Due to Joe Biden appointing Ohio’s 11th Congressional District Representative Marcia Fudge to his cabinet, a special election will be held to replace Fudge, likely in August or September, 2021. Summer special elections are best known for ultra low voter turnout, perhaps 10% or lower. Since Nina Turner has announced her candidacy, leftists in America are thus faced with the question of whether or not to spend their second COVID summer in Cleveland, organizing for Bernie Sanders’ most visible African American supporter so she wins a splintered Democratic Party primary with a handful of votes. What’s a Marxist to do? Let’s ask Shaft.
In the landmark 1971 film Shaft, actors Richard Roundtree (the African American playing private eye Shaft) and Charles Cioffi (Italian American playing police lieutenant Vic Androzzi), talk about race after Shaft refuses to name names. “Warms my black heart to see you so concerned about us minority folks,” says Shaft. Androzzi responds by holding a black pen next to Shaft’s face to compare the colors. “Come on, Shaft, what is it with this black shit? Huh? You ain’t so black.” Shaft then holds a white coffee cup next to Androzzi’s face declaring, “You ain’t so white, baby!”
According to St. Xavier University professor and attorney Jacqueline Battalora, the racial concept of “white” was invented, by law, to prevent solidarity amongst slaves and indentured servants against land holding colonizers in Virginia in Maryland. Battalora argues in her 2013 book “Birth of a White Nation” that the very first appearance in law, “on planet Earth”, of the term “white” is the 1681 Anti-Miscegenation law of colonial Maryland, enacted in response to Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. The 1681 law banned marriage between “white women” and “negro slaves”. Battalora notes in a 2014 speech on her book that the 1681 law was not an extension of English common law, but entirely new law for the purpose of colonies.
In fact, the “lawmakers” of colonial Maryland who invented the human genetic sludge category of “white” were completely illegitimate tools of imperial capitalism in every conceivable way. They did not enact a “law” so much as they amended their articles of incorporation. Obviously, an English king (James I) stole the land called “Maryland” from indigenous tribes. Whatever “government” King James and his successors created on that land was constituted exclusively by male “owners” of the stolen land under “royal charters”, i.e. corporations. Indeed, the mother ship corporation that created every colonial royal charter - from the East India Company, to the Plymouth Company, to the Virginia Company - exists even today. All trace their legal birth to the City of London Corporation, an entity at least a thousand years old, which itself has no document whatsoever establishing its existence. Today, the City of London Corporation (now lovingly called “the City” or “the Square Mile”) is the center of world finance, a medieval black hole through which the undead legal tendrils of the British Empire form the City’s tax haven archipelago across the Caymans, Bermuda, etc.
That Empire Strikes Back every time we utter the words “white” or “black”, because those words are corporate imperial insertions into the mind, designed by capital, solely for the benefit of capital. Here we see Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony of capital at its most brutal core; the very words around which we structure our world, thus voluntarily enforcing the value system of capital, merely pop out of our mouths. No bother is made of their origin, nor why those words work their magic. They are just...there, like air we breathe. Much is groundbreaking about the 1971 movie Shaft, hailed as the first “Blaxploitation” film, but somehow lost is this incredible scene where an Italian and an African teach each other with one glimpse that none of us are actually black, nor white.
Ohio’s “black seat”, which Nina Turner is now running to fill, has been gerrymandered by both parties for decades to be one of Ohio’s safest Democratic Party districts. Because Cleveland has been hollowed out by capital for decades, what used to be a 90% African American district now must be rather larger on a map, so is today only 54% African American. Thus, OH11’s 2021 version is a serpentine masterpiece, snaking from Cleveland’s poorest inner city African American & Hispanic precincts, then weirdly south through some of Ohio’s most affluent Cleveland suburbs, then into a sprawling exurbian no mans land of McMansion dead zones, then back into impoverished inner city precincts in Akron, to collect Democrats.
OH11 is thus less a “black” seat, than a Democratic Party seat. Another assumption which capital’s cultural hegemony enforces through our acquiescence is that whoever wins the Democratic primary for OH11 will be elected to Congress. In fact, should Nina Turner win this summer’s Democratic Party primary and rise to Congress, she will join a Democratic Party establishment in Northeast Ohio Nina herself forged with her own hands in 2009 with the most consequential political act of her life. Nina Turner was the only African American elected official to endorse a thinly veiled corporate takeover of Cuyahoga County government in 2009, via a new county charter which left as the only remaining countywide elected official besides the chief executive, guess who...the county prosecutor. That prosecutor, Bill Mason, who wrote the 2009 charter himself to preserve his own seat specifically, remains as current county executive Armond Budish’s chief of staff. Thus, Congresswoman Nina Turner will reunite with Mason, 12 years after (quite literally) creating him, at the top of Cleveland’s wholly owned subsidiary of capital, the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party.
“It is what it is.” That’s the answer you get to such obvious grotesquery from activists supporting Nina Turner for the Democratic Party nomination to the OH11 seat. Why acquiesce to this? Further, why on earth should Nina Turner acquiesce to a Democratic Party primary structure that she knows full well, based on two Bernie Sanders primary catastrophes, is rigged to its core? Because now maybe, just maybe, she can rig it herself? No, Nina, it does not need to be “what it is.” Nina Turner must refuse acquiescence to this cultural hegemony, and run as an independent for OH11. Otherwise, leftists should refuse acquiescence to Nina’s enforcement of capital’s cultural hegemony, and refuse to support her campaign.
Good news being, the circumstances this summer could not be better for refusing acquiescence to this rotted value system. First, the ultra low turnout of this special election primary will outsize the importance of the voting bloc most likely to turnout in OH11, concentrated in the largest Jewish community in America outside New York City, which would not be in this district but for capital’s total destruction of the city of Cleveland. The Democratic Party’s establishment favorite, county chair Shontel Brown, has already signaled that her entire campaign will be focused on these votes, as if she’s running to represent Israel in Congress, not Cleveland and Akron. Upon one visit to her website, you’d be forgiven for thinking Shontel Brown is the world’s most delightful black Jewish lady practically signed up for a kibbutz in some West Bank settlement. AIPAC (which paid for Shontel’s obligatory sight seeing in Israel in 2018), Democratic Majority for Israel, all the usual suspects are lined up to unload hundreds of thousands of dark money dollars and countless whisper campaigns to smear Nina with the “anti-semitism” canard that was so effective against Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, rolled out against Bernie (a Jew, we must apparently remind everyone), and used last year against Ilhan Omar. In an ultra low turnout special primary, such weaponization of identity politics will be nearly impossible to overcome, no matter how much money Nina raises, especially since Nina has proven beyond doubt she can’t build an organization to manufacture turnout.
But if Nina runs as an independent, she faces Shontel Brown’s Congresswoman for Israel routine in November, when many localities in OH11 are holding (crucially) non-partisan municipal elections, including the city of Cleveland, where Nina needs the highest turnout she can get. And guess who is likely to be running for mayor of Cleveland in 2021 - incredibly, Dennis Kucinich. An “I told you so” comeuppance 40 years in the making, the prospect of Kucinich running for mayor already has Cleveland media targeting him in a catatonic panic. Cleveland turnout in November would dwarf the pro-Israel turnout and deliver Nina to Congress over any Corbyn-esque smear campaign. And a Dennis-Nina ticket would electrify leftists nationally, mostly because it would be a total rejection of capital’s cultural hegemony.
That is the power of saying no. All around us is a Gramscian experiment, the old world dying, the new one struggling to be born. This “time of monsters”, as the saying has been bastardized, was actually coined by Antonio Gramsci in the original Italian as “morbid phenomenon”. No phenomenon is quite as morbid as the undead zombie of Northeast Ohio Democratic Party politics in a special election for U.S. Congress in early 21st century late stage capitalism. Like Shaft telling Androzzi he ain’t so white, baby, nothing has been so ripe for refusal to acquiesce.
Tim Russo is author of Ghosts of Plum Run, an ongoing historical fiction series about the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Tim's career as an attorney and international relations professional took him to two years living in the former soviet republics, work in Eastern Europe, the West Bank & Gaza, and with the British Labour Party. Tim has had a role in nearly every election cycle in Ohio since 1988, including Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. Tim ran for local office in Cleveland twice, earned his 1993 JD from Case Western Reserve University, and a 2017 masters in international relations from Cleveland State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 1989. Currently interested in the intersection between Gramscian cultural hegemony and Gandhian nonviolence, Tim is a lifelong Clevelander.