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Anarchist critique of the action in San Francisco
March 4th Recap: The Inaugural San Francisco Budget-Cuts Walkathon
Where to begin, where to begin…March 4th has come and gone and I am filled with regrets, disappointment, resignation, resentment, and anger. This evening I’ve come to certain, sad, conclusions about the dynamics of the student movement which have always existed as vague impressions lurking in the recesses of my optimistic (evidently too much so) mind. Before I’m silenced by a dismissive “Well, what did you expect…the student movement is ostensibly one which is trying to protect their interests as future actors with the discourse and logic of capital” – let’s consider the facts and the build-up to today.
Autumn 2009 saw a certain specific radical escalation in terms of this struggle, in ways which often made no material demands but instead struggled to physically actualize and articulate a space in which the logical of control and authority was effectively challenged. Many student radicals all over California, used occupation not merely as a means to draw attention to the fiscal crisis that our education system has found itself in – but rather, more ambitiously and in my opinion righteously, used the tactic of occupation as a means to (on a purely visceral and symbolic level) take back control of their individual experience of living within the totality of capitalist relations. The rhetoric surrounding many of the communiqués supports this, such texts released by various autonomous groups at Santa Cruz and Berkeley all were engaging in a discourse which made it evident that the radical milieu of the student movement was not thinking about fee hikes and budget cuts…but rather questioning the very institution of academia itself and its role in the maintenance of not only intellectual hegemony but also social construction in the broadest sense. Texts like “A Communique from an Absent Future” and materials put out by groups like La Ventana Collective (many of which have been anthologized in “After the Fall: Communiques from Occupied California” by the good folks at Little Black Cart) pointed to a serious engagement with current anarco-insurrectionary discourse. They’ve taken their cue from the Tarnac/ Invisible Committee folks, done their Situationist homework, and echoed, albeit in fresh new ways, the sentiments expressed in May ‘68. All this is a roundabout way of saying that there is indeed a radical contingent in the California student movement, and my problem with today/tonight was that this contingent was almost entirely absent from the “actions” in San Francisco.
The rally at civic center was organized to be “family-friendly” and was being touted as the central convergence point within the Bay Area. This obviously was the case as the turnout clearly surpassed the numbers in “demonstrations” elsewhere in the Bay. But for what this convergence had in numbers, it lacked in a radical contingency such as that seen in Oakland by several hundred folks occupying the freeway and causing gridlock for hours. Even the actions in Santa Cruz escalated to the point of genuine confrontation with police.
San Francisco let me down on this one.
At approximately 6:15 p.m. or so, just as the sun was starting to set a small march broke away from the mass rally at civic center quickly gaining numbers until a few hundred people were marching down Market St. right downtown. I had been desperately waiting for night to fall, to see what would enfold once we left the predictable monotony of the rally. My critiques of the majority of the marchers are no different from the general anarchist vs. liberal debates that plague almost every large demonstration from mobilizations against G20 summits to the recent anti-Olympic actions in Vancouver. There was a group (I’m assuming they were one as many of them wore matching shirts and situated themselves at the front of the march through downtown with their megaphones) which effectively hijacked control of the march, collaborated with police (by telling them where we were headed), and physically impeded individuals attempting to escalate and engage in more militant actions.
I don’t know who the fuck you all were or where you from, but please accept this most sincere and genuine FUCK YOU ALL.
It reminded me of the civilian pawns, “community arbiters” in their bright neon-green jackets during the Oscar Grant Rebellion last year in Oakland. The police have nothing to fear, when something as seemingly rhizomatic as a march, is policed by people within our own ranks who are saying they are our comrades. We were told by the “organizers” to stay only on one side of the road, not to march down one-way streets, and they physically stopped the march from crossing red lights. To add to all of this insanity, I saw someone pull a trashcan off the sidewalk into the street to impede the path of motorcycle police and one of these march hi-jackers went and picked up the trash can and replaced in its rightful place. Of course the generic, trite, idiotic chants were present and I found it most ironic that folks were chanting “Who's streets? Our streets!” while sticking to one side of the road and obeying all traffic laws as if we were one really long and loud human bus. Don’t define the nature and limits of our individual struggles, you don’t speak for all of us. A diversity of tactics was not, I repeat, NOT given space here to grow and actualize.
We walked through some of the most opulent and affluent displays of egregious wealth in the entire Bay Area – the Union Square area downtown. Multi-national corporations, all sorts of banking centers, the flagships of commodity consumption – and nothing. Nothing. A few hundred young individuals, angry (not enough), and nothing. To you liberal shits who will say, “Nothing? How can you say nothing! We marched through the streets peacefully for our cause(s)! We gained attention for X,Y,Z.” I say this to you…Within the physical realm, the realm of material day-to-day relations smashing the storefront of bank who received a bailout while your little college education keeps getting more expensive doesn’t accomplish anything. But it’s equally as stupid as marching on the right side of the street and collaborating with police thinking that you’re accomplishing something.
That said, the nature of a militant confrontation does accomplish this: smashing the window, burning the dumpster, confronting the authority of a hostile police force – does something ontologically. I am a firm believer that participating, experiencing, and fully engaging in explicitly transgressive social behavior such as a riot or black bloc demonstration both deconstructs and redefines one’s ontological relationship to authority. It is a level of empowerment that one cannot find through the general boring conduits of activism alone, it is something much more profound than this. It is a recognition that the relationship of subservience to dominance is not static, it can move, bend, and it is one which is purely contextual, subject to the will and desire of its actors.
The march eventually circled around back to Market Street and back to Civic Center. One of the march hijackers jumped on a pedestal (oddly poetic and perfect for their group’s self-aggrandizing posturing) and shouted on the megaphone, “Great job guys!” For a second I thought this hijacker was going to hand us all little gold-star stickers. No prolonged engagement, no discussion on what to do next, simply a mass dispersal. I shit you not, when I say that within 10 minutes a crowd of approximately 300 folks dissipated instaneously because of their deference to the authority of these march “organizers.” They said we’re done, so we must be done. Nothing else to do, let’s not talk about alternative strategies, lets just all pat each other on the backs, thank the cops, and go home and watch TV.
One friend in my affinity group remarked that this was, “The San Francisco Budget-Cuts Walkathon” and another, “Critical Mass without bikes” – and to be completely honest, that’s what the march felt like. Like we were all on a really large cross country team training for our next meet.
To conclude: Fuck you San Francisco, this East Bay kid should’ve stayed on his side of the bay today. Thanks to Oakland for saving face by taking the freeway! Hella nice kids, hella nice!
Final Score: Oakland 1 – San Francisco 0