Burnt Bookmobile


A Weekend of Vandalism in New York

The vandalist is recognizable as the most obnoxious brat conjurable in society’s collective imagination. These Bart Simpsons struck once again this past weekend, pranking the Left and their enemies on multiple occasions in a joyous effort to devalorize everything it holds sacrosanct.

They started on Friday night by crashing a party held by the multinational corporation Verso, an enterprise which has made its fortune by cornering the market on socialist-oriented literature. While the paper they sell contains words arguing for revolt against the commodity form, they themselves ruthlessly defend it using lawyers, security guards, Zizekians, and other such police to prevent unauthorized consumption of their product. Such was the case when Verso lawyers sent a cease and desist notice to the beloved AAAARG.org, a website that hosts free PDFs of critical theory, putting Verso in the same category as the MPAA, RIAA, DOJ, and all other litigious enemies of free cultural exchange.

As young hip communists danced to 90s music in the bourgeois Verso loft, at least a dozen vandalists filled their bags with Verso’s inventory, intending to trade, gift, and fill their collective libraries with the volumes. The Robin Hood-like act was not looked at kindly by the Verso bosses and their Pinkertons, however, who finally became aware of the vandalism to their warehouse towards the party’s end. One bad citizen was grabbed, ordered to empty his bag, and threatened with arrest. Several corporate investors flocked to the scene, threatened violence against the bookworm, and declared themselves “true socialists” to defend themselves against the heckles of the proletarian attendees, generally sympathetic to the act of stealing from employers.

The sun went under, and so did the vandalists. Comrades need five hours of sleep to maintain their cognitive acuity. But no sooner had the great star poured its gold onto the streets once more, than the vandalists, refreshed by oneiric visions of the Metropolis sunken into bloody catastrophe, set out at a gallop toward the financial district of Manhattan. Finding the leisurely neo-hippie atmosphere of Zuccotti Park trite, the semio-hooligan band concocted a plan to tarnish the pacific scene. Embedded in the perimeter of this police colony like a benign tumor, the Left Forum at Pace University was to be the next target of our proletarian protagonists’ ruthless undermining.

For those who want a program for the revolution, the Left Forum has drafted it, and covered it with institutional endorsements. If you look in the index, between ‘reform’ and ‘revolution’, you will find ‘resignation’. Wedged like a weak nut between the two jaws of City Hall and Police Plaza, the Forum quaked in its vegan boots when this band of freaks appeared at its gates hollering “Autoreduce the Forum” in a sickening cadence and overpowered the University’s rented sentries. These one-time police academy hopefuls were no match for the berserk resolve of the invaders, who burst through the gates wielding slogans like nunchucks. The moldy academics in their lumpy seats didn’t know what to make of the lumpens, some of whom were already sizing up the vending machines for a siege in miniature.

More chants of “Communize Everything” and other such jargon seductive to trend-hopping Leftists allowed the group’s numbers to surge to around 100, who soon marched to Zuccotti amidst Pied-Piper-like chants of “Praxis! Praxis!”

Once in the park, the intellectuals tarnished the atmosphere of activist smug with discourse on such topics as young Marx’s hygienic rituals, the Death of God, and materialist analyses of punk lyrics. Indeed, both the over-lexed Left Forum and the over-praxed Zuccotti were now thoroughly intermingled, setting the stage for the night’s chaos.

As police began to wipe the human graffiti from the park’s pavement, numerous marches began to snake around downtown Manhattan, seeking icons to defile along it’s path. The ensuing police could not handle the swift, self-barricading crowd at times, and a window of Uniqlo was destroyed after a vandalist caught site of their face’s reflection in the glass over the blank visage of a mannequin. Perhaps seduced by the incoherent rage of the crowd, media recorded an affinity group of officers using the head of an Occupy medic to damage the window of an yuppie apartment building.

Like the fumes from a can of spraypaint, the betraying scent of the vandalist hangs for a few moments before it dissolves completely in the flowing air. The odorous memories of internal transgressions, pettiness, and provocations will soon be replaced by the reassuring scent of freshly baked historicity, allowing yet another Call of Action to be posted, and subsequently defaced.

-Geiseric Tendency
Mayan Spring 2012

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Wisconsin is Really Bad at Social War

This is a brief summary and commentary written by someone who participated in the occupy MKE events thus far. There is still an ongoing occupation in Milwaukee, but it’s laden with problems and at an extreme lowpoint in participation of actual occupation (outside of marches and General Assemblies). We’ll try to post further updates here when more develops.

I was excited when the occupation movement finally came to town. Almost a month after New York, Milwaukee would finally get a piece of the action. Nothing really exciting has really happened since the occupation at UW-Milwaukee, and I was excited to write the wrongs of the past.

DAY ONE

When myself and several comrades arrived at the Zeidler Park for the kick-off march, the number of people already there was encouraging. The crowd was estimated between 2500 and 3000 people, much more than any other Milwaukee event in recent memory. What was not encouraging was the ominous proliferation of FRSO and WWP members and their respective newspapers. Even so, the presence of a first aid tent and people with masks kept me hopeful. According to a comrade who was at the planning meeting for the occupation, there would be marshals and the march would be permitted, but the peace police were limited to leading chants and directing the march leaving plenty of space for possible intervention.

Our interventions, though minor, were successful. As our black flags flapped in the wind we undermined the authority of marshals telling everyone to slow down by walking right past them, challenging them to “try and fucking stop us.” We also introduced a fun new chant of our own (Kill the rich, arm the poor; our one demand is civil war) much to the dismay of the pacifist organizers. When the march arrived at the Chase Bank there were several speakers. One of them tried to start chanting “thank you” to the police. He was countered by a “fuck you” chant and quickly gave up expressing his gratitude. While these minor interventions probably didn’t accomplish much, they were often appreciated by the other marchers who appeared to appreciate a break from the recycled liberal rhetoric they had been hearing since Madison.

After returning to Zeidler Park, the occupation acquired a festival atmosphere as it continued through the day. As expected, there was a potluck and pizza. At 7pm the GA started. The fail was soon to follow. The “General Assembly” that evening consisted of a small faction of the organizers talking at what remained of the occupiers (about 80 people). Anarchists intervened once more, calling out the organizers for engaging in negotiations with the police without the consent of the larger group. The discussion then shifted to whether or not people would risk arrest to continue the occupation in Zeidler Park. My comrades and I found ourselves on the same side as local SDS members, arguing that it’s not an occupation until it comes into conflict with the police. Unfortunately when the matter came to a straw poll of the crowd, we allowed the organizers to get away with phrasing the question as “Who wants to get arrested staying here?” Not calling that out was probably our biggest mistake. Naturally, the crowd of nervous occupiers erred strongly in favor of going home and coming back the next morning.

At 10pm there were four of us standing the the center of Zeidler Park squaring off against about 30 MPD officers. We decided that we’d rather spare ourselves the humiliation of being arrested on the local news and left after a couple warnings. It’s difficult to tell what would have happened if we stood our ground, but I have no regrets about not spending the night occupying a Milwaukee County Jail cell for a bunch of cowardly liberal organizers.

While we were being routed, another contingent of occupiers attempted to occupy a second location and, by the time we met up with them, were being told off by the police. The occupation spent the rest of the night roaming around downtown Milwaukee looking for a new encampment. This was the most enjoyable part of the evening as it evolved into a drunken game of cat-and-mouse with MPD in which the risk of arrest was extremely low. We went to a park, the cops showed up and stationed a few horse cops there, and then we moved to the next park. We finally found a privately owned park where we set up camp for the night.

DAY TWO

In the morning, those of us who spent the night returned to Zeidler Park to be joined by occupiers who had left earlier. The general assembly which started at 1pm went on for five hours. During that assembly, the GA adopted a system of decision making which took the worst aspects of consensus decision-making and combined them with the worst aspects of Robert’s Rules of Order. This, combined with completely incompetent facilitators, resulted in an overly powerful GA which required a 75% majority vote to do anything and a hyper-bureaucratic system of committees.

AFTERWORD

With a GA that didn’t uses consensus and only two or three anarchists present at any given time, we were totally silenced at the second GA. None of us have returned to occupy Milwaukee as of this posting. Luckily for us, the occupation is already fizzling out due to disinterest and the comical incompetence of the organizers (for example: they don’t have control over their own website, so they can’t post updates on what’s happening or where they’ve moved.). Also, it’s getting really cold.

I think some of the lessons to be taken away from this are as follows:

1. Know the organizers – We were caught off guard by not immediately knowing who was in charge and found ourselves unable to intervene in time to prevent the manipulation of the first GA. Had we intervened more effectively, we might have been able to maintain control over Zeidler Park.

2. Assume the worst, hope for the best – I, for one, assumed that the GA would immediately adopt a consensus based decision-making model in which I would be able to block shitty proposals (like the formation of endless committees). This assumption proved costly as there weren’t enough of us present in the second GA to block the aforementioned proposals in a system where we needed +25% vote share to block.

3. Facilitation is key – Experienced anarchist facilitation of the first couple of GAs proved decisive in saving the UW-Milwaukee occupation from immediately becoming stupid (although it eventually succumbed to that fate) and inexperienced liberal facilitation ensured that occupy Milwaukee became a clusterfuck of fail.

-The Trollatariat



Looking Toward Wisconsin: An Interview With A Participant From Milwaukee

This interview was conducted by someone from the journal Modesto Anarcho (MA).

What follows is an interview with a comrade from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the recent events in the state’s Capital, Madison, over a few hours away. For more information on what is happening in Wisconsin, check out the Burnt Bookmobile blog. Class war, don’t cha know?

MA: What is the situation in Madison right now?

I’ve only been in Madison during one of the days since the occupation and demonstrations started. I’ve known people who have spent many days there, who have slept in the Capitol building, and who have been going back and forth between Milwaukee and Madison regularly. People are constantly talking about the situation, so I have an idea that is generally up to date, but there is often a bit of a delay. At other times I’m hearing about things as they happen through friends, because word travels much faster than the reporting often does.

I can describe what my experience was there briefly on that day. I went on the first Saturday, the day when the Tea Party of Wisconsin had also called for protests to counter the occupation and protests taking place. About a couple thousand Tea Party protesters showed up, but they were dwarfed and drowned out by the fifty to one hundred thousand people who wandered through the streets, marched, inadvertently blocking traffic and rerouting it across the city, and took up most of the floor space inside the Capitol building. They were mostly ignored and made irrelevant, huddled into a corner of the back steps and yard on one side of the Capitol. I had expected the presence of the Tea Party to provoke and heighten tensions between the two sides, but not much happened in response.

Inside the Capitol building people had been hanging posters and signs on everything. As would be expected, there were chants and crowds of people banging on things. When hearing “This is what democracy looks like” chanted I’m usually horribly ashamed to be present, driven almost to the point of nausea, but this atmosphere sent a shiver down my spine. Despite the form of expression this took, I had the feeling that its real content was hidden, but still exposed through the collective force of the activity of these people. It expressed a feeling of being together as thousands of people who couldn’t be fucked with, even if the parameters to express this were and are mostly pathetic at this point. It demonstrated that it is our activity that defines us. Otherwise, the contradiction of a movement that is both for and against democracy cannot be explained, as it physically prevents the democratic process. Democracy mitigates and disguises force relations by reducing them to a process and mere matters of opinion. It is the neutralization of force and thus of the conflict that is necessary for the elaboration of a politics, for one to take sides and act. We don’t care what as much what people chant, but as long as they increasingly define their position they will increasingly come into an internal contradiction with democratic logic.

What was going on in these spaces had been going on for days and had therefore assumed a kind of routine or culture. So after witnessing it there wasn’t much to do except to wander, meet and talk, eat food, hang out and occupy the space of the city along with the other thousands of people there.

As for what is going on currently in Madison, I’ve heard that Saturday the 26th has been one of the largest days of the demonstrations in terms of numbers. Though I haven’t heard much about the situation on that specific day. There have been rumors and talk of eviction since this all happened, but the police Chief of Madison made an official statement that probably came as an order to be distributed from the Governor, declaring that the Capitol building was to be “cleared” for cleaning, which meant forcefully evicted if need be. A day after this announcement the police union made a statement to the media and gathered crowds saying that they stand with those occupying the Capitol and protesters, not with Scott Walker or his proposed legislation, that they would not be part of any eviction of these people, and that they would in fact be joining them in sleeping on the floors of the Capitol. This is all very weird. It no doubt allows certain illusions to persist, but it won’t last long. It had seemed like the moment when lines would be more clearly drawn was fast approaching, making clear connections between this particular event, the inherent play of forces necessary to maintain everyday life and the function of the police, as a force of dispossession. We will not be surprised when the police are forced to act in order to attempt to maintain their role as the ones who make the threats.

On Saturday, word spread in various ways that the Capitol was going to be closed Sunday by 4pm and that everyone was going to have to leave. A couple hundred decided to leave to avoid risking arrest, but many hundreds more gathered and were determined to hold the space with the possibility of being arrested. Against the prospect of having to arrest hundreds of people in the Capitol, which would have been a bad move in the eyes of many thousands who had come to the Capitol in the preceding days, the police decided that they weren’t going to arrest anyone. They encouraged people to leave voluntarily and that they would assess the situation “day by day.” This all meant that as long as people stayed that the occupation would continue. It’s still continuing now.

MA: Can you talk about what were some of the first events to happen? The sick outs for instance?

I first heard about the events in Madison sitting in a computer lab, when none of this seemed like it would last more than a day and it lacked a real quality for many people here. Earlier in the day there had been a relatively minor protest organized by teachers assistants, teachers and others. Nothing was surprising or out of the ordinary. Not until later in the week, when a walk out was called and three thousand people responded, did the unreality of the situation start to appear as if it wasn’t going to so easily fade back to normal. After this there was always talk and rumors circulating. There was a giddiness that was held in common by people never expected to share anything. People, who before were just members of the crowd passing between work, class and their homes, suddenly had a vibrancy to them. Invisible dots that connected us became more visible.

I know a few who are teachers for MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) and a number of graduate students who are TAs at the UW-Milwaukee campus. I don’t have a very exact knowledge of all of the districts and specific schools that were shut down by the sick outs. All Madison public schools were shut down for at least four days. Then followed Racine, Milwaukee and a number of others I’m not as familiar with. Thousands have participated in the sick outs. Some of TAs and teachers have not shown up to a single class since the sick out started to teach, despite threats from the administration. Many of the public school teachers have gone back to work, feeling some obligation to their students and because it seemed that there was less purpose in sustaining the sick outs. It appears as very likely that they will be employed strategically, correlative to certain days: like a general strike, the day when the contracts for many public employee unions expire, or other possible events.

MA: What is the extent of the student walk outs? The occupations?

Accompanying the sick outs there have also been widespread and random walkouts, by high school students. They have been incredibly self-directed. We’ve heard about them taking place anywhere from any of the rural Wisconsin towns, Schools surrounding Madison, and a number of urban Milwaukee schools. The numbers and magnitude of this activity was severely under-reported and communicated, so we have a hard time knowing what exactly went on. We had randomly crossed paths with one group of about two hundred to three hundred kids who had walked out of a school called Rufus King, who just happened to be meandering through the UW-Milwaukee campus during the walkout which was happening there. They joined the occupation of Bolton Hall on campus to show support temporarily, but seemed less interested in assemblies or discussion. They wanted to be angry and how they expressed this was to walk for miles around the city, chanting, yelling and being unruly. No activity we have seen thus far has contained as much energy as these kids.

The occupations outside of the Capitol have been so far pretty minor. Though many students have been a consistent presence in Madison and many have been staying overnight, sleeping on the floor of the Capitol building, and taking part in meetings and discussions happening there. There was the GOP office in Madison which was occupied by members of a disability rights group called ADAPT, who it was rumored to have been joined at least temporarily by steel workers. There is a lot of talk about occupation, and much is expected to coincide or respond to the release of the new budget that happens on the 1st of March, this upcoming student day of action on the 2nd of March, and when the bill passes.

MA: If a general strike does break out, what do you think will happen?

A lot of people barely know what a general strike means in the US. We don’t know what it means for an entire city to be shut down outside of a snow storm in Wisconsin. Perhaps there will be a snow storm and city workers will refuse to plow it. Most likely not. Union officials are quoted to have said in their endorsement of the general strike that emergency services would not be effected. Everything else run by public and potentially private industries as well will halt. One would assume that there would be marches and many people in the streets, with workplaces suddenly emptied of all their bodies, but it’s unclear what exactly these bodies will do suddenly freed and functioning less properly. With the strike being contingent upon when the bill passes and the bill passing being indefinitely delayed, it’s hard to tell or foresee an increase or lack of momentum that would change the effect of the strike.

Many people in general are planning. They don’t want to sit and wait for the bill to pass to determine their activity. Meanwhile the rank and file of unions are being educated as to the what and how of a general strike. It’s hard to fathom what this will look like without being heavily based on the image of how it has happened in the past. In this case, the past is innovative in responding to the nothing we’re so familiar with, but this only goes so far. The situation must be open to more creative and critical approaches in order to respond to the specific modes of production and reproduction of capitalism in Wisconsin currently, so as to fulfill the general strikes threat of a force that refuses to function, making everything stop. I don’t expect creative or critical approaches to this, but I have been surprised many times already in the past number of weeks.

MA: To what extent has the spirit of the Egyptian uprising been an impact on the demonstrators?

To the degree that some of the people involved have paid some attention to the events in Egypt and found them inspiring, this has contributed some amount of a feeling of a greater possibility here. It is doubtful that it is a very large influence. There are many people who identify within leftist and radical discourses, who would have followed what was and is going on in Egypt, but the majority are normal ass people from Wisconsin who most likely learn about events from standard television news and other “mainstream” media. As someone who doesn’t pay much attention to either I may be wrong.

MA: What are some of the limits of what is happening in Wisconsin? To what degree are the unions and the Democrats in control of the situation?

The situation is permeated with limits. It would seem that any potential rupture or large scale manifestation of people reacting to crisis, and thereby being the crisis, will manifest likely at first as a movement for the return to normal. It will be trapped mostly within the apparatuses and discourses which contain them, but also necessarily exceeding them through activity. There are obvious identifiable limits. There are the unions themselves, which in their structure play a role in preventing and containing the self-directed activity of those who work. There are dominant discourses for what constitutes politics or contestation, which prevent and contain how resisting or being in conflict can be thought and acted out. There is the whole of our present conditions which employ and condition the worker that must be struggled against. It is vague but true to say that the alienated being, the kind that exists as a person living in Wisconsin, must fight everything. But this does not mean that there is no specificity to the struggle here. At this point of just barely being started, the struggle is though mostly unacknowledged, in reality against everything that maintains the normal progressive development of Capital. The anti-austerity struggle here must determine barriers by conflicting with its conditions – by creating a language, culture and practice of a shared struggle.

It appears as quite clear that the unions and Democrats are acting as a response to a popular rage and collective force that necessitates they act in a way which maintains degrees of legitimacy. That these mere representations and structures lack the potency which corresponds to the actual abnormal activity of people here is not to say that they have no influence over the situation. They channel this rage into established politics, organization, identity, discourses which all inherently impotently respond to the situation specifically because they are and produce the dead end which we inhabit, this ever increasing lack of control over our lives.

MA: Have you heard or come across many people who are getting annoyed at the control the Left is placing on the events?

I’m surrounded by those who are always more than annoyed by the Left. I have not been in close proximity to the organization of the occupation in the Capitol, how marches are organized, etc. The presence of the Left is something that one is always alienated from. There is this feeling of being a member of mass to produce an image of power for ends other than yourself or your interests. There is a constant setting of the stage, the defining of what are acceptable terms, modes of conduct, the aestheticization of the event is often influenced most easily by those who can supply everyone with the same sign, with the same t-shirt, who take and make the image have a role of defining the event. But outside of this there is much self-directed and creative activity that contradicts these tendencies, and which will eventually come ever further into conflict with them.

We understand that activity itself has the ability to dissolve some of these subjective barriers and allows for people to be more than a member of a certain union for that certain union, a worker for work, a man for men, a student for school, etc. We can hope that this event to whatever degree creates a further crisis of subjectivity – that glimpses the abolishment of even more than the class, but the entire conditions and conditioning of the worker.

MA: Have revolutionaries been able to intervene or expand the revolt in any way?

It’s at too much of an early and experimental stage to assess the effectiveness of our activity. People with much wider aims and intentions are participating in these events and they’ve been thrown into a fever pace in order to catch up, but it is perhaps not the best idea to go into much detail about specifics. Posters are made and widely distributed. Texts are written that analyze the situation, attempting to clear away as many inhibitions as possible with critique. But most of all, in these moments it is not words but actions which have and which will change everything, and which corresponds to a way of being in the world that we could call communism or anarchy.

MA: Any last thoughts?

Look to Wisconsin and see yourselves. Make it spread. Prepare for and create crisis.