Fifty Summers Later…
The tired narrative of revolutionary thought among people who need a status quo to fight against.
“Are you taking over, or are you taking orders?
Are you moving backwards, or are you moving forwards?”
- The Clash, “White Riot” (1977)
Last month, I came back from the Green Party’s convention in Eugene after a day debating the value of Antifa and Willamette Week had just published their story on the Patriot Prayer vs. Antifa brawl from that afternoon. Given my past association — which was limited and is a thing of the past — I decided to share it with the Greens rather than have it be found out later. Understandably, members present were concerned both in respect to Antifa’s mixed reputation and the Green platform of nonviolence. I cited the Black Panthers as a historic precedent for community self-defense, but I still had detractors. At least one Green voiced her support for my candidacy “despite” this and because of my positions on other issues.
The article is an example of shock optics in the media. Its lede photo was a man with a bloodied face as it dripped onto the pavement. In the article, the author compares the two less to political rivals and more to rivaling gangs before recounting seeing Antifa kicking a girl on the ground. Though they ultimately uphold the interests of business and the state, Willamette Week is a respectable alt-weekly with its share of fine writers. Given their intended audience — folx my age and younger — I wondered what the mainstream TV stations were saying about it. I immediately thought of the people I’d debated earlier that day — many of them grandparents, former activists who saw their own movements faction over the nonviolence question — what on Earth was I defending?
Later, I found out the guy with the bloody nose from the headline was a violent agitator from the Right who later got arrested that day. Rumors have circulated that the young lady who got kicked down was with a violent family member and deliberately provoked them.
But does that matter? Regardless of context, even with a nuanced explanation of why you’re spilling blood and hitting women, the headline remains that you’re spilling blood and hitting women.
Beyond cases of self-defense, such actions are indefensible. This gang posturing that has taken place online is spilling over into the real world. People are getting hurt at these performative events rather than actually going out and engaging with the communities they protect. I’ve urged Antifa leaders to stay on top of the narrative, maybe host a feed-in or a clothing drive so that their only press doesn’t involve knuckles.
“Revolution is just this year’s Flower Power.” — Frank Zappa, 1968.
Fifty years after a summer that rocked the Western world — Paris rioted, The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” could be heard everywhere in London except BBC airwaves, a thawed-out Prague froze over again courtesy of the Kremlin, and American politics were marked by murder and riots — history is again becoming the present. I’ve learned to stop saying history repeats itself. That’s letting us off the hook a little too easily, assigning blame to history while ignoring that Americans are often ignorant on the subject. Rather, we are repeating history. We are falling into collective patterns that create conditions we have seen before, here and elsewhere.
It’s all gotten me thinking about where I’m at, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Our online discourses have gotten hateful and violent, even among people who cite shared ranks. While I’ve long erred on the side of the high road since stepping into the public sphere as someone with ideas and a platform.
My hard entry into activism after the election of Donald Trump as President — both of which predate my arrival on this website — was motivated by fear as much as it was a grounding in social sciences. It didn’t matter how much history I had studied in college or in my spare time, society was mimicking history and I felt the ascent of Trump as a parallel to many malignant episodes in the past. I abandoned facets of my spiritual training to accommodate contemporary beliefs, and while I never enacted violence upon anyone, I began to reason away all the many reasons it would be okay to do so. That was a mistake.
I’m not talking about warding off an attacker — even Gandhi espoused violence over cowardice, you do not let the bear eat you — but instead the normalization of violence that came on J20, when a black-blocked Antifa protester punched Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer in the head. The simmering heat between right-leaning Patriot groups and Antifa has come to a full boil this summer. Last year, the narrative and the vibe took a turn from the jovial (the Montavilla march saw the Left march in clown outfits) to the violent with the MAX murders, but this year it’s fueled by anger and discussions of “mutual combat,” which is not protected by law in Oregon. If you’re fighting someone and a cop shows up, you’re committing assault.
I can’t endorse that. People need to take a break and realize we have more common ground than we do differences. There are agitators on the Right who really do want to incite violence. There are agitators on the Left who really do want to incite violence. Responding with mutual appeals for violence squanders the Left’s moral capital, and its blowback can and will affect so much more than just the people fighting in the streets.
The argument can even be made that this movement is making it worse for the communities they claim to defend.
Calling this all out on social media often brings out attack dogs with whom I often otherwise agree. If we were face-to-face, the tone of the conversation would be much less barbed. Criticism is met with force, the onus quickly being placed on you to clarify your position. Don’t respond, and you risk branded as a phobe or even as the enemy. They might even call you a Democrat or a “liberal shitposter,” which is its own kind of scarlet letter.
Repeat occurrences of my thoughts going against the grain of the Anarcho-Hipsters running the show at Occupy ICE led me to stay largely silent through the last two months. I remain worried that mouthing off about the stupidity of the protest after it was stretched to its limit will get me branded as something I’m not.
The Occupy ICE camp was a circus. To regularly post a need for donations, in a city where homeless shelters are struggling to make ends meet, speaks to the remarkable shortsightedness, self-righteousness, and innate hypocrisy of this season’s hot protest. Rock star protesters (I hesitate to call them activists) made it about themselves, declaring that they’re choosing work over the camp, that they’re choosing the camp over work, that they could use some help with errands while they’re away from home (does this not negate the notion of lived suffering that comes with participating in an occupation?), and, in a show of one’s true self, establishing oppressive systems of hierarchy which then created division, factions, and observable vulnerabilities from the outside.
Fifty years ago, cracks formed in the counterculture that could have been mended. While those cracks may look different in 2018, we cannot ignore them. We have got to come together and be able to disagree without writing one another off as a bootlicker, a cop, or any other term used to dehumanize what we have identified as the enemy.
The false morality in some segments of the Left, witnessed by its obsession with call-out culture, engagement in doxxing practices, and language/tone policing in activist circles has created a Neo-Maoist environment where the rules governing your ability to express anger become directly tied to your status in life. Identity politics on steroids has us only talking about our external appearances, neglecting the inner Self in our debates, conversations, and meditations, and that neglect is creating a moral vacuum.