On August 2, 2018, President Donald Trump held a rally at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, campaigning for U.S. Senate candidate Lou Barletta. In protest of the event, Action Together NEPA, in collaboration with other groups, hosted “NEPA Against Hate.” Jamie Longazel from Anthracite Unite was one of several speakers at the protest. What follows is a transcript of his prepared remarks.
Hate has consequences.
People actually tend to treat each other decently. It’s when we stop seeing our fellow human beings as human beings when things get ugly.
Dehumanization is a prerequisite for violence.
Dehumanization is a prerequisite for human rights violations.
Dehumanization is a prerequisite for genocide.
Powerful people justified the enslavement of Africans in this country by labeling them subhuman.
They justified the extermination of American Indians, the taking of the very land we’re standing on today, by labeling them savages.
And the 19th century coal barons here in Northeastern Pennsylvania justified the brutal exploitation of many European immigrants by insisting they were inherently lazy, crime-prone, filthy, and all those sorts of things.
Today, when powerful people refer to people as “illegal aliens” over and over again, we become capable, as a society, of taking babies from their parents. Capable of putting kids in cages.
When they refer to Muslims as terrorists, we become capable of bombing nations without regard for civilian casualties.
And when we continue the practice of labeling Black folks as “thugs,” police can get away with shooting and killing unarmed people in the streets.
This is not to mention how the mocking of the disabled, the demeaning of women, and attacks on LGBTQ folks have created the conditions for violence against those groups, and others too.
Like a pot of water left on the stove too long, that arena is about to boil over with hatred. And in the center of it all is Lou Barletta – one of the most, if not the most, despicable public figures in our region’s history.
Lou Barletta rose to prominence by passing an anti-immigrant ordinance in my hometown of Hazleton – an ordinance that was drafted by a self-described white nationalist from a California-based hate group.
Barletta has spoken at rallies alongside fringe nativist extremists.
He has done interviews with Holocaust-denying publications.
The British anti-Semite Nigel Farage was here raising money for him last month.
Barletta was silent after Charlottesville… and silent every single time racial terrorism is inflicted upon people of color in this country.
Barletta sits on the advisory board of FAIR, a nativist-extremist group with eugenicist origins – an organization that advocates race-based population control.
This man has trafficked in hatred his entire political career. He and Donald Trump are indeed hatred personified.
But this is bigger than that. Bigger than Barletta. Bigger than Trump, even.
Because here’s the other thing about hate: The ruling class uses it as a tool. A tool to keep us divided.
They always have…
Plantation owners taught poor white folks to hate Black folks in exchange for being treated just a little bit better.
The coal barons of this region taught established working class folks to hate successive immigrant groups – Italians, the Irish, the Slavs – and if they did they got to move up one rung on the mining hierarchy.
And here today people like Lou Barletta and Donald Trump have our working class brothers and sisters buying up Confederate flags, watching conspiracy theorists on TV, and convinced that this billionaire and his minions are actually on our side, on the side of the working class.
But it’s not the working class – regardless of which party you identify with, if any – who’s going to benefit from the economic agenda they’re trying to roll out.
It’s not the working class who’ll benefit from their plans to leave even more of us without healthcare.
It wasn’t working class people who benefited in Hazleton when Barletta supported a massive corporate tax giveaway that gave exploitative multi-national giants like Cargill and Amazon a free ride… while in Luzerne County, one-in-seven adults and one-in-three children live in poverty.
Trickle-down economics is just a fancy way to say that poor and working class folks are about to get pissed on.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying their supporters are stupid. I’m not even saying they’re our enemies. This isn’t sports where “my team” competes against “your team” and we viscerally root for one another to fail.
People’s lives are at stake. The health and vitally of our community is at stake. Hell, our very existence as a species is at stake.
My point is that hate is both toxic and divisive. And they’re poisoning our working class brothers and sisters with it as they always have.
What we see around us tonight is a symptom; the politics of divide and conquer is the disease.
We don’t need to try and make peace with neo-Nazis. But we do need to figure out a way to re-channel the misplaced fear and anxiety that’s prevalent in our communities. “Punching down” isn’t going to do it. Nor is insisting that everything was okay before Trump came along. Because it wasn’t.
We’ve suffered economically in this region for far too long. It’s time we come together around that. It’s time we offer people in our community something that’s more attractive than what’s about to go down in that arena. Something that lifts all of us up – not something that pushes others down in exchange for a little psychological boost. Because as ugly as it may be, we’ve got to face up to the fact that they’re in there giving people something to get excited about.
To do that, we’re going to need to remember who we are and where we came from.
Because you know damn well the media’s going to swoop in here and call this place “Trump Country.” They’re going to try to tell the world that what we see around this arena defines us as a people.
But this ain’t Trump country! This is the Coal Region!
We’ve got resistance in our blood. Countless times our mining ancestors walked out of work in wildcat strikes to protest unfair treatment.
This ain’t Trump Country!
On several occasions we’ve had tens of thousands – tens of thousands of workers organized and out in the streets fighting against the wealthy elite.
This ain’t Trump country!
We have ancestors who were murdered by rich folks’ hired guns while fighting for their freedom.
This ain’t Trump country!
When coal companies laid off tens of thousands of miners in the 1930s, our people went out and dug coal themselves, literally taking the means of production away from the people who exploited them.
Because this ain’t Trump country!
The garment industry came here in the early twentieth century because workers in New York City were organized and they thought the women here would be a cheap and exploitable labor force. And what did the women do? They organized hundreds of shops and thousands of workers and made sure people had their basic needs met.
Because this ain’t Trump country!
We’ve had actual working class heroes come here to visit us, to organize with us. Mother Jones; John Mitchel; Cesar Chavez!
Look, I know these are scary times. I know this feels like nothing we’ve confronted before, like our whole world has been turned upside down and shaken up.
But this struggle isn’t new to us. We have fought this battle before. We’ve fought hatred before and we’ve fought the politics of division before.
And we know we need unity to win. They know we need unity to win.
Let’s get it.
Jamie Longazel, a Hazleton native, is a co-founder of Anthracite Unite and the author of “Undocumented Fears: Immigration and the Politics of Divide and Conquer in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.” He also teaches at John Jay College and is a member of Put People First! PA and the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign. You can learn more about his work at www.JamieLongazel.com or follow him on Twitter, @JLongazel.