lightly edited from Viewpoint Magazine
The following is a dialogue between “Abdul,” “Baaseiah,” and “Nayef,” all mid-20/30-something, African American/Middle Eastern descent/mixed-race, well-travelled artists and experienced activists in/around the Saint Louis City/County area (Ferguson is part of Saint Louis County). This dialogue is a condensed version of a broader discussion between participants in the Saint Louis-area WyldFire! Collective of the questions/prompts provided by Viewpoint’s inquiry. Names have been changed to protect our friends.
What is the history of your group? What actions have you organized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?
A: I’m not quite sure how to answer this…
B: Well, “we” are not really a group, exactly.
A: Right. I think of us and our friends as a group of Midwest radicals who started working together in the streets of Ferguson after Mike Brown got shot. And when we work together, it’s because we have similar feelings toward what’s happening in the world around us and in our lives.
B: I guess we outta admit a few of us already knew each other before Mike Brown was murdered.
A: Right, some of us met at the rally and pissed off street demo in StL that turned into a small riot when the George Zimmerman verdict came back “not guilty.”
B: Those were good times. Also some of our friends did Food Not Bombs stuff. They met back at Saint Louis’ Occupy. Some of us also just knew each other from around town. Saint Louis really is a small town pretending to be a big city.
A: I feel like what our friends had in common when we came together wasn’t so much political or ideological, not in an organized or a theoretical way, so much as we had some common feelings toward what we were experiencing, in life and in those moments in the streets.
B: Right, we came together basically because we recognized each other in the streets from past stuff, and we were doing a lot of the same sort of stuff out there – tagging slogans on the walls, handing out bandanas and advising some of the folks out there at night to mask-up or take out the cameras, or treating people who’d been teargassed, stuff like that. Yeah, it was less political, and more emotional and practical; about keeping safe together and about how we felt.
A: Well, what about the second part of that question?
B: About the actions we organized? Well, aside from what we already talked about, we did some cooking and food distro with some of our friends in a local Food Not Bombs group under the burnt-out QuickTrip overhang a few nights after Mike Brown got shot. They were there two nights in a row, but the second night we had a table on one side handing out fresh food, and they were barbecuing on the other side and we shared food and war stories and celebrated till the QT parking lot got teargassed later that night.
A: Yeah, that was fun. It was like, some sort of celebration that evening; like a parade of resistance.
B: There were floats, literally, small floats built out of paper mache and whatever else people could get ahold of, mounted on top of cars and in truck beds.
A: And that Thomas the Train thing…
B: “The Peace Train,” that was great!
A: Our actions, aside from the one we coordinated with Food Not Bombs that evening, were not so much “organized” as they were spontaneous convergences of opportunity, need, proximity and happenstance.
B: That’s an overly-complicated way of saying we flash-mobbed. Mass texts to a few dozen friends when the shit goes down!
A: What about “our” future?
B: Do “we” have a future, exactly? I mean, we’re probably gonna keep on doing what we gonna do, just like each of us did before we came together around Mike Brown’s murder.
There are other tendencies that may be in a position to co-opt the movement –it is widely noted that nonprofits play a demobilizing role in social movements, mediating between action in the streets and municipal city governments whose funding they depend on. Because nonprofits have resources that grassroots initiatives often don’t, they position themselves as the leadership, while constituting social bases of support in ways that are more difficult for radicals. How can this co-opting be avoided? How can radicals develop the same bases of support that many nonprofits enjoy?
B: I don’t know if we should be looking to get a “support base” like the nonprofits have, acting like them or trying to become them or become like them; I’m very uncomfortable with that.
A: I feel like trying to imitate the nonprofits, or trying to replicate their successes, basically risks becoming them, perpetuating a sort of cycle of recuperation, settling in, professionalism, selling out and treating other people in the struggle as instrumental – like tools to be used by a vanguard who presume they know better.
B: Yeah, and I’m not sure that the bases of support those nonprofit types have even is social, so much as it’s political; it’s professional, like, a service-provider sort of relationship, outsourcing our agency and submitting it to their leadership, and substituting genuine social relations between human beings with organizational, almost military command culture.
A: So the solution lies somewhere in escaping that cycle of institutional violence and focusing on actual social relations between individuals in the context of their communities?
B: That, and more. I think a solution might be something like focusing on the social relations between people as we are now, and on our aspirations, our dreams; how we wish to be. We need to do the long, hard work of finding new ways to resist the violence of representation and carve out spaces for ourselves and each other to take direct, effective action in our own lives and social space.
A: When we are talking about movement, though, does that mean blowing up what you just described to a larger scale?
B: I think it means not being afraid to call out those who would destroy our uprisings by their attempts to control them. There’s nothing to be gained from arbitrary “unity” with those who’ll destroy us if they’re allowed to. They’re as much an enemy as the police, the institutions they serve (often the same institutions the NGO types get their money from), and the ideologies of those individuals and institutions, like racism and misogyny.
N: We don’t play the numbers game, or subscribe to a theory whereby you need a “mass movement,” that with enough numbers, will shift society in a meaningful way. We’re not anti-organizational, we’re just not in the business of recruitment. Our efforts are instead directed towards the creation of spaces or situations, within insurrections, uprisings, or the quiet that sometimes comes after, to expand the possibilities that people consider legitimate forms of resistance, and to let people know that there are others who think differently than the NGOs. We don’t have too much of a desire to live outside these moments of necessity.
A: We do have our own programs, not under this collective name, but through various other groups. Food Not Bombs collective and Saint Louis Solidarity Network are both important, and though they have little digital presence, they are a strong, familiar presence on the ground for working class people. Sometimes we show up to big demonstrations and give away food, water, and political literature. These efforts can be easy to set up, but they can keep people energized for a demonstration as it runs late into the evening. Scaling up, these groups run [a] monthly mutual aid event, collecting spoilage donations and seasonal clothes. Together, these programs fulfill people’s immediate needs, while also using the space to share ideas and politics. At the distribution, we often try to have talks – about rape culture, the protests, whatever. The emphasis for these events is not so much gaining numbers around our banner or ideology, but using these as opportunities to meet co-conspirators, and to change ideas about what acceptable resistance looks like, and the scope of what we’re fighting against.
An important turning point for the Black freedom struggle in the 1960s were the urban rebellions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and dozens of other cities, which involved a great deal of property destruction and looting. Much has changed since then, but the political economy of urban development is still a central dynamic of racial inequality in places like Baltimore, Oakland and Ferguson. Are riots also still politically relevant, or has their meaning changed? And what about those places with similar conditions where major riots have not happened, like New York or Philadelphia? What other metrics might we use to measure the development of struggle beyond street militancy?
B: Yes, riots do work – as history shows – and are absolutely necessary if we’re to move past tired old tactics that never worked. Rather than asking whether or not rioting works, I think the real question needs to be why it is that we get herded into worthless peace-policed and permitted protests on the sidewalks? The point of protest oughta be to threaten, a last warning to those in authority before we end them. If we’ve got no teeth and no backbone, I don’t see the point. Street militancy shows we’ve got backbone, and riots show we’ve got teeth.
A: Yeah, militancy is effective. I look at it in terms of the QT that was burned to the ground. Before that happened, Mike Brown was any other Black teen slain by the police. But people did something that the media, police, and many local people didn’t expect, and I’ve met some young people who carried out those actions who seemed surprised by their own actions. It generated a lot of media attention, and changed the way people respond to these murders.
N: Right, but how do we measure effectiveness? I’ve been wondering if something that was effective earlier will always be effective later. Capitalism and the state shift and change as we throw ourselves against it, responding to us. It’s a many-headed hydra, with each head looking different from the last. It seems that after awhile it becomes inoculated against certain tactics and strategies. I mean, as powerful as the riots were, they’re worth thinking about this way, too. They beat us and fired tear gas at us, though we gave them a good run, as well. But the next day, our muscles hurt, we’re sore, and some friends are behind bars, but the institutions are still in place. And in four weeks, our efforts are completely exhausted, and those institutions show no signs of dissipating. In the long run, we’re not sure what’s going to work.
B: One concept that some of us were toying with before all of this kicked off in Ferguson was “community unionism.” We were kind of grasping for straws, but thought that maybe an answer to the increasing precarity of workers, and the epic failure of trade or labor unionism to revitalize itself, would be a kind of community based organization. We had this idea that, instead of going to workers at the point of production, we could go to where they live. By organizing at the neighborhood level, people can choose to focus on issues of racism, of cultural problems, and have an explicit focus on what’s left outside of mainstream politics. The goal wouldn’t be to pass some new kind of laws, but to bring people together, to change our own hearts. As the pitched street battles fade, we are thinking of turning back to community unionism.
The movements of the 1960s and 1970s against racism and police violence led to the emergence of new kinds of organization – including, just to name a few, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Revolutionary Action Movement, the Black Panther Party, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and, for white radicals, the Students for a Democratic Society. In the 1970s these groups transformed into new revolutionary organizations, which were often multi-racial alliances between Black, Chican@, Puerto Rican, and Asian groups. Do you see new organizations emerging today, and if so, what is their relationship to the broader Black Lives Matter movement?
A: I do see new organizations forming, all across the board, though I don’t know if the organizations are the best place to look to understand the changing dynamics of resistance culture.
B: We’re better off looking to the spontaneous outbursts in the absence of organizational influence or control, and I don’t just mean acts of violence. Like the night after Mike Brown got shot, Ferguson PD came down into the neighborhood and broke up a candlelight vigil using dogs, tear gas, flashbang grenades and riot gear. There was a very diverse crowd present at the candlelight vigil, and in response many very enraged people surged up the street into the QuikTrip and burned it to the ground.
But what was really amazing was seeing what people did in the aftermath, as QT burned. We saw teenagers handing out food and medicine and hygiene supplies to folks in need in the neighborhood, offering looted cigarettes, booze and gum to strangers, spontaneously dancing and embracing in the streets. Back then that’s where we met some of the folks who became the dearest of friends, and a lot of people bonded over that.
A: I don’t know anyone who’s ever told me they bonded over long, arduous meetings or micromanaged protests managed by NGO types.
N: As a result of these experiences, I think we tend to associate organization with the dis-organizing imperative of the NGOs, the clergy, or even the Revolutionary Communist Party, [Spartacist] League, and the Progressive Labor Party. Whenever there’s a hint of activity in Ferguson, they’re bused in from Chicago, Milwaukee, Boston, or who knows where, and they arrive to bicker with each other and local militant youth.
I often hear and recognize someone on the metro from these various events, and we will exchange a look or smile. I think that in a way, I can see how these kind of relationships are a kind of hidden organization, which is different from those who demand that you do work under their own banner before they take you and your ideas seriously.
Last May, we published an analysis of the uprising in Baltimore, focusing in on the dynamics of white solidarity. The essay confronted a tension pervasive throughout the movement, on the simultaneous necessity of strategic alliances between different struggles of oppressed and exploited peoples, and the possibility that including other groups might obviate the specificity of anti-Black racism. As the movement has developed, it’s proven to have strong resonances with non-Black people, drawing in participation and support from a range of different sectors and struggles and sometimes offering models for others. How do we maintain the resonance between different struggles with shared antagonisms, without effacing what is specific to this movement?
A: For starters, I don’t think there’s any future for struggle in the ally politic model.
B: Right. That model only reinforces radical other-ing and white liberal guilt/savior complexes. When I think about the future of movement, I think a lot about the accomplices model, where what brings us together is our common interest in resistance, our common insistence on taking direct action toward liberation, ourselves, and the common risk we take as individuals together in our pursuit of liberation.
N: This can be tricky when you’re standing next to someone who might be a liberal or a Garveyite, and they begin to chant something that indicates that they’re not in the same struggle as you are. But when your shoulder to shoulder and up against the wall, it’s hard to refuse their comradeship in that moment. We’ve had to learn a certain kind of ideological fluidity, where we can work with people in some contexts, and have to challenge them or separate ourselves from them in other ones. Unfortunately, while there’s a real need for debate within the movement about tactics, strategy, and larger orientation, these debates unfold in really disruptive ways. These conversations between participants in the movement have been really difficult to have.
A: Some of these problems come from reductionism surrounding “white privilege” analysis. It’s an important dynamic for us to recognize, but [the] line that everyone needs to shut up and follow Black leadership, which has in practice meant follow an established liberal leadership, has its own problems.
N: As an immigrant with brown skin, as a Palestinian, the kind of oppression olympics built into the model of ally politics disturbs me politically. To have a college educated white person shouting at me and my friends because we’re not perceived to be as Black as other people, has meant surrendering all the momentum to liberals. It’s disheartening, because a lot of people are becoming invested in it, including the extreme Black-white dichotomies as a way to understand race.
A: Like some of the meanings attached to the old word “comrade,” I think the concept of the accomplice gives us the space we all need for difference, the autonomy to take individual action, and a unity based on the actions we have and will take, not on some arbitrary abstraction or on identity categories – which are far from homogenous or unified in their interests and pursuit of those interests.
B: I remember when Nelly, a rapper who is actually from Saint Louis, came out to speak last fall in Ferguson, at the [Canfield] apartment complex. He was saying how important it is to go to college, to get a job, to become entrepreneurs, and to infiltrate the police forces by becoming police themselves. As if that’s ever changed their core function! And everyone there was just jeering at him, and so he responded with something like: “you have options.” I remember a woman in the crowd fired back saying, “no, you’re rich, you have options.” I think that kind of exchange was emblematic for what we’ve been dealing with out here; we run up against misleaders and celebrity activists that are brought out to validate the aspiring leadership of locals. Linking up with marginalized and working class people is the best way to fight that dynamic, because it’s those people who are themselves saying ‘to hell with that leadership!’
Written in 2001 by Eugene Koveos and Nicole Solomon for ONWARD, “an anarchist newspaper published in Gainesville, Florida between Summer 2000 and Winter 2002/03.”
Carlo Giuliani was given the tragic distinction of being the first high-profile death at a demonstration against capitalist globalization. A 23-year old anarchist, he was gunned down by police and run over by their armored van. As the Group of 8 meeting he protested came to an end, and world leaders dried their crocodile tears, numerous media outlets compared Carlo’s murder and its repercussions to the killings at Kent State university.
However, for the US at least, this is not and likely will not be Kent State. It is worth the comparison to see why the brutal murder of a demonstrator, though explicitly considered a part of a global movement with many participants in the US, is devoid of the same disruption and controversy as the Kent State murders.
Over 30 years before Genoa, four students were murdered during demonstrations at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Anti-war protests had occurred almost continually on campus in May, and on the second the mayor asked the Ohio National Guard to step in. On the fourth, the National Guard attempted to disperse an unpermitted rally with tear gas, and were met with jeers and occasional rocks by the students. Eventually the Guard fired live ammunition. Most fired into the air or the ground, but some fired directly into the now fleeing crowd. Nine people were seriously injured and 4 killed: Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer, William Schroeder and Jeffrey Miller. The guardsman claimed they fired because they feared for their lives. This explanation was ultimately upheld in court.
Any contemporary liberatory movement with participants in the US cannot shun analyses that reference this nation’s past movements. Although Carlo Guiliani’s murder occurred in Italy, it has direct relevance to and impact on the US population of the global movement. We recognize that while the movement against capitalist globalization is an international one, US-centricity within the US segment of the movement is a problem. While US-centricty informs the distance from the Genoa tragedy for the US branch of the movement, it may also inform its co-option. We should be particularly mindful of this when discussing the US national impact of events outside the US.
Eleven days after Kent State, a college and a high school student were killed by police and state troopers at Jackson State. National and movement empathy passed over the slain at Jackson State without mass controversy or outrage. There were critical differences between these killings: the Kent State students were white and attending a predominantly white school, while the Jackson State 2 were Black and killed at a historically Black institution. The protests at Jackson State were expressions of rage against a war overseas and the war being waged against those demonstrating in the US. The focus of their anger was not primarily the shootings in Ohio (as was the case with the hundreds of other Kent-related demos that did not result in casualties) but the racist attacks occurring regularly against Black residents of their town. The most confrontational of these protests was caused by a rumor that mayor Charles Evers (brother of slain civil rights leader Medger Evers) and his wife had been murdered. These contextual differences are key: the agenda of the Jackson State students was broader and more personal, illustrating various deeply interlocked manifestations of state violence and oppression in a way that blatantly implicated local power in global imperialism. In essense these demos were both more radical and more threatening.
Confrontations escalated between students and cops. Late in the evening a stand off between students and local and state police ultimately turned fatal. After a bottle was broken (dropped or thrown, no one is sure,) police opened fire. James Earl Green, 17, and Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, were both shot and killed; 12 other students were struck by the bullets, and many more were injured by broken glass as the police fired not only into the crowd outside, but through the windows of the nearby dorm.
The deaths of Green and Gibbs did not receive the justified anger, the mass student strikes, the controversy that compelled Richard Nixon to proclaim the days after Kent State among the worst of his presidential career. Silence was the voice of the racism of the mainstream media, the anti-war movement and the general public. The Jackson State shootings and public reaction illuminate the connections and tensions between the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 60s. These connections were too messy, complicated and implicating for white-dominated organizations, whether media or movement, to examine too closely. Within the pathology of white supremacy, white life is simply worth more than the lives of people of color, and white deaths are more shocking.
Indeed, white supremacy still flourishes and holds white people’s lives at more value than others, both inside and outside of social movements. On June 26, 2001, four protesters were killed and seventeen wounded during protests against the IMF in Point Moresby, Papua New Guinea, during a five-day blockade of federal buildings by approximately 3,000 students and workers. Little media attention was given to these deaths in the US and much of the US movement remains ignorant that these murders even happened. In fact, in researching these murders we were unable to even find the names of our slain comrades.
In this sense the globalization movement still carries with us, unsurprisingly, much of the anti-war movement: its US-centricity and its racism. The movement has not done enough to challenge the workings of white supremacy within and outside of our ranks. That blood was spilled in Papua New Guinea and met with near indifference gives a cold and undeniable truth to that. We will not, nor should we, gain widespread support and build mass movement for global justice until white privilege and supremacy are dismantled to the extent possible for a movement existing within a neo-imperialist, white supremacist nation. That such issues as property destruction have received so much internal attention and been subject to movement debate while attempts to attack movement racism have been generally marginalized and/or tokenized paints a dangerous picture. White-dominated movements build white power, not global resistance nor revolutionary worlds.
While Kent State was a galvanizing event in the United States, perhaps shocking many outside the anti-war movement into sympathy, Giuliani’s murder in Genoa has not elicited a similar response. This is due in part because of the lack of tangibility of the anti-globalization movement’s goals to those outside the movement. Stop the draft, and, more broadly, stop the war, are objectives easier to grasp than to stop the G8. Most people in the United States were probably not even aware such a group existed until the demonstrations occurred and resulted in a night or two of gory news coverage. While revealing that these economic puppeteers are around is one of the points of such demonstrations, what they do and why is still blurry as hell. Even those within the movement, though certain of not only the injustice of these anti-democratic institutions but also the systems from which they are born, may find themselves at a loss when attempting to explain what exactly they do. This is largely due to the secrecy under which these institutions operate, as well as how enmeshed they are within the nuances of world economic trade. The war was obviously a national issue of public concern, and everybody knew it was occurring – though perhaps not the details of exactly what was happening and why. The possibilities of alternatives to capitalism are invisibilized and whether to support this economic system is a non-issue. It is hardly a matter of public debate.
The context in which the murder in Genoa occurred was one of perceived stagnancy versus the time of perceived possibility and chaos that was the 60’s. Kent State happened not long after 1968, a year of global uprising and massive political disruption. For example, students and workers declared a general strike and paralyzed France. Within the United States, each day brought news coverage of new upheaval and unrest. In this year alone, both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. These times were indicative of both potential transformation and great national fear. Today, within the U.S., we do not experience such high profile and broadly effecting political events that create situations in which anything seems possible, be it the revolution or the apocalypse. Fundamental change is felt an impossibility and demonstrators are not met with questions of what they will change, but only perhaps the unproductive violence they will “create” and how much they will inconvenience commuters. The deeply entrenched status quo seems immutable.
The fact that Genoa demonstrations occurred overseas also contributes to the lack of widespread U.S. attention. In fact, by Sunday’s weekly wrap-up, the protest and murder were nothing but an interesting footnote in U.S. media. While the current mode of mainstream news is that of an accelerated profit-driven business, exploiting then abandoning stories, the fact that this horror occurred in Italy facilitated a disconnect. Carlo’s death was explicitly contextualized by the news within recent – mostly U.S. located – demonstrations. So were the escalating tactics of demonstrators requiring police discipline. However, the murderous behavior of the Italian cops was not. The subtext of these reports was that such disorderly and problematic resolutions to social unrest occur “over there.” To make the story more exciting to U.S. viewers, the fireworks of the demonstrations were directly linked to those at demonstrations here, but without linking the deadly police response. To do so would implicate law enforcement in the United States more than was necessary. It would also implicate the citizens of this country beyond pure voyeurism.
While Carlo’s murder generated a brief flurry of U.S. media excitement, the story lacked the emotional weight for the public that the Kent State killings did. The Kent State murders were so jarring partly because they smashed both a sense of security felt by those both within and outside the academy, and the notion of the sanctity of the university. Demonstrations by students, whether one supported them or not, could be seen as on the continuum of free debate and expression that was theoretically a cornerstone of academic life. Such security was compounded by the privileged locations of academics. Students for whom police violence is not a personal reality may feel a sense of entitlement to expression of their views, and lack of fear that there could be truly dangerous results to such expression. This naiveté was characteristic of the 60s student anti-war movement, and stands in direct contrast to the sometimes over-lapping civil rights movement. The student movement enjoyed a measure of safety, not only because it was based on the safe zone of the campus but because of white, classed privilege.
The civil rights movement took to the culturally-constructed unsafe zone of the streets and was led by Black people who did not as a group benefit from the same privileges, and could not afford to enjoy the same naivete, as the students. People within the civil rights movement regularly encountered police violence, there was not the option to have a loss-of-innocence event.
These splits highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of the current anti-capitalist globalization movement, which has much in common with both the civil rights and student anti-war movements of the 1960s. Though there are many white students involved, it is not a student movement. The locations of demonstrations are not campuses but the streets. The U.S. segment of the movement clearly suffers from white-centricity, with high-profile factions and events entrenched in white domination. With this comes the cloud of privilege that disrupts effective organization and facilitates a (sometimes false, sometimes not) sense of security amongst activists who may not occupy marginalized and oppressed locations. In general, however, factions of the movement today who engage in street activism are less wide-eyed and innocent than those in the 60s student movement, as every mass mobilization (which, problematically, have been centralized in resistance only against capitalist globalization) has been met with escalating state violence. Mass numbers of demonstrators are regularly beaten and jailed, and for longer than just overnight. It’s never a surprise when the cops show up and get rowdy.
The “good protester”/”bad protester” theme that has emerged in the media, the non-movement identified public, and the movement itself has also had explicit effects upon the impact of Genoa, deadening and differing it from Kent State. While variations on this theme thrived in the 60’s and 70’s as well, the Kent State victims were constructed as “good protesters.” They were, so the story goes, non-violent, fleeing the approaching National Guard, who were later revealed to have planned to attack all along. They were privileged students, seen as innocents, “our children” to a degree – even in the specifically fear-and-distrust-infused, generation-gapped 60s. While lying politicians initially spun the event in a manner that allowed many to see the kids as having had it coming, students nation-wide mobilized effectively in protest.
While Europe was a different story, with major, continent-wide demonstrations of sorrow and rage following the murder of Giuliani, the reaction within the U.S. was more muted. Its important to remember that the Kent State 4 as individuals may not have been as scary to those invested in the system as Giuliani – they were “good protesters.” They were white college kids, a random four students out of a massive crowd, one of whom was just heading to class and actually opposed the demonstrations. Maybe if some privileged Green party members had been taken down at a Rally 4 Ralph it would be comparable, but comrade Carlo was criminalized as an anarchist, blatantly opposing capitalism, and coming at the cops with a fire extinguisher. Never mind how much danger a fire extinguisher realistically poses to an armored police vehicle, Carlo has, in a sense, been constructed as the ultimate bad protester paying the ultimate price. And within this ideology he clearly deserved to pay it. Even leftist periodical In these Times felt the need to editorialize on Carlo’s “foolish”ness and how “terrified” the young cop was, after blasting “violent” protesters for committing property destruction that “overshadowed” the bulk of the respectable demonstrators. The author attributes the murder to these factors, as well as the mistake of arming the cops with live ammunition rather than those lovely rubber bullets. While no less a man than W. has solemnly dubbed Carlo’s death a tragedy, the mainstream remains unshocked and undisturbed. He definitely had it coming. Unfortunately, outside of certain circles, reaction internal to the U.S. movement itself has been mixed at best, sometimes straying to the right of Bush’s proclamation. In a scurry for respect, many have distanced themselves from Giuliani, condemned him, even extended sympathy to the cops. There has been no massive public outrage and sorrow. Empathetic rage has become a casualty of “good protester”/”bad protester” politics.
In his book SDS, Kirkpatrick Sale reports that the reaction to Kent State within the U.S. was massive uproar and upheaval:
“The impact is only barely suggested by the statistics, but they are impressive enough. In the next four days, from May 5 to May 8, there were major campus demonstrations at a rate of more than 100 a day, students at a total of at least 350 institutions went on strike and 536 schools were shut down completely for some period of time, 51 of them for the entire year. More than half of the colleges and universities in the country (1,350) were ultimately touched by protest demonstrations, involving nearly 60% of the student population (nearly five million students) in every kind of institution and in every state in the union.”
While there were protests in major cities across the U.S. following Giuliani’s death, they were no where near the scale of those post-Kent State in terms of numbers of people involved or impact on business running as usual. Those who do not identify as part of the new movement or listen to Pacifica radio probably were not aware that there was any angry reaction at all.
Now, shortly after the murder, we run the risk of letting the mournful energy produced by the tragedy dissipate. Without unduly romanticizing Carlo Giuliani’s life and death, without martyrizing him, we have the opportunity to honor him and all others fighting and sometimes dying in the war against what author bell hooks calls White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy. We can honor them by tapping into our righteous fury and funneling that emotion into action, by using this tragedy as a catalyst to expose the murder machine of global capitalism for what it is. We cannot let the public forget or gloss over the events of July 20. We are obligated as those driven by desire for a just world to fight like hell against the inevitable historical re-writing of the murder as anything other than what it was.
Kent State and Genoa were two very different chapters in histories of resistance, with very different aftermaths in the U.S. The fact that Carlo Giuliani’s murder and those of other anti-capitalist globalization activists have not generated the outcry that Kent State ushered must spur us on to vital organizing. No death can go by unnoticed. We must build the mass movement for which we yearn and others have died.
Eugene Koveos is a student at Queens City College in New York City and works with the October 22nd Coalition Against Police Brutality.
Nicole Solomon is a writer and musician living in New York City.
via Tumblr, August 2013
Jerry Koch, currently incarcerated for grand jury resistance and supported by many across the country, has contributed repeatedly to the perpetuation of rape culture, misogyny, and white supremacy within the anarchist / left radical community in New York. We are writing in solidarity with those who have been harmed directly by Jerry, those whose abusers and rapists Jerry has defended, those whose rape revenge tactics have been exposed and condemned by Jerry, those whom Jerry has publicly targeted for their feminism in ways that directly expose them to state repression and social ostracization, and those who have been harmed by comrades of Jerry’s at his direct instigation.
Our aim here is to publicly name Jerry’s violent and statist behaviors and to challenge the narrative of pristine martyrdom that has been built around his grand jury resistance. But we also wish to show that it is possible to be both in solidarity and in antagonism with people and movements. If we cannot hold this complexity, all fractions of resistance and revolt will be easily obliterated from the inside.
The state is not our only enemy: Misogyny, white supremacy, capitalism, and other forms of violence and domination replicate state structures on both broad and intimate scales, even within radical communities. Today, we see that grand juries are being used with increasing and alarming frequency to target radicals. This tactic of intimidation is not new, and neither is resistance to it. We unequivocally support all forms of non-cooperation with the state, and we recognize Jerry’s refusal to snitch as an act of solidarity. However, the solidarity he has demonstrated in resisting the grand jury does not wipe away his history of misogynist, racist, and counterrevolutionary actions.
We stand in opposition to grand juries while also denouncing rape apologists. We are in solidarity with Jerry’s grand jury resistance and we are against his disgusting, vicious, and destructive actions of the near past. We are comfortable in this contradictory position of solidarity and antagonism: It is the position in which we live every day. There are many of us here. We encourage all comrades to realize that you do not need to ignore someone’s destructive behavior just because they are under attack from an enemy. To argue that Jerry’s repression at the hands of the state trumps or mitigates his misogynist and racist actions is a grave political mistake.
In recent decades, grand juries have frequently targeted participants and leaders of Black liberation struggles. Jerry’s comrades and supporters have portrayed him as an heir to this legacy of Black resistance. This is preposterous and disturbing. Jerry has ignored race and gender entirely in his political positions and actions. He has actively oppressed people of color in radical communities and has never publicly acknowledged or taken responsibility for this, nor have his peers openly confronted him about his racist behavior. Jerry and his supporters have referenced the history of Black and Brown liberation in relation to Jerry’s incarceration without self-reflection or accountability, and in so doing they participate in a long legacy of appropriating, silencing, and watering down that history. Through their sloppy, de-politicized invocation of Black struggles, they contribute actively to the perpetuation of white supremacy – against which those struggles were and continue to be waged. They also reveal their true interest: the consolidation of a white revolution.
Supporting our comrades doesn’t just mean supporting them when they’re in a difficult situation. It also means confronting them when they are reproducing the very structures they purport to fight against. We must challenge ourselves and one another to do the work necessary to prevent ourselves from becoming unwitting allies of the state, capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy. We all make mistakes, but when any of us is allowed to consistently destroy and suppress true revolt, that person and their silent peers are all guilty.
Community support means standing by grand jury resistors and acting in solidarity with comrades who have experienced violence within the spaces we share. Get used to this uncomfortable position. It is the position of struggle.
For additional perspectives, check out the following resources, all available online: “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements”; “Betrayal: A Critical Analysis of Rape Culture in Anarchist Subcultures”; “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities”; and “Vikki Law: Resisting Gender Violence Without Cops or Prisons”.
from the book Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan Africanism, 1969
Whenever one writes about a problem in the United States, especially concerning the racial atmosphere, the problem written about is usually black people, that they are either extremist, irresponsible, or ideologically naive.
What we want to do here is to talk about white society, and the liberal segment of white society, because we want to prove the pitfalls of liberalism, that is, the pitfalls of liberals in their political thinking.
Whenever articles are written, whenever political speeches are given, or whenever analyses are made about a situation, it is assumed that certain people of one group, either the left or the right, the rich or the poor, the whites or the blacks, are causing polarization. The fact is that conditions cause polarization, and that certain people can act as catalysts to speed up the polarization; for example, Rap Brown or Huey Newton can be a catalyst for speeding up the polarization of blacks against whites in the United States, but the conditions are already there. George Wallace can speed up the polarization of white against blacks in America, but again, the conditions are already there.
Many people want to know why, out of the entire white segment of society, we want to criticize the liberals. We have to criticize them because they represent the liaison between other groups, between the oppressed and the oppressor. The liberal tries to become an arbitrator, but he is incapable of solving the problems. He promises the oppressor that he can keep the oppressed under control; that he will stop them from becoming illegal (in this case illegal means violent). At the same time, he promises the oppressed that he will be able to alleviate their suffering—in due time. Historically, of course, we know this is impossible, and our era will not escape history.
The most perturbing question for the liberal is the question of violence. The liberal’s initial reaction to violence is to try to convince the oppressed that violence is an incorrect tactic, that violence will not work, that violence never accomplishes anything. The Europeans took America through violence and through violence they established the most powerful country in the world. Through violence they maintain the most powerful country in the world. It is absolutely absurd for one to say that violence never accomplishes anything.
Today power is defined by the amount of violence one can bring against one’s enemy—that is how you decide how powerful a country is; power is defined not by the number of people living in a country, it is not based on the amount of resources to be found in that country, it is not based upon the good will of the leaders or the majority of that people. When one talks about a powerful country, one is talking precisely about the amount of violence that that country can heap upon its enemy. We must be clear in our minds about that. Russia is a powerful country, not because there are so many millions of Russians but because Russia has great atomic strength, great atomic power, which of course is violence. America can unleash an infinite amount of violence, and that is the only way one considers America powerful. No one considers Vietnam powerful, because Vietnam cannot unleash the same amount of violence. Yet if one wanted to define power as the ability to do, it seems to me that Vietnam is much more powerful than the United States. But because we have been conditioned by Western thoughts today to equate power with violence, we tend to do that at all times, except when the oppressed begin to equate power with violence—then it becomes an “incorrect” equation.
Most societies in the West are not opposed to violence. The oppressor is only opposed to violence when the oppressed talk about using violence against the oppressor. Then the question of violence is raised as the incorrect means to attain one’s ends. Witness, for example, that Britain, France, and the United States have time and time again armed black people to fight their enemies for them. France armed Senegalese in World War II, Britain of course armed Africa and the West Indies, and the United States always armed the Africans living in the United States. But that is only to fight against their enemy, and the question of violence is never raised. The only time the United States or England or France will become concerned about the question of violence is when the people whom they armed to kill their enemies will pick up those arms against them. For example, practically every country in the West today is giving guns either to Nigeria or to Biafra. They do not mind giving those guns to those people as long as they use them to kill each other, but they will never give them guns to kill another white man or to fight another white country.
The way the oppressor tries to stop the oppressed from using violence as a means to attain liberation is to raise ethical or moral questions about violence. I want to state emphatically here that violence in any society is neither moral nor is it ethical. It is neither right nor is it wrong. It is just simply a question of who has the power to legalize violence.
It is not a question of whether it is right to kill or it is wrong to kill; killing goes on. Let me give an example. If I were in Vietnam, if I killed thirty yellow people who were pointed out to me by white Americans as my enemy, I would be given a medal. I would become a hero. I would have killed America’s enemy—but America’s enemy is not my enemy. If I were to kill thirty white policemen in Washington, D.C. who have been brutalizing my people and who are my enemy, I would get the electric chair. It is simply a question of who has the power to legalize violence. In Vietnam our violence is legalized by white America. In Washington, D.C., my violence is not legalized, because Africans living in Washington, D.C., do not have the power to legalize their violence.
I used that example only to point out that the oppressor never really puts an ethical or moral judgment on violence, except when the oppressed picks up guns against the oppressor. For the oppressor, violence is simply the expedient thing to do.
Is it not violent for a child to go to bed hungry in the richest country in the world? I think that is violent. But that type of violence is so institutionalized that it becomes a part of our way of life. Not only do we accept poverty, we even find it normal. And that again is because the oppressor makes his violence a part of the functioning society. But the violence of the oppressed becomes disruptive. It is disruptive to the ruling circles of a given society. And because it is disruptive it is therefore very easy to recognize, and therefore it becomes the target of all those who in fact do not want to change the society. What we want to do for our people, the oppressed, is to begin to legitimize violence in their minds. So that for us violence against the oppressor will be expedient. This is very important, because we have all been brainwashed into accepting questions of moral judgment when violence is used against the oppressor.
If I kill in Vietnam I am allowed to go free; it has been legalized for me. It has not been legitimatized in my mind. I must legitimatize it in my own mind, and even though it is legal I may never legitimatize in in my own mind. There are a lot of people who came back from Vietnam, who have killed where killing was legalized, but who still have psychological problems over the fact that they have killed. We must understand, however, that to legitimatize killing in one’s mind does not make it legal. For example, I have completely legitimatized in my mind the killing of white policemen who terrorize black communities. However, if I get caught killing a white policeman, I have to go to jail, because I do not as yet have the power to legalize that type of killing. The oppressed must begin to legitimatize that type of violence in the minds of our people, even though it is illegal at this time, and we have to keep striving every chance we get to attain that end.
Now, I think the biggest problem with the white liberal in America, and perhaps the liberal around the world, is that his primary task is to stop confrontation, stop conflicts, not to redress grievances, but to stop confrontation. And this is very clear, it must become very, very clear in all our minds. Because once we see what the primary task of the liberal is, then we can see the necessity of not wasting time with him. His primary role is to stop confrontation. Because the liberal assumes a priori that a confrontation is not going to solve the problem. This of course, is an incorrect assumption. We know that.
We need not waste time showing that this assumption of the liberals is clearly ridiculous. I think that history has shown that confrontation in many cases has resolved quite a number of problems – look at the Russian revolution, the Cuban revolution, the Chinese revolution. In many cases, stopping confrontation really means prolonging suffering.
The liberal is so preoccupied with stopping confrontation that he usually finds himself defending and calling for law and order, the law and order of the oppressor. Confrontation would disrupt the smooth functioning of the society and so the politics of the liberal leads him into a position where he finds himself politically aligned with the oppressor rather than with the oppressed.
The reason the liberal seeks to stop confrontation—and this is the second pitfall of liberalism—is that his role, regardless of what he says, is really to maintain the status quo, rather than to change it. He enjoys economic stability from the status quo and if he fights for change he is risking his economic stability. What the liberal is really saying is that he hopes to bring about justice and economic stability for everyone through reform, that somehow the society will be able to keep expanding without redistributing the wealth.
This leads to the third pitfall of the liberal. The liberal is afraid to alienate anyone, and therefore he is incapable of presenting any clear alternative.
Look at the past presidential campaign in the United States between Nixon, Wallace, and Humphrey. Nixon and Humphrey, because they try to consider themselves some sort of liberals, did not offer any alternatives. But Wallace did, he offered clear alternatives. Because Wallace was not afraid to alienate, he was not afraid to point out who had caused errors in the past, and who should be punished. The liberals are afraid to alienate anyone in society. They paint such a rosy picture of society and they tell us that while things have been bad in the past, somehow they can become good in the future without restructuring society at all.
What the liberal really wants is to bring about change which will not in any way endanger his position. The liberal says, “It is a fact that you are poor, and it is a fact that some people are rich but we can make you rich without affecting those people who are rich”. I do not know how poor people are going to get economic security without affecting the rich in a given country, unless one is going to exploit other peoples. I think that if we followed the logic of the liberal to its conclusion we would find that all we can get from it is that in order for a society to become equitable we must begin to exploit other peoples.
Fourth, I do not think that liberals understand the difference between influences and power, and the liberals get confused seeking influence rather than power. The conservatives on the right wing, or the fascists, understand power, though, and they move to consolidate power while the liberal pushes for influence.
Let us examine the period before civil rights legislation in the United States. There was a coalition of the labor movement, the student movement, and the church for the passage of certain civil rights legislation; while these groups formed a broad liberal coalition, and while they were able to exert their influence to get certain legislation passed, they did not have the power to implement the legislation once it became law. After they got certain legislation passed they had to ask the people whom they were fighting to implement the very things that they had not wanted to implement in the past. The liberal fights for influence to bring about change, not for the power to implement the change. If one really wants to change a society, one does not fight to influence change and then leave the change to someone else to bring about. If the liberals are serious they must fight for power and not for influence.
These pitfalls are present in his politics because the liberal is part of the oppressor. He enjoys the status quo; while he himself may not be actively oppressing other people, he enjoys the fruits of that oppression. And he rhetorically tries to claim the he is disgusted with the system as it is.
While the liberal is part of the oppressor, he is the most powerless segment within that group. Therefore when he seeks to talk about change, he always confronts the oppressed rather than the oppressor. He does not seek to influence the oppressor, he seeks to influence the oppressed. He says to the oppressed, time and time again, “You don’t need guns, you are moving too fast, you are too radical, you are too extreme.” He never says to the oppressor, “You are too extreme in your treatment of the oppressed,” because he is powerless among the oppressors, even if he is part of that group; but he has influence, or, at least, he is more powerful than the oppressed, and he enjoys this power by always cautioning, condemning, or certainly trying to direct and lead the movements of the oppressed.
To keep the oppressed from discovering his pitfalls the liberal talks about humanism. He talks about individual freedom, about individual relationships. One cannot talk about human idealism in a society that is run by fascists. If one wants a society that is in fact humanistic, one has to ensure that the political entity, the political state, is one that will allow humanism. And so if one really wants a state where human idealism is a reality, one has to be able to control the political state. What the liberal has to do is to fight for power, to go for the political state and then, once the liberal has done this, he will be able to ensure the type of human idealism in the society that he always talks about.
Because of the above reasons, because the liberal is incapable of bringing about the human idealism which he preaches, what usually happens is that the oppressed, whom he has been talking to finally becomes totally disgusted with the liberal and begins to think that the liberal has been sent to the oppressed to misdirect their struggle, to rule them. So whether the liberal likes it or not, he finds himself being lumped, by the oppressed, with the oppressor—of course he is part of that group. The final confrontation, when it does come about, will of course include the liberal on the side of the oppressor. Therefore if the oppressed really wants a revolutionary change, he has no choice but to rid himself of those liberals in his rank.
(aka Stokely Carmichael)
Kwame Ture was born Stokely Carmichael on June 29, 1941 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of Adolphus and Mabel Carmichael. He immigrated to the United States in 1952 with his family and settled in New York, New York. He graduated from the academically elite Bronx High School of Science in 1960 and made the decision to attend Howard University. Howard University conferred on him a Bachelor of Science Degree in Philosophy in 1964.
It was while in Washington that Stokely became deeply involved in the “Freedom Rides,” “Sit-Ins,” and other demonstrations to challenge segregation in American society. He participated with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG). He later joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was elected its National Chairman in June 1966. While in Greenville, Mississippi, he along with his friend and colleague Willie Ricks, rallied the cry “Black Power” which became the most popular slogan of the Civil Rights era. Consequently, he became the primary spokesman for the Black Power ideology. In 1967, he coauthored with Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power, the Politics of Liberation in America. That same year, Stokely was disassociated from SNCC and he became the Prime Minister of the Black Panthers, headquartered in Oakland, California. He soon became disenchanted with the Panthers and moved to Guinea, West Africa.
While residing in Africa, Stokely Carmichael changed his name to “Kwame Ture” to honor Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana to independence from Britain, and, Sekou Toure, who was President of Guinea and his mentor. For more than 30 years, Ture led the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party and devoted the rest of his life to Pan Africanism, a movement to uproot the inequities of racism for people of African descent and to develop an economic and cultural coalition among the African Diaspora.
In 1998, at the age of 57, Kwame Ture died from complications of prostate cancer. To the end he answered the telephone, “ready for the revolution.” His marriage to Miriam Makeba and Guinean physician Marlyatou Barry ended in divorce. He has one son, Bokar, who resides in the United States.