To start off with, a round-up of useful sources for trying to keep on top of what’s been going on in Ferguson and elsewhere: Mask Magazine published this guide to the situation in the run-up to the Wilson verdict, and their piece “Hey, Step Back with the Riot Shaming” remains as relevant as it was this summer. Ferguson Fighting Fear with Fire from the Dialectical Delinquents site is a huge compilation of information taken from a lot of different sources, including first-hand accounts not available elsewhere. Anti-State St Louis is worth keeping an eye on for reports from the ground, and Fireworks has a lot of reports from the Bay Area. No More Missouri Compromises by Insurgent Notes has a vast amount of historical detail for anyone seeking to understand the broader context behind what’s been happening, and Ferguson and Further is a site aiming to collect resources, like these poster and flyer templates, for anti-police struggle elsewhere.
Other resources that have been produced include Why Burn Little Caesars? a leaflet/mini-pamphlet in defence of the riots, and Against The Police and The Prison World They Maintain, a history of anti-police struggles in the Pacific Northwest in 2011. CrimethInc. have also been quick to respond, publishing From Occupy to Ferguson in the run-up to the verdict and The Thin Blue Line is a Burning Fuse immediately after. Both texts are a worthwhile attempt to intervene in the moment, although the weaknesses of the CrimethInc ideology are particularly visible in the second text, where they attempt to make a fairly dodgy historical argument based on the idea that the workplace is no longer a significant site of struggle; police brutality and state repression have always been important to sparking off popular revolt, from the Cossacks attacking striking workers outside the Winter Palace in 1905 to the CRS attacking students in Nanterre University in 1968 to the Rodney King beating in 1992, so the “now” in “Why Every Struggle Is Now a Struggle against the Police” seems decidedly questionable. Claiming that “What bosses once were to workers, police are to the precarious and unemployed” is a deeply unhelpful position, obscuring the role played by things like race in affecting how different unemployed people relate to the police, not to mention the fact that precarious workers are still workers, and so still have to face their bosses. We can’t say for sure whether anger over police brutality will spill over into more workplace actions like the amazing “Hands Up Don’t Ship” protest by UPS workers, but it does seem clear that if they do, CrimethInc’s blinkered politics will barely allow them to acknowledge what’s going on, let alone make a useful contribution to pushing things forward.
Finally, two more links: One of the most useful things that far-away supporters can do is to contribute to the Ferguson Defence Fund and make sure that those who end up victimised by the state for what’s going on have access to adequate support, and Who Is Oakland? is a lengthy piece from a few years ago, born out of the experience of Occupy Oakland, that feels very relevant to some of the arguments taking place in the movement today. So, having provided a selection of links to what other people have been saying, a few of my own thoughts on those arguments:
Unlike the first round of reactions to Mike Brown’s killing, the reaction to the grand jury verdict seems to have caused much more widespread protests, including the first significant protests I’ve heard about in the UK over the issue. And wherever solidarity protests have been organised here, heated arguments about leadership, representation and legitimacy seem to have quickly broken out: the most high-profile being the dispute between the SWP and London Black Revolutionaries after both groups had organised separate protests, but a number of other arguments seem to have happened elsewhere covering broadly similar ground. Of course, in the case of the SWP and London Black Revs, things are quite clear-cut, as the SWP can usually be trusted to act like cartoon villains; but just because we’re used to manipulators coming in the form of Leninist parties, that doesn’t mean that other people can’t play a similar role*. It’s reasonable to say that anti-racist protests should be led by people affected by racism, but that still leaves open the question of the relationship between black people and other people of colour, and, most importantly, there’s always the fact that not all black people or people of colour will share a single analysis or have the same opinion about what to do.
Practical leadership, in the form of taking imaginative actions that might inspire other people, is always welcome, but leadership in the form of setting yourself up as a representative with the right to decide who is and who isn’t a legitimate protester, is always a limitation on a movement, a potential blocking point that needs to be pushed past. Again, in the UK, in most struggles within recent memory, these people have tended to be aligned with Leninist parties, or else with some element of the Labour or union bureaucracies, but there’s no reason why activists using social justice/anti-oppression rhetoric might not end up playing the same role, using the tactics described in Who Is Oakland? to delegitimise and dismiss any actions or protesters they don’t approve of. Hopefully this struggle will be taken forward by a wide range of inside and outside agitators organising their own actions, which is always a good thing; the moment anyone starts claiming the right to authorise and control what others can do or say, they become an obstacle to the movement they claim to speak for.
* to be clear, this is not an attack on LBR, who seem to be making a wholly positive contribution to the struggle as far as I can tell.