[thingist] plain old-fashioned violent
rrdominguez at ucsd.edu
Mon Mar 19 10:18:47 UTC 2012
How to Think During an Eviction
Posted on March 18, 2012
Once again, we reflect after an eviction. In the face of violence and
violent speech, how do we respond?
The actions by the NYPD yesterday were plain old-fashioned violent
(see below). They evicted people from a 24 hour park without stating any
offense that had been committed. They erected a barricade around the
park that is still up at the time of writing, in contravention of an
earlier court decision. They refused medical care to a woman having a
seizure. Public transport buses, brought up in advance, were used to
take protestors to jail. The message here is very simple: no action that
is or appears to be an occupation will be tolerated in New York, legal
rationale to follow.The political culture of New York is macho and
violent. It takes its cue from its paymasters on Wall Street. Remember
the "masters of the universe" on Wall Street in Tom Wolfe's /The Bonfire
of the Vanities/? They became the "big, swinging dicks" in Michael
Lewis's /Liar's Poker/ and last week the hapless Goldman Sachs apostate
Greg Smith described how traders like to "rip the eyes out" of their
clients. No wonder there are few women at the top of these firms.
A week or so ago, I happened to be in an open meeting with a senior New
York City elected official about a zoning issue where I live. In a
clearly studied way, the man became incensed at what he deliberately
took to be a provocation and talked about "tearing [us] a new arsehole."
In a more public example, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, when queried by
the City Council
over the stop-and-frisk policy that led to over 600,000 frisks of people
of color last year responded with what even the /New York Times/ called
a "pugnacious assault." Elected officials may not question the police in
Such talk is supposed to indicate an awareness of reality, whether at
the elite level of city planning or the street level of minority
neighborhoods. To "get things done," verbal and, if "necessary,"
physical violence must be used--the metaphors are of knocking heads,
breaking balls and so on.
After a few hours sleep, I headed to Left Forum
<http://www.leftforum.org/> at Pace University this morning, hoping to
get some perspectives on the moment. I found three. My panel on
"Environmentalism and Occupy" was, once again, all male. The next time
this happens I will just have to make a public protest. It seems that
the injunction to respect diversity, so prevalent in 1990s political and
academic culture, has been forgotten, except by the Occupy movement.
What I initially experienced as Occupy's continuity with academia looks
more like a bridge to past (not always successful, to be sure) efforts.
However, at Left Forum the all day prevalence of violent language,
shouting, pointed fingers and so on served as reminder of how much
remains to be done.
In a more positive vein, both on my panel and the following discussion
about the general strike, it was stressed that the place of the global
south was central. While the general strike question was mostly
discussed in the context of the May Day action in the U. S., Gayatri
Spivak stressed the need to think it in relation to the global south.
Spivak's train of thought was multi-faceted and hard to summarize. Her
main points were that finance capital is digital so that it cannot be
blockaded; further global trade is a relatively small component of gross
global product; and that it no longer makes sense to speak simply of
"the working class," in a manner she derived from Marx's /Critique of
the Gotha Program/ <http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/>.
All that would be to say, then, that the general strike is an impossible
demand, not a quantifiable project, whose "success" can be measured by
the number of strikers. It needs to "surprise" us (to quote Spivak again).
Certainly, there will be no surprise to find a vast array of police on
May Day and every time we step out of the places allocated to us. The
repeated representation of that injunction is the arrest of a
demonstrator who steps, whether deliberately or by accident, into the
Claiming our own place will be interpreted as "violence" by the state
because it is the language that they speak and understand. Prefiguring a
horizontal world not configured by the command means adopting ways of
acting and speaking that at once insist on our right to say what our
place should be, rather than be allocated one, and to do so in ways that
we understand as non-violent. That does not preclude non-violent direct
action. It is to say that if another world is possible, we need to start
living in it.
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