November 2020


  1. What Will a Biden Presidency Bring to the Asia Pacific?
  2. Is Bangladesh a viable partner for International justice?
  3. The politics of trauma
  4. Why Rural America Is Joining the Movement for Black Lives

What Will a Biden Presidency Bring to the Asia Pacific?


Biden may tone down Trump’s trade war and bring back some limited human rights advocacy, but there may be more continuity than either administration admits.

Assuming Joe Biden will take the reins of the presidency on January 20, 2021, what will his likely policies toward the Asia-Pacific region look like?

It is unlikely that Joe Biden will continue Trump’s trade war with China. That would simply be too destabilizing for everyone. Not only is the U.S. greatly dependent on China for so many of its industrial imports, but so many countries are dependent on China as a market for their exports.

This is not only for raw materials and agricultural goods, as in the case of Africa and Latin America, respectively, but also industrial goods, as in the case of Southeast Asia, which manufactures components that are shipped to China, assembled there, then sent to the U.S., Europe, and everywhere else.

However, it is important to point out that the Biden group shares the Trump administration’s view of China as the main U.S. strategic competitor.

Their negative views on China’s industrial policy are not that much different from those found in the 2017 White House report on the crisis of U.S. manufacturing authored by Trump adviser Peter Navarro. They share the same view that China is advancing by poaching U.S. intellectual property and are prepared to take measures to prevent China from gaining a technological edge.

In this connection, one must realize that it was not Trump that designated China as the main U.S. competitor. That process started with George W. Bush, under whom China was re-designated from being a “strategic partner” to being a “strategic competitor.” Bush, Jr., however, did not follow through with concrete anti-China policies, since he wanted to cultivate China as an ally in the so-called War on Terror.

But Barack Obama did with his “Pivot to Asia,” where the bulk of U.S. naval forces were repositioned to “contain” China. In a way, one can say that Trump merely radicalized Obama’s posture toward China.


Military Continuity

Moreover, there is an institutional presence in the region that has remained very consistent through various presidents, Republican or Democrat, and that is the U.S. military.

The military plays a much, much bigger role in formulating policy in the Asia Pacific than in other parts of the world. Even as U.S. corporations embraced China because it offered cheap labor that enhanced their profitability, the Pentagon was always skeptical of better relations with Beijing and it led in developing the opposite view of China as a strategic rival.

It must be pointed out that the operative warfighting doctrine of the Pentagon is AirSea Battle, where it is clear that China is the “enemy.” The overriding objective is, in case of war, penetrating the A2/AD (Anti-Access/Area Denial) defenses of China in order to deliver a lethal blow on the country’s industrial infrastructure in Southeastern China.

Under Trump, two major moves favored by the Pentagon were made: the installation of an anti-missile defense system (THAAD) directed at both China and North Korea in South Korea, and the redeployment in the Asia-Pacific of intermediate range nuclear missiles aimed at China after the U.S. withdrew from the INF (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty in 2019.

The Pentagon defines China as a “near peer competitor,” but it knows it is far from being one. The U.S. outspends China on defense nearly three to one, some $650 billion to $250 billion (as of 2018). China has only some 260 nuclear warheads, compared to Washington’s 5,400, and Beijing’s ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) are dated, though they are undergoing modernization.

China’s offensive naval capability is minuscule compared to that of the U.S. It has two Soviet-era aircraft carriers, while the U.S. has 11 carrier task force groups and has introduced a state-of-the-art carrier, the USS Gerald Ford.

China has only one overseas base — in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa — while the U.S. has hundreds of bases and installations surrounding China, including in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, and a mobile floating base in the form of the Seventh Fleet that dominates the South China Sea.

Even if it chooses to challenge the U.S. militarily — which is a big “if” — Beijing won’t be able to significantly do so until after a few more decades. Still, the Pentagon’s grand strategic objective, which will be unchanged under a Biden administration, will be to halt China long before it reaches strategic parity.


The South China Sea

Given this, the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea) will continue to be a site of intense naval confrontation between China and the United States, as well as between China and the ASEAN countries whose just claims to exclusive economic zones and territories Beijing has ignored.

Vietnamese officials, for instance, have been very vocal about their fears that the level of tension is such that a mere ship collision can escalate into a higher form of conflict, since there are no rules or understandings that govern military relationships except a volatile balance of power. And everyone knows what volatile balance of power situations can lead to, the European balance before World War I being a worrisome lesson in this regard.

In this connection, demilitarization and denuclearization of the South China Sea are the real answer to the escalation of tensions in the area, and ASEAN governments and civil society should be pushing this alternative more energetically. It is, however, unlikely that as of now, China or the U.S. under Biden would be open to this alternative.


The Korean Peninsula

Whatever may have been his motives, Trump did contribute to ending the state of Cold War in the Korean peninsula, though he could have done more. Tensions have eased, and the people of all of Korea are the beneficiaries.

Biden, however, was a Cold Warrior when it came to Korea while he was vice president. There are worries that under Biden, there will be a return to the status quo ante of knife’s edge confrontation that marked relations between North Korea and both Democratic and Republican administrations before Trump.

The status of both South Korea and Japan as U.S. satellites will be unchanged under a Biden presidency. They really have no choice, being militarily occupied countries. With Japan hosting 25 major U.S. military bases and Korea 15, plus scores of smaller military installations, these two countries serve as the Pentagon’s principal springboard for the containment of China.


Human Rights and Diplomacy

Certainly, Washington will pick up the cudgel of human rights against North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, which it had dropped totally under Trump. Also, human rights will occupy a more central place in Biden’s approach towards China than it did under Trump, though Biden’s need for Xi’s support to maintain his shaky domestic position will probably soften his invoking it.

Biden will also probably mention human rights vis-à-vis President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, though Duterte’s early congratulations to Biden, Biden’s need for support from foreign leaders for his legitimacy, and Duterte’s continuing threat to abrogate the U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement may induce the president-elect to bring down the volume below where it was under Obama.

Parenthetically, human rights is an extremely important advocacy, and international civil society and the United Nations should promote it more aggressively. The problem is that when the U.S. uses it, it is instrumentalized as the “soft power” part of Washington’s foreign policy repertoire aimed at advancing its economic and strategic interests.

It is also seen as extremely hypocritical by people around the world, since there are so many egregious human rights violations in the U.S., including not least the systematic repression of Black people. Human rights advocacy is only effective if the one advocating it has the moral high ground. The U.S. no longer has that (and it is questionable if it ever really did), though one suspects Biden and his people have a blind spot when it comes to this.


The U.S. Domestic Divide

All these projections are based on the assumption that Biden will be able to succeed Trump. But the mood in the U.S. today is, let’s face it, one of civil war, and it may only be a matter of time before this mood is translated into something more threatening, more ugly.

Indeed, even if Biden takes office, it is hard to imagine how any administration can conduct foreign policy under such conditions of deeply divided legitimacy, where unrestricted political warfare is waged over every significant issue, domestic or foreign. Of course, the CIA and Pentagon bureaucracies will continue to function as per their DNA, but contrary to Trumpist claims about the independent dynamics of the “deep state,” political leadership matters, and matters greatly.

For the rest of the world, it is a big question mark if a U.S. so deeply preoccupied with itself that it cannot conduct a coherent foreign policy is a plus or a minus. That is, however, a topic for another essay.


Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Walden Bello is co-chair of the board of the Bangkok-based think tank Focus on the Global South and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Among the latest Focus reports he has authored are Trump and the Asia Pacific: The Persistence of US Unilateralism (2020). 


By                         :                   Walden Bello 

Date                     :                   November 18, 2020

Source                 :                    Foreign Policy In Focus

Back to top

Is Bangladesh a viable partner for International justice?


‘Shoot all that you see and that you hear’ were instructions given to two Myanmar Army soldiers involved in atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The soldiers’ video confession, reported in September 2020, coincided with reports of their transfer to the custody of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

These developments raised hopes that the ICC will hold the perpetrators of atrocities in Rakhine state accountable. As the ICC’s main partner in the region, Bangladesh’s role is central.

International lawyers remain focused on developments in The Hague, where The Gambia led the way bringing Myanmar to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The Netherlands and Canada have joined the case, but Myanmar’s neighbours have largely ignored it.

Bangladesh’s support for international criminal investigations into the situation in neighbouring Myanmar makes it an outlier. This is not without consequence — much of the evidence of genocide gathered by international investigators has come from displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh and investigative work that has taken place within Bangladesh’s borders.

Bangladesh has a poor track record in accountability and the rule of law.

To address the brutal legacy of the 1971 war for independence, in 2010 Bangladesh established a domestic war crimes tribunal, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). Although the ICT’s creation was welcomed by international human rights groups, it was later criticised around questions of fairness, transparency and witness intimidation. The ICT has found itself the target of accusations that it has abused its mandate by prosecuting leading Islamist opposition voices in Bangladesh. Beyond Islamist opposition, Dhaka also uses its power to harass journalists and activists otherwise critical of the government.

With such a poor human rights record at home, it is worth asking how Bangladesh has become a critical partner in international efforts to secure accountability for atrocities next door.

Bangladesh signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1999 and ratified it in 2010, the only country in South Asia to have done so. In 2015, then foreign minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali reiterated the country’s commitment to advocating for the Statute’s universal acceptance.

Dhaka’s membership provided the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor with the jurisdictional basis to investigate alleged crimes of deportation and persecution against the Rohingya, even though Myanmar is not an ICC member state. In September 2018, an ICC pre-trial chamber ruled that the court has jurisdiction over the alleged crime of deportation. Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam affirmed Dhaka’s legal obligation to fully cooperate with the work of the ICC. Alam emphasised that under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, every action by Bangladesh will be guided by universal values and laws.

Dhaka has welcomed the initiative of two Australian human rights lawyers, acting on behalf of Rohingya refugees, who lodged a pre-trial motion requesting the Court hold trials in Asia where the hearings would be more accessible to victims. The request was well received in Bangladesh, with local news agencies expressing hope that the country would be the first in the region to host an ICC trial chamber.

While Bangladesh continues to offer support, the reception in India and China — two key regional powers — has been more frigid. Myanmar is an important strategic partner for both countries, who are engaged in tense strategic competition. China’s crackdown on its Uyghur minority has led to an ICC complaint of its own, which makes reference to the same cross-border jurisdictional principle referenced in the ICC’s Myanmar–Bangladesh findings.

Although India enjoys historically strong ties with Bangladesh, recent anti-Muslim policies advanced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government may exacerbate tensions. China has sought to extend its influence in Dhaka through an influx of Chinese investment, but Bangladesh remains wary.

The ICC’s opening of the door to prosecuting non-signatories to the Rome Statute has led some legal experts to worry that an increasingly activist ICC will find itself in conflict with non-signatories. This development will likely reinforce Beijing’s long-held suspicions of international justice. Even Japan, which is an ICC member state, has for the most part privileged business deals with Myanmar over calls for international justice.

The ICC may have overextended itself relying on Dhaka. Bangladesh and Myanmar reached an agreement on refugee returns in 2017, and Dhaka’s priority now appears to be quickening the pace of resettlement. Bangladesh’s cooperation with the ICC might lead Myanmar to obstruct these returns, giving Myanmar significant leverage over Dhaka.

Although Bangladesh’s leaders continue to rhetorically embrace the cause of international justice, the distance between their words and developments on the ground may only be growing.


Kazi Abedur Rahman is a research student at Tokyo International University.


By               :                        Kazi Abedur Rahman, Tokyo International University

Date            :                        November 21, 2020

Source        :                        East Asia Forum

Back to top

The politics of trauma


What does it take to embody justice - and heal from injustice - both personally and politically?

Fresh from a zoom meeting with the Working Families Party and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, I’m feeling heartened, fired up and grateful. What would America look like if all our communities had what they needed? Where would resources be prioritized if the Breathe Act proposed by the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Project guided our policies? Who would we need to become, and what would we need to embody?

That final question is important because justice and injustice are lodged deep inside our bodies, thinking and habits, so engaging that mind-body connection is crucial to realizing the future that we want. A number of techniques have been developed to help us do this, including ‘Somatics,’ which I’ve been learning about, working in and teaching for the last 25 years.

Somatics is a mind/body methodology that supports deep personal change, trauma healing, and embodying new practices for individuals and groups. The aim is to align our skills and capacities, ways of being and relating, and actions with our values and visions, even under pressure. For Somatics this is the test: how do we think, act and relate from what we most care about, including in the most challenging of circumstances, rather than reacting from what is familiar and accepted?

For predictable reasons, we tend to resort back to our habits, training and survival strategies when we’re under stress. Somatics helps us to understand how the mind and body function as an integrated system to develop these habits through practice over time. We learn these practices through our families, communities, and the economic and social conditions in which we live and work, often ending up embodying oppressive social conditions or our reactions to them even when we don’t believe in them.

Somatics and other transformative approaches are powerful in their ability to lessen suffering, heal trauma, strengthen our capacity to love and be loved, increase our courage, and improve our ability to envision a different future and challenge oppression together. Generative Somatics, an organization I co-founded, has worked with thousands of social justice and climate justice leaders over the last decade to help them excavate trauma, oppression and privilege from the recesses in which they’re stored.

For example, we’ve partnered with the National Domestic Workers Alliance for many years in their leadership development programs. The Alliance organizes domestic workers and their allies in support of domestic workers’ rights. Domestic work is the ‘work that let’s all other work happen,’ like caring for children, keeping homes clean and functioning, and caring for the elderly while others go to work.

Through Somatics we explored the automatic reactions and default practices of these leaders, and how they affected the movement’s work and impact. As is understandable, many domestic workers - especially under pressure - appease or look to smooth over conflicts, especially with their employers. These are good survival strategies in navigating the conditions they experience like economic migration, poverty, racism, and expectations that stem from gender oppression. But they’re not the most useful skills for organizing, talking with politicians, or street actions – the kinds of things that are required to build an effective movement.

The training provided an opportunity for embodied transformation, healing, and learning new habits individually and collectively – like storytelling, how to have useful conflict with each other to further their strategies, and to be cared for as they care for others.

As with these domestic workers, under stress or threat our mind/body reacts in predictable ways. We tighten up or go slack, and move toward the pressure or away from it. We puff ourselves up or look to fight. We check out or appease. We adapt to find safety, belonging, and dignity. Somatics understands these things to be inherent needs for all people.

When our relationships or the environment around us become threatening or violent, we engage automatic mind/body survival reactions like fight, flight, freeze, appease and checking out. We don’t think about these reactions or plan them because they bypass the conscious mind so that we can react sufficiently quickly. But these same reactions then become generalized patterns of behavior, living in our neurons, muscles and tissues and affecting how we think and act in our work for liberation.

For example, one of the people I work with is a cis-gendered, queer, white woman and racial justice organizer. She was raised Mormon and working class, and was sexually abused as a child. When she came forward about this abuse as a young adult, her family and community turned against her, and threatened her with exile unless she recanted.

This represented a profound loss on top of the abuse and silencing she had already experienced. What was happening for her somatically? Her survival strategies told her to shrink and take up less room, to cast her eyes down automatically and let others have the final say - to assume that if she became empowered she would be isolated. Her chest was collapsed in towards her spine, shoulders curled, and she seemed to be backing away even when she wasn’t moving. Her body communicated appeasement and apology.

While these are all understandable survival strategies given her past experiences, they don’t serve her current leadership role, relationships or values. If someone pushes hard enough against her or disagrees loudly enough with her opinions, these same embodied habits rush to the foreground and take over. As she told me, she often feels at odds with herself, as if she were betraying her social justice work, because her reactions weren’t building trust with the people of color and communities that she’s committed to in her organizing work.

Oppressive social and economic conditions define, on a vast scale, who is given safety, belonging and dignity, and who isn’t. Why is Black Lives Matter such a radical call? Because it’s a call for the safety, belonging, and dignity of peoples for whom these things have been systemically denied since the beginning of the USA.

In turn, white people have embodied, through their own social and economic conditions, the experience that their (perceived) safety, belonging and dignity is based on racial domination and the centering of whiteness, assuming that “white” is the defining norm, the standard setter, the decider. That means that we’ve a lot of embodied transformation to do, along with enacting the necessary policy changes and a radical re-envisioning of the economy.

Methodologies that address embodiment are becoming increasingly popular in both the mainstream and in transformative social movements. But, like most coaching, consulting, mindfulness training and therapeutic approaches, Somatics, up until now, has been a primarily de-politicized field, with little or no social analysis of power, systemic oppression or privilege, and the profound impact they have on people, communities and the planet.

The focus is usually on the individual, or in some cases, a team or an organization. The outcomes of transformation, while often profound for those who have access to them, tend to be defined by social conditions that are built on dominance and accumulation: becoming more successful (i.e. wealthier and more powerful), less stressed (to keep the bottom line increasing), happier (for yourself but not necessarily for others), and more peaceful - caring about the world but not letting it disturb you too much.

These mainstream approaches often encourage practitioners to use the skills they learn to improve and advance themselves, and since the jobs that pay the most are in the corporate sector and government, challenging the drive for profit becomes counterproductive. Transformation is then used to support racial capitalism, so who uses these methods, and to what ends, are vital questions.

Embodied transformation should be inherently linked to collective action for equity, well-being and a sustainable future. Healing and social action should be inseparable, so using transformative work to uplift social justice leaders, making it accessible to them, and supporting their leadership in the field, are priorities. What does it take to embody justice personally? What does it take for masses of people to embody justice? The processes that create personal transformation and those that create social and economic transformation are distinct but interdependent.

Because we have embodied, and been shaped by, social and economic systems built on exercising power over others and over nature, we need to transform these experiences and develop collective practices that grow from a premise of interdependence. We can do this by integrating a deep social analysis and an understanding of the costs of racial capitalism and white supremacy into processes of transformative change. This is what Somatics with a social analysis aims to do.

Through powerful methods like these we can change our embodied practices to align with liberatory values. Healing can support the collective reckoning required to face how violence and oppression are baked into ourselves, our bodies and our relationships. Somatics can name and explore social oppression and privilege, and purposefully link personal change to collective action for liberation. Either we transform ourselves on purpose or we are defined by our circumstances.


Staci K. Haines’ new book is The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing and Social Justice.


By                           :                  Staci K. Haines

Date                       :                   August 11, 2020

Source                   :                   Open Democracy

Back to top

Why Rural America Is Joining the Movement for Black Lives


This story was updated to clarify that in addition to her affiliation with the Rockefeller Institute of Government, Patricia Strach is a political science professor at the University at Albany.


The list is long: Bethel, Alaska; Garden City, Kansas; Hailey, Idaho; Meridian, Mississippi; Kanab, Utah; Dubois, Wyoming.

In the weeks since a Minneapolis police officer pushed his knee into George Floyd’s neck and squeezed the life out of his body, residents of dozens of small towns across the country have held demonstrations to oppose police brutality and declare that black lives matter.

“There’s a few of us that still deny what we all saw on the television, but for most people, that visual was just too much,” said Veronica Womack, executive director of Georgia College and State University’s Rural Studies Institute in Milledgeville.

In St. Helens, Oregon, protesters demonstrated against a sometimes vocal and armed opposition, according to several attendees. In East Texas, a Black Lives Matter rally in a small town that was once a hotbed of the Ku Klux Klan came as such a surprise that some called it a setup.

At a protest organized by an 18-year-old in eastern Kentucky, “I can’t breathe” signs aligned the larger racial justice movement with the struggles of Appalachian coal miners suffering from black lung disease, according to the observations of a local reporter.

Those who study or live in rural America know that residents’ lives are intertwined across races. Families may have lived among each other for generations. In some tightknit communities, it doesn’t matter how many years someone has lived in the town, they’ll never be fully considered a local if not born there.

Unlike their urban counterparts, members of the local police force are often neighbors. People may know where the sheriff likes to grab lunch. Some have his cellphone number in their phones. Locals know which officers they can build a relationship with and which to avoid.

Close relationships among local law enforcement, public officials and one another make the rural response to Floyd’s killing uniquely personal. "The closeness that happens in rural America often is a mitigating force, if you will, where the work of racial justice can find some fertile ground," said the Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director of Faith in Action, a national network of faith-based community organizations.

"Stories of racial injustice at the hands of law enforcement in rural communities are just as numerous as they are from the lives of folks who live in urban communities. I think one distinction is that often things go unreported, and things are swept under the rug."

The Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director FAITH IN ACTION


Rural demonstrations aren’t drawing many outsiders, experts said. In that sense, people are protesting on their own terms without outside influence, said Womack, who described the rural demonstrations as a “civic engagement awakening.”

That awakening comes in part because rural populations are becoming more diverse and because white residents’ attitudes about racial discrimination and police tactics are changing. Still, demonstrations in some rural areas have drawn backlash, and many experts question whether they will result in change at the ballot box come November.


Rural Demographics

Americans’ surprise at the small-town protests may reflect old visions of what rural areas look like.

“If we look at rural communities and we wonder why they’re protesting, a lot of times it’s because the people we think live there are not actually the people who live there,” said Patricia Strach, a political science professor at the University at Albany. She is also the director for policy and research at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy think tank for the State University of New York system.

About 21% of rural America is nonwhite, according to the Pew Research Center. In some rural counties, people of color are the majority, such as blacks in the Southeast, Latinos in the Southwest and Native Americans in the Great Plains.

Black residents in many of the industrial towns of the Midwest settled there during the Great Migration of the early 1900s. They face many of the same issues facing African Americans in big cities, from Kankakee, Illinois, to Lima, Ohio, said Jonathan Rodden, a professor of political science at Stanford University. Residents in both towns held demonstrations.

Some rural parts of the country have growing populations of people of color. In the rural West, 203 of 278 counties have grown in population since 1980. All the population growth in 39 of the 203 growing counties was from minorities.

And many residents of small towns, especially college towns, lean left politically.

“While it may seem surprising to see white protesters on Main Street in a small town, these are often rather solidly Democratic places, especially if there is an institution of higher education in town,” Rodden said in an email. “And racial justice has become more central to the platform of the Democratic Party in recent years.”

In many smaller cities and towns — especially the county seat, where there is a courthouse and a concentration of public sector employees — precinct-level data shows that most downtowns lean Democratic, even in solid Republican counties, said Rodden, author of “Why Cities Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide.”

Although rural people overall are more aligned with Republicans, 38% of rural registered voters are Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. (The Pew Charitable Trusts funds the center and Stateline.)


Changing White Attitudes

Most Americans — including those in rural and suburban communities — sympathize with the nationwide demonstrations over Floyd’s death and disapprove of President Donald Trump’s response, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released June 2. The poll found that just over half of rural residents are sympathetic to the protesters, compared with 7 in 10 suburban residents.

Almost half of white Americans say police are more likely to use excessive force against a black person, which is nearly double the 25% who said the same in 2016, according to a separate poll released June 2 by Monmouth University.

The figures indicate that white Americans are realizing the risks black Americans face, even if they don’t agree with some of the recent protests, according to the university’s Polling Institute.

There is some evidence that since the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after a policeman shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man, white Democrats have become more racially progressive, Rodden said.

Compared with 2014, white Democrats are more likely now to attribute racial differences to discrimination and poor education rather than a lack of motivation among blacks, according to a 2019 report from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Since 2014, the share of white Democrats who say the government invests too little on boosting the conditions of blacks increased from 36% to 65%. It also rose among white Republicans, from 14% to 33%.

Democratic and Republican views on Black Lives Matter also have become more positive since the white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, three years ago, according to online polling and analytics company Civiqs.


It’s Personal

Still, some rural protests have drawn backlash.

Last week, a couple of high school boys in rural St. Helens, Oregon, wanted to organize a Black Lives Matter protest. Just before going to bed, they posted an event to the town’s popular Facebook group, Concerned Citizens of Columbia County.

By the time they woke late the following morning, locals had threatened via Facebook to run protesters over, shoot them or throw them in the Columbia River. The boys didn’t want anyone to get hurt so they canceled the protest. Another high school student, Savannah Manning, joined with a local organizer to revive the event.

“As a person of color, I felt greatly disappointed that the community could come together to end a protest that would’ve brought us together in the first place,” said 18-year-old Manning, who describes herself as black, Native American and white.

Hundreds of protesters showed up, nearly all white, reflecting the racial demographics of St. Helens. Meanwhile, white men with large guns lined the streets, and others were “protesting [the] protest,” Manning said. Some anti-protesters screamed racial slurs. Overall, attendees described the demonstration as peaceful.

“We thought it was really important, as a white community in particular, to stand in solidarity,” said Shana Cavanaugh, the local organizer who teamed up with Manning. “The police brutality and racism issue in general is a white problem, and it’s our responsibility to address it or take steps to fix it.”

Cavanaugh said she wasn’t aware of local police brutality. But she said it was important to push for transparency and accountability within the department because St. Helens lacks a sizeable population of people of color and gets little media coverage.

“It’s a lot easier for these things to come to light when they’re in large cities and there are people around to video it and put it out there and get the attention of news sources, but we don’t have that,” Cavanaugh said. “It could be insidious, but we don’t know.”


Lives Intertwined

With the close personal relationships in small communities, codes of silence can be formidable.

Take the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old black man gunned down in a small southeastern Georgia community while jogging in February. Arbery’s killing received widespread attention after a video surfaced of armed white men in pursuit of him.

It took months before officials made any arrests. One alleged assailant is a retired county police officer and investigator with the local district attorney’s office.

“If you were to speak to rural residents as we do, they will tell you that incidents like that are not uncommon in the history of the community where they reside,” Herring said.

“These protests are designed to call attention to a systemic problem in this country.”

Many of the relationships between the police and the community are dictated by the local sheriff, according to experts.

“I would tell you that in those small towns the most powerful person is not the mayor; it’s not even the governor,” Herring said. “The most powerful person is the local sheriff … [who] has the power to not only determine who gets arrested but who gets bail and who doesn’t get bail.”

Residents of rural and small or midsize counties make up 45% of the U.S. population, yet those counties account for 51% of nationwide arrests and 57% of jail admissions, according to research from the Vera Institute of Justice. Small and midsize counties have the highest arrest rates (3,487 per 100,000 residents), closely followed by rural areas.

In many rural communities across the country, a portion of the local sheriff’s budget is established through the per diem he receives from the state for the daily census of incarcerated people, Herring said, adding that sheriffs have a lot of discretion in how that money is spent.

“This is particularly true in the Southeast where the sheriff essentially has an interest in having his jails filled,” Herring said. “So, stories of racial injustice at the hands of law enforcement in rural communities are just as numerous as they are from the lives of folks who live in urban communities. I think one distinction is that often things go unreported, and things are swept under the rug.”


Voting Shift?

Whether the changes will affect the rural vote in November, experts are split.

Womack of the Georgia Rural Studies Institute predicts the protests will increase voter turnout in local and state elections.

Strach of the University of Albany said, “Political candidates are watching this. They know this is not good for the status quo. The usual message isn’t going to work.”

But it’s often local issues that drive elections, said Lisa Parshall, a professor of political science at Daemen College in Amherst, New York. Race is likely to play a factor in areas that have wrestled with police brutality, but voters may be less attuned to the ways race has shaped the structure of their communities, she said.

“I think there’s a willingness of people in some small communities who emphasize local control to say, ‘Oh yeah, we recognize there’s racism,’” Parshall said. “But they aren’t as willing to be aware of it, that things like local zoning rules also contribute to systemic racism.”

Dan Myers, a political scientist with the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, also doubts there will be any big changes this election cycle.

“I think if you’re a Republican state legislator outside the metropolitan area and outside of Duluth and Morehead, Minnesota, you probably still have a strong majority of your constituents who feel negatively toward these protests and find ways to rationalize the police violence,” Myers said.

But it's hard to tell how much of a cultural shift is happening when you're in it, said Kimberly Nalder, director of the Project for an Informed Electorate at California State University in Sacramento.

"This moment feels like we're having a major cultural shift that will reach every corner of the country," Nalder said.

For example, people will be more attuned to seeing future police interactions through the lens of social justice and civil rights, Nalder said.

There’s probably little chance that somebody with close personal relationships with local officials will change their vote, said Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College in Atherton, California.

“But a lot more folks are going to vote who are not the sheriff’s friend,” Michelson said. “And that’s entire plausible to me as a result of the passionate activism that I’m seeing from young people in my community.”


By                :                     April Simpson

Date            :                     June 12, 2020

Source        :                      The PEW Charitable Trusts      

Back to top