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anarchist reportback from ferguson
Three Rivers Earth First! sent me to ferguson to scout and report back. This is the report back.
Several people have asked me to write about what I found in Ferguson today. Here is my brief dehydrated tired scribble before bed. Do not judge me I literally just typed this out.
Grief, pride and anger is the short answer.
This is a community grieving. Not just over the murder of a single unarmed young man, though that was terrible enough. What I learned painting stencils with the children of that neighborhood today was this did not occur in some back alley. Where they shot him 6 times was right in the middle of a street, surrounded by multi level apartment complexes filled with children. If the shots did not get their attention the 4 hours they left the body in the middle of the street did. Several of those children did not have parents home. They had a clear line of sight straight down on the dying body of a young man bleeding on the street. Kids 7,8 and older, and younger. I have no doubt some of them watched uninterrupted.
As an afterthought I had brought a stencil I had cut for another rally that was considered to radical at the time. Its of a cop with a club that says “to many cops, to little justice.” I had a couple of cans of spray paint and was painting signs for anyone who wanted them. It made me very popular. Adults wanted me to paint shirts, so I did. They also wanted me to do posters, so I did. But then the kids who lived in the surrounding building wanted some art therapy and dug the idea of spray painting apparently. So we hung out in the sun and I taught them to wear mask and how to do it, I explained many those old school Brooklyn graf artist died of lung cancer and if they were going to use spray paint always mask up. They listened to me like I was a prophet of spray paint. We hung out and I could tell these kids were in shock.
But not from the reality that they were hunted cause they were black and poor. They had already gotten that message in the neighborhood from the state loud and clear. Just watching someone die bleeding after hearing 6 loud shots outside your door is a little louder than normal.
Watching their faces and how people acted around the altar that had been built, I could see that these people were grieving. Speaking to them I saw that they were not just grieving just over the loss of this one young man, but for decades of being black, being poor, being hunted—knowing that cause of their economic position and color that their kids face this same bitter reality. The loss of potential, the loss of life and the loss of the innocence of their children. I saw grief and mourning today.
But also pride. And a high level of political consciousness. Some guys on the main street saw my stencil and asked if they paid me if I would spray their shirts. I refused the money and began cranking them out—they kept wanting to tip me. They offered to buy me more paint, give me money—they could not believe I was doing it for free. I just kept telling them it was the least I could do, and this was my contribution.
Finally I heard someone mention beer. “Oh, beer sounds good.” They asked me what kind I would like “the kind with alcohol.” which made them all smile.
They invited me into the barber shop, a big deal apparently. We began talking about what was happening, there were about 8 or so folks there. I mentioned that some had tried to talk me out of coming—and the entire shop went quiet. “Why?” one asked. They told me that was terrible advice.
They KNOW the world is watching and talking. They were proud that they were the ones that had finally taken a stand. They saw all the people who had come to their neighborhood, the media, everyone—and it told them they were important, they mattered, they had done something that mattered. That they had made a stand for everyone in the nation.
I mentioned Aristotle to one of the guys and it was on. There was such lively community and companionship in that black barbershop it made me feel poor that I never had had that sort of... community. Everyone was cutting up and joking. I ended up just giving them the stencil and told them to make good use of it. They told me that the allegations of molitovs were complete bullshit. They had been there from day 1. In all of the conversations I had I heard a high level of political consciousness about the state, the militarization of the police forces, all of it. They knew they had finally made a stand that was heard across the world, and were proud of themselves and their community.
As to the anger, that is self explanatory. Anger over the harassment, anger over what the future holds for their children, anger for the police coming in and creating the problems of violence and rioting. And that community, that barbershop—placed the blame squarely on the state for that. The violence was purely a product of the states actions from beginning to end. Coming into this grieving community like an occupying force was so blindingly stupid with predictable results that I am boggled that anyone thought it was a good idea.
And of course in the cracks of all this, hope. I got a contact hope just watching how people absent state interference took care of each other.
Thousands of bottles of water, bread, food, medical attention—all free, all provided spontaneously from the community everywhere I went. I have never felt so cared for just walking down the street. People constantly offered me food, water, everything.
Now for the anarchist analysis of what has gone wrong. Its not the violence—if some cops shot an unarmed man in my neighborhood and my kids saw it I would be furious. If it was combined with decades of abuse and racist behavior—I am just surprised hundreds of molitovs weren't made and thrown. That its taken so long and that the people showed so much restraint in the face of overwhelming state provocation is stunning to me.
No, what went wrong was the church and the civil rights leaders who flooded in and pacified people, cut BAD deals with cops they had no right to make—and generally pacified and controlled people more effectively than the national guard ever could.
I have seen it before. The NAACP fighting our organizing efforts confronting the Klan telling people not to show up for our wildly successful counter rallies, then showing up to hijack the media at an event they did their best to kill.
Neo-liberals screaming at direct action being used at the start of the Mountain Justice campaign. All the effort to keep action from happening, to pacify people, its not a new trend. Those in the radical activist community have dealt with it like a disease for decades where the shrill voices of “you can't do that” have done their best to justify their own fear and inaction by attacking others who dare to act.
No, I have seen it before. Just the sheer determination of those voices to gain control this time was a lesson.
At the rally a reporter from Peru saw my sign and took me aside an interview me for a South American newspaper. She started by asking me what I thought about how the preachers were acting shouting about Jesus from the stage they had built. A few words out of my mouth and she smiled.
“Yes, that exactly what I was hoping you would say. I have been here for a week and watched this go from a revolutionary voice to being nearly killed by the civil rights leadership and religious folks who bent over backward to pacify people. They have nearly train wrecked the movement this has spawned.”
She interviewed me and I told her the truth. That we call them peace cops in various movements. They are always the ones who take it on themselves to order people to stay on the sidewalks, to yell at people if they show any righteous anger. To in effect take on the role of the state to pacify people and make them behave like sheep.
She pointed out it was ironic that in the week she had been here that a direct observable correlation was clearly evident between their involvement and the numbers dropping. As we spoke most people were literally as far from the preachers and their stage as possible as they shouted they were fighting Satan by telling people to submit to authority and be passive safe little sheep. They did not realize their proselytizing was both offensive and counter productive.
Or in their righteous certainty they did not care.
They wore shirts that said “clergy” as if it were some badge which gave them authority to walk hand in hand with the state in pacifying people. They were proud at what they had done. They were in control, they were “leaders” and took every opportunity possible to tell the media so. They proved their leadership by pacifying people and ordering people as if they were in charge.
Of course this was not all the religious folks, and its not just the Christians. There were Nation folks who had been just as officiously controlling. This need to be the boss, to be the leadership, and to be media whores is almost overwhelming and crosses religious boundaries. Even professed atheist can catch it.
But there were religious people, Christians, who apparently took a deeper reading of the gospels and were more in line with the radical spirit of the people in the streets. They just had not done everything they could to seize control and thereby drive the momentum into the dirt.
Anarchist and other radical organizers in the future, as they have in the past, can help combat this by forming affinity groups. But how to treat this illness is another essay.
As far as myself, I walked away inspired. Despite the obstacle of the states military action against their community. Despite generations of abuse at the hands of the state. Despite the sheer cruel brutality of what they had witnessed, what their children had witnessed...these people were awesome.
With no bosses and no state telling them what to do I saw a community inspired today. I saw water provided, food given out, medical attention available—all with with resistance of both the state and interference of disorganized religion.
It left me feeling people are fundamentally decent, even in the face of horror and oppression.
I am really glad I was here today. Not just to experience the community and kindness. Not just cause I think something historic has happened today. But because it has renewed my faith in humans to a degree I did not come thinking possible.
Its been a good trip.