Sunday, June 28, 2020

Yet Another Open Letter to My Landlord

The suspension on evictions in the state of Oregon has just been extended until September 30th, and our rehearsal for a rent strike continues.

Dear Randall Group, all it's many corporate investors and subsidiaries,

We won't be paying the rent in our apartment once again, for the fourth month in a row.  I expect you will ignore this communication as you have ignored every other one, and I expect you will send us a receipt telling us that we now owe you another $1,175 for July's rent for our two bedrooms in this ageing, shoddily-built, badly-maintained apartment complex.

I believe I'm legally obligated to write you at the end of each month and give you the reasons why we're not paying the rent for the coming month, depending on whether you're looking at new emergency laws passed in the state of Oregon, the city of Portland, or the county of Multnomah.  So, as a friendly reminder, here are some of the reasons:
  • The state of Oregon has, just last week, extended the suspension on evictions until September 30th.  Your power to make people homeless if they don't agree to your rental contracts is the main reason any sane person funnels their earnings into your coffers in the first place, as you may realize.
  • I am a professional musician, with diversified sources of income that involve touring multiple times a year in multiple countries.  With the borders closed and the venues in this country not functioning either, I have zero live performance work.  That is to say, my profession has more or less ceased to exist in this and many other countries, as a direct consequence of the pandemic.
  • Despite promises that gig economy workers now qualify for unemployment compensation, my application was rejected by the state of Oregon.  I've been advised I need to talk to someone there now.  All the numbers are always busy, and I haven't received a cent from the state since I applied in early April.
  • Regardless of ,my own employment situation, there are so many people all over this state and this country in a worse situation, facing worse consequences than me and my family.  The solution needs to be a collective one, and it starts with a rent strike (or a practice rent strike with a certain degree of support from the state legislature, the county commissioners, and the city council, like this one).
  • As a homeowner myself with a renter who isn't paying their rent due to the crisis, I have sympathy for other homeowners in similar situations, just as I have sympathy for other renters, whether they are also homeowners or not.  However, I have no sympathy for you, because you are very, very rich, and you are a corporation, not a human.
  • It's very obvious that you make too much money, because you have to donate millions of dollars to charities in order to save money on taxes, and make yourself look good, because everybody hates you.  If you don't know how hated you are, look at your reviews on Google.
  • The money you donate to charity comes out of the pockets of your tenants, and we can't afford to donate millions to charity.  Not nearly.
  • Since we moved in to this building, in 2007, you have increased our rent by almost 250%.  This is so unconscionable a thing to do, I have no words to insult you with that would possibly match the anger I feel towards you and your class of scum.  In doing what you have done to me and your other tenants up and down the coast and wherever else you own buildings, you are waging a class war.
  • You raised the rent in late March, weeks into the pandemic shutdown and the clear beginnings of nationwide and global economic decline.  Since then, you have retracted this rent increase, but you have made no effort to forgive your tenants of any of their rent-paying obligations -- unlike some, less tone-deaf landlords, who have at least canceled the rent for a month or two for their rent-burdened, wealth-producing peasants, I mean tenants.
  • Given that real wages in this country have been stagnant or in decline for decades now, your constant, massive rent increases are completely unsustainable and basically downright evil.  What you need to do is not freeze the rent, but lower it -- dramatically.
  • Although you supposedly care about children so much that you donated enough money to the local children's hospital that they changed their name to Randall, at the same time, your constant, unsustainable rent increases are making more children homeless every year, while your workers sicken children, other tenants, and themselves by going around on all your properties with gas-powered machinery, when electric machinery is easily available.
  • Your lobbyists bribing politicians in Salem and other state capitals, in combination with your unfettered greed, have largely been the cause of the vast and rapidly growing disparity in wealth in this state between the rich and the poor, and between the races as well.  The gentrification you are engineering and carrying out is a policy that is inherently inhumane as well as blatantly racist.  This city has lost more than half of its Black population between the last two censuses.  You and your wealthy, white, real estate speculating, house-flipping colleagues are very directly responsible for this.  And how much do you want to bet, you have Black Lives Matter signs in your corporate offices on Barbur Bourlevard.  To paraphrase a prominent minister with the AME church in Seattle, if Black lives matter, then so does the cost of housing.
  • In all your annual rent increases, you have never once explained why you are raising the rent.
  • The rug that I'm sitting on as I type, which my baby lies down on and buries her face in every day, is toxic, and should have been replaced years ago.  Not with another toxic rug, but with a non-toxic one, that isn't made of plastic.
  • Every year, you send a survey to your tenants asking them questions, which never include what they think of you or your rent increases, but always include a question about how things could be improved around the apartment complex.  For years, we requested that the grassy areas beside each of the buildings include a picnic table and a covered bike rack.  After years of ignoring these requests, you installed one plastic picnic table beside one building, and one small, non-covered bike rack beside the other building.  That would be fine if our rent was $500, like it was when we moved in.  For what we pay now, we might expect a bit better, no?  (Maybe a nice wooden picnic table made in Oregon, perhaps?)
  • When we stopped paying the rent, you sent around a form letter telling us about how you might have trouble paying the workers who go around spraying us with toxic chemicals every week, or the nice, underpaid folks who go around repairing our appliances with duct tape.  This was a pathetic effort and divide-and-rule, and if you had any shame, you should be full of it, just for that bit of ruling class-warrior nonsense you sent out, to say nothing of the rest of your many crimes (or what would be crimes, if you hadn't already bought most of the legislature).
  • Another Portland is possible.
Not yours,
David Rovics

Friday, June 12, 2020

Stop the Evictions Before They Start

The system based on a combination of police brutality, mass imprisonment, and evictions at gunpoint may be collapsing, but if it's going to fall in the direction we want it to fall in, we need to push it that way.  And if we want to make that happen, we have to organize to stop the impending wave of evictions before it starts.
This society is at a crossroads, in so many ways.  In recent weeks, a multiracial uprising in the streets of the US and other countries is demanding not more ineffective police reforms, but a total transformation of the concept of policing.  The ideas are not new, but the degree to which the notion of defunding the police has suddenly become commonplace is new.

The powers-that-be and the corporate media are very actively trying to frame the questions as narrowly as possible, at every opportunity, sticking as much as they can to rehashing useless reforms and talking about bad apples, better bias training, and so on.  They will avoid the elephant in the living room as much as possible, and do everything they can to make sure there's a sufficiently complex set of mirrors surrounding the elephant so that we don't see it.

The reason they must avoid the elephant at all costs is because the horrifically unequal and unsustainable system of capitalism, this corrupt plutocracy that we live in, can only be held together through constant deception, and the threat of armed force and imprisonment.  Deception whenever possible, armed force and imprisonment whenever necessary.  When and to what degree the different strategies of control are employed depends on various factors, such as race and class.

Portland, Oregon, my home town for the past thirteen years, is the most rent-burdened city in the United States.  This was the case well before the pandemic.  Depending on the year, Portland also has the highest number of police killings of Black people in the US, per capita.  If these statistics might be related, I have no studies to cite, but there they are, anyway, these facts that stand starkly side by side.

Here's another statistic:  in the United States we have a census every ten years.  A lot happens from one year to the next, let alone every ten years, but nevertheless, what is known for sure is that between the census in 2000 and the census in 2010, the city of Portland lost half of its Black population.  Since 2010 it has lost more.

There is no statistic to neatly measure the gains or losses for many other demographics, but this number can easily be assumed to be more or less representative in terms of the many artists and other lower-paid workers who have been forced to leave the city.  The process of gentrification -- the process of investment companies buying up massive numbers of buildings throughout the US (and other countries) and then proceeding to maximize their profits by charging as much rent as the market will bear, while they create the market through price-fixing and buying most of the legislators in every state capital -- is extremely disruptive, in every possible sense.  What this does to communities and to the lives of people within them cannot be overstated.  It can be called many things, but it is most certainly a vicious form of class war, and it is most certainly a form of urban ethnic cleansing.

This level of social disruption, this ethnic cleansing, this class war relies on many things in order to keep happening.  It relies on the consent of the governed to no small degree -- it relies on most people believing they deserve their miserable fates, that it is their fault they can't afford the rent or the mortgage, that if they just worked harder or got more education, they could achieve like those billionaires have done.  That's the deception part of the equation.

But when circumstances start to become impossible, the deception gets harder to maintain.  And everyone knows, whether they believe the deception or not, that behind it lies the threat of force -- of being beaten, shot, and/or imprisoned.  So, the movement to defund the police needs to be understood as the very radical idea that it is, since it would mean not just the prospect of Black people not having to worry about being shot by uniformed, paid employees of their town or city just for existing, but also the prospect of the investment banks that own much of the rental property in those towns and cities no longer having the option of sending the men with guns in to enforce the laws that they got their legislators to pass.  No more evictions at gunpoint.

What would happen, in a rent-burdened city largely owned by investment banks, when the landlords no longer have the threat of violence to fall back onto?  And what would happen if that police force is not defunded, and if the suspension on evictions currently in place in Portland is lifted, and if the landlords can start filing for evictions all over the city?  There are many unemployed people in this city (like this author) who have been rejected by the Employment Department, or whose unemployment money will soon run out.  There are many people in this city who were just barely managing to come up with rent before the pandemic, who were spending 70% of their earnings on the landlord every month.  There are many people whose credit cards were already maxed out before the pandemic hit, and many others whose credit cards are now at their limits -- and they've been spending their money on nothing but food and rent.

Once the ban on evictions is lifted, we can expect the waves of evictions to begin.  They won't happen all at once, however.  People who lost significant income due to the pandemic may be able to put the process off by six months or more.  The future is unwritten, and things are changing rapidly.  Lots can happen between now and the time that the city declares the crisis is over.

But for me and others of us artists that remain in the city of Portland, affiliated in the loose-knit network called Artists for Rent Control, it is clear that the time to prepare for the evictions is now, while they are still banned.  We say they should remain banned.  Without the threat of forced eviction -- that is, without the threat of the police -- tenant-landlord relations in society become very, very different.  But as long as the threat exists -- or will soon exist once again -- we need to be able to respond to it directly.

Doing so will require the participation of a certain cross-section of people in the city of Portland who really believe that another Portland is possible.  Who believe we can stand up to the corporations who would seek to enforce their ability to make obscene profits through their investments in the human need -- and human right -- to housing.  Who believe we can confidently condemn the system that has produced such deadly inequities -- who can ask the question of the bankers that run this country:  what gave you the right to be our landlords?  How did it happen that we taxpayers bailed you out only a decade ago, and now you've somehow managed to buy the buildings we live in, and double the rent?  What kind of dystopia have we woken up in?  What sector of the matrix is this, anyway?

Artists for Rent Control does not make any claims to knowing the whole way forward here, but we know one thing:  popular education, community-building, and direct action are effective and important tactics.  The popular education part is helping people to understand that another world is possible.  This is the role of art in any social movement, along with the community-building that tends to take place anytime a public event involving music or other forms of artistic expression takes place.  The direct action part that our little group is initiating is what we are calling Portland Emergency Eviction Response (PEER).

The concept is well-worn and simple, in its essence.  You enter your phone number and sign up for text notifications.  When we get confirmation that an eviction is taking place, you'll receive a text telling you where it's happening.  You then drop whatever you're doing, and head immediately to the address provided.  What happens next depends on the situation, and is impossible to predict with certainty, but the fact is that it is often the case that just a few dozen people showing up to an attempted eviction will cause the cops to give up and leave.

A successful movement to lower the rents, to impose rent control, to pressure government entities to get involved by buying buildings from recalcitrant landlords in order to turn them into housing collectives, must inevitably involve many people, many tactics, many approaches, just like anything else.  But this form of direct action has generally been an important element of any successful struggle between landlords and tenants.

What we need, and what the time may be ripe for, is a return to the kinds of tactics employed by the Anti-Rent movement in New York's Hudson Valley in the 1840's, to take one example.  The most important of the tactics was this one:  whenever the landlord sent in the police or some other armed group to try to seize the property of tenant farmer family, or evict them from their farm, the farmers would blow a tin horn, which would reverberate through the rolling hills of the region.  Within an hour or so, hundreds of other tenant farmers would show up -- generally on horseback, wearing disguises, and armed.

For nine years of what became known as the Rent Strike Wars, the tenant farmers of the Van Rennsalaer estate did not pay the rent, and did not get evicted.  Though there were many standoffs between masked rent strikers and police, for nine years, not a shot was actually fired in either direction.  For nine years, every time, the police retreated.  I'm simplifying the story a bit, but in the end, the landlord was forced to sell his estate to the tenant farmers, and many progressive laws were enacted.  Our effort here is to revive the tin horns, in the form of text messages, but otherwise our hope and our belief is that by employing similar tactics, we may get similar results.  Our belief is that whatever might be coming next in the struggle for fairness, justice and equality in this unfair, unjust and unequal society, eviction abolition will be a first step in the right direction.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Dominating Cities and Dominating the Narrative

What I am saying here is familiar to many people with a knowledge of actual history, rather than the fantasy version in the textbooks.  But actual history is a hidden thing, and therefore frequent reminders are necessary.  Here's my effort in this regard for today.  We can call it an editorial.

Trump wants riot police and soldiers to "dominate," one of his favorite words as well as pastimes.  While there is certainly wanton police brutality happening every day against demonstrators and other people across this country, many people are observing the more nuanced strategies some city leaders are attempting to employ in quelling the unrest -- keeping riot police hidden in basements until their services are judged to be needed, and making sympathetic noises with regards to police brutality, current and historic racism, and police reform.

Where the advocates of domination and those with a less confrontational approach tend to unite is around what kind of protest is acceptable, and therefore defined as "nonviolent," and what kind of protest is unacceptable and therefore "violent."  Who controls this narrative, in my humble opinion, will determine whether any social movement in the US has any chance of succeeding.

To cut to the chase, the reason is this:  according to any reasonable definition of the term "violence," the definition of "violence" used by the overwhelming majority of media outlets and politicians of both parties has nothing to do with the dictionary, and everything to do with what is acceptable to them.  What makes it acceptable is that it is both legal, and ineffective.  What they call "nonviolent" is people standing in a park with signs, or marching along a prearranged route, with a permit, and a police escort, so there is no possible disruption to traffic.

What quickly becomes defined as "violent" is pretty much anything else people might do, such as any of the typical tactics employed by widely-praised, popular leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi.  My point is not to argue that people need to copy MLK or Gandhi's tactics of boycotts, strikes, mass nonviolent civil disobedience, and mass marches -- although this is a powerful combination of methods.  But if they are to be widely used tactics, it's crucial that marching in the streets, blocking streets, blocking bridges, and occupying buildings be understood as classic tactics in the arsenal of nonviolent civil disobedience.  To say that marchers taking over the streets or taking over a bridge are behaving in some way that is violent or inviting violence is to accuse Martin Luther King and Gandhi of being organizers of violence, to be very clear.  Also, to be very clear, the kinds of tactics employed by Martin Luther King, namely illegally and nonviolently marching in city streets and occupying them, are exactly the kinds of tactics that are currently bringing on the violent wrath of armies of riot police across this country, causing permanent injury to many civilians.

The kinds of tactics that have frequently caused social movements to be victorious, and even for governments to fall, are myriad.  They generally involve a wide variety of tactical threads, but tend to be remembered for certain ones, whether it be explicitly violent armed struggle of the sort that ultimately ended colonial domination in most former colonies of European powers, from Haiti to Mozambique, or sustained takeovers of cities by massive and overwhelmingly unarmed civilian populations, such as the protests last fall that won an end to the new fuel tax in Ecuador, or similar protests that the French labor movement initiates now and then to defeat a particularly onerous new attempt at neoliberal reform there, where workers shut down the entire country for weeks on end.  Or the massive, sustained gatherings that brought down governments in eastern Europe circa 1989.

Nowhere in the history of the world, to my knowledge, will you find a movement whose tactics were limited to writing letters to politicians or holding permitted protests and marches, that accomplished anything.  This is exactly why such tactics are acceptable to the powers-that-be, and why they are thus dubbed "nonviolent."

Trump is right about the need to dominate the streets of every city across this country.  That's exactly what needs to happen.  We can also call this occupying the streets, liberating the streets, taking to the streets, reclaiming the streets, dancing in the streets, or all of the above.  Whatever we call it, whether we like words like "domination" or "nonviolence" or not, this is one of the main tactics that has, in the past, in many different countries including this one, been effective in winning real reforms, and sometimes in toppling governments.

If we don't collectively reject the narrative that there is something "violent" about illegally occupying roads, bridges and buildings -- if we allow the media and the political elite to successfully equate "legal" with "nonviolent" -- then we've already lost.  Only if we're able to collectively reject this reformulation of the narrative of the history of the Civil Rights movement, and collectively embrace the widespread breaking of not only curfew laws, but also traffic laws, and many other laws -- only when taking to the streets really means taking over the streets, and holding onto them until we win -- might a movement of protesting in parks and marching with signs become something potentially transformational.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Who's Trashing Downtown Every Night and Why?

The corporate media and corporate politicians are paralyzed with indecision.  Which fake myth do we adhere to?  "Black people burning down their own neighborhoods" or "outside agitators"?  What if it's both, and more...?
Media coverage of the past few days and nights of the multiracial uprising that is currently taking place in various forms in cities small and large across the United States has been confused and misleading, as usual.  Media coverage of such events is usually either confusing, misleading, or both, because of the influence of the media owners, and because of the implicit biases, insufficient resources, and/or ignorance of the journalists who work for them.  So, it begs for a bit of helpful clarification.

But first of all, they keep saying these are the biggest urban disturbances in the US since 1968.  This sounds huge, and while it's certainly impressive, the basic phenomenon taking place, and the various dynamics within it, are not new, not unprecedented, and in fact are very commonplace.

Most people, from my experience, never go to protests.  Among those who do go to protests, many people only go to one big one in their lives, if any.  At pretty much every big protest I've ever been to, which is a lot, I'm surrounded by people of all ages who tell me and others around them that they are attending their first protest.  Whatever got them out -- a racist police murder, a massacre, an imperialist war, a massive bank bailout -- they say they just had to come out this time, even though they never went to a protest before.  The hardcore protest-hopping crowd like me is a very select group, for a lot of different reasons.  We are not representative.

As a consequence, at every protest I have been to, there are participants who are under the impression that the tactics the protesters are employing were just invented yesterday, and that the militarization of the police is a new phenomenon.  In Ferguson in 2014 I remember hearing many local people of all ages saying things that made it abundantly clear that they thought large groups of riot police rioting in their town and making use of tear gas, stun grenades, and tank-like vehicles was something that had not been seen since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's.  They were under that impression simply because that was the last time anyone remembered tanks on the streets in Ferguson, and for many older people in town, that was also the last time they attended a large protest.

Before I start contextualizing the current situation, let me say that although me and many other radicals did certainly predict most everything that is currently taking place, I have no idea where this is going.  Predictions made by people like me are usually wrong.  If they're right, it's because they were obvious -- everyone knows powder kegs eventually explode, but nobody really ever knows exactly when this might happen, or what will be the spark.  But the keg is now burning.  It may have started with one spark, but the lynching of George Floyd, although horrific, is only symbolic of what this is all about.  Justice in this situation most certainly does not begin or end with the sentencing of all four of those cops with murder.  They're certainly guilty, but there's a lot more of that to go around, at far higher levels of authority than the local cops, fascist as they may be.  (To anyone who was not literally born yesterday, living in the US today, who is aware of who the president is, this is a very obvious statement.)

The main question I want to focus on here is a burning question in the minds of the corporate media and for many regular people from all walks of life across the country -- who is smashing, looting and burning buildings, torching police cars, and throwing projectiles at the riot cops all over this country?

The "Peaceful Protesters" Myth

It is probably the case that the vast majority of the people assembling during the day and during the evening to hold protest rallies against the tendency of the police in the US to lynch black people on a regular basis are not the same people who are engaging in some of the other aforementioned activities.  But it would be very wrong to put them all in this fake "peaceful protester" box.

What the media calls "peaceful protesters" are people who stand around in a public space with signs and make speeches.  They can be angry speeches, that's OK.  This is what they call "peaceful protest."  If they don't have a permit, it might not be "peaceful" anymore, in the media's eyes.  If the police attack peaceful protesters and a single person from within the ranks of the protesters responds in any way that can be construed as violent -- such as if someone raises their hand to attempt to block a billy club that's about to come down on their face -- this will be labeled a "clash," such as, "there are now clashes taking place between the police and the protesters."

When people occupy an intersection and stop traffic, or block the entrance of a building, this is what people from within social movements generally refer to as civil disobedience, or direct action.  It is considered by anyone involved with a social movement anywhere to be solidly within the "nonviolent" category, and it is often referred to by its full name, "nonviolent civil disobedience."  People like Gandhi and MLK popularized these sorts of tactics, which were pioneered long before, by other social movements that were also led by oppressed people, such as the labor movement, very much including the multiracial movements of tenant farmers and sharecroppers in the early part of the twentieth century.

The corporate media, however, will often start referring to protests as "violent" as soon as any law is being broken, such as traffic laws, when an intersection, highway, or building entrance is blocked.  This use of the term "violent" is very confusing for many, because it's patently inaccurate, when people learn enough to understand what the reporters actually mean -- if they are allowed to get to that point, which is generally not the case.  If people are looking to the media to understand what's happening around them, this is very unhelpful.  One of many very unhelpful aspects of their coverage.

The "Black People Are Burning Down Their Own Neighborhood" Myth

As soon as a police murder or the acquittal of a killer cop lead to anyone setting fire to a building, the media will tend to shift into a different gear, where they start focusing on the popular response to the racist, elitist system, rather than on the problems that led to the response.  This happens, again, partly because this is what the corporate propagandists who own most of what remains of the press want to focus on, not just because it's sensationalist and keeps eyes glued to the screen, but because it is consistent with their perspective, and that of most of their reporters, who were generally raised in totally different circumstances from most of the folks currently burning stuff down.

Thus, for different reasons, but amounting to the same effect, the media will talk about people burning down "their own" neighborhoods.  It's unfashionable these days to refer to them as "animals," which was a common refrain during the national uprising in 1991 that the media refers to as the "LA riots."  Trump prefers the racially loaded term, "thugs," which is just a slightly updated version of "animals."

No rent-burdened renter who has been evicted multiple times, which is the case for millions and millions of people in the US, feels like the neighborhoods they live in are "their own" neighborhoods.  Most working class people in urban America are struggling to stay in "their own" neighborhoods.  They are constantly being evicted and driven out of "their own" neighborhoods.  Yuppies flip houses and sell them at impossible prices, and "their own" neighborhoods become quickly unrecognizable and unaffordable.  There is a massive rate of displacement and what can accurately be described as ethnic cleansing taking place in cities throughout this country, that has been going on for centuries now.  It has only been interrupted for periods of time through strong rent control legislation, which used to exist in states like New York and Massachusetts.  But multi-generational, real communities are fewer and farther between, because of the fact that housing is an investment for capitalists in this country, not a right, not at all.

So no one is burning down "their own" neighborhood.  To the extent that local people are involved with these activities -- which lots of them are, let's be very clear about that, and this is nothing new, not at all -- the neighborhoods they are burning down are not their own.  They are owned by people that often feel like invaders.  However, these invaders may be "mom and pop" business owners, or "mom and pop" landlords.  The media will refer to any business as a "small business" if it's not a big corporation.  But someone running a restaurant that serves food that many people in a given neighborhood can't afford to eat, while easily fitting the media's description as a "mom and pop" small business, is not often seen by local people as part of "their community" or as particularly distinguishable from a chain store like Target.  Either the "mom and pop" establishment in this instance, or the chain store, will have the same impact, of raising the cost of housing in the now more "desirable" neighborhood.

The "Outside Agitators" Myth

Traditionally, when there is a major protest that involves some forms of civil disobedience or other forms of direct action, so that business as usual is sufficiently interrupted to the point where the protests can't be ignored, the media will adopt one of two tropes.  If it's not people "burning down their own neighborhood," then it's some kind of "outside agitators" who did it.  

The "outside agitator" is generally someone like me, who cares about society, and other people in it, so much that they want to leave their own homes and even their own home towns or states or countries, to go to another place to practice what is known as solidarity or mutual aid, depending on the situation.  It's easier for the media to blame "outside agitators" when there's a national or international meeting of the elite taking place, say a G8 or G20 meeting, and tens of thousands of people show up to protest against or try to shut down those meetings.  This scenario has been played out many times in the US, Canada, and many other countries, and I've personally been to many such events, throughout the world, since I'm more or less an outside agitator by profession.

From my experience, even at a big international event in Washington, DC or New York City, most of the people involved with the protests will be from the local area.  They may not be from the actual city the protest is taking place in, but most of them will be from a nearby state.  Locals, by a broader definition than the media likes to use.  So when they say that 20% of those arrested in Minneapolis were not from Minnesota, they don't mention that of those 20%, the vast majority were from the state of Wisconsin, a short drive away.  (I don't know this to be true, I'm just guessing based on past experience.)  Of course, if they came from further afield than Wisconsin to show solidarity with people in Minneapolis, this still does not make them bad people.

One of the wonderfully confusing things going on right now with media coverage and the reactions to events by politicians trying to spin the picture the way they want us to see it is they can't decide on which false trope to fall back on here.  Is it people burning down their own neighborhoods, or are these outside agitators?  Obviously, it's both -- and so much more.

The outside agitator theory also becomes very hard to maintain in this situation, because they are everywhere at the same time.  Traditionally, outside agitators have to come from outside.  By outside, usually they're talking about select groups of highly committed young anarchists going from supposed anarchist hubs like Seattle, San Francisco and New York City, to places where big, pre-planned events are taking place, such as the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh in 2009 or the Free Trade Area of the Americas talks in Miami in 2003, to name a couple random examples.  In the face of protests happening in every major city at the same time, the "outside agitators" now must have come from a nearby suburb, which doesn't seem all that "outside" to me.

The fact is, the city of Minneapolis has thousands of people in it who probably identify explicitly as anarchists.  There are many other cities in the US that have a high concentration of radicals.  Minneapolis has been one of them, for a very long time.  The radical tradition in Minneapolis is a multiracial one, like this uprising, and includes prominent people from every major ethnic background, very much including white, black, brown, Asian and indigenous resistance in many forms.

Within the ranks of all of these communities, and within the ranks of radicals within all of these communities, there are many different opinions on effective strategies.  While many people understand how folks might not differentiate between burning down a locally-owned upscale restaurant and a big chain corporate store, many would be critical of burning down anything, ever.  And those who think burning down buildings is a good tactic might distinguish between these two targets, intellectually.  Where radicals of all backgrounds tend to unite is around the understanding that oppressed people will tend to rise up, and those uprisings will tend to be messy, especially in the absence of a radical labor tradition, and in the absence of any kind of viable third party option to the two capitalist, imperialist ruling parties who are largely responsible for the terrible disparities in society in the first place.

The "You're Just Being Paranoid" Myth

In their efforts to confuse people and manage the situation from their corporate elite vantage points, the stenographers of CNN and NPR will rarely mention that local, state and federal police forces have a long and terrible history of infiltrating, undercutting, planting evidence, sowing division and otherwise destroying social movements in any way possible, including killing activists and then blaming others for the killings.  Dozens of leaders of the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement were systematically killed by the authorities at various levels of power, and no one has ever been brought to justice for these many crimes against these immensely popular organizations.  If you familiarize yourself with the public record on the FBI's Counterintelligence Program or Cointelpro -- which has never ended, to be sure -- you will find they have committed every crime imaginable, both very overt and extremely underhanded, to cause movements to implode or explode, depending on what works best.

So, are FBI agents and undercover cops among those who are attacking the police and burning down buildings across this country?  While we may not yet have any concrete proof of this, we can assume, based on massive amounts of concrete proof of past activities of these so-called law enforcement agencies, that their agents are involved with many of the most egregious cases of small or ethnically-owned businesses being burned down.  This has been their modus operandi for a very long time, in order to sow division.  You would have to be completely ignorant of recent history to think it's not happening now.  Yet on the off-chance anyone might suggest on a mainstream media outlet that this sort of thing is probably happening, they would likely be lampooned as a conspiracy theorist.

Currently, it appears rightwing actors who may or may not also be cops are trying to start a "race war" by targeting certain buildings for arson attacks and by firing into crowds of protesters.  This adds another level of complexity to the situation, obviously.

Collateral Damage

In a war, many innocent lives are lost.  If you have ever known a person who participated in a war that they even thought was completely just, you will find just one more person who is traumatized by the things they have seen, and the innocents who have died in the course of the conflict they participated in.  If you meet someone who participated in a war that they realized at the time, or later, was unjust, this trauma will tend to be even more intense.

In an uprising like what is currently taking place, this is no different.  When you set about to burn down a police station, this is a difficult task that involves many challenges.  Without going into all the details, suffice it to say that if you're burning down a building, neighboring buildings might also catch fire, whether you wanted them to or not.  If the fire department were assisting the arsonists, as with a controlled burn of a forest or building, to make sure nearby trees or houses didn't catch fire, it would be different, but that's not the situation here.  If it were the military accidentally bombing the wrong house, or a hospital, or a wedding party, as the US military has so often done in recent years in so many parts of the world, they'd just say oops, it was collateral damage.  But if a small business gets torched by accident, or on purpose, by people in the course of an urban rebellion, then it's a different story you'll hear from the media and others that these wackos are burning down very nice nonprofit centers that no sensible person would want to harm.  The collateral damage angle, though obvious from a logistical standpoint, will rarely be mentioned -- as rarely as the possibility that a particularly destructive action might have been carried out by an FBI agent posing as a protester, despite the abundant evidence of this kind of systematic behavior over the course of past decades.

In Conclusion

Rebellions, uprisings, and revolutions have some things in common, regardless of the outcome:  they are messy, they are dirty, they smell bad, people get hurt, people get killed, buildings get burned, and a lot of innocent people suffer.  They don't happen unless conditions were completely untenable to begin with.  And as they grow, for some, there are rays of hope amidst the flames.

Reflections on Singing for Wikileaks

My takeaway from the recent welcome news of Julian Assange's release from prison is that collective action works. When the news broke th...