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Why I Support the Santa Cruz Rioters
Someone's poisoned the tofu supply!
Why I Support the Santa Cruz Rioters
Walking along Pacific Ave in Santa Cruz, one might choose to go inside the large health food store located next to Borders. The food is overpriced, the staff becomes angry if you pop an olive into your mouth from the salad bar, and the beer selection doesn't include the cheap stuff. If you're bored while waiting to spend $8.67 for a juice and a muffin, feel free to read the latest issue of Pagan Vegan Gardening, or whatever they have in stock. Glancing up however, one comes to see something much more sinister than a lack of Keystone, a mural. Not just any mural, but one that really angers me. It shows white people farming, and then loading the produce onto a truck. The field ends next to the ocean, and a road begins, which leads into Santa Cruz, where a sign for the health food store beacons. If you want a picture of what Santa Cruz is, or what it wants to be, you need only look at that mural. And, if you're too stupid to not realize how ridiculous that image, and the message that it produces really is, then perhaps you need to refresh your browser and check how that time share is doing.
Santa Cruz exists like a colony. The county itself is almost 80% white, with large sections belonging to the upper middle class. The importance of tourism, technology industries, and also the university create a neo-colonial relationship with the nearby UCSC campus. Here, working class Latino labor is pulled in from Watsonville and exploited for just above minimum wage. Rent in Santa Cruz is out of control. It takes years to get on section 8. Without packing swarms of people into a small house, a person with a mediocre job or non-connected parents will not fare well here. The politics of the local area are interesting as well. Here, the city council passes resolutions against the Iraq War and the PATRIOT Act, "Marxists" and members of the ACLU sit on the city council, yet still they find it necessary to fill the streets with surveillance cameras and push out the homeless from the downtown. In fact, the Mayor even wants to hire 8 new cops in the wake of the riot, even though city workers face cuts and there is no money to pay for them. An 18 year ban on ICE has also been lifted recently, allowing La Migra to once again come in and break up families and deport working class people, in "Operation Community Shield." The coastal forest, which also draws so many people to the area, is also routinely threatened by the UCSC system itself. Recently, the school has announced a long range development plan to clear much of the forest in order to expand the school for the future elite. Welcome to Santa Cruz, pack a gas mask in your tote bag.
In essence, everything in this place is different, but it is really the same. Here, people love organics, but they also love the cheap immigrant labor that supplies it, especially when it stays in Watsonville. Here, people love being liberals, except when it comes to issues that actually have an effect on class relations in the city. It feels great to slap that anti-war sticker on the car, but the upper middle class is still a class with it's own interests - ones that run counter to ours. Thus, here we have repressive politicians that call for more police, higher rents, destroyed forests, more cameras, more development - all while wearing a Che shirt. This is what it takes in this town; but the game is still the same. An economy needs to be managed, workers have to keep going to work, and class and race lines have to be firmly kept in place. And if people could just enjoy their granola here and shut up, things would go a lot smoother...
The events of May 1st represent a tear in this fabric. Suddenly, people aren't shopping on Pacific, they're breaking windows and setting things on fire. They aren't afraid of the police, they are surrounding cop cars and pouring paint on them and pelting them with rocks. "What's next?," cry the elites? "Will they surround city hall and burn it to the ground? Will they link up with migrant workers and take over the fields?"
The events in Greece are not that far removed. There, people riot and fight a "socialist government" that is just as committed to capitalism as the one before it. In Santa Cruz, despite the liberal window dressings of the local establishment, the song is the same.
But, here, unlike in Greece, there is not wide support for revolutionary action, at least not loud, vocal support. In fact, here, most of the vocal support for a fundamental changing of society comes from those that want to preserve capitalism at all costs, albeit in a greener, much nicer form. Thus, we see signs on local health food stores that implore us that "Non-violence is the only way." The only way to what, however? The destruction of capitalism and it's states? Or the only way to get a film screening of the latest Al Gore film at your local campus dining hall?
Here, we are surrounded by a framing of proletarian actions (riots, strikes, occupations) in middle class contexts (property destruction, violence, etc). We are suffocated by middle class voices (mass media, activists, the Left, Take Back Santa Cruz) when engaging in proletarian actions. We feel the raining down of dirt as they push us into coffins through their defining of our struggles in middle class values to solely middle class people (like much of the "anarchist" movement). I, want none of this.
The Left denounces the riots because they were violent. Violence, like sabotage, has always been a tool of the proletariat. Strikers in the UFW destroyed company property and armed themselves. Rioters in Oakland fought police and destroyed property when Oscar Grant was shot. In Chicago, workers occupied their workplaces, students in Santa Cruz and beyond did the same, and in Stockton and elsewhere, people occupy their foreclosed homes, ready to have it out with the police. The state is already violent. It is up to us to decide how we should respond. Will we be crushed, or do we fight? We are fighting for bread (and, fuck, roses too) here, not some moral code that says we can't cap a fucker who's screwing us. WE define the terms of our struggle against capitalism. Us. Not liberals and leftists who want to preserve capitalism. Display your billboards. Write your letters to the editor. We are not in the same struggle. You want more room at the Farmers Market. We want an end to wage labor and hierarchical power.
Some Leninists even went on to write on indybay regarding the riot:
While Liberation News understands that a system that keeps kicking people when they are down is bound to create a reaction, we also see [the May Day Riot] as having been generally counter-productive. Our perspective is towards building a workers’ party that fights to overthrow the current leadership in the unions to make the unions a fighting instrument of the working class. In the course of that struggle we seek to build self-confidence in the working class coupled with a vanguard party capable, with a rebellious working class...
The Left. Ridiculous. Disgusting. Vile.
One segment sees class as a misnomer. Something to be avoided. Don't talk about work, and rent, and immigration. Talk about bikes, and vegan food, and non-violence. Peace, dood, comes through buying the right products, the right lifestyle choices, and all that jazz, man.
The other side of the Left, sees the working class as a means to power. They want to use us to build their party, and put them in the leadership role. A ruling class in waiting. Meet the new boss, same as the old, but with sandals.
Another position, comes from Take Back Santa Cruz. They tow the same line as other groups before them. Gang violence is a problem. Crime is a problem. Thus, they want more police. More surveillance. More immigration cops. To them, crime isn't something that is caused by inequality. Nor is it something that they have had to deal with as being part of the class that is criminalized. No, they are attacking crime as a threat to their quality of life as the upper middle class.
However, the working class can only solve it's own problems. We can only help ourselves in our own communities. More police means more immigration officials. More people in jail and more tickets. It does not mean safer streets. But it does mean gentrification and higher rents. It means us removed from areas that rich people want to be developed. Now "anarchists" are on their radar. Their "violence" against the property of downtown business owners is a problem, just like the gangs. It threatens the tourist industry. It scares away potential businesses, just like brown people. Take Back Santa Cruz's activism does not impress us. They can clean all the parks they want to. We still understand the upper middle class to have interests different than ours, just as we see those heads of the gangs to be contrary as well. They do want to Take Back Santa Cruz, but even more so for the upper classes and their interests.
Finally, what are the anarchists saying? Most of the public outrage at the riot has been directed towards SubRosa, a small cafe that sells coffee and offers a place for people to buy anarchist publications. Being that there were flyers for the May Day event at SubRosa on a bulletin board and the space is "anarchist," many people believe that the space organized the event (which they didn't). SubRosa however, has been quick to distance themselves, being that they are becoming the victims of media attacks and mean posts on the Internet. Some of these include (ironically) threats of violence against anarchists that have quite public faces.
As SubRosa open letter read on indybay.org:
"We know it is a terrible feeling to feel under attack, as some of the downtown business owners and employees must feel right now. We care about the suffering of the people who were affected. The fear of violence and attack is something that many of us, especially women, youth, people of color, political dissidents, and poor people, feel on a regular basis in Santa Cruz and the world at large."
A SubRosa collective member wrote:
This town does not just belong to the rich, the white, the business owner. It also belongs to the artist, the street musician, the worker, the homeless. It also belongs to the anarchist and the anti-authoritarian. We live in a place where business owners and the police try to control our every move, where you can sit, what you can say, and they give us nothing in return, telling us to move along so that the rich tourists who come to spend money won't have their pure eyes tainted with the sight of our ragged clothes.
Can't we all just get a long, the anarchists ask? No, actually, we can't. This is class society. There is death, abuse, destruction, and violence everyday. Sometimes, we get to direct it. That is why the riots on May Day were a good thing. For those that are angry about the property of corporations and rich people being destroyed on International Workers Day while rent is sky high, workers are laid off, people are foreclosed on, people are deported and families are destroyed, fees continue to rise, and the forest is destroyed for development, and so on - eat shit. These actions weren't to find you, or make you feel good, they were meant for others. They were meant for us.
We refuse to let our actions be defined by a pacifistic leftist middle class morality. We refuse to let our actions be merited by it's politicians. We do not seek find sympathy with or feel sorry for, business owners, they are a different class than us. We do not care if they are afraid. We do not care what they think. We do not care how many letters of opinion the upper crust activists in Take Back Santa Cruz write, we see where their true interests lie. We see the game, as we smash a black checker down and scream in yo face, "CONNECT FOUR MOTHERFUCKER!"
It must be understood that the Left is shifting the debate of the riot. It is doing that because of it's own middle class interests. They don't want us to talk about why these actions against the rich in a society divided by class and race make us feel good and powerful, and how they could lead to more action. They want us to feel bad and to help catch the bad ones. If we're feeling uppity, we're told, go out and hold a sign, and if we've got money, run for office. Even many "revolutionaries" are playing the game. Don't.
The breaking of windows materially doesn't get us anything, (unless you lucky bastards came up in that rolex store!) But, it sends a message that we are not afraid to attack, and in rioting, we feel something. We come to understand that we can't just let capitalism wash over us. To continue to just allow ourselves to simply sell our time and labor out for a wage in order to survive. To pay for rent. To allow everything on this earth to become a commodity; from cum to forests. In finding each other and realizing that we don't want this; realizing that the avenues for change are bankrupt, we understand that in action together we find new ways of being that can improve our conditions. We find possibility. That is what is exciting. Today, a riot of 200. Tomorrow a general strike of 5.9 billion? Next week, the end of industrial capitalism?
What is most terrifying for the petite-bourgeoisie is not that we are no longer afraid to attack and steal their property and engage with the police. No, we already knew that. What is terrifying to them is that this is just a start. Yes.
In the end, we are not interested in showing how "bad" a corporation is by breaking it's windows, or in decrying police by destroying their cars, but in subverting and negating the totality of life in capitalism. In refusing wage labor and the commodity. In destroying the hold and control of capital and the police over all space. In destroying the separations that exist between the proletariat based on race, age, geography, gender, and sexuality. We are not out just to punish you, but to abolish you and your dictatorship over all our lives.
So, when we go on strike. When we occupy the building. When we break down the doors and start looting. When you scream at the top of your lungs, "PEACEFUL PROTEST!" while cop cars are burning and we tell you to "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" When the co-op becomes a collective meeting space and the SEIU hall becomes a strike coordinating center. Remember, that before all of this, someone whispered in your ear: "...long live the proletarian movement!"
At that point, it stopped being the start, and started becoming the end.