All I know is first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m a human being, goddammit. My life has value.” So I want you to get up now…I want you to go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell. I want you to yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” -Howard Beale (Network)
by Guy Walker
Finally, people are angry enough to do something about it. Amid the swirling chaos of the peremptory and prompt revolt against the murder of George Floyd and so many countless others within the black community, they’ve deployed the National Guard to protect the mall. And doctors are still wearing trash bags to perform surgeries and save those dying from the virus. So what are we supposed to do? The divide of power has long been slipping away, including during this pandemic, especially during this pandemic, which Naomi Klein has long described as the shock doctrine of power. America’s billionaire class has profited insurmountably in the last couple months, as we’re left to steal dresses from Forever 21. So, now what?
Look at you, now, reading this. Hunched over your phone, tapping away with your greasy fingers, smearing the virus across the void like a slug. Or are you still laying in bed with your laptop pulled up to your chest, your eyeballs scrolling, competing against thirty other tabs littering the top of the screen? In reality, you pendulum madly between early Chomsky interviews or this great documentary you just found on James Baldwin, and a Riley Reid POV video, passively wondering what the vertical Japanese tattoo down her spine actually says. You want to share with the world this really great quote from Desmond Tutu. You want others to know that you have Malcom X’s autobiography sitting on your bookshelf. It’s waiting there, like a deactivated bomb, and now a tombstone of brittle dust, that you rearrange with other books from time to time. You found this cool meme. (Actually, you found a hundred and fifty.) It’s ever so revolutionary—or, it’s in solidarity with the revolution. You are on the right side of history. And by the right side, you mean the left; and by his story, you mean her story. This is your baby Simba you will hold proudly over the virtual masses, the beaming chorus of enlightenment shining down through our hapless skulls.
In the midst of the protests here where I live in Los Angeles, where the raw wounds of the Rodney King beating and consequential riots still pervade, the scenes are almost identical. Maybe worse. It’s worse because people are getting angrier, because it’s been nearly three decades since Rodney King, and nothing’s gotten better. So, the looting is everywhere. It is of course impossible to have a democratized board of protest in regard to looting: it’s good to loot the Gucci stores, the Supreme stores, Louis Vuitton, Apple, Target. (And why aren’t there more fucking Amazon stores we can rob and then burn? Send a cackling Jeff Bezos and his gleaming bald head like a botched circumcision straddling his rocket to Mars. Get off our rock. Join Richard Branson and Elon Musk to burn faraway astral bonfires of hundred dollar bills. Let your ejaculate spread like glitter amongst the stars.) But how do you tell the mob to be shrewd and act in accordance to barracked nuance? There’s a resurrected video from the 1992 LA riots that has since gone viral: a black man is screaming on the street to straggling protestors, crying, pleading that he too came from the ghetto, and now his whole store and business that he built is looted down to the empty shelves. His life, to him in that moment, was over.
A mob has its own autonomy, its own desperate volition, tantamount to the individuals who comprise the mob. Like a school of fish or flock of birds that buzz around uniformly like a swarm of gnats. It’s tickling the dirty taint of our collective consciousness. So mobs aren’t sensible enough to work with—they muddy the starlit sky of our crying innocence. And yet, we humans are scrotum-wrapped mobs of conflict and autonomy, our being humming along on its own volition. You, there, are an animated civil war of peace and contradiction.
So where does violence fit in, in all of this? Without violence, power runs amuck. Journalist activist, Chris Hedges, often uses this adage of history as an example: in Henry Kissinger’s memoirs he recounts a terrified President Nixon during the monumental Vietnam War protests outside the White House gates. Nixon pleaded for reassurance from Kissinger, that the protestors wouldn’t hurdle the iron gates and hang him upside like Mussolini, as they should have. And this wasn’t even a credible threat of violence; it was merely Nixon, a petrified goon, peering from behind his lace curtains at the teenagers tossing t.p. in his oak trees, screaming for the police to save his life. Now, juxtapose this with the Iraq War protests of 2003. They were, in a way, distinctively historic because of their size and energy without an impending draft; but where they failed was inducing even the slightest filament of fear into the minds of the death cult that is the US government. When George W. Bush was asked what he thought about them, he tactfully smirked that the protests demonstrated exactly why they were invading Iraq—to give the people the same freedoms of expression and assembly as we enjoy here. Of course, today, seeing so many peaceful protestors get mauled with batons and rubber bullets from the police for protesting the public execution of George Floyd, it’s easy to scoff at the brash ineptitude of such a position.
Freedom of expression isn’t enough when all you’re given is a dirty rectangular paddock to stomp your feet and punch at the sun. Here you go, they say, throw your tantrum in this parcel, in this park. Get it out of your system, and then get back in line. Burning cop cars and their stations is not simply the opening-night-Broadway-play of justified rage; it’s also a celebration of our humanity. It says we are indeed brothers, and we reject your incrimination of the black and brown communities; we reject your surveillance and your evangelical frenzy to protect the banks and the malls and the corporate establishments. It says, we need opportunities for the poor and homeless; we need to end the for-profit industry of incarceration; we need to decarbonize our economy rather than militarize those who are supposed to protect and serve the community at large. And beyond the burning down of the bad and broken, we need to know what we want, drawing a map of our newer better world with your finger through the beds of ash.
We are running frantically on the rat wheel of history, churning out landmark events as we go. Today is its own textbook. But the sixties flagged a few stories of its own. The Weather Underground, for example, was a militarized faction that was birthed from the chaotic 1969 Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) convention. They acted in alliance with the Black Panther Party, vowing to “bring the war home” by bombing the US Capitol and Pentagon buildings, amongst myriad other targeted attacks against the implements of American imperialism. The LSD surf gang, Brotherhood of Eternal Love, enlisted them to break Timothy Leary out of prison, and snuck him into Algeria. And although they rooted themselves in a sort of purist naiveté that only the young can bolster, it never transfused into the political revolution they sought. A few of the founding members incidentally blew themselves up and their entire Greenwich apartment up while making a stockpile of incendiary devices.
Or in the nineties, the Earth Liberation Front burned down a Hummer dealership just down the road from where I grew up. Environmental activist and writer, Derrick Jensen, often notes that only two percent of those active in the Underground Railroad actually carried munitions. The vast majority involved were the very critical mass that made the operation run so effectively. Because peaceful protest only works in one of two ways: if the opposition is sensible enough to hear your cries, or if there is a violent drumbeat beneath its genteel hand.
When the FBI assassinated Black Panther Party chairman, Fred Hampton, they knew they could get away with it. Many of the founding members of Black Lives Matters activists that came out of Ferguson, Missouri, have died under similarly scandalous circumstances. On the day of my writing this, it is the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre that left up to three hundred dead and ten thousand black Oklahomans homeless. And it wasn’t just a white mob who did this; it was the National Guard. The same National Guard who killed protestors at Kent State. The same National Guard who has now been deployed across the country to keep the peace and enforce curfew. So, the effectiveness of violence isn’t disputed; it’s the evidentiary tenor of who is now at risk.
The United States is a big festering dumpster of rot and disease. But I’m in love with it now more than ever. The abolishment of our passivity is enough for celebration. Sure, Trump is barracked behind his fortress, jacking off into heavily bleached and ironed socks, covering his sweaty dew-dropped chest hairs in a tangle of shredded Big Mac lettuce. He’s slurping Diet Cokes with more contempt than when Jules Winnfield drank the rest of the Sprite in Pulp Fiction before killing all the scared and stammering bastards. But the emperor has no clothes, and he is the four-hundred pound troll he warned the world about, trolling from the fortified gates, seeing if he can get a rise out of the oh so politically correct left.
Because this has little to nothing to do with him, and he wants to bring the attention back, back from the swirling infernos of heartache. But it’s already progressed so far beyond. Out there, amidst the foreboding storm clouds of tear gas and sirens is an atmosphere of pervading idealism. There’s a collective consciousness buzzing into some banners of materiality. And it’s designated forever in the throes of justice.