No longer playing by the rules

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When US sports stars led an unofficial walkout over the police shooting of Jason Blake, the season was over. Then Obama intervened, and that’s the problem with the Democrats, writes Virginia Rodino

Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old African-American man, was shot seven times in the back in front of his children by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on 23 August. The bullets wounded his arm and damaged his stomach, kidney and liver. He remains paralyzed in hospital. Three days later Milwaukee Bucks, a professional team in the National Basketball Association (NBA), were inspired to collective action and decided not to play, in protest at the attack. The move came as a surprise to the rest of the league. According to sports journalists, the Bucks intended to forfeit and accept a loss against rivals Orlando Magic. Instead, the Orlando team refused to accept the win, while players from Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers — scheduled to play that same night — decided to strike in solidarity. A strike wave then swept professional sports.
Players from the Women’s National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer cancelled their games without seeking official support from the players’ unions. That night NBA players met in a heated meeting. Momentum grew among a group of players to walk away from the entire season in order to pressure NBA owners to take meaningful political action against police brutality. At one point superstar Lebron James and the entire Los Angeles Lakers team reportedly walked out with an apparent, but unofficial, vote to end the season. The Los Angeles Clippers followed them. In this moment it was unclear if the season was actually over.
Just hours later Barack Obama, proclaiming himself an “avid basketball fan” in his official statement about the strikes, got on the phone with leading black players. He was able to convince them to end the strike and form ‘social justice committees’ instead. He was likely the only member of the ruling class who could have broken the strike so swiftly. Instead of bringing a thundering halt to entertainment-as-usual in the wake of racist murders, these activist players and sports leagues are instead “getting out the vote”, supporting efforts to turn stadiums and arenas into voting centres for the US presidential election in November.
And therein lies the quintessential example of how electoral politics sucks the air out of social movements. It was Obama’s historic 2008 election which deflated the world’s other superpower: the global anti-war movement. It also suppressed necessary radical reform of the privatised healthcare system and the immigration and refugee crisis. During the powerful calls by Black Lives Matter to defund and abolish the racist police, Joe Biden instead suggested cops be trained to shoot unarmed people in the leg.
“Let’s get the facts straight,” Biden proclaimed, “I not only don’t want to defund the police, I want to add $300 million to their local budgets. The only person defunding the police is the president. Look at his budget. He calls for a half-a-billion dollar cut in local law enforcement.” Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have terrible records, and their platform offers nothing to concretely hold them to account after the election. With racist gerrymandering, corporations and billionaires financing campaigns, and the electoral college and supreme court selecting the presidents, the electoral system — like the police and every other institution under capitalism — is broken.
Virginia Rodino is part of Marx 21 (marx21us. org), co-chair Maryland Green Party; convenor of Asian Pacific Am