Thursday, December 13, 2012

Solidarity Means Attack

On Monday, the Cooper Union Occupation ended. Not by violent police intervention, nor by administrative caving to occupier demands. They walked out voluntarily, left the occupation after a week chained in on the 8th floor. To doubt the commitment of the eleven students who occupied is ridiculous: as anyone who has been in a hard occupation knows, it's boring as hell: stinky, tedious, and crazy-making. It's jail with friends, basically, and the smaller the space and the number of people, the harder it becomes. I have no criticism of their choosing to leave, and would like to reiterate that what they did was bad ass and that I have nothing but solidarity for them.

But the fact is, they did not win. And the point is to win, not to demonstrate that you're angry about losing. This largely had to do with a tactical move by the administration--ignore the occupation until it goes away--and the response by students outside (at the behest of the occupiers)--don't escalate, just show solidarity and support. When your enemy brings in the cops and kicks down the door, well, you can hope you've got some fight in you, or that the violence of their action will inspire massive solidarity. But when you're ignored, when the field is left to you alone, you can attack, and you have to attack. When they don't try to evict, or negotiate, or even make a schedule of eviction, you have to force them to respond. You want your power to be clear. You need to demonstrate the repercussions of the administration's decisions. You need to be a threat to business as usual.

As it was, the administration got a small PR black eye--the occupation made national news!--and nothing else. No force was constituted that would require the administration to change their position.

Which is a shame, because Cooper Union was in a particularly vulnerable position. In the process of having their engineering program's accreditation evaluated, they could not afford a police incident, and NYPD were basically never there. On three occasions during the week over 100 people gathered outside in support: on Saturday there were probably 250. 100 people could have easily bumrushed the guards and taken over another floor of the building, one whose occupation the administration couldn't ignore. Not during finals.

There was something deeply apolitical about the occupation's framing from the beginning. Talks and manifestos were full of reference to Cooper Union exceptionalism and paeans to the school's Wall Street patriarch, Peter Cooper: speeches were given at rallies that could have come straight from a Cooper Union advertising brochure. People who weren't Cooper Union students were distrusted. The occupiers livestreamed with their faces clearly visible.

But the reformist nature of the discourse was in strong counterpoint to the radicality of the occupation itself: they were ready to chain themselves against the door if maintenance came, in order to make it impossible to cut through, they refused to negotiate with the administration, and they demanded that the president step down immediately and free tuition be installed permanently. And they weren't even doing it for themselves: they could not possibly face tuition, they were fighting for future students only. This gives me hope: seeing somewhat less politically sophisticated movements reach for some of the most radical and militant forms of action available in the playbook is new and awesome. But the weakness of the hard occupation as sole tactic was on clear display.

If you don't take over operationally vital space, if you don't constitute a real threat to the system you oppose, they can ignore you to death. How long have people been camping out in front of Trinity Church now? 8 months?

Escalation for its own sake is the worst kind of foolishness. But we need to begin thinking strategically about what power is, about what it means to build power. When there is an opening, we need to know how to take it, and, more importantly, we need to know that we have to. Occupying has begun to be understood as a primarily defensive tactic: the first moment is all offense (take the space), but then the game becomes hold as long as you can. What the Cooper Union administration demonstrated is that if your opponents choose not to fight, the best defense in the world wont do shit. You'll be bored to death, which is the whole strategy of this rotten, empty system to begin with.

This isn't to say the struggle at Cooper Union is over, or was a total loss. There were beautiful moments, tuition hasn't been instituted yet, and many of these students are just starting to realize the potentiality of their actions. But if we want to start winning struggles, we're going to need to learn to attack. A well defended occupation is not enough. We need to respond strategically and fluidly to the situations that arise, take every opportunity to expand the struggle (which is not the same thing as taking every opportunity to escalate), and begin really building power that goes beyond the expression of our displeasure.

We need to move beyond reacting (to the police, the banks, administrations or governments) and begin to start acting. Why build something just to defend it? We should be building occupations, groups and movements that can be immediately deployed to build bigger ones, even if it means risking their destruction.

Nothing that we build is worth saving at the cost of expanding our power beyond it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Austerity in Uniform

When discourse about the rising/risen US police state, about drones, extra-judicial killings, the infinite war on terror, and the general erosion of civil liberties is connected to the economics of austerity, it is usually done in a purely budgetary way. The basic argument: we don't need austerity if we just cut back on military spending. Why cut medicaid and social security when we could end bureaucratic redundancy by folding the Air Force into the Navy? Or, more dramatically, why not cut our military spending in half? We'd still be spending three times as much as China, our next biggest rival, and four times as much as Russia. We could still kick their ass in the sort of war that hasn't been fought since World War II, but which such spending justifies, and divert that money toward real domestic concerns. Similarly, the UK and France can't possibly need to spend more than $50 billion dollars yearly on military power when they face such dramatic domestic cuts. But the connection between austerity and absurd military power is much more strategic, part of a generalized governing paradigm that is perfectly logical.

Austerity makes countries poorer. The last four years, especially in Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal have demonstrated this without a doubt. And, despite all the earnest pleas of Paul Krugman, political leaders don't just need to have the economics of the process explained to them to see the light. They want austerity ideologically (taxes staunch growth: neo-liberalism 101) and their supporters, who, in the US just spent $1billion on Obama alone, don't want to lose a penny to the crisis they created.

Austerity does, in fact, further enrich the top of the economic hierarchy, at least in the short term. It replaces tax raises and other redistributive programs with cash from the bottom (and middle) of society. Austerity is a technique for reverse Robin Hooding: cutting programs for the poor means they have to spend their own money to get services they require, so not only are the rich protected from economically punitive government (taxes, labor regulation), they also see poor people forced into their markets as consumers (privatization), a sort of double-dip bonus from their pals in DC, Brussels and Downing Street.

Old news, all, and we know in the long term it doesn't in fact enrich a country. Eventually, as in Greece, the government more or less runs out of assets to privatize, while the entire tax base collapses, and general impoverishment becomes the rule. It's Klein's Shock Doctrine applied in Europe. But what happens when a population is immiserated?

The end game of all this military/police spending and the death of civil liberties, why it's important for a president to be able to murder a sucker anywhere in the world at personal fiat, why we need drones and total electronic surveillance and a military trained in stale-mating (if not defeating) guerrilla uprisings becomes clear.

Poor people revolt.

The internal threat of revolution has always been the greatest threat to nations, and from the Patriot Act on, counter-terrorism laws have increased the power of the FBI, CIA and police forces in all their domestic operations. Civil libertarians have bemoaned the fact that these laws can't only target terrorists, that they will have chilling effects on free speech and could put 'innocent' (ie: non-terrorist) Americans at risk. But these consequences have hardly been unforeseen: they have always been half the point.

The last decade has seen a clear governmental calculus triumphant throughout the world. With government spending and intervention, and a defunding of the military/police state, the social services that 'must be cut' could easily be saved. Of course, to actually 'rebuild the middle class' wouldn't require only government spending, but also an across-the-board increase in wages, which have gone down under the last thirty years of union busting, off-shoring and precarity. Instead of giving up the money that would require, the owners are doubling down, and gambling on the increased capabilities of the government to stop one very likely outcome of austerity policies: open revolt.

A neo-liberal government is one that, in its purest form, never interferes in the internal functioning of the 'perfect' market, but enforces, through security apparatuses, the participation of the population in said market. The final act of neo-liberal government, then, is open war between the rich (increasingly indistinguishable from the state) and a population struggling to be free from all these 'free markets'.

In practicing extra-judicial killing, indefinite detention and total surveillance the government is getting ready for the big fight (if it should come), the fight that would, unlike terrorism, actually provide an 'existential threat' to the American state. They may be killing 'militants' in Pakistan today, but they're always also getting ready to kill 'militants' at home.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Spectacular Power

Last week, during Operation Kill A Bunch of Palestinians To Crush Their Resilience and Gain Political Capital Pillar of Clouds, a bunch of attention was paid to the fact that the IDF basically declared war via Twitter, and was soon met by opposing tweets from Hamas' Al Qassam Brigades. In all the analysis, I didn't see anyone mention that this "Twitter war" occurred entirely in English: that the conversation was not between Hamas and the IDF, but rather them and their respective global audiences, but no matter. The point is, both the IDF and Hamas used Twitter as a platform to project their power: it became a field of actual political contention.

Now, as the Walmart Black Friday protests are here, Walmart is turning to Twitter to display their power. And while these tweets will not be seen by nearly as many people, they are a much more effective deployment of spectacular power then the IDF's sputtering. First of all, the official Walmart twitter accounts say nothing about the 1000s of actions happening around the country. Instead they're tweeting things like this, which was sent out just before midnight:

The image is vertiginous, people and signs stretching all the way to the horizon, the foregrounded black shoppers, the harsh, bright glare that obliterates the night we know is beyond it, a night referenced in the text but completely invisible within the image it describes, the easy mix of chaos and orderliness. How could a bunch of striking workers ever fight that?

And what of those workers? Despite the hypocritical shout-out to "associates", the very people who hope to ruin Walmart's Black Friday because of how it has made them invisible are not pictured here, they are, once again, invisible. This tweet, this image is made to crush their struggle, to make their victory seem impossible, to make Walmart's power seem as endless as their store.

If you can, go out today and act in solidarity with the people this picture and its makers would like to eliminate.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After

Dear Obama Voters,

Are you still feeling euphoric? Joyous? I can understand that. Your guy won. Your team. Can I ask you to do something? I want you to remember this afterglow, to remember how you feel this morning as best you can for the next four years. And I also want you to remember how utterly important it was to you that Obama win, how seriously you argued, with friends and with yourself, that this was the right, the only thing to do. And to remember that you've done it.


Now, I want you to remember something else--someone else, actually. I want you to remember yourself on election night in 2008. I remember the euphoria of that night well. Although I never campaigned for Obama or had high hopes for him, I voted for him. (My horse in that race was John Edwards--he actually talked about poor people!--and what a horse he turned out to be). Still, that night, after it was clear we had elected a black president, I went out, like so many, and I danced. I danced all night.

Do you remember yourself then? Probably you do. If someone had asked that person (you circa November 2008): "Would you vote for a candidate who would deport a record number of immigrants, smash social movements and government whistle-blowers, stall or shut down international global climate change talks, prosecute neither torturers nor bankers, end habeas corpus with indefinite detention, bail out the banks but not the homeowners, assassinate US citizens at executive fiat, increase domestic oil drilling and fracking, continue war in Afghanistan, start wars in Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Pakistan, and fail to close Guantanamo Bay?" You would have probably responded: "That's exactly what I'm voting against!" At least, I would have.

Many of these issues were opposed on the 2008 Democratic Party platform, so perhaps we could be forgiven for voting Obama, even if we were being naive. But to vote for him in 2012 is to vote for all these things, and more: in the next four years, we will see an expansion of free trade via the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a cornerstone of future Obama legislation which will more or less give international corporations sovereignty over the US government, a $4 trillion cut to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid via his Deficit Reduction Committee, and who knows what else.

Have you really changed so much in the last four years? Are your beliefs so easily turned on their head?

In the coming years, as you watch Obama double down on austerity, spread global violence and further foreclose civil liberties you will probably tell yourself that Romney would have been worse. And maybe you'll be right.

But that's why I'm most interested in one thing: your euphoria from last night, your feeling of accomplishment, your sense of duty, citizenship, of being part of something important. Because, although your vote didn't matter, that feeling does. You are not responsible for everything Obama does, or anything he does, really, but you have affirmed it, and, not only that, you've felt deep, abounding joy for his ability to continue doing it.

Where does this joy come from? From the exuberant sense that his victory is an incredibly important political outcome, and that you participated in it. That good feeling, that feeling of contributing, of winning? It's not false consciousness, it's the most important thing you will receive for voting yesterday. (And if you lived in a non-swing state, you knew before hand that it would be all you would receive.)

In exchange for a ballot, you received a tiny shred of Obama's freedom, a tiny piece of his power. That is what you get for your vote, not the policies you desire, not a say in the way the country is governed, but rather a single share in winning, one stock in the power of the most powerful nation on Earth. That is the 'empowerment' of voting. You voted for him, and no one can take that away, and you won.

This joy of victory is the thing in you that will always agree to his most abhorrent actions. It is the part of you that directly identifies with his power, that most craves to be led. It is also a mere shadow of the joy of real freedom, real liberatory struggle, real power, but that shadow is the only socially legitimated route to freedom's joys most Americans will ever be allowed to take.

You may not be responsible, but you are complicit. No matter how loudly you disavow specific actions, until you stop getting joy and pleasure from electing these people, you will always be the legitimacy behind their violence.

I don't care that you voted. But if you liked it? Well...

Who Was Here

Monday, November 5, 2012

On the Eve of Your Voting

"Did anarchist [election] abstentionism ever, in the slightest degree, affect the course of events? There was one occasion when it was tested simply because it was one of the rare times and places when anarchism really influenced a mass movement. And the irony was that the effectiveness of abstentionism was demonstrated only when it was abandoned.

In Spain, in the 1930s, there were two huge trade union federations. On one side was the socialist UGT and on the other the syndicalist CNT, strongly influenced by the anarchist federation FAI. The membership of both these bodies was vast. (By the time they agreed on joint action each could claim, according to whose estimates you read, between a million and one and a half million members.) After the dictator Primo de Rivera resigned in 1930, his supporter the King abdicated in 1931, but the new socialist-republican government continued the repression of the revolutionary left. In the elections of 1933 the CNT used the slogan Frente a las urnas, la revolucion social (the alternative to the polling booth is the social revolution). The triumph of the right was attributed to the mass abstention of the workers, and the usual sporadic confrontations followed.

Then came another chance to vote in the February elections of 1936. Very quietly, the CNT leadership tacitly abandoned the position it had held since 1911, that elections were a fraud and that “workers and peasants should seize the factories and the land to produce for all. They and their members voted for the Popular Front (a kind of joint Alliance and Labour tactical voting). Our most revered chronicler of the events of 1936, Gerald Brenan in his Spanish Labyrinth, explained that the electoral victory of the Popular Front ‘can to a great extent be put down to the anarchist vote’. And certainly a deal behind the scenes ensured that many thousands of political prisoners would be released. Brenan says that ‘in many places the prisons had already been opened without the local authorities daring to oppose it’.

But the triumph of electoral common sense over the convictions of a lifetime had many consequences in Spain that no one had anticipated. The Spanish workers were ready to take on the political right, but the politicians of the left were not. The army was poised to seize power, but the government was not willing to resist. In his book Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, Vernon Richards raised a forbidden question: did the CNT leadership take into account that by ensuring the electoral victory of the left it was also ensuring that the generals of the right would stage a military putsch which the respectable left politicians would not restrain? ‘On the other hand a victory of the right, which was almost certain if the CNT abstained, would mean the end of the military conspiracy and the corning to power of a reactionary but ineffectual government which, like its predecessors, would hold out for not more than a year or two. There is no real evidence to show that there was any significant development of a fascist movement in Spain along the lines of the regimes in Italy and Germany.’

In fact, Spain had three different Popular Front governments on 18 and 19 July 1936, each of which was anxious to cave in to the insurgent generals. It was only the popular rising ( on traditional anarchist lines) and the seizure by workers and peasants, not just of arms and military installations, but of land, factories and railways, that ensured that there was any resistance at all to the generals. These are ordinary facts, totally contrary to what Orwell used to call the News Chronicle / New Statesman version of what happened in Spain. The Spanish revolution of 1936 was forced upon the working class by the election of the Popular Front and its capitulation to the insurgent generals. It was subsequently eliminated in the name of national unity in combating the right, which by then had won international backing. Having participated in the elections the next step was participation in government by the CNT/FAI leadership. This led to the permanent destruction of their own movement and the suppression of the popular revolution, and was followed by 40 years of fascist dictatorship.

And all this because of the decision to abandon the tradition of non-voting. If history has any lessons for the conscientious abstentionists it is that every time they get lured out of their self-imposed political isolation into participation in the electoral lottery, they make fools of themselves.

From The Case Against Voting, by Colin Ward

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How A US Official Describes Murdering Human Beings

“The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counterterrorism adviser. “You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

It's Failure To Sell Week: Pre-figurative Politics and Occupy

This week, I've failed to sell a bunch of articles! While that may help keep food off of my family, what it does mean is that this one, a piece about S17 and the possibilities of pre-figurative protest, is old enough to be unsellable. So what? So here it is, in its entirety, for you jerks.
It is impossibly clear that the state will bring all available force to bear against the reestablishment of an Occupy encampment. A camp will not happen again in America, at least not for years. We probably just wont have one. Is that why we insist on nostaligizing them, on making them seem as though they were the most ‘positive’ part of Occupy? Now that they are gone (thanks to a federally coordinated sweep of the camps by post-9/11 super-militarized municipal police forces, not some tactical failing of Occupy), it’s important to seriously evaulate the power of the camps, and to criticize some spurious claims made about them, in order to be free of the worst parts of their legacy.

When discussing Occupy, there is an almost automatic distinction made (among radical, liberal, and reactionary commentators alike) between the ‘prefigurative’ aspects of the movement, the parts of the movement which foreshadow the post-revolutionary world, and the critical or negationary aspects: the protests, actions and marches that try to fight the powers that exist. The prefigurative parts of the movement are always understood as the camps, the GAs, and the structures of organization built to maintain them. As David Graeber put it, in an interview with Platypus, Occupy was “trying to create prefigurative spaces in which we can experiment and create the kind of institutional structures that would exist in a society that’s free of the state and capitalism.” [emphasis mine]

There were incredible things about the camp: the feeding and housing of anyone and everyone who came was a tremendous achievement, and giving a place for radicals and protesters to gather, launch actions, meet each other and fight together was deeply valuable. The power of mutual aid, and public spaces where strangers could meet and come together to work on common goals, or where people could be sure to find friends, was truly disruptive, and these things are exactly what we’d hope to see in a world without state or capital. They are also forms of action that require a centralized location, a camp: without one, they will have to be (and are already being, all over the country) re-thought and achieved in different ways, through social centers or more localized neighborhood or workplace associations.

But the GA? It all too quickly became another form of state-craft, an inefficient and ineffective decision making body which lacked the coercion of the state, union or party to actually hold sway over those it claimed to make rulings for. That was still better than if it had had that power, but, in quick order, it became irrelevant and immensely time-consuming. The use of the human-mic at GAs made it basically impossible to have an interesting or serious conversation, turning every comment into a particular form of vulgar speechifying and declaiming, not to mention making everything take four times longer than it had to. The establishment of a permanent facilitation working group meant that the same group of people ended up managing every conversation: while many of them worked hard to remain impartial, most became less and less ‘objective’ and ‘unbiased’, better and better at automatically manipulating the process. Simultaneously, the other working groups, which were suddenly flooded with cash (at one point there was $500,000 in the OWS kitty), proliferated, and did what all groups of people do when arbitrarily given power over resources to dole out to others: they became bureaucracies, intricate, irritating bureaucracies. The introduction of spokescouncil, a formal, managerial fix to a fundamentally ideological and political error, did little to improve the situation.

The institutional and governing structures built in the camp were not pre-figurative at all. In fact, they ended up reproducing statist and capitalist structures of power on a micro-scale. Last summer, we basically copied and pasted General Assemblies from Spain, Greece, and Latin America, where many of us had encountered them. But those places have a longer history of direct democracy, a better understanding of the dynamics of consensus. When I sat in on GAs in Barcelona, no one in the meeting hesitated to speak up if someone was going off topic, to keep things focused: here, we relied altogether too much on facilitators to do that. Of course, no one is born with that knowledge, everyone has to learn how to interact in these situations somewhere, and with practice we could have gotten right, if not for a crucial error: a general assembly is meant mostly as a system for report-backs, to let working groups know what other groups are up to; in Occupy it became a deliberative body through which proposals had to pass. The possibility of basically everyone agreeing on basically everything (a cartoonish understanding of consensus) is a fetish not of anarchists but of the American liberal: we should remember that ‘bipartisan consensus’ has been the Democratic Party’s magic invocation since Reagan.

To see how this played out, we only have to look at S17, last week’s protests celebrating Occupy’s one year anniversary. The morning’s actions were rarely militant, but they were weird, dispersed, and often exciting, spreading out across all of downtown in a way that reoriented the space into a swarming field of struggle. The sensation that every corner held another snake march, sit-in or piece of street theater, coming upon pink graffiti, red confetti and pink balloons wherever you went, the roving groups of protesters and friends, the chop-chop-chop of the helicopters overhead, all contributed to that surreal remaking of an otherwise calcified zone of urban control that has marked many of OWS’ actions.

A GA was called for 6-8PM in Zuccotti, with a march officially planned for 8. Zuccotti had two levels of barricades around it, with only two entrances, staffed by security guards. The park was surrounded by hundreds of police, who put up floodlights as they had during eviction night. The GA continued to argue well past 8 (until 9:30, in fact) about whether or not there should even be a march, despite it being ‘officially’ scheduled. The facilitators, hardly unbiased, clearly did not want the march to happen, and kept extending the GA, reopening procedural questions, inserting themselves into the discussion. By the end of the evening, there was a nasty racial dynamic as well, with people of color again and again calling to march and white facilitators shutting them down. As the futile argument dragged on, most stood in the West end of the park, far away from the GA, smoking cigarettes and being bored. People filed steadily out of Zuccotti, and by the time enough were fed up with the argument, and finally just marched out of the park, consensus unachieved, it was only 150 of the thousand or so left in Zuccotti, frustrated, impatient, and hardly still in the mood to march.

The only part of the day that pre-figured a better world was the morning’s marches. At their best, the wild, chaotic, decentralized actions in the street create a city built around real freedom: one of chance encounters, outbursts of public creativity and joy, with friends around every corner, each block bubbling with life. S17 wasn’t that, of course—there was plenty of silly, boring, and repetitive action, lots of angry loitering and aimless wandering around. But it prefigured that city of possibilities. Opening the city to new forms of creativity, action, sociality and movement is one of the things Occupy has been best at, but also the thing most consistently mis-analyzed. This reorganizing of urban psychogeography is pre-figurative, much more so than GAs, spokescouncils or working groups.

While S17 wasn’t a resounding success (what would that have looked like, anyway?) it put paid to the idea that Occupy is dead and gone. It would be a fool’s errand to predict what the next months will hold, but what they wont have is occupy encampments. Without camps, its twice as foolish to hold GAs, and they have to stop. But we also have to stop describing the camps as the only prefigurative part of the movement and start understanding that transforming the world doesn’t merely happen through governing bodies, formal methods of organization, bureaucracies or even holistic ‘movements’. We’ve lost the camps, but we’ve also lost certain authoritarian forms of psuedo-governance, and that is greatly to our benefit. We don’t need tents to make another world. The city we want to build is right there waiting in the streets. We just have to take it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fascists in Queens

This is a fascist banner, being hung by organizers from the Golden Dawn neo-fascist party. They are violent, antisocial racists.(1) It is being hung at the Stathakion Cultural Center.

In Greece, while Golden Dawn does better and better in the polls, their offices are being repeatedly smashed(2). Now they’re looking to expand into the US(3). Time has shown that bastards like these can be pushed back against successfully using a three-pronged approach. First, their ideological agenda must be countered ideologically. Wherever they speak, an opposition voice must speak also, speaking firmly and honestly. Second, their physical agenda must be met physically. You are left to your own devices to infer what this means. Third, their affiliations and ties to support must be severed, so they are left to recover from said aggressions on their own, and without the aid of others.

This post is being made because we know of Stathakion Cultural Center in Astoria, NY as one of their first US alliances. We don’t know whether the leadership of the Cultural Center supports them ideologically, is ignorant, or most likely, a mixture of both. We do know that Golden Dawn held a food and clothing drive to ‘be distributed to Hellenes, and only to Hellenes’ at Stathakion. You can read about it here:

This post is being made for two reasons: first, to inform you comrades in the NE that you have some nasty neighbors moving in, and you should be aware of that and take whatever measures are necessary to stay safe with these violent xenophobes on the loose. The second relates to the third prong of the plan to dismantled fascist organizations. Call Stathakion Cultural Center and tell them what violent ultra-right fanatics they’ve been hosting. Tell them how important it is to you that they don’t host them again. Ask them what they’re doing to prevent this group from unleashing the same kind of violent terror they’ve been responsible for in Athens. Their number is (718) 204-6500. Please call them and then reblog this.


Note: This post is informational only and in no way advocates violence or property destruction against fascist organizers. Such acts would be illegal and thus, inherently wrong, regardless of how little harm it caused and how much good it caused. One must never be tempted to stand up against racist terror using anything other than kind words.

Reblogged from Fuck Yeah Anarchist Banners!

Police: Black Holes of Banality

I just finished a piece on S17 and prefigurative politics which will be published, hopefully, somewhere (when it is published, I will change this note to reflect that). But I cut some paragraphs about the police that I think might be generally helpful. Also, I get to block quote If You Can Read This You're Lying, the authors of which are two of the three people who read this blog. 

It is important to note here that I am not blaming the camps for the collapse of Occupy or the drop of momentum. So many commentators seem eager, on this year anniversary, to blame Occupy’s collapse on a particular political failing on the part of occupiers, but,
Conspicuously absent from these discussions have been the simple facts, available to anyone with a memory, that Occupy encampments throughout the country were raided in the middle of the night and forcibly evacuated by militarized police forces; that this wave of evacuations was the result of a coordinated effort by municipal governments around the country, facilitated by federal authorities, to end Occupy once and for all; that activists were often subject to beatings, harassment, surveillance, and false arrests, sometimes in their own homes; that journalists who attempted to cover protests were regularly arrested; and that since the end of the encampments, the authorities have done their very best to actively suppress any form of vigorous political expression before it even starts. –If You Can Read This You’re Lying
The police have been trying desperately to kill Occupy (with a big assist from that smiling mouth that dissembles the long arm’s blows: the media), and, in a real way, they have not succeeded. Failed or not, they’ll never stop gunning for protesters: they are a force that we need to overcome. That overcoming, however, is not merely a question of fighting, of negationary struggle: we don’t want to live in a world just without police, but one without policing, without the racism, misogyny, homophobia and classism that divides us from one another, without the fear that makes us kowtow to authorities and anxiously trace out our slow deaths of boredom. To achieve that means building unbreakable bonds with each other, making ourselves bold, strong and free. At their best, the wild, chaotic, decentralized actions in the street build a city of such freedom: one of chance encounters, outbursts of public creativity and joy, with friends around every corner, each block bubbling with life.

S17 wasn’t that, of course—there was plenty of silly, boring, and repetitive action, lots of angry loitering and aimless wandering around. But it prefigured that city of possibilities: and as a result came into repeated, direct contact with the police, who not only enforce unjust laws and reproduce racial and gendered violence, but also dull and stultify everyday life. They quash anything out of the ordinary, anything loud, or unruly, anything which holds up traffic, or even just makes people stop and stare, any activity that even slightly impedes the deadly routines of capital’s circulation. Cops are black holes of banality, turning disruptive acts of art into crime, moments of solidarity and joy into violent confrontation, parties into tickets, spontaneous public expression into jail time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Cops Incapable of Murder, Part 3

At 2 AM this morning, 3 armed men held up a bodega in the Bronx. When they had their back turned, 20 year old Reynaldo Cuevas, a clerk at the Bodega, ran out of the store. An NYPD officer, responding to the robbery, shot Cuevas once, fatally, as he attempted to flee the scene. Here's a grainy and upsetting video of the incident.

The New York Post is now reporting that the three alleged robbers will be charged with Cuevas' murder. Once again, as in the ESB shooting, we see that the cops are never responsible for the violence that they inflict. Once again, as with the S. African miners, it is the people who police are acting against, not the police themselves, that are accused of murder. At this point, can anyone question this logic of state violence? The police are not merely 'above the law', they are literally incapable of being its subject.

Time to face some hard truth. When it comes to violence, either the inflicting or receiving of it, police are not people. Don't respect them as such, and if you're getting robbed, never call them. They might just shoot you too.

Condolences and solidarity to Cuevas' family, and all victims of extra-human police violence.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Miners Use Police to Shoot Eachother

In my previous post, I discussed how, for the media, police action is akin to a weather pattern, an atmospheric event. Cops are incapable of being responsible for the violence that they produce.* (Of course, as soon as a police officer is killed [on or off-duty] or someone makes an argument against the police qua police, their subjecthood/individuality is invoked as tantamount, but that's another conversation).

This conception of police violence is not limited to the media: prosecutors and the justice system see police in a similar way. Today murder charges are finally being brought in August 16th's police massacre of 34 striking South African miners, but the accused are the murdered miners' co-strikers. Here's Frank Lesenyego, head of South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority:

"It's technical but, in legal [terms], when people attack or confront [the police] and a shooting takes place which results in fatalities ... suspects arrested, irrespective of whether they shot police members or the police shot them, are charged with murder."

It's technical. While it may appear, to the layman, that police opened fire on the strikers, shooting many in the back as they tried to flee a barbed-wire enclosure the police had trapped them in, in fact their deaths are the inevitable and objective outcome of challenging police authority.

Lesenyego's logic is perfect if you don't treat the police as subjects/people: if you were driving a bus and smashed into a wall, killing the passengers inside, it would be madness to charge the wall with murder, but there's at least a case to be made that, as the driver, you are at fault.

Police move to apprehend the horrible monsters that made them open fire

In a sense, this is an extreme and grotesque version of the non-violence ideologue arguing that, by yelling "Fuck the Police", or taking the street, or building barricades, you in fact are responsible for the pepper spray, baton blows and non-lethal rounds. It is identical to the logic of the media scrubbing clean the description of the Empire State Building shooting. In this logic, police violence of any kind is always justifiable, always proportional to the situation, because the police are atmospheric facts, the state made flesh, not an actor but a thing. Fighting the cops is like jumping off the roof: you might survive, but if you don't, it's no one's fault but your own.

While you are certainly more likely to face police violence being in a militant protest than sitting at home watching Breaking Bad, while the miners would've been safer not striking for a living wage, minimally safe working conditions and instead continuing to harvest platinum at great personal danger for lower-than-poverty wages, to accuse the strikers or protesters of causing the police's violence is to perpetuate this logic of the always-already innocent police.

And as much as this logic justifies police violence, it also makes imagining a world without the police that much harder: as long as police violence is as objective, arbitrary and natural as a rain storm, the end of the police as an institution is as impossible a dream as eternal life.

All solidarity to the arrested miners, and to those who continue to strike despite the obscene violence of the state and their bosses. Here's hoping they beat these bullshit charges. 

*I am indebted for much of this framing to Evan Calder Williams, whose work on the police-as-hostile-object directly informs my understanding.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Media is better police

The story first broke with the salacious glee of a journalist knowing he’s about to get paid. Another mass shooting, this time in New York City, at the Empire State Building of all places? Such senseless good luck for a media saturated with mass murder: the symbolic weight of that building, which patiently outlasted its twin competitors for tallest in the city honors, and to top it off the killer was a disgruntled employee recently laid off? Nine wounded in an outburst of class warfare and another crazy terrorist to add to the arsenal of reasons for NYPD empowerment. You could practically hear Ray Kelly smacking his lips.

Everything was going according to script: the liberals cried for gun control and conservatives counter proposed concealed carry, the news agencies played live footage and the anchors employed their most somber tones, and the consumption and de-politicization of another Imaginary Party member’s rage took its well practiced course.

That is, of course, until a couple on-site cameras revealed that, actually, this madman wasn’t firing wildly into the crowd, just killing his old tormentor and then putting down his gun, and it was police who shot nine bystanders before killing him, in what is their second cell-phone captured daylight murder this month. And when the news came out that Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of New York’s finest turned a murder into a shooting gallery, coverage of the violence dropped off dramatically.

But, try as they might, it was too late to bury the story: people wanted to know what happened, so the newsmen all changed their tune (and their ledes). The nine were not ‘wounded’ but ‘injured’, not ‘shot’ but ‘grazed’ by bullets. The New York times described police shooting nine people as “nine people were wounded in gunfire”, as though “gunfire” were a weather pattern. This is more than just passive voice, there are no shooters here at all.

Because when the police shoot somebody it is not a tragedy, it is not senseless, it is not an oturage or mayhem or further evidence of our nation’s moral and social collapse. It is not even done by people, but by the environment: it becomes just something that happens, a freak accident, as abstract and passive a news event as a snowstorm. If they could, they would leave the nine people out of it, but the media was too eager, pounced too fast on the story to successfully drop their presence, and so instead the police line is repeated ad nauseum: “[Ray] Kelly’s comments reinforce the picture that began to emerge on Friday: that in acting quickly and with deadly force, the police prevented the gunman, Jeffrey T. Johnson, 58, from inflicting more harm but in so doing also were responsible for many of the injuries.” Clearly we should thank the police for preventing more harm from being inflicted by the gunman. Just imagine how many people he could have shot with the four bullets he had left!

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Police don’t kill people either, and that’s because, when it comes down to it, police are more guns than people, objects not only absolved from but incapable of personal responsibility. The news will always keep the police from the subject position of any negative story, because the newspapers, magazines, bloggers and reporters are the other part of the police, the pretty face and soothing voice that apologizes for the long arm’s blows, which mystifies police actions and empties violence of political content, which transforms rage into madness and antagonism into insanity.

No matter that the killer is remorseless, that he speaks calmly and rationally about his actions, no matter how many public murders occur in succession, the media will never allow an explanation other than complete madness. That’s why its so important that the police kill the murderer rather than even attempting an arrest, that the media silence him by stripping his actions of anything but the most apolitical ‘personal’ motives. The media understands this process better even than the police, (who ultimately are blunt, stupid instruments); the vigour with which they disavow understanding these acts gives them away. Because the killings wont end, the killings are terminal struggles against a totality that makes itself appear so vast and endless that a bullet becomes the only way out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Million Hoodie March

I wrote this piece two weeks ago for a website that, in the end, didn't publish it. As a result, this piece has gone a bit stale: it was meant to be published right after the march, but I sure as hell ain't putting any more time into the stupid thing.

It wouldn’t be surprising if you didn’t hear about the most significant rally in New York City so far this year. You could have missed it because it was called only two weeks in advance, or because, despite bringing thousands out for a powerful rally and series of marches, the Million Hoodies March was barely mentioned in the media. Perhaps this media silence was because there were no violent arrests, but it seems more likely to be because a majority-black march decrying the racist murder of a black teenager doesn’t fit within certain media narratives about our ‘post-racial’ society.

The Million Hoodies rally and march was in solidarity with the family of Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year old boy murdered in cold blood in Sanford, Florida on February 26. The murderer, George Zimmerman, was a neighborhood watch member, and claimed “self-defense” as an explanation for the killing. Despite having his claims that Martin was ‘acting suspiciously’ refuted by 911 tapes and witness testimony, he has not been charged with a crime. In the sort of absurd horror that all too often accompanies these cases, Martin had just been walking back to his father’s house from the store with a bag of skittles and an ice tea for his cousin. For Zimerman, apparently, wearing a hoodie and walking while black was justification enough to kill.

The Million Hoodies rally began at 6 PM in Union Square on Wednesday with speeches by councilmember Jumanee Williams and Martin’s attorney, while the crowd swelled from hundreds to thousands. Martin’s parents, who had flown up from Florida for the event, gave a moving and emotional speech calling for justice and solidarity. By 7 o’clock, the crowd had grown to at least 5000 supporters, most in hoodies and many carrying bags of skittles and cans of ice tea, who took off from Union Square, marching down 14th street to the West, filling the streets and marching up to 23rd, before doubling back to Union Square again.

There, the crowd split, although it was so large that many didn’t notice at the time, and I joined about 2-3000 people who took off headed south, marching down Broadway. (Later I would find out about 1-2,000 had stayed at the park then marched north to Times Square). The march filled the streets, and for well over an hour we spent our energy chanting, talking and moving together. The numbers were so big that at one point the main body of the march split, and we took both Broadway and Lafayette, and marched down the two parallel avenues for blocks.

The NYPD, who’ve used wanton violence against Occupy Wall Street protesters in the last week, attempted to block us occasionally but were for the most part outnumbered and unwilling to engage, and only showed up in large numbers when we arrived at one police plaza, at which point the march had dissipated somewhat. The few times I saw cops attempt to divert or control the crowd, they were met with resistance or dismissal and they had to back down. The march was an inspiring show of strength and solidarity, and if the cops had attempted the sort of violence they’ve been using to control dissent in this city lately, the feeling on the ground was that things would have gone rather badly for them.

The march was suffused with that rare feeling of shared anger expressed freely: though certainly not “joy”, as it was impossible to be happy while focused on the tragedy of Trayvon’s death, there is an aspect of joyousness to the recognition of solidarity and strength. Through our anger we came together, through our togetherness we recognized our power, and through our power we experienced, briefly, the freedom that such solidarity can bring. As they usually do, the chants told the tale of the march. By far the most common chant was “We are/Trayvon Martin”, although “No justice/No peace” (about half the time with the addendum “take to the streets and fuck the police”) was a close second. Hapilly for me, I didn’t hear anyone chanting the insipid, class and race obfuscating “We are the 99%”, although others reported that that nonsense was taking place elsewhere in the march.

All of which leads to another reason this march was so monumental: it was explicitly not an Occupy Wall Street march. Which isn’t to say that occupiers weren’t there, they were, but unlike most of the major marches in the last six months in the city, this was not called by OWS, nor were the majority of the marchers occupiers. Occupy Wall Street, instead, acted as a force multiplier, taking on an auxillary role of support. As long as Occupy Wall Street, in its current configuration, is the biggest game in town, it could well lead to less of the inspiring strength and creativity that OWS displays at its best moments and more of the arrogance and lack of class and race analaysis that it displays at its worst.

New York is a minority-majority city, and yet communities of color face major levels of daily violence and oppression at the hands of the NYPD. From the criminalizing of entire communities by stop-and-frisk, to the murder of young men like Ramarley Graham, it’s not only crazy Floridians who use white supremacy and violence to oppress poor communities of color. The only thing extraordinary about the violence that the NYPD uses against occupiers is that police violence is getting any media coverage at all.

The Million Hoodies March excited me for the year ahead of us, because what I saw and felt was solidarity: a situation where Occupy Wall Street fought against racism and state violence alongside these communities. However, as many people felt the way that Elon James White did, that occupiers were rude and attempting to coopt the march, my hope may be misplaced. It’s unfair to the people of color, as well as the LGBTQI, homeless, impoverished and other oppressed members of the movement to describe Occupy Wall Street as impossibly privileged, and since marches rarely go how they’re supposed to, the opinion of march organizers should be taken with a grain of salt (the organizers of the October 1 Brooklyn Bridge march, for example, were screaming for people not to go on the roadway, and would go on to argue, abusrdly, that the police had tricked us on to the bridge). Still, much of what White describes is completely abhorent, and there’s a lot of truth to what he says about the defensiveness, lack of accountability, arrogance and general unwillingness to change within the movement. It’s very important that this dialogue happen now, that his critique be taken into account and understood and that bridges of solidarity get built, not burnt.

Occupy Wall Street shouldn’t try and turn a march about Trayvon Martin into a march about OWS, but the opposite: more OWS marches should be about Martin, and Ramarley Graham, and Troy Davis. And not to bring more people of color into the movement as it exists, but because the movement needs to change to reflect the centrality of those struggles. Racism and its accompanying violence are the major forces used by this state to divide and destroy us. They shatter communities and build suspicion and hatred in the hearts of everyone. Moreso then government corruption or Wall Street malfeasance, it is the continual, historical violent oppression of minorities (racial, sexual or religious) that reveals and (re)produces the daily injustices of this society. The racist physical violence of the police and the prison system, the racist economic violence of the mortgage lenders and the globalizers, the racist psychological violence of our cultural products and everyday interactions: these are not side issues, these forms of violence define the very contours of hate and oppression in this society and must be stopped at all costs. Until there is an incredibly strong social force capable of overturning these forms of oppression, there will continue to be more Trayvon Martins.

For now, however, all of our thoughts, love and solidarity is with Martin’s family. His death was senseless and awful, but we have the strength to build a world where such brutal, mad injustices cannot occur. I felt a glimmer of that strength on the Million Hoodies March, and that strength will continue to grow if we can understand, unify and march together.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dear Reader

Yes you. There is only one of you. I'm actually watching you right now.

For sometime there has been nothing on this blog. Probably eventually there will be something! However, until there is something, there will continue to be nothing. Somewhere where there has been something, consistently, produced out of the same addled nothing and back into the same ethereal something, is here.

That is all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The 2nd Grader

Ronnie cocked his head slightly as he crouched down beneath his desk. He was listening for boot heels clicking on the floor. He wasn't sure, exactly, what had compelled him to stay after class was dismissed. He was curious, he guessed, but the first announcement over the PA, designed clearly to help him, had scared him instead.

"This is the first warning. Any student found on the premises after the third warning is subject to arrest. We will not hesitate to use force. This is the first warning."

He had heard stories, of course, about students who had stayed in the school building after hours. Mark Y whose spine had been broken by a hall monitor's tackle. Linda K who had been ripped apart by guard dogs. Bobby R who had just...disappeared. But those were rumors, urban legends the kids told each other at sleep overs. Ronnie was 8, and he didn't believe in those stories now, any more than in Santa Claus or Jesus.

The second warning had been the same as the first. It should have shooed him out of the building, but he just froze, crawled under the desk.

At the third warning, the metal window shutters had gone down and the studded iron classroom door had swung shut and locked into place, just like when class started, but this time a small green light, rather than the usual small blue light, appeared at the handle and started blinking. Ronnie didn't know what was going to happen, but as the vault-handle started to spin, slowly, he lay on his side, curled up, and began to cry.

It's not dystopia, it's Texas!