Friday, June 20, 2014


Milwaukee, Division and Ashland. Six floors below the ground.
The rupture begins here...

It is Prison Friday at Scission and this isn't exactly a prison story, but then again this is exactly a prison story.  It is the story of the bigger prison and the smaller prison.  It is not exactly a story about resistance, but then again this is exactly a story about resistance.  It is a story about resistance that is not on its own going to smash the State and free the multitude, but it is a story about a resistance that helps keep up the spirit, or arm the spirit is perhaps better, so that we and our friends can keep the faith, as it were.  This is a story that could have been on Cultural Monday, but then there is no more Cultural Monday, and today is Friday.  This is a story about America, the one we used to spell with a K or even a KKK, and is also about tomorrow, maybe, and some other America, better yet, some other world.  This is a story of racism and white supremacy, of cops and bullets, of blood and guts, and remembrances past and promises future.  This is just a short little thang from the blog known as Prison Culture where sometimes one can catch a glimpse of the world, of scission, of the place where white supremacy and global capital meet, and where a sharp knife slashes both and where the tear turns to a rupture and the rupture to a revolution.  If you know what I mean.


I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one.
Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)
Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)
On an overcast afternoon, on a concrete island at the intersection of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division, I joined a couple dozen people (mostly young) who were reading/performing poetry in opposition to state violence.
I was invited to say a few words, so I did. I shared words written by Langston Hughes and AI. I added a few of my own too.
On Friday, Damo was laid to rest. I planned to attend the funeral but in the end I was unable due to a previous commitment. It’s just as well. I hate funerals. I despise them especially when the person being buried is in his early 20s.
So I stood on a real soapbox and in memory of Damo & others who are victims of state violence, I shared two poems. Here are a few lines from one by Langston Hughes:
Three kicks between the legs
That kill the kids
I’d make tomorrow.
I’ll admit to actively suppressing any thoughts of a young man being tased (twice) and hitting his head so hard that he was basically brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. How does this happen? Then I remember the disposability and un-humanness of black and brown people. I know how this happens. I am a witness but I’d rather not be.
Ethan spoke before me. No, that’s not actually true, Ethan bled before me. I watched with others transfixed by his words and his pain. I hoped that it was catharsis towards healing. But I don’t know how young black men can heal in the midst of continuing, continual, unrelenting violence. Is this possible?
The title of the gathering organized by members of the Chicago Revolutionary Poets Brigade was‘No Knock’ An Artistic Speak-Out Against the ‘American Police State.’ The title is inspired by Gil Scott Heron’s poem “No Knock.”
No knocked on my brother Fred Hampton
Bullet holes all over the place
No knocked on my brother Michael Harris
And jammed a shotgun against his skull
It is as it ever was. No knocked on Damo who is now six feet under ground.
Passersby stopped to listen as various people read poems about Guantanamo, police violence, prisons, surveillance, and more. Audre was right: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” There is magic in hearing voices speaking out for justice over the din of a bustling city. You had to be there to understand what I mean. Gathering as a collective to recite poetry can’t end state violence but it does keep our spirits up so that we can demand and fight for more justice. It does help to “give name to the nameless so that it can be thought.” And now more than ever we need the words and we need to be able to think through that which cannot be thought. These are revolutionary acts in our time.
Over the next few weeks, I will be working with others to strategize and organize around the epidemic of police violence experienced by our young people of color in Chicago. I don’t know what will come of our discussions but I am sure that nothing will change unless we change it.
I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one. I read some poems including “Endangered Species” by AI.
At some point, we will meet
at the tip of the bullet,
the blade, or the whip
as it draws blood,
but only one of us will change,
only one of us will slip
past the captain and crew of this ship
and the other submit to the chains
of a nation
that delivered rhetoric
in exchange for its promises.
I hope that you find your own soap box. I mean a real one and read some poems, calling out the cops…

Thursday, June 19, 2014


In Cameroon, Herakles Farms, a US company, has been chopping down miles of dense forest. Last February, according to Greenpeace,  Herakles began clear-cutting trees with an illegal permit in hand. The permit also allowed the illicit timber to be sold on international markets. And this is all happening with the complicity of the Cameroonian Ministry of Forests and the full knowledge of the European Union (EU). 

Local activists have succeeded at times in their fight against Herakles.  They have reduced the amount of land Herakles can legally steal.  However, Herakles Farms is still  engaged in the development of a controversial oil palm plantation in the South-West Region of Cameroon that faces strong opposition from affected communities.   The company's so-called sustainable project will destroy the ecosystem of tens of thousands hectares of ancient rainforest and replace it with monoculture oil palm plantations. 

The company isn't stupid.  According to activists they have tried to use rice and fish to bribe and seduce the indigenous people of Mundemba, Toko and Nguti sub-divisions in the Southwest Region of Cameroon in order to grab their ancestral lands for 99 years.  An open letter from one environmental activist, Andrew M. Edimo, Chairperson Natural Resources and Development Committee Oroko Cultural Association,to Bruce Wrobel, CEO, of Herakles Farms states:

Africans do not need handouts.  Handouts have not worked in the past and will not work today. How long will the tens of thousands of people dislocated, dehumanized and enslaved by your so-called sustainable development project live off your 11 tons of rice and 10 tons of fish?  Are they going to be eating the rice and fish for 99 years as they will have no land to farm after you have seized and destroyed their only treasure and hope for a livelihood...

You have forgotten to tell the world that you are the CEO of a venture capital company that invests in places where the overhead expenditures are low and your profit margin is high. A country like Uganda where large quantities of crude oil have been discovered and many companies are rushing in is certainly a profitable destination for you to generate and sell electricity to those who will be investing in crude oil as well as the locals, making millions of dollars annually and paying little or nothing to the indigenous people of the area. the convention your company signed with the Government of the Republic of Cameroon, your company has been given the absolute rights to logging, water and clay and if any mineral is discovered in the concession area, be it oil, gold, diamond, and so on, the government of Cameroon will only be able to explore and exploit it with your approval.  After all, that very government also gave you the right not to allow any indigenous person to trespass in the concession area as well as the right to arrest and persecute trespassers....

...We know you and your company are above all laws in Cameroon, that is  why an  injunction order was issued by  a court in Mundemba  instructing your operations in Ndian division to stop  until an agreement is reached with regards the  future of the livelihood of  the people whose land you want to acquire and you defiled the injunction. Instead you worked through your Cameroonian surrogates to make sure the judge who had passed the judgment was transferred. In America, not even the President can disrespect a court judgment, but in Cameroon an American company disrespects the laws of the land without any consequences...

Reading through the website of Herakles Farms, I discovered that you are telling the world how you are helping to develop the continent of Africa by building hydroelectric power stations in Uganda, bringing internet cables to the continent of Africa, establishing palm plantations in Ghana and grabbing land in Cameroon. I learned, too, that your NGO, All For Africa, has a program, Palm oil Out of Poverty (POP). I think the acronym P.O.P. should stand for Palm oil On to Poverty because razing the forest for your proposed plantation and employing just 7000 – 8000 out of the 58,000 people who depend on that forest for their livelihoods, food, medicine and wood for fuel and building, will lead to increased poverty and early deaths.

As per your own projections, you will be investing about seven hundred million dollars in your Cameroon palm oil project and will make an annual profit of seventy million ...

As such you will pay off the project in 10 years and for 89 years remaining; your children’s generation and the generation after them will make seventy million dollars yearly, while generation after generation of the 58,000 indigenous people whose land you’ve grabbed will continue to live in abject poverty...

You are dealing with a new generation of Africans who always question what they hear or see and have no reason to believe that others know best. We are able to gather and share information on what your company says and does. We are not fooled by gifts of fish and rice. We are fully capable of deciding for ourselves what sort of development we want for our region .....

Greenpeace research has revealed recently that Herakles Farms, using a front company, colluded with Cameroon's Minister of Forests to unlawfully obtain a logging permit allowing it to clear cut 2,500 hectares of forest and export valuable species of timber, while paying 17 times fewer royalties to local communities than average.   "This was a deliberate attempt to hide an illegal decision taken in favor of Herakles Farms" explained Irene Wabiwa, Head of Greenpeace Africa's Forest Campaign.  A Greenpeace press release says, 

It appears the Cameroonian authorities and Herakles Farms are collaborating to make illegal logging happen at the expense of Cameroon's treasury, the Nguti local council and local communities which are supposed to receive a forestry royalty. The illegal granting of Uniprovince's logging permit without an auction will cost the government: Uniprovince will pay 17 times less tax than the average paid by logging companies with similar permits in 2014. Yet, Herakles farms will exploit greater volumes of timber than other companies since it will raze the forest to make way for its palm plantation.

According to Irene Wabiwa, "Contrary to the declarations made by Herakles Farms, the company has no intention to develop Cameroon. In reality, Cameroon is losing enormous revenue because of the illegalities and corruption surrounding the company's activities."

By signing the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union, Cameroon committed to fight illegal logging and illicit commerce of timber. Despite efforts made by the two parties to implement the VPA, the granting of Uniprovince's illegal permit calls into question Cameroon's will to respect the agreement and the credibility of the initiative as a whole.

Activists have faced repressive measures, arrests, and intimidation from the government, from the State, from Global Capital.

International agreements between states and the like are not going to stop global capital from exploiting indigenous people and others or wreaking havoc on the Earth.  NGOS and nation states aren't going to do that either.  There is only one entity on the planet that can in the end defeat global capital, and that is the multitude itself, the working people, the peasants, the indigenous.  The battle in the Cameroon is only one small part of a large war...a war that WE cannot afford to lose.

The following is from

Land grabber's paradise: Cameroonian environmentalist faces trial, while charges against his attackers mysteriously "disappear"

GRAIN | Oakland Institute | World Rainforest Movement

Press release
18 June 2014

Arrested, assaulted and then charged with libel: this is just some of what land and environmental activist Nasako Besingi has faced while helping communities from the southwest region of Cameroon stop US company Herakles Farms (HF) from grabbing their lands for the development of a 20,000 hectare palm oil plantation.  

On June 19, 2014, Besingi and four other opponents of the HF project will be in court, accused by the government of “participating in the organisation and holding of an undeclared public meeting”. The five were arrested and charged while distributing t-shirts critical of Herakles Farms in November 2012.

Nasako Besingi was travelling to a village to talk about Herakles' plans when he was ambushed by a group of men. (Screenshot: France24)
Besingi will face separate charges of defamation on June 24, brought against him by the US firm. Herakles Farms alleges that Besingi published "false news via the internet” when he sent out a private email detailing how he was ambushed in August 2012 by four men employed by Herakles as he was travelling on motorbike to a community affected by the company's plantations.

Besingi filed a complaint against his assailants after the incident. But the public prosecutor, who is pursuing the two cases against Besingi, has yet to bring charges against the four men who attacked him. Besingi was recently told by the state council of the legal department, Ndian Division, that the file had "disappeared".

"The Government of Cameroon is sending a message that the lands of its people are up for sale to foreign companies while anyone who resists will be punished," says Ange David Baimey of GRAIN.
Both court cases have been adjourned multiple times, causing enormous stress on Besingi and the other activists and their families, and adding to the cost of legal fees.

"Despite its initial plans of taking over 73,000 ha of the world’s second largest rainforest for its oil palm plantation having been reduced to some 20,000 ha, Herakles faces strong opposition on the ground. Resorting to intimidating local activists through frivolous law suits adds to their long list of wrongdoings such as illegal logging, corruption, and other questionable tactics used by the New York-based firm to make the project look sustainable and beneficial to Cameroon," says Frédéric Mousseau of the Oakland Institute.

"Herakles and the Government of Cameroon are hoping that people will tire of hearing about their intimidation of activists and communities," says Besingi. "International attention on this company and the government's attacks against its people is badly needed. Now."

GRAIN, the Oakland Institute and the World Rainforest Movement call on Herakles and the Cameroonian government to stop all forms of intimidation against critics of the Herakles Farms land deal and drop all charges against Nasako Besingi and his fellow activists. The government and the company should instead bring those who violently attacked Besingi and his fellow activists to court and engage in good faith with local communities seeking to defend their lands.
Both court cases will take place at the Court of First Instance, Mundemba, Ndian Division.


Nasako Besingi, Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE)
Frederic Mousseau, Oakland Institute (FR, EN)
+1510 512 5458
- See more at:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014



Some like to pretend that a lynching is an aberration that just happens...the result of some bad people or some bad thinking.  You and I know there is a lot more to it then that.

Take a look at what is described as a "vigilante" attack against a Roma youth left for dead in France last week.  A sixteen year old kid was found unconscious in a supermarket grocery cart last Friday after being beaten by a dozen residents just north of Paris. The youth, named only as Darius, suffered multiple head injuries and has been placed in an artificial coma by doctors.

The attackers claimed he had broken into an apartment.  IOL News reports:

Officials (said) the group had come looking for the youth earlier that day at the abandoned house opposite the housing project, where he was living with his family.
They took him away and locked him a basement where he was accused of breaking into an apartment, and then was beaten, they said.

The Guardian adds,

A police source suggested there were four kidnappers, but a Romanian garage owner opposite the Roma camp said his wife had warned him a group of a dozen hooded youngsters were causing trouble, according to Le Monde. A few hours later, Darius's mother received a call made from her son's mobile telephone allegedly demanding a €15,000 (£12,000) ransom for his safe return....

Out comes the sympathetic French President Francois Hollande who called the attack "an offense against the founding principles of our country."  Of course, Holland failed to mention the outrageous, racist policies his government has directed against the Roma, and the propaganda of fear and hate it has spewed forth.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who took a hard line on the Roma in his previous role as interior minister, also condemned the attack.  More to the point, he suggested to vigilantes to let the police deal with the Roma.

Well, the authorities have been dealing with the Roma, thank their own ways.

The Romeurope Association said the youth's lynching last week was "the terrifying consequence of years of ineffective public policy and remarks by politicians, officials and journalists and media outlets that maintain and seek to harness this unhealthy [social] climate."

From the Guardian:

In February the case against a 40-year-old man accused of throwing a mixture of bleach and cleaning fluid at Roma living near the Place de la République in central Paris was dismissed by a judge for lack of evidence.

In May 2013 several Gypsy families were attacked at a campsite in the north of France, and in October 2012 locals drove a group of Roma out of an improvised encampment and burned everything that remained. Local people had warned police they would be taking action against the 35 Roma.

Last year the EU warned France it could face sanctions over the treatment of its Roma community after Valls, who was then interior minister, suggested that most should be deported and France was "not here to welcome these populations".

About 20,000 Roma families were expelled from their makeshift homes in 2013, most of them in the summer, according to Amnesty International. A new round of expulsions is expected to begin shortly, with a major Roma camp in the southern city of Marseille being dismantled on Wednesday, Amnesty said.

During the elections in Paris a member of the French National Front suggested the best way to deal with the country's Roma population was to "concentrate" them in "camps"

SOS Racism said the attack was caused by an alarming change in attitudes towards Roma, which it added was "the clear result of the disgusting tensions into which our citizens have been plunged".

The European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (Egam) president, Benjamin Abtan, said: "There are racist insults and attacks against the Roma that are being used with increasing frequency. We are waiting for a radical change in the way this is being addressed and an extremely clear condemnation of the violence."

Will Freeman, writing at Think Progress points out,

Frequently, nationalist politicians from Europe’s right wing fringe have echoed popular anti-Roma sentiments in order to gain political clout. The arrival of thousands of Roma immigrants from Eastern Europe since 2010 has led some French to stigmatize the Roma as unwanted intruders and blame their make-shift encampments for a recent spike in crime. Politicians play on these fears and amplify xenophobia by vocally contributing to negative stereotypes about the Roma.

Notable among far-right European parties for its fiercely anti-Roma rhetoric is France’s National Front. Led by Marine Le Pen, daughter of controversial French right winger Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Frontswept France’s elections last month to choose new representatives for the European Parliament, the governing body of the E.U. While formerly marginal right wing parties racked up votes across the continent, the National Front’s success in France was unprecedented allowing the party to come in in first place. The party that once compared Muslim prayer to the Nazi occupation of France is unsurprisingly totally willing to stir up animosity against the Roma whenever they can. In March, a National Front candidate running for mayor in Paris said he would “concentrate” the Roma in “camps,” and described them as “an invasion of lepers.” The Roma suffered losses second only to Jews during the holocaust, with the Nazi genocide claiming as much as 25 percent of their population during the holocaust.

Anti-Roma sentiment isn’t limited to the far-right parties only starting to gain influence: it’s unfortunately widespread throughout French politics. Former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy gained notoriety among the Roma for forcibly clearing their settlements and deporting thousands. While Hollande promised not to evict any of the Roma without a plan for their relocation on the campaign trail, deportations have actually ramped up since his socialist party took office in 2012, with 20,000 evictions occurring in 2013 alone.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has also publicly called for the forced deportation of the majority of Roma people living in France, claiming “there is no other solution.” A memo calling on Paris police to “systematically evict” the city’s Roma population that leaked inApril suggests Valls’ orders are being followed.

Lynchings don't just happen. 

The following is from Amnesty International.

France: Forced evictions add to climate of fear amid alleged hate crimes

The ongoing forced evictions of minority and migrant communities around France are inflammatory and further violate the human rights of the affected communities.
The ongoing forced evictions of minority and migrant communities around France are inflammatory and further violate the human rights of the affected communities.

The apparent lynching of a Roma teenager in a Paris suburb that left him in a coma is just one of several recent alleged hate crimes against minorities that demand thorough investigations and not just condemnation by the French authorities, Amnesty International warned.

Instead, the authorities have been focusing their resources on carrying out forced evictions that crack down on Roma and other minority communities, as well as migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. 

“By failing to bat an eyelid in the face of alleged hate crimes, the French authorities are incubating a climate of fear that will spawn more such vicious attacks. All those responsible must face thorough investigations and prosecutions that take into account any discriminatory motive behind the assaults,” said Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International. 

“In this context, the ongoing forced evictions of minority and migrant communities around France are inflammatory and further violate the human rights of the affected communities. Roma and other minorities have a right to protection from discrimination, not additional targeting by the authorities.”
Vicious attacks on minorities
According to media reports, a 16-year-old Roma boy living in a squatted building in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine (outside Paris) was reportedly kidnapped, severely injured and left in a coma late last week by around a dozen people who suspected him of burglary. Police reportedly found him unconscious and badly beaten in a trolley outside a supermarket on Friday 13 June. 

The previous night, 12 June, a 26-year-old man in the northern port town of Calais allegedly shot two migrants from Sudan and Eritrea. The Sudanese man was hospitalized for his injuries, while the suspect was reportedly arrested on 15 June. 

Amnesty International has not been able to verify whether the victims in these two incidents were targeted mainly or partially because of their minority background. But the organization has researched past violence and threats against minority communities in France and found that while the French Criminal Code treats a discriminatory motive as an “aggravating circumstance” and provides for increased penalties as a response to hate crimes, investigations have lacked specific procedures aimed at tackling discriminatory violence. 

“Under international law, the French authorities have an obligation not only to pursue the suspected perpetrators of an alleged hate crime, but also to ensure that the investigation and prosecution uncover and account for the discriminatory nature of the crime,” said Jezerca Tigani. 
Forced evictions

Besides facing an ongoing threat of discriminatory violence, Roma and migrants continue to be forcibly evicted by French authorities in violation of international and domestic safeguards. 

A 200-strong Roma community in Bobigny, near Paris, and another with 400 people in La Parette, Marseille, are at risk of being evicted in the coming days. Neither community has been thoroughly consulted or offered any alternative housing. 

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are also at risk of such forced evictions. On 28 May 2014, French authorities forcibly evicted an estimated 700 migrants and asylum-seekers from makeshift camps in Calais in response to an outbreak of scabies. 

“Whether faced with a public health scare or alleged hate crimes, instead of resolving the issue at hand, the French authorities seem to resort to forced evictions as a backup plan. This is a dangerous and unlawful response that will only exacerbate the underlying problems and make hundreds of people homeless in the process,” said Jezerca Tigani. 

Monday, June 16, 2014


Theoretical Monday and I have a bit of angry "theoreticalness" to share with you.  As I always say, I don't agree with all of it, but I get the anger, and I get the idea, and I also don't disagree with all of it.  From the days of my youth back in the 60s to right now there have always been amongst us those who said enough of this shit, the time has come for fighting in the streets, yo.  I was one of those nuts back in the day who just didn't want to wait any longer, who wanted to inflict some "damage," who wanted the other guys to feel the pain, who wanted to deliver "blows against the empire."  Rage has never truely left my psyche, not really.  I know a lot more today then I did yesterday or forty years ago, I think.  I understand more, I think.  But then who knows.  I keep having this troubling thought in my brain that the more I learn (and grow, as it were) the closer to death I am, and the closer to death is the Earth itself.  So yeah, sometimes I just want to scream, "Stop."  Sometimes I still want to say to those who always ask, "well, what will you replace IT with,"  we will freaking figure that out when the time comes.  Sometimes I take Negri more seriously then I think he takes himself when he WRITES about people creating communism every day, every hour.  I look at my young comrades with their abundance of energy and pissed offness, and I feel it...

Sometimes Revolution really is for the hell of it, of course the hell of it is very deep, and sometimes you don't feel like diving deep, if you get my drift.  Sometimes you don't need a weatherman (or even a weatherwoman) to know which way the wind blows, the gusts are high enough to make all that redundant.  Sometimes the fact that something may be detrimental in the long run (or even in the short run) just doesn't work to dissuade (youth - and even others).  Sometimes even an autonomous Marxist crosses the line for a moment into anarchism...

Sometimes someone comes along who is angry like that, but stops for a minute, for some unknown reason, out of some sense of who knows what, and tries to explain how come he/she is pissed off.

That is, I think, is what a fellow by the name of Phil Neel does below.

So yeah, I don't buy everything you are about to read, but I think i get where it is coming from...and I am not going to spend even one minute sitting here writing a more reasoned response, a more Marxian approach, a more historical analysis, a real plan, blah, blah, blah.

Later this afternoon I will sit down and rapidly finish my reading of Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century and be glad I did (warts and all).  Tomorrow I will probably post a much more thought out, ideologically, philosophically, politically cogent analysis of this that or the other, but right now, instead, and for whatever the reason, I give to you, from something called ULTRA...This is anger, thought out, anger with an explanation, anger with a rationale, but the end, you will feel...anger.


Two years ago in Seattle, on May 1st, 2012, roughly four to five hundred people engaged in the largest riot the city had seen in more than a decade. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of property were destroyed[i], a minor state of emergency was declared, and the next day’s headlines were filled with horror stories of crazy, “out-of-town” anarchists run amok.
This event, occurring on the tail end of the Occupy movement, also quickly became the post-facto excuse for extensive federal, state and municipal investigation, surveillance and ongoing repression of political dissent. Several anarchists in the Pacific Northwest wereput in prison without charge in the fall of that year, only to be released months later, still with no charges filed. Houses were raided in search of anarchist literature and black hoodies. Up to a year later, people were still being followed.
I was one of the five people originally charged for crimes on May Day 2012[ii]. I’ve since pled guilty to slightly lesser charges, in order to avoid going to trial on two felonies[iii]. I pled in the fall of 2013 and completed the bulk of the sentence in the winter, spending three months in King County’s Work-Education Release (WER) Unit. Technically an “alternative to confinement,” living in WER effectively means that you are imprisoned at all times that you are not allowed out for work, school or treatment (for mental health or drug offenses).
This puts me in a unique position. Since I am one of the few people who has pled guilty to certain crimes from May 1st, 2012, including Riot, I do not necessarily face the same risks in talking about—and defending—the riot as a tactic or the impulses behind it. This by no means makes what I say below an exhaustive or fully representative account of why others may have engaged in that same riot. They mostly got away—a good thing in and of itself, though federal charges may still be pending for one window that was smashed in an empty courthouse. But this also means that they cannot speak of or defend their participation without risking repression.
To be clear: I’m not speaking on behalf of any groups who wound up engaged in the riot that occurred on May Day 2012. To my knowledge, the riot was by no means planned ahead of time, and the anti-capitalist march that the riot grew out of, technically an Occupy Seattle event, was itself planned in public meetings. I’m not even speaking on behalf of this specific riot, but instead on behalf of rioting as such, in the abstract. The question “Why Riot” is not simply: why did you engage in this riot, but, instead, why riot at all? And the perspective given here is that of a rioter.
So I’m writing here for simple reasons: to defend the riot as a general tactic and to explain why one might engage in a riot. By this I mean to defend and explain not just the window breaking, not just “non-injurious violence,” and certainly not just the media spectacle it generates, but the riot itself—that dangerous, ugly word that sounds so basically criminal and which often takes (as in London in 2011) a form so fundamentally unpalatable for civil society that it can only be understood as purely irrational, without any logic, and without possible defense.
I aim, nonetheless, to defend and explain the riot, because we live in a new era of riots. Riots have been increasing in absolute number globally for the past thirty years. They are our immediate future, and this future will spare Seattle no less than Athens or London, Guangzhou or Cairo.

Who am I?
I am a member of the poorest generation since those who came of age during the Great Depression. Born to the “end of history,” we watched the ecstatic growth of the Clinton years morph seamlessly into the New Normal of Bush and Obama.
We have no hope of doing better than our parents did, by almost any measure. We have inherited an economy in secular stagnation, a ruined environment on the verge of collapse, a political system created by and for the wealthyskyrocketing inequality, and anemotionally devastating, hyper-atomized culture of pyrrhic consumption.
The most recent economic collapse has hit us the hardest. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the median net worth of people under 35 fell 55 percent between 2005 and 2009, while those over 65 lost only a fraction as much, around 6 percent[iv]. The result is that if you calculate debt alongside income, wealth inequality is today increasingly generational. Those over 65 hold a median net worth of $170,494, an increase from 1984 of 42 percent. Meanwhile, the median net worth of those under 35 has fallen 68 percent over the same period, leaving young people today with a median worth of only $3,662[v].
Despite cultural narratives of laziness and entitlement, this differential is not due to lack of effort or education (my generation is the most educated, as well, and works some of the longest hours for the least pay). The same Pew Study notes that older white Americans have simply been the beneficiaries of good timing. They were raised in an era of cheap housing and education, massive state welfare and unprecedented economic ascent following the creative destruction of two world wars and a depression—wars and crises that they themselves didn’t have to live through.
And the jobs that older Americans hold are not being passed down to us, though their debt is. When they retire, the few remaining secure, living wage and often unionized positions will be eliminated, their components dispersed into three or four different unskilled functions performed by part-time service workers. The entirety of the job growth that has come since the “recovery” began has been in low-wage, temporary or highly precarious jobs, which exist alongside a permanently heightened unemployment rate.

The Old Economy Steve meme took off after the financial crisis, speaking to this divide between generations
The Old Economy Steve meme took off after the financial crisis, speaking to this divide between generations
NOTE FROM SCISSION EDITOR:  In my defense, I did not own a home at 22, but I was under federal indictment in an alleged bombing conspiracy, and well on my way to prison...LOL

In the long term, this means that, after having been roundly robbed in almost every respect by our parents’ generation, our own future holds nothing more than the hope that we might be employed in two or three separate part-time, no-promotion positions in the few growth sectors, such as healthcare, where we can have the privilege of being paid minimum wage to wipe the asses of the generation that robbed us.
It is no coincidence, then, that every time we hear a fucking baby boomer explain how we’re so entitled, and how they worked summers to pay for college, we contemplate whether or not disemboweling them and selling their organs on the booming black market might be the only way to pay back our student loans.

Where did I come from?
Meanwhile, this economic overhaul has led not only to a global reordering of where things are made, and by whom, but also to a spatial concentration of economic activity in the US.[vi] Those metropolitan regions that were capable of becoming network hubs for global logistics systems fared best, with their amalgamation of hi-tech industries and producer services. These became the urban palaces, with concentrations of “cultural capital” and redesigned downtown cores (lightly cleansed of “undesirable” populations) built to appeal to tourists and foreign dignitaries.
Beyond this, large swaths of the country were simply abandoned as wastelands, where resource extraction was either hyper-mechanized or too expensive, agricultural goods were produced under heavy government subsidy, and small urban centers were forced to compete for the most undesirable jobs in industrial farming, food processing, waste management, warehousing or the growing private prison industry. In many areas, the informal economy expanded enormously—consistent with global trends, most visible in the worldwide growth of slums.

This is the America I was raised in
This is the America I was raised in
I am from one of these wastelands where the majority of work is informal, the majority of formal industries are dirty or miserable, and where rates of poverty, unemployment, chronic disease, illiteracy, and mental illness are often two to three times the national average. Raised in a trailer several miles off a reservation in one of the poorest counties on the west coast, all of the structural shifts mentioned above were for me not academic abstractions, but living reality. I come from that part of America—the majority of it—where weed is the biggest cash crop, where kids eat Special K like it’s cereal, and where the only “revitalization” we’ve ever seen is when the abandoned factory down the street was converted into a meth lab.
And I was, due mostly to dumb luck, one of the few who was able to earn enough to pay the exit fee. Upon arrival in Seattle, despite having a degree I was fed into the lowest tiers of the labor market. Rather than being some “out-of-town” suburban youth using Seattle as a “playground,” as commentators would claim of the rioters, I was, in fact, one of the multitude of invisible workers that the city depended on—whether hauling goods to and from the port, working in the south county warehouses, cleaning downtown’s sprawling office towers, or, as in my case, working behind the kitchen door.
At the time of the riot, I was working for ten cents more than minimum wage in a wholesale kitchen in South Seattle, where we produced tens of thousands of pre-packaged sandwiches and salads for consumption in upscale city cafés and office buildings. It is not an exaggeration to say that my full-time work schedule (for the duration of Occupy Seattle, which I attended every day after morning shifts at work) amounted to me feeding hundreds of thousands of Seattleites over the several months that Occupy was a present force in the city. It’s likely, then, that those hysteric KIRO-TV commentators claiming that I was part of some “outsider” gang come from the heart of chaos (or Portland, maybe?) to fuck up Seattle have themselves regularly eaten the food that I was paid poverty wages to make.
Despite the language of post-industrial, guilt-free success common to many wealthy Seattleites’ image of themselves, the fact is that Seattle, like any other global city, relies on what is called a dual labor market[vii]. Higher tiers of skilled labor, cultural production, finance and producer services exist atop a secondary tier of less skilled, minimally compensated work in high-turnover jobs with little chance of promotion.
This creates a fundamental spatial problem within capitalism: despite the outsourcing of the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs in manufacturing and resource extraction, the rich can never entirely get away from the poor. The extension of surveillanceincarceration and deportation, the militarization of the police, and the softer counter-insurgency of philanthropy foundations[viii], social justice NGOs, conservative unions and various other poverty pimps are all methods to manage different dimensions of this problem. The riot is what happens when all these mediations fail. And in an era of crisis and austerity, such mediation becomes more and more difficult to maintain.
So in all the media’s talk of “outsiders,” “anarchists” and other terms meant to make the rioting subject opaque to those not immediately engaged in the riot, the one fact that was consistently distorted was the simplest: the thieves in the palace were, in fact,the servants.
I, the terrifying, irrational rioter, am you.

Why don’t I engage in more productive forms of protest?
The other common theme was, of course, the morality play between the “good protestor” and the “bad protestor.” The rioters somehow “infiltrated” the march. They distracted from the “real” issues. They turned “normal” people away from the day’s events, ultimately hurting attempts at reform that were already underway.
There is in this an implicit assumption that there exist “better” forms of protest, and that we rioters do not also do these things. This produces a few small ironies, as when the local alt-weekly, The Strangercontrasted the negotiated arrest of fast food protestors, who showed their courage by standing their ground and “demanding arrest,” with the May Day rioters, who did nothing but “hide behind bandanas while hurling rocks.” The irony here was that I was myself one of those rioters and one of those fast food workers—having been involved in the fast food campaign from its inauguration, leading a walkout at my workplace in the first strike, planning segments of the intermediate actions (including the wage theft protest, though my pending riot case prevented me from being arrested there), and then briefly taking a paid position with Working Washington for two weeks leading up to the second strike.
Beyond the irony, though, there is the troublesome presumption that this highly negotiated, thoroughly controlled and largely non-threatening activism is somehow more productive in the long term. When I did engage in the fast food strikes, I did so initially as a fast food worker, and the short-term goal there was to build power among food workers in the city. Despite this, no amount of organizing for (often much-needed) reforms can get over the basic problems of reform itself, which is today equivalent to trying to take a step uphill during an avalanche—you may well complete that step, but the ground itself is moving the opposite direction.
What would have been easily achievable, relatively minor reforms in the boom era of fifty or sixty years ago, such as raising the minimum wage to match inflation, enforcing laws against wage theft, and coming up with an equitable tax system, today require herculean effort and mass mobilization, even when ninety percent of the original demand is usually sacrificed simply to show “good faith” at the negotiating table.

Why don’t I like capitalism?
There is plenty more to talk about here—which you can explore if you please. But the basic problem, cut to the size of a tweet, is thatthe economy is the name for a hostage situation in which the vast majority of the population is made dependent on a small minority through implicit threat of violence.
If we challenge the system’s capacity to infinitely accumulate more at a compounding rate, it goes into crisis—this is basic definition of crisis: when profitable growth slows, stops, or, god forbid, reverses. Whenever this accumulation is challenged, whether by contingent factors such as poor location, or intentional ones, such as a resistant populace, those who hold the power (the wealthy) will start killing hostages.
This is precisely what has been happening over the last fifty years of economic restructuring. Any regions that show significant resistance to the lowering of wages, the dismantling of social services, the export or mechanization of jobs, or the privatization of public property can easily be sacrificed. The American landscape, circa 2014, is littered with just such dead hostages: Detroit and Flint, MI, Camden, NJ, Athens, OH, Jackson, MS, the mining towns of West Virginia or northern Nevada.
The handful of cities (such as New York and Seattle) that were able to escape this fate today pride themselves on being such good hostages. The only reason they were able to survive this rigged game of neoliberal roulette was because of a mixture of sheer geographic luck (often as port cities or pre-existing financial centers) and their absolute openness to do whatever the rich wanted. Public goods were sold off at bargain basement prices, downtown cores were redesigned according to the whims of a few large interests in retail, finance and real estate, and tax money, paired with future tax exemptions, was simply handed out as bribes to big players like Nordstrom and Boeing.[ix]
If we then zoom out to the global scale, it is abundantly obvious that the currently existing economic system—which we call capitalism—is a failed one. If it ever had any grudging utility in raising general livelihoods after its mass sacrifices in war and colonization, that time has unequivocally passed. Aside from the numerous examples cited above, there are a few especially appalling illustrations.Slavery is growing worldwide at a rate higher than at any other time in recent history. Mechanization is set to push massive swaths of workers out of the production process entirely, even while the gains of this increase in productivity are themselves concentrated almost exclusively in the hands of the wealthy. The central role of finance and speculation in the global economy has resulted in massive spikes in global food prices, causing famines and food riots, as well as a situation in which the majority of grain in the world, to take one example, is controlled by just four companies.

Global slavery has been increasing
Global slavery has been increasing
Meanwhile, the bulk of the globe’s basic goods production is increasingly concentrated—both in the producer services of high-GDP metropoles like London, New York and Tokyo and in the “world’s factory” of South and Southeast Asia. The production of these goods is not only dominated by vast, low-wage retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon, but also increasingly dictated by massive contract manufacturers like Foxconn or Yue Yuen, which concentrate their production in factory cities where the lives of migrant workers are surveilled and managed in a quasi-military fashion.
The concentration of the production process coincides with the concentration of the wealth generated by that process. Even within the old “first world,” poverty and unemployment have been on the rise since long before the most recent crisis. Greece and Spain are only the most visible signs of this trend. In the US, especially, the trend splits along racial lines. Cities and schools are resegregating, though the patterns of segregation are more complex than the redlining of the Jim Crow era. One dimension of this resegregation has been the growth of the US prison system into one of the largest the world has ever seen. Even if calculated as a percentage of population, rather than absolute number, the US today imprisons roughly the same fraction of its population as the USSR did at theheight of the gulag system—and our prison population is still on the rise.
Curable diseases are returning en masse, while new viruses are being developed at record rates in the evolutionary pressure-cooker ofindustrial agriculture. Each economic crisis is larger than the one preceding it, and these crises are not just “business cycles.” Or, more accurately: the so-called business cycle is simply a sine wave oscillating around a trajectory of absolute decline. And this decline, like the last major ones in the global economic system, will only be reversible through an unimaginably massive bout of creative destruction.
In the face of a collapsing environment, a hyper-volatile economic system and skyrocketing global inequality, it is simply utopian to believe that the present system can be perpetuated indefinitely without great violence. Opposition to capitalism has become an eminently practical endeavor.

But… Why riot?
Despite all of this, the riot itself may still seem an enigma. On the surface, riots appear to produce little in terms of concrete results and, when you add up the numbers, often do less actual economic damage to large business interests than, for example, blockading the port. They produce a certain spectacle, but so does Jay-Z.
In one sense, there is often a practical side to many riots, which can be far better at winning demands than negotiated attempts at reform. Despite the fact that reform itself is designed to treat symptoms rather than the disease, it’s also evident that riots are a useful tool even in reform efforts. Riots, accompanying illegal blockades, occupations and wildcat strikes, have proliferated in China’s Pearl River Delta over the past several years, and the result has been that workers there have seen an unprecedented rise in manufacturing wages, which more than doubled between 2004 and 2009. Some scholars have called the phenomenon “collective bargaining by riot.”
Similarly, more and more historical work has been emerging showing that riots and other forms of armed organizing were very much the meat of movements like the civil rights struggle in the US, despite the common perception that these things were somehow “non-violent.” It is, in fact, difficult to find any example of a successful, significant sequence of reforms that did not utilize the riot at one point or another. As Paul Gilje, the pre-eminent historian of the US riot, has argued: “Riots have been important mechanisms for change,” and, in fact, “the United States of America was born amid a wave of rioting.” The tactic, then, should by no means be seen as in and of itself exceptional.
And it’s also not a sufficient tactic unto itself. The function of the riot is less about a religious or petulant obsession with the act of breaking shit and also not entirely about winning any given demand. This was apparent in examples like Occupy, which had no coherent, agreed-upon demands, aside from a general rejection of those in power. This demandlessness was a feature not only of Occupy, however, but of nearly every one of the mass movements that began in 2011, starting with the Arab Spring. In each instance, the only thing that was agreed upon was that the system was fundamentally fucked, and it was this aspect alone that transformed the riots from mere attempts at reform into truly historical procedures.
My generation was not only born into the ecstatic “end of history” of the 1990s, but is also the global generation—of slum-dwelling youth and “graduates with no future”—who are inducing the first pangs of history’s rebirth. And this rebirth has taken the figure of the hooded rioter, as has been evidenced by the increasingly frequent transformation of mass riots into occupations of public squares, which themselves evolved into new forms of rioting and, ultimately, the first major insurrection of the 21st century—which took place in Egypt and has since been largely crushed by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces.
The riot is most important, then, not in its traditional ability to win demands that progressives can only drool over, but instead when it takes on a demandless character. This absence of demands in the riot and occupation implies two things: First, it implies a rejection of existing mediations. We do not intend to vote for fundamentally corrupt political parties or play the rigged game of activism. Though it may be important in particular instances to fight for and win certain demands, such as the demand for $15 an hour, these reforms in and of themselves contribute nothing to the ultimate goal of winning a better world. They can contribute to this project only in very particular contexts, and only when superseded by forms adequate to that true project, as when the growing spate of strikes in Egypt in the years leading up to 2011 was suddenly superseded by a mass insurrection.
Second, it implies the question of power. The riot affirms our power in a profoundly direct way. By “our” power I mean, first, the power of those who have been and are continually fucked-over by the world as it presently is, though these groups by no means all experience this in the same way and to the same degree—the low-wage service workers, the prisoners, the migrant laborers, the indebted, unemployed graduates, the suicidal paper-pushers, the 农民工on the assembly line, the child slaves of Nestle cocoa plantations, my childhood friends who never got out of the trailer or off the rez. But I also mean the power of our generation: the millenials, a label that already implies the apocalyptic ambiance of our era. Or, more colloquially: Generation Fucked, because, well,obviously.
The question of power, though, isn’t simply a question of the devolution of power to the majority of people, though this is the ultimate goal. At the immediate level it is a struggle over power between shrinking fractions of the population dedicated to maintaining the complete shit-show that is the status quo, and growing fractions of the population dedicated to destroying that shit-show as thoroughly as humanly possible, while in the process collectively constructing a system in which poverty becomes impossible, no one is illegal, power itself is not concentrated in the hands of a minority of the population, our metabolism with the natural world bears less and less resemblance to the metabolism of a meth-head scouring the medicine cabinet, and the collective material wealth and accumulated intelligence of the human species is made freely accessible to all members of that species, rather than being reserved as party-swag for half-naked Russian oligarchs.
Pretending that power does not exist directly serves those who presently hold it. And the riot overturns such pretense by exerting our own power against theirs. It is a mechanism whereby we both scare the rich and attract people to a project that goes far beyond the reform of a collapsing world. In this particular instance, it has worked. Many of the fast food workers with whom I organized in the year following the riot understood its portent perfectly well. By May Day 2013, the riot had taken on a life of its own.
The riot, then, is not a hindrance to “real” struggle or a well-intentioned accident where people’s “understandable” anger gets “out of control.” Getting out of control is the point, which is precisely why the riot is the foundation from which any future worth the name must be built.
And we will be the ones to build it. Our generation: the millenials, generation fucked, or, as we’ve taken to calling it: Generation Zero. Zero because we’ve got nothing left except debt—but also nothing to lose. And zero because, like the riot, it all starts here.
In the end, then, you can lose the economics, you can lose the spectacle and the moralizing and the god-awful appeals to cute and fuzzy “social/racial/environmental justice.” Throw all of this in the alembic of the riot, and it boils down to the simplest of propositions:
Our future’s already been looted. It’s time to loot back.

Phil A. Neel

[i] Note that left-wing political riots primarily target property and, secondarily, engage in defensive violence against the protectors of that property, namely police, security officers, or vigilantes. This has been referred to as “non-injurious” violence, since there is an implicit agreement that rioters not cause harm to innocent bystanders, and since persons are not the primary target of the violence. By contrast, right-wing riots exhibit an opposite aspect, where persons, and particularly the least powerful in a situation, are generally the primary target of the violence, with property destruction being the ancillary. This is a well-documented phenomenon. See, for example: Gilje, Paul A. Rioting in America, Indiana University Press, 1996.
[ii] Of these five cases, one has been dropped after significant expense on the part of the city achieved only a hung jury. Out of all five, there have been only two guilty pleas, mine included.
[iii] It’s worth noting here that striking a police officer in the United States is a felony—which also means that, if you hit a cop and are found guilty of the crime, you lose the right to vote (usually for the duration of your multi-year probation, though in some states, such as Kentucky, you are disenfranchised for the rest of your life).
[iv] Ages 35-44 lost 49%, 45-54 lost 28% and 55-64 lost 14%.
[v] If you calculate the same data for Generation X and the younger Baby Boomers, with the same age brackets used in 1984, you see ages 35-44 losing 44% of their median income, though still holding roughly ten times the wealth ($39,601) as millenials. Ages 45-54 losing 10%, holding a median of $101,651, and ages 55-64 gaining 10%, growing to $162,065. Similarly, since 1967, poverty among the 35-and-under age group has increased from 12% to 22%, while, for those 65 and older, it has actually dropped from 33% to 11%.
[vi] For a more detailed academic account of this process, see Saskia Sassen, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton University Press, 1991.
[vii] See Michael Piore, Birds of Passage: Migrant Labor and Industrial Societies. Cambridge University Press, 1979
[viii] The philanthropic endeavors of the wealthy are similar to the actions of a burglar who, after robbing a neighborhood, returns to that neighborhood to return half of one percent of the loot as gifts—or, in the case of much international philanthropy, in the form of gift cards that you can only use at the burglar’s own department store, as when the Gates family gives loans earmarked to be used only for the purchase of pharmaceuticals from companies in which the Gates family owns a significant share.
[ix] For a detailed account of this process in Seattle, see: Timothy A. Gibson, Securing the Spectacular City: The Politics of Revitalization and Homelessness in Downtown Seattle. Lexington Books, 2003.