By Ed Dalton
Tribune of the People sat down with members and supporters of the Mike Ramos Brigade to discuss its brief history and its indefinite hiatus pending reorganization.
On the night Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black-Latino man was gunned down in the East Riverside neighborhood of Southeast Austin, community activists were quick to respond. Within an hour of the shooting, the first protest started and Tribune of the People went out to cover it. Those protesters would organize together as the Mike Ramos Brigade and go on to lead some of the largest, most rebellious and combative protests in Austin’s history.
According to those involved since the beginning, the group suffered from two things: inexperience and fatigue. They waxed and waned, and throughout the mass protest movement in Austin they became one of the larger protest groups. While they maintained a street presence longer than many other new groups, they have failed to keep it up and must now reorganize.
Remarkably, the group has survived attack from many sides, mainly the police department, with Austin Police Association (APA) head Ken Cassaday calling for the group’s destruction on social media, and the Austin Intelligence Resource Center, a fusion center where APD and the FBI collaborate and share information, making up rumors and profiling the group.
MRB have sustained dozens of arrests, forming a large part of the more than 200 arrested in Austin since the May Uprisings. All through this, the Brigade was at the forefront. On top of all this, the local reformists (commonly called ‘sell-outs’) and revisionists (phony ‘socialists’) relentlessly attacked the group. While MRB is being battered by the police, opportunists generate rumors that the Brigade is a police plot—these opportunists’ allegations only serve the police according to a Brigade member.
None of these external pressures could decrease the group’s morale according to one supporter who attended almost every action. The more they were attacked, the more people would join and show interest. It was a good thing. It is only the internal problems that have destabilized the group and caused it to go on indefinite hiatus pending reorganization for an unstated amount of time.
Sources within the Brigade explain that the problem is one of leadership. Many of the leaders lacked enthusiasm and became pessimistic, and these leaders were mainly middle-class professionals and not workers who have no choice but to struggle. One Brigade member commented that the group did many things right in terms of uniting the diverse movement and working with others who they disagreed with, including some of the reformists who once attacked them. All maintain their commitment to the struggle for Black lives, they just intend to do this in different ways.
One serious issue Tribune has observed, which must be understood by any protest group, is that sufficient training was not taken up by MRB. On the organizational level, the group never learned to march and fight as a unit. This can only be understood as a disconnect between their theory and their practice—a fault of leadership. The group would often allow itself to be separated, argue amongst themselves in public, and fail to react swiftly when attacked, leaving most of the defensive actions to unorganized sympathizers who are mainly workers that do not suffer from the Brigade leaders’ lack of confidence.
Maoism teaches that whatever does not fully rely on the masses crumbles like a house of cards—this lesson explains the conditions of MRB. While their contributions to the struggle in Austin will never be forgotten, they have run their course, and those we have spoken to are not sad about it. In numerous instances, its leadership failed to respond to developing conditions until the general body membership forced them to act, and in many other instances these leaders, according to our sources, would try and pump the breaks on action, desiring to turn the group into a cultural organization rather than one focused on protest and fighting for the people. The Brigade suffered from a right opportunist deviation in leadership, one that was so tailist that it could not even keep pace with their own members, corrupting and weakening the group organizationally.
One thing is certain from the discussions we have carried out: the MRB was not fruitless. It was the first to organize actions for Mike Ramos, the first to raise the demand of firing APD Chief Brian Manley, and the first to call for mass action in Austin in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. They were essential to the May Uprisings and brought thousands away from the clutches of those who seek capitulation to and collaboration with the state. The organization brought in many young people, who have begun to demand the end of the old imperialist order. They will not be stifled by right opportunist leadership and they will not recoil from struggle. It is these bright young militant activists who will stay organized and reorganize something better in the place of the now defunct MRB. This is a good thing, and all of the repression and assaults amount to a tempering in practical experience.
The revolutionary leftists within the former MRB expressed that however long it takes to reorganize, it must be on the basis of the following principles: 1) anti-imperialism as the main focus of their work in opposition to state-sanctioned murder and other crimes against the people, 2) clear opposition to sectarian deviations with a focus on principled political and ideological struggle, 3) earnest regard to fighting without fatigue, never avoiding conflict, 4) a high morale based on revolutionary optimism and overflowing with enthusiasm, and most importantly, 5) they must develop leaders capable of meeting the situation at hand, capable of leading. It is the lack of these five criteria which demand the group’s reorganization in the future and an end to the Brigade.
Tribune of the People has chosen not to attribute direct quotes and has reworded the statements of those we have interviewed with their permission in order to conceal their identity since the group faced a great deal of reactionary state repression. We have also chosen to not name the group’s leadership, who will be left to face the criticism of history and the comrades they have let down.
The necessity of reorganization, according to those Tribune spoke to, is not a victory for the state, but an example of the movement doing what it needs to in order to ready itself for even better and larger actions, allowing the group to exist in a disorganized way would benefit no one but the enemy.