Thursday, December 18, 2014

Unmasking The Black Bloc


Originally posted on Occupy.com

"The Black Bloc always defend the demonstrations when the police come here.” - Ariane Santos, 26-year-old Brazilian student
“The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement.” - Chris Hedges
The Black Bloc: some love it, others hate it. Many condemn Black Blockers for engaging in property destruction and lack of central organization, yet others appreciate them and see their divisive actions as a positive, arguing for a diversity of tactics. However, what many are lacking is an understanding of the Black Bloc, it's history, the types of people who are in it, and the problems within.
While this is a brief exploration of the Black Bloc, those who are interested further should read "Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs? Anarchy In Action Around the World," by Francis Dupuis-Déri (translated by Lazer Lederhendler), which not only provided the research for this article, but also explores on a deeper level what the black block is, the tactics and beliefs of black blockers, and criticism of the Black Bloc.
To begin to discuss black blocs, there must first be an understanding of what a black bloc is. Black blocs are “ad hoc assemblages of individuals or affinity groups that last for the duration of a march or rally” in which members retain their anonymity via head-to-toe black clothing. While there may be uses of force, “more often than not they are content to protest peacefully” with the main objective being to “embody within a demonstration a radical critique of the economic and political system.” A black bloc can be one person or thousands. It should be noted the black bloc isn't a group, but rather a tactic to allow for radicals to engage in direct action without fear of arrest; while many black blockers are anarchist, not all of them are.
Origins
Black blocs came out of the autonomous movement in Germany in the 1980s, specifically West Germany where “radical feminists had a profound effect on the Automen, injecting the movement with a more anarchist spirit than was the case elsewhere in Western Europe.” The Automen expressed their politics via “rent strikes and re-appropriating hundreds of buildings which were turned into squats” that doubled as spaces for political activity.
There is no definitive moment when the term black bloc came into usage, although there are different stories. The first major arrival of a black bloc was in 1986 when a massive black bloc was formed to defend the Hafenstrasse squat where 1,500 black blockers and 10,000 other demonstrators confronted the police and saved the squat.
Black bloc ideas and tactics soon spread to North America via fanzines, personal contacts and punk music groups, but there is also a more interesting reason as to how black bloc tactics spread. Sociologists Charles Tilly, Doug McAdam and Dieter Rucht, all of whom specialize in social movements, have shown that “for different periods and places there exist repertoires of collective action deemed effective and legitimate for the defense and promotion of a cause. These repertories are transformed and disseminated over time and across borders from one social movement to another, in accordance with the experiences of militants and the changes in the political sphere.”
Essentially, tactics and ideas spread over time from one social movement to another depending on their effectiveness and how the tactics will work within the context of each movement. Two modern day examples of this could be the physical encampment of spaces from the Occupy movement and the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture from the anti-police brutality movement that has recently sprung up surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
The first time the black bloc made a major move in North America was during a January 1991 rally against the Persian Gulf war where the World Bank building was targeted. Black bloc tactics were also used by the militant anti-racist group Anti-Racist Action, which focuses on directly confronting neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Who They Are, How They are Organized
While the black bloc may be made up of militants, they are consistently categorized as hooligans, thugs and youths who take joy in private property destruction. Thus, there needs to be further exploration of the types of people under the masks.
It should be noted the black blocs, at least in the U.S. and Europe, are generally overwhelmingly white and male. However, there is some diversity. In a communiqué published days after the demonstrations against the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa, Mary Black (a pseudonym for a protester who took part in the protests) noted that most of the people she knew who used black bloc tactics “have days jobs working for nonprofits. Some are schoolteachers, labor organizers, or students. Some don't have full-time jobs, but instead spend most of their time working for change in their communities.[...] These are thinking and caring folks who, if they did not have radical political and social agendas, would be compared with nuns, monks, and others who live their lives in service.”
Dupuis-Déri himself stated that in interviews he has had with black blockers, many had been involved in the social sciences and that “in a number of cases, their research projects dealt with the political significance and consequences of demonstrations and direct actions,” suggesting “that their political involvement was grounded in serious political thinking.”
Thus, those who involve themselves in black bloc tactics are not necessarily people who are at protests solely to break things, although such types of people do come in and cause problems.
Before discussing the issue of property destruction, it would be pertinent to know how black blocs are organized. Black bloc groups attempt to function in a horizontal manner, with each person having equal say in deliberating issues and where the goal is consensus rather than voting. In order to do this, black blockers form affinity groups, which are groups “generally composed of between a half-dozen and several dozen individuals whose affinity results from ties that bind them, such as belonging to the same school, workplace, or political organization.” By having previous ties to one another, members in affinity groups are able to coordinate much easier.
The Issue of Property Destruction
Not all black blockers engage in property destruction. While one may use black bloc tactics, there are different roles one can play. Groups take into account things such as a person's immigration status, health problems, previous arrest record and the like, and at-risk individuals can engage in low-risk tasks such as being “in charge of legal support in the event of arrests, or responsible for transportation, lodging, water and food supplies, media contacts, psychological support” and whatnot.
Black blocs meet to plan and organize before hand, but also during protests as well. One black blocker who took part in the protests against the G8 Summit in 2003 noted in her reflection of the events:
"I found it extraordinary that we could hold delegates' meetings right in the middle of the blocking action. There were barricades, fires had been lit, the police were slinging a lot of tear gas. And still, a meeting was called with someone yelling, 'meeting in ten minutes near the road sign.' The meeting took place barely a few hundred meters from where the police stood, and it allowed us to decide on our course of action. [...] The police officers see you as a crowd and assume you're going to act like a crowd, The affinity group model disrupts that dynamic: you don't act like a crowd anymore but like a rational being."
With regards to property damage, for black blockers, the target is the message. Targets are often chosen for their symbolic value. “On principle, Black Blocs do not strike community centers, public libraries, the offices of women's committees or even small independent businesses.” While this may be true generally, the use of property destruction by some black blockers can cause problems, such as can be seen in the recent Berkeley protests, where people were protesting the death of Eric Garner and individuals came and broke the windows of a number of banks. This is deeply problematic as it took the attention off the death of Eric Garner and the larger issues surrounding police brutality against the black community, and put the attention on banks. Actions such as these can potentially create a space for the police to justify a crackdown on all protesters.
The fetishization of property destruction is a problem with the black bloc, as in some cases “violent direct action becomes a means for a would-be militant to affirm [their] political identity in the eyes of other militants. This makes it very tempting for that person to look down on and exclude those who do not equate radicalism with violence.” Yet, not all black blockers engage in this fetishization and are aware of the dangers, such as with a participant of the Quebec city black blocs who stated: “I have no patience for dogmatic pacifism, but there is also dogmatic violence, which sees violence as the only and only means to wage the struggle.” The protester Sofiane noted that “We don't advocate violence; it's not a program... Because you can easily acquire a taste for violence, you get used to it... But when it comes to doing militant work, not many people show up.”
Diversity of Tactics
However, there are solutions to the problem of those wanting to engage in direct action and others who want to peacefully protest that should be quoted at some length. Around 2000, there were a few mobilizations in which it was proposed that certain areas of a city be identified by colors in order to allow different types of protests simultaneously:
"This was done at the Reclaim the Street rally in London on June 18, 1999; at the first Global Day of Action called by the People's Global Action, an anti-capitalist network founded in Geneva in 1998 and close to the Zapatista rebels.[...] Color coding made it possible to distinguish among three separate marches: blue for the Black Bloc, accompanied by the Infernal Noise Brigade band; yellow for the Tute Bianche [a militant Italian social movement]; pink for the Pink and Silver Bloc."
The organization Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles used a similar tactic at demonstrations in which there were three zones: green, yellow, and red. "The green zone was a sanctuary where demonstrators were, theoretically, in no danger of being arrested. The yellow zone was for those undertaking nonviolent civil disobedience and involved a minor risk of being arrested. The red zone was for protesters who were ready for more aggressive tactics, including skirmishes with the police."
This allowed for the concept of a diversity of tactics to be respected, as well as for protesters to have spaces where more or less militant tactics were accepted, all while maintaining the safety of peaceful protesters.
Though the debate surrounding property violence is the largest and loudest of all, there are other problems within black blocs such as sexism and accusations of alienating the working class.
With regards to sexism, many critics of black blocs argue that militant direct action “partakes of a macho mystique and does not encourage women to join in” and that expressing one's anger through destruction “simply [confirms] and [amplifies] aggressive masculinity.” Furthermore, the sexual division of labor is often reproduced, with a woman who took part in a number of black blocs in the 2012 Quebec student strike saying that it was women who often did the shopping “when fabric was needed to make flags and banners.”
Dupuis-Déri noted that the situation hadn't changed, writing that “more than a decade earlier, during a meeting to prepare a black bloc in Montreal, the men ended up in the backyard of an apartment honing their slingshot skills while the women were in the kitchen making Molotov cocktails.” Thus, masculinity is not only reproduced in many black bloc circles, but also creates a space that rejects the participation of women and devalues their labor and thus their importance to the movement.
Some argue that black blocs alienate the working-class “with their clothing and lifestyle choices, which are associated with the anarchist counterculture.” While some may argue that there are those in the working-class who support and take part in black blocs, it should be noted that these are not fully representative of the working-class; there is a lack of people of color and women and so the black blocs are more representative of the young, white working-class.

Black blocs tactics are divisive and create a large amount of tension, even within far-left circles. Many condemn black blockers as being nothing but hooligans who want to break things. But by unmasking who they are, one can better understand them and their tactics and ideas, even if one disagrees.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rethinking Anarchism: An Interview with Agency




Rethinking Anarchism: An Interview with Agency
By Devon Douglas-Bowers
Below is the transcript of a recent interview I did with Agency, a new website that looks to promote “contemporary anarchist perspectives and practices through commentary on current events, media relations, and educational campaigns.  
 
What made you come up with this idea? What made you come up with the name?
Ryan Only: Separate from one another, Jen Angel and I each had an idea to create “an anarchist PR project.” When we came together and started talking about what it could look like, we had a lot of the same ideas and so we came up with the concept and elements for Agency. This felt very organic because both my and Jen’s activism and paid work has been around the intersections of media, publicity, and social movements and social justice struggles.
Personally, I’m interested in how the media captivates and compels the public around spectacles and sensationalism. Right after the WTO protests in Seattle, I was involved in organizing many of the mass-actions that followed in DC and other places – and was involved in efforts that tried to give a more honest perspective to the media on anarchists participation in those actions. There’s a history of media bastardizing anarchists, and a history of anarchists either shying away from or outright rejecting the media, and also of watering down our politics in fear the media will misrepresent us. I want to explore what it looks like to challenge false perceptions of anarchism, and also to challenge the tactics and approaches anarchists may take out of habit rather than what might actually be best for advancing our ideas and cause.
Jen Angel: During the last few years, especially since Occupy, the mainstream media and public have been more interested in the ideas of anarchism than they have in my lifetime. Like Ryan said, the media often doesn’t get it right, or they tend to interview the same anarchists over and over – partially because journalists don’t know anything about anarchism and don’t know who to interview. We started having these conversations about what would happen if we tried to intervene and give journalists better information – and what if we connected them to other anarchists they could interview?
Anyone who has worked with the media knows that even when you give them good information, it can be manipulated or misrepresented to advance a story or make a soundbite – but what if some of the good information got through? That would be worth it, and that’s the kind of thing Ryan and I already do with our media work. With Agency, we are applying those skills to anarchism.
Ryan: I like seeing what happens when anarchists actually talk about what we want and the world we want to live in—and I like talking to people outside of anarchist social scenes. And I think it’s uncommonly explored terrain for anarchists – and I think there’s a lot that can be done – and moved forward by exploring this terrain.
Agency is also the realization of an inside joke that I’ve been making with a good friend for the last 10 years. That is, seeing the ways in which PETA are able to take any news story and use it to garner attention for promoting an animal rights perspective. This friend and I have joked for years, what if we had an anarchist PETA? That is, an organization that worked to engage with an anarchist perspective on major news stories – thus promoting radical analysis of how the state and capitalism are at the roots of many social ills, and how a society organized in opposition to these systems can be more healthy and more free – and what if we worked to seize whatever opportunities we could as a platform to promote these ideas?
Jen: The name is a play on words.
Ryan: Yes, the name, Agency, is a play off of the PR industry idea of PR agencies and also in sociology and philosophy, agency is the capacity of a person to act in the world. As anarchists, Agency is what we want: a world where each person has autonomy and self-determination over their lives.
What would you say to those who argue that this is kind of pointless, that anarchists will always get a bad rap in the media?
Jen: Although we just launched our website in October, we have been working on this project for over a year. Part of that work was reaching out to other anarchists for their input and feedback. I was surprised that very few of the people we talked with said that it was pointless to talk to the media – that was something I heard a lot from people when I first started working in the anarchist community, in the ‘90s.  
Ryan: I think it’s wrong to say it is pointless to talk to the media in general. It’s really a case by case thing - it can be pointless, sure. But is it always? Or even a majority of the time? No, I would argue that most of the time it is fruitful and effective– and sometimes it can be groundbreaking. Look at the little work that has been done by anarchists in the media. It can be successful, it can reach people and win hearts and minds (look at Seattle and what pictures of anarchists in the black bloc and anarchists on the front lines of human barricades did to bring attention to the horrors of economic globalization), look at the Arab Spring, look at Occupy. Look at the internet and what open source thinking has done to expand humanity’s access to information and communication. All of these things are a product of anarchists engaging with the media in some form or another.
Jen: Because of our experience working with media on behalf of other social justice campaigns, we know that it can be one of many effective tools to influencing how the public understanding of issues.

Ryan and I both think that anarchism is a movement – it’s not a members-only club. We need more anarchists and people interested in anarchist ways of being in order to make positive change in the world. We want to use every tool that we have to expose others to anarchist ideas and ways of organizing. As I said before, the public and media are talking about anarchism now in an unprecedented way – this is an opportunity for us to use different methods to educate anyone interested in a different way of living.
Do you think that due to the political, economic, and social times, that people are more receptive to anarchism?
Ryan: Absolutely. There has been an “anarchist turn” in the last 20 years at the very least… The anti-globalization movement, the anti-war movement, Occupy, uprisings in the middle east, the internet – all these things have had an element of anarchist influence or inspiration.
Jen: And the plethora of books and articles on anarchism, especially post-Occupy, is certainly evidence for that.
Is there a diversity of anarchist leanings with regards to contributors? What are some of the differences?
Ryan: Most importantly, Agency promotes a diversity of anarchist positions that adhere to an anti-state, anti-capitalist, and anti-oppression framework. We acknowledge that there are many different anarchist perspectives and visions, and this project’s aim is to make the public aware of a range of anarchist beliefs, in a spirit of solidarity and non-sectarianism.
We are working with anarchists across the spectrum, within that framework. We have already published pieces by anarchists who have historically had tension with each other. My hope is to publish things from everyone from Ashanti Alston to John Zerzan, from Noam Chomsky to Starhawk, from Cindy Milstein to CrimethInc. We are very excited to already be working on or have published contributions from Klee Benally, Natasha Lennard, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Scott Crow, Eric Laursen, Carwil Bjork-James and many others.
We want this project to present a broad spectrum of anarchist ideas. Anarchists often are own worst enemies, and I think that’s a sad reality. This is a non-sectarian project, but there’s plenty of room for disagreement – we just want our differences to move us forward and not hold us back.
Jen: The goal is to raise awareness of anarchism as a whole, and we are completely prepared to do promote diverse (and contradictory) parts of anarchism as long as the ideas, groups, and individuals we are working with identify publicly as anarchists and share our core beliefs that Ryan mentioned, like opposition to the state and capitalism. We will not, for example, be promoting the work of libertarians or anarcho-capitalists.
This is not an attempt to water down or make palatable the more militant parts of anarchism or of the community. Some anarchists run child-care programs and some anarchists smash windows and engage in sabotage. Sometimes the same individuals do both things. 
Helping anarchists be more transparent about what they are doing and why, and with what goals, will make anarchist ideas more accessible in hopes of allowing more folks to understand that a different world is possible.
Do you intend to reach out to other groups online and in the real world to promote anarchism in the media?
Jen: Yes, we basically want to use our media skills to promote the work of other anarchists. Part of our preparation for the launch of this project was reaching out to comrades around the US for their input and feedback.
There are lots of ways that we work with individual anarchists or groups, such as:
  • Soliciting and circulating new or existing commentary on current events from an anarchist perspective, written for non-anarchists
  • Creating issue guides for journalists on generally accepted anarchist thinking on specific topics, and connecting journalists to anarchists who work on those topics
  • Tracking mentions of anarchists in mainstream media and intervening through Letters to the Editor or building relationships specific reporters
How do you think that Agency will change the dialogue surrounding anarchists and anarchism?
Ryan: Within anarchist communities – we want to introduce nuance around the idea of engaging with the media. Media engagement by anarchists should be a tactical and strategic question. We need to transcend the knee jerk idea of “corporate media=bad”… and actually have discussions about when and how to engage with the media. As anarchists, we need to write our own narrative instead of letting others tell our story.
I want anarchism – as a world view that promotes freedom, equality, and self-determination – to be a household concept. I want anarchism to be a threat to power structures that rely on and perpetrate inequality and disparity in the world. And we can make anarchism a threat by building understanding among a broader spectrum of people of what anarchism is and how anarchy works.

What are some of the end goals for Agency? What's the endgame?

Ryan: The endgame is anarchist revolution.  The goals of agency are much more modest.

We want to publish and publicize anarchist perspectives on current events and we want them to be heard and read by millions of people.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Waking Up America



Waking Up America: An Interview with AmericaWakieWakie

The following is the transcript of a recent email interview I had with Frank, the founder and author of AmericaWakieWakie.com in which we discuss political identity, justice, the mid-term elections, and how people can start to build up alternatives to the system. You can follow him on his
website or twitter.


1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Every time I see a question like this I am hesitant as to how I should begin. This is a limitation of language. We cannot entirely capture “Who we are” in words. Lately I have been thinking a lot about who I am though and a Whitman quote keeps resurfacing: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
I am a first generation Honduran American. I am biracial. I am constantly caught between the struggle of realizing my whiteness and understanding my Otheredness. I am my body and my face, where the turmoil of a childhood lived between the margins rests, a reality where I could never be the sum of all my parts nor an authentic part of my sum. I grew up poor in the backwoods of the Mississippi South where I came to learn the nuances of prejudice and racism.
I am a writer. I am a comrade. I am an educator. I am a student. I am a revolutionary.
I contain multitudes.


2. What, if anything, do you identify as politically? What are some of the things that led to your political awareness, especially with regards to your intersectionality?

Nowadays I prefer to call myself an Anarchist Communist, something of the Peter Kropotkin sort. I certainly haven’t always identified as that. My political progression has looked something like this:

Anti-Poverty -> Liberal -> Progressive -> Democratic Socialist -> Green -> Anarchist Communist
This is important though for those reading this interview. I cannot express enough how if you continue to challenge your presuppositions, you will evolve. Eventually you will look back on yourself and see your progression as both amazing and silly because some things you will know in your heart to be true, and others you’ll be befuddled at how you could have ever been so wrong.
Malcolm X once said, “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” I try to practice that. My execution is not perfect, but when I remember that I once could get teary-eyed over a flag that represents more genocide and hatred than nearly any other in the world, I humble myself.  We all have work to do. We are better equipped for it coming from a place of our imperfections.

As for my intersectionality, again, we all have work to do but I have tried hard to cope with my own contradictions and to be better for them. A principle contradiction for me is the fact that I am half white and if I choose, though not always, I can often pass. This has given me unbridled access to spaces excluded to people of color, and while I could have built a life where I capitalized off that, I have tried to instead use it in a way that amplifies the voices of PoC.
But my contradictions run deep into my own lived experiences. I remember living in a predominantly black area of Mississippi where I was perceived as white. I came to know what prejudice was because I was the only “white” student in the school, except for my brother. Then, as a child, I had no idea what made me so different. It wasn’t until my father’s alcoholism got my brother and I stripped from him, where we then moved to a predominately white area, that I experienced full on racism from white people that I better understood the circumstances of anti-blackness and white supremacy.
Reflecting on those experiences for a decade makes you question a lot growing up in the South. It is a place of immense contradictions, and I think it is true what Faulkner said, that to understand the world you must first understand a place like Mississippi. I am what I am because of it.

3. Why do you call yourself and what made you choose the username “AmericaWakieWakie?” Do you think that Americans will ever wake up to the situation that they are in?

I chose the name America Wakie Wakie because I just think the majority of the United States needs to wake the fuck up. Admittedly I was a bit more patriotic 4 years ago, so I might have named it something different if I had started the blog today. The “Wakie Wakie” part though comes from a scene I once saw on a television show called Titus. It wasn’t a good show, but I was a teenager and I watched it for some reason. In the show the main character was this custom car shop owner who had a REALLY dysfunctional — aka, probably a white supremacist hetero-patriarchal capitalist — family. To highlight this dysfunction the show would feature the main character, Titus, in flashbacks as a teenager where he would look exactly the same as in the present but with a mullet wig. In one flashback he was lying in bed when his father tells him to get up, which he doesn’t. The father then throws a big bowl of spaghetti on Titus’ face and taunts him with the words “Waaakkie Wakkkie”. I don’t know why, that’s just always stuck with me.
I don’t believe we will have mass movements toward liberation with gently nudges to wake up. I feel confident that it is going to be a pretty rude experience that galvanizes large-scale joint resistance. Ferguson is a good example: Black and brown communities are fed up and there is nothing gentle about the police sponsored murder of our youth in the streets. A ton of work has been happening for a long time against the prison industrial complex, the school to prison pipeline, and anti-police brutality, but there has always been a need for a catalyst to really gain (inter)national traction.
“Wakie Wakie” represents that need for a catalyst.

4. You say on your website that “the waves of change are ever persistent and not even time can withstand the ebbing past.” It seems a lot like MLK’s statement that the arc of the universe is long and that it bends toward justice.

However, I have to ask, with so much injustice around the world and a constant persistence of that injustice, the question becomes, do we truly ever get change? Do we truly ever get justice? What would you say to that? Do you think it is possible that we can truly get justice?

You are right, the sentiments are similar, but I was inspired by Chief Seattle’s words as they appeared in the Seattle Sunday Star on Oct. 29, 1887, in a column by Dr. Henry A. Smith.
Yes, we will get change, and we will get it exactly when we start to understand that justice is not a thing to have, it is a process that we must go through. Justice is a concept I have been thinking about for quite some time now. I will write more deeply about this in the future, but I have started to understand this much about it:

Justice is not a concrete system, it is fluid. It is always different because it is situational — it must be re-contextualized each time we seek it. This is why it is not a thing to possess but a series of processes which balance human emotions, restoration, community, and accountability. Justice is not for one person to have either. This is tyranny and retribution. Justice, however, takes time, love, patience, and, when necessary, rectification.
Our idea of justice as represented by the current legal system, a system created as a function of capitalism, and more broadly as a symptom of positivist thinking, is as far divorced from justice as seemingly conceivable. Justice cannot be born of an adversarial relationship between absolutes. To say that it can be is to be more obsessed with resolutely assigning the values of right and wrong, of winner and loser, to truly debilitating circumstances. If one poor person is dying of hunger and steals from another, what justice is to be had in punishing hungry mouths?
How we got here to the system we live in now is traceable. This is work my comrades and I have only begun to do, but global change will indeed come. With the blood, sweat, and tears splattered across this Earth with each generation that fights for it, it has already begun.

5. What are your thoughts on the recent midterm elections? Many are saying that it was the country rejecting Obama and the Democrats.

I don’t like Republicans but I am direly sick of the “lesser of two evils” garbage pseudo-leftists and progressives trot out every election cycle. Look, if you want to vote, go for it, but electoral politics cannot and will never bring about the liberation of the People. Never. I used to think of Democrats/liberals as the closest thing a radical had to an ally in comparison to Republicans. Reality, it would seem, is not without a sense of irony. In truth Democrats/liberals are the closest thing Republicans have to an ally in comparison to radicals. History is resolute in demonstrating that when it comes to the consolidation of power, the two major U.S. parties will act in coalition to eradicate any radical threat. Read Agents of Repression by Ward Churchill and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, or for starters read my essay Democrats & Republicans: A Political Cartel, for some essential history lessons.

That being said, I still see value in proposition voting.

6. How do you think that people can start organizing on the ground to create alternatives to the current system?

Respect existence, or expect resistance.

Organizing has been happening on the ground since oppression was born. For centuries there has been an incredible history of resistance that has never died. From the sabotage on plantations and slave ships to the runaway slaves smuggling their brothers and sisters in bondage to freedom, from the anti-war socialists to the labor union organizers of the ‘20s, from the Black Panther Party to the American Indian Movement of the late ‘60s, from Occupy Wall Street to Ferguson, MO, there has been organizing.
There are three basic words folks looking to do work need to know and understand: Educate. Agitate. ORGANIZE. To understand where we are going you need to familiarize yourselves with where we have been. You cannot be afraid of getting your hands dirty either, which means you must be willing to march, protest, and use any means necessary in the pursuit of your education and to develop a praxis of liberation. When you have a foundation for these, you need to find people who will organize with you. Here is a link to a decent write up that is helpful.

Organizing can take on a plethora of forms, so about one thing I want to be clear: There is no one-size-fits-all solution. I keep getting questions in my inbox asking “Well we know the problems, so what is the solution?” There is this implicit assumption that there is ONE solution, but it does not work like that. There is no quick fix. There is no single solution. There are, however, thousands of solutions out there, each unique to their circumstance. And that makes sense too — our solutions ought to be as diverse as the biosphere that sustains this planet and the socioeconomic situations we face.
There is no appointed vanguard to confront all of our problems. Because circumstance ought to necessitate solutions, it would be foolish, as well as impossible, for me to sit here and dictate to all of you how, when, and where we ought to act. Our first obstacle is turning away from the idea that somebody else way out there knows better than we how we ought to live, act, and create in our own communities. An activist’s job is to plug into and serve your community. If you are diligent in this, things will happen. You WILL meet people and you will have more work than you know what to do with.

I hope this has been illuminating. Solidarity my friends. Keep fighting.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

In Defense of Ferguson

Image Courtesy of BBC



I think that we've got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”- Martin Luther King Jr., Interview with Mike Wallace, September 27, 1966

Now, let's get to what the white press has been calling riots. In the first place don't get confused with the words they use like ‘anti-white,’ ‘hate,’ ‘militant’ and all that nonsense like ‘radical’ and ‘riots.’ What's happening is rebellions not riots[.]”- Stokley Carmichael, “Black Power” speech, July 28, 1966


Many people are telling the people of Ferguson that they should not riot, that it is only hurting their community and they should instead engage in peaceful protests. However, this is deeply problematic as it ignores a number of issues.

People’s main concern regarding the riots in Ferguson come from a concern about private property. One could say that people are more concerned about the theft and destruction of private property than human life, but this needs to be made much more clear. People are more worried about the smashing and theft of inanimate objects than they are about human life. But it isn’t specifically human life, it’s black human life that many of these people could care less about.

On a deeper level, this is where capitalism and racism intersect. One of capitalism’s main tenets is the dominance of private property and how it must be protected. We can see that this has been transcribed in law, such as with the Stand Your Ground laws. Yet, also within the larger society there is a lack of caring for black life. In any situation, the media and general public regularly engage in victim blaming and look for anything, anything at all to assassinate the character of those who died at the hand of the police. This can be seen even today, when the media brings up Akai Gurley’s criminal record when discussing his death at the hands of a police officer. These two ideas have come together in Ferguson, creating a situation where people are more concerned about private property destruction than they are about the death of Michael Brown.

Many argue that the people of Ferguson are destroying their own community. Yet this is false. To quote Tyler Reinhard: “we don’t own neighborhoods. Black businesses exist, it’s true. But the emancipation of impoverished communities is not measured in corner-store revenue. It’s not measured in minimum-wage jobs. And no, it’s especially not measured in how many black people are allowed to become police officers.” The neighborhoods like Ferguson were not created by black people, they were created due to racist housing policies that black people had no control over. It should also be noted that Ferguson is 60% black, but has an almost entirely white police force and that the city government and school board are also almost completely white. So while they may live there, the black residents of Ferguson have little representation in the local community and are essentially living under a group of people that isn’t responsive to their concerns.

With regards to the riots themselves, the larger society is asking why don’t the protesters remain peaceful. The answer is two-part: peace has been tried and we are going to be condemned no matter what.

Society asks why aren’t the protesters peaceful, however we have to ask this: Why would you think that people would remain peaceful in the face of constant violence? Why would a people remain peaceful when their young people are being killed on an seemingly weekly basis by the very people who are supposed to protect them?

Black people have tried peace before. We were peaceful in the 1960s when we were peacefully protesting for our civil rights and were met with racist mobs, firehoses, and dogs, we had crosses burnt on our lawns, lynchings, and a bomb put in a church. During all of that time we remained peaceful even as society enacted massive violence and repression against us. Yet, violence against the black community continues today, the only difference is that it isn’t so blatant. Martin Luther King Jr. was nonviolent and died at the hands of an assassin, a violent act. Look at the Occupy protests, which were entirely nonviolent, the protesters were still met with violence, most notably in the form of a pre-dawn raid on Zuccotti Park. So even when protesters are nonviolent, they can still be met with violence.

The situation is currently such where if a black person is killed by the police, people immediately come out and find anyway in which they can besmirch or blame the victim, such as with the aforementioned example involving Akai Gurley. So they are already looking for ways to take the blame off of the authorities from day one. The situation changes, though, when oppressed people fight back. Not only is the violence denounced, but then it is used as an excuse to use massive amounts of violence against the oppressed, as we saw by the militarized police that have been used in Ferguson.

When people lash out against one incident, one may be inclined to call that violence, but when violence against your community has been going on for decades and people lash out, that’s no longer violence on the part of the oppressed, that’s called resistance.

When the question is raised of why aren’t there peaceful protests, it is also extremely hypocritical. Many have spoken out in person and on social media condemning the riots, but at the same time they are silent on the constant police brutality that the black community deals with and they are silent on the economic violence done against black communities, pushing them into ghettos where not only is there economic poverty but also a poverty of expectations. On a larger scale, they are also silent when other groups riot, such as when white people rioted over pumpkins. It is extremely hypocritical to speak out against rioters, but not have a thing to say about police brutality or to ignore others who riot.

At the heart of this is how society condones state violence, but condemns violence by individuals. This mindset is a serious problem as it only gives more power to the state and consistently puts state forces in the right, with the victims of state violence being forced to prove their innocence, a situation made all the harder due to people already assuming that the victim is in the wrong.

Many have pushed for peace, but peace and safety are not something the black people in America receive, whether we are just looking for help after a car accident, as was the case with Renisha McBride, or we are carrying a toy gun around, as was the case with John Crawford.

This is not the time to ask for peace. This is the time to say “No justice, no peace.”