective tasks of the working class rather than the backwardness of the workers. It must reflect society as it is and not the backwardness of the working class. It is an instrument to overcome and vanquish the backwardness.”

Aside from the shocking racist backwardness of Lt Danny Reid and that Jefferson grand jury and the obvious comparison between Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom and Lynneice Washington, what about the reference made by Zoe Williams to Gilead, the 1985 nightmare land of The Handmaid’s Tale? This has fascinated and horrified so many northern liberals as they look southwards to the redneck lands of Jim Crow, led by Alabama, the nearest we have come to Gilead. The ideological echoes of the Civil War are heard again.

Let us remind ourselves of the nightmare scenario looming into view now in Alabama.  Margaret Atwood projected a totalitarian state called the Republic of Gilead, whose leaders had overthrown the US government and abolished its constitution. A right-wing coup against Donald Trump! Women were reduced to the status of men’s property, the chattels of mediaeval law and custom. The name of the female hero is Offred, because women can only use the name of their master, the man Fred, like the slaves in the US and Caribbean in the 18th and 19th century—I worked with West Indian Lynchs and Murphys, the names of their ancestors’ Irish slave masters (who were transported there as slaves themselves by Cromwell in the 17th Century).

In Gilead newspapers are censored, a theonomic [2] military dictatorship rules and all pre-existing religions, including all Christian denominations, are banned. The Old Testament is the model for this social and religious fascism. That bit does not look a lot like Nazi Germany, does it? But the next bit does: poor people, i.e. those not administering and running the top level of the system have almost no rights, particularly women, who cannot own any property, earn money, or learn to read or write.

How far down the road are we in Alabama, with many other Jim Crow redneck states not far behind, to Margaret Atwood’s Gilead now? The counter-revolution is now advancing on these social questions; abortion rights, misogyny, race (police murders), sexual orientation and transgender in lockstep with the defeats imposed on the organised working class from the liquidation of US Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) by Ronald Regan in August 1981 and the defeat of the miners’ strike in Britain in 1985, via the Malvinas war in 1982 and the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR (1989-91). The neo-liberal agenda, consolidated by these defeats, is now under attack from the right.

Nine US states have passed almost total bans on abortions this year, challenging the constitutional judgement of Roe v. Wade in 1973. Alabama passed the almost total ban on abortions early in May, as we have seen. Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio passed so-called heartbeat bills that effectively prohibit abortions after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, when doctors can usually start detecting a foetal heartbeat. The vast majority of women will be unaware they are pregnant before then, so these too are effective total bans. Utah and Arkansas voted to limit the procedure to the middle of the second trimester. Previous attempts by the far right have failed, a 2006 bill in South Dakota was repealed in a referendum, and a 2016 Oklahoma bill was vetoed by the governor. On these social issues vile reaction is gaining speed in the USA; we are confident that the whip of this counterrevolution will drive the revolutionary left in the US and everywhere else to seek the path to revolution via Trotsky’s Traditional Programme.

Notes:

[1] Wikipedia, The Handmaid’s Tale was well received by critics, helping to cement Atwood’s status as a prominent writer of the 20th century. Not only was the book deemed well-written and compelling, but Atwood’s work was notable for sparking intense debates both in and out of academia. Atwood maintains that the Republic of Gilead is only an extrapolation of trends already seen in the United States at the time of her writing, a view supported by other scholars studying The Handmaid’s Tale. Indeed, many have placed The Handmaid’s Tale in the same category of dystopian fiction as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, with the added feature of confronting patriarchy, a categorization that Atwood has accepted and reiterated in many articles and interviews. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Handmaid%27s_Tale

[2] Wikipedia,  Theonomy, from theos (god) and nomos (law), is a hypothetical Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law. Theonomists hold that divine law, including the judicial laws of the Old Testament, should be observed by modern societies. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theonomy

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