Risking the wrath of Steve Randy Waldman, I have a few thoughts. My own ancient left prejudices led me to see the property destruction as an unhelpful distraction from the good, constructive folk marching and demonstrating. But this separates things that are organically linked. When order breaks down, beginning with the police violence victimizing the Freddie Gray, it can set off both responses. We have to ask whether the charges against the offending officers would have resulted if the response had been entirely peaceful.
There has been commentary to the effect that property destruction is a legitimate, justifiable tactic, or that it is a meaningful statement, in and of itself. The idea of a tactic implies a tactician, a self-conscious intelligence guiding an insurgency. But there has been no indication of any such guidance. No anarchist underground is in evidence. So it’s what I prefer to call random bullshit, or what Ta-Nehisi Coates called a “forest fire.” That doesn’t mean it is without any possibility of positive effect. It just isn’t anything a sane political person would try to actively foment. As a practical matter, the authorities would roll you up in, oh, about three days. Nor does it further actual mass organization, the actual substance of which–meetings, meetings, meetings–is not a natural transition from running the streets.
The charges against the officers mark a new stage, the end of the beginning. All systems are now go for a spring of mobilization. People have gotten a taste of redress, and they will want more of it.
Democratic politicians will try to get in front of the activism–Hillary Clinton actually uttered the phrase “mass incarceration”–but they have a lot to answer for, not least in Baltimore itself. The way pressure is built up is not by following these hacks, because their job is to get elected and keep doing very little. Pressure is created by doing just the opposite — creating independent force, on the ground. I’m reminded of the absorption of the protests in Wisconsin into Democratic electoral activity, which turned out to be an utter failure. Agitation ceased, and the a-holes still got reelected.
Social movements get results. An enduring weakness of the U.S. left is the proliferation of atomized efforts. Every specific issue has a group or groups focused on it like a laser beam, and my issue is more important than any other. What’s lacking is the merger of these efforts into a broad-based, united, national movement. The fragmentation is conducive to creativity and energy, but it can retard synthesis of problems and associated causes into the new world view on which our survival depends.
In my next post I will offer some ideas on tenable policies to highlight.