Monday, December 08, 2014


Demonstrators toss out smoke bombs during a march in Berkeley, California on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014. Two officers were injured Saturday night as a California protest over police killings turned violent with protesters smashing windows and throwing rocks and bricks at police, who responded by firing tear gas, authorities said. Demonstrators were responding to the grand jury verdicts in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City by local police officers in their communities. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, SAM WOLSON AP PHOTO

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Here we go with Scission's Theoretical Monday.  Hold your breath because this one is going on forever.

On  Facebook today two old friends of mine engaged in a conversation concerning specifically what happened in Berkeley the last couple of nights, and more generally beyond that.

Friend number one wrote,

I hope this isn't elfin controversial, but the people who are busting up Berkeley & fighting with other protesters -- including bonking one with a hammer -- in the name of protesting police murders, are THUGS plain & simple who are playing into the mainstream media's narrative...I'm gonna say that the folks doing the busting up & store-jacking simply aren't helping either the poor black store owners in Oakland or advancing the movement against police violence.

Friend number two responded, 

...Chicago, 1969; a panther conference in Oakland 1969 with SDS factions literally fighting each other in the street; the Weather Underground; Seattle 1999; Greece, Italy, etc.; and any old "riot" over the past 50 years in which stores have been attacked and/or looted. And that's just for white people. You may be right, of course, but I would hesitate to label anarchists (I'm assuming that's who is involved in this stuff) THUGS, just because in this instance that word has become a meme for racist attacks on black resistance, even though the folks you're talking about are probably white.

Responding to a comment back, friend number one replied,

Agree that the word thugs has tended to be a racist meme. There is a complex set of realities going on: activists organize demonstrations & draw a fairly diverse crowd; the anarchists (are these really anarchists or are they something else?), see an opportunity, run wild & the police crack down -- or vice versa ; the meme becomes violent demonstrations; the public withdraws & the headlines trumpet violent demonstrations and the cases of michael brown and eric garner disappear into the ether....The anarchists or whoever they are, helped destroy a very popular Occupy Movement in Oakland. As the violence increased, the crowds diminished & it became an argument over who was more violent, the black bloc or the police. Occupy is now a distant memory.

I want to say both of my friends have a long history of movement work, are intelligent, sincere, good people.  I think both make relevant points here, and if they desired both could give a much more detailed analysis of the points they are making.  The comments above are just snippets of what I know both could expound on, if they wanted.

Let me say, that I have no idea who is who or what is what with the "riot" in Berkeley on Saturday and Sunday night.  I have spent absolutely no time trying to figure out who the players are and what happened or why.  So, as far as I know, friend number one is absolutely correct in his assessment about that particular event.  However, even if he is, I think we have to go further into this thing.  We can't just leave it there.  We can't just leave the impression out there that any upheaval of this kind, any rebellion of this kind, any "riot" of this kind is nothing more than a bunch of crazy assholes fighting with each other, looking for an excuse to break windows, loot a little, throw some shit at the cops...for the heck of it.  We can't just allow this to turn into one more diatribe about violence and about how violence never accomplishes anything or how violence never has roots, or whatever.

At least, I can't.


I thought about what to say here and realized I have already said it and posted various pieces on the subject by various authors.  They will suffice.  They will, unfortunately, make for a very, very long blog today.  I don't expect anyone to sit down and read all this.  I'd say pick and choose or set it all aside for a rainy day.  What you are getting here are actually three previous Scissions in the order to which I, alone, deem them relevant.  They all approach the same subject, but in different ways.

A MORE PERSONAL NOTE FROM ME TO YOU:  Remember that the other side is not playing games. Don't say stupid shit (I did when I was younger, sometimes still do, I am afraid), don't do stupid shit out of frustration. Prison ain't worth it (take it from me, I've done time) and there is little to be gained by going there..I do have one little tidbit taken from my personal experience. The most militant sounding guy I ever knew ended up copping a deal and singing the government's song while testifying against me and others in a bombing conspiracy case years ago.  Just something for everyone here to keep in mind. All that said, we can't allow any of that to totally rule what we do or do not do. Also, oftentimes shit just happens because people are really pissed, not because this or that faction organized them, or influenced them, or took over their activity. Sometimes no matter how any of us may judge it, analyze it, or think about it, some just feel they have had enough and they "can't breathe" ...

All right, all of that said, let me add here that I think we have seen in the past little while an excellent tactic which those of you who abhor violence, or who think, violence in the situation surrounding the on going police murders of African Americans is not the best response may better appreciate...and, I hope, even those of you who prefer a more, shall we say aggressive response will still appreciate.

I have to say the what seems to be spontaneously developed tactic of blocking highways, streets, subway stations, shopping centers etc., while talking with passers by and then moving on to the next stop leaving cops befuddled is a great one. I know this has happened in the past but not to this extent...nor did the past usually include the added tactic of staying for a while then moving on.  
This tactic, these rolling blockades, really do mean "no business as usual,"  cannot be ignored, and  certainly seem to garner support from even those not just passing by, but even from those stopped in place.  

“I understand it. I agree with it,” said Betty Hechavarria, who was late for a nail appointment and running out of gas in Miami in traffic stopped by a die in.

I would take this tactic even further, or maybe a step back is a better way of putting it.  Let's say you can't make it for one reason or another to the big march. Let's say you live someplace with no marchers. Let's say you just want to keep it going. Let's say you just want to make your own statement. Hawk (that would be my greyhound bud) and I have found that walking down the street raising your hands and chanting "hands up don't shoot" whenever you see a cop car, or a crowd of people or whatever, when you are in a public place, a shopping area, walking your dog through your neighborhood, strolling down a crowded corridor, at work draws attention and even conversation. So even when you are all alone, you can on your own raise those hands, shout out "hands up, don't shoot." People understand. You'll be surprised by the response. Lead your own march. Be your own march. Make your own statement. Don't let it go. We are everywhere....Fight white supremacy everyday in every way. Join with others when you can, stand alone when you can't...

Finally, I hope no feathers are ruffled here.  My two friends listed above really are two friends for whom I have much respect, and both of whom, I just know, think at times I am a bit nuts.

Now, back to our originally scheduled posts from previous issues of Scission.

Monday, June 16, 2014


Theoretical Monday and I have a bit of angry "theoreticalness" to share with you.  As I always say, I don't agree with all of it, but I get the anger, and I get the idea, and I also don't disagree with all of it.  From the days of my youth back in the 60s to right now there have always been amongst us those who said enough of this shit, the time has come for fighting in the streets, yo.  I was one of those nuts back in the day who just didn't want to wait any longer, who wanted to inflict some "damage," who wanted the other guys to feel the pain, who wanted to deliver "blows against the empire."  Rage has never truely left my psyche, not really.  I know a lot more today then I did yesterday or forty years ago, I think.  I understand more, I think.  But then who knows.  I keep having this troubling thought in my brain that the more I learn (and grow, as it were) the closer to death I am, and the closer to death is the Earth itself.  So yeah, sometimes I just want to scream, "Stop."  Sometimes I still want to say to those who always ask, "well, what will you replace IT with,"  we will freaking figure that out when the time comes.  Sometimes I take Negri more seriously then I think he takes himself when he WRITES about people creating communism every day, every hour.  I look at my young comrades with their abundance of energy and pissed offness, and I feel it...

Sometimes Revolution really is for the hell of it, of course the hell of it is very deep, and sometimes you don't feel like diving deep, if you get my drift.  Sometimes you don't need a weatherman (or even a weatherwoman) to know which way the wind blows, the gusts are high enough to make all that redundant.  Sometimes the fact that something may be detrimental in the long run (or even in the short run) just doesn't work to dissuade (youth - and even others).  Sometimes even an autonomous Marxist crosses the line for a moment into anarchism...

Sometimes someone comes along who is angry like that, but stops for a minute, for some unknown reason, out of some sense of who knows what, and tries to explain how come he/she is pissed off.

That is, I think, is what a fellow by the name of Phil Neel does below.

So yeah, I don't buy everything you are about to read, but I think i get where it is coming from...and I am not going to spend even one minute sitting here writing a more reasoned response, a more Marxian approach, a more historical analysis, a real plan, blah, blah, blah.

Later this afternoon I will sit down and rapidly finish my reading of Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century and be glad I did (warts and all).  Tomorrow I will probably post a much more thought out, ideologically, philosophically, politically cogent analysis of this that or the other, but right now, instead, and for whatever the reason, I give to you, from something called ULTRA...This is anger, thought out, anger with an explanation, anger with a rationale, but the end, you will feel...anger.


Two years ago in Seattle, on May 1st, 2012, roughly four to five hundred people engaged in the largest riot the city had seen in more than a decade. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of property were destroyed[i], a minor state of emergency was declared, and the next day’s headlines were filled with horror stories of crazy, “out-of-town” anarchists run amok.
This event, occurring on the tail end of the Occupy movement, also quickly became the post-facto excuse for extensive federal, state and municipal investigation, surveillance and ongoing repression of political dissent. Several anarchists in the Pacific Northwest wereput in prison without charge in the fall of that year, only to be released months later, still with no charges filed. Houses were raided in search of anarchist literature and black hoodies. Up to a year later, people were still being followed.
I was one of the five people originally charged for crimes on May Day 2012[ii]. I’ve since pled guilty to slightly lesser charges, in order to avoid going to trial on two felonies[iii]. I pled in the fall of 2013 and completed the bulk of the sentence in the winter, spending three months in King County’s Work-Education Release (WER) Unit. Technically an “alternative to confinement,” living in WER effectively means that you are imprisoned at all times that you are not allowed out for work, school or treatment (for mental health or drug offenses).
This puts me in a unique position. Since I am one of the few people who has pled guilty to certain crimes from May 1st, 2012, including Riot, I do not necessarily face the same risks in talking about—and defending—the riot as a tactic or the impulses behind it. This by no means makes what I say below an exhaustive or fully representative account of why others may have engaged in that same riot. They mostly got away—a good thing in and of itself, though federal charges may still be pending for one window that was smashed in an empty courthouse. But this also means that they cannot speak of or defend their participation without risking repression.
To be clear: I’m not speaking on behalf of any groups who wound up engaged in the riot that occurred on May Day 2012. To my knowledge, the riot was by no means planned ahead of time, and the anti-capitalist march that the riot grew out of, technically an Occupy Seattle event, was itself planned in public meetings. I’m not even speaking on behalf of this specific riot, but instead on behalf of rioting as such, in the abstract. The question “Why Riot” is not simply: why did you engage in this riot, but, instead, why riot at all? And the perspective given here is that of a rioter.
So I’m writing here for simple reasons: to defend the riot as a general tactic and to explain why one might engage in a riot. By this I mean to defend and explain not just the window breaking, not just “non-injurious violence,” and certainly not just the media spectacle it generates, but the riot itself—that dangerous, ugly word that sounds so basically criminal and which often takes (as in London in 2011) a form so fundamentally unpalatable for civil society that it can only be understood as purely irrational, without any logic, and without possible defense.
I aim, nonetheless, to defend and explain the riot, because we live in a new era of riots. Riots have been increasing in absolute number globally for the past thirty years. They are our immediate future, and this future will spare Seattle no less than Athens or London, Guangzhou or Cairo.

Who am I?
I am a member of the poorest generation since those who came of age during the Great Depression. Born to the “end of history,” we watched the ecstatic growth of the Clinton years morph seamlessly into the New Normal of Bush and Obama.
We have no hope of doing better than our parents did, by almost any measure. We have inherited an economy in secular stagnation, a ruined environment on the verge of collapse, a political system created by and for the wealthyskyrocketing inequality, and anemotionally devastating, hyper-atomized culture of pyrrhic consumption.
The most recent economic collapse has hit us the hardest. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the median net worth of people under 35 fell 55 percent between 2005 and 2009, while those over 65 lost only a fraction as much, around 6 percent[iv]. The result is that if you calculate debt alongside income, wealth inequality is today increasingly generational. Those over 65 hold a median net worth of $170,494, an increase from 1984 of 42 percent. Meanwhile, the median net worth of those under 35 has fallen 68 percent over the same period, leaving young people today with a median worth of only $3,662[v].
Despite cultural narratives of laziness and entitlement, this differential is not due to lack of effort or education (my generation is the most educated, as well, and works some of the longest hours for the least pay). The same Pew Study notes that older white Americans have simply been the beneficiaries of good timing. They were raised in an era of cheap housing and education, massive state welfare and unprecedented economic ascent following the creative destruction of two world wars and a depression—wars and crises that they themselves didn’t have to live through.
And the jobs that older Americans hold are not being passed down to us, though their debt is. When they retire, the few remaining secure, living wage and often unionized positions will be eliminated, their components dispersed into three or four different unskilled functions performed by part-time service workers. The entirety of the job growth that has come since the “recovery” began has been in low-wage, temporary or highly precarious jobs, which exist alongside a permanently heightened unemployment rate.

The Old Economy Steve meme took off after the financial crisis, speaking to this divide between generations
The Old Economy Steve meme took off after the financial crisis, speaking to this divide between generations
NOTE FROM SCISSION EDITOR:  In my defense, I did not own a home at 22, but I was under federal indictment in an alleged bombing conspiracy, and well on my way to prison...LOL

In the long term, this means that, after having been roundly robbed in almost every respect by our parents’ generation, our own future holds nothing more than the hope that we might be employed in two or three separate part-time, no-promotion positions in the few growth sectors, such as healthcare, where we can have the privilege of being paid minimum wage to wipe the asses of the generation that robbed us.
It is no coincidence, then, that every time we hear a fucking baby boomer explain how we’re so entitled, and how they worked summers to pay for college, we contemplate whether or not disemboweling them and selling their organs on the booming black market might be the only way to pay back our student loans.

Where did I come from?
Meanwhile, this economic overhaul has led not only to a global reordering of where things are made, and by whom, but also to a spatial concentration of economic activity in the US.[vi] Those metropolitan regions that were capable of becoming network hubs for global logistics systems fared best, with their amalgamation of hi-tech industries and producer services. These became the urban palaces, with concentrations of “cultural capital” and redesigned downtown cores (lightly cleansed of “undesirable” populations) built to appeal to tourists and foreign dignitaries.
Beyond this, large swaths of the country were simply abandoned as wastelands, where resource extraction was either hyper-mechanized or too expensive, agricultural goods were produced under heavy government subsidy, and small urban centers were forced to compete for the most undesirable jobs in industrial farming, food processing, waste management, warehousing or the growing private prison industry. In many areas, the informal economy expanded enormously—consistent with global trends, most visible in the worldwide growth of slums.

This is the America I was raised in
This is the America I was raised in
I am from one of these wastelands where the majority of work is informal, the majority of formal industries are dirty or miserable, and where rates of poverty, unemployment, chronic disease, illiteracy, and mental illness are often two to three times the national average. Raised in a trailer several miles off a reservation in one of the poorest counties on the west coast, all of the structural shifts mentioned above were for me not academic abstractions, but living reality. I come from that part of America—the majority of it—where weed is the biggest cash crop, where kids eat Special K like it’s cereal, and where the only “revitalization” we’ve ever seen is when the abandoned factory down the street was converted into a meth lab.
And I was, due mostly to dumb luck, one of the few who was able to earn enough to pay the exit fee. Upon arrival in Seattle, despite having a degree I was fed into the lowest tiers of the labor market. Rather than being some “out-of-town” suburban youth using Seattle as a “playground,” as commentators would claim of the rioters, I was, in fact, one of the multitude of invisible workers that the city depended on—whether hauling goods to and from the port, working in the south county warehouses, cleaning downtown’s sprawling office towers, or, as in my case, working behind the kitchen door.
At the time of the riot, I was working for ten cents more than minimum wage in a wholesale kitchen in South Seattle, where we produced tens of thousands of pre-packaged sandwiches and salads for consumption in upscale city cafés and office buildings. It is not an exaggeration to say that my full-time work schedule (for the duration of Occupy Seattle, which I attended every day after morning shifts at work) amounted to me feeding hundreds of thousands of Seattleites over the several months that Occupy was a present force in the city. It’s likely, then, that those hysteric KIRO-TV commentators claiming that I was part of some “outsider” gang come from the heart of chaos (or Portland, maybe?) to fuck up Seattle have themselves regularly eaten the food that I was paid poverty wages to make.
Despite the language of post-industrial, guilt-free success common to many wealthy Seattleites’ image of themselves, the fact is that Seattle, like any other global city, relies on what is called a dual labor market[vii]. Higher tiers of skilled labor, cultural production, finance and producer services exist atop a secondary tier of less skilled, minimally compensated work in high-turnover jobs with little chance of promotion.
This creates a fundamental spatial problem within capitalism: despite the outsourcing of the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs in manufacturing and resource extraction, the rich can never entirely get away from the poor. The extension of surveillanceincarceration and deportation, the militarization of the police, and the softer counter-insurgency of philanthropy foundations[viii], social justice NGOs, conservative unions and various other poverty pimps are all methods to manage different dimensions of this problem. The riot is what happens when all these mediations fail. And in an era of crisis and austerity, such mediation becomes more and more difficult to maintain.
So in all the media’s talk of “outsiders,” “anarchists” and other terms meant to make the rioting subject opaque to those not immediately engaged in the riot, the one fact that was consistently distorted was the simplest: the thieves in the palace were, in fact,the servants.
I, the terrifying, irrational rioter, am you.

Why don’t I engage in more productive forms of protest?
The other common theme was, of course, the morality play between the “good protestor” and the “bad protestor.” The rioters somehow “infiltrated” the march. They distracted from the “real” issues. They turned “normal” people away from the day’s events, ultimately hurting attempts at reform that were already underway.
There is in this an implicit assumption that there exist “better” forms of protest, and that we rioters do not also do these things. This produces a few small ironies, as when the local alt-weekly, The Strangercontrasted the negotiated arrest of fast food protestors, who showed their courage by standing their ground and “demanding arrest,” with the May Day rioters, who did nothing but “hide behind bandanas while hurling rocks.” The irony here was that I was myself one of those rioters and one of those fast food workers—having been involved in the fast food campaign from its inauguration, leading a walkout at my workplace in the first strike, planning segments of the intermediate actions (including the wage theft protest, though my pending riot case prevented me from being arrested there), and then briefly taking a paid position with Working Washington for two weeks leading up to the second strike.
Beyond the irony, though, there is the troublesome presumption that this highly negotiated, thoroughly controlled and largely non-threatening activism is somehow more productive in the long term. When I did engage in the fast food strikes, I did so initially as a fast food worker, and the short-term goal there was to build power among food workers in the city. Despite this, no amount of organizing for (often much-needed) reforms can get over the basic problems of reform itself, which is today equivalent to trying to take a step uphill during an avalanche—you may well complete that step, but the ground itself is moving the opposite direction.
What would have been easily achievable, relatively minor reforms in the boom era of fifty or sixty years ago, such as raising the minimum wage to match inflation, enforcing laws against wage theft, and coming up with an equitable tax system, today require herculean effort and mass mobilization, even when ninety percent of the original demand is usually sacrificed simply to show “good faith” at the negotiating table.

Why don’t I like capitalism?
There is plenty more to talk about here—which you can explore if you please. But the basic problem, cut to the size of a tweet, is thatthe economy is the name for a hostage situation in which the vast majority of the population is made dependent on a small minority through implicit threat of violence.
If we challenge the system’s capacity to infinitely accumulate more at a compounding rate, it goes into crisis—this is basic definition of crisis: when profitable growth slows, stops, or, god forbid, reverses. Whenever this accumulation is challenged, whether by contingent factors such as poor location, or intentional ones, such as a resistant populace, those who hold the power (the wealthy) will start killing hostages.
This is precisely what has been happening over the last fifty years of economic restructuring. Any regions that show significant resistance to the lowering of wages, the dismantling of social services, the export or mechanization of jobs, or the privatization of public property can easily be sacrificed. The American landscape, circa 2014, is littered with just such dead hostages: Detroit and Flint, MI, Camden, NJ, Athens, OH, Jackson, MS, the mining towns of West Virginia or northern Nevada.
The handful of cities (such as New York and Seattle) that were able to escape this fate today pride themselves on being such good hostages. The only reason they were able to survive this rigged game of neoliberal roulette was because of a mixture of sheer geographic luck (often as port cities or pre-existing financial centers) and their absolute openness to do whatever the rich wanted. Public goods were sold off at bargain basement prices, downtown cores were redesigned according to the whims of a few large interests in retail, finance and real estate, and tax money, paired with future tax exemptions, was simply handed out as bribes to big players like Nordstrom and Boeing.[ix]
If we then zoom out to the global scale, it is abundantly obvious that the currently existing economic system—which we call capitalism—is a failed one. If it ever had any grudging utility in raising general livelihoods after its mass sacrifices in war and colonization, that time has unequivocally passed. Aside from the numerous examples cited above, there are a few especially appalling illustrations.Slavery is growing worldwide at a rate higher than at any other time in recent history. Mechanization is set to push massive swaths of workers out of the production process entirely, even while the gains of this increase in productivity are themselves concentrated almost exclusively in the hands of the wealthy. The central role of finance and speculation in the global economy has resulted in massive spikes in global food prices, causing famines and food riots, as well as a situation in which the majority of grain in the world, to take one example, is controlled by just four companies.

Global slavery has been increasing
Global slavery has been increasing
Meanwhile, the bulk of the globe’s basic goods production is increasingly concentrated—both in the producer services of high-GDP metropoles like London, New York and Tokyo and in the “world’s factory” of South and Southeast Asia. The production of these goods is not only dominated by vast, low-wage retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon, but also increasingly dictated by massive contract manufacturers like Foxconn or Yue Yuen, which concentrate their production in factory cities where the lives of migrant workers are surveilled and managed in a quasi-military fashion.
The concentration of the production process coincides with the concentration of the wealth generated by that process. Even within the old “first world,” poverty and unemployment have been on the rise since long before the most recent crisis. Greece and Spain are only the most visible signs of this trend. In the US, especially, the trend splits along racial lines. Cities and schools are resegregating, though the patterns of segregation are more complex than the redlining of the Jim Crow era. One dimension of this resegregation has been the growth of the US prison system into one of the largest the world has ever seen. Even if calculated as a percentage of population, rather than absolute number, the US today imprisons roughly the same fraction of its population as the USSR did at theheight of the gulag system—and our prison population is still on the rise.
Curable diseases are returning en masse, while new viruses are being developed at record rates in the evolutionary pressure-cooker ofindustrial agriculture. Each economic crisis is larger than the one preceding it, and these crises are not just “business cycles.” Or, more accurately: the so-called business cycle is simply a sine wave oscillating around a trajectory of absolute decline. And this decline, like the last major ones in the global economic system, will only be reversible through an unimaginably massive bout of creative destruction.
In the face of a collapsing environment, a hyper-volatile economic system and skyrocketing global inequality, it is simply utopian to believe that the present system can be perpetuated indefinitely without great violence. Opposition to capitalism has become an eminently practical endeavor.

But… Why riot?
Despite all of this, the riot itself may still seem an enigma. On the surface, riots appear to produce little in terms of concrete results and, when you add up the numbers, often do less actual economic damage to large business interests than, for example, blockading the port. They produce a certain spectacle, but so does Jay-Z.
In one sense, there is often a practical side to many riots, which can be far better at winning demands than negotiated attempts at reform. Despite the fact that reform itself is designed to treat symptoms rather than the disease, it’s also evident that riots are a useful tool even in reform efforts. Riots, accompanying illegal blockades, occupations and wildcat strikes, have proliferated in China’s Pearl River Delta over the past several years, and the result has been that workers there have seen an unprecedented rise in manufacturing wages, which more than doubled between 2004 and 2009. Some scholars have called the phenomenon “collective bargaining by riot.”
Similarly, more and more historical work has been emerging showing that riots and other forms of armed organizing were very much the meat of movements like the civil rights struggle in the US, despite the common perception that these things were somehow “non-violent.” It is, in fact, difficult to find any example of a successful, significant sequence of reforms that did not utilize the riot at one point or another. As Paul Gilje, the pre-eminent historian of the US riot, has argued: “Riots have been important mechanisms for change,” and, in fact, “the United States of America was born amid a wave of rioting.” The tactic, then, should by no means be seen as in and of itself exceptional.
And it’s also not a sufficient tactic unto itself. The function of the riot is less about a religious or petulant obsession with the act of breaking shit and also not entirely about winning any given demand. This was apparent in examples like Occupy, which had no coherent, agreed-upon demands, aside from a general rejection of those in power. This demandlessness was a feature not only of Occupy, however, but of nearly every one of the mass movements that began in 2011, starting with the Arab Spring. In each instance, the only thing that was agreed upon was that the system was fundamentally fucked, and it was this aspect alone that transformed the riots from mere attempts at reform into truly historical procedures.
My generation was not only born into the ecstatic “end of history” of the 1990s, but is also the global generation—of slum-dwelling youth and “graduates with no future”—who are inducing the first pangs of history’s rebirth. And this rebirth has taken the figure of the hooded rioter, as has been evidenced by the increasingly frequent transformation of mass riots into occupations of public squares, which themselves evolved into new forms of rioting and, ultimately, the first major insurrection of the 21st century—which took place in Egypt and has since been largely crushed by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces.
The riot is most important, then, not in its traditional ability to win demands that progressives can only drool over, but instead when it takes on a demandless character. This absence of demands in the riot and occupation implies two things: First, it implies a rejection of existing mediations. We do not intend to vote for fundamentally corrupt political parties or play the rigged game of activism. Though it may be important in particular instances to fight for and win certain demands, such as the demand for $15 an hour, these reforms in and of themselves contribute nothing to the ultimate goal of winning a better world. They can contribute to this project only in very particular contexts, and only when superseded by forms adequate to that true project, as when the growing spate of strikes in Egypt in the years leading up to 2011 was suddenly superseded by a mass insurrection.
Second, it implies the question of power. The riot affirms our power in a profoundly direct way. By “our” power I mean, first, the power of those who have been and are continually fucked-over by the world as it presently is, though these groups by no means all experience this in the same way and to the same degree—the low-wage service workers, the prisoners, the migrant laborers, the indebted, unemployed graduates, the suicidal paper-pushers, the 农民工on the assembly line, the child slaves of Nestle cocoa plantations, my childhood friends who never got out of the trailer or off the rez. But I also mean the power of our generation: the millenials, a label that already implies the apocalyptic ambiance of our era. Or, more colloquially: Generation Fucked, because, well,obviously.
The question of power, though, isn’t simply a question of the devolution of power to the majority of people, though this is the ultimate goal. At the immediate level it is a struggle over power between shrinking fractions of the population dedicated to maintaining the complete shit-show that is the status quo, and growing fractions of the population dedicated to destroying that shit-show as thoroughly as humanly possible, while in the process collectively constructing a system in which poverty becomes impossible, no one is illegal, power itself is not concentrated in the hands of a minority of the population, our metabolism with the natural world bears less and less resemblance to the metabolism of a meth-head scouring the medicine cabinet, and the collective material wealth and accumulated intelligence of the human species is made freely accessible to all members of that species, rather than being reserved as party-swag for half-naked Russian oligarchs.
Pretending that power does not exist directly serves those who presently hold it. And the riot overturns such pretense by exerting our own power against theirs. It is a mechanism whereby we both scare the rich and attract people to a project that goes far beyond the reform of a collapsing world. In this particular instance, it has worked. Many of the fast food workers with whom I organized in the year following the riot understood its portent perfectly well. By May Day 2013, the riot had taken on a life of its own.
The riot, then, is not a hindrance to “real” struggle or a well-intentioned accident where people’s “understandable” anger gets “out of control.” Getting out of control is the point, which is precisely why the riot is the foundation from which any future worth the name must be built.
And we will be the ones to build it. Our generation: the millenials, generation fucked, or, as we’ve taken to calling it: Generation Zero. Zero because we’ve got nothing left except debt—but also nothing to lose. And zero because, like the riot, it all starts here.
In the end, then, you can lose the economics, you can lose the spectacle and the moralizing and the god-awful appeals to cute and fuzzy “social/racial/environmental justice.” Throw all of this in the alembic of the riot, and it boils down to the simplest of propositions:
Our future’s already been looted. It’s time to loot back.

Phil A. Neel

[i] Note that left-wing political riots primarily target property and, secondarily, engage in defensive violence against the protectors of that property, namely police, security officers, or vigilantes. This has been referred to as “non-injurious” violence, since there is an implicit agreement that rioters not cause harm to innocent bystanders, and since persons are not the primary target of the violence. By contrast, right-wing riots exhibit an opposite aspect, where persons, and particularly the least powerful in a situation, are generally the primary target of the violence, with property destruction being the ancillary. This is a well-documented phenomenon. See, for example: Gilje, Paul A. Rioting in America, Indiana University Press, 1996.
[ii] Of these five cases, one has been dropped after significant expense on the part of the city achieved only a hung jury. Out of all five, there have been only two guilty pleas, mine included.
[iii] It’s worth noting here that striking a police officer in the United States is a felony—which also means that, if you hit a cop and are found guilty of the crime, you lose the right to vote (usually for the duration of your multi-year probation, though in some states, such as Kentucky, you are disenfranchised for the rest of your life).
[iv] Ages 35-44 lost 49%, 45-54 lost 28% and 55-64 lost 14%.
[v] If you calculate the same data for Generation X and the younger Baby Boomers, with the same age brackets used in 1984, you see ages 35-44 losing 44% of their median income, though still holding roughly ten times the wealth ($39,601) as millenials. Ages 45-54 losing 10%, holding a median of $101,651, and ages 55-64 gaining 10%, growing to $162,065. Similarly, since 1967, poverty among the 35-and-under age group has increased from 12% to 22%, while, for those 65 and older, it has actually dropped from 33% to 11%.
[vi] For a more detailed academic account of this process, see Saskia Sassen, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton University Press, 1991.
[vii] See Michael Piore, Birds of Passage: Migrant Labor and Industrial Societies. Cambridge University Press, 1979
[viii] The philanthropic endeavors of the wealthy are similar to the actions of a burglar who, after robbing a neighborhood, returns to that neighborhood to return half of one percent of the loot as gifts—or, in the case of much international philanthropy, in the form of gift cards that you can only use at the burglar’s own department store, as when the Gates family gives loans earmarked to be used only for the purchase of pharmaceuticals from companies in which the Gates family owns a significant share.
[ix] For a detailed account of this process in Seattle, see: Timothy A. Gibson, Securing the Spectacular City: The Politics of Revitalization and Homelessness in Downtown Seattle. Lexington Books, 2003.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Children watch from their home in Ferguson as people march to the police station to protest the shooting of Michael Brown. 

It is Theoretical Monday and I am returning to Ferguson with an analysis that takes us a little beyond most of what we have read.  I am not saying this is the most intense, in depth, out of sight thing you are ever going to read, but it does provide some actual thought to what is going on and how Ferguson relates to a world of change beyond itself.  It relates Ferguson to the growing phenomenon of suburban poverty in America.  

Ferguson is “emblematic” of the wave of rising poverty in the suburbs of all of America’s metropolitan centers, suburbs both mostly white and mostly black. Ferguson is an example of a suburb where the middle class is being squeezed into poverty by America’s yawning income gap.

As cited by Confronting Suburban Poverty in America:

Within the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, the number of suburban neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line more than doubled between 2000 and 2008-2012. Almost every major metro area saw suburban poverty not only grow during the 2000s but also become more concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods. By 2008-2012, 38 percent of poor residents in the suburbs lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher. For poor black residents in those communities, the figure was 53 percent.

Like Ferguson, many of these changing suburban communities are home to out-of-step power structures, where the leadership class, including the police force, does not reflect the rapid demographic changes that have reshaped these places.

Suburban areas with growing poverty are also frequently characterized by many small, fragmented municipalities; Ferguson is just one of 91 jurisdictions in St. Louis County. This often translates into inadequate resources and capacity to respond to growing needs and can complicate efforts to connect residents with economic opportunities that offer a path out of poverty.

And as concentrated poverty climbs in communities like Ferguson, they find themselves especially ill-equipped to deal with impacts such as poorer education and health outcomes, and higher crime rates. In an article for Salon, Brittney Cooper writes about the outpouring of anger from the community, “Violence is the effect, not the cause of the concentrated poverty that locks that many poor people up together with no conceivable way out and no productive way to channel their rage at having an existence that is adjacent to the American dream.” 

If you live in a large or medium sized city like me, take a look around and see if what is described above is not a reality.

Sometimes we forget that things change.  What we saw in Ferguson is not merely a simple continuation of what we saw in the inner city riots of the 60s, of the uprisings of that time.  What we saw in Ferguson is something else entirely, well, not entirely, but certainly different. 

Charles Laurence points out at The Week,

Ferguson was once a new, white suburb. Then black Americans moved in from the city, bringing with them the same middle-class aspirations as their white predecessors, who now, with growing affluence, moved on to a new ring of suburbia, with newer, larger shopping malls and newer, larger houses.

The curious phenomenon which has emerged from the Ferguson riots is that in this process the white power structure stays behind as the community turns black. The result is a white police force in power over a black community – “serving” would be the wrong word – with a white mayor, and five white councillors out of six. Even without America’s history of ingrained racism and violent law-enforcement, this would make the police look like an army of occupation.

Tomaso Clavarino adds,

 In the American suburbs, like in those in France, Great Britain, Italy and other countries, violence is the political means. Violence is, almost always, the effect and not the cause of the concentrated poverty that locks many poor people up together, as in Ferguson, with no imaginable way out and no productive move to channel their rage for not having an existence similar to the American dream.

America is lucky it hasn't seen more of this.

It will.

What has happened, is happening still, in Ferguson has broad implications for cities across the nation.  What is also of much interest is that as the suburbs change and become  new battlegrounds, the battle, the tactics, the everything changes with them.  The type of "riots" we used to see are not the type of "riots" we are now seeing.  The "occupation" has changed, the police tactics have changed, the insurgency and the counter insurgency has changed.  You can't help but notice that (and as the post below will make even more clear).

When I was growing up the suburbs were a place where mostly  middle class whites moved looking for a little green space, a little island of refuge from the reality of the world.  The Cleavers lived there, along with Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky...a driveway, a garage, a hedge maybe,  No problems...wheeeee.

Something like those suburbs still exist, they are now much further out, however.  Way way out there past the last ring of the interstate, that's where they went. The people who inhabit these places have more money than the people who first moved to the suburbs back in the 50s.  They are a different class.  Most of the class that moved to those old suburbs have disappeared.  There is no room for them anymore in America.  Imagine, no room for a group of white people in America.  My, oh, my.

Meanwhile, with urban gentrification a historic reality, with unemployed and poor working people forced to move out of the city to an area of old suburbs sometimes following jobs, sometimes following the children of the more affluent for whom they care, sometimes because there is no where else to go, that inner ring of suburbs of the old days have become something else.  They have become a trap, a new type of ghetto.  Reihan Salam writes:

Towns too small or too starved of sales tax revenue to sustain their own local governments stay afloat by having local law enforcement go trawling for trumped-up traffic violations, the fines for which can be cripplingly expensive, and which only grow more onerous as low-income residents fail to pay them. Those who can afford lawyers know how to massage a big fine into a smaller one. Those who can’t dread their run-ins with local police, who often come across less like civic guardians and more like cash-thirsty pirates.

You know what is amazing about what I have written, especially since I have written it?  Did you notice I barely mentioned things like police killings, or even more importantly, race.  Hey, that doesn't mean those factors are no longer significant.  After all this is America.  It just means, there is even more going on below the surface then what many of us often see. 

And that brings us to today's post from Ultra.

New Ghettos Burning

New Ghettos Burning
[A Spanish translation of this article is now available here, thanks to My Heart is to the Left for translating]

Ferguson, Missouri. Most of us never would have heard of it, but many have now had the conversation: Where the hell is Ferguson? St. Louis, sort of?
But not simply St. Louis. Ferguson is not just a neighborhood in a sprawling city, as Watts is to Los Angeles or Flatbush to New York. This is attested to by the involvement of the Ferguson Police Department and County police forces in suppressing the recent riots, rather than the St. Louis PD, at least prior to being taken over by state on August 14th. The militarized police on the streets of the small city have not been drawn from the familiar standing armies, such as the NYPD or LAPD, but are instead a conglomeration of armed groups organized at the county level to manage those zones that lie beyond the reach of the traditional urban police departments. Aside from its own police, Ferguson has its own fire departments and its own school district. This is because it is not an urban neighborhood, but instead a fairly traditional post-war American suburb, independently incorporated as its own city.
This might seem to be a mundane fact, but it actually hints at much more significant shifts in the economic and racial geography of US metropolitan zones over the past twenty years. Without understanding these shifts, we cannot hope to understand the riots themselves, much less how they might overcome their limits in order to become a more sustained and disciplined assault on the present order.
Probably the most widely repeated thing in the mainstream accounts of Ferguson is that it has only become a conventionally poor, majority black neighborhood in the last decade. Like many postwar suburbs, the city’s heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s, which saw successive doubling of the population until it reached a peak of nearly 30,000 in 1970. Deindustrialization beginning in the ‘70s was then matched with a continual drop in population, to about 21,000 today, in line with St. Louis’ historic population loss.[i] But this was not so much a simple decline in total residents as it was a process of white flight, in which many wealthier people left the region as the economy was restructured, their aging houses taken over by poorer people seeking better schools and housing, neither of which existed in the deindustrialized and then mildly gentrifying core of urban St. Louis.
In some cities, this restructuring left hyper-diverse poor neighborhoods and suburban immigrant enclaves in the place of formerly white suburbia. Seattle’s southern suburbs, to take one example, are now as much as 30% foreign-born, with school districts stressed under the pressure of student bodies with upwards of thirty different native languages, from Amharic to Mixtec to Cambodian. Meanwhile, a number of suburbs in the US South and Southwest now have more residents speaking Spanish as a primary language than English.
But in many cities within the older rust belt, the process was less one of new migration and more a restructuring of existing patterns of segregation. This often saw the hollowing of the old city, the solidifying of some traditional inner-city ghettoes in Detroit-style environments of urban decay, and, in a few cities, the expansion of new zones of poverty outward into the suburbs. In these cities, the new segregation did not take the form of light diversity / high diversity, as in West Coast cities such as Seattle, Sacramento, and San Francisco, but instead retained its character as a white / black divide. St. Louis was one of these cities, but whereas others like Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore simply saw the consolidation of the traditional inner-city ghetto in the past twenty years, St. Louis saw both a condensing of its urban poverty and a suburbanization of this poverty.
Much of this demographic change has come in the last twenty years. As late as the 1990 census, the city was still 73.8% white and 25.1% black, but by 2010 this situation had entirely reversed, with 29.3% white and 67.4% black. Poverty had grown more severe and median income had either stagnated or dropped in the region, when adjusted for inflation. In Ferguson, unemployment doubled from around 5% in 2000 to an average of 13% between 2010 and 2012.
The St. Louis metro area in 1990, with census blocks mapped by majority race. Data from
The St. Louis metro area in 1990, with census blocks mapped by majority race. Data from
The St. Louis metro area in 2010, with census blocks mapped by majority race. Data from
The St. Louis metro area in 2010, with census blocks mapped by majority race. Data from

This follows national patterns in the suburbanization of poverty, with more poor people in the US now residing in suburbs than in large cities.[ii] These national trends also signal a significant shift in the racial geography of the country, as thoroughly gentrified urban centers like New York, Seattle and San Francisco may soon be encircled by banlieue-style rings of suburban poverty and public housing, with the poor increasingly banished from the interior of the city and new migrants settled outside municipal borders. Other cities have seen a resurgence of interior decay and the compounding of urban segregation. The St. Louis area has seen both.

The American Riot Evolves
The 1960s and 1970s saw riots cascade across the US, from coal fields to college campuses. But the riot’s most familiar terrain was, by far,the inner city ghetto. Forced by exclusionary housing covenants to reside within a select few neighborhoods, the poorest residents of most major cities were confined to urban cores and excluded from the newly-constructed postwar suburbs. This condensed the country’s racial geography, even while it divided the geography of class according to color.
The events that we think of as archetypical American riots (the Watts riot, the King assassination riots, etc.) are actually specific to the particular racial geography of their era. And this racial geography is, in many major metropolitan areas, simply no longer the same. After the 1970s, the ghetto was destroyed, occupied or further walled off, and a significant segment of its population was literally exported to prison camps. The Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, the city’s only substantial public housing, was demolished in 1972. The demolition was hailed as a leap forward in efforts at urban renewal, and by the Reagan administration public housing was being demolished at record rates, replaced with Section 8 vouchers, the vouchers themselves scaled back under Clinton and then restricted further by austerity policies after the economic crisis.
The demolition of Pruitt-Igoe
The demolition of Pruitt-Igoe

The effect was that “the projects” were literally gone. Reform of the housing market and the growth of a bubble in sub-prime mortgages also meant that many of the country’s poor were not only allowed but now encouraged to leave the inner city, which was under pressure for redevelopment. Gentrification paved over the old slums in New York, San Francisco and Seattle. In cities like St. Louis, urban cores simply decayed while gentrification happened in a few select regions, school districts collapsed and population hemorrhaged. The site of Pruitt-Igoe remains a gaping ruin in the heart of the city.
And riots began to change shape accordingly. The 1992 Los Angeles Riots were the first in a new type—mischaracterized by the media as “race riots,” the events in LA were more that of a general, decentralized uprising which made no demands and, in so doing, were able to cohere a new national atmosphere around them, as riots again spread across the country. No longer were the riots simply limited to a district or two, as had been the case in the Watts riots thirty years prior. Now rioting spread with the entire city as its substrate—a tendency seen again, though in more limited ways, in Cincinnati in 2001.
It is not coincidental that this new national sequence of rioting began in LA, one of the US’ most suburban cities. The Los Angeles riots were a window into the future, their decentralized geography foreshadowing the evolution of the American riot as it adapted to the new ghettos that, in 1992, had only begun to be built. And now, twenty years later, Ferguson offers us a second window: this time into how those new ghettos might burn.

The Suburban Riot
As partisans of the riot, then, what lessons might we extract from recent events? Many seem to assume that past patterns will simply repeat themselves. Black youth will formally unite in some new sequence of organizations, simply picking up the torch dropped forty years ago by the Black Panthers. But the concrete features of everyday life that gave this process of organization its grounding has been demolished. The dense, tightknit communities are in most places gone. Where they remain, they are fundamentally fractured by constant surveillance, police occupation and the imprisonment of young men. Maybe more importantly, there are no longer national revolutions and decolonization processes worldwide to provide an ideological grounding for ethnically-exclusive forms of organization, while in the majority of US cities poor neighborhoods are more and more multiracial. This makes both “revolutionary nationalism” and pan-Africanism less and less attractive as organizing principles for young people today, even while a reactionary nationalism might always lurk on the horizon. A symbol of this irrelevance, the so-called “New Black Panther Party” was seen in Ferguson pushing protestors back from police lines and directing traffic.
Despite apparent continuity, then, a sharp divide exists between historic US racial uprisings and what is presently underway in Ferguson. This divide has now taken on concrete form, as young rioters have begun explicitly rejecting leadership from older, state-sanctioned leaders in the “black community.” As a recent New York Times piece makes clear:
One protester, DeVone Cruesoe, of the St. Louis area, said this week as he stood on Canfield Drive, “Do we have a leader? No.” Pointing to the spot where Mr. Brown was killed, he said, “You want to know who our leader is? Mike Brown.”
But if the most coherent method of overcoming the limits of the ghetto riots came in the form of the Black Panther Party, and if this is impossible to simply parallel today, then what might future acts of organization look like? In order to begin exploring this question—and it certainly will not be answered here, nor in any text, but only on suburban streets lit by burning gas stations and strip malls—we must look at the tactical context that has allowed the events in Ferguson to take on their particular character.
Police killings have sparked outrage and limited riots in many cities in the US in recent memory. But none of these events have been able to take on this same character, and none have been this difficult to suppress. An urban counterpart to events in Ferguson was the 2013 Flatbush riots in New York. These riots, similarly sparked by a police murder, were crushed much faster than the riots in Ferguson, despite the fact that they seem to have attracted larger protests and garnered greater immediate and active support from the surrounding neighborhood. So what accounts for the difference? Why did Flatbush not create the type of national atmosphere that Ferguson has?
The difference between the two is primarily one of terrain. Flatbush is in a central inner-city zone, monitored and occupied by the world’s seventh largest standing army, the NYPD. The uprising took place in a city that, after the ghetto riots of the late ‘60s, was completely redesigned for riot suppression—avenues were widened, housing projects were dispersed, movable objects were chained to the sidewalk, etc. When the riot broke out, it was deftly suppressed by well-trained tactical squads operating on an urban battlefield that had literally been built for them.
The first two nights of soft suppression were capped by a third night where riot police moved in and made mass arrests, picking up the majority of the most active young people (43 in total) and threatening many with felony-level crimes—both damaging the immediate riot and hindering the possibility of future events by beheading a germinal leadership. This was followed, as always, by the “good cop” stage, where progressive politicians like Jumaane Williams and NGOs like “Fathers Alive in the Hood (FAITH)” called for an end to the riots and a return to the status quo, embellished with a few hints at official inquiry into the murder and promises of legislative reform—all of this framed, of course, as the will of the “black community.”
Police crush the Flatbush rebellion
Police crush the Flatbush rebellion

In Ferguson, by contrast, the rioting erupted in a region with so many micro-municipalities that some local police departments have as few as five officers. The county and city government, pumped full of military-grade equipment but lacking in people trained to use it, found itself wielding a police force that was both inept and heavy-handed. These suburban police were well-armed but also ill-trained in riot suppression. They fired teargas almost immediately—something that the NYPD hardly ever does, and other large police departments only use when they must clear a space rapidly or force an evacuation of territory that has been occupied for some time (like Oscar Grant Plaza). They then shot a second person. And, for all that, they failed to make significant mass arrests, were unable to corral protestors, and mostly just stood parked in front of big box stores firing tear gas canisters. They were so inept, in fact, that the state stepped in, putting the highway patrol in charge.
One reason that the tactics failed, however, is that the suburbs themselves are not designed for the prevention and crushing of riots, as are the major cities. Corralling protestors becomes nearly impossible. The police have few staging areas that are secure, nearby and out of sight. The rioters’ targets are more dispersed and cannot easily be defended—large forces have to be committed to basically sit in front of strip malls and other big targets, spreading the police thin across the terrain.
The rioters, meanwhile, can mesh into the residential surroundings much easier, and new centers of rioting are formed in areas by as few as four or five people setting something on fire or breaking some windows, after which others gather. The rioters are highly mobile and not dependent on public transportation, which can easily be surveilled, constricted and redirected in urban areas, hamstringing the ability of the riot to spread. Census data notes that 79.8% of the workers in the city commute to work in a personal vehicle alone, while another 9.4% carpool. These vehicles not only provide easy, fast transportation, but serve to amplify the energy at different nodes of the riot. Photos and videos from Ferguson show protestors surrounding their cars, blasting Lil Boosie’s “Fuck the Police,” at the police, for example.

Cars give protestors a mobility not seen in urban riots.
Cars give protestors a mobility not seen in urban riots.

Finally, in Ferguson there are no “good cops.” Not only are the city’s police almost entirely white, but so are its politicians, with a white mayor, white police chief, five white city council people and one Hispanic one governing a city that is now two-thirds black. There are simply no “community leader” figures equivalent to Jumaane Williams capable of softly suppressing the anger and selling out the more radical youth. Faced with this dilemma, the government literally had to ship in a black liberal leadership from St. Louis proper, adding Al Sharpton for good measure. Police were then ordered to march with the protest staged by these “community leaders,” and the governor handed over command of the department to a black Highway Patrol Captain named Ronald Johnson, who was promptly pictured hugging marchers in staged photo-ops.
Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson hugs a protester
Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson hugs a protester

All of these features are going to be repeated issues for the state in its attempt to prevent and crush suburban riots in the next decade. Small, micro-municipalities have not adapted to the influx of poor residents that they have seen in the last twenty years. These cities are ill-designed for riot-suppression, the police are over-armed and under-trained, and no soft counterinsurgency in the form of black churches, “community leaders” and NGOs has been established.
This is very much the situation predicted by the Italian insurrectionary anarchist Alfredo Bonanno over twenty years ago:
The presence of these ever widening ghettos and the message that is crying out from them is the main flaw in the new capitalist perspective. There are no mediators. There is no space for the reformist politicians of the past.
In Flatbush the mass arrests, followed by the progressive politicians and church groups, completely suppressed and destroyed the momentum of the uprising. In Ferguson, the night after Al Sharpton showed up and a black man was put in charge of the police, youth came out and rioted again. They fought the cops, lit fires and expropriated goods. Now the staged hugs are over and the peace vigils are pockmarked with the sound of rain and shattered glass. The governor has been forced to declare a state of emergency, and may soon send in new police squadrons from all over the state.
After the news conference where the governor announced the curfew, angry residents were clear that this was only the beginning:
I don’t think this is gonna be nice at all. Violence will be met with violence.
It appears that, tonight, the new ghetto burns like the old one.

Phil A. Neel

[i] All data is from the 2010 Census and most recent American Community Survey, which, for most variables, is the 2012 ACS.
[ii] For the most extensive study on this phenomenon to date, see Berube, Alan and Elizabeth Kneebone, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. Brookings Institution Press. 2013.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014



For today, I have decided just to copy a conversation I had on Facebook yesterday with Ajamu Nangwaya.  Briarpatch magazine describes Ajamu as, educator in Ontario’s post-secondary sector and an organizer with the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity and the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence.

You can find his writings here, there and everywhere.  He is a man for whom I have much respect.

The conversation below followed a posting by me of a video discussing the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri (and what it means) following the police killing of Michael Brown, another young African American man gunned down on the streets of America by cops.  I am sharing our back and forth  unedited, so their may well be typos, etc.  I am taking some of it off my page and some of it off his.  Make of it what you will   

Following our discussion, I will post a piece by   Chicago Surrealist Group which appeared in Scission in May of 2013, but which was written following the uprising in LA back in 1992.

Here we go:

  1. It is time some understand that enough is enough is enough, time to understand what rage is...marching around in circles, singing and praying just ain't getting through, know what I'm sayin...

Speaks Mike Brown & St.Louis Community Under ATTACK !


#FOLLOW ! My Page To See 

  • Ajamu Nangwaya The comrades nailed it with their analysis of the priorities of capital and the state.

    This spontaneous display of anger means nothing, if it is not organized for the long-term struggle for social transformation. 

    We have been there, done that and ought to learn from the history of struggles for change.

    Randy Gould I disagree Ajamu, though obviously not totally. The rage means something. Let's face it, we've been everywhere before, we've done pretty much everything from time to time. The current epoch is not the same as it was even ten years ago. Things change. Is a brief uprising in St. Louis going to change the world. No. However, in the world today what happens is St. Louis happens almost immediately everywhere (the experience therof that is). It takes both. One doesn't mean there is no use for the other. Spontaneity oft gets a bad name in the circles amongst Marxists and other members of the organized left of all kinds,, but I think one has to try to understand what spontaneity actually is. It is often a direct voice of the multitude, of the oppressed...Too often the organized movement lacks that completely. It becomes instead the voice of this or that vanguard, this or that elite, this or that group who knows what is best. Further, I think it would be absurd to argue that the uprisings which took place in urban centers which shook America in the 60s, from Watts, to Newark, to Detroit, to Kansas City, , and DC ... uprisings carried out by the broad masses of African Americans in those areas and beyond (and generally without any organized leadership) had no impact. They had a huge impact. I would suggest they had a larger impact than most of what the organized movement accomplished in fact. What happened in LA in the 90s reverberated around the world. When blacks rose up in spontaneous slave revolts, during the civil war and other periods of our history, America has quaked and changes did happen... and the very movements you long for usually developed strength as a result and only afterwards. The problem has been what happened AFTER things became more organized and under some "elite" leadership. Is their a place for organization. As I wrote when discussing class, but which i think also applies to the multitude, and the various autonomous movements,and struggles which make it up, "Yes, there is, but it's role is NOT to replace the class, not to be its vanguard, not to take over. It's role is to assist and to support at most and to stay out of the way. Noel Ignatiev in a comment related to the late, great CLR James put it this way, "The task of revolutionaries is not to organize the workers but to organize themselves to discover those patterns of activity and forms of organization that have sprung up out of the struggle and that embody the new society, and to help them grow stronger, more confident, and more conscious of their direction. It is an essential contribution to the society of disciplined spontaneity, which for (CLR) James was the definition of the new world." " I agree we need to learn from the history of struggles...the question is what we learn. Take care, you will always have my continued respect.

    Ajamu Nangwaya    My response is below. I would like to stress that this dialogue is a comradely exchange because I do not believe we are in disagreement.

     Brother Randy, I agree that a spontaneous uprising could serve as the spark for a qualitative shift in the struggle. However, that will only take place with the newly mobilized people enter organizations that will sustain the new-found will to challenge the forces of oppression.

    I am in agreement with your critique of vanguard elements who are seeking to unwitting serve as the new masters of the people. When I issue a call for the people to give organizational form to their rage, I am speaking to a horizontal, participatory-democratic space. If I called for a authoritarian organization, I would be placing my membership in the anarchist movement at risk.

    The events in Egypt or the Occupy movement would suggest the need for organizations to carry on the work of revolutionary agitation. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is "Exhibit A" on the need for organization during movements of upheaval on the part of the people. 

    The Egyptian youth and other elements of the people entered the the stage of history, but the entity with a structure, programme and coherent ideology outlook and already present among the people was able to win the day at the polls and among the people (until the state stepped in with a coup). Kwame Ture was right is asserting, "Students [and youth] are the spark of the revolution, but they cannot sustain it."

    Kwame Ture was known for his declaration, "Organization is the weapon of the oppressed." We will not go too far on the path of emancipation without being organized as opposed to being mobilized.

    I am not aware spontaneous uprisings of enslaved Afrikans in the Americas, but the United States may be an exceptional space. The consequences of failed uprisings were very exacting so spontaneity was not not a favoured companion among enslaved Afrikans. The response to the atmosphere of the Civil War would have been a different thing.

    Comrade, I love your response and I am going to share it on a thread on my wall.         

    • Randy Gould Thank you again Ajamu. We may not be on the exact same line, but we are for sure on the same page.

      • Randy Gould Ajamu Nangwaya while I am not an anarchist, I am an autonomist Marxist (some have a hard time finding a difference), who believes the struggle against white skin privilege and white supremacy is critical.

        • Ajamu Nangwaya Randy, some people lump me into the same category with the Marxists, because I refer to myself as a communist. If one is an anarchist, one is a communist...just not a Marxist or state socialist.

      • Randy Gould Anarcho communism and autonomous Marxism are very state socialism here, that is for sure.

      • Ajamu Nangwaya The importance of organizations will become clear when the rebels who are participating in the rebellion in Ferguson are captured and thrown into the (in)justice system. 

        We need formations that have the capacity to support them during the legal process (bail money, decent lawyers, publicity around the trial and public education, raising money, etc).

        The folks who become political prisoners need support (money for canteen, appeal support, writing letters to them, supporting their political education on the inside, prison visits, campaigns for their release, etc).

        If we don't support the rebels when they are in the courtroom or prison, we might turn them off political struggles and activism...movement not there for them after their participation in the rebellion.

      • Ajamu Nangwaya Why are the riot shamers so silent in the presence of acts of structural violence such as homelessness, inadequate housing, poor quality or inaccessible public education, limited or no access to healthcare, poverty, over-policing and unemployment that are imposed on Fanon's "wretched of the earth"?

        However, when the people demonstrate their contempt for their oppressive condition, the bleeding heart and other misguided voices are ready to call for non-violence or patience.

        These characters would have counselled non-violence during moments of armed rebellion against plantation slavery by enslaved Afrikans. We cannot steal from the plantation or the master. We are merely expropriating the expropriators and their enablers! 

        Is that an unconscionable or revolting behaviour by members of the unwashed masses?

         Randy Gould   I absolutely agree Ajamu, with your last two comments.  So very important.  Thank you for saying them so clearly.  

        The following is from Scission in May of 2013


I have attempted to do something here that I think has not been done before and that is to put the following analysis from the Chicago Surrealist Group on the 1992  L.A. Rebellion in a non-PDF form, on the internet.  I did have to leave out some little quotes that were scattered here and there which is too bad, because they were indeed to the point,  but such is life in the world of cutting and pasting.  I've been reading some stuff on Surrealism by the Chicago Surrealist Group of late and that led me to this posting below for Scission Theoretical Weekend.  I am hoping that I got everything pasted in the right order, if not, well, think of it as surrealist poetry or something.  I did my best.

I do thank for the PDF version.

Read on.

Three Days That Shook the New World Order

The Chicago Surrealist Group’s Statement on the 1992 L.A. Rebellion

First published in Race Traitor #2, Summer 1993 


“Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”
– T-Bone Slim

“We were not able to choose the mess we have to live in – this collapse of a whole society – but we can choose our way out.”
– C.L.R. James

“Don’t be afraid. Just go ahead and play.”

– Charlie Parker

With flames hundreds of feet high and spread out over dozens of square miles, the Los Angeles Rebellion of April-May 1992 lit up the horrible domestic reality of the “New World Order.” Thanks to what is usually the most invisible sector of the U.S. population – the despised “underclass” – the fundamental injustice of American society suddenly became visible to the whole world. In a year of preposterously insipid electioneering and “opinion polls,” as Pogo pointed out that it was not the choices but the lack of choices that made U.S. elections a sham, the vanguard of the non-voting majority stated their fiercely anti-Establishment opinions loud and clear. In a time of massive political demoralization and incoherence, the most down-and-out people in the country changed the complexion and direction of American politics and pointed the way forward for all seekers of real freedom and justice for all.

The ruling-class delusions of grandeur that followed the collapse of the state-capitalist bureaucracies in eastern Europe and the USSR – delusions already interrupted by a steadily worsening recession as well as mounting revulsion against U.S. government corruption and malevolence at home and abroad – burst like a bubble as the unemployed, the homeless and the hip-hoppers of L.A. started reinventing the revolutionary traditions of May Day a couple of days early.

The L.A. rebels showed that a few Black and Latino mayors and police chiefs, a few minority TV shows and token faces of Black and Latino celebrities on billboards are not solving and cannot solve the problems of those who are forced to live in America’s Black ghettoes, barrios and other “bad” neighborhoods. Sons and daughters of the Watts rebels of ‘65, grandsons and granddaughters of the zoot-suiters and beboppers of the ‘40s, the L.A. rebels rapped to one and all that nothing less than a complete transformation of social relations can create a life worth living.

For three full days many tens of thousands of people said “no!” to the slave system known as daily life in America. In the highly educational enthusiasm of mass action, long-established habits and routines of resignation were discarded in favor of improvisation, experiment, and discovery. However briefly, throngs who had been condemned to a living death discovered new reasons for living, new possibilities of life.

Now, almost a year later, the walls of oppression are still shaking.

The bold initiative of L.A.’s daring young rebels has now enabled countless millions to see, hear and feel – as never before – the thoroughgoing crisis of this deadly civilization. In a social order in which the “doors of perception” are systematically blocked, boarded up and covered with barbed wire, the liberation of the senses is an indispensable prerequisite for all other liberation.

“Sending messages” to the people is one of the main functions of business and government. It is an official monopoly of those in power – the rest of us are regarded as mere receivers. When the President of the United States says he is going to send a message, as during the Persian Gulf Massacre and the L.A. rebellion, “message” generally means troops. The L.A. rebels, however, sent strong messages of their own – messages of resistance, revolt and freedom – and these messages were heard by millions, loud and clear.

Revolution is, indeed, first and foremost a question of human expression. Those of us who continue to dream of Revolution –who have not despaired of creating a truly free society – proclaim not only our solidarity with the L.A. rebels and our determination to defend them, but also our conviction that their action has done more to bring fundamental questions to the fore than anything that has happened in years.

Unequivocally we are on the side of the L.A. rebels. Their enemies are ours, as is their scorn for a social order based on inequality and force-propped authority. Ours, too, are their desperation, their rage, their yearning for real life, and their sharp awareness that direct action is the only effective means of social betterment today.

First of all it is important to clear the air of the toxic ideological dust that the government and its news-machines have been scattering everywhere on the L.A. Rebellion and its aftermath. Rejecting the demeaning term “riot,” we recognize the rebellion as a truly revolutionary uprising that has challenged the exploitative foundations of U.S. plutocracy, exposed the fiction of U.S. democracy, and recharged all emancipatory forces in this country and the world. Indeed, far from being an isolated “riot,” the Los Angeles events sparked a wave of rebellion which so surpassed merely local importance that we may ultimately refer to them by date rather than place. Just as there was a May ‘68, there was an April-May ‘92.

In its direct attack on this society’s repressive institutions we recognize a practical critique that is near-total and, as such, a practical refutation of all the ideologists of the Left, Right and Middle whose partial critiques and reformist programs are little more than brand-names of stalemate, defeat and reaction.

Thus we also reject the ruling-class defamation – as set forth by countless politicians and journalists, including Mike Royko in the Chicago Tribune and Stanley “Hanging Judge” Crouch in the New York Times – that the L.A. rebels are merely “gangbangers, thugs, thieves,” “rioting street criminals,” “just another manifestation of barbaric opportunism,” and guilty of “criminal anarchy.” Such abuse reveals the smug hypocrisy of those who salute “pro- Democracy fighters” approved by the State Department, but abhor those who live and fight in the U.S. itself.

People who find themselves in a cop-free environment for the first time, conscious that they are freer than they have ever been in their lives, cannot be expected to be exemplars of free human beings in a free society. For, into their first tentative experience of freedom they bring with them a lifetime’s accumulation of un- freedom. It would be absurd to believe that those who have been bound their whole lives will, at the moment their fetters are suddenly and unexpectedly shaken off, immediately move with a dancer’s grace. No, they will not always do the right thing, and some will inevitably commit terrible wrongs. That excesses are a part of every rising of the oppressed is a truism – the American Revolution of 1776 was full of excesses – and only lickspittles of the status quo could denounce such uprisings because of the excesses of a few.

What is important is not merely to condemn brutality by those who rose up but also, as Sister Souljah observed at the time, to place such excesses in the context of the larger brutalizations which are everyday occurrences in U.S. cities. This alone can help us all to try to avoid them in the future. In any case, let us not lose a sense of proportion. The excesses committed by L.A. rebels were hardly the most remarkable developments in the rebellion there. Hysterical denunciations of violence by those who rule ring especially hollow. America’s CIA President and the news- commentators who followed his orders tried to convince us that four Black men accused of beating a white truck-driver in the first hours of the L.A. uprising are among the most fiendish ogres of all time. To put this in perspective, one has only to consider how many lost their lives in any given hour of “collateral damage” in the 1991 U.S. massacre of the people of Iraq.

False, too, and no less a part and parcel of the oppressors’ apologia, is the “consumerist” view of the rebellion, according to which the “rioters” vied with each other in the accumulation of commodities. The rebels’ principal action, however, was attacking and destroying police stations, government buildings and businesses regarded as symbols of the dominant order. The so- called looting was decidedly a secondary phenomenon for the   “underclass,” moreover, mass-media advertising is a cruel hoax: What you see is what you can’t afford and what you will never get.

We also reject the liberal theory – as advanced by James Ridgeway and others – that Police Chief Gates somehow engineered or managed the Rebellion: that he knew it was coming, refused (for personal as well as political reasons) to mobilize the L.A. police to stop it, and, in the long run, drew the most benefit from it. To thus elevate any of history’s least significant actors – police chiefs, politicians and other parasites – to positions of power they could never attain, is to reduce the masses to the status of history’s mere objects, inevitable victims of omnipotent authority.

The people in the streets of L.A. suffered many casualties, and for the time being have retreated. But surely it was they, not Gates or any other “prominent personality,” who made history during the last two days of April and the first of May 1992.
Finally, it is impossible to agree with those who pretend to see in the L.A. rebellion only a “tragedy.” That it had tragic qualities no one would deny, but it cannot be written off so simply. Had no rebellion occurred after the L.A. police verdict was announced – had the outrageous decision in the Rodney King case been passively accepted: That would have been a tragedy!

Why Los Angeles? Poet Larry Neal wrote that “America is the world’s greatest jailer, and we are all in jail.” It is characteristic of the New World Order that America’s most prison-like city, a veritable hothouse of institutionalized racism and an incubator of some of history’s most insidious innovations in Capital’s war on Labor, also happens to be what Mike Davis calls the “fastest growing metropolis in the advanced industrial world.”Nothing is less surprising than the fact that a major rebellion should break out in the city in which post-industrial misery has reached its highest tension. But the April-May ‘92 events cannot be reduced to the status of a “regional” phenomenon. Indeed, the rebellion revealed, in rough outline, contours and patterns that will go a long way in defining the struggle for human emancipation on this continent for years to come.

Los Angeles is the most militarized city in the United States, and its cops have long been notorious as the most fascistic in the land. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) numbers 8000 officers, and the L.A. Sheriff’s Police adds 8000 more. On the first day of the uprising California Governor Wilson sent in 4000 National Guard troops. President Bush sent in 4500 U.S. Army troops and Marines as well as 1200 Federal law officers from the Border Patrol, Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, U.S Park Police, Customs Service Helicopter Units, F.B.I. SWAT teams, and special teams from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. 1200 officers of the California Highway Patrol were also mobilized. In addition to these 26,900 armed defenders of Capital and the State, several thousand more were “on standby.” Moreover, L.A. has 3500 “private security” firms, all heavily armed.

That it took seventy-two hours for this huge military force to occupy the rebel neighborhoods shows that the uprising expressed the discontent and desire of a large community. Significantly, far more than in the Sixties ghetto uprisings, the L.A. rebellion quickly spread beyond the extensive liberated zones of the ghetto itself, igniting revolts among the oppressed in Hollywood, Long Beach, Pasadena and elsewhere. In all, some 10,000 businesses were destroyed. Damage was estimated at a billion dollars. Some 17,000 “rioters” were arrested. Close to 2000 were deported.

Within an hour or two of the first reports of “trouble” in L.A., police departments all over the United States were put in a state of “readiness.” Reserves were called in, street-patrols increased. And all over the country local police were invited to add their own lies and threats to the non-stop propaganda barrage provided by the obedient media.

Despite this nationwide display of police and military strength, despite an utter disregard for civil liberties by the forces of occupation which reached the proportions of a state of siege in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and elsewhere, and despite the endless half- truths and untruths droned on TV, radio, in the press and from the pulpits, the L.A. rebellion inspired a positive and active response from coast to coast. No matter how slickly the “official” State Department or media commentators – who can tell the difference? – tried to suppress the real news from L.A., or to whitewash it with racist images and innuendo, young recalcitrants throughout the country saw through the smokescreen and took action. Direct- action protests that in some cases turned into full-scale rebellions, sparked by news of the uprising in L.A. and in solidarity with it, occurred in at least forty-four cities in twenty states.2

As is true of the L.A. rebellion itself, few if any of these solidarity rebellions were led, or indeed, in any way affected, by the organized Left. Wholly unprepared for such an uprising, which some “leading theorists” had in fact proved to be impossible in what they like to call this “post-modern” epoch, the Left – with very few exceptions– contributed neither to the events themselves nor to their subsequent theoretical clarification. In what passes for a Left press in the U.S., coverage of the L.A. rebellion characteristically oscillated between hand-wringing genuflections on the “tragedy” and cynical self-congratulation derived from the pretense that the uprising, like all events everywhere at all times, once again “vindicated” this or that archaic program. At their best the Left sects lent some support to the post-rebellion demonstrations, on which, however, they too often tried to impose a reformist slant by tying demands for more meaningless jobs to the fortunes of the Democratic Party, whose disgusting presidential campaign addressed the L.A. rebellion by playing the “Sister Souljah card” to reemphasize the obvious fact   that Bill “More Cops on the Street” Clinton is just another white conservative politician behind that saxophone.

Far more interesting and consequential than the flip-flops of the would-be radical intelligentsia was the bold action of the homeless, who went from being on the streets to in the streets with lightning speed, and the revolutionary lucidity and daring of the hip-hop community, and insurgent working-class young people generally, who were of course the heart and soul of the rebellion.

Contrary to those who profess to see nothing but illiteracy and ignorance in the “younger generation,” we argue that America’s poorest teen-agers, most of them high-school dropouts, are in many and fundamental ways far wiser than those who want them kept in school to prepare for (non-existent) jobs. If the best way to learn is by doing, the first thing is to decide what is to be done. There is every reason to believe that in some seventy-two hours of popular, creative destruction, L.A.’s insurgent population learned more than they did in all the years they spent confined in classrooms. Almost in passing, therefore, they proposed the only workable solution to the much-discussed crisis of American education.

That the hip-hoppers and dropouts have much to learn is obvious, but they also have much to teach. It would be wrong to minimize the inevitable confusion and, in some cases, outright misogyny and anti-Korean hysteria, that afflict the hip-hop community and the rappers who are its best-known public expression. It is nonetheless crucial to recognize in this community, and its music, the emergence of a rebellious pride, a conscious rejection of dominant values and the institutions that uphold them, and, above all, a new radical self-awareness rooted in the growing mass consciousness that revolutionary change is possible. The self-organization of these kids in X-caps has helped set the stage for nothing less than the creation of a free society.

In hilarious contrast to the grim Puritanism and “realistic” rhetoric of the Left, L.A.’s new urban guerrillas insisted on having a good time. Queried by reporters as to why they were looting, many replied: “Because it’s fun!” A front-page May 1st Chicago Tribune photo is captioned: “Looters laugh while they carry away all they can.” Ironically, the banner headline above it reads: “A nightmare    of violence in L.A.” One class’s nightmare is another’s pleasant dream.

Coco Fusco has pointed out that “laughing at imposed identity, imposed rules, imposed laws” has long been an element in the struggle against imperialist violence. In April-May ‘92, humor was a major weapon. Those who took what they wanted from unguarded stores could hardly help making jokes about the “free market.” Less than a day after the rebellion began, stickers reading “Support Your Local Police: Beat Yourself Up” turned up on walls, windows and lamp-posts all across the land. Few things are more consciousness- expanding than a good joke at the expense of cops, bosses and bureaucrats. Moreover, as in the movement for women’s reproductive rights and against the Gulf Massacre, humorists – cartoonists, street-pranksters, billboard-revisers and graffiti- comedians – grasped the essential in the L.A. rebellion faster and more consequently than anyone else. Social theory separated from humor can no longer serve the cause of freedom.

The L.A. rebels’ emphasis on humor, and on the pleasure of looting and other forms of rebelling, indicates that their very starting-point was well beyond all reality-principle politics. In one of the most insightful articles on the rebellion, Robin D. G. Kelley called attention to “the joy and sense of empowerment” expressed on the faces of the young Black and Latino poor, “seizing property and destroying what many regarded as symbols of domination.”In this joy and sense of empowerment lies the only future worth dreaming about.

The three-day L.A. insurrection of ‘92 was as spontaneous as the workers’ uprising in Hungary in 1956, the Paris rebellion of May ‘68, and the General Strike in Trinidad in 1970, and always will retain its honored place in the company of these and other great leaps toward freedom. Today, when all that’s left of the traditional Left are a few dried-up rinds of long-dead movements, those who have nothing to lose continue to offer us fresh fruit from the Tree of Life.

During the L.A. rebellion it became clear that even the seemingly simplest bits of news were saturated with falsehood. Again and again we were told, for example, that “the violence began shortly after the announcement of the verdict” – as if the racist verdict itself was not an act of violence, and as if the entire King case did not show how thoroughly violence pervaded the LAPD’s daily routine, and the American Way of Life. Another dishonest refrain vented the media’s consternation that the L.A. rebels were “burning down their own neighborhood.” Their own? Does anyone actually believe that people forced to live in these depressed and terrorized communities own or control them?

Indeed, a central lesson of the rebellion was the extent to which the establishment media, and what passes as common sense among racists, encourages white Americans to deny what they see. Thus a juror maintained that King was “directing the action” and “in complete control” as he lay helpless with police raining blow after blow on him. A Chicago Tribune headline, in a rare burst of lucidity, summarized the jury’s (il)logic: “What we thought we saw in the videotape didn’t happen.”

The acquitters of the cops who assaulted Rodney King showed a terrifying ability to construct a white “Semiotext(e)” which enabled them to deny the brutality of those in power, no matter how many times they watched it. Undoubtedly even now a small army of academics is feverishly trying to make the fashions of “deconstruction” fit the realities of Los Angeles. To the extent that such intellectuals fail to see that oppression and freedom (and not just infinitely manipulatable images) are at issue, they will not manage to break from the sorry apologetics characteristic of the Paul de Man(ic) capitulation to fascism by deconstruction’s founder and the craven decision of the Simi Valley jurors.

It was not just the jury’s behavior, but the entire performance of the press and TV commentators which showed how it is possible to be literally blinded by racism. Given the arrest records, and the pictures of the rebellion, there can be no doubt that community reaction to the King verdict was, to use a term that universities have not yet fully emptied of meaning, a multicultural one. 

Latino youth poured into the streets alongside African- Americans and suffered more arrests and deportations than any other group. Many of the rebels had recently come from Central American nations whose recent histories of resistance ensured that the presence of U.S. tanks was not absolutely overawing. Korean- Americans came to Justice for King rallies in great numbers and suffered hundreds of arrests. Whites formed a significant part of rebellious crowds and figured prominently in many of the most striking photographs of the uprising. Police arrested over a thousand whites.

Typically, however, when the New York Times revisited the scenes of the rebellion in November 1992, its writers managed to make this white participation vanish altogether. “The city’s white population,” according to the Times, “while largely untouched by the riot, was shaken by the uprising it witnessed.”

From the moment when a young African-American woman challenged Mayor Bradley at a pre-rebellion protest meeting – “We can’t rely on these people (Bradley et al.) to act. You (the crowd) know what to do” – women played leading roles in the streets. A New York Times photo taken shortly thereafter, but miles away, showed five people shouting, according to the caption, “insults and threats at the police”: four were women. Three of four laughing looters pictured on the front page of May Day’s Chicago Tribune were women. Some young Latina mothers brought babies with them as they looted. A British reporter noticed a Black woman methodically pitching rocks through the windows of the L.A. Times building. In Hollywood, a “mob of little white girls” – as a radio announcer put it – helped themselves to the entire stock of a large lingerie store. An exciting follow-up to the largest women’s demonstration in U.S. history – the march for reproductive rights in Washington D.C. a few weeks earlier – the L.A. rebellion gave real substance to that overworked phrase: “The Year of the Woman.”

Despite all this, far and away the media’s dominant image of the uprising was the beating of the white truck-driver, Reginald Denny, by young Black men. Armed with a small bit of videotape, the press and TV imposed its New World Order on the varied, creative, living activity of the rebellion through an insistent focus on Denny.

Thus the supposedly menacing African-American male, not police brutality, became the media’s central issue. Denny’s victimization, on this view, did not just equal King’s. It explained King’s, and the Simi Valley verdict. Black men, familiarly enough, were the problem. They were, as Quayle’s and Bush’s carefully rehearsed sound bites suggested, the pathological products of the collapse of the Black family and of incendiary hip-hop profiteers. Black women came to be cast, in the television drama of South Central, not as actors in their own behalf, but as seduced spectators, as children bearing uncontrollable children and even as mindless Murphy Brown fans driven to single parenthood by the evil example of a rich, white, forty-something sitcom heroine.

Framing the “riot” as the affair of young Black males, the news could make little sense of the multiracial and multiethnic participation in it. As Mike Davis wrote, “You hear commentators going on and on about Black youth while in fact you’re seeing other ethnicities on the screen.”What, for example, were so many white kids doing pouring into the streets, putting themselves in harm’s way? Why were the arrested so largely Latino? These questions were mostly ignored.

Very occasionally, a news magazine briefly quoted an “expert” to the effect that Los Angeles was a “class riot,” with the poor, across color lines, acting out of a common helplessness. This analysis, vastly better than anything else on offer in the popular press, suffers from the tendency of American intellectuals to suppose that if something is about class, it is therefore not about race. The L.A. rebellion’s clear class content ought not to obscure the fact that it came out of a clear demand for racial justice. “Middle-class” African-American youths, including students from the University of Southern California, University of California/Los Angeles and the California State campuses, participated energetically in the rebellion. White youth who joined the action were doing more than just expressing class grievances. They were taking decisive steps toward the abolition of whiteness by joining a “race riot” to attack authority rather than to attack African- Americans. That’s news, but you’d never know it from the newspapers.

When coverage did stray from the “raging Black men versus white society” framework, it usually did so only to emphasize the tensions between African-Americans and Korean storeowners and, more recently, between Blacks and Latinos. Both these areas of tension are of tremendous importance. That the media seems able to locate anti-Asian and anti-Latino (and anti-Arab and anti- Semitic) prejudices only when such attitudes can be alleged to have surfaced in the Black community, must not lead us to ignore real differences among people of color in the United States. But the lesson of the L.A. uprising is anything but the hopeless conclusion that unity is impossible. The outrage at the King verdict was multiracial and the cry “No Justice! No Peace!” went up loudly in several languages.

In the case of Black-Latino relations, there is little evidence that this initial impulse toward unity dramatically gave way to infighting as the rebellion progressed. Jack Miles’ distended exercise in nativism, “Blacks vs. Browns,” which disgraced the pages of the October 1992 issue of The Atlantic, labored mightily to make the events of April-May 1992 fit its title. They don’t, even on Miles’ tortured reading of them. Subheads like “A New Paradigm: Blacks vs. Latinos” are followed jarringly in Miles’ essay by discussions of divisions within the Latino population, and by evidence of the common purpose of Blacks and Central Americans in the rebellion. Clearly there are Black-Latino conflicts in Los Angeles. The recent battles over construction jobs reflect as much. But as in gang rivalries, the experience of urban rebellion did not aggravate Black-Latino divisions so much as it defused them.

The case of Black-Korean conflict raises far more troubling issues. Korean-American merchants suffered disproportionate losses to looters and especially to arsonists. Korean-American ownership of liquor stores, and other eminently lootable enterprises, heightened tensions in the wake of the very light sentence of storeowner Suon Ja Du for the murder of Black teenager Latasha Harlins, and helped account for this pattern. Credit policies, which keep Asian businessmen in the ghettoes (from which white capital has largely fled) and which keep African-Americans from starting businesses, obviously play a role in exacerbating problems between Blacks and Koreans. Day-to-day encounters in stores are virtually programmed to explode with both sides feeling trapped and threatened.
It would be foolish to suppose that in such situations storekeeper-customer problems remain only that, and do not bleed over into larger patterns of Black-Korean relations. It simply is not the case, for example, that anti-Korean hip-hop lyrics are confined to expressing class hatred.

But facing such grim reality is not to fantasize, as the media did, that all reality is inescapably grim where relations among America’s victims are concerned. The larger story of the Los Angeles response, and the national response, and the Korean-American response, to the King verdict refutes such despair-mongering by showing the tremendous pressure that young people can exert to break the chains which hold the suffering under the death- sentence of race and class oppression.

The long-range significance of the L.A. rebellion cannot be appreciated apart from the global ecological crisis. The fact that the largest urban upheaval in the U.S. in this century has been ignored by the environmental press is one more sign – and a definitive one – that middle-class environmentalism is indissolubly allied to the pollutocratic Establishment it pretends to oppose.

Clearly the rebellion, and the nationwide response it engendered, are seething with ecological implications. An extraordinary example of “acting locally,” inevitably it will affect global thinking for a long time to come.

The rebellion provided, for example, a dramatic eye-opening prelude to the Earth-rapers’ orgy known as the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro a few weeks later. The delegates (mostly heads of state) straight-facedly resolved that capitalism – an inherently ecocidal social system – is compatible with a healthy planet. But L.A.’s smoldering ruins and overflowing prisons joined the polluted air that always afflicts the city to give these bureaucrats the lie, and showed all the world that the Land of Capitalism par excellence is one of the sickest societies anywhere.

In this era of massive destruction of rainforests and other wild places, the contradiction between city and “countryside” has become central to all struggles for social change. Anyone who knows the ABCs of ecology knows that massive restoration of wilderness is today an urgent priority, second to none – indeed, the precondition for the continuation of life on this planet – and that such restoration requires, in turn, massive dismantling of industrial society’s deadly cities. In this light, the festive community burning of L.A.’s shopping malls can be regarded not only as a sensible response to unlivable ghetto conditions, but also as an ecologically sound step toward doing away with America’s poisonous urban wastelands. Objectively, in the U.S. government’s war against wildlife and wilderness, the L.A. rebels were on the side of the wild.

Subjectively, however, the rebellion’s ecological dimension stands out in even bolder relief. The fact that Black teenagers increasingly recognize themselves as an endangered species – this was in fact the theme of one of the most popular local rap recordings just before and during the rebellion – is surely one of the major revolutions in consciousness of our time. Equally suggestive, in this regard, is the fact that the planting of new trees – to bring beauty to L.A.’s non-white communities – is a major demand in the program put forth by the Bloods and Crips for the reconstruction of the city.

The rebels’ point of departure, moreover, was light-years beyond the phony “jobs versus environment” dichotomy that miserabilist demagogues of all persuasions use to paralyze the unwary. In demanding not jobs but life, and all the freedom and fullness thereof, the L.A. rebels – among whom registered voters were undoubtedly a rarity – revealed strong affinities with the most radical “no-compromise” wing of the environmental movement.

“Mainstream” environmentalism continues to be dominated by racist corporate-minded executives who, by definition, are unwilling to challenge the interests of white supremacy, Capital and the capitalist State. In the past twenty years, the mushroom growth of the National Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, etc., has coincided with the destruction of more U.S. wilderness than was destroyed in the preceding half-century. These groups, which are run as businesses by bureaucrats who think and act like businessmen, are to the rank-and-file eco- activist what the AFL-CIO bureaucracy is to the working class: a privileged elite whose prime function is to control the fury – i.e., the revolutionary creativity – of those at the bottom.

The L.A. rebels manifested exactly what is needed to turn environmentalism into a real and effective movement: desperation, defiance, energy, a sense of the unbearable boredom and misery of American life today, a readiness to improvise, a willingness to take risks and a beautiful determination to win release from misery. With such outsiders’ perspective to inspire and guide the actions of a new movement, an ecologically healthy planet could become a reality instead of a slogan.

Those who are farthest from the administration of power, no matter how powerless they often feel, retain always the power to disrupt and therefore, potentially, the power to overturn the entire repressive order.

In the solidarity of all those who are outside existing power relations lies our only chance of vanquishing the ecocidal megamachine. Coming at a time when the infrastructures of America’s cities are on the verge of collapse, the L.A. rebellion has opened exciting possibilities for the development of heretofore undreamed-of combat-alliances that could cut across and even destroy the debilitating barriers set up by short-sighted and self- serving “single-issue” groups.

Now is a time of new beginnings, and thus a time to make new connections. There is not an eco-activist anywhere who would not benefit from reading Malcolm X – the favorite author of the L.A. rebels – and radical ecologists and conservation biologists would do well not only to make their knowledge more accessible to those who need it most, but also to find ways of linking their struggles to the struggles of the oppressed people who can really change things for the better. Such links would seem to be particularly feasible –

Outsiders of the world, unite! Freedom Now! Earth First! These three watchwords are for us but one.

- Chicago Surrealist Group, 1992


Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Vintage, 1992). This book provides essential background for understanding the L.A. rebellion.

Birmingham, Alabama; Arcata, Berkeley, Davis, El Cerrito, Irvine, Marin County, Oakland, Palo Alto, Pinole, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz, California; Boulder and Denver, Colorado; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Miami and Tampa, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Peoria, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; St. Louis and Warrensburg, Missouri; Jersey City, New Jersey; Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska; Las Vegas, Nevada; New Rochelle and New York, New York; Toledo, Ohio; Eugene, Oregon; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Charleston, South Carolina; Austin and Dallas, Texas; Olympia and Seattle, Washington; Beloit, Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Washington, D.C. Solidarity demonstrations also took place in Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, as well as in Athens, Berlin, Paris, and Rome.

In addition to the writings by Mike Davis and Robin D. G. Kelley cited elsewhere in these notes, important material on the L.A. rebellion also appeared in News & Letters (59 East Van Buren, Chicago, IL 60605) and Against the Current (Center for Changes, 7012 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI 48210).

Robin D. G. Kelley, “Straight from Underground,” The Nation (June 8, 1992), 793-796.

Mike Davis, L.A. Was Just the Beginning: Urban Revolt in the United States: A Thousand Points of Light (Open Pamphlet Magazine Series, PO Box 2726, Westfield, NJ 07091).

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