In February of 1967, Oakland police officers stopped a car carrying Newton, Seale, and several other Panthers with rifles and handguns. When one officer asked to see one of the guns, Newton refused. “I don’t have to give you anything but my identification, name, and address,” he insisted. This, too, he had learned in law school.
“Who in the hell do you think you are?” an officer responded.
“Who in the hell do you think you are?,” Newton replied indignantly. He told the officer that he and his friends had a legal right to have their firearms.
Newton got out of the car, still holding his rifle.
“What are you going to do with that gun?” asked one of the stunned policemen.
“What are you going to do with your gun?,” Newton replied.
By this time, the scene had drawn a crowd of onlookers. An officer told the bystanders to move on, but Newton shouted at them to stay. California law, he yelled, gave civilians a right to observe a police officer making an arrest, so long as they didn’t interfere. Newton played it up for the crowd. In a loud voice, he told the police officers, “If you try to shoot at me or if you try to take this gun, I’m going to shoot back at you, swine.” Although normally a black man with Newton’s attitude would quickly find himself handcuffed in the back of a police car, enough people had gathered on the street to discourage the officers from doing anything rash. Because they hadn’t committed any crime, the Panthers were allowed to go on their way.
The people who’d witnessed the scene were dumbstruck. Not even Bobby Seale could believe it. Right then, he said, he knew that Newton was the “baddest motherfucker in the world.”
Protesters burn a coca cola christmas tree after demonstration against the privatization
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The very first frame reveals a rainbow, arcing triumphantly across an otherwise bleak, almost-monochromatic sky. We quickly zoom into a dusty, hillside village. Then – with another frenetic cut – we see a guard tower overlooking a foreboding fence. Shit, as they say, just got real. Real fast.
Jump cut to some deteriorating wheat pastes, weathered and fluttering in the wind as their aging adhesive loosens its grip. Another jump cut and we’re in a child’s bedroom - jumping again and again between apparent bullet holes, a map of Palestine and the handdrawn art that typically clutters kids’ walls; a sketch of a soldier getting shit on by a dove or a tank exploding after hitting an IED. You know, the usual things kids draw.
The pacing of these cuts, paired with the insistent, siren-like wail of the song’s intro, give “Multi_Viral” a sense of urgency. Any video depicting a brutal, ongoing occupation should be urgent and insistent. This one is. So, it got one part right.
Sadly, however, Kacho Lopez Mari’s video for Calle 13’s recent collaboration with Kamilya Jubran; Harvard-educated, millionaire rockstar “revolutionary” Tom Morello and Ecuadorian-embassy-ensconced, rape-accusal-resisting Julian Assange is fatally flawed by its own, unmistakable and counterrevolutionary narcissism. Thematically, the entire video is a representation of the struggle to – live out the fantasy of being Tom Morello, rock fucking god. Fuck that individualistic, hero-worshipping fuckshit and everything it implies.
I have to admit, I don’t know shit about Calle 13. Apparently, they have won a fuckload of Grammys - which everyone knows is as sure a sign as any of one’s truly revolutionary, artistic credibility. [/sarcasm?] I read that they are from Puerto Rico. I likewise read that Mari is, too. Jubran is a Palestinian. Assange is Australian (ostensibly.) And Morello is from the U.S. - specifically, Westwood, California. The international solidarity on display in this project is great - but this video? This video is fucked.
With over 600,000 views on YouTube since its publication on December 13th, Mari’s direction has proven adept at one thing: Virility. Combining a moving, almost-kaleidoscopic assemblage of powerful, revolutionary imagery with an anthemic track - “Multi Viral” demonstrates the importance of propaganda. And then, in the blink of an eye, it aptly demonstrates how ill-conceived propaganda can send a wholly loathsome message.
Let’s go over the linear narrative employed in “Multi Viral” so you can see what I mean…
The sleeping child wakes up. Nothing too groundbreaking there.
Then, he hurriedly grabs a book - which holds within it what appears to be an ammunition cartridge. As De La Soul once said, Stakes is High!
Okay, Mari - you’ve got me. This looks like some subversive shit. I’m hooked. I watch on as the young boy sneaks his way past sentries…
past other, subversive street art…
adds his own (anonymous) message…
and conspires with other young radicals to achieve their objective…
which, we will soon learn, was to fabricate a guitar that looks like an AK-47…
climb to a rooftop, and pretend to be… Tom fucking Morello.
That’s your linear narrative - make no mistake about it, kids: “Wake up, risk your life, get to the stage (by yourself, by any means necessary) and ‘rock the fuck out,’ just like rock god Tom Morello,” with or without a guitar that looks like a fucking Heineken advert (Red star on white with a green background? Am I missing something?). I half expected Morello to pick up a frosty beer and sit with the kid at the end of the video with a bag of Doritos and toast the “revolution” as they watch the Super Bowl.
I don’t care enough to go further into detail about how troubling this unabashed narcissism is (particularly when paired with Julian Assange - who is nothing if not a fucking wanna-be, global icon more consumed with his image than with affect), but there you have it. If you’re going to say “art matters” or “symbolism is important” or any of that fuckshit, then take a few fucking minutes to think about how a video represents messaging. Think about how individualism, or artistic achievement itself as it manifests individual achievement, is actually disempowering to others? Or how becoming a “rock god” actually might not be the goal of struggle itself?
The symbol of risking one’s life to enact a selfish fantasy of being Tom Morello for a day is as unmistakable to me as it is counterrevolutionary. For that reason, this “viral” video is bound to succeed - but bound to be thematically fucked. I mean, if I was a ‘rock god’ - trying to demonstrate what ‘solidarity’ might look like - I’d probably try for the M1 (from DeadPrez) approach, rather than appearing to use Palestine as a mere setting for my singular exaltation as the embodiment of revolution…
I could be wrong. I often am. Either way, kill your idols.
This is what initiating a snatch squad looks like.
Capt. Horace Frank of the LA Pigs Department is pointing out organizers to arrest them, without probable cause. Arrest first, charge later.
On March 19, 2012, about 20 of us were protesting in front of the LA Metro Detention center for their targeted unlawful arrests of our comrades, which happened during our sidewalk festival celebrating Occupy Wall Street’s 6 months anniversary. About 60 pigs surrounded us, detained our comrades who were holding the FTP banner, then snatched another couple of us, beating the rest of us out of their way.
They do this to intimidate the organizers, many of which have pending trials for prior civil disobedience arrests, to scare us into never again marching the streets and challenging the status quo.
But little do they know, our fear transcends to hypervigilence. Now we’re militantly aware and our solidarity is stronger than ever.
So FUCK YOU, police state. We’re not backing off, and we’re never going to stop until you are smashed down to the core.
FUCK THE POLICE.
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“From Saying ‘Officer’ to Screaming ‘Pig’; How I Learned to Stop Equivocating and Hate the State” [PART 2]
[An Origins Story]
I grew up in bucolic, Great Falls, Virginia - a sleepy, suburban village that transformed before my young eyes from a community of rolling horse farms and their attendant, country homes to one of increasingly ostentatious McMansions and the nouveau riche who populate them. By 2011 that “transformation” was complete: my hometown is now being heralded as the 12th richest zip code in the United States.
Situated in Fairfax County - across the winding Potomac River from Washington, DC - Great Falls increasingly made itself home to the executives and entrepreneurs of “a private sector that feasts on government contracting” who feted on largesse during the booming 1990s. In fact, Fairfax County itself now reigns as the third wealthiest County in the country, bested only by its two immediate neighbors, Falls Church and Loudoun Counties.
Boasting seven out of the country’s top ten “wealthiest” counties, the entire region has itself developed an insulated, out-of-touch, and recession-proof wealth bubble that people outside of it - in “real America” - just can’t relate to. This insular community, however - the lobbyists, access journalists, think tank fellows and pork-subsidized corporate opportunists - further isolate themselves even in “the DMV” in exclusive, gated communities and country clubs. South East DC and Prince George’s County in Maryland, on the other hand, have become final holdouts for the working class and otherwise-disregarded, as the city itself has been increasingly gentrified.
The “inside the Beltway” stigma, thus, is itself a gross oversimplification. The well-compensated technocrats of the ruling elite who proliferate the region aren’t actually constrained by the highway that rings the city. In fact, they seem to prefer the exurbs, relying now on “Lexus Lanes” to zip around the region while those who survive precariously by serving them languish in ever-increasing traffic jams. DC itself, with its proud minority-majority, has been singled out for an even more unique indignity - denied the very voting representation the wealthy merchants who founded this Republic mythologically revolted in order to secure.
Growing up there in the exurbs as the Washington Consensus asserted itself with “TINA,” I was surrounded by political powerbrokers. I went to elementary school with Casper Weinberger’s grand-daughter and Oliver North’s children. After failing Freshman year of high school, I joined the “graduating” class of one of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s daughters. Scalia himself gave my sister’s high school commencement speech. As I grew up, the political surnames that echoed during class roll calls were increasingly joined by the surnames of wealthy lobbyists and entrepreneurs. Of course, I never related easily to the children of these insidious insiders who became my soccer teammates and classmates. I related more to those who resisted.
My dad came from Jersey City, working-class stock. In nearly a century, our German ancestors had never made it far from the docks where they arrived. His father, my grandfather, had worked at a Firestone Tire store in Hoboken and died of a massive heart attack while at work one day. My father was still sixteen at the time. Instead of focusing on school, he did his best to take care of his mother and younger sister instead. So while Dad had attained some considerable financial success in his own life, notably (and to his perpetual shame) without a college degree, he always maintained the stinginess of someone who knew his money hadn’t come easily and could quickly disappear again.
Despite living amid plenty, surrounded by kids who were gifted sparkling imported cars for their birthdays, my experience didn’t exactly correspond to what I saw around me. The dearth of food in our family’s fridge and the cunning my Mom employed just to buy essentials, always keeping purchases secret from Dad to avoid his scarcity-plagued wrath, seemed to imply we were always on the verge of financial ruin. When we occasionally had a well-stocked refrigerator, my father would joke that it was “only for viewing.” I actually made and consumed condiment sandwiches. I drank pickle juice sometimes. Asking for money from my Dad for anything was an agonizing ritual that involved writing contracts - even in crayon - in order to demonstrate that the money would be accounted for.
We weren’t destitute, of course. While my parents assuredly over-extended themselves living amid such privileged environs - they never came anywhere near reaching the area’s stratospheric, $194,000 annual, median income - my siblings and I attended top public schools and never wanted for anything, really. We may have seemed destitute in comparison to our peers - but it’d be dishonest to sing sad dirges about a hardscrabble upbringing I didn’t have. The reality is: if my family ever needed anything, or wanted it, we probably could’ve had it. It just took convincing my dad (or leaving him, as my Mom eventually would). After all, there was always credit, home equity or otherwise.
I did make friends growing up - I don’t want you to think I was a total outcast. However, I was a determined iconoclast from my earliest days - compelled to resist conformity on every front. If nothing else, my scarlet hair - always a subject of ridicule on the playground at Great Falls Elementary - distinguished me from my pasty peers and set me physically apart, because in Great Falls, being a “ginger” was about as exotic as it got. In this country, othering is such an entrenched practice it apparently can be applied even within an almost monolithically white community.
In time, I came to embrace the role of the mythical outsider - turning my early social stigma into an asset, internalizing it, and becoming that obnoxious, adolescent champion of “being different” who just wouldn’t shut up about it. I was so “different,” I intentionally dressed “preppy” when I hung out with skaters, taggers and punk-types. Non-conformity was my mantra, even amongst non-conformists.
From that foundation, I went off to find out what that meant to other marginalized people - and I quickly found out the consequences for it, for being different, were far more real and more substantial for others than the comparably mild playground taunts a “carrot-top” kid had endured. Being a redhead quickly became laughable as I started to become aware of white supremacy, particularly as it exists beyond a few knuckleheads on Geraldo. It was even more laughable when I learned about other forms of oppression - most of which I personally benefited from.
Eventually, that sense of total alienation that comes with being set apart got the better of me, though. I dropped out of one of the best public high schools in the country, condemning the student body there as vapid materialists every day from a booth at a nearby diner - where instead of attending classes, I chain-smoked cigarettes, read Sartre and Camus, drank endless cups of coffee, and insisted, “I’m a writer!”
No, I had seen wealth and privilege - and everyone around me was miserable. At least their kids were. So, my first revolt was against a life directed towards accumulation. It was what made the most sense to me. I could see how it solved nothing, especially for an adolescent in the grips of existentialists.
I’d show everyone, I imagined. I wasn’t fooled by the vapid trappings of wealth - I wouldn’t suckle at Mammon’s teat for his temporal lucre! (I actually wrote like that! I still do!) I was going to be the honest guy who made an honest living; John Lennon’s real, “Working Class Hero.” And then I’d write about it. Or I’d sell weed and fake id’s and write about that.
It didn’t really work out that way, of course. Things rarely go according to adolescent plans. Instead, I floundered in odd job after odd job, flopping around various cities chasing myriad pipedreams - losing parents to age, losing teeth to poverty and neglect, and losing friends, girlfriends, and siblings to their sinking suspicion that maybe I had no future worth sharing after all. I quickly went from “having so much potential” to being everyone’s perennial “disappointment.” It was becoming obvious that the life of a self-described “luftmensch” was not one that could easily be shared - and people started to smell the stench of failure on me. The kind of people I grew up with avoid that particular smell, I guess.
When I finally landed in Los Angeles in 2007, I was still pretending to be a writer - but I had found myself increasingly annoyed at having to explain why I was a writer who didn’t write anything; the scribe who couldn’t - or wouldn’t - scribble. It turned out I wouldn’t have to do that anymore in LA; everyone there that I met was trying to be something other than what they were. As Mike Davis observed in City of Quartz, to go to Los Angeles was “to submerge oneself in spectacle and fraud.” As broken and battered as I was when I got there, I knew I was finally home.
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“From Saying ‘Officer’ to Screaming ‘Pig’; How I Learned to Stop Equivocating and Hate the State”
Four days after I got out of the LA County Jail, released on my own recognizance after a brief three day stint there, an unarmed 19-year-old was shot and killed by the police a few miles North in Pasadena. Other than the shared setting, however, there are precious few other similarities between the killing of Kendrec McDade on March 24, 2012 and my own first, truly adversarial experience with law enforcement. In fact, the stories are neatly defined by one stark contrast: I am a white male and Kendrec McDade was not.
There are significant differences in our cases in addition to ‘race’, to be sure. Yet many of those very differences serve to amplify a disturbing similarity between McDade and an ever-growing list of brown and black men felled by police gunfire around the country in recent years. An unarmed McDade “fit the profile” of a suspect in a reported crime and allegedly “reached for his waistband” while he ran from police - three distinct details that, when combined, seem to invariably precipitate the use of lethal force by police in America. If you are of color, unarmed, and dare to move when someone pulls a gun on you, you can be legally murdered in the United States of America by police and other vigilantes.
None of these three factors played a part in my arrest, of course. As one who presents as a white male, I hardly ever “fit the profile.” With the decimation of the labor movement, there is also far less of a historical impetus for a white guy to ever run from cops any more. By and large, the police - as an institution - are entirely trusted by white folks like me. Finally, at 33 years old - well passed the baggy pants style I admittedly once modeled - I now also almost never have to “reach to my waistband” to pull my own pants up. In fact, I can hardly be bothered to run at all.
So common has the “reached for his waistband” trope become in officer-involved shootings of late, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department acknowledged it openly in their September, 2011 semiannual report. There they noted that over a six year period, “waistband shootings are increasing, making up about one-third of all hit and non-hit shooting cases in 2010,” and that “approximately 47 percent of all waistband shooting suspects were confirmed to be unarmed.”
The report also alarmingly revealed that during the same period a staggering 90% of suspects shot by deputies were black or Latino. So the question is, then, why are police officers and deputies making seemingly standard practice of shooting black and Latino men who are fleeing from them? Further - are they cynically manipulating this “reached for his waistband” mantra in order to indemnify themselves from accountability? In the sordid, near-genocidal realm of so-called “officer involved shootings,” or “OIS,” the suggestion that a victim “reached for his waistband” is becoming the 'Twinkie Defense’ that actually works.
This theme would play out again later in the summer of 2012 in nearby Anaheim when Manuel Diaz, 25, fled from a police ‘stop and frisk’ in a working class neighborhood there. It was alleged in the media, though not attributed to any specific source, that Diaz “threw something on the roof of the [apartment] complex” during the pursuit. Other than that, there wasn’t even a passing mention of violence, menace, or the mere hint that Diaz ever posed a threat to anyone, let alone the officer who killed him. All Manuel Diaz did that summer day was run away.
It seems patently outrageous, then, that such clearly non-threatening behavior could justify Officer Nick “Buckshot” Bennallack then firing the two fatal shots to Diaz’s back and head that killed him that day on Anna Drive. After all, running away from something is about as non-aggressive as you can get, isn’t it? But Diaz - a latino victim the Anaheim police and media had no problem maligning over and over again as a “gangmember” - allegedly “reached for his waistband” while he ran. Thus, after merely two weeks of paid leave, Officer Bennallack was back on patrol.
The murder of Diaz seemed outrageous to neighbors, too. They emerged from their homes immediately after the cold-blooded, daytime execution to get answers from the Anaheim Police Department. What these residents - primarily women and children - got instead of answers, however, were bean-bag rounds, rubber bullets, and even a vicious mauling by a K-9 unit at the hands of the same civil servants who so steadfastly claim to “protect and serve.”
Yet as I emerged from jail on March 20, 2012 - I didn’t know any of this. In fact, these two tragic incidents hadn’t even happened yet. Kendrec McDade and Manuel Diaz were both still alive, mostly unknown to anyone outside their respective communities. With the exception of McDade’s high school football glory and Diaz’s quiet reputation in his neighborhood, they were just regular guys like me. Except they weren’t white like me. So, if I was aware of the epidemic of police shootings under suspiciously similar circumstances in America - or what that might soon portend for me - it was only in the theoretical realm. “Cops lie,” or so I had been told.
I knew who Mark Fuhrman was - I watched the OJ Trial between bong rips and keg stands at high school house parties in the suburbs. But it isn’t about “one bad apple,” no matter what they say. I’d read about 'throw downs'; planted evidence, including firearms, conjured by police officers to make stronger cases. I’d even had encounters myself with undercover cops while selling dime bags of weed - but with a combination of luck and privilege - I had managed to avoid their wrath. I had never really experienced the depth of police duplicity firsthand. That quickly changed, of course, but only after I resumed political organizing after a decade of committed-but-quiet self-destruction.
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"The Missed Insurrection"
We found each other with a conspiratorial wink - our alliance affirmed. We spilled our secrets deep into morning, sparking at the resin in a stranger’s bowl. Under a sprawling canopy, amidst the snoring corpses of this futile left, we whispered the names of our ancient heroes - Malatesta. Berkman. Goldman. De Cleyre. Parsons. We shared a cigarette you had expertly rolled. Everyone around us was asleep. Or dead. We found each other as neighbors, unzipping our tents together each morning. Inured to the sartorial zombies shuffling past us to their offices, we’d lament that first hateful light of the day. “Fuck work,” you’d grumble. Then go, anyway. Returning drunk from other worlds, we’d reconcile at camp - outside our homes, cursing the bongos together. Or loving them. Screaming maniacally into the night, either way. We found each other in line at the toilet. Unprepared for a wait, we both went barefoot and overexposed. We arrived as strangers, but became comrades huddling together against an Autumn chill. “This bathroom is occupied,” came the reply to our final, plaintive knock. That joke was old before the first person ever said it aloud. We found each other in a large circle. There were forty of us there; our arms interlocked, our hands clasped tightly in front of us as if in desperate prayer. You wondered aloud how the hell we had gotten there. “Who gets arrested on purpose?” Not us. We muttered our quiet regrets through vinegar-soaked bandanas, our woe lost to the whirling helicopters overhead. We’d seen them try take the park - to try to hold that little space - but they were too few. We joined them first just to stare down that phalanx of cops - because where the pigs don’t want us is where we want to be. Just like that, we were trapped. An aging hippie kept reciting overwrought poetry, so we belted out the chorus of ‘Solidarity Forever’ together to drown him out. The chorus was the only part all of us knew. The battle between our repetition and his recitation proved a bigger struggle than the one he put up when the pigs finally pried him away. He hardly resisted. We were almost glad to see him go. We were the last subdued. We found each other tangled together in a dog pile. The pigs were twisting your foot. I screamed every time they did. It felt like my own foot was being twisted. I think that’s what solidarity means. We found each other at a secret meeting for some secret action. Everyone there was so solemn and serious. The organizer welcomed us as “the best and brightest.” Then spoke of armbands. Security. A new camp, free of the freeloaders. Their discussion turned to the tickets they’d distribute to prove people had worked - tickets they’d need in order to get fed. They plotted their occupation like incidental fascists. Then you raised your finger. When it was your turn to speak, you denounced them all - excoriating everyone in a righteous rage. We found each other on the ListServ. You had written a rambling manifesto about the CIA, the FBI or some other, alphabet soup agency you were certain they both worked for. You wanted to meet me, but you needed to find a safe place first. When we finally got a chance to meet, you wrote everything out to me on a notepad, despite us being alone inside of your van. “Certain this car is bugged” was the first phrase you wrote. You wrote so hard, you nearly tore the paper with the pen. I half expected you to eat that first page after you had finished scrawling on it with that trembling hand. You didn’t. You wrote more paranoia, but some of it made perfect sense. The last note itself read: “they’re too pretty and too smart to be hanging out with the two of us and not be getting paid.” I’d eventually learn you’d normally have been right. We found each other that day it rained, trapped under a tarp together for hours, listening in on a conversation - like two NSA spies - as a libertarian and Sovereign began falling slowly in love. We found each other in a bedroom, in a crowded meeting you doubtless don’t remember. You and a partner were languishing beneath the sheets in an oversized bed that dominated that space like unchecked, white privilege. For the first hour, I didn’t even know you were there. Your name had, as yet, only been whispered to me with a reverence oft-reserved for the dead. When you emerged groggily from beneath the covers to finally speak, I felt - for the first time - a totalizing sadness at the impermanence of life. When I looked in your eyes, I saw painkiller prescriptions. But the joy you all share reminds me I’ve often been wrong. I hope I’m wrong. We found each other after meetings, through meandering conversations that always seemed to end too soon, no matter how late it was. We found each other trapped between a chainlink fence and a skirmish line, tear gas already hanging heavy in the air. You had been busily clipping away at it with snips before I arrived to try to tear it down. Our numbers grew fast when the acrid smoke thickened. Then, like a failing dam, the fence finally burst and we poured over it in a torrent toward freedom. We were unstoppable - and in that moment - another world was possible. We found each other handcuffed to a pipe together in a police garage. Left alone - the two of us - strangers far behind enemy lines. We felt forgotten. Our conversation itself was an intricate dance, each of us hesitant to talk, neither of us knowing if the other was a cop. You’d ask me something and I’d only respond tersely. I’d ask you something and you’d barely nod. Wary of any topic that might possibly implicate us - the spell was only broken when we gushed about our cats. We found each other at Social Services. We were both applying to get food stamps for our first time. Each beset by our shame, we sat next to each other as they “taught” us how to write a resume. We hung our heads, too embarrassed to talk too much - speaking, at last, only when they asked us our names. It was hard for me to ever forget your subtle, Caribbean accent - harder still to forget your distinctive, whitening dreads. The day you first spoke before the assembly, you told everyone about those forty, proud years you’d worked as an electrician - and then bravely confessed the shame of that one day we’d only recently shared. I was so happy to see you there, with the rest of us, I quietly cried. It wasn’t until then that I knew I was finally in the right place. We found each other after the raid, huddled together in an abandoned intersection beneath blinking red traffic lights. The entire city was ours. Many among us knew each other by name, some of us - only as faces that we recognized and could trust. I’d never been so happy to see you - there with all of us. All around, a thousand strangers were shouting out their ill-conceived plans. “Let’s go back to the camp,” one voice roared. “Let’s take the freeway,” another. Hurriedly, we exchanged whatever intel each of us had. All rumors. Speculation. You got a call from someone who said they were kettled near the concert hall. “We have to get to them - to combine these marches.” I nodded eagerly. “We’ll draw the pigs away from the camp,” another comrade agreed. A hundred fingers twinkled; the quickest consensus I’d ever yet seen. I was sure this group could do it. I still thought we could do anything then. We found each other on a rooftop, chain-smoking cigarettes. She was yours and hers and his and his and I think his, too. I could never be sure. But what does it mean to be "someone’s," anyway? She was letting me sleep on her floor instead of being out in the cold. Whenever you came by, we’d sneak off to that resplendent rooftop - where the entire city itself flickered like fluttering little fireflies beneath us. What should’ve been a brief, smokers’ excursion often became a reticence to return. You would wax philosophical. Sometimes, I’d have to pretend to understand even half of what you had said. You were kind to never let on if you knew. We found each other long after the fire had already died. Back then, you hadn’t even been anywhere at all near its warmth. Somehow, we tell each other - we’re sure we’re related. Somehow, despite this, we’re sure we can fuck. There’s a lot going on now, maybe too much - in fact. To be honest, I’m unsure if I’ll come out intact. But I hope if I do - if that fire ever returns - you’ll be there beside me to watch as it burns. We found each other too soon - it turns out. In those heady days, after the raid, we had a lot of big ideas. Rolling actions would culminate in a General Strike. If we ever doubted it, we never said so. Everything had changed and we were determined to never go back. But time makes liars out of all of us, it seems. Slowly, our conversations lost their luster. After MayDay, the ordinary - always insistent - reasserted itself at last. All of our plans became less exciting. What was once talk of Chiapas, or training a militia, staying off the grid, eviscerating liberals, an upcoming action, doing shit - became complaints about work, mere survival, navigating friendships, and fights with your wife. We went through a lot of shit together, but you’re gonna have to go through this next shit alone. I love you, but her poison kills all that it touches. We found each other sitting in the last car. You were the driver. I was on “comms.” It wasn’t long before we had an escort - more pigs than I’d seen since the raid. I relayed this into the walkie-talkie. “Just so you know, uh… we have lots of pigs following.” A black militant chided me, “no shit,” crackling her response. Despite an inauspicious start, it felt like our plan was working. When the caravan stopped at 41st & Central, we were probably a half-mile back - so many cars ahead of us in the procession. By then we both had to pee so bad, we’d stopped talking - having to focus all our effort on not pissing ourselves in your car. We scrambled on solo missions to find a bathroom. When we returned, I confessed something I hadn’t yet told you. I’d actually met you long before all of this. In a club. Where you danced. When I told you, in my sheepish way, you laughed. You thought I was silly for not having told you long, long before. There’s a million stories like that between us now. I hope there are at least a million more. We found each other when you handed me a paper. You were always on the periphery, handing them out. I’m pretty sure I’m going to leave this city. I can’t figure out why you haven’t. If I don’t, if I stay here, I know I’d be lucky to end up like you. The truth is I’ve never had all that much luck. We found each other on the Playa. You took me aside and whispered, “you’re security culture is bad.” I laughed. I looked at the endless desert full of all of the fucked up dreamers tripping out on privilege and I was sure you were joking. You weren’t. We found each other after a heated argument. You said tersely, “I’ll be at the General Assembly.” I said, “I always am.” I lurked around the fringe that night, chain smoking cigarettes - staring hard into every unfamiliar face. Your emails always said, “sent from the heart of the revolution,” but we’d never met. Toward the end of it, a harmless-enough looking guy in glasses and a grin ambled up to me. Without a word, you gave me a hug. We found each other every night at camp. I’d steal you a tomato & mozzarella sandwich from work, because you don’t eat meat. We saw some shit together. It all seemed so fucking significant, didn’t it? I didn’t know anyone when it started. I don’t think you did, either. I always thought you were shy and aloof like me, but every time you had to step up, you did. Like there was nothing to it. Then, Covergirl. But you handled even that with a radical aplomb. If there’s one thing I miss about the camp, it’s you. We found each other splayed out on couches, our supine bodies intertwined, huddled behind velvet drapes deep within that cavernous, Queer bar - the one place where we all felt almost at ease. Buying each other round after round of watered-down shots, we raised our fists to every one of our comrades’ spirited toasts, sang our hearts out to all our rebel songs, and plotted the fucking revolution - the way it should be and hopefully will be again.
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“I believe in strategy. And so did many anarchists, including [Alexander] Berkman…”
- Chris Hedges, Our Invisible Revolution (Oct. 28, 2013)
While we weren’t startled to see Chris Hedges admit he’d “prefer the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy” to the anti-capitalist revolution many in “his” Occupy movement sought - there was still a ghostly specter haunting Hedges’ recent article that may spook anyone familiar with his odious oeuvre: Hedges’ ‘Cancerous,’ ‘Ⓐbsolutist Movement of Ⓐlways-and-Only-Black-Clad, Ⓐnarchist Bogey[persons]’ are apparently back! Eek!
Our Invisible Revolution, however, published just in time for Halloween, is more than merely another tired reprise of the endless demagoguing Hedges usually levies against his hallmark, hobgoblins of Occupy - “BLACK BLOC ANARCHISTS!” It’s also a case study in the hackneyed, historical cherry-picking that so often distinguishes his pretentious prose.
In his latest sermon, Hedges conspicuously manipulates history to exalt rather than impugn anarchists. The choice of Alexander Berkman for this first foray into anarchist hagiography, however, may ultimately serve only to exacerbate Hedges’ assuredly near-enfeebling dissonance. Berkman, after all, is probably best known to most as a failed assassin.
A quick bit of history for our old pal, Chris Hegemony:
In 1892, Berkman and Emma Goldman - actualizing the ‘propaganda of the deed’ strategy popularized by notorious firebrand Johann Most - traveled together to Homestead, PA. They went to avenge the 9 workers who had been martyred by strikebreaking Pinkertons on orders from Henry Clay Frick. Tragically, Berkman was unable to consummate the assassination plot and so the glorious revolution his strategy suggested a murder might ignite… regrettably never did.
Of course, Hedges doesn’t say a word about Frick in his anarchist-icon-appropriation yarn. He just says “strategy” is important to him. And that Berkman had a strategy. Isn’t that just like our slippery “Colonizer,” though?
[Thought Experiment: In a New Global Hedgemony, Chris Hedges - Imperial Eeyore, whines about absolute nonviolence then sighs, “I believe in mustaches. And so did many fascists, including Hitler.” Does this, then, mean that the Imperial Eeyore likes Hitler? Or even Hitler’s mustache? Does this mean anything at fucking all?]
Just as other self-styled “intellectuals” obscure the militancy in Tahrir, the bloodshed between Muslims and Hindus that ushered the Brits from Gandhi’s India or the crucial counterbalance black militancy gave to every liberals’ pacifist King - Hedges dignifies Berkman and Goldman’s strategy without revealing the details of their half-baked murder-plot topped with a heaping of their own, wild hope!
Could it be that if inconvenient facts can’t be made to fit into his narrative, Hedges just erases or ignores them? Or maybe he’d rather see assassinations than a broken window? Any other reason (aside from ‘recuperation’ or ‘shoddy research’) that I’m missing that’d compel a nonviolence-dogmatist like Hedges to pen a paean to a militant revolutionist?
We have to ask: bro, do you even Alexander Berkman?
With the revolutionary, Russian émigré invoked reverently in his lede and lionized repeatedly throughout, Hedges’ latest Truthdig post appears to be an olive branch to all the hardworking, anarchist organizers he pilloried (“stupid”), dehumanized (“cancer,” “beast”), misgendered (“hypermasculine”), racially-erased (“most are white”), infantilized (“adolescentization”), victim-blamed (“justify draconian forms of control”), outsidered (“many are not from the city”) and began shovelling under the bus (“criminal”) in February, 2012. Yet the chimera Hedges created in his “Cancer of Occupy” libel - the so-called “Black Block anarchists” of his own, inchoate inquiry and analysis - remain his favorite, talkshow topic today. [edit: a comrade recently reminded us of the oft-overlooked but inherent ableism also manifest in equating disease w/ inclusion/exclusion. Thanks, comrade.]
If an anarchist rapprochement was actually behind this otherwise unreadable bilge, as far as we at OLAASM are concerned - it’s far too little, too late - for that smug, snitch-jacketing, ineffectual, fascifist fucking opportunist! There must be a better place for his quasi-religious-zealotry, preferably somewhere far, far away from revolutionaries - where he can “stand with the right wing” and get frothily apoplectic about the sex lives of others?
Should this denunciation seem severe to some of you, or even crass, perhaps you’re missing some important context (or maybe you’re just a tone-policing fuckstick?) In the frenzy that followed his “Cancer” screed - a wildly speculative hatchet job that employed almost all of the maddeningly-familiar arguments of the ruling class itself - Hedges couldn’t resist the coup de grâce. His next post baselessly smeared OLAASM, suggesting we “infiltrate(d) the movement to foster internal divisions and rivalries.” In the end, the debilitating paranoia Hedges normalized in his “Cancer” piece was just as responsible as any other single factor for the downfall of “Occupy.” And worse that all of this, of course - Hedges didn’t even have the common courtesy to link back to our blog itself when he did!
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submitted by members of SWOP-LA and featured in the October-December, 2013 (Vol. 26, No. 4) print edition of Turning The Tide
Back in 1997, a group of radical activist sex workers in India called the First National Sex Worker Congress, wrote a manifesto, and became some of the first to articulate the values of what has become known internationally as the “Sex Worker’s Rights Movement.” Their documents continue to inform a global struggle. They wrote that “this movement is for everyone who strives for an equal, just, equitable, oppression free and above all a happy social world.” They also acknowledged that “sexual inequality and control of sexuality engender and perpetuate many other inequalities and exploitation too.”
According to the First Congress, and most importantly, we are faced with a singular opportunity, a chance to get at the roots of multiple forms of injustice because the sex worker rights movement addresses racism, sexism, classism, and any and all other -isms that keep people oppressed. At the intersection of economic transaction and sexuality, one can find most of the darkest contradictions of the dominant industrialized, global capitalist paradigm we live under. Perhaps because of this, one can also access some of the most potent revolutionary potential.
We use the term “sex work” to refer to ourselves when we talk politics. Why should you use it too? First reason: sex workers came up with it for ourselves. We use it because it is gender neutral, and because it reminds us that the erotic industries are myriad, and our trajectories in the industries tend to be wildly unpredictable mixes of cultural/political/economic/personal factors with some very real commonalities among our varied experiences. We are sometimes doing legal work, sometimes extra-, para-, or straight up illegal, and saying “sex work” protects us from legal consequence while we try to find each other. When a person tells you s/he is a sex worker, your first question should not be “does that mean you’re a prostitute?” Your first question should be: “How can I be supportive to your struggle?”
Sex workers are operating in every neighborhood. We are working in every city, in every county, in every state, and, particularly in the United States of Amerikkka, we are subject to some of the most insidious divide-and-conquer tactics invented by the carceral state. A sex worker is the person most likely to be murdered, worldwide. Even those who work in “high-end” escorting have no recourse to community help or protection if they are in danger.
We are accused of spreading disease, when we have some of the most sophisticated safe sex practices available and often act as sexual health educators for our clients and communities. We are arrested for carrying condoms in New York, Los Angeles, and many other places, even though those condoms can save lives. We are the butt of “dead hooker” jokes, we are blamed for other people’s sexual problems, we are assumed to be broken people, children of molest or broken homes and addicts, and when we do suffer from sexual trauma or drug dependence, we do not receive compassionate care. We have to stand before judges in the courtroom, but we also are judged the instant we “out” ourselves to almost anyone.
Please note: the “we” spoken here is an important problem: some sex workers are laboring indoors, in privileged contexts, while some are working outdoors and barely surviving. As one might expect, people of color are disproportionately represented in this country’s jails and prisons, even though white women make up the majority of the American sex worker population. While it may seem that all this stigma and repression spells disaster for us, we have increased in number at every epoch. This creates a potential for solidarity among us: a shared struggle against state repression is always a good place to start.
However, sex workers organizing ourselves is only part of the picture if we are to build a movement against oppression that is intersectional, inclusive, intercommunal, and powerful. We need our allies in radical communities to answer our call to stand with us as workers, as women, as men, as trans people, as straight-gay-queer-bi-pan-other. As the sex workers at the First Congress knew, many sex workers absorb the societal stigma of shame and unworthiness. We need allies to recognize that stigma is a commonality that links all of us, despite the enormous diversity in our realities at work and in our lives. Our allies are people who fight for an end to social injustice, but they don’t always recognize us as allies to them. The tacit exclusion of sex workers from radical groups necessarily means a loss to the revolutionary community, considering that we are everywhere. A political activist doesn’t need to agree with a sex worker’s choices to stand in solidarity with her, just as we don’t need to agree with every choice made by every comrade in prison in order to stand in solidarity with them, particularly when we all call for the abolition of prisons! But we often find that the radical left would prefer to rescue, rather than join hands, with us.
Kthi Win, the chairperson of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers writes of her experience this way:
“The violence happens when feminist rescue organizations work with the police who break into our work places and beat us, rape us and kidnap our children in order to save us. As a movement, feminism is meant to believe in agency. Even oppressed women in sex work can make choices. But we cannot chose not to be saved when a policeman or police women has a gun pointed at our head.
What we need is for the mainstream women’s movement to not just silently support our struggle but to speak up and speak out against the extremists who have turned the important movement against real trafficking into a violent war against sex workers.”
Sex work is by definition consensual sex. Non consensual sex is rape, slavery, or trafficking. The Sex Worker’s Rights Movement has been instrumental in bringing trafficking cases to light; however, we are often regarded as trafficked persons against our own assertions of freedom and agency. We must, according to sexist capitalist logic, be either criminals or victims.
So ask yourself how you feel about sex work. Do you believe all people in the sex industries should be rescued from degradation? Are we disrespecting ourselves? Are we disrespecting decent, hard-working revolutionaries who know how to be good heterosexual monogamous partners? Are we disrespecting women’s liberation to assert that some of us prefer working with pimps than working independently, given our choices? Are we lost to the cause of destroying the capitalist state, because we are already slut-shamed and ostracized?
We imagine an autonomous sexuality in which all people have the right to say “yes” or “no,” in which there is no space for guilt or oppression, in which people are communicating respectfully about their desires and needs. We invite those on the radical left to: consider your own internalized shame about sex, demand of yourself a higher consciousness about your own prejudice against sex workers, and demonstrate a commitment fight alongside us, because we are already fighting alongside you.
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