By Owen Hill
I was at the action (demonstration, whatever) last week. I used to find them exciting but I’ve grown weary. Attended my first in ’68 or ’69 as an early teen when we ended the Vietnam War and ushered in Lasting World Peace with our protests in Westwood. Saw some good ones when I was a union steward at LAX—I felt a responsibility to help out other unions. A couple of Caesar Chavez UFW things were real coarkers with lots of arrests and some real, well-earned gains. Mostly these memories are pretty blurry—the huge anti-war marches that blanketed big cities after 9/11 were incredible spectacles, inspiring in the moment but useless in the long run as Bush then Obama did their part to destroy a region. The closing of the docks in ’11 was one of the most inspiring days in the political side of my life (fuck, in my life, period), watching Occupy flex its muscles and seed the various movements that represent the resistance now. On a personal level, it was at a time in my life when I realized that from here on out I’ll be old and so it was moving to see so many young people. I’ve also attended the various post-murder anti police rallies, bitter affairs squelched by militarized cop forces.
So now we have the two types of “actions”. The pink hats/hold hands kind and the basic black break it ups. I try to attend both, thinking (still think) that it’s better to get out there and put your body on the line (or at least support those who do) than get lost in cynicism. Go, team! But thinking—I’d rather go home and read a good book, watch it on the news, live my not-quite bourgeois (a little too poor) lifestyle. Abject hopeless is no damn fun, and “we” are failing on all fronts.
Something changed, for me, last week, and I have to thank the Black Bloc folks for that. Not that they’d care, I’m ideologically impure (I hope) and, I think, would be hopelessly bored by all their reductive theory based blah (although last week I caught myself using “bourgeois affectation” in a facebook post. What’s become of me?). That’s a style thing, though.
What they did last week, in tandem with the “armchair liberals”, worked. It worked! They went in, broke some stuff, the nazi asshole was stopped, mission accomplished. I think it worked because they were surrounded by at least a thousand “peaceful” demonstrators, a nice cover. It was really surgical, at least at first. The silliness that followed was the typical Bay Area hooliganism—I’ve always found that kind of charming. We don’t have soccer riots here, we have the after party, followed by a good dose of cop brutality.
That it happened in Berkeley means that it was followed by all those pre-written news stories about “violence” in the streets, and lots of theories about agents provocateurs and outside agitators (shades of my youth!), people who didn’t show up going off the rails (Robert Reich, we love you, wise up!), and facebook threads that eventually turn pissy. But-but-but. It worked! If you were at Sproul that night you wanted to show Milo the door. Chanting would not have accomplished that, not pink hats, not dancing on the steps. And, other side of the token, a line of folks in faux military gear breaking windows would have been stopped (brutally) by the cops in no time without the support/witnessing of the pink hats. To digress—please, both sides, redesign the costumes. What a lot of corny shit.
I’m seeing/hearing that this is a fascist takeover, or at least some sort of authoritarian endgame. If you believe that, how can you write off the Black Bloc? People have died fighting fascism, we could be there again. At least consider—the people you stand against are beyond rational argument. And, to those that stomp in and break stuff: You’re dead (or at least ridiculous) without popular support and you don’t have it. People who should be on your side don’t like you very much. A night breaking ATMs could be the manifestation of another form of bourgeois affectation. Do you really have the support of the oppressed? Time to cut the crap on both sides. Find a way to hang together, folks.