Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, anti-globalization, black bloc, chris hedges, journalism, living and fighting, occupy, occupy everything, occupy wallstreet, terrorism, the movement of occupations, unitied states, violence
From Crimethinc and the IEF:
To counteract the recent backlash led by professional journalists against diversity of tactics in the Occupy movement, we sought out our comrades from the heart of the black bloc and asked them to tell their side of the story: where they come from, why they participate, how they see the world. Here follows an in-depth personal reflection on why the black bloc is so contemporary and what this means for social movements of all stripes.
The past few months have seen a backlash led by professional journalists against diversity of tactics in the Occupy movement. Rebecca Solnit represented our Dear Occupiers pamphlet as “a screed in justification of violence” simply because it endorsed diversity of tactics. Chris Hedges followed up by calling “black bloc anarchists”—an invented category—“The Cancer in Occupy.”Both allege that a violent fringe is undermining the movement and must be excluded from it.
What is taking place here is a kind of silencing. Defining people as “violent” is fundamentally a way to delegitimize them; Solnit and Hedges feel entitled to spread falsehoods about their political adversaries because their goal is to shut them out of the discussion entirely. That’s why Hedges acknowledges he never spoke to anyone involved in a black bloc in the course of composing his diatribe. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect better from journalists with their own wikipedia pages and glamor shots, who have much to lose should popular movements cease to be managed from the top down.
To counteract this silencing, we sought out our comrades from the heart of the black bloc and asked them to tell their side of the story: where they come from, why they participate, how they see the world. We do not accept the terms set by the mudslingers: our intent is not to compete for ideological legitimacy on a battlefield of abstractions, but to foster mutual understanding grounded in personal experience. As the expression goes, God only knows what devils we are: He can’t know anything else.
God Only Knows What Devils We Are
an apologia for the black bloc from the community that has no community
courtesy of the Institute for Experimental Freedom
Have you ever worn the mask one-two one-two,
(M) to the (A) to the (S) to the (K)
Put the mask upon the face just to make the next day,
Feds be hawkin me Jokers be stalking me,
I walk the streets and camouflage my identity,
My posse in the Brooklyn wear the mask.
My crew in the Jersey wear the mask.
Stick up kids doing boogie woogie wear the mask.
Yeah everybody wear da mask but how long will it last.
That’s why I live illegal
All my life I live illegal
Don’t give a fuck bout the law
When my pockets reaching zero
I’m fresh out the ghost town similar to your town
I’m probably where it goes down
He pretends he tolls down
-Ski Beatz & Freddie Gibbs
or thirteen years, for over a decade, I have donned the black mask. “Seattle”—that word still means “the days the world stood still” to me. “Genoa” still holds more terror and perversity than the North American September 11. In experiencing anonymous collective force, I have gained far more than a diversity of tactics in my tool box. The black bloc is not merely a tactic, as so many anarchist apologists claim; it’s more of an aesthetic development in the art of street confrontation. The black bloc is a methodology of struggle; it goes beyond a single color, and its intelligence reaches beyond the terrain of protests. The black bloc is irreducibly contemporary because only in its opacity can a ray of light from the heavens finally reach us. Allow me to explain.
It’s the summer of 2000. Many of us have given up on both Democrats and Republicans. The sense is that “anti-globalization” poses the only alternative to advanced capitalism. The Democratic National Convention: I am marching, drenched in sweat, through the catacombs that hosted the Rodney King riots. Sadly, the only remnant of those fateful days is a militarized police force that anticipates our every move.
We walk into an enormous play pen—the “free speech zone”—surrounded on all sides by a sea of navy blue wielding pepper balls and batons. Amid the most dreadful speeches and rebellious rock music, we find each other: the stupid, isolated, alienated, and utterly lost children of capital, just beginning our downward spiral—just beginning a precarious life, without promise and without hope.
We organize ourselves at the center and proceed to the margin, where things are unpredictable. Someone climbs the tall fence, reaching the limit of free speech; and then another, and another. A black flag is unfurled, and a figure waves it with pride, claiming this as a site of freedom with that stupid gesture. The pepper balls crash against your skin; they collide against your frail bones, exploding on impact and releasing a furious burning that traps itself in your oily clothes and sweat. The crowd collectively gains intelligence and transforms the signs bearing socialist slogans into shields for cover. We brace each other and press the signs against the fence. Shot with pepper balls, a figure falls from the apex of the fence; arms and femur bones snap against the concrete.
That putrid smell, the eyes glossed over in tears, the stomach churns and nausea overwhelms you. Vinegar-soaked rags help to soak up the poisonous clouds, but you can hear screaming everywhere as the blue tide comes rushing in, and your nerves twist and vibrate as the CS gas and police mutate into a single hostile terrain.
Suddenly, I am with six or ten people. I don’t know who. We’ve found a large road sign and we’re lifting it slowly. Plastic bottles soar impotently overhead. A small rock or two hits an officer. We press with what was once our labor power, straining to hurl the worthless product of our grandparents’ toil back at our overseers. The object tilts over the fence and falls to other side: clong. We cheer and revel in our functionless gesture. “Fuck the police” resounds throughout the night, however foolishly. A few bank windows collapse in glittery confetti. Spray paint decorates a wall. We journey to the end of the night; at its perimeter, we share drinks and laughs over our absurd gestures. Finally, back at the union hall, we crash in our sleeping bags, exhausted and dehydrated, to dream of the abolition of capitalism.
I am irreparably transformed.
Lets rewind. Sixteen years ago, I am an adolescent teenager. I have entered Alcoholics Anonymous—somewhat earlier than most of my family. There, I witness one friend’s overdose, another friend’s relapse and subsequent incarceration for manslaughter, and the spread of methamphetamines throughout my neighborhood. I watch Requiem for a Dream some years later, horrified by the cinematic juxtposition of “normal” and “marginal” addiction—it feels so familiar.
I am watching 20/20, an episode exposing Nike sweatshops. Through some extended leaps of logic, I recognize a link between those exploited by sweatshops and my own condition. With this heightened sensitivity, I conclude that
1) addiction has an economic function
2) the economy includes industries that tend to harm people—through exploitation, alienation, and immiseration, the reproduction of addiction being a subset of the last of these
3) the economy tends to hurt people generally.
My initial moral indignation passes; my sensitivity shifts from a moral compass faulting individuals for their choices to something more like class consciousness. The broke-ass cars in the yard appear starker. The drive-by shootings in our neighborhood gain a new meaning. The empty refrigerators’ sad grumble reverberating in our empty stomachs, my many stepbrothers’ sweet mullet haircuts—these bring me a certain revelation: I am white trash.
Seattle: the anti-globalization summits and corresponding riots. The beautiful rhythm: work, misery, chaos. They kill Carlo and we meet at the intersection of Colfax and Broadway to block traffic, frantically trying to show our tears and rage. The war. My sister is deployed to Iraq. We wear helmets and anachronistically chant “Bring the war home!” We spray slogans and burn effigies. We block the flows of the metropolis. As if to baptize our newfound agency, we are showered in pepper spray. Tear gas spreads across entire continents. We go from basement hardcore shows to warehouse parties. Our friends learn to DJ. Cocaine comes back into style and claims two victims; heroin gets a few more. The boredom and stupidity is suffocating. We attempt to wrest the noose from our necks. Democracy sweeps Bush back into office. We’re trashing a gentrified district of Adams Morgan. My friend records an MP3 of her heartbeat, shouts and heavy breathing accentuated by shattering glass and anxiety.
In the US, we hit a lull. Everywhere else the world burns.
As we get older, we find new ways to survive. A small meeting of coworkers transforms into an ambitious conspiracy. Without making any demands of the boss, we increase our pay and our quality of life. We eat well, we can afford cigarettes, we travel where we want to: Scotland and France, Italy and Germany. Can’t stop the chaos.
In Europe, the black bloc means “no media!” I watch a snitch in a tie go down among the kicks and punches of the hooded ones. A car burns. As the police battle two thousand rock throwers, a couple hundred advance through the marketplace, smashing everything. “Tremble Bourgeoisie!” is scrawled across a temp agency service.
Back home, our own temporary involvement in the economy—our precarious life—is reflected in the windows of the temp agency, the retail shop, and the café. The image of our desire is captured in the commodities to which we have no access. Our needs are displayed in advertisements that sell us happiness and grocery store aisles that mutate our tastes and relations to other living beings. Smashing, burning, and looting make sense to us in this context like nothing else could.
What Chris Hedges fails to understand about black bloc activity is that it arises from a real need. The “cancer” that Chris finds so disturbing—the contagion of an anonymous collective force—is precisely why and how it continues to outlive every social movement from which it emerges. These generations—we who fantasized about Columbine and now only know metal detectors at school; we who expected September 11 and now only know the politics of terror; we who grew up as the world crumbled all around us and now only know the desert—we need to fight, and not just in the ways our rulers deem justified and legitimate.
As workers, we’re excluded from unions, from collective arrangements of any kind. When we manage to find employment at all, it is meaningless labor that corresponds to our own superfluousness in the economy. We were raised by a generation so thoroughly defeated that it feared to pass on its history. We are the inheritors of every unpaid bill, of every failed struggle, the products of the insanely selfish individualism of advanced capitalism in North America.
Our entire environment feels hostile. Hence our hostility.
Chris Hedges cannot understand this because he misses the real historical conflict expressed in contemporary struggles. As David Graeber points out, his exhumation of the decrepit journal Green Anarchy shows how out of touch he is. The black bloc spreads because of a real need to take back force, which has been monopolized by the police. The black bloc spreads because it is a living practice of collective intelligence, redistribution of wealth, and improvisation; it spreads because it interrupts the ways we are confined in our identities as subjects within capitalism. The black bloc is tuned to the uneasy pulse of our time.
A paradigm of life is coming to an end. The black bloc is irrevocably contemporary because our age of unrest is reflected in this gesture. Populations everywhere are becoming ungovernable and doing so by casting off the fundamental assumptions of government, the techniques of policing, and laws of the economy. The paradigm of sovereignty is collapsing.
To see what is changing, we have to understand the nature of sovereignty. The modern state is founded upon an anthropological fiction of human nature and the surgical extraction of violence from living beings. Thomas Hobbes argued that the establishment of the civil state conveyed the human being from the state of nature—a war of each against all—to the loving arms of the sovereign, rendering him a citizen-subject on the condition that he leave “nature” at the door. But this discourse separates each being from collectivity: the subject of sovereignty is always already an isolated individual. And the arrangement keeps war at the center of the state, as the sole dominion of the sovereign. Ironically, what the subject lays down in return for security—the capacity to use force—is precisely what the sovereign must wield in order to ensure it: and this is wielded above all against subjects.
The form of sovereign power shifted as democratic governments replaced autocracies, but the content of state sovereignty remains. The modern state has shifted from techniques governing territory to techniques governing populations.
It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between totalitarian and democratic governments, as policing is identical under both. The police have the power to let live or take life—biopower—and the distinction between democratic and totalitarian becomes even more muddled as management and medicine also gain this power, determining who can access fundamental human needs. The mediation of capital creates a hellish environment in which practically everyone is integrated into a single hostile terrain, subject to its violence and its justice. If the cause du jouris enunciated as “fuck the police,” this is because the police are the living embodiment of Hobbe’s Leviathan, the state that keeps us at arm’s length from our own potential.
“The police” includes all who police; policing is an array of techniques, not all of which demand uniforms. Hedges’ cancer metaphor exposes his penchant for order, translating it explicitly into the language of biopower. Remember how Oakland’s Mayor, Jean Quan, and other authority figures used the discourse of health and risk to justify the repression of occupations around the US? Hedges continues this work of policing with his metaphor of an unhealthy social body in need of surgery. Whenever the basic assumptions of sovereignty and capitalism are called into question by those who defy state violence and the sanctity of property, the police are mobilized to discipline them. This disciplining is carried out by both the armed wing and the necktied wing of the police. It’s not a coincidence that Hedges invokes biopolitical language just as a portion of the population is beginning to discover the power of their bodies.
Less than seven years ago, in New Orleans an entire population was forced into a concentration camp by militarized police forces acting on a juridical state of emergency. The ones who did not obey this order could be gratuitously shot down. The justification given during Katrina was the health and well-being of the population. One can’t help but notice this same paradigm at work, albeit with less racialized brutality, in the violent evictions of the occupations. Safety, Health, Security: Necessity knows no law. These police actions only deviate slightly from the norm in terms of intensity, frequency, and grammar of “protection.” The deaths of Oscar Grant and Sean Bell attest to the murderous day-to-day operations of the police. The other casualties, the forgotten, continue to haunt every city block, where the police function to eliminate useless surplus—either out of economic utility or biopolitical necessity.
There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism, as Walter Benjamin spells out in Theses on the Philosophy of History. It is terrifying to face the wreckage of history that constitutes the present. One loses count of the tragedies. Despair, recoded as “happiness,” runs through every aspect of social life, increasingly reflected by Hollywood and ironic television sitcoms as if to anesthetize us.
The arguments for orderly, passive demonstrations by Hedges and other liberal pundits miss all this. One doesn’t sweep the floor in a house falling off a cliff. In a world that feels absolutely hostile and alien, every element of social life acquires a sinister glow. In this light, the black bloc appears as a ray of optimism because it creates an opening that leads through to the other side of despair.
The new struggles increasingly take place outside of legitimate and traditional venues. When the factory was the contested site, the workers’ movement was the most vibrant and decisive space of contestation. During the shift from a factory-centered economy to an economy integrating social life, we saw the emergence of social movements contesting social spaces. Now that social life has been fully subsumed within capitalism, the mutant offspring of the proletariat and the counterculture is appearing outside the legitimate parameters of the old movements. This explains the spread of anti-social violence, anomic play, self-destructive revolt, irony. Chris Hedges may wish to turn away his gaze, but society is imploding.
We accept our conditions and get organized accordingly. Compared to the fatal and fatalistic strategy employed by school shooters, terrorists, and isolated individuals marked as insane, the black bloc, rioting, and flashmobs are collective and vital forms of struggle. The Left is obsolete—rightfully so, as it still clings to this collapsing society at war with its population. Society is decomposing and nothing will or should bring back the the good ol’ days—the days of slavery, hyper-exploitation of women, apartheid, homophobic violence, Jim Crow. We wager that organizing our antagonisms collectively and attacking this society where we are positioned, without anything mediating our force, is our best chance for a life worth living.
Remarking on how the black bloc assaults the sanctity of property, Chris says “there’s a word for that: criminal.” Even here he is behind the times. Once, it seemed that crime designated specific transgressions of the law, such as breaking a window. Today, this fiction is evaporating as crime is openly integrated into the economy. The black market, the gray market, the war on drugs, the war on terror. Branding criminal is not simply a maneuver in a public relations war—though it is that too; crime is the excess of law. Security cameras and Loss Prevention are not there to stop shoplifting and workplace theft any more than borders exist to stop illegal immigration. The designation of criminal is simply one more tool for managing populations, another line along which to divide and exploit.
The cynicism of the justice system is surpassed only by capitalism itself. There’s not enough money circulating any more for us to be fully integrated, so entire economies of ultra-flexible, superfluous, and precarious work have arisen. We don’t do anything that appears to matter, but somehow we have to do it all the time. Just to count as people, we have to gain all sorts of stupid commodities—a cellphone, a laptop, a specific knowledge of culture. Because our wages are so low and we work so much, our only options are illicit. Petty drug dealing, sex work, and pirating movies and music have become at once a normal practice for us and a constant opportunity for the police to rein us into the justice industry. The black bloc makes sense to us because it offers an intelligent way to do what we always have to be doing without getting caught.
If Chris Hedges is really concerned about crime, perhaps he shouldn’t praise anything in the movement of occupations. What attracts us to the black bloc is exactly what draws us to the occupation of a public square: all the different people with different experiences coming together to steal back the time stolen from us by work and the spaces stolen from us by ownership and policing, the collective crime of revolt. Hum the national anthem all you want and sing “dissent is patriotic” to the media, but the reality is that anything that breaks with the way things are is categorized in the same sphere of crime as “violence” and treated accordingly. So why not do it together and with intelligence?
Above all, the black bloc is contemporary because it is a site of self-transformation. Even the abused corpse of Gandhi is in accord: if we want to change the world we must change ourselves. To take this further, we might say we have to abolish ourselves.
Capitalism has only managed to stave off revolution by constantly reordering and diffusing social antagonism. At the center of the economy, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between citizens and police, yet at the same time they appear to be at war with each other. At the margins, everything that once made antagonistic groups into “revolutionary subjects” is extracted—think of the fate of the Black Panthers—and the remaining husk works to gain entrance to the center or manage the disorder of the margins. Only an immediate break with the process by which we become subjects can open a window of potential. This self-transformative gesture is where tactics and ethics meet. If liberal commentators can’t handle the implications of this, this just shows the widening abyss between those who would defend citizenship and those who refuse to be governed.
Allow me to elaborate from our side of the barricades.
The black bloc is an anonymous way of being together. Anonymity allows me to shed the mask I have to wear at school, at work, in your parents’ house, in casual conversations at the bar. The black bloc enables us to interrupt the processes that make us into subjects according to race, gender, mental health, physiological health. Here, we can cease worrying about how power will extract the truth from us, and we can reveal truth to each other.
The black bloc assumes an intense ethics of care. Hedges alleges that it is “hypermasculine.” Not everyone who dons the black mask reads feminist and queer theory—Bell Hooks, Judith Butler, Selma James, Silvia Federici, Guy Hocquenghem—but these are extremely influential on our discourse. Had Hedges taken the time to research his subject, he would have found multiple discussions about the gender of anonymity.
Via the black bloc, we open the space to play with power. We radically reverse its operations on our bodies. Casting off the assumption that our bodies need to be protected, that we should give them over to the care of the state, we collectively re-inscribe them as as source of power. We also reverse the notion that freedom ends at the boundaries of individuals. I want you to put me at risk: in this axiom, we find the basis of love, friendship, and death, the three irreducible risks of life.
The black bloc is the site for a new sentimental education: a political reordering of our sentiments. We learn new sensations of love, friendship, and death through the matrix of collective confrontation. In the obscurity of the black mask, I am most present in the world. This unfamiliar way of being compels me to focus and intensify my senses, to be radically present in my body and my environment.
In the black bloc, I have to reconceptualize geographies. The event of the riot gives us a new mobility and space, a laboratory in which to experiment with public space and the relations of property and commodities. Moving through a one-way street backwards, I note how a slight displacement causes the flows of capital to malfunction. The metropolitan environment ceases to appear as a neutral terrain: suddenly I can identify all the ways it functions to channel all activity into a very narrow range of possibilities.
Drifting thus through urban centers, I become attuned to all the apparatuses at work and to how they can be caused to break down. Newspaper boxes and dumpsters can be moved into the street, blocking police from entering the space we are creating. Cars—the individualizing apparatus par excellence—can be put to collective use. All the pretty commodities in the window, usually the breadth of an entire social class away from me, are now a mere hammer’s distance from my proletarian hands. I can move through these spaces in which I am not authorized to be, transforming them. I can dance with mannequins or use them to smash out the windows of a storefront. I can trade the insanity of everyday misery for a collective madness that devastates the avenues of wealth.
For those of us who were excluded from the community of good workers, there is the black bloc. Like the myth of the historical proletarian community, it has no single organization, no membership, no written constitution. Through the black bloc, we find collective power, a sense of camaraderie, a historical tradition of living and fighting. It offers the possibility of immediately changing our conditions and immediately changing ourselves. Those who say it doesn’t act in the workplace misunderstand the forms work takes today and where it takes place. The black bloc has been instrumental in the recent port blockades on the West Coast and in the occupations of universities through Europe, the UK, the US, and Chile; the method is constantly being appropriated and adapted. When coworkers outsmart the cameras to take money from the register to share—when the hungry pocket goodies from an expensive health food store—when Anonymous strikes the credit card companies—wherever we use anonymity offensively, there is black bloc.
As I write this, Greece burns yet again, and more of the flexible, unemployed, and immigrant populations appropriate the tactics of the hooded ones—and vice versa. The black bloc can’t be cut out of the movement of occupations: there is no surgery that can extract the need for redemption from history, and there is no method better tuned to that task than this vital opacity. On the contrary, the so-called cancer will grow, spread, and mutate—and the movement of occupations, like other movements, will increasingly be indistinguishable from the black bloc.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: capitalism, occupy, occupy everything, OWS, port blockade, the economy, west coast
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: 99%, anarchy, black, black bloc, general strike, oakland, occupy everything, occupy wallstreet, vandalism, violence
From Bay of Rage:
In addition to the marches called for by the General Assembly of the Oakland Commune, several marches were organized outside the formal processes at Oscar Grant Plaza. The organization of this, and other “unofficial” actions throughout the day is a point to be celebrated: the GA has consistently emphasized autonomous action and the strike has to be seen as a success in opening space for such autonomous activity. Most significant of these was the march that departed from the intersection of Broadway and Telegraph at 2 p.m. This march had been anonymously called as an anti-capitalist march. Both the poster promoting the march and the banner at its front boldly proclaimed “if we cannot live, we will not work; general strike!” An accompanying banner declared “this is class war.” This messaging of the march matched its stated intention and its subsequent action: to shut down those businesses and banks that remained open despite the strike (a promise it would make good on).
The small concrete triangle at the intersection of Broadway and Telegraph has great significance in the recent and long-past history of the struggle against class society in Oakland. In 1946, this intersection was the stage for the opening act of what would be the last General Strike in the United States before Wednesday. More recently, anarchists and anti-state communists in the Bay Area have used the intersection as a staging point for a series of three anti-capitalist processions in downtown Oakland. Named anticuts, these marches were a conscious attempt by anti-capitalists to carve out (anti)political space in Oakland from which to begin a non-statist / non-reformist response to the financial crisis, in the absence of any foreseeable social movement in the States. Each one beginning at Broadway and Telegraph, these three marches took to the streets of Oakland and took as their objects certain focal points of hate in downtown: particularly the jail and certain highly visible banking institution, but also the police whenever they came into conflict with demonstrators. To the extent that the intention of this sequence was to claim space for and build the offensive capacity of anti-capitalists in the Bay Area, the anti-captitalist march during the general strike proved this initial sequence to be a success. Noise demonstrations have returned to the jail several times through the course of the occupation, each communicating louder and more fiercely to the prisoners than the march before. However, it was specifically the downtown banks that attracted the ire of this particular march. The anti-capitalist march on November 2nd must then be understood within a continuum through time; it must be seen as the emboldened and enraged continuation of a communizing thread which aims to collectively claim and determine space within the city of Oakland.
Any reading of recent anti-capitalist street endeavors in the Bay Area also offers another discreet lesson to the students of social struggle: come materially prepared for the conflict you wish to see. Following this analysis, one could read this march as highly conflictual based solely on the obvious material preparations that went into it. From the outside, one could see that the march was equipped with two rather large reinforced banners at the lead, scores of black flags on hefty sticks, dozens of motorcycle helmets, and the now familiar book shields. Add to this the anonymity afforded by hundreds wearing masks and matching colors, and there is no question that these demonstrators came to set it off that afternoon. The black-clad combatants at the front of this march would retroactively be referred to with much notoriety as the black bloc, though this is perhaps a backwards reading of the events of the day. Rather than a coherent subject group or organization that set out to offer a singular political position, this tactical formation should instead be thought of as a void, a subjective black-hole where those who shared a similar disposition could be drawn to one another for protection and amplification. The so-called black bloc forcefully asserted a desirable situation for those who wanted to accomplish outlaw tasks despite repressive state apparatuses. Many will question the metaphysical implications or the contemporary efficacy of this particular form of making destroy. Yet regardless, it is important to emphasize that in the context of efforts to openly attack capitalist institutions in the face of intense surveillance, concealing your identity and rolling with friends will continue to be the best tactic. Additionally, this effort further expands the intention of anti-capitalist space in the bay area, offering a way for social rebels to find one another and act in concert.
Toward this end, the anti-capitalist march was quite successful in heightening the conflict in the streets of Oakland during the general strike. To the pleasure of a great majority of the several hundred demonstrators, an active minority within the march set about attacking a series of targets: Chase Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Whole Foods, the UC Office of the President. Each was beset by a stormcloud of hammers, paint bombs, rocks, black flags and fire-extinguishers loaded with paint. The choice of these targets seems intuitive to anyone attuned to the political climate of Oakland. The banks attacked are responsible for tens of thousands of foreclosures in Oakland alone, as well as the imprisonment of Oaklanders through the funding of private prisons and immigrant detention. Whole Foods, in addition to its daily capitalist machinations, had purportedly threatened its workers with repercussions if they’d chosen to strike. UCOP, besides being the headquarters for the disgusting cabal that rules the UC system, was rumored to be the day’s base of operations for OPD and its cronies. Despite any number of reasons to destroy these places, the remarkable point of these attacks was that no justification was necessary. As each pane of glass fell to the floor and each ATM was put out of service, cheers would consistently erupt. Foregoing demands of their enemies, demonstrators made demands of one another, shouting wreck the property of the one percent! and occupy / shut it down / Oakland doesn’t fuck around! In 1999, at the height of neoliberal prosperity, participants in the black bloc at the Seattle WTO summit issued a communique detailing the crimes of their targets. A dozen years and a worldwide crisis later, such an indictment would seem silly. Everyone hates these places..
This isn’t to say that there wasn’t conflict over these smashings. A small, yet dedicated group of morons set about trying hopelessly to defend the property of their masters. In the name of non-violence, these thuggish pacifists assaulted demonstrators and sought to re-establish peace on the streets. Thankfully, these people were as outnumbered and ill-coordinated as they are irrelevant. Chair fights and brawls ensued, but each skirmish concluded with the hooded ones and their comrades on top. The anti-capitalist march and the formations that comprised it, should also be looked to as a practical means of neutralizing and marginalizing such peace police as well as the plain-clothed officers who fight at their side.
Property destruction is not a new element for the Oakland Commune. In the weeks prior to the anti-capitalist march, the property of various police entities were attacked by communards several times.:an anonymous communique claimed an attack on an unmarked police cruiser parked near the plaza; the riot following the eviction of Oscar Grant Plaza took a few more cop cars as its victim; a march against police brutality, days later, smashed the windows at OPD’s recruiting station next to City Hall. The destruction of the anti-capitalist march is set apart from these incidents for a handful of noteworthy reasons. Firstly, this demonstration marked the first large and coordinated act of collective destruction by the nascent Occupy movement. For a movement that fetishizes re-written narratives of non-violence in the Arab Spring, this event served as an act of forced memory. Clandestine attacks, however lovely, have a tendency to be overlooked, whereas hundreds of masked individuals comprising a march that makes destroy cannot so easily be ignored. Secondly, this symphony of wreckage marked a turning point in the naughty behavior of the occupations. Rather than reacting to police provocations (and in doing so feeding certain narratives about what justifies destruction) the demonstrators of the anti-capitalist march determined to take the initiative and the offensive in smashing their enemies without waiting to be gassed and beaten first. In doing so, they concretely refused the pacifist ideology of victimization that characterizes the dominant discourse of policing and violence. Lastly, in specifically targeting the dreaded banks and corporations, so hated by the occupation movement, these attacks served to equip he movement with the teeth it had previously been missing. Not only do these people hate the banks, they’ll actually make concrete attacks against the institutions they hate.
For enemies of capital, the shattering of bank windows and the sabotage of ATM machinery is beautiful in and of itself. It is intuitive that wrecking the property of financial institutions and forcing their closure is desirable. Some will argue that plate glass can be replaced and that any business closed by these actions would likely re-open the next day. This line of criticism isn’t wrong on the face of it, but it often misses a certain set of implications at the center of chaotic episodes such as this. For those seeking to destroy class society, chaos itself must be seen as a primary strategy at our disposal. Theorists of social control often cite the broken window theory: a way to describe the phenomena where the introduction of disorder to an otherwise perfectly ordered environment begets and creates space for further disorder. At the heart of this theory of governance is the understanding that biopolitical government must treat any interruption of order as a threat to order as a totality. Put another way, this violence against the facades of these capitalist institutions is damaging to said institutions in a manner far more grave than the cost of a few windows or the lost labor time. Rather, this activity sends signals of disorder pulsing through the imperial system. In the way that a broken window indicates the instability of an environment, the concerted efforts to smash the windows of various banks signals a coming wave of violence against the existent social order and its fiscal management. In the same way, attacks on police apparatuses signal the coming of far greater confrontations with the institution of policing. In a system as future-oriented and perception-driven as capitalism, this type of perceived disorder is catastrophic to investor confidence and to the key functions of the market. One need only look to the Eurozone to see the way in which anti-austerity revolt is intrinsically tied to the collapse of any illusion of security or confidence in the capitalist mode of production. Last year, blackclad haters in London smashed windows and attacked banks during a UK Uncut day of action. Months later, dispossessed people all over the England set about burning police cars, attacking police stations, looting stores and generally expropriating a future they were totally excluded from. Though the professional activists of UK Uncut were quick to distance themselves from the rioting in London, nobody was fooled. The actions of vandals during the UK Uncut events demonstrated that the crisis had arrived; that disorder was about to unfold. The left bewailed the nihilistic elements who had ‘infiltrated’ ‘their protest’, either anarchists intent on destruction or hooligans out to get theirs. When in subsequent months, massive segments of London’s underbelly rose up against their daily misery, they confirmed the fears of the bourgeoisie; the war was at their front door. In Greece and now in Italy, the violence of insurrectionaries in the streets corresponds to the chaos tearing through the countries’ economies. In each of these events, the reality that there is no future comes tearing into the present. To quote comrades in Mexico, chaos has returned, for those who thought she had died!
One can already see this instability rending its way through Oakland. The business leaders of the city are all too aware of the implications of this sort of anti-capitalist activity in the East Bay. In the days following the strike, bureaucrats from Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce went to City Hall to wring their hands about the previous day’s destruction. According to them, three businesses had already withdrawn from contractual discussions about opening their doors in downtown Oakland. Another downtown business association, comprised primarily of banking institutions and corporate investors, bewailed the existence of the Commune. They asserted that the activities of the occupation and the strike were causing a great deal of damage to Oakland’s business community and that many “local businesses” wouldn’t survive another month of its existence. Clearly it is wrong to locate a month of anti-capitalist activity as the cause of financial crisis in the town, but there is a truth buried beneath their denial. These events in Oakland cannot be conceived of outside the context of the crisis as it unfolds. By the same logic, the activities of Oakland communards cannot be separated from the social conflict which propels them and of which they are but a small part. Almost two years ago, social rebels in the Bay Area locked themselves into university buildings and ran blindly onto freeway overpasses declaring OCCUPY EVERYTHING and WE ARE THE CRISIS. The former slogan has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Perhaps the latter is coming to fruition as well.
FIRST NOTE: WE ARE NOT PEACEFUL
Predictably, dogmatic pacifists responded to the vandalism and fighting by screaming PEACEFUL PROTEST and NON-VIOLENCE. The majority of demonstrators responded by taking up the chant, WE ARE NOT PEACFUL. Since the strike, this particular conflict has played out in innumerable discussions. In each case, the meaning and efficacy of ‘violence’ is drawn out and debated ad nauseum. In the skirmishes between occupiers and university police that played out the following week on University of California campuses, this discourse surrounding violence escalated to pure absurdity. After UC police beat protesters on the UC Berkeley campus, police and university officials declared that such beatings were in fact not violent, while those students who linked arms in the face of police assault had themselves committed a violent act. Within the logic of power, force dealt out by police batons is not violent, while solidarity and care in the face of such force is violent. In the clearest way possible, this tragicomedy demonstrates precisely why it serves us to avoid discussions of non/violence. Violence will always be defined by Power. Those who resist will be labeled violent, regardless of their conduct. Likewise, brutality at the hands of those servants of Power will always be invisible.
There is an intelligence in this declaration against peace, but it cannot be reduced to this or that position on violence. Any attempt to define violence will always fall back upon abstraction. Any attempt to deploy such a definition is always already useless. Rather than being for or against violence, it behooves us to instead position ourselves against peace. In defining peace, let’s avoid abstraction. We can name every miserable element of the daily function of capital as peace. Peace is our terrible jobs, our lack of a job, our workplace injuries, the time stolen from us and the labor we’ll never get back. Peace is being thrown out of our homes and freezing on the streets. Peace is when police officers kill us in cold blood on train platforms and in our neighborhoods. Peace is racism, transphobia, misogyny and anti-queer attacks. Peace is immigrant detention and prison slavery. When the apologists for class society declare their intentions to be peaceful, we understand as their desire for the perpetuation of the day to day atrocities of life under capital. To raise one’s fingers in a peace sign in the face of our armed enemies can only be seen as the greatest act of sycophancy. The tragically common chanting of PEACFUL PROTEST should really be read as NOTHING, NOTHING, MORE OF THE SAME! It should be abundantly clear, then, that we are quite done with peace. Reading peace as a euphemism for the horrors of the present, we must take as our task the immediate suspension of social peace.
The dominant discourse of peaceful protest bears a more troubling implication. Many who advocate for peaceful protest, actually do so quite cynically. It isn’t out of a desire for an absence of violence (as evidenced by their violent efforts to police others and enforce their peace). Rather, these peace-warriors operate on an assumption that so long as they are sufficiently meek, their cause will be just. Following from this, so long as they are passive, the inevitable violence enacted upon them by the police will appear illegitimateThis attempt at self-victimization, beyond being a foolish tactic, is a specific measure to invalidate resistance and to justify the operations of the police state. Any criticism of peace discourse must also be centered around an understanding that this language originates from, is advocated by, affirms the position of, and is in itself the State.
Rejecting the logic of social peace, we instead assert a different rationale: social war. Social war is our way of articulating the conflict of class war, but beyond the limitations of class. Rather than a working class seeking to affirm ourselves in our endless conflict with capital, we desire instead to abolish the class relation and all other relations that reproduce this social order. Social war is the discrete and ongoing struggle that runs through and negotiates our lived experience. As agents of chaos, we seek to expose this struggle; to make it overt. The issue is not violence or non-violence. What’s at issue in these forays against capital is rather the social peace and its negation. To quote a comrade here in Oakland: windows are shattered when we do nothing, so of course windows will be shattered when we do something; blood is shed when we do nothing, so of course blood will be shed when we do something. Social war is this process of doing something. It is our concerted effort to rupture the ever-present deadliness of the social peace. It is a series of somethings which interrupt this nothing.
SECOND NOTE: WE ARE THE PROLETARIAT
In the course of the anti-capitalist march, like countless before it, many attempted to take up an all too familiar chant. WE ARE THE 99%! However this consensus was quickly disrupted. Anti-capitalist demonstrators quickly took up a different chant: WE ARE THE PROLETARIAT! From an anti-capitalist perspective, this is as important an intervention as a hammer through any financial or police apparatus. Firstly, the prevailing conception of the 99% must be recognized primarily as a means to control the activity of rebellious elements within a mass. Originally a reference to crazy distributions of wealth in the United States, the 99% has come to be an empty and abstract signifier for any dominant group. A relevant example of the application of this normalizing concept is the recent letter from the Oakland Police stating that they too are part of the 99%, and struggle daily against the criminal 1% comprised of thieves, rapists, and murderers. Another odious deployment of the concept is the way that lovers-of-bank-windows declare that anarchists are in fact the 1%, opposed to the peaceful 99% of protesters. Even more absurd is an assertion by police-apologists that, in fact, 99% police officers are good people and that only 1% of them are sadistic sociopaths. Each of these examples points to the fact that wherever it is cited, the meme of the 99% is always synonymous with one undifferentiated mass or another. Cops and mayors are part of the 99%, anarchists and hooligans clearly are not. Acting as a normalizing theoretical concept, it always functions to otherize a deviant element and to inflict disciplinary measures on that element. Insofar as it is a reference to a mass – an abstract, peaceful, law-abiding mass – the 99% can only mean society itself.
We cannot, however, read this use of the concept of the 99% as a misappropriation of an otherwise correct term. From the beginning, the concept is totally useless to us. There is no such thing as the 99% and it can never serve to describe our experience of capitalism. The use of such a framework requires a flattening out of a whole range of power relationships that constitute the real structures of our lives. In my daily life, I have never met a member of this mythical 1%, nor do I analyze this 1% as some elusive enemy in my hand-to-hand conflict with capital. I have never been directly oppressed by a member of this 1%, but I have been oppressed and exploited at the hands of police officers, queerbashers, sexual assaulters, landlords and bosses. Each of these enemies can surely claim a place within this 99%, yet that does not in any way mitigate our structural enmity. The strength of certain anarchist critiques of capital is to be found in their location of diffuse and complex power relations as being the material sinews of this society. The world is not miserable simply because 1% of the population owns this or that amount of property. Misery is our condition specifically because the beloved 99% acts to reproduce this arrangement in and through their daily activity.
Fleeing from this miserable discourse, we assert that if the 99% percent is real, we are not of it. Rather we are the proletariat. Often misconstrued as being synonymous with the working class, there is in fact a discrete distinction in our efforts to define ourselves as such. Rather than referring to a positive conception of wage-laborers, our use of proletarian is meant to negatively describe those who have nothing to sell but their bodies and their labor. Having nothing, being the dispossessed, the proletariat is the diffuse and yet overwhelming body of people for whom there is no future within capitalism. Those who comprised this proletarian wrecking machine perform any number of functions in society – sex workers, baristas, medical study lab rat, petty thieves, servers, parents, the unemployed, graphic designers, students – and yet we are united specifically in our dispossession from our ability to reproduce ourselves in any dignified manner within the current social order. In a post-industrial economy, an attention to our economic position must be central to our efforts to destroy that economy. Where in the past the proletariat was primarily comprised of industrial labor, it was conceivable that workplace takeovers and seizure of the means of production made a certain amount of sense. For those of us with absolutely no relationship to the means of production, an entirely different set of strategies must be cultivated. Being a genuine outside to the vital reproduction of capital, our methodology must valorize the position of the Outside and must pioneer ways in which this outside may abolish the conditions of its exclusion.
For those trapped within the field of circulation, this will mean an interruption of that circulation and an expropriation of the products to which our labor adds value. For those engaged in informal and criminal practices, it will mean developing new methods of collective crime in order to loot back a future that isn’t ours. For those excluded from economic structures, it will mean efforts to blockade and sabotage and destroy those structures, rather than any attempt to self-manage the architecture of our exclusion. For those who need homes, it will mean occupation. For those who hunger, it will mean looting. For those who cannot pay, it will mean auto-reduction. This is why we steal things, this is why we smash what can’t be stolen, this is why we fight in the streets, this is why we make barricades and block the flows of society. As proletarians – as those who have nothing but one another – we must immediately set about creating the tactics to destroy the machinery that reproduces capitalism and at the same time forge means of struggle that will sustain us for conflicts to come.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anti-capitalism, bay area, general assemblies, general strike, oakland commune, occupy, occupy everything, oscar grant plaza
In the early hours of Monday morning (11/14) the police conducted the second eviction of the Oakland Commune. Far less spectacular than the first, a few hundred campers and supporters picketed and protested inside police perimeters and under the ruthless lights of helicopters for hours. Numbers dwindled down to dozens by 9 a.m. The following day, as planned, a large rally was held at the downtown Oakland Public Library followed by a march back to Oscar Grant Plaza (OGP). Upon arriving at OGP no tents were raised, the kitchen was not re-established, and there was no library, no free store or medic tent. By the mayor’s orders, the plaza was to be open to the public for 24 hours a day, but no camping would be tolerated and the plaza would be under police supervision for 3 full days thereafter. Next to the mud puddle that used to be our strong, police-free common space, we held our regular Monday night General Assembly under the eye of more than one hundred police, paddy wagons on hand. Despite how uninspired and crushed one could feel at this time, it was hard to forget, after all we’ve been through, that this is still Oakland.
On Tuesday, a contingent of Oaklanders marched from OGP to UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza to join the students’ second attempt at an encampment on the evening of their campus-wide strike (called for the evening of their first attempted encampment of the plaza). As the march approached the University, rich with the history of 2009′s student occupations, they chanted “Here comes Oakland!”. Occupy Cal’s General Assembly was attended by thousands, and they set up camp and partied late into the night. Police presence was minimal compared to the first day of Occupy Cal. This day’s activities overshadowed and largely disregarded the death of Christopher Travis, a UC Berkeley student who was shot and killed by the UCPD that same day (allegedly for having a gun on campus, though details are unclear).
Wednesday’s GA drew out a rough blue print for actions to come. A proposal to establish a new camp at 19th and Telegraph[link], blocks away from OGP, passed among a crowd of at least 250. This was a particularly bold proposal because every detail of the event was disclosed publicly. It was a testament to the collective confidence and loss of fear that informs the people of OO.
At around 10:30pm it was brought to the attention of the new encampment that the sound truck (used during many marches and throughout the day of the General Strike) had been stopped by the police. This was clearly unwarranted harassment, but the pigs used the excuse of a local anti-sideshow law to impound the vehicle. Campers ran with excitement to 17th and MLK to try and stop them. After the drivers had left the truck, a cop got inside to drive it away, but people had it surrounded. It was only minutes after comrades responded that the police responded too – about 30 riot cops, running towards the comrades with their batons drawn. One of them, in an unmarked crown vic, drove into two people, leaving them without injury but in a fit of rage.
Occupy Oakland has received the warmest statements and actions of solidarity and inspiration from comrades in Chapel Hill, Seattle, Egypt, Mexico, St. Louis and many more. It is clear that Oakland has found a place in the hearts of rebels far and wide. But this is not enough. We must challenge ourselves to create our own media and to secure consistent communications among the rebels who carry each other. Meet these ends creatively and not under the illusion that we can subvert the mass media any more than we can subvert the banking industry, the misery of service work, or the police. May these lines of communication open as the veins and vessels in our own bodies did during the inception of Oscar Grant Plaza. Let’s assess our thought processes and the practical application of our most complex theories and simplest desires. If your heart beats to see the world in communization, negated or in total ruins, you know that you will not find your revolution here. Your absent future, on the other hand, may be further realized at this time.
Like the impressive actions of those in black bloc during the Nov 2nd General Strike, or the spontaneous eruptions of spray painting, minor looting and window smashing of that evening, it is important that our demonstrations necessitate creative use of our bodies and minds. Saturday night, 500 or more people participated in tearing down the fence surrounding the lot on 19th and Telegraph. The collective realization that this barrier between Oaklanders and a vacant space could be destroyed spread like wild fire in a matter of seconds. Where we are economically and emotionally alienated from each other, we are also alienated from our own bodies, our desires, our individual and collective potentials. Many in Oakland have resolved to stop asking for their most basic needs to be met. Many more linger in the absence of artillery – friends.
If this movement really is doomed, we must push it to its limits, suspend ourselves in time and space for just now, and redecorate the insulting facade of this world with indications of its destruction. If not for today, than for the security of the network of rebels we must depend on tomorrow. #Occupy is the perfect example.
Keep in touch,
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: new school, new york, november 17th, occupy everything, occupy wall street
“As we are continually and violently pushed out of public spaces, the people of this city must find new spaces in which to foster dialogue, learn and engage politically. Private spaces must be liberated; the movement must expand. We students, educators and members of the broader public have come together to occupy this space, seeking to transform it into a place of public education, safe and open to all.
Much of the repression of this movement has been conducted under the pretense of public health and safety. We, the occupiers, declare that we have the utmost concern for the safety and well-being of this occupation and its participants. New School President David Van Zandt and the New School Administration have expressed concerns that we observe the building’s fire code. We share these concerns. Licensed fire guards are included among the occupiers and we will continue to take the necessary steps to prevent harm from coming to anyone.
We reiterate that this occupation is not a New School action; this building actually belongs to Wells Fargo, whose role in the current economic crisis is well-known. We are occupying a building: and we, as occupiers, are not solely students – we are workers, teachers, students, unemployed, under-employed, indebted and exploited. We are creating a common space that will eventually be open to all. In addition to the people’s university, the CUNY adjunct project, and the all-city student assembly, we are in the process of planning a series of open teach-ins and events.”
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: municipal courts building, n17, occupy, occupy everything, occupy st. louis, st. louis
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: 16th street, barricades, fires, oakland, occupation, occupy everything, police, traveler's aid society, violence, windows smashed
Last night, after one of the most remarkable days of resistance in recent history, some of us within Occupy Oakland took an important next step: we extended the occupation to an unused building near Oscar Grant Plaza. We did this, first off, in order to secure the shelter and space from which to continue organizing during the coming winter months. But we also hoped to use the national spotlight on Oakland to encourage other occupations in colder, more northern climates to consider claiming spaces and moving indoors in order to resist the repressive force of the weather, after so bravely resisting the police and the political establishment. We want this movement to be here next Spring, and claiming unused space is, in our view, the most plausible way forward for us at this point. We had plans to start using this space today as a library, a place for classes and workshops, as well as a dormitory for those with health conditions. We had already begun to move in books from the library.
The building we chose was perfect: not only was it a mere block from Oscar Grant Plaza, but it formerly housed the Traveler’s Aid Society, a not-for-profit organization that provided services to the homeless but, due to cuts in government funding, lost its lease Given that Occupy Oakland feeds hundreds of people every day, provides them with places to sleep and equipment for doing so, involves them in the maintenance of the camp (if they so choose), we believe this makes us the ideal tenants of this space, despite our unwillingness to pay for it. None of this should be that surprising, in any case, as talk of such an action has percolated through the movement for months now, and the Oakland GA recently voted to support such occupations materially and otherwise. Business Insider discussed this decision in an article entitled “The Inevitable Has Happened.”
We are well aware that such an action is illegal, just as it is illegal to camp, cook, and live in Oscar Grant Plaza as we have done. We are aware that property law means that what we did last night counts as trespassing, if not burglary. Still, the ferocity of the police response surprised us. Once again, they mobilized hundreds of police officers, armed to the hilt with bean bag guns, tear gas and flashbang grenades, despite the fact that these so-called “less-than-lethal” weapons nearly killed someone last week. The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect one landlord’s right to earn a few thousand every month. Why is this? Whereas the blockade of the port – an action which caused millions of dollars of losses – met with no resistance, the attempt to take one single building, a building that was unused, met with the most brutal and swift response.
The answer: they fear this logical next step from the movement more than anything else. They fear it because they know how much appeal it will have. All across the US thousands upon thousands of commercial and residential spaces sit empty while more and more people are forced to sleep in the streets, or driven deep into poverty while trying to pay their rent despite unemployment or poverty wages. We understand that capitalism is a system that has no care for human needs. It is a system which produces hundreds of thousands of empty houses at the same time as it produces hundreds of thousands of homeless people. The police are the line between these people and these houses. They say: you can stay in your rat-infested park. You can camp out here as long as we want. But the moment that you threaten property rights, we will come at you with everything we have.
It is no longer clear who calls the shots in Oakland anymore. At the same time as OPD and the Alameda County Sheriffs were suiting up and getting ready to smash heads and gas people on 16th St, Mayor Quan was issuing a statement that she wished to speak to us about returning the building to the Traverler’s Aid Society. It is clear that the enmity between the Mayor and the Police has grown so intense that the police force is now an autonomous force, making its own decisions, irrespective of City Hall. This gives us even less reason to listen to them or respect the authority now.
We understand that much of the conversation about last night will revolve around the question of violence (though mostly they mean violence to “property,” which is somehow strangely equated with harming human beings). We know that there are many perspectives on these questions, and we should make the space for talking about them. But let us say this to the cops and to the mayor: things got “violent” after the police came. The riot cops marched down Telegraph and then the barricades were lit on fire. The riots cops marched down Telegraph and then bottles got thrown and windows smashed. The riot cops marched down Telegraph and graffiti appeared everywhere.
The point here is obvious: if the police don’t want violence, they should stay the hell away.
-some friends of occupy Oakland