As in previous weeks, I’ve spent a fair amount of time this week trying to keep up with the ongoing revolt against racism and police brutality in the US. As always, the Ferguson Fighting Fear With Fire page is worth keeping an eye on; beyond that, here’s a list of some interesting or interesting-looking sources I’ve found (haven’t had time to read all of these yet so can’t fully comment on their contents, but they all look worth checking out if you have the time):
One Four Seven: some notes on tactics and strategy from Durham’s recent anti-police marches (Trianarchy)
From Ferguson to Oakland (CrimethInc)
Why Break Windows? (CrimethInc)
Burning All Illusions Tonight (Unity & Struggle)
5 Ways to Build a Movement after Ferguson (Unity & Struggle)
Turn Up HTown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action (Out of the Flames of Ferguson)
Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion (TZ)
The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City (JF and friends)
Points for Discussion on Race in the United States (Noel Ignatiev)
Nation Reacts to Ferguson Verdict, Systematic Racism (Be Young & Shut Up)
We Welcome the Fire, We Welcome the Rain (Fireworks)
#MillionsMarch Ends in Arrests from Coast to Coast (Paul Murufas)
The Ghost of Christmas Future (Mask)
If We Burn, You Burn With Us (Mask)
Maintaining Momentum: A Challenge for Protestors (Charles J. Gaglio)
For Those Who Should Know Better: Shine the Light of Solidarity; Don’t Help Build the Walls of Separation (Cindy Milstein)
Solidarity, as Weapon & Practice, versus Killer Cops & White Supremacy (Cindy Milstein)
“From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson, the State Is Our Enemy” (Cindy Milstein)
The Nature of Police, the Role of the Left (Peter Gelderloos)
The Killing of Eric Garner and the Failure of Social Justice Unionism (Scott Jay)
November 2014: From Election to Rebellion (Scott Jay)
Demanding End to War on Black People, Oakland Protesters Blockade Police Department (Sarah Lazare)
Some Notes on the Recent East Bay Protests (Edge City Collective)
Expanding the Struggle: Notes on the Future of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement (Black Rose/Rosa Negra NYC)
Finally, there’s this speaking tour, which is coming up in the UK soon. I remain deeply suspicious of anyone claiming to speak for or represent the movement as a whole, and I have mixed feelings about some of the organisations supporting the tour, but on the whole this seems like a good opportunity to help develop the movement and make practical links, especially if the focus is on using this tour as a way to develop ongoing organising.
Having got that linkdump out of the way, a few quick thoughts on what the movement looks like at the moment: I think the tactic of highway blockades seems to be becoming one of the defining features of the current moment, and it’d be interesting to talk and think about why that is and what it means. In some ways, I feel this represents a move forward from Occupy: while that movement was, right down to its name, based around the idea of occupation, those occupations were mainly fairly non-disruptive seizures of areas that were designated as “public space”. While some of the high water marks of Occupy, like the West Coast Port Shutdown and the push for a general strike, explicitly aimed to disrupt business as usual, the Occupy camps as a whole were nowhere near as inherently disruptive as traditional workplace occupations and the like. In contrast, the highway blockades, along with the Westfield shopping centre die-in in London that led to a mass arrest of 76 people, seem to express, more or less explicitly, an understanding that, while black lives matter, they don’t matter to those in power; what does matter from the perspective of those in power is making sure that commodities continue to be produced and to circulate – in simple English, the activities of making, buying and selling things – so that those with money can get more money, and that our power lies in stopping those activities from happening. This tactic also seems to take for granted that the whole system of making, buying and selling is in some sense our enemy – as one slogan has it, that the whole damn system is guilty as hell – so that blocking that system becomes more important than lobbying any particular politician for any particular demand.
The highway blockades are also interesting as another attempt – again, alongside other attempts like the port shutdown actions that took place during Occupy – to answer the question of how those of us who, for whatever reason, aren’t in a position to take strike action can still exercise collective power by blocking the movement of commodities and money. Thinking about these blockades, it’s interesting to recall once again the experience of June-November 2011, when largely passive top-down union strikes called out huge numbers of workers, but the impact of these actions were limited by the lack of any initiative outside the control of the union leaders. Meanwhile, outrage at the police murder of Mark Duggan led to a few fiery days in August, but those days burned themselves out, or were drowned by repression, without any real links being made between the two moments of opposition. Now, imagine what it would have meant for there to be a self-organised movement of highway and shopping centre blockades aiming to paralyse the economy out of anger at police killings, and if such a movement had been in play at the same time as the trade unions had been taking disruptive strike action, with a lot of the strike’s effectiveness coming from action by transport workers, which has a similar impact to highway blockades. How would the situation have been altered? How easy would it have been for the union tops to sell the end of the dispute if rank-and-file union members had come into contact with a genuinely uncontrollable movement like the best of what we’ve seen in recent weeks?
Of course, on one level this is all abstract speculation – we can’t go back and alter the past, no matter how much we’d like to. But on another, all the ingredients are still there, and will occur again: we know we’re going to see more racist police killings and more spontaneous displays of anger in response, just as we know that we’re going to see more union disputes where huge but toothless one-day strikes are called as a safety valve. Thinking about these questions now might yet help to put us in a better position the next time these things arise.