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In the days after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to charge police officer Daniel Pantaleo for the choking death of Eric Garner, thousands of grieving and angry people have marched all over town, taking over streets, blocking intersections, disrupting holiday shopping, and repeatedly overwhelming police attempts to steer or stop their movement. The crowds—impassioned, racially diverse, with on-the-ground tactical direction from young people of color—have not only been venting rage and sorrow at yet another unpunished police killing. Along with their counterparts all across the country, these protesters have been staking out a bold new kind of street action, a fierce and uncompromising activism for our time.
Time and again, in uprisings that steal the spotlight and shine light on injustices that are otherwise ignored, we see these two elements—disruption and sacrifice—combining in forceful ways. Examining their strange alchemy yields many intriguing lessons.
The killing of Michael Brown is one in a long line of murders of Black people, including women, children, and men, by police. In the past few months alone, Eric Garner, Darrien Hunt , John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Vonderrit Myers, Akai Gurley, Tanisha Anderson, Michelle Cusseaux and Tamir Rice have been killed. Most of them were unarmed. None of them had guns.
It is with great joy that we'd like to report a long period of collective malaise and depression in the Bay Area perhaps coming to an end. Almost in spite of ever worsening conditions – rapid development, escalating police occupation, mass displacement, ongoing violence against black and brown people– social conflict here remained ominously quiet for over a year. While the anger throughout the cities by the Bay has become palpable and apparent everywhere, the response from the Left has been lackluster at best. For too long, we have come to expect only the usual lowest common denominator activism: the usual suspects marching in circles, 'blockades' of tech buses which end when the police show up, symbolic would-be media spectacles that aren't all that spectacular anymore, and finally of course, monumental amounts of energy sunk into a referendum for paltry reforms and progressive mayoral candidates (which needless to say, failed, and nobody cared about it anyways).
If you publicly dissent from and act against prevailing United States orthodoxies and the reigning US power structure, chances are good you will face personal and/or professional defamation and the charge of psychological unreliability and instability. It will be said that there’s something wrong and untrustworthy about you. You will be demonized, dismissed, and demeaned as a marginal, inappropriate, and hyper-alienated oddball, a maladjusted eccentric no one should take seriously.
In the present period few terms or ideas have been as slandered, distorted, diminished, or degraded as radical or radicalism. This is perhaps not too surprising given that this is a period of expanding struggles against state and capital, oppression and exploitation, in numerous global contexts. In such contexts, the issue of radicalism, of effective means to overcome power (or stifle resistance) become pressing. The stakes are high, possibilities for real alternatives being posed and opposed. In such contexts activists and academics must not only adequately understand radicalism, but defend (and advance) radical approaches to social change and social justice.
Heavily armed officers, weapons drawn, move across a bridge draped with a banner reading “No war for oil” and “We are the 99%." One corner of the banner sports the A anarchist symbol. Shortly after, they capture their targets: protesters. This scene may be all too familiar to protesters. But it’s actually a staged police training put on by Urban Shield, a SWAT team training program and weapons expo that has taken place in the Bay Area for the past seven years. This year, as last, Urban Shield’s weapon show takes place in the Oakland Marriot Convention Center in downtown Oakland, CA, September 4-8.
A scene from an Urban Shield training in 2012. Photo Credit: http://YouTube.com screenshot
After a month-long moratorium, water shut-offs in Detroit have started again this week, leaving indebted households across the city with no access to running water. Part of the emergency measures to respond to Detroit's bankruptcy, over 46,000 shut-off notices were issued in May 2014, with over 17,000 homes having their water supply halted between May and July.
Politics, if we take politics to mean the shaping and discussion of issues, concerns and laws that foster the common good, is no longer the business of our traditional political institutions. These institutions, including the two major political parties, the courts and the press, are not democratic. They are used to crush any vestiges of civic life that calls, as a traditional democracy does, on its citizens to share among all its members the benefits, sacrifices and risks of a nation.
A week ago I responded to a call for experienced street medics to come to Ferguson, Missouri to provide emergency first aid at the spectacular protests that have captured the imagination of the whole country and beyond. In addition to that mission of directly providing care, I’ve had two objectives: teach protesters how to stay safe and take care of each other in the streets when the cops get extra nasty, and to train locals to take over the provision of street first aid and health & safety trainings.
What happened to Mike Brown is a tragedy that can’t be put into words. A less spoken tragedy is that it’s the day to day reality for so many of us–especially those of us who are young, who are people of color, who don’t fit the cops’ idea of an acceptable, law abiding citizen. How often do the police kill someone? In St. Louis, it seems like almost every month. We often don’t do anything about it, or feel like we can. The last few days have been different.
I’m a child of the “awareness generation,” the one who grew up learning to reduce, reuse and recycle. I remember first learning about global warming and climate change in high school in the 90s. Back then it was called the Greenhouse Gas Effect. Most of my early environmental knowledge came from classroom videos about acid rain, slash-and-burn logging in the Amazon and the hole in the ozone layer. There was also the slogan “think globally, act locally” plastered across my Social Studies 11 class wall. Those of us who cared two cents about anything believed in that mantra religiously, even though by that point almost everything around us—the school supplies, the clothes on our backs, even the food in our stomachs—came from across an ocean.
The Left is not an organism, it is an ecosystem. An organism can operate intentionally and in unison only inasmuch as it is under the dominion of a subject. The Left is not composed in this way, and could not be without an overarching disciplinary apparatus – that is, without mirroring the control mechanisms of bourgeois society.
You occasionally read a totally mind bending book that opens up a whole new world for you. The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos is one of them, owing to its unique evidence-based perspective on both “nonviolent” and “violent” resistance. It differs from Gelderloos’s 2007 How Nonviolence Protects the State in its heavy emphasis on indigenous, minority, and working class resistance. A major feature of the new book is an extensive catalog of “combative” rebellions that the corporate elite has whitewashed out of history.
A year ago, on February 28, 2013, at an event titled "Patriarchy and the Movement," I watched as a friend of mine attempted to pose several questions based on her experience trying to address domestic violence and other abuse in the context of radical organizing.