Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black-centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.
Earlier this year she wrote a story — ‘Progressive Is A Farce’ — Ask The Squad — for Hood Communist that we ran here at Washington Babylon. Because The Squad are popular on the Left, and also because they receive so much media attention, I asked Caines to answer Seven Questions about The Squad and expand on what she wrote in her story.
1/ The Squad — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashid Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley — are female, multicultural and progressive. Yet you wrote an article that was highly critical of them. To be direct, why don’t you like The Squad? And, if possible, can you rank them from 1 to 4, with 1 being your favorite (if that’s the right word here) member of The Squad and 4 being your least favorite? Please explain your rankings?
While it’s true I dislike “The Squad,” I want to clarify that this isn’t a personal dislike or a matter of not liking them as people. I simply do not respect or platform their liberal politics coated in radical language. The point of me writing that piece was to chip away at the ongoing mystification of these women who have continued to buckle and fold under pressure despite holding a legitimate voting block to build power. They all concede to power within the [democractic] party. With that said, I don’t have a favorite because I don’t favor their politics. However, if we were to rank on usefulness to actual working class people, I would say Rashida Talib only because of the many organizations I know that she works with directly in Detroit on issues that I also work on in the Baltimore/DMV area, like the militarization of police. However, even with that, she allows her squadmate AOC to mindlessly retort that federal funding of policing is a municipal issue.
2/ The Squad talks about the working class, which is rare in congress, where class is rarely discussed at all. What do you think of their policies for working class people?
I don’t think much of it. They have had countless opportunities to really show that they intend to be representatives of their working class constituents (like with federal minimum wage and Biden’s absolute lie about the amount for stimulus checks) and they instead chose to ease the people into the prominent position of the democratic party. AOC decided to make use of that window of opportunity to get something solid passed on federal minimum wage to argue with Jimmy Dore on Twitter. Omar was doing quick math on how far $1,400 could take a family, reminding us it would be better than nothing, of course.
The issue for me is, the democratic party is not a working class party so if you are attempting to scale gains made for working class people within a bourgeoise party, any progress made is leveled at working class people as good, but it only reaffirms a party that is innately anti-working class. Without that sort of clarity, people will champion AOC’s choice to attend a strike and ignore that she made a “strategic” political decision with the livelihood of masses of working class people.
3. They also talk about imperialism, which I find extremely refreshing. That’s a good thing, right? What do you think of their foreign and military policy? Are there any significant differences among them?
What does it mean to talk about imperialism? What are we saying when we talk about it? What are we doing when we talk about it? When I think about imperialism, which Lenin explains is the highest stage of capitalism, and how it manifests on not just a global but domestic level, I don’t find any of it refreshing at all. What I find it to be, at best, is a convenient co-opting of struggles.
When Omar took that critical stand behind her tweet about AIPAC that exposed what organizers and activists in solidarity with Palestine have always said, particularly in New York, that was an important moment! It exposed so much about the US govt and its ties to Israel and I was able to use that moment to emphasize the ongoing work I was doing in helping community understand domestic imperialism through the deadly exchange programs— but then she turns around and supports AFRICOM months later after surviving that lashing from both sides of the aisle.
AOC recently called out Kamala Harris’ “do not come” remarks on twitter by correctly mentioning, “the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and then blame them for fleeing” BUT LIKE SIS —- YOU SIDED WITH THE PEOPLE SUPPORTING THE COUP IN BOLIVIA. AOC is literally on the floor of congress saying “free Tibet.” AOC is in favor and in support of the capitol police and boldly arguing that funding of police is a municipal issue.
And Ayanna, who I believe is only considered a member because they all entered congress together because her politics are firmly not-left, supported anti-BDS legislation. So what does it mean to talk about imperialism if you are actively engaging it?
4. Bernie Sanders is sort of an Elder Statesman for progressives in general and for The Squad in particular. What’s your take on Sanders?
Sanders is a social-imperialist and if he is advising The Squad, it shows
5/ In the overall scheme of things, the four members of The Squad are far more to the left than the vast majority of congress. AOC defeated and replaced a terrible centrist Democrat named Joe Crowley. OK, they’re not perfect, but aren’t they worth supporting?
The people are worth supporting. It’s important to ask ourselves when discussing any politician, “Are they supporting the people?”
6. What about Biden and the Democrats more broadly? Can the party be saved?
Biden is who he has always been — a warmongering bigoted racist neoliberal austerity-loving white man. Biden holds no distinction from a Pelosi or a Schumer or even a Manchin who they are all pretending is on the fringe. And as more Black people, particularly Black women, make their way as representatives of the party, we can see they are holding that party line despite the real harm it’s causing to Black people. This is true from city to city across the country.
I don’t know if the party can be saved, but I watch countless amounts of really great organizers try every single election cycle to no avail. Just little wins here and there, but no significant change in the socio, political or economic realities we face. But again, this is not a working class party. It’s a party of pity where the extent of the work is feeling bad enough to “speak truth to power,” but never actually concede any.
I, however, don’t believe in saving either bourgeoise party.
7. So, as Lenin once asked, What is to be done? Is it worth fighting within the existing political system at all? Are there other political priorities? If so, what are they and what’s a better way to work for change?
Many of the questions you asked focused on the working class. So my answer would be for the Black working class to organize towards real Black working class political power. With an understanding that all things are political, we can understand that real political power extends beyond the ballots. It informs the ways we organize, the way we self-determine or even understand the concept of self-determination and it decentralizes the stronghold both parties have on our people.
I am not anti-elections. I understand the need and process for elections in a TRUE democracy. The US has never been that and has never come close to tasting that so long as it remains a settler colony and operates as such. But even with knowing that, that does not strip away the capacity for us to build a contending force to that power. Much of that is what’s kept in mind when talking about community control of housing or schools or hospitals, or even police— a decentralizing of that stronghold. That is how I understand politics as a member of a Black working class political party here in Maryland, The Ujima People’s Progress Party. And that is how I understand putting Lenin’s words into material use.