Monday, April 15, 2013


I wanted to follow up on yesterday's story (which you can read here) concerning the on going police harassment of African American young people which has been on going for two years on the "exclusive" Country Club Plaza shopping and entertainment district here in Kansas City.  Yesterday's post focused on the work of a group of folks who are trying to take action on behalf of the kids in a number of ways.

Today I want to focus on the kids themselves and be a bit more theoretical.

What these kids have done is really amazing, if you think about it.  Somehow, young African Americans have taken it upon themselves to find a place to freely carry out their lives, to create a space for their own enjoyment, safe from gangs and violence.  This creation of a common space without any real organization, without any adult help, without some advanced planning is telling itself.  

However, it obviously does not stop there.  The response to this self (un)organized seizure of the commons has been dismay by the powers that be.  The local media, unable to interpret or understand what is going on (and the is the best spin I can put on it) have responded in a blatantly racist manner.  They have referred to what these kids have done (non violently, I might add) as "flash mobs","  they have called the kids troublemakers and thugs.  They have implied that white patrons of the area are in danger of being attacked by blacks, and have spread unfounded rumors of such.  They have done all they could to stir up trouble.  They have been joined by those who run the area and who have long tried to keep anyone not fitting their image of who should be allowed on their upscale playground out.  The city has responded with a ridiculous curfew obviously aimed at one particular component of society - that would be young, black kids.  They have turned loose a police department with a long history of racism.  The police have occupied the area on weekend nights in the spring and summer.  They are there on foot, on horseback and in their patrol cars.  They harass and provoke the kids and then they arrest them when they can.  As one young black woman said, they tell us "we are in the way."  Indeed.

And there have been well intentioned adults, self described community leaders, official community activists,  and the like who have come to talk to the kids, but who never listen to them.  They offer the usual offerings.  They call for midnight hoops, church gatherings, roller skating.  They are clueless to the fact that what these kids want is quite simple.  They want the freedom they deserve and they want to preserve a space they themselves have created where they can enjoy their lives as they want.  They don't need adult supervision.  They don't need organized activities.  

Despite all of this, despite the hard power and the soft power,  the kids have not gone away.  They disperse.  They re-group.  They come back.  They won't go away.  They won't give up the space they have created.  They won't be cowed into submission and they have maintained control of their space for several years now.  Is there a better example of the self organization that the multitude is capable of?  Is there a better example of the ability of the multitude to simply create their own space and their own future?  Wondrous, really, and these kids really have no idea, and that is also beautiful.  

Amazingly, to me anyway, these kids have remained almost completely non violent despite all the provocations.  Yes, there have been a few fights and yes, once, last year there was a gun shot, but by and large the kids have simply gone about their business being kids and refusing to be "controlled."  

There may come a time when that ends.  Continual harassment and provocation by police, the media, the wealthy who run the place, the authorities could very well force a confrontation to occur.  I've been involved in this sort of thing with police when I was younger,  and I well remember there came a time when we simply said enough and fought back. First they called in the national guard (who accomplished nothing and were meant with homegrown resistance), and a few months later the police came in,  opened fire and left blood on the street and one man dead.  It can happen, but it does not need to happen.  Hopefully, the intervention which I described yesterday will help avert something like that.

Myself, I have mostly watched, chatted with the kids, listened to them, laughed with them, shouted occasionally at the police as they do what they do.  What is important for the likes of me and those like me to remember is that THIS is the kids thing.  We can support what these kids do if they want us to do so,  and we can patrol the police as the group I described yesterday is now doing.  The best thing we can do in my opinion is listen, be supportive, and learn.  

The other thing those like me, leftists, activists, etc. who are white can do is not propagandize the kids, the black kids, but to instead concentrate on the white folks wandering around on the Plaza.  Challenge them, explain to them, confront them, struggle with their racism and work to reject as much as possible our own white skin privilege.   The job of anti-racist whites is to combat white supremacy and white skin privilege,  and they have to do that amongst whites.  Malcolm X laid this out pretty clearly in 1964 in a speech at the founding rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity.  He said:

Now, if white people want to help, they can help. But they can't join. They can help in the white community, but they can't join. We accept their help. They can form the White Friends of the Organization of Afro-American Unity and work in the white community on white people and change their attitude toward us. They don't ever need to come among us and change our attitude. We've had enough of them working around us trying to change our attitude. That's what got us all messed up. So we don't question their sincerity, we don't question their motives, we don't question their integrity. We just encourage them to use it somewhere else in the white community. If they can use all of this sincerity in the white community to make the white community act better toward us, then we'll say, "Those are good white folks." But they don't have to come around us, smiling at us and showing us all their teeth like white Uncle Toms, to try and make themselves acceptable to us. The White Friends of the Organization of Afro American Unity, let them work in the white community.

The following little blurb is from rurban commons.

definitions of commons

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt

Marxist critical thinkers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri define the commons as something which is not discovered but produced: ‘We call “biopolitical production” the current dominant model to underline the fact that it involves not only a material production in straight economic terms, but also it affects and contributes to produce all other aspects of social life: i.e. economic, cultural and political. This biopolitical production and the increased commons that it creates, support the possibility of democracy today’. A sustainable democracy should be based on a long-term politics of the commons but also on social solidarities understood as commons. ‘Creating value today is about networking subjectivities and capturing, diverting, appropriating what they do with the commons that they began’. For Negri, the contemporary revolutionary project is concerned with capturing, diverting, appropriating and reclaiming the commons as a key constituent in its process. At the same time, it is a re-appropriation and a reinvention. This undertaking needs new categories and new institutions, new forms of management and governance, and new spaces and actors – an entire infrastructure that is both material and virtual.

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