Today is peaceful here in SLC, and I have work today to finish off my courses for my students. I have been reflecting though that even here things broke out. We have had police violence, mostly against the homeless and protestors, but mostly what we have here is police apathy. People have disappeared here in SLC–people my friends know–the police did almost nothing. Every Dine nation person I have met here has lost someone in the COVID crash, and many have lost several elders. It also really hit me how bad a lot of the reservations are in terms of services. We are talking infrastructure-for-indigenous-people-of-rural-southern-Mexico kind of bad. Settler colonialism, under-autonomy, and needing the approval of US Congress means it’s hard to get appropriations and jurisdiction to do much on those lands. Most of the US apparatus has been governed by the states quietly and increasingly since the 1970s; in a way this is the way it was designed to run, but almost no business exists within one state’s line.
But every Dine person I know has lost someone–every single one. Probably not that different for Ute and Paiute people either, but I don’t know as many of them. Since re-opening for business two weeks ago, we have had a spike and cases and in death, but compared to other cities, SLC death rates are mild compared to our infection rates. Yet more Latinos have the disease than whites now in raw numbers in a state that is about 14% Latino. Everyone is angry and grieving about something. My mother has cancer back in GA and my step-father is living in a trailer in the backyard as to not infect her. They are both over sixty. My mom is an ex-nurse, one of my brothers is an unemployed roadie living with them, and my step-dad a mechanic. Now, I am not particularly close to my family. I left GA ten years ago, but only two of my brothers turned things around from themselves after the last economic downturn. The reasons for that are complicated and frankly I am not going to blame it all on society, but I have seen the “Hillbilly Elegy” shit a lot in my real life. I know we may disagree with the reasoning of that author’s solutions, but his description of the world is apt and I am kind of tired of people from more privileged backgrounds arguing with me about it.
I never much believed in Bernie salvation. I thought it MIGHT be a release valve. But Bernie would not be able to get his party in line because the donors wouldn’t be in line. I was skeptical that he had support in the black official Democrat circles in the South. Most black men in my state don’t vote and something like 40-50% percent of them can’t because of felon charges. That also affects a ton of poor and working-class whites. For all the talk about how reactionary the South is, and it is, people know their interests there. My step-dad is not a racial progressive and was opposed to Democrats most of his life, but voted for Obama and opposed Trump, even though I am pretty sure the man hates Hilary Clinton. He is not a liberal, and he is mad as hell at them too. He was a mechanic with three medically compromised kids, and retirement is more difficult for him because he kept us alive. It is as simple as that. If you dig into most people, you can get to the story.
Now, I realize I am normally Mr. History and Mr. Theory. Here are some things you are going to have to look at for a moment. I am explaining why I think this happened. People are angry and the police are the arm of the state. Yes, people are particularly angry at the way black people are disproportionately killed by the police for often minor offenses. But the support POC are getting is only ideological and from activists and liberals, but poor white people are also threatened by the cops. Fuck, increasingly middle-class white people are. That is the shift and I suspect I could find stats to back it up.
However, let me talk about the steam-with-no-piston-box problem, and the people without the skills or ideological vision to do anything. I am not Marx-shaming the rioters and the revolt. I am glad people finally fight the boot on their neck. It also exposes that even when trying to protect the POC protestors, Liberals spin narratives that play right into 100-year-old conservative tropes and doubt the threat that cops pose to even middle-class white people. The term “shitlib” gets thrown around a lot. That said, leftists don’t have places for this to go other than back into the streets and into uncontrollable destructive spasms. That does lead to reaction and scares people. Historically, for that not to happen, natural and spontaneous militancy has to have a place to go.
I am also seeing the same tired tropes about diversifying the police. While data may unreliable, almost no data or even anecdotal support tells you that a police force representing you is less likely to kill you. Even in the major events that caused riots, the outlier was Ferguson, which had a mostly white police force: the other three cops involved in killing George Floyd were of color. Most of the cops in the Maryland instance that provoked riots were of color. Liberals’ misunderstandings don’t fix structures of power and overpoliced neighborhoods. For all the talk of structural racism, many of the solutions proposed, for police reform and diversification, don’t understand the problem. The same is true of cops supporting the protests–tactically that may be good for both sides, but it misses the point.
However, let me go back to that lack of piston box. Unleashing the people’s power without goals, aims, and discipline leads to the power often being diffused into the air. It was good for people to remember they have power, but it’s got to go somewhere. Furthermore, for all the bad actors, black looters, and outside agitator talk, and for all the talk of boogaloos and proud boys–who are real but are so tiny as to be insignificant in this–that is nonsense. But steam with no piston box attracts the energy of lumpen and despised folks without giving them anything other than their legitimate rage. So the two days of targets were strategic, but then whatever is at hand. Places that find and start having piston boxes will in better shape than those who don’t.
Insurrections normally and historically end in a bloodbath. Liberals mucking this up are, in their own dumbass way, kind of trying to avoid it, but politicians are trying to save their own asses. That is what I mean when I say riots are a force of nature when they get moving. There are so many different groups and actions and no direct call. Demands, if made at all, are often moral and inchoate.
So I have understood why people are breaking things and I think a lot of the calls for them to be “more organized” are trying to control a force that can’t be. But we should have had something for these forces to organize towards that didn’t try to subordinate them to whatever ideology or NGO agenda was at hand.
So in the next few days and months, we will see if the shift is towards something new or if they will go from Watts riots into Nixonland, except that we are already in farce version of Nixonland, so where are social forces to go? When all institutions seemed bankrupt, what institutions emerge?