Who should read How We Win The Civil War – Securing a Multiracial Democracy and Ending White Supremacy for Good by Steve Phillips
A review by Susan Hayase, Posted March 3, 2023.
Everybody. If you care about the situation we are in today, the grim and unabated persistence of attacks on democracy, the growth of fascism, you should read this book. If you feel committed to being a part of the struggle, and if you want your commitment to be couched in an eyes-wide open perspective and understanding of where we are right now, you should read this book. If your place-based, grassroots organizing tendency is to look for opportunities to win rather than grievances to scratch, read this book.
People like me should read it. I did and I feel uplifted by it.
I’m a third-generation Japanese American woman whose parents and grandparents were detained in U.S. concentration camps during WWII. I came up during the struggle for redress/reparations for former incarcerees, and I came to have an understanding of how capitalism and racism formed the basis for slavery and white supremacy in the United States. I worked to elect Jesse Jackson during the Democratic presidential primary in 1988 as part of Asian Americans for Jesse Jackson, and I’ve traveled to Cuba with Reese Ehrlich and learned that socialism exists, works, and is not perfect but is a process. I’ve been a part of building Japanese American community support for HR40, the legislation creating a commission to study and propose reparations remedies for slavery and its legacy, and I recommend that you read HWWTCW.
What Steve Phillips is saying in this book, a powerful sequel to his first, Brown is the New White – How the Demographic Revolution has Created a New American Majority, is that the masses of working people struggling for a better life, those who are fighting back against disempowerment and pushing to change fundamental inequities, and those who are working overtime to build the reality and strength of multi-racial democracy….are on the right track, and that there are strategies that can be used to win.
The first half of HWWTCW, is a much-needed re-education about the U.S. Civil War and draws the necessary conclusions about the relevance of the continuity of white supremacist efforts to the political situation we’re in today. Most of us have had very inadequate instruction about this part of American history – up to and including not-so-subtle paeans to the “Lost Cause,” the romanticization of the Confederacy reflected in the enduring popularity of the blockbuster 1939 film “Gone with the Wind” which is still the biggest moneymaker in film history. What is missing from most of our history curriculum is the important observation that Steve makes about the repeated failure of the northern politicians on the Union side to wipe out the Confederacy and white supremacy and the unrelenting determination of the very strong vestiges of the Confederacy to hunker down and use every trick in the constitutional and electoral book to survive and to try to roll back every democratic, anti-racist win then and since then.
A schoolhouse for Black children is burned by a white mob in the Memphis Riots of 1866. Wikimedia Commons
The Confederacy is alive and kicking, and we must rally our forces to defeat it.
What has commonly been opined about as white people “voting against their own interests” is essentially a rejection of multi-racial democracy in favor of an embrace of whiteness. One of the powerful examples Steve writes about is a story of a white man dying from a curable condition because, with his enthusiastic support, his state is refusing funding for Obamacare medical insurance from the federal government. He’d rather die than accept medical care “from a N*****.” This is not hard to understand given the continuity of efforts to control and truncate the history and political education of the Southern states and the on-going “leadership” in this area by those including the United Daughters of the Confederacy and their promotion of their pro-confederate catechism, even today.
The full court offense against voting rights in many states, especially the states of the former Confederacy, is another example of the long-term practice of white supremacists never giving an inch to democracy. Lying, cheating, and using the law-making machineries of democracy to restrict eligibility, limit voting days and hours, are normal and historically consistenttacticsof the Confederacy which has never, ever conceded defeat or their desire to rule a white nation.
The second half of HWWTCW is the liberation strategy for those of us who choose multi-racial democracy over the preservation of whiteness, and it’s a strategy that is being played out in the news in the pitched battle between red and blue states. Many of us have been involved in this through citizens’ PACs, voter registration drives, and get-out-the-vote texting, letter-writing, and phone banking.
African American First Vote in Reconstruction as depicted on cover of Harper’s Weekly, 1867. Illustration by Alfred Waud.
Some of the most dynamic and high level, committed leadership – which Steve calls “level 5 leadership” – is happening today and everyday for the last ten years or so in the grassroots of the states of the former Confederacy which have flipped or are in the process of flipping from red to blue, bringing the possibility of a new political reality and new opportunities for change. These efforts take advantage of the real conditions in this country, namely the demographic growth of what Steve calls the “Obama coalition” but which goes far beyond that today. Steve provides exciting and inspiring examples from voting rights efforts in Virginia, Georgia, Arizona, and Texas that demonstrate this solid, practical Liberation Battle Plan that includes 1) investing in “Level 5 leaders,” 2) building strong civic engagement organizations, 3) developing detailed data driven (and place-based!) plans, and 4) by playing the long game.
HWWTCW makes sense for those of us who appreciate that it’s the masses who make history. One of the things that deeply moved me in the book was when Steve included the Japanese American movement for redress/reparations for their WWII racist removal and incarceration in a list of examples of the people rising up in a reverberation of the Civil Rights movement.
A multi-racial democracy is the birthright of the people of the United States. Despite its failure to condemn slavery from the outset, the Constitution and its amendments contain within them the aspirations of equality and justice, and building what is not merely a coalition, but the culmination of centuries of democratic struggle, is somehow seemingly within our grasp based on current conditions and the fullest possible exercise of voting rights. When we have mobilized voters of color and our progressive white allies, we have the power to elect progressive representatives and to control the state legislatures, Congress, and the White House in order to protect and expand voting rights and to enact policies that will move us towards making decent housing, quality education, universal healthcare, and public safety a reality.
Photo from Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) website. Nov. 6, 2022.
The electoral arena is not the only battle happening against fascism, but it’s a central one that is inextricably intertwined with the policy battles happening locally and statewide all around the country – to redesign, defund, and reform the police and the criminal justice system; to assertively protect the environment and respond to the climate crisis; to explore the possibilities of a universal basic income. It’s these battles that are producing the progressive candidates for representative office on the state and national level and which are helping to develop a progressive national agenda that the growing tsunami of voters of color and progressive white voters will help to bring about.
Read How We Win The Civil War – Securing Multiracial Democracy and Ending White Supremacy for Good by Steve Phillips for a good grounding in the historical moment and for good ideas to apply to your work today.
Note: HWWTCW is available at booksellers everywhere and here.
Author’s Bio: Susan Hayase is a third generation Japanese American and long-time activist in the San Jose Japanese American community. Her parents were incarcerated at Gila River, AZ and Amache, CO. Part of the grassroots movement for Japanese American redress, working in the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee (NOC) which was a founding member of the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR), she performed with San Jose Taiko from 1980 through 1990 and served as vice chair of the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund Board (created by the redress bill for public education.) Her work with the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, included the #Don’tExcludeUs series exploring parallels between Japanese American incarceration and other historic oppression including the so-called Mexican Repatriation, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Muslim Ban. She is one of the founders of San Jose Nikkei Resisters, a multi-generational grassroots organization which organizes support for HR40 reparations for slavery, re-imagining public safety, and is concerned about gentrification of San Jose Japantown. She also co-directs the Hidden Histories of San Jose Japantown Augmented Reality community art project that reveals the Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese American roots of San Jose Japantown.
Continue the good fight! Your support of Black justice is as important as Asian justice — as America’s history is about all of us: we are all interwoven and need to see the WHOLENESS that America-racism does not want us to see, which is solidarity with other minorities. Whether it was 1619 for Blacks or 1848 onwards for Asians, including other minorities — we are in this together. I am an elder, and a first-generation born in Chinatown San Francisco. Today, so glad you are continuing the good fight and moving “truth to power” for all of us.
Thank you! Interwoven and WHOLE, not divided and separate! Yes!
Wholeheartedly, in unity,