All posts by edgecity510

Yeast: Winter Solstice 2014

(Editor’s Note:  This was written in late 2014 by a friend of Edge City and reflects many conversations with Edge City members and others but does not reflect the politics of all members of the group.)

We write this not as a manifesto, but as a letter and invitation to dialogue. Events since Occupy and particularly since the rebellion in Ferguson make it possible to spell out much clearer in outline what the elements of a revolutionary left in the United States look like. There is a rising tide of movement in 2015 and we claim one current of that. We owe it to ourselves and others to contribute to the tide, but also to distinguish one portion of it.

It’s necessary to preface this, since ‘revolutionary’ proclamations are nothing new among some political groupings in North America. Many of those documents have been obscure enough as to leave us scratching our heads. We’ll attempt to speak as plainly as possible and to make clear that we are not seeking differences for the point of purity; we’re seeking theoretical clarity and political unity, when possible. But, while we’re not offering points of unity or a constitution here – those are tasks for collectives and organizations – we are certain that there is a revolutionary current that does not fit into any of the existing organizations or frameworks. At the time of Occupy in the United States it was possible to look around and count heads and know there were tens of thousands of individuals who were being drawn to the revolutionary pole. They were not drawn to a document (the original Occupy document was a somewhat vague Adbusters plea that no one remembers), but to actions, calls to actions and individuals and small groups who were putting forth clear alternatives to, let’s be generous, what were often muddled or reformist proposals that showed up dressed in new Occupied garb.

We don’t want to minimize the organizational, theoretical, political and personal tasks that will be necessary to cohere that force, since they are significant and some may be outright impossible. E.g., not every individual with revolutionary politics can work within or with organizations, some have been too damaged by life under capitalism. In fact a review of previous attempts at organizations and federations at least since 1999 in the U.S. is one necessary step, but future documents, reviews, critiques, proposals, books as well as actions and campaigns should and will come when new meetings and new organizations demand and commission them. Given that this next year will find the arising movement forced to go beyond its current cycle of marches as well as fending off the inevitable sucking of some of its militants into the Democratic Party’s 2016 campaign, there is little time to spare.

We do not expect agreement on every word or every point here, nor do we think that is necessary. Our approach is to stake out boundaries and expect that the work – and the process of collectively agreeing to do real work together – as well as the tasks before us will define any organization that arises. We do not expect agreement on every word or every point here, nor do we think that is necessary; we repeat that to emphasize that this document is a survey, not an agenda or Wikipedia or program. Particularly since we are writing against the modern tendencies to overwhelm people with jargon, to write the perfect document or fastest tweet rather than take a place in this emerging movement and, as well, to act as though there is unlimited time to mull over the possibilities.

We are writing for 2015 and the future. While there is much value in the documents of the past – and we have unhesitatingly borrowed and stolen from better writers than ourselves – those who continue to use only the thoughts and categories that were useful in 1848 or 1929 or 1968 do us no good. We would urge everyone to re-read Luxemburg’s writings on reform and revolution and Malcolm’s speeches from 1960 on, for example, but also to recall that Rosa did not have to deal with the non-profit complex and Malcolm X spoke and wrote and organized during a time of legal segregation in the U.S. Can anyone deny that in 2008 the possibility of an African-American president galvanized a large sector of the U.S. working class but, since August, 2014, much of the Black youth, students and workers of Ferguson and elsewhere have acted as though that president is irrelevant to their lives. Doesn’t this demand new thinking and new actions on our part?

These are beginning points of discussion for a revolutionary current in the U.S., not slogans or endpoints. If each is completely re-written in the process of creating an organization that would not displease us. We should stress that they derive from the basic notion of the autonomy of the dispossessed and of the working class – the revolutionary force(s) creating themselves through the necessary, though not inevitable, process of struggle against internal tendencies. Those who wish to stop U.S. imperialism, but deny the existence of a working class in North America or who wish to restrict workers to a sociological or demographic function, for example, will find little in common with us, despite some allegiance on the need to recognize the role of the U.S. state as a global policeman. Those who would recruit us to their Party can save their breath.

Here we stand:

I. the earth is a global system, both ecologically and economically. No nation is outside global capitalism, no species is exempt from its effects. The destructive trends resulting from production for profit – almost too many to name – are directly related to the current mode of production, capitalism, and cannot be resolved without transcending and destroying the triumph of exchange value over use value (production for profit, not use). Humanity has both obligation and necessity in undertaking that task. The current destruction of species and the environment is unprecedented, equivalent to the sixth great extinction, and cannot continue without large portions of the planet becoming Fukushima and Chernoboyl, New Orleans just after Katrina, the dead zones of the oceans, the stripped mountain tops of Appalachia and Wyoming, the clearcuts of the Amazon, Indonesia, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, the mono-cultured crop zones of the Midwest, Africa without elephants and apes, the Arctic without whales and polar bears.

The destruction of slavery in U.S. is taught as though it were a single event of necessity and moral victory, rather than a series of violently contested battles, with white workers often led by African slaves, from the early 1600s through the dismantling of Radical Reconstruction. Schoolchildren wonder aloud why there were not more John Browns and Sojourner Truths, not understanding that history texts sold in the U.S. cannot and will not teach about the daily resistance of field slaves and the rise of Nat Turners. The citizens and children of the future, if they exist, will ask why we waited so long to openly battle against the global ravaging and to destroy wage slavery.   Freedom is the recognition of necessity; it is necessary that capitalism be destroyed for the planet’s species to survive.

II. glimpses of our potential future are before us at all times. We will have a choice of collapse/catastrophe or communism. Everyone can visualize the collapse/catastrophe, since we may see it before us daily, either in reality or in popular media. But can we look at the potential before us and say, “Why not?”

We believe that alternative is right before us, that the seeds of the new society are emerging amid the self-destruction of the old. To borrow the words of another thinker, “communism grows out of and embodies the creative self-emancipation of the working class. It is not a gift bestowed by a revolutionary vanguard. It is not nationalized factories and state farms.”   Nor is it a socialist president (or a Black president or a female president) and a national workfare/welfare program. Neither is it unions led by socialists or even communist unions. It is not the rule of a central committee over the economic and political life of a country of one billion or an island of ten million.

Paradoxically, one of the most advanced sectors of U.S. capital, the aircraft industry, uses one of the elements of communism, workers’ control of the production process, since ‘it gets the job done’. In the production of the most complex tool on the planet, the jet engines for commercial airliners, democratic work teams are the norm.   But we can see in every workplace from McDonald’s to Boeing the daily attempts of workers to control and democratize the process of production, pace, product and even profit levels. The nation-wide resistance of Registered Nurses to the fraudulent response of U.S. hospitals to the Ebola crisis is one such example. Nurses as a group fought for necessary training, equipment, staffing, medications and free treatment for patients and staff; they resisted the bad science and racist rhetoric of the right wing (think ‘border controls’ whenever the right mentions Ebola).

Make no mistake: we support workers’ struggles up to and including takeover and occupation of farms, factories, hospitals and other workplaces, even just as a tactic in negotiations. We think the mistake that has been made in workplace occupations is in giving it back. To borrow from the IWW of 1915 and to paraphrase Katniss from The Hunger Games, “They need us; we don’t need them.” Socialism/communism will be workers’ control of the process of production and social control of the product, profit and decision-making process.   To get there, the traditional first step in revolutions is for workers to throw out the management at their factories (and to shoot the secret police).

To borrow from that thinker again, “An understanding of and an appreciation for the existing elements of mass creativity and a program to develop and generalize them is an essential feature of the relationship of a left to the broader movement. It is also the basic point of reference from which the debate about the nature of socialism, and of societies which so defined themselves, must proceed. We believe that this debate is vital…”

III. we have no allegiance to any state. As residents of the United States, which has militarily intervened in at least 50 countries since 1945, we have an obligation to the rest of the planet to stop those interventions. The example of Haiti should be kept in mind. This country, which shares an island and ecosystem with the Dominican Republic, was the site of the first successful slave rebellion in the world and was the richest colony in the world. It is now one of the poorest and most environmentally devastated places on the planet. The U.S. invaded Haiti four times over the last century to insure a cheap supply of baseballs and T-shirts.

This does not mean that we cannot face reality and condemn the actions of other nations, trans-national capital, and trans-national political forces seeking to subjugate others. E.g., Russia has just invaded the Ukraine (2014), elements of the Hutu committed genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda (1994), Iraqi and Turk nationalists have attempted to destroy the Kurd people for decades, ISIS has called for death to all those who oppose the caliphate (2014), machinations of the IMF and global banks have largely destroyed the economy of Iceland (2007), etc.

Internationalism in practice should start at home, which means that we acknowledge that there are national formations within the current borders of the U.S. and seek to align with those forces that are liberatory. That actual practice will not be easy, but principled actions have occurred often enough to give us some ideas. When millions of Mexican and Central American workers cross the U.S. borders, our stance should not align with the U.S. or Mexican state, nor Mexican drug cartels or U.S. racist unions, but with the masses of workers.

IV. white supremacy and genocide have been essential and decisive components of U.S. history. We would argue that it is impossible to understand the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the rise of the nuclear age without looking at the genocide of Native peoples that began before the creation of the U.S.   The silence and complicity of the U.S. Left while the active and conscious genocide of Native peoples was occurring must not be repeated.

Further, the concept of a ‘white race’ and racial privileges were created in what became the United States; this process was set against the increased enslavement of African peoples. Both processes were necessary to the creation of capitalism and a relatively stable political rule in the U.S. Any revolutionary organization in the U.S. that does not: 1) both understand the role of white supremacy and seek its destruction as a primary task and 2) recognize the existence of autonomous movements of the dispossessed as the best guarantee of success of any movement will repeat the mistakes of ‘reluctant reformers’. Those who forget that the police in the U.S. began as slave patrols will be outside or against the current upsurge.

The Black rebellion in Ferguson destroyed the assertion that this is a ‘post-racial’ society. The Black-led, multi-racial movement that arose in Oakland following the murder of Oscar Grant and that has now arisen in an embryonic form on a national level reminds us of the potential of a movement that has stepped outside legal bounds. While many of us have in the past participated in Copwatch and similar activities, the rebellion started from that point and then leaped beyond the radical concept, rendering it politically obsolete in many ways (not ‘copwatching’, but ‘Copwatch’ as an organizing principle).

The mechanism of white supremacy as the principal bulwark of U.S. capitalism which operated during slavery and then legal segregation is no longer in effect.   This does not mean that there is no racism, racial discrimination and organized groupings of white supremacists, nor does it mean that all sections of the white working class reject white privilege. But the city of Oakland is not ruled by an organized grouping of white supremacists, as was the case when the Black Panthers arose. If 1967 marked the political emergence of Black Power and the theoretical understanding of white supremacy as a political force, we must ask, have any changes occurred in the world since? The primary tendency of capital in the U.S. and world-wide in 2015, despite the existence of nationally-based sectors, is for color-blind and gender-blind extraction of profit; this is mostly conveyed through the political mechanism of neo-liberalism.

V. On a global level, women’s struggle for equality has crossed every border, since women’s oppression is global and predates all others historically. We support those struggles, which have been the most ‘internationalist’ of movements in the last few decades, and endorse the efforts in removing all barriers to women’s participation in all areas of society.

Whether calling it a fight against male supremacy, sexism or patriarchy, autonomous women’s organizations around the world have been the forces which have fought for contraception, abortion and women’s control of their own bodies and health. They have organized against rape and sexual violence and, as a result, have forced a widening public discussion of that and extended it to the sexual and physical and emotional violence routinely conducted against children. Women’s struggle for equality in employment, education, household life and public life has utterly transformed the nature of modern life; we all benefit from it.

At the same time, we support those who are struggling to destroy the bipolar gender system and compulsory heterosexuality, which, like the notions of race, are social constructs. We are for a world in which gender relations are completely transformed.

It would be a political mistake to act as though all these processes meld seamlessly together or that any one organization will have a perfect feminist practice. Our movements, our organizations and the revolution will be created by individuals who were raised in a fucked-up society and who will sometimes act in fucked-up ways. The greater mistake by far would be to not have internal practices within organizations and movements that insure and advance the role of women and those who defy gender roles.

VI. Many groups and individuals on the Left, particularly in academia, appear more interested in de-constructing oppression, when our collective path should be the destruction of all oppression. We wish to counter with a strategic approach and will do so in stark contrast to existing ‘privilege politics’. Was Eric Garner, murdered by the NYPD in 2014, more oppressed than Leelah Alcorn, killed by transphobia in 2015? Was Matthew Shepard, targeted and murdered by two queer-bashers in Wyoming in 1998, more oppressed than Reat Griffin Underwood, a fourteen-year-old Jewish youth targeted and murdered by a neo-fascist outside of the Kansas City JCC in April, 2014.

Blood is blood, to borrow from Camus. We do not deny the existence of past and present anti-Semitism in U.S. or dishonor Reat’s short life if we are part of an organization that chooses to concentrate efforts in workplace organizing, for example. We would dishonor Leelah’s appeal to make her death mean something and to ‘fix society’ if we did not recognize and honor the presence of trans folks as members and leaders of the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant, Occupy Oakland and the current upsurge in the Bay area.

A political organization, particularly a revolutionary one, which attempts to take on every issue is similar to an army that fights on all fronts. It will be defeated, either in the short or long term.   Political organizations have an obligation to state openly the criteria that are used for determining its work. We believe that the mass resistance to the police that is arising in the U.S. both threatens state power and foreshadows a new society in which ordinary people take responsibility for all aspects of their lives; these simple criteria are the basis for our revolutionary strategy.

To borrow from another document, “the actions taken by an organization, its involvement in mass movements and its public statements should be determined on a strategic basis….(w)e may morally and politically approve of (other efforts) but…we must reject the liberalism of reform activism and concern ourselves with revolutionary strategy.”

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Again, the above points are intended to begin debate and act as a survey. The coming crises, both political and environmental, have been accepted as inevitable by those state agencies and sectors of modern capital who are not bound by the need to promote right wing rhetoric. The U.S. military accepts the estimates of global warming derived from NASA meteorologists and crop estimates from the Department of Agriculture and the CIA, then plans its counter-insurgency contingency plans accordingly. Insurance corporations now routinely plan for frequent ‘hundred year’ and ‘thousand year’ floods as well as the rise of global ocean levels. While those agencies are not without error (recall the alleged WMD in Iraq), they are not planning for ‘business as usual’. When we learn that the major agricultural corporations (Archer Daniels Midland, Pioneer, Dow) are attempting to use the Department of Agriculture’s Seed Act of 2004 to force small public libraries in Iowa and Pennsylvania to stop acting as ‘seed libraries’, that is, distributing seeds for heritage tomatoes and flowers, as they’ve done for decades, it should give us pause.

It is our contention that the left – and particularly the revolutionary sector of the U.S. left – has been spectacularly unprepared for the crises that have occurred since the beginning of the century. In retrospect we can look at Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans and applaud those who responded in radical ways, but ask ‘why so little’? If we look at the present as history, in each crisis there will appear options that are sharply different. During Occupy Oakland there were leftists who were negotiating with the Quan administration while others of us prepared for a general strike. In Ferguson the mass rebellions occurred while some left formations were maneuvering with Holder/Obama.

There is a growing mass understanding of the depth of the crises, coupled with rejection of many of the institutions of modern life. This is not sufficient for a revolutionary situation, since the rejection is frequently appearing as cynicism or worse. E.g., the conspiracy theories and ‘post-zombie apocalypse prepper’ ethos which are widespread among both hip-hop artists and on right-wing talk shows can as easily lay the basis for a neo-fascist politic. But there are millions of youth and adults who no longer believe the ‘official story’ and will not be waiting for the church, the unions, FEMA/the Red Cross or ‘Washington’ to help them.

To prepare, we urge that revolutionaries begin to be able to think in political/military terms. There is a danger in approaching politics militarily, among them, the critiques Mike Tyson and Napoleon pointed out in their dismissal of ‘plans’ and the narrowness in thinking that political power grows (only) out of the barrel of a gun. But we must acknowledge that the state’s increased repression is being conducted in a political/military manner; those radical solutions which have successfully occurred and will be occurring (occupation of homes, occupation of factories, defense of undocumented workers, confrontation of environmental destruction, etc.), demand such an approach and finally, we cannot talk honestly about mass violence without placing it within such a framework. Our morals and tools are not theirs – revolutionaries don’t use torture against humans or animals – but we will be hindered if we do not realize that every major national event or crisis, from the Super Bowl to the presidential conventions to hurricane/tornado/flood recovery to squashing the rebellion in Ferguson is now being run as a joint FEMA/police counterinsurgency exercise.

One component of that preparation for the future will be the cohering of revolutionary political forces that are capable of acting at a national and international level. That discussion demands much more than we intend to write here, since we have stressed political rather than organizational stances. There may be one organization or several new ones emerging; we are not arrogant enough to assert that some body exists, as the 3rd International did in the movie Reds and in reality, which can force unity by telling tens of thousands of argumentative folks to put their differences aside just like that. Nor are we speaking against those individuals who have attempted to stake out revolutionary political positions by themselves via websites/social media/workshops/CDs/etc., we just know that acting individually or in small collectives won’t be enough. We acknowledge that there will inevitably be a tension between the ability to function collectively in the hundreds and thousands and the freedom of action that many are used to. In the same way, a national formation or organization cannot just be an assembling of the various local projects (‘your Copwatch plus our Infoshop plus their fast food union drive’), or an agreement to do joint work.   Nor can we set aside the very real problems of theory and gaps in theory that exist. Any political grouping that acts as though these problems have been solved is a fraud or a cult or delusional.

These and many other problems face us. But unless we begin now we deserve the scorn of our grandchildren.

Ferguson is Everywhere: A Platform for Cooperation

Editor’s Note: This pamphlet was initially produced as a discussion document for a small coalition organizing in Portland, OR. The coalition includes members of Hella503, All African People’s Revolutionary Party, Anarchist Black Cross and the Black Rose Anarchist Federation  (Portland, OR). This document has been distributed in various anti-police violence and Ferguson solidarity events. As with other cross-posted items, the analysis and views contained within are not necessarily shared by all members of Edge City.

December 20th, 2014

Police officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson on August 9th was horrific. Unfortunately, the police murder of a young Black man was nothing new. What was exceptional was the rebellion his death sparked and how rapidly it surged across the US and the world. This rebellion poses new possibilities for the struggle for freedom and true democracy. It is notable how quickly Black Americans have organized and led this struggle. This movement holds seeds of possibility for the expansion of human freedom and democratic ideals. These new possibilities extend glimmers of hope into the core of a system of social organization for which police violence is but one symptom of systemic disease. Police violence against the young, Black, poor, and others is not a question of good or bad individual police officers. The kind of violence that Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and so many others represent is a product not of individuals, but of the nature of the institution of police. This cannot be reformed. In order to end police violence, we will have to provide alternative models for community safety, and to do away with the institution of police as it exists now altogether. This movement needs broad participation in determining its activities, goals, and ideas. We present the following ideas in the belief that clarifying understanding amongst ourselves is not divisive, but strengthens the movement. We must learn to work together despite where we differ.

I. Points of Unity

1. We are fundamentally opposed to the institution of the police as it exists. Its violence cannot be reformed.

Michael Brown’s murder would’ve been yet another footnote in the history of policing, race and class, had the rebels in Ferguson not acted with such boldness, clarity, and resistance. The federal government has begun to propose reforms, from body cameras to civilian review boards in attempts to reassert the credibility of both the police and the system which they protect and serve.

None of these solutions actually confront the underlying realities which motivate police violence. The professional police force in the United States began with the slave-patrols, which drafted poor whites to hunt escaped Black slaves, and its modern form emerged from the institution being combined with private militias which were crafted to put down worker’s struggles. From these structures, explicitly created to repress democratic initiatives from the poor and oppressed, emerged the first professional police forces in the United States—explicitly developed not as a project of public security and safety, but as agents of social control. The exact shape of the violence that props up this system may be reformed. The underlying domination and violence, however, is a reflection of the fundamental role of the police—an armed force created to maintain an economic system that by its very nature creates conflict between “those who have and those who ain’t got.”

2. Only changing the system will bring an end to oppression, poverty and violence.

“There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.” –The Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The election of Barack Obama and the emergence of a small but powerful segment of the Black community within the ranks of power are indicative of the system’s ability to adapt when threatened. It also shows the central features of a system based on private property—some will face exclusion and deprivation, and violence is the glue that tries to hold when the credibility of the system’s ideology crumbles. We do not oppose reforms outright, but believe we must ask whether such reforms expand the terrain of equality and power within the working class. History is littered with “victories” which birthed new inequalities or entrenched existing ones, further dividing the working class.

3. Independent organizing by oppressed people is legitimate.

Black Americans are disproportionately targeted by the police and judicial system, and therefore have both experiences and an interest that must be at the center of this struggle if it is to truly win freedom. The specific nature of various forms of oppression of women, immigrants, Black people, indigenous people, gender nonconformists, and numerous more make it necessary at times to organize independently and autonomously from others while within the struggle. The particular experiences and grievances of Black Americans must lead and are central to this struggle, yet all working class people have an interest in dismantling the police. It is of central importance that the interests of those most affected are not abandoned for limited victories that betray this for concessions for political parties, individual “leaders “or in the form of privileges for one sector at the expense of those most affected. Unity is needed to build real power, and cannot be accomplished without equality within the movement.

4. Reforms are both advances and obstacles.

Resistance to land theft and genocide by native peoples, the movements to end slavery and Jim Crow, gay and women’s liberation—all of these struggles indicate the dual nature of reforms. The institutional reforms enacted in response to these struggles improved lives of many in meaningful ways as well as posing moments where radically democratic possibilities emerged from within them. It’s also important to note how today’s reforms can become tomorrow’s biggest obstacles. When the early trade unions attained the power to bargain, they frequently compromised on questions of racial equality in negotiations, on the logic that “black” issues were too divisive to unite all workers behind. Though these struggles won victories and improvements for workers in industry even for some black workers, its racialized creation of a second tier citizen reinforced the division and the inequality between white and Black workers, dividing and weakening both.

5. The movement is more than the demonstrations in the street.

Demonstrations have been and will continue to be central to developing a movement that can make real change but they cannot succeed alone. The movement must take forms that extend to those who, for various reasons, will not be in the street but in workplaces, nurseries, and homes. Militant street demonstrations can be routed, attacked, and repressed into smaller bases of activity. If the broader population doesn’t identify with and support them, the costs to the movement of dealing with repression can outweigh the gains made, rather than expanding the realm of possibility.

6. “By any means necessary.”

In the movement, distinctions between “violent” and “nonviolent,” arrestable and unarrestable—are cultivated by our opponents to neutralize people in the movement that have moral authority and real power, while legitimizing opportunists. This facilitates sell-out “victories” for one segment of the working class (historically white and male) at the expense of the rest of the class. We must use all tactics at our disposal, while determining for ourselves what values and principles we must uphold if our struggle leads to freedom. The police and the state know that this system’s violence will breed resistance and they’ve learned that social movements cannot be crushed without risking triggering even broader rebellion. Through selective repression and limited concessions, the state hopes to route the movement into forms of activity and demands that do not pose a challenge to the existing order, while cultivating impotent elements of resistance as ‘legitimate’ and undermining effective methods as “violent,” “illegal,””subversive.”

Strategy and tactics matter—frequently discipline and restraint will be needed to achieve our goals. The limiting of such considerations to “nonviolent” and ”peaceful” methods of resistance as the only legitimate expression of revolt is a state strategy which distracts from the most pressing of questions – Are our actions effective? Are they actually building power? Are the sacrifices and risks people are taking actually worth it? The disproportionate police violence meted out to Blacks, Native peoples, immigrants, queer people, women, and poor whites on a day-to-day basis has long been justified through official society’s portrayal of us as violent, dirty, amoral, lazy, or criminal.

7. Our power is the collective action of masses, and must remain there to make real change.

We recognize that power will not yield without resisting violently, and that official society will deem any movement which fights to win as criminal, regardless of its activities. We support a diversity of tactics, but believe mass activity is the true basis for change. Consciousness-raising groups, public forums, speak-outs, demonstrations, shutdowns and strikes by students, workers, and mass organizations—the movement must integrate and spread into society as a whole. Widespread participation is critical both for building a real base of power, but is also needed to prevent sell-outs and opportunism.

8. We will not accept concessions that sell out one segment of the movement in exchange for privileges for a few.

In the words of Malcolm X, “It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.” We see the struggle against the entirety of the institution of policing as a universal struggle for humanity and justice. The primary role of those in organized groups is not to determine the “right” ideas or to ‘teach” the large numbers of people who have propelled themselves into motion. Organized groups should observe and reflect the most advanced segments of the struggle as it matures. This means participating within the movement, taking risks, and knowing that our own ideas will have to be transformed as part of the process as much as any others if we are to create a new world. We seek the elements of the struggle which point towards the universal.

9. The system is more fragile than it appears.

We’ve yet to see the police and their repressive co-conspirators in the FBI, NSA, and security apparatus demonstrate their full capacity for violence, and must assume their willingness to use it. Nonetheless, their power is tentative—prior to the Ferguson rebellion, the police could afford heavy handed approaches to both daily interactions in the streets as well as against demonstrations. For now, the movement’s power has demonstrated how costly this can be to the legitimacy of the state and its police, to the extent that police themselves have. If police violence is so intrinsic to the system that a successful challenge to it poses threats to its very existence, this movement must begin to envision just, democratic institutions to replace those we oppose.

10. We share our ideas but do not assume that they are right.

We need mechanisms to debate and discuss the movement as it progresses. We should advocate for our ideas and engage each other about them. We should also be open to the lessons that masses of people demonstrate through their actions. Too often small organizations assume to represent masses. We believe the sympathies and experiences that exist with workers under this system are also potential seedbeds for the systemic change necessary to confront the system’s violence. Furthermore, the problems we confront cannot be solved in a representative manner. They require participation and direction by masses of all people affected by the injustice of the police and judicial system. If we desire a movement not for select privileges for few but towards equality and freedom for all, the leadership and collective experiences masses of Black Americans will have to be at the struggle’s core.

II. Proposed Principles

We are told we live in a colorblind society, that hard work pays off, and that if you just follow the rules, you have nothing to fear, yet our lived experiences contradict this. When the official society’s ideology fails and loyalty is replaced with rebellion, the real job of the police in our society becomes clear. When individuals rebel, we find prison, the mental health system, and unemployment. We’re labeled as violent, criminal, amoral. When we rebel collectively, the police are the first line of defense for wealth and privilege. They understand that overt violence risks loss of credibility. They will actively sow distrust, divisions, and suspicion within the movement, hoping to weaken it, demoralize it, so as not to have to physically attack it in the public eye. We offer these points as a contribution to what we hope will be a collective reflection on how to we can minimize the ability for such manipulations to be effective.

1. Do not attack others in the movement publicly.

This does not mean we must accept unprincipled or abusive actions of those in the movement. We do need a principled and public discussion

2. Show care when engaging in public debate.

We strive to reach a higher standard for airing differences in public forums. We must clarify what is public debate and what is debate within the movement that should not be aired publicly. This is especially challenging in the context of social media and the deteriorating presumption of privacy.

3. Show respect and solidarity to all in the struggle.

We strive to have the grace to recognize common ground and common interests with others that we have differences with, and the need for wide base of support in order to change society.

4. Do not engage in secret/closed negotiations with power.

We must guard against selling out, betrayal, and people using the movement as a spring-board for a political career at the expense of the movement. If meetings or negotiations with elected officials, police, or other in positions of power are to be held, they should be open to public attendance by all within the movement.

5. Do not be sectarian.

Cooperation is the basis of successful movement. This movement has shown that arrests and police violence alone are not enough to stop us. The police and state’s greatest tools are exploiting and sowing divisions within the movement. They will do all they can to encourage infighting and divisions. We will not attack, undermine, or disparage those with whom we have disagreements in the public sphere.

6. Do not engage in attacks or denunciation of others who share our aims on the internet, media, or public spheres.

Do not repeat unverified, or anonymous attacks. When we have problems or differences we will take them up directly with those involved.

7. Do not spread or repeat rumors or speculation.

Rumor-mongering, speculating, or repeating of unsubstantiated rumors are destructive of the fabric of social movement. Radical struggles of the seventies were critically weakened by splits within leadership and within their organizations. After thirty years, we are only beginning to unearth the extent by which these were encouraged and even created by undercover agents, false media, planted evidence and falsified letters. During the liberation movements of the 70s, honest rank and file leaders were cast as cops or snitches, often by the actual undercover police in the room. These situations frequently ended with organization splits or collapse, personal beefs, and even the death of innocent activist leaders. The costs to the movement were monumental.

8. Show up with our full selves.

Our emotional and physical well-being impact our ability to do this work, as does the way in which we are socialized and positioned in this society. We must be self-aware and responsible for ourselves and how we interact with each other and our movement. We need to challenge ourselves and each other to reduce dynamics of oppression and privilege, while treating each other as comrades and focusing on transforming history.

Disagree with some of the ideas here? Write us: ferguson2pdx@gmail.com

Sunday, December 28 @ 2pm: Second Oakland Assembly on Justice for Mike Brown and Eric Garner

Thanks to the group of over 80 people who came and participated in the December 14 meeting at Oscar Grant Plaza. Though we were forced to deal with the presence of several uniformed OPD officers as well as a freelance photo journalist and San Francisco Chronicle staffer who refused to leave, the group was able to reflect on this most recent wave of actions and what kind of infrastructures are necessary in the future to support our efforts. Thanks also to the Anti-Repression Committee who gave information about what kinds of support is still needed for people facing charges.

The assembly had initially decided to meet again at the Omni Oakland Commons on Sunday, December 21 @ 2PM. There are multiple events happening this weekend, however, and while we apologize for the change of plans, we think it is best to push back the meeting another week. We hope that folks will attend the following events and continue to help us outreach as much as possible.

Sunday, December 21 @ 1-3pm: Bay Area Legal Observer and Know Your Rights Training workshop in support of #BlackLivesMatter at the East Side Arts Alliance.

Sunday December 21 @ 4pm: Winter Solstice Posada for Alex Nieto at 24th and Mission in San Francisco.

To repeat: the second assembly will take place at the Omni Oakland Commons on Sunday, December 28 @ 2pm.

At our next meeting we will continue our discussions about the past week’s events, hear report backs from autonomous groupings and hold a more focused conversation about long-term strategy and goals. If you or your group would like to help with agenda, facilitation or any other tasks, please contact us at edgecity510@gmail.com.

For more information why we are helping to facilitate these assemblies, please click here.

Some Notes on the Recent East Bay Protests

(Editor’s Note: The following reflection and analysis piece was written by Edge City members B. Sandor and Jeremy.)

“It’s hard to begin to understand that the drift in American life towards chaos is masked by all these smiling faces and do good efforts.” James Baldwin

Over the last two weeks in the East Bay, we have been in the streets night after night. In spite of tear gas, flash bang grenades and mass arrests, our numbers and nightly presence have increased. These recent protests in Oakland and Berkeley have included many different constituencies but also featured struggles over leadership, tactics and decision-making.

A major shift in the East Bay protests has happened within the last week. On Saturday December 6th, several hundred protesters in Berkeley were kettled just outside the UC campus after a riotous march and brief clashes with police. As protestors were being detained by the police, a large group of students began filling the streets. The police soon issued a dispersal order, which incited the crowd even more.  After a tense stand-off, students were met with police force and, as a result, many became radicalized overnight.

We have seen some very exciting aspects of participation of UC Berkeley students in the growing and ongoing anti-police movement. Freeways have been taken over and held multiple times, militant marches have stretched the capacity of the police and taken a toll on several large corporate business and thousands of young folks that never engaged politics in this way before have been out every night.  More recently, high school students have walked out of their schools and are planning future actions. There is a lot of excitement here with no sign of it letting up anytime soon. But in spite of these promising signs, there is also a need to acknowledge some of the more disturbing trends we have witnessed.

#PizzaManMatters

“… Blackness is always-already criminalized in the collective unconscious.” Frank B. Wilderson, III

The last several weeks of marches and actions have not just been policed by riot cops or by infiltrators, but by large segments of those brought in through the Berkeley actions as well. We’ve seen some arguments play out in the streets, sometimes violently, over people’s conceptions of legitimate protest tactics and, under the banner of #Blacklivesmatter, there are several conflicting ideologies battling for legitimacy. On some occasions, protestors have literally split into two different camps: one side decrying the use of ‘confrontational’ tactics (which, apparently, also includes dragging trash cans into the street) and another favoring a diversity of approaches. Some self-appointed ‘peace police’ have attempted to mobilize support against ‘violent’ elements on social media through the Twitter hashtag #Walksafe while others have taken to Facebook to organize groups to guard businesses from being attacked. Other moments have highlighted more worrying, and dangerous, dynamics that raise important questions as we move into the third week of actions.

On December 9, at roughly 9pm, a march that started in Berkeley made its way into Oakland. There was a brief attempt at a highway takeover near the MacArthur BART station where police forced people off the freeway and fired tear gas, flash bang grenades and rubber bullets into the crowd of supporters below. At about 10:30pm, the crowd continued its march to Downtown Oakland. At this point, the makeup of the march had noticeably shifted from a predominantly white group, to one that was much more racially diverse. As protestors moved down 14th and Broadway, a young Black man fell to the ground from what we soon found to be a seizure. As a group his friends carried him into the nearby Pizza Man store, a large portion of the crowd began to raise a lot of commotion and drew attention to what was going on. But it wasn’t the health of the young man experiencing a seizure that they were upset about. These young Black men were yelled at by mostly white protestors who screamed: “keep marching” and “peaceful protest.”  Some even attempted to physically prevent the youth from entering the store to help their friend, prompting two older Black men to stand guard outside the door. As a young Black man gasped for air this crowd — some wearing ‘Black lives matter’ shirts — immediately assumed the youth were attempting to loot or destroy the Pizza Man store. In this case, young Blacks were met with a familiar kind of white mob mentality that could only see the actions of Black youth as criminal and disruptive. Chants of “peaceful protest, peaceful protest” aimed at groups of militant Black folks would continue throughout the night.

Mobilizing Whiteness

While some liberal white protestors have been policing and attacking Black protestors in the name of “peaceful protest”, other radical white protestors have been mobilizing as “anti-racist allies”. Both the liberal white protestor and the radical “anti-racist ally” share an attachment to and investment in whiteness, the former through their defense of private property and their policing of Black youth and the latter through their desire to perfect a morally righteous whiteness. Both hold onto whiteness as the very category in which they understand their political activity.

The white anti-racist ally performs their politics through a public expression of outrage. Their performance is intended to be highly visible and provocative as evidenced by the recent slogan “white silence is violence.” The irony behind the slogan “white silence is violence” is that it ignores and fails to confront the actual physical violence committed by white protesters in defense of private property. Further, the slogan does nothing to amplify Black voices or support Black struggle. In actuality, this slogan, borne out of solidarity with Black struggle, actually displaces that struggle by centering a white response to police violence.

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White liberals, by contrast, hold onto their whiteness by claiming that the movement is actually not about race and white supremacy but a host of other issues such as police militarization. In the face of a movement that declares #Blacklivesmatter, white liberals simply reply with the lie that “#Alllivesmatter”. While “white silence is violence” aims to make a certain kind of whiteness visible, “#alllivesmatter” aims to hide whiteness. Yet, both slogans work to remove blackness from the equation by either focusing on white anti-racist responses to police violence or by simply ignoring race entirely.

All of this is not to say that white people have no role to play in a Black-led struggle against the police and white supremacy, or that their role should be to simply listen and act when they are asked to by various Black leaders. Listening to and talking with anyone who participated in the anti-police rebellions in Los Angeles in 1992, Oakland in 2009-2010, and Ferguson most recently, would be immensely more valuable than listening to five minutes of a speech from any one of the current crop of well-known Black leaders in this country. Anyone who watched events unfold in Ferguson over the last few months knows that if Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson tells you to do something you probably shouldn’t do it because you will likely be acting against the real leaders of this movement — the youth who chased them out of town.

Instead of simply listening to and working under self-appointed Black leadership or acting without any input from Black folks, white radicals should pay attention to how the Black working class as a whole is moving, thinking, and acting in this particular moment. What segments of the class are in motion and what segments are not? What segments of the class are leading the protests and why? What can white radicals do to materially support the growth and development of new independent organization and leadership?

The troubling and contradictory internal dynamics outlined in this piece need to be debated and resolved in order for us to collectively determine which way we are headed.  As anti-police protests move into their third week the racist policing of Black bodies and expressions of rage needs to be confronted quickly and forcefully. These dynamics threaten to reproduce the same logic that killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner while making it easier for the state to disrupt and contain the movement. While we agree for the need for thoughtful reflection on the use of certain tactics, the ‘good/bad protestor’ distinction must be destroyed. Finally, we need to act to prevent the centering of whiteness, color-blind ideology and an over-emphasis on police militarization. As a necessary first step, we suggest the opening of a broader political discussion space to hold the conversations that will provide us some road map to deeper cohesion, organization and effectiveness.

Sunday, December 14 @ 2pm: Oakland Assembly on Justice for Mike Brown and Eric Garner

Since the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, protests have spread to every major city in this country and cities around the world. In the Bay Area, we have witnessed and participated in almost two straight weeks of freeway takeovers, mass marches and, more recently, student walkouts.

Now, as these displays of rage continue with no end in sight, and as we quickly approach the Millions March, the questions before us are both extraordinarily simple and incredibly complex: Where do we go from here? How do we sustain the power we have built in the streets while working toward stronger coordination and organization between ourselves, our communities and other cities around the country?

We wholeheartedly believe that this ongoing movement presents exciting possibilities for new forms of revolutionary activity to emerge. But while we remain largely inspired by the recent wave of rebellious actions, it is our opinion that the time is now to collectively strategize how to expand and intensify our efforts.

As a small step, we invite any individuals or groups who want to discuss these and other related questions to meet at 2:00pm in Oscar Grant Plaza on December 14, 2014.

We encourage all participants to come prepared to collaborate in serious, principled reflection and debate on the events of the past two weeks. Proposals will be welcomed. Although we realize that such discussions will be unavoidably messy and contentious, we ask that all who attend to please refrain from personal or sectarian attacks and avoid rumor spreading or speculation. Also, we request that individuals and groups respect the need for the fullest possible participation from all those who wish to do so, and be mindful that they do not monopolize discussion time or conduct themselves in a way that discourages others from contributing.

If you or your group would like more information, or would like to help with facilitation and other logistical tasks, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Edge City, Oakland
December 2014

The City Bristles With Malice: Landlords, Sex Workers & Evictions in Oakland

(Editor’s Note: From time to time we will cross-post articles from other sources and offer commentary in order to generate dialogue with readers. As with other postings, the analysis offered here does not necessarily represent the views of the group as a whole.)

Original article from Kate Conger of SF Weekly:

Oakland can now force landlords to evict sex workers from their homes under new changes to an existing Oakland law.

At the recommendation of Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker, the Oakland City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to expand The Nuisance Eviction Ordinance which requires landlords to evict certain tenants over allegations of drug dealing or weapons crimes, and gives the City Attorney’s Office the power to order such evictions.

But the City Council is has now expanded its eviction powers to include “prostitution-related crimes,” gambling, and the possession of certain ammunition. If the city orders an eviction, the landlord must pay for it — and can be cited by the city for maintaining a nuisance if he or she does not move to evict the tenant.

Troubling as it is, the law does not specify whether a tenant must be convicted or merely accused of a prostitution-related offense, stripping Oaklanders of due process. City officials rely on police records to determine which tenants to evict, meaning a tenant may have been arrested for a prostitution-related crime but never convicted. In a letter to the City Council regarding the amendments to the ordinance, Parker acknowledged that, previously, her office would have to seek a court order to demand that a landlord evict a tenant. The amended ordinance eliminates court oversight.

The amendments target individuals who work as prostitutes more severely than those who gamble or possess ammunition. Among the reasons the city can force a tenant’s eviction are “making contacts on the premises with ‘Johns’ and prostitutes for prostitution activity off-premises” and “keeping profits on the premises from off-premises from [sic] acts of prostitution.” However, the law does not state that calling someone to arrange a gambling session or keeping gambling profits at home are grounds for an eviction.

Once the city orders a landlord to evict a tenant, the landlord has 25 days to act. The city will provide the landlord with information about the tenant’s alleged crimes (either the landlord or the tenant can request to view the evidence, but it is not released unless requested). Landlords and tenants alike can appeal to the city if they believe there is not enough evidence to force an eviction.

The Nuisance Eviction Ordinance was enacted in 2004 and modeled on a similar Los Angeles pilot program. At the time, the law was criticized for its vagueness. Anne Omura, an attorney at Oakland’s Eviction Defense center, told the Los Angeles Times that the ordinance was “unconscionable.” Omura said, “We feel that it just really tramples on the rights of tenants and doesn’t give them a lot of due process.”

On Sept. 15, Gov. Jerry Brown approved a similar law for Alameda, Sacramento, and Los Angeles counties that requires evictions based on weapons or ammunition charges in Oakland, Sacramento, Long Beach, and Los Angeles. The expansion comes at a time when rising rent prices and Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco have triggered a middle-class exodus to Oakland, causing prices to rise in the neighboring city as well.

In today’s rental market, tenants need all the due process they can get. But Oaklanders are getting a little less.

***

From one member of Edge City:

In Oakland’s environment of rapid gentrification, it is only predictable that ordinances such as this new eviction bill will be implemented more and more regularly.  Besides enabling the city, landlords and the police to further harass, imprison and do violence against the most economically precarious of Oakland residents, it also represents a full-on war against sex workers.

How do we support a response that not only fights this ordinance but empowers sex workers and tenants by uniting them in a broader class-wide offensive against capital, landlords and the city government?

From another member of Edge City:

This new ordinance adds another interesting (and particularly violent) dimension to the list of other recent local and nationwide projects aimed at ‘reforming’ or further regulating the bodies, sexual practices, and labor of those in the sex trade, such as the proposed California bill for mandatory condom usage in adult films and the recent shuttering of RedBook.

Of course, this latest assault is part and parcel of a much larger political project that is severely impacting those living in more highly-concentrated urban areas. It’s not just sex workers who live under persistent threat of eviction or homelessness. By recognizing the generalized conditions of rent, evictions, and precarious living we might see a particular class-wide counterattack emerge — possibly in the form of occupations, rent strikes, or auto-reduction movements.

“If You Don’t Turn Up At The Protest, Get The Fuck Out Of Here.”

(Editor’s Note: The following article is the second reflection and analysis piece concerning the shooting of Mike Brown and the ensuing rebellions in Ferguson. This post was written by two members of Edge City, one of whom visited Ferguson recently. As with many of the analysis documents we will post in the future, the perspectives contained here are not wholly representative of the group’s positions.  Its contents are intended to generate discussion and debate about the politics surrounding these events as we await the Grand Jury decision.)

In the course of one week following the police murder of Mike Brown in August, 2014, the Black residents of Ferguson, MO mourned, demonstrated and then rebelled — first challenging the everyday functioning of their town and then the political stability of the United States.  Everything from the regular traffic stop-and-frisks that were targeting young Blacks (and funding public institutions) to the composition of the police force and the political control of the city was fundamentally questioned.

The community militance and anti-police sentiment that was present prior to the shooting and which emerged fully after the death of Mike Brown are important to understand, but not just in one Missouri town.  This document puts forth observations from being on the ground in Ferguson and some questions we have from afar.

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This struggle is not over.  Though some of the participants will withdraw — Attorney General Holder has found a well-paying corporate job and the killer of Mike Brown will never patrol a Missouri town again — the residents of Ferguson have still had no justice.  Those forces which shoved aside the local political elites of Ferguson know this and have begun some of the classic maneuvers of counter-insurgency.  One can imagine them first discussing Syria, then Ferguson, since nearly the same tactics, minus Tomahawk missiles, have been brought into play.

We raise our questions and put forward our stance to aid those who resisted. This was a home-grown insurgency led by Black youth the same age or younger than Mike Brown, as well as their parents and grandparents.  But since those who are leading the counterattack know that similar leaders exist in every town in Missouri and across the country, they are targeting the Ferguson folks with coercion and co-optation in addition to the brutal and relentless militarization during the days of the riots.

“It’s not a race thing, it’s a police thing.” – A young Black resident in the Walgreens on West Florissant (August 22, 2014)

The man quoted above understood the conflict taking place in the weeks after Mike Brown was killed as a war against the police as an institution.   His statement is contradictory, in that Darren Wilson is a white policeman and most associate police shootings with the ongoing and continued legacy of white supremacy.  It is significant that the police were undeniably the enemy during the the initial riots and that the riots were not directed at white people as a whole, but toward the institution of the police. Both local and national businesses were targeted, including many Black owned businesses that were attacked repeatedly. There has been mixed reporting about why certain businesses were looted or not.

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It appeared that the only groups other than the businesses that were targeted for attack were the police and at times, the media.  This is not to say that white people were not attacked, but the focus was more on the police as an institution rather than white people as a group.   There were even accounts of multi-racial alliances in the streets in Ferguson in the weeks following the murder of Mike Brown, but the entirely Black led response to the shooting was seemingly focused on ending police brutality and a demand for justice more than anything else.

It is impossible to understand the origins of the police and the role they have maintained in defining and defending the color line without an understanding of white supremacy and slave patrols.   The above quote from the Walgreens worker indicates that he sees the role of the police in Ferguson as something that can be detached from race.  We disagree that the police and questions of white supremacy can be entirely and historically separated, but we also recognize the polarization over how to proceed in the aftermath of the shooting.  Some groups wanted to defend the police, some wanted justice, others are not sure what could possibly make this world livable for young Black men.

In the weeks after the initial upsurge, organizations like the NAACP and The Urban League, were doing everything they could to defend the reputation and the role of the police.  For example, the NAACP led a march hand-in-hand with Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar on Saturday, August 24th.  Focusing on the need for more Black police officers, the critique focused on the racial composition of the police force in Ferguson and not the role of the police.

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The creation of a truly multiracial police force functions to maintain the illusion of liberal progress inside of an institution that is racist by its very nature.  The youth in Ferguson that were leading the protests did not seem to be demanding more Black police officers, they were and are demanding something else altogether.

“Do we have a leader? No. You want to know who our leader is? Mike Brown.” – DeVone Cruesoe, quoted in the New York Times (August 16, 2014)

After the initial week of rioting in Ferguson, the national media turned their attention to a ‘deeper’ analysis of some the problems and limitations of the rebellion. The role of leadership and organization was one such area that received attention. Much like their coverage of the Occupy movement, mainstream media have lamented the lack of leadership during the rebellion in Ferguson. However, unlike Occupy, where mainstream media identified a loose, anarchist structure of decision-making and organizing as the cause of the lack of leadership, in Ferguson mainstream media have focused on a supposed rift between undisciplined Black youth on the one hand, and the older official Black establishment on the other, including the old-guard of the Civil Rights movement such as the NAACP and the Urban League.

In this formulation, the legacy of the Civil Rights movement has a certain strategic function: to compare and contrast the unbridled militancy of today’s Black youth with the tactical discipline of the youth of the Civil Right’s movement. The supposed ‘generational rift’ identified by every major newspaper from the New York Times to the Washington Post has been deployed as a way to rhetorically discipline Black youth, to school them in the “art of protest”  perfected during the days of the Civil Rights Movement.

The supposed generational rift obscures the fact that the youth of Ferguson, by their actions in the streets, were the leaders of the rebellion (both on a tactical and a political level) but that participants in the streets were both young and old. And in leading this rebellion, the youths actions call into question not only the current realities of race in American society, but the entirety of what passes as politics in the post-Civil Rights era.   The actions of masses of Black youth in Ferguson constitute a challenge not just to the ruling racial order but also to the official institutions of Black politics and society: the NAACP, the Urban League, etc. This threat, so incomprehensible that all efforts to understand it have been merely attempts to contain it and to destroy it, marks the beginning of a new moment of Black struggle in the U.S.  Nowhere is this leadership and new consciousness more apparent than in the moment when Jesse Jackson was chased out of a McDonald’s by a group of angry Ferguson residents.  This sentiment was expressed again during the October 10-12th “Weekend of Resistance” when angry youth confronted religious leaders.

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It remains to be seen what will happen and how the leadership seen on the streets of Ferguson will develop, and what effect this will have in Black politics and struggle nationally. The illusion that we have ever or continue to live in a post-racial society has been shattered irreparably.  The significance of this moment is still to be determined, but we are convinced that Ferguson points to a rippling sentiment that faces us with a new set of questions.  We believe the time is now to debate the significance and complexity of what is to come.

Counterinsurgency and the Policing of Space in Ferguson

(Editor’s Note: The following article was written by an individual member following a recent trip to Ferguson, MO and is the first of several analysis pieces that Edge City will be publishing in the coming weeks.)

For the last month or so we’ve all no doubt become familiar with the spectacular images of the ‘militarized’ policing of the Ferguson, MO uprisings following the murder of Mike Brown. We’ve seen the voluminous streams of tear gas cascading down upon protestors, the roving Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) carrying platoons of Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) clad officers, and the furtively stationed sniper posts dotting the diminutive strip-mall rooftops of West Florissant.

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To this point much as been said about ‘police militarization’ and the effect this brute show of force had on the now-subsiding protests. Others have also documented and analyzed the more ‘soft’ forms of counterinsurgency currently being deployed to quell the unrest, of which the clergy and other faith-based organizations, for example, have played crucial roles. This article, however, seeks to intervene in this conversation by examining some of the less spectacular aspects of the repression efforts and to briefly discuss how these techniques contributed to the demobilization of more radical forms of protest.

The policing and containment of the Ferguson uprisings was largely effective through the deployment of a complex strategy of spatial control — one that effectively redrew the geographical boundaries of the city and neutralized the considerable advantages initially held by militant protestors in the conflict’s earlier stages. This article will briefly document and analyze the various methods and techniques through which the St. Louis Metropolitan Police, the National Guard, and several other local law enforcement formations were able to gradually achieve a kind of ‘total spatial dominance’ over this small region and its residents.

A Brief Note on the Policing of Space

As Steven Herbert notes in his book Policing Space: Territoriality and the Los Angeles Police Department, “successful marking of space is a foundation of successful policing.” There are myriad and often mundane ways that police officers achieve or wrest spatial dominance in a particular circumstance, such as the use of checkpoints or the deployment of various surveillance systems.

But the policing of space does not solely occur through the exercise of force or presence by police officers themselves, but may also be conducted through the manipulation of architecture, the control of movement through the pathways of a given territory, and/or the situational redrawing of borders. Furthermore, the policing of space is not something which is conducted along one horizontal axis or plane. Through the strategic seizure or occupation of three-dimensional space, by utilizing airpower for example, policing power ensures an omnipresent and extended vision over a contested zone to reinforce ground operations while allowing for the proliferation of highly-visible symbols of police power to act as a deterrent effect on those caught beneath or within its gaze.

All these elements of spatial policing were used in differing degrees to de-escalate the uprisings in Ferguson. These techniques, of course, would have been indispensible without a vigorous coalition-led counterinsurgency campaign to seize political legitimacy from the rebellious forces of Ferguson. However, as we saw several days into the rioting, it was precisely the ‘unruly geography’ created and utilized by the residents that made the former a more difficult prospect – thus, the spatial policing efforts in this case must not be neglected.

Counterinsurgency operations, as they are most frequently carried out in various theatres of conflict, rely upon the strict management of a territorial region in order to allow coalition forces to establish a certain closeness or familiarity with the native population. Without a clearly-defined territorial strategy and the inability to secure a kind of proximity such operations will very likely be unsuccessful.

This article will offer a truncated analysis of these spatial techniques, based upon both prior news coverage and analysis as well as first-hand observational notes collected several days after the deployment of the Missouri National Guard.

Spatial Techniques of Control in Ferguson

The following section offers a brief glimpse into a number of spatial policing techniques utilized by the law enforcement coalitions on the ground in Ferguson. Most photographs were taken by the article’s author, but some have been taken from other sources to provide greater clarity.

The Command Center and the Strategic High Ground

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Just south of the main conflict zone, near the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Lucas-Hunt Road, lay the main command center for local law enforcement divisions and the Missouri National Guard, as well as the primary media staging area. This command center was established in the heart of a major strip mall, containing stores such as Target, Schnuck’s, and other smaller retail outlets.

Behind the Target building was another, less visible, site that housed the Department of Corrections, Child Protective Services, and other local or state government agencies. The strategic importance of securing this zone was readily apparent. The location of this strip mall was situated at the highest point overlooking West Florissant Avenue and the adjacent residential housing blocks, providing rapid access into the flatlands in addition to advantageous surveillance positioning.

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Furthermore, its proximity to the West Florissant Avenue and Lucas-Hunt intersection allowed for the establishment of checkpoints and blockages of foot or vehicle traffic from nearby neighborhoods. This article will deal with checkpoints in more depth later, but it can’t be emphasized enough how crucial the process of redrawing and enforcing borders was to the containment of the uprisings. As many news outlets have documented, youth from nearby housing blocks or cities had flocked to West Florissant Avenue to demonstrate on an almost nightly basis. The redrawing of these acted both to disallow the intervention of ‘outside agitators’ and to contain the unruly elements located within the mobile barriers.

Finally, the command center sat directly across from one of the main facilities for Emerson Electric, a St. Louis-based and Fortune 500 Company specializing in automation and climate technologies and certainly one of the largest corporate entities in the area. Protection of these facilities was no doubt a high-priority for local law enforcement officials, and the company itself had employed armed, plain-clothed security officers and placed concrete barriers at its fences to prevent intrusion by protestors.

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Aerial Coverage

The enactment of a ‘No-Fly Zone’ over Ferguson during the peak of the riots is well-known by this point. This maneuver, in addition to the nightly deployment of police helicopters, served to disallow aerial media coverage from documenting any potential acts of aggression or violence toward protestors, and also allow an unencumbered view from above of a relatively cramped, complex maze of neighborhood streets that residents often used as a means of escape or camouflage for the shooting of police vehicles.

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On a somewhat parenthetical note, one of the more interesting aspects concerning the (aerial) policing of Ferguson is the routine flyovers conducted by the Missouri Air National Guard who are stationed just outside of the St. Louis International Airport. These flight routines are conducted on a semi-regular basis throughout the day, and reveal one of the less visible and more mundane characteristics of ‘militarization’ that permeates the everyday life of the region’s residents.

Checkpoints

One of the central methods of achieving spatial dominance was the use of strategically located checkpoints and traffic reroutes along various high-traffic nodes and, most importantly, the Canfield neighborhood where Mike Brown was shot. This approach of using multi-layered checkpoints effectively redrew the borders of Ferguson, limited the mobility of residents and ‘outsiders’ and allowed for the tighter containment of militant youth in the residential areas.

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The former, the checkpoints located at major, high-traffic nodes that facilitated movement in and out of the main conflict zone on West Florissant Avenue, were operational beginning around 6pm on an almost nightly basis. At the corners of Chambers Road and West Florissant Avenue, Lucas-Hunt Road and West Florissant Avenue, and Ferguson Avenue and West Florissant Avenue, St. Louis Metropolitan Police and Missouri Highway Patrol officers established stoppage points that would reroute foot and vehicle traffic and, in some cases, conduct field searches of persons or vehicles they deemed suspicious. It is perhaps no surprise that the majority of the stops and searches issued were to Black males. As conflict de-escalated over several days, more searches would be conducted on individuals deemed ‘outside agitators,’ leading to several arrests.

The neighborhood checkpoint located at Canfield Drive and West Florissant Avenue functioned mainly as a stoppage point for foot or vehicle traffic flowing out from the residential area near the site of Mike Brown’s murder. Pedestrians and vehicles were routinely stopped and sometimes searched in the late evening hours. In a procedure reminiscent of the residential checkpoints of mid-80s Los Angeles, individuals who could not verify their residency in this area were not permitted access to Canfield Road and, in some cases, those who did reside in these housing blocks who had forgotten their I.D.’s were turned away and forced to find shelter elsewhere.

In addition to these major intersection and neighborhood checkpoints, manned police vehicles were staged at the entrance to every neighborhood street emptying out onto West Florissant Avenue, though vehicle or pedestrian searches were not being enacted at these points and appeared to be used predominantly for surveillance purposes.

Barricades, Fortress Architecture, and Surveillance

The main conflict zone of West Florissant Avenue has a unique, yet familiar layering of architecture that reflects some of the major historical economic and spatial rearrangements that have characterized the past half-century in the St. Louis metropolitan area. This history is too large to explore in these brief notes, but it is worth mentioning that the main conflict zone, itself a noticeably older section of the city, lacks much of the ‘security’ architecture and technology that many of us who reside in major urban regions live under or within on a daily basis.

Security cameras and even barbed wire are difficult to locate in most places. That is, until you reach the more newly developed region near the location of the command center at the south end of West Florissant Avenue, where surveillance equipment especially is much more noticeable and the surrounding architecture takes on a kind of ‘fortress’ character. It is likely, however, that these devices or architectural configurations will eventually proliferate more widely in the post-riot efforts to secure the city against future uprisings.

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Other noticeable ‘weaponized’ architectural installments include the use of large concrete barriers or blocks to prevent the circulation of vehicle traffic near major gas stations and other businesses but also deep in the Canfield neighborhoods. Since 9/11, these large concrete barriers or blocks have been used with greater frequency in major U.S. urban cities to prevent the use of vehicles as explosive devices to destroy large buildings or military installations, a military architectural strategy used in active battle spaces from the West Bank to Baghdad.

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Control of Protestor Movement

As has been documented sufficiently elsewhere, one of the central anti-riot procedures adopted by law enforcement officials was to prevent the use of West Florissant Avenue streets for protest. This included the directive against standing still or ‘crowding up’ and the establishment of an ‘approved assembly area’ which was, of course, situated quite close to the command center on the south end of the road.

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Even when curfew laws were relaxed and the demobilization efforts appeared to be victorious, the recuperative forces of the NAACP, the clergy, and other related groups reinforced these directives all day and night. On occasion, young Black youth from the Canfield neighborhoods would stage car shows in the middle of the street and slow traffic down while honking their horns and holding their hands high in the air.

Perhaps in a show of defiance, but more likely as a result of the tremendous successes in securing the entirety of West Florissant against militant activities, the ‘approved assembly area’ established in earlier stages of conflict was almost entirely abandoned, save for a few folks who had set up tents and cooked food throughout the afternoon.

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Reclaiming Territory and Asserting Competence

If an officer stationed within a contested territory is unable to assert their dominance over the streets they are patrolling they have, to quote Jonathan Rubenstein, “surrendered [their] reason for being what [they] are.” For nearly a week, in spite of the massive show of force and brutality in the streets, the residents of Ferguson refused to give up their right to the city to the invading police forces. In order to reassert a visible showing of competency and territorial authority, Captain Ron Johnson and other high-ranking local law enforcement officials would engage in nightly ‘meet-and-greets’ along the sidewalks of West Florissant.

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After the evening checkpoints had been established throughout the neighborhoods and at the ends of West Florissant Captain Johnson, flanked by a swarm of reporters and minor security detail, would walk the perimeter of the emptied streets while shaking hands and posing for pictures with people gathered on the sidewalks.

The Moral Order

The role of clergy members and local church-affiliated groups in the repression of the Ferguson uprisings is extremely significant, though complicated. Whatever their intentions in the latter stages of the protests, however, it was clear that their visible presence along West Florissant was vital in the marking of this area as a ‘moral’ place for ‘good’ protestors.

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From the early morning hours into the evenings, church or faith-based groups erected tents, tables, and food trucks along the main thoroughfare that specifically targeted younger populations. These were, it appeared, the only instances of ‘crowding’ permitted along West Florissant. Within the context of the overlapping, intertwining modes of ongoing spatial policing, the presence of these faith-based organizations legitimized the police power at work on the street and provided their efforts with a kind of moral justification.

(Un)Marking Space and the Struggle over Meaning

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Arguably one of the most significant victories won by the Missouri law enforcement coalition was the seizure of the now-iconic QuikTrip building on the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Road. Once a major rallying site and political center during the apex of the uprisings, it was soon fenced off, blockaded and entirely flanked in the evening hours by SWAT divisions and Armored Personnel Carriers.

Much as the destruction of the Occupy camps several years ago was necessary to destabilize internal organization and destroy symbolic referents to the demonstrator’s social power, so too was the capture of the QuikTrip crucial in realizing similar objectives and controlling the movement of people and vehicles through the main conflict zone. Without the QuikTrip, and without the ability to centrally congregate, police forces were at least partially able to destabilize social forces and dictate the momentum of events on the ground.

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Walking around West Florissant Avenue and its adjoining neighborhoods, however, there are numerous visible markers of rebellion, and it is clear that struggles over the meaning and use of space are ongoing. West Florissant remains a highly active, open forum for political debate. Large fragments of concrete have been hammered away from sidewalks, building walls, and sewer drains. A large mural made from black butcher paper envelopes three sides of an abandoned commercial building with a prompt reading: ‘Before I die, I want to …’ Chunks of chalk sat in affixed plastic bags for passersby to join in the conversation.

IMG_20140822_141641Within these same areas, most graffiti relating to revolution, anarchism, or anti-police slogans have been buffed or painted over, with only those messages pertaining to ‘peace’ or ‘forgiveness’ allowed to remain. Food trucks park along the side of the road on West Florissant, their sides featuring messages like “Don’t Loot, Don’t Shoot.” Signs printed by the local ‘Friends of Ferguson,’ no doubt some sort of local government and corporate sponsored coalition, litter the lawns of some nearby homes emblazoned with the slogan: “I  ♥ Ferguson.”

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The site of Mike Brown’s killing, which stretches far down the middle of Canfield Road, is adorned with a large and continually growing memorial, strewn with flowers, notes, baseball caps, stuffed animals, and all other sorts of ephemera that residents and visitors have left to pay tribute to his memory. It is by far the most active social space in Ferguson, where countless people congregate to debate politics, trade stories, or discuss the future. It is unclear what will happen to this makeshift altar or how long it will be before law enforcement officials disallow its existence. As we have seen in recent weeks, it remains a touchstone for far many more than just the residents of the Canfield apartments who wish to keep the August rebellions alive.

Concluding Notes

To reiterate, this article has sought only to intervene in and contribute to the ongoing analysis of counterinsurgency operations in the wake of the Ferguson uprisings, and does not wish to place greater emphasis on the importance of spatial strategies of containment than, say, the political campaigns of legitimacy waged by the clergy, local politicians, and others. It is this author’s hope that this analysis has contributed to a better understanding of a more neglected aspect of policing power and the role such techniques played in suppressing the Ferguson uprisings.

Finally, it should be emphasized here that while the coalition forces in Ferguson did find a measure of success through the control of movement and territory, these are tense processes and are by no means closed to contestation. The attempted freeway shutdowns and ongoing protests of the past few weeks are particularly indicative of this fact and it is clear that, in spite of their best efforts, the policing powers of Missouri and the Department of Jusice may have been unable to stop the contagious spread of rebellion from the flatlands of West Florissant.

Welcome

Welcome to the Edge City webpage. In short time we’ll be uploading articles, media, and announcements on a semi-regular basis. The majority of these will be original contributions from group members. We will, at times, cross-post items that we think are valuable pieces of analysis or news items that are relevant to broader political discussions. All readers are encouraged to comment on and discuss anything that is posted to this site. Moderators will work to ensure that conversations are both principled and productive.

This page is meant to serve as an extension of our ongoing organizing work. It is our hope that, through dialogue with others across the U.S. and internationally, the debates and conversations that take place here will contribute to our own political praxis and that of others, as well.

Recently, several of our members visited Ferguson, MO to support the ongoing community responses to the murder of Mike Brown and to document the complex methods that state and law enforcement agencies were employing to suppress these actions. In the next few weeks, several members of our organization will be submitting their reportbacks for others to review and discuss. We hope that readers will continue to check back for these updates, as they come.

As a group we have produced a number of documents over the years concerning various organizing efforts or action reflections. We will eventually upload more of these. But, for now, we urge readers who wish to get a better idea of our collective politic to view one of our most recent articles, entitled “Vengeance for Trayvon: A Reportback from Oakland.” This document was written by several members of our group who were present during the local community responses to the George Zimmerman acquittal in 2013 and was eventually published in the second volume of the Red Skies At Night journal.

Thank you for reading and we hope to speak with you all more soon.

Edge City