Politics: The Way We Live Now
It’s difficult, when reading and seeing coverage of the riots in England, to not see a negative of our own pacification Stateside. Of course, the riots there emerged, and continue to emerge in some places, in response to a specific set of contingencies–the police killing of Mark Duggan, an already volatile cultural climate in the wake of anti-cuts rallies earlier this year, growing dissatisfaction with government austerity measures. But, let’s not forget, we have our own oppressive circumstances to deal with here too. The ranks of unemployed are growing and stagnating in tragic degrees. The economic chasm between the white middle-to-upper-class majority and racial and ethnic minorities is wider than ever. And we even have a similar police killing in San Francisco for a catalyst. So why the quiet?
The first decade of the 2000s in America gave us many reasons for pacifism. Violence, as we saw it, was a means of terror, a tool of catastrophic political malfeasance, an ever-present threat. Any advocation of violence, it seemed, fell in with this abhorrent crowd.
But what we see now in England is that violence can be utilized not only as a strategy of the terrible and powerful (and terribly powerful), but also as a force for the disenfranchised. Physical action by a group of citizens in response to government oppression captures the spirit of the voiceless in a rhetoric stronger than words alone. And, when executed strategically, it is hard to suppress. Of course, thoughtless destruction of the equally disenfranchised’s property is hardly just, but it’s an unfortunate accessory to a movement that, at least, strives for justice.
Violence, by any definition, does not need to be directed at a person’s personal harm to exert its force. There are many things that deserve injury–destruction, even–in today’s America. Perhaps the progressive discontents in America today can learn something from our brethren in England. We certainly have the historical context, from the more violent branches of the civil rights movement to the Haymarket Affair to the very origin of our nation.
Indeed, the most successful campaigns of organized political action in recent American history were spearheaded by queers and queer-allies, who organized the ACT-UP actions across the country against the government’s ignorance of AIDS in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In some small chamber of queer American consciousness, you can still hear their echo: “Act up. Fight back.”
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