Home > Uncategorized > Waltzing in Chicago: Protests versus Resistance

Waltzing in Chicago: Protests versus Resistance

I know some folks won’t like this, but I am unapologetic. It is what it is. Love it or hate it. I am tired of the absence of the working class in the Left. I am tired of the faux-revolutionary vanguardism, the posturing, and the delusions. I am tired of every single capitalist and imperialist event being greeted with a protest that never stands a chance of achieving a goddamn thing, and all the pride in getting beat up and arrested. All these protests are a waste of time. There, I said it. It really is just a rite of passage for a lot of folks. It’s all about them and their egos, and not about building a social movement to actually win. That is really how I feel about it, and it saddens me. Am I wrong? Am I over-generalizing? Maybe. But I honestly don’t think so.

• • •

In a lot of ways the modern protest has become a dance.

A ball is announced.

The police show up early in full riot gear, ready to shoot tear gas, beat batons over skulls, and arrest as many protesters as they can.

The protesters show up ready for said treatment.

The two groups embrace, and twirl around a downtown landscape. They look affectionately in each other’s eyes, and run through the familiar courting traditions that are expected of them: The police stand in a line, and like the game “Red Rover,” the protesters try to break through the line of cops.

They never do.

The ball ends, and everyone goes home—or to jail.

And very shortly a new ball is announced, and the whole affair is repeated yet again.

Chicago, Miami, New York City, Oakland, and other places.

Red Rover, Red Rover, let Philly come over.

It becomes a rite of passage; a coming of age.

There is a huge difference between protests and resistance.

The latter involves some organization and plan to achieve a goal. Like, stopping a NATO summit, or stopping home foreclosures, or toppling a government, or occupying Wall Street, or carrying out revolutionary transformation of a society’s political and economic institutions and practices.
Good strategists will build up strength, and pick their battles. And when the time comes, they take action.
Protests just involves people congregating and letting their disapproval known—ergo, The Waltz.
Organizing is not getting a permit for a march, or a demonstration that gets advertised with Facebook events with which you invite your “friends” to.

It’s not about being able to post a picture of your bleeding skull, or bragging about getting arrested.

Look Ma, I got a busted skull! Ain’t I revolutionary?

 It involves building some kind of workplace or communal “organization” that people join and dedicate to winning certain goals.

Rushing into loosely-planned and organized protests at every single imperial and capitalist event is a spectacle (i.e. a dance). It is more for participants to feel as if they are doing something radical, than actually achieving a goal.

It doesn’t leave us any stronger, or them any weaker.

But it is a very cathartic process; a release of tension. And maybe that is where the truth lies. If and when things get so bad that resistance is inevitable, there will be no need to get a “permit,” and there will be no dance. It will be real.
So rather then letting the tension out with frequent (ineffectual) “peaceful” protests perhaps folks should be more serious about organizing, growing, and choosing battles they can win.

Every so often I look at the Occupy Wall Street page on Facebook and it’s very interesting. There are frequent criticisms of people saying they get and agree with their grievances, but don’t see their tactics as being successful. And then those who reflexively—and almost dogmatically—attack them and dismiss them.

One commenter I saw posted the remark, “You can think us later for liberating you.” No one seemed to notice the disturbing sense of vanguardism impregnated in the comment. But the initial persons comment was a fair critique that should be listened to. I think it reflects revolutionary potential. Folks are saying camping out in parks and protesting is ineffective. It’s not enough.

And when people say “Get a Job!” there is something to that. Working class people, not professional college students, don’t have the ability to miss work for weeks at a time to live in a tent at a city park. They have a mortgage to pay, mouths to feed, and so on. They don’t relate to the protesters. They don’t see they share the same interests. They are removed from their activities, and go on with their life, and try to get by. One day at a time. Anyone who can dedicate that much time to pointlessly getting arrested and beat up must not have a job. They must have some privilge.

Most people can’t risk their jobs getting arrested for protesting a NATO summit, especially when they don’t see a benefit that exceeds the costs. Does anyone really think NATO is going to be stopped? That Wall Street is going to be occupied? That the wars will end? That the system will be changed?

I am not talking about what is possible, but what is probable. To turn what is possible into what is probable will take time and dedication.

Not all of the dismissals and criticisms of Occupy/NATO protesters are valid, for sure. But unless activists and organizers on the Left take the time to actually consider them and reflect on them, I don’t see much room for improvement. It’s a lot like what the late Howard Zinn was fond of saying, “The cry of the poor is is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

And that’s part of the problem. The working class in America is un-organized. Organized labor has been largely defeated by decades of corporate and state assaults. But at the same time, the existing political movements are, to a large degree, ignoring labor—even while talking about it (leaving hints of vanguardism). The student movements have their value. But they cannot do it alone. And it’s not as if the working class in America is right-wing. That’s very far from the truth. It’s that the existing movements are largely made up of college kids who are organizing college kids. The Left desperately needs to organize the working class. In fact, it is imperative.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 24, 2012 at 3:12 am

    Here's something you should take into consideration: the working class in the US in the 21st century is not the working class in the US in the 19th-early 20th century. Thanks to decades of semi-social democratic reformisms, the majority working class in the US today does not want to join radical movements. I go to college in a town that's economically depressed. The people there know the system is messed up, but I could preach Chomsky all day to them and they won't shake off their Fox News-type views. It's this whole culture, I would say, that's the problem.I don't know about you, but I would argue that this "re-education" which a lot of radicals tend to lean towards is not going to be very effective. I'm under the impression that the best radicals can do is focus on the things we can do (i.e. building alternative institutions/radical spaces, alternative communities/economies, whatever) right now. When working people see what we're able to accomplish, they will want to join in.I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm at the end of my rope about what to do. Maybe the maoist third worldists are correct when they claim no one in the US has a stake in revolution.

  2. May 24, 2012 at 3:53 am

    I am 32. I didnt go to college. I am working class. And I am from Texas and Mississippi. I am very in touch with the working class and while it is not monolithic, it is a lot more radical than you think. There is considerable disapproval and awareness if the ruling classes. There is a tremendous amount if revolutionary potential. I routinely encounter a wide range of working class people through my work, and while not as articulated in political conciousness as you or I they are not clueless. They have a very good basic idea of what's going on, and it's a class analysis. Furthermore, it has become my impression that "radical spaces" are counter-productive and largely serve to detach anarchists from the working class, justifying (in their heads) not organizing, and making their groups insular. This is not about our egos, but about organizing the masses into a revolutionary force, even if their conciousnesses don't mirror our own.

  3. May 24, 2012 at 4:12 am

    I don't agree that the working class of now is that different from the working class of yester-years… the conditions are slightly different…, and there are many other reasons why working people do not want to join radical movements…. a lot have to do with the radical movements itself, Mike's article is showing one aspect of it.

  4. May 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    The number one thing I hear is they don't see how it affects them. So yeah, "radical spaces" or "safe places" where people can wall themselves off from the wider world because they don't talk the same jargon or have such purist expectations, is not something the wider working class even gives a fuck about. This is not to say that anti-racist and anti-sexist consciousness building isn't important, but that you can't build it by removing yourself to a "space" that is safe. That's the problem with Occupy. By removing themselves from the general public to some city park the rest of the working class can go on with their lives unaware and unaffected by their actions. They most they enter their lives is discourse about the 1% and the 99 percent.But this doesn't mean the working class is completely unrefined and a bunch of FOX News-watching morons.My grandfather, for example, is not the most racially and gender sensitive man. He is not a hateful bigot or misogynist, but he is not as articulate and sensitive as us. He's in his late 80s and from Mississippi. And he is a labor man. He was a labor organizer from the 60s – 80s. He is not a socialist or anarchist. Again, he is not that articulate on the matters. His philosophy is very simple: people who do a fair day's work are entitled to a fair day's wage, and the only way they're going to get it is by collective action. He doesn't identify with party politics. Though he hates the Republicans more than the Democrats. He feels if they're in office they don't deserve to be. He sees government and business as being opposing interests, and he has told me that the only way the working man will ever improve his lot is by making the rich bastards bleed so much that they regret ever seeing a penny.I am telling you, this is not a radical leftist man. But he is not that far from us. And there are lots like him. They see the state and business as our enemies. They are just waiting to be organized. But the radical movements are walling themselves off with their jargon and "safe spaces." Going to some gardening club or book reading club or some punk warehouse is cool and all, but it is far short from building a revolutionary movement.

  5. May 30, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Are the protests somehow stopping you — or anyone — from doing the kind of working class organizing and engaging in the kind of activism you say is necessary? Does the existence of the protest "dance" (a fair reading of the dynamic, except there was least one instance in Chicago when the protesters broke through the police line) somehow prevent the parallel organizational and revolutionary developments you call for?Cheer up! There's a lot more going on than simply another boring street protest. A whole lot more.

  6. May 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks for the comment.Of course they don't stop or prevent me, or anyone else. But that's really not the point. The point is a critique of the prevailing trend.Unless the Left can get beyond ineffectual protest movements, and look to building revolutionary working class movements, these events will continue to go nowhere. I know I am generalizing, and I know there are bits and pieces of good developments, but they are (sadly) exceptions, not the rule.And I dont think the Left talks enough about this. I dont think there is enough honest introspection and constructive self-criticism. Too many times I see folks get defensive when confronted with it.

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