Category Archives: Organized Labor

Unions Against Fascism

 

Patriot Prayer isn’t known for its good taste.

 

The far-right organization, known for linking up “Patriot” militias with Alt Right white nationalists, became notorious for taking up the “free speech” rally model started by Lauren Southern in the “Battle for Berkeley.”  In Portland, Oregon, and the surrounding suburbs, their organizer, Joey Gibson, instigated violent clashes with leftist protesters as he refused to tone down the “America First” rhetoric.  In May, Jeremy Christian, a man who eagerly joined Patriot Prayer’s events, murdered two on Portland public transit in an Islamophobic frenzy.  Gibson’s response was to hold his June 4th rally just a couple of weeks later in a federal park, which drew over three thousand protesters in a show of unprecedented antifascist unity.

On August 26, in the wake of the savage race riot and vehicular murder in Charlottesville, Gibson decided to bring his act down to the Bay area, where a number of far-right provocateurs were intending to join him.  This would start with a “Freedom Rally” along the waterfront, which activists countered with a mass “poop in” by bringing their dogs to the beach without waste bags.  The following day they the “anti-Marxist” message would be brought to the streets, picking up on the white supremacist conspiracy theory that modern “progressive” values are actually the result of subversive Jewish “Cultural Marxism.”

Patriot Prayer’s plans sparked one of the quickest engagements of mass organizing in years as coalitions formed around the city with everything from radical art shows to a mass marches to disallow Gibson access to the streets or city parks.  While the Bay’s progressive line-up began their plans, it was the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 that stepped out in front to lead this community revolt.  Just days before the Alt Right was to descend on the city, Local 10 passed the “Motion to Stop the Fascists in San Francisco,” calling for “all unions and anti-racist and anti-fascist organizations to join us defending unions, racial minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and all the oppressed.”  ILWU was instrumental in raising the antifascist coalition’s profile enough to force Gibson to cancel the event, and when he tried to move it to San Francisco’s Alamo Park, the union took to the streets and helped form a block to prevent entry.  

Right now, labor in the United States is being pushed to a state of execution.  With the political power in the hands of the beltway right, attacks on public sector unions, collective bargaining, exclusive representation, and the rights of workers to organize, are forcing labor to look past immediate contractual gains and to the larger contradictions the working class faces.  Capital’s attack on unions is happening at the same time as a radical right populism is sweeping the U.S., with Trumpism ushering in what the Freedom Party brought to Austria, Brexit offered to the UK, and what Le Pen could have leveled on France.  With the Alt Right as the militant fascist edge of this movement, organized labor is placed where it is often put in times of crisis: uniquely targeted and decisively necessary.

 

“Then they came for the trade unionists…”

Looking at the historical fascist movements that rose to power in interwar Europe, labor is crushed swiftly and decisively.  As the Nazis rose to power in Germany, the SS took control of the trade unions in 1933, banning them as working class institutions and molding their organs into the German Labor Front.  With 7 million members, Germany had one of the largest labor movements in the world, bolstered by the social democrats and the revolutionary German Communist Party (KPD).  In Italy, Mussolini took a different approach and captured the unions entirely, creating large Fascist Trade Unions with over four million members.  These organizations were extensions of the fascist state, losing their ability to fight for workers interests as Mussolini gained power by cruelly crushing socialist and anarchist partisans.  The attack on unionists was, largely, an extension of the fascist attack on the organized left as leaders rightly understood that both sides had the ability to pull heavily from the experiences of the working class.  While Hitler and Mussolini appealed to the bourgeois classes by suppressing worker movements, it was an appeal to the broad masses that gave fascism its power.  The class conflict implicit to capitalism is then suppressed in favor of mediated class collaboration; the fire for change the fuels class struggle then rechanneled into reactionary battles between identities, racial, sexual, and otherwise.  

The unions themselves were, at the time, the largest and most successful results of social movements, a hundred years of struggle to create massive organizations that took on the interests of the oppressed classes.  That strength, rooted in the ability to withhold labor, could bring the country to its knees, and its nature is rooted in the working class unity that necessitates antiracism.  If the unions are weakened, removed as militant vehicles for the desires of working people, then mass movements lose one of their key strategic vessels.

Unions today are often defined by their concessions, what was allowed to them by the state during the 1920s and 1930s.  But a union is more that Collective Bargaining Agreements and grievance procedures.  It is simply an expression of unified class power, the ability of a group of workers to exert power through solidarity.  For workers today (and throughout the history of organized labor), their subjective experiences of class and identity are more than just pay scales, but include everything from racial discrimination by management to the fear of violence they have leaving their houses in the morning.  For non-white workers, that violence continues, both from the state as police murders continue unchallenged, and through vigilantes, from the KKK in earlier generations to the Alt Right terrorizing campuses and city centers today.  Unions can expand their conception of working class struggle to take on issues not only at the bargaining table, but also throughout the world that workers inhabit, something that is only becoming more necessary as those traditional rights are legally eroded.  With a larger financial infrastructure than most left organizations and the growing injection of labor into broad coalitions, they have the tools and membership to be active in directly undermining the radical right surge.  

 

IWW General Defense Committee

For many syndicalists, the IWW has been a centerpiece of this radical experiment for a century, starting as an alternative to the increasingly compromised AFL models of negotiated labor.  The IWW continues to explode at moments of contradiction, organizing that stretches models to the point of redefinition.  The non-contract campaigns of the Burgerville Workers Union, the prison organizing of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and solidarity networks are windows into what is possible when the strictures shackling organized labor are ignored and the basic principles of organizing are opened up to the imagination.

It is no wonder that the IWW then looked to the past to rebuild a project that could extend the reach of the organization into the increasingly caustic world of tenancy, police violence, and insurrectionary racist threats.  The General Defense Committee (GDC) was first started in 1917 as a technically-separate organization from the broader IWW to take on issues like state repression of members around anti-war protests and during later red scares.  Because it was a legally separate entity, it could take some shelter from state attacks on the IWW that seemed imminent.  The GDC was brought back to take on issues that were not strictly workplace derived, and antifascist work has become the brand it is best known by.  The Twin Cities branch chartered a GDC in 2011, yet their antifascist committee started long before that as members had previous experience as founders of Anti-Racist Action in the 1980s and the Torch Network that is known for linking up Antifa organizations.  The GDC has grown to over 200 members with committees being chartered across the country.  

The Twin Cities GDC Local 14 started by confronting a 2012 appearance of David Irving, the notorious WWII historian turned Holocaust Denier, building the praxis that would instruct their later work.  As opposed to the close-knit and highly secretive format that describes most Antifa organizations, the GDC has used a “mass antifascist” approach.  This means focusing on bringing in large coalitions of people, generally being public about their image, and trying to do popular education and engagement.  This still results in the battle over “contested spaces,” music venues, public arenas, and college campuses.  This can also mean in direct engagement, forcing the neo-Nazis out of their speaking event or meeting spaces, but it is done through appeals to huge community contingents.  Mixing a radical analysis, direct action, and broad community involvement are the same principles that have made the Wobblies such a success in workplace organizing, and it those winning methods that they are using to turn entire neighborhoods and social networks into mass antifascist forces.  Since the rise of the Alt Right starting in 2015, the GDC has been present in almost every major action, from shutting down far-right agitator Milo Yiannoupolous in Seattle, De Paul, and the University of Wisconsin, challenging Infowars at the Republican National Convention, and shutting down fascist neofolk artists like Blood + Sun.  

 

Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective

In Portland, a group of trade unionists whose roots in militant antifascism went back thirty years came back to that anti-racist organizing by looking exactly at where they work.  In places like the Carpenters Union, workers were regularly forced to interact coworkers who were openly adorned with neo-Nazi iconography, such as portraits of Hitler in visible tattoos.  For many neo-Nazis who had been involved in skinhead gangs and were felons, building trade unions provided a pathway to a good and stable job that often shielded them from political fallout and did not penalize them for criminal histories.  Organizers from the Carpenters Local 1503, Ironworkers Local 29, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 10, and antifascist organizers came together to form the Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective (PNWAWC) to confront the influx of the far-right from inside of the labor movement.

One of PNWAWC’s key strategies was to put through antifascist resolutions in union locals whose membership may actually have some allegiances to white supremacist formations.  IUPAT Local 10 and the Carpenters Union Local 1503 passed this resolution, next attempting to build antifascist committees internal to the local.  IUPAT went as far as forming an Anti-Racist Mobilization Committee that will be used to get union members to support antiracist community actions and to reach out to other trade unions to do the same.  

Their work extends to antifascist strategies that are often well known to Antifa and Anti-Racist Action groups, which many of their members started in.  This includes organizing as a coalition with groups like Rose City Antifa to confront far-right assemblies, especially in “contested spaces,” refusing access.  Doxxing, information dissemination, and popular education are all a part of this, as well as committing many of their members to act as community defense and security in situations that could result in fascist intimidation.  After a local public-sector union had been hosting antifascist events from groups like the Portland Assembly and Demand Utopia, threats began coming down on the union hall.  When several alleged far-right agitators showed up, donning masks, the collective coordinated unionists and organizers to surround the building, refusing to allow them on the property.

 

Portland Labor Against Fascists

Many organizers with some relationship to PNWAWC came together to form the Portland Labor Against Fascists coalition to have a labor presence at the growing number of collisions between far-right rallies and the public.  When Patriot Prayer announced its June 4th rally despite the pleas of the city, including the Mayor’s office, multiple groups organized to surround the event.  On one side was a more mild-manner coalition of progressive groups brought together by the International Socialist Organization, while adjacent to the in the park was the united Antifa block.  On the south side of the far-right rally was the labor coalition, organized, in part, by Trotskyist organizations like the Internationalist Group and Class Struggle Workers, and with members from the various building trades as well as Amalgamated Transit Union 757, CWA 7901, and different AFL-CIO affiliates.  

The rhetoric here was simple: destroying the narrative that the Patriot militia and blue-collar white power groups have, that they are acting in the interests of the white working class.  With Ironworkers and IBEW electricians on the megaphones, they were able to speak to worker exploitation, not from “mass immigration” or affirmative action, but from mega-corporations that are crushing wages and collective bargaining.  Since some participants in the Alt Right come from those represented trades, hearing from people in the same professions and workplaces makes a difference. This has been the strategy of non-labor specific organizations like Redneck Revolt, who use the language of gun-rights and government mistrust to speak to the same crowd that the militia movement recruits from.

 

Labor’s Turn

As the cultural wave of reactionary anger turned into a Trump presidency, many in the broad labor movement were forced to speak up out of the crisis of circumstance.  With the heavy focus of Alt Right groups like Identity Europa on campus recruitment, student and faculty groups have found common cause in confronting their threat.  The Duke Graduate Student Union and the University of California Student Workers have come out to endorse student projects like the Campus Anti-Fascist Network, which is using a nationally coordinated approach to long-term mass antifascist movement building.  As Patriot Prayer’s event loomed on the horizon in Berkeley, a large coalition formed for the Bay Area Rally Against Hate that would link up a huge swath of community and labor organizations.  This again drew from unions with an association with education and college campuses, including the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, AFSCME Local 3299 (a UC Berkeley local), SEIU Local 1021, and UAW Local 2865, as well as a contingent of Berkeley student workers.  The Alameda Labor Council and San Francisco Labor Council both signed as endorsers, a success for such a highly partisan affair.  ILWU Local 10 was a leader in the effort to block Patriot Prayer, bringing out retired members who had joined the movement against South African apartheid in the 1980s.   IUPAT Local 10 voted in a resolution and public statement that put their full support behind the ILWU’s decision in the bay, saying that they take from their example “in the struggle for workers’ rights against racism, war, and police repression.”

While many large unions have avoided using the language of antifascism, there has been an impetus for many to rise up on the primary issues of racial victimization in the Trump era.  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka joined the Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff in a “categorical rejection” of Islamophobia, and after the comments Trump made after the Charlottesville violence he decisively pulled out of the American Manufacturing Council.  Trumka is far from a radical unionist, but it shows the tone that is shifting inside large labor institutions.  In years past, the rhetoric of “America First” echoed into union halls as jobs were being offshored.  This attempt to stoke a subtle racism while mobilizing workers against de-industrialization lost them the ability to effectively fight the experiences of racism that workers face, and there are signs this decision is being reversed as they continue to lose ground with their attempts at class collaboration.  The movement by many unions, from UNITE HERE Local 2850 to National Union of Healthcare Workers, to become “sanctuary unions” is another turn, acknowledging the horror of ICE deportations that are entering into their member communities.  Local 2850 has been working to add protections for immigrants into contracts as well as going for local and statewide resolutions in support of their immigrant workforce.

The role of large labor organizations is more mixed than militant unions, but with their large memberships and financial infrastructure there are opportunities they can lend to antifascist movements.  This may end up more passive than anything, the allying of resources, buildings, and participation in coalitions, while leaving the more open antifascist work to organizers free from the strictures of non-profit status.  As unions have increasingly diverse membership, they will be pressured to stand up for the issues that fascist ideologues have owned, confronting mass deportations, the victimization of racial and gender minorities, and the increased threat that far-right politics represent to their membership.

The position of unions as a conceptual force is even more central as its mechanisms of class power are some of the most profound in history.  The ability to use solidarity to dethrone the authority in a workplace can be expanded to the community, and the mass base, the ability to strike and worker empowerment can all be pivoted to see not only institutional injustice, but also the insurrectionary violence of white supremacy, as a target.  Fascist politics splits the working class, a fragmentation that spells defeat in even the most class reductionist sense, and there is every reason for union members to be on the front lines.

Originally Published in the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review

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Autonomist Antifascism: An Interview With Kevin Van Meter

This is an interview with Kevin Van Meter, the author of the new book Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible.  Van Meter draws on the Autonomist Marxist tradition to discuss how the concept of “everyday resistance” can inform antifascist struggle.

Pick up Guerrillas of Desire from AK Press.

 

AFN: You have written about the fragmentary position of the left, especially the state of the labor movement and the changing tide of class consciousness and composition. What do you think left and revolutionary organizations should do now?

 

Kevin Van Meter: I think it is remarkable to note that the labor movement predates things like the 1886 Haymarket Massacre. It really goes back to the 1850s in the United States and Europe. It took capitalism a hundred and seventy-five years to smash the labor movement. From it’s rise and development, the formation of the American Federation of Labor, from the development of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905 and its initial suppression in the 1920s. But we have never had a weaker labor movement than we have right now, and it took capitalism a fucking long time to destroy it. That is remarkable and worthy of our attention.

With that said, the activities which lead to the formation of the IWW, the rise of feminist consciousness raising collectives, of the Black Panthers, and similar formulations was the expression of prior forms of self-activity, which the left and labor in our contemporary period ignore. I make this claim in Guerillas of Desire that left organizing assumes that the people are unorganized and not resisting in their everyday lives. I think I’ve shown empirically that this assumption is unfounded. Any good union organizer is going tell you when they walk into the shop for the first time they want to see where those existing power relationships are. Who’s the trusted worker that fellow workers talk to when looking for advice? Who is taking really long bathroom breaks? Who is punching in their drunk friend? These forms of organization, communication, and resistance are already taking place.

I open Guerillas of Desire with a story about how I went on a job interview with Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known by it’s acronym ACORN. We knocked on doors to get people to sign our petition, give donations, and support legislation around getting child care. Well, it is a fundamentally different thing when you’re going around knocking on doors asking for the state to provide child care than to actually acknowledge that the people who are surviving under very difficult circumstances and are, in fact, already addressing the childcare needs in informal ways. The question should instead be about how we can assist people so that they can survive more efficiently and have a better quality of life […] from those initial methods of survival to something that’s expressed on a higher level of organization or composition. So I would argue that it’s a fundamentally different thing to demand that the state provide child care than to organize child care collectives or take existing survival methods of child care and further organize them to a higher level and then make the state pay for it. Those are not the same thing. The first is how the left behaves regularly, leading to chagrin and failure. The second is the road that is not regularly taken, to see the existing forms of self-activity and everyday resistance as the real core of effective organizing.

I’m interested in how we further struggles, how we circulate struggles, and how we understand how particular communities are surviving. Even under the horrible fucking conditions of the capitalist state and the massive deprivation of resources. So we need to understand that and to then internalize what those communities’ needs and desires actually are. Maybe they need and desire revolutionary organization or maybe they need a “survival pending revolution” programs. Who are we to decide ahead of time? Where do our needs to reproduce ourselves connect the needs for other people to reproduce themselves […] for education, for housing, for childcare, and other necessities. We also need to put the reproduction of our movements and the self-reproduction of the class on our political agenda. Those are two important questions.

 

 

AFN: How do you think the concept of “everyday resistance” applied to antifascist struggle?

 

KVM: I think these new antifascist formations must connect to the self-activity of the working class, and then we hear of projects like Redneck Revolt or the Bastards Motorcycle Club that argue just this. These things actually are emerging out of existing working class formations and new working-class organizations are forming. These new antifascist projects are coming out of some existing social sphere, so the question is what that sphere is. What things are taking place in our communities that could provide new approaches?

These antifascist groups are also going to have to address their own self-reproduction of their members and their own survival. If that is slush funds for legal counsel, if that is safe houses for organizers and marginalized people, if that’s creating infrastructure, those are all important. One of the lessons I learned from the “Green Scare” is the density and strength of social relationships among the thousands brought to revolutionary activities, and then the movements relationship to the larger community, is vitally important.  Because you want the larger community to come to the defense of antifascist forces when they’re under attack, you need that connection.  It’s one thing for someone to say they support person “X” because they’re an antifascist. It’s a totally other thing for them to say they support a particular individual, a member of their community that they know intimately. That is a different kind of social relationship. We’re going to have to consider those and I think what’s exciting about the new formulations that are coming out, like Redneck Revolt, is that they are coming out of a different social relationship and community than we often have had in the past.

I mean we have to ask ourselves what else is coming out of that community. What kind of working class needs and desires are being expressed in other ways that might not be antifascist, but are still critically important.  Something simply like “survival pending revolution” programs, these could be educational projects or workplace organizing, it could be a referral service for collective houses. All kinds of projects that meet the needs of that community. Antifascist work is just one of those needs, but not the whole need. The mistake would be to only look at what’s coming out of antifascist activity and not all the needs and projects that are emerging.  Other things are coming out to they might not be expressed yet, that aren’t fully formed, but still will be where the needs, activity, and consciousness of the class is at.

 

AFN: How do you think the broad resistance to Trump and Trumpism plays out in this context?

 

KVM: I think that’s also dangerous because that’s focusing on an abstract enemy instead of the kinds of struggles that are actually taking place.

 

We have rising rent in a lot of places. We have the eroding structure of the welfare state. People are surviving in some way, and we don’t really know what that looks like.   How do we connect the needs with the projects people are creating to survive so we can further develop alternatives to capitalism? Community gardens, alternative schools, or other projects people create to just survive. And I think we need to ask some of these larger questions.

Also, and this is more theoretical, but in fact the desire to liberate and the desire to oppress are, in fact, the same desire. We have this terrible idea that “fascist bad,” “lefties good.” But there are fascistic desires that exist that circulate. For example, the anti-Semitism currently being expressed by certain sectors of the left is a fascistic desire. Anti-trans politics (i.e. TERFs) by certain sectors of the left is a fascistic desire.  It’s a desire to oppress and I think what we need to ask ourselves how is the desire to liberate and the desire to oppress emerging and formulated in such a way to create different kinds of power relationships and organizational forms. I think we have to constantly ask ourselves where the desire to repress is coming from and how it is manifesting.

 

Insurrection Starts at Home: Kevin Van Meter on Everyday Resistance [VIDEO]

All revolutions start as the basic refusal of an oppressed person to follow along with the rules of their own subservience.  The autonomous Marxist tradition breaks from many understanding of economics and history to say that it is what it calls “Working Class Self-Activity” that brings about crisis.  In 2007-8 we saw an economic collapse not just because of the nefarious actors on Wall Street, but because an entire working class decided to refuse to go along with the destruction of real wages and living standards.  Through de-industrialization, attacks on labor unions, and the depletion of the social safety net through neoliberalism, the actual wealth of the collective working class was set ablaze.  Debt soared, and workers began to, en masse, take out loans they couldn’t pay back, buy houses they couldn’t afford, and run up credit cards they didn’t care to pay off.  They refused to play by the rules of the system that was forcing them into economic and social retreat.

That principle has echoed through history.  The crisis of the Civil War came after decades of increasing slave revolts.  The similar principle can be seen in peasant revolts across the world, the story of the labor movement and its insurgent actors, and the student uprisings starting in the 1960s.

Kevin Van Meter dives deep into this phenomenon, which he calls “everyday resistance.”  This is the kind of resistance that happens no matter if someone is attuned to revolutionary class politics or not.  It is the kind of resistance that comes as an act of survival.  Stealing from work.  Clocking in your friend who is late.  Creating mutual aid networks to care for kids.  Fighting back against abusive husbands.  These are all acts of resistance, and they are, as Van Meter asserts, the foundation of all radical and revolutionary politics.

The question here is how to mobilize this everyday resistance into a fully formed mass movement, and how antifascism and the resistance to Trumpism can build on the instinct towards survival.

The below talk was given at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.

Pick up Guerillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible (AK Press)

Tendencies of Trumpocalypse

By Jeff Shantz

The rise of Trump and more importantly the far Right movements around him raise some questions about the nature of the Trumpocalypse (and its relation to Right populism or more to the point to fascism). The question is now being asked whether or not it is true that there is fascism of some sort in the US at the present time. While not providing a firm answer on that question there are some initial tendencies or shaping features that are suggestive and should be addressed. These are outlines of Trumpocalypse rather than hard and fast conclusions.

Fascism refers to a unique and most extreme form of bourgeois rule. This is so because under fascism the bourgeoisie gives up some of its control to shock troops and loses its customary hold over the mechanisms of liberal democracy. Big capital desires fascism to do its dirty work for it and fascism becomes a tool of big capital. Finance capital through fascism gathers all the organs and institutions of the state. Schools, press, municipalities. Not only the executive. Workers groups are crushed. At its heart fascism is an armed movement that uses extreme violence against the Left.

Some suggest that populism is a more useful term than fascism right now. Yet there are problems with the use of populism to describe the far Right movements today. Centrist notions of populism equate Left and Right. Both are lumped together as non-liberal, against trade, etc., and therefore both are bad. In this way the centrist notions of populism are similar to earlier versions of totalitarianism analysis, as in the work of Hannah Arendt, for example. FDR was referred to as a fascist by some communists. While at the same time Hitler was called a passing phenomenon—to be followed in turn by a victorious proletarian revolution.

At the same time there is a Trumpism—against urbanism, rationalism, metropolitanism. It is a proto-fascist movement. It is about a dynamic. The proposed “purification” of society. A new anthropology—creating the human anew (as in fascism).

Of some importance, there is a tendency to underestimate the movements of contemporary brownshirts in the US. Some commentators might still assume that real fascists in the US live in bunkers in the desert and are merely odd survivalists. But that is a dangerous misreading of current movements. It is an analysis from the 1990s. Fascists today, and this is one thing that can be said about the Trump campaign, have come above ground.

 

Trump and Brownshirt Infrastructure

Trump represents the construction wing of Wall Street. He will oversee a regime of infrastructure building particularly of Brownshirt infrastructure. That is infrastructure of repression such as prisons, policing infrastructure. His will be a regime of building as his campaign expressed—build a wall; build prisons; build detention centers. He will provide help to banks and he will provide help to construction industries.

Trump will build his base and reward it through Brownshirt infrastructure and physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports). This will help the Midwest and the Rust Belt and shore up his base in those areas. That means it will reinforce the white nationalist base and white nationalist rhetoric.

Tax holidays for corporations to repatriate wealth. If taxed at one percent it could be used to fund Brownshirt infrastructure. Funding would be through banks and government would secure the loans. This will be a state assisted accumulation of capital.

 ***

Trump represents warmed over Reaganomics. His plan is the dream of investment bankers. The DNC will carry out his agenda as it benefits Wall Street. There will be a battle in the DNC over the nature of support for Wall Street. They will do so around infrastructures spending and a child care tax.

The Democrats will align with Trump. Sanders, Warren, Chuck Schumer, and the AFL-CIO have all said they could work with Trump. They will hope to gain some credit for some policy decisions. Yet this will only reify Trump as the dealmaker who gets stuff done and can work with anyone (on his terms) as he has said throughout his campaign. There will be no benefit accruing to Democrats for doing this.

This raises the need for organizing within the infrastructure industries. At present too many unions in those industries are crass business unions with less than progressive practices.

Contemporary far Right populism, Trumpism, in the US, is something of a coalition of the one percent with people of all classes who are outcast (dislocated from the social system at all levels), declasse (particularly, of course, among white American males). People supporting Trump are not the most downtrodden, not the classic lumpenproletariat, as is often assumed. They are instead the ones who fear losing their assumed place in the social structure, those who fear precarious status and economic decline (the much talked about loss of the middle class).

 

Context

Fascism comes to power when the Left has abdicated its role and responsibility. That is when it is not fighting fascism directly in the streets or when it has not carried through a revolution in the making. Today’s far right operates in a different context and has a different intent.

In Europe and Latin America there are right populist movements. There are fascist organizations, but they are small and few in number. Furthermore, they have no significant connection to either capital or state power. Big capital is not significantly supporting the fascist groups. The main purpose of the current far right is anti-globalism. But big capital wants globalism. Social phobias find a home in the parties of the far right—nationalism, not globalism.

The one percent (particularly building capital) has little interest in populism. It wants migration, for example, in order to keep wages down and increase completion on the labor market. Indeed, many of the voices for the movement of refugees come from neoliberal capital rather than the broad Left.

Historic fascism emerged in face of an imploding world market. Some might suggest that there is no need of fascism for capital since there is no Left working class movement and no imploding world market.

Yet one can see hints of an answer in current social struggles, particularly over extreme energy. As one instructive example we might look to the militarization of police at Standing Rock. Some mobilization against extractives. Is this being used as an impetus for capital to mobilize fascism in the present period? The militarization has already happened in Canada. As the stakes get higher this militarization will increase. It has not yet developed in the form of Right wing mobilization of civilian gangs to attack Indigenous peoples defending their lands. But there are isolated individual instances that suggest it could.

 

When Reform Fails

Far Right populism is what you get when social reform or social democracy fails. Today there are not significant working class movements of the Left in the US. Right wing populism thrives where the Left has failed. There have been mass movements representing refutation of elites and neoliberalism recently. Arab Spring, Indignados, Occupy Wall Street represent examples. There has been, since the decline of these movements, a hard swing to the Right. This is represented in Trump, Modi, UKIP, and the Front National in France, etc. In the current context the far Right has taken up the challenge that the Left has failed to meet.

The Left has abandoned even its bread and butter “wheelhouse” issues. There is virtually no Left movement against global trade agreements anymore. While there has been some spoken opposition against CETA and the TPP there is no semblance of the public mobilizations that challenged NAFTA in the 1980s and early 1990s and the WTO in Seattle in 1999 or the FTAA in Quebec City in 2001. There has been no large scale movement against any of the smaller agreements passed over the last few years either. And that is at the level of manifestations, not at the level of organization in workplaces and neighborhoods.

And this has been an organizational challenge. The Left in the West has built very little in the way of real world, material infrastructures of sustenance and resistance. Unfortunately the far Right has moved in to occupy this abandoned territory. Megachurches gave a center to sprawling suburbs. They provided community life. The Left used to do this but does not anymore.

Unions are business unions and there is no contestatory ideology. They offer service for workers for pay. They organize over contracts and grievances. It is a commodified form of unionism. There is nothing that makes mainstream unions inherently working class, let alone radical working class. Organized labor has become a form of clientalism. Organized labor does not organize labor. It is focused on contract negotiations. There are some public campaigns on issues like education. There are some “get out the vote” efforts.

 

Neoliberal Populism Today

The present period is perhaps closer to the 1970s period of neoliberal populism. The Left in the 1970s was marked by three different tendencies. First was welfare state social democracy. Second was the advocacy of class conflict. Third was the denial of class (post-modernism).

Neoliberalism impelled a shift from understandings of classes to notions of taxpayers versus elites. Corrupt elites were understood not as capital and politicians but as state bureaucrats and unions within neoliberal frameworks. Individual liberation was viewed as everything. The aim of neoliberal populism was identified as getting welfare state and union bosses off your back, not capital. This would supposedly allow anyone to win in the market game. These were staple views espoused by Reagan and Thatcher.

After some years of course the realization grew that the market game produced mostly losers. And these losers were working class. By the time this realization set in for broad cross-sections of people there was no likelihood of getting back the welfare state that neoliberals had transformed (into a carceral or workfare state). Capitalist globalization circumvented and destroyed unions.

Now neoliberalism is unpopular and the welfare state is not on offer. The Left cannot deliver on hopes for a return to the welfare state. Right wing populism emerges keeping at its center the rugged individualism of neoliberal populism. But now it has also to focus on bailed out bankers and big capital. It must focus on corporate welfare as well as social welfare as its motivating social ills. But, not surprisingly, Right wing populism gives less focus to corporate welfare. Indeed, for Right wing populists many of their leaders are part of the establishment.

Neoliberalism has made the irrationality of supporting capitalism (a planet destroying system) seem to be the only possibility on the planet. Right wing populism has been ramping up a counter-revolution in culture. It is a cultural counter-revolution rather than an economic counter-revolution.

The Democratic Party claims that they can be and will be better managers of neoliberal capitalism. They claim to be more efficient and thus will be able to manage more tax money to put into some, limited range of, social programs. They also claim a more diverse base of interests in their representative politics. The Democratic Party since 2008 has, despite the hopeful rhetoric, been pro-Wall Street and pro-war as, indeed, it has always been. They offer nothing to the working class, even in the Sanders wing.

 

In Response

Fascism always needs to be fought directly, not argued with. You cannot fight power unless you build power. There is a need for organizing infrastructures of sustenance and resistance. Syndicalist organizing and a militant approach to challenging structures of ownership and control are crucial. On the one hand there will be a need to organize against development capital. On the other green syndicalist approaches can connect struggles over extreme energy and extractives.

It might be recognized that organizers have to engage with some Trump voters (some, not by any means all). Not doing so is to replay the elitism of Hillary Clinton. At the same time, and crucially, organizers have to support and defend the main targets of Right wing populism. There is a pressing need to find the common ground there.

There are real questions about how to provoke progressive politics in the US. One necessity is to refocus on locally based struggles and work to share them and their lessons internationally.

Some have suggested a Left Tea Party. This is a futile hope. There is no Left equivalent of the Kochs and Coors who build up Right wing infrastructures. The Left cannot have a Left version of the Tea Party. The Left has no real organizational form or movement like the Tea Party. The Tea Party was a real movement, it was not strictly Astroturf. There is no equivalent on the Left.

One approach is to think of organizing space. Especially in the cities. Trumpism is a war against the cities. It is a war against diversity. It is a war against metropolitanism. Cities are refuges of migrants, queers, women, unions, the Left. Cities are also a concrete space. Imagined communities do not exist the way cities do. There could be a broad based strategy focused on cities.

Cities are controlled by real estate developers. Thus struggles confront the Trump wing of builders and real estate capital. Cities are huge bases of support and opposition. They are large economies. There is a need to organize city by city. At the same time it is a historical fault of the Left not organizing the working class in the suburbs. Suburbs are the areas of the working class. Yet the Left organizes downtown in the city center.

Finally something must be said about the anti-Trump protests. The Republican Party wants to pose the working class as white reactionaries. Anti-Trump protests are working class protests. The diversity of the working class. A working class revolt against Trump. These manifestations are already posing questions of organization (beyond street manifestations) anew.

 Originally published in the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, Issue # 69 

 

A Community United: Reportback and Video from Portland Clash Between the Alt Right and Anti-Fascists

The image across Southwest Madison Street in Downtown Portland, Oregon, was reminiscent of naval warfare, of two opposing camps hurling across a blocked divide.  Inside of the federally-regulated Terry Schrunk Plaza an Alt Right “Free Speech” rally was swelling while the community was descending against it on all sides, amassing its most militant faction in the park directly across the street.  A line of riot police backed by federal officers from the Department of Homeland Security kept the groups apart, at least in principle until individuals decided to bridge the gap to antagonize the other.  Attendees from the “right-wing” side came over to blast protesters, instigating fights that were met immediately by hundreds who had come there to respond to the culture of racist violence that had left the city shuttering over recent weeks.  There was anger, but it made sense for what had transpired and the brazenness of the Alt Right and “patriot” groups who were gloating in their amphitheater.

Free Speech?

The idea of a “Free Speech” event held in a public park with a dais lined with minor far-right celebrities has been a new concept since Lauren Southern led the stage in Berkeley, California on April 15th.  Following the months earlier response to Alt Right provocateur Milo Yiannoupouls at Berkeley and the cancellation of anti-immigrant antagonist Anne Coulter, Southern led commentators from AltRight.com and Kyle Chapman, a man made famous for showing up at a previous Bay Area event to attack anti-fascist protesters.

While their branding is one about open access to speech and their rhetoric is traditional Trumpian fare, their driving element is an opposition to the growing anti-fascist mass movement.  This phenomenon has been labeled “independent Trumpism” by anti-fascist writer Spencer Sunshine, taking the Trumpist cultural space outside of the official bounds of the GOP and creating a tacit coalition of the Alt Right, the militia movement, some areas of evangelicals, hard right rural people, and the anti-PC trolling crowd into a violent opposition to the left.  Labeling all opposition as Antifa, which is a more militant organizational praxis used to confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists directly, they have created unity in their own ranks in opposition to the organized resistance they are seeing in cities around the country.  From open Alt Right white nationalist organizations to patriot militias, their direct repression is not coming from state actors, but instead community organizations across the left spectrum that have seen the threat they present as Trump rose to power.  Now that resistance has given them a targeted enemy to vilify, and these events are designed to draw out that opposition so that they can stage attacks.

In Portland, they knew the opposition would be massive given the palatable community rage about what had recently transpired.  In a racist attack, Jeremy Christian, a local man with white supremacist roots, killed two men and injured one other who were intervening on his treatment of Muslim women on public transportation.  Christian was known to frequent these “Free Speech” events, including the one organized by Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson.  After the attacks, the community banded together, supporting the families of the victims and holding vigils at the attack site, yet an upcoming Alt Right “Free Speech” rally was planned.  While Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler tried to get the federal government to intervene and cancel the rally, he failed to do so, and instead hundreds of community organizations, churches, political projects, and labor unions got ready to stand up to their presence.

On the Ground

What resulted is a window into the multiple minds of a left opposition, both in contradiction with each other and congruent in varied approaches.  To the west was a “Stop Hate” rally organized by various socialist parties looking for an alternative to direct engagement with the right, vying for chants, speakers, and banners in a unified block.  In front of the federal building to the east of the “Free Speech” rally was a block of labor activists, headed by building trade union rank-and-file members including the Carpenters Local 1503, Iron Workers Local 29, AFT-Oregon, IUPAT Local 10, and IATSE Local 28.  This solid block of chants was a rhetorical alternative to the “working class” lingo that the patriot militias, particularly the Oath Keepers and III%ers from rural counties of the state, were attempting to capitalize.  To the North, and closest in to the right-wing convergence, was the more militant action, called for by Rose City Antifa and the Pacific Northwest Anti-Fascist Workers Collective, and amassing the largest group of people.  In unison, the three events compressed Terry Schrunk, creating a horseshoe of vocal opposition.  While the “Free Speech” rally pulled in almost three hundred, the anti-fascist collection brought in more than 3,000.

While their rally did not begin until 2:00pm, many were in the park by 10:00am getting set up.  Coordinating with a security detail calling themselves The Guardians, a group of mostly patriot militia members brandishing well-worn insignia patrolled the area, pushing through bushes in an attempt to reveal hiding protesters.  They were then flooded with an influx of participants, including large out-of-state contingents.  This included Proud Boys, part of the Alt Light configuration formed by Vice co-founder Gavin Mcinnis, who are “Western Civilization chauvinist.”  While most were white, and often dressed as skinheads, there were a few Proud Boys of color, all of which who were open about their Eurocentrism, anti-immigrant anger, and pro-market perspective.  The security teams met with the police and then worked in concert with them, including assisting with arrests in one controversial move.  They were even allowed to bring in a crate of riot helmets; all allowed by Department of Homeland Security Agents.  Members of the white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party were there with “Diversity = White Genocide” signs.  Members of the National Socialist Movement moved throughout the crowd, though didn’t identify themselves.  They were only singled out by anti-fascist doxxing previously that revealed their affiliations.  This was not surprising given the large collection of racist signs, such as suggesting Black Lives Matter were violent terrorists.

The event was headlined by “Based Stickman,” Kyle Chapman, and Baked Alaska, the Alt Right YouTube phenomenon who livestreamed on his own face the entire time he was there.  In between baiting the counter-protesters, yelling about “throwing communists from helicopters,” and labeling all of the press as “fake news” or “ISIS,” he acted like a scene celebrity, talking down to those who approached him.  Chapman was more open, giving interviews and asserting that he was a firm “American Nationalist.”  They set the tone for the event, where the purpose was to mock and fight the left.  Dozens came in pads and helmets, often with shields, ready to attack the left.  Kek flags were flown or used as capes, as well as Pepe signs held under MAGA hats.  The goal was less a conscious political event and more of a spectacle, an antagonism to the community that has already suffered so much.

Their tokenism was on full display, where a Samoan member of The Guardians was invited to do a “warrior dance” in the beginning and they included a trans-woman as one of their first speakers.  She proceeded to take the Chinese flag, spit and step on it, and then said that all the mayor cares about is “communists and criminal illegals.”  She was celebrated for her past “special forces” training that she used to attack leftist protesters in Berkeley.

As the crowds swelled, the police mobilized to block interaction, making it next to impossible to move between the crowds.  Those that moved into the streets were identified and tackled, mostly being on the side of the opposition.  Based Spartan, a cartoonish buffoon who dresses like a sword-and-sandal warrior got into fights with their own security, demanding that they stop “suppressing his free speech” by asking him not to stand on the sidewalk.

Eventually the police declared the assembly adjacent to the “Free Speech” rally canceled, saying that illegal activity took place.  This included claims that bricks were taken off of bathroom facilities and thrown at the cops, yet this was unseen in photographs or videos and a reporter from KBOO radio went to the facility and found that no bricks were missing.  The police then fired off rubber bullets and concussion grenades into the crowd, topped off by tear-gas canisters.  After blockades were set up by protesters, they eventually headed into the streets of Portland in a large march.  Police responded by violently kettling protesters and reporters, attacking many and arresting almost twenty.  The Alt Right crowd shrunk, but those that remained taunted the leftists as the police engaged.

The police action did not define the day, the community response did.  What the police’s response indicates, more than anything, is that there is an ongoing antagonism between the police and Portland protesters, and that a culture of violence is permeating between the departments in how they handle dissent.  No matter what the police’s response was, the community was united and has built a base that can further feed anti-fascist organizing.

When the Riot Cops Attack: Repression and Solidarity in Portland’s May Day

By Black Rose – Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation – Portland

Events like May Day are a temperature check for the collective hive mind of the left reflecting on the year behind them.  Because it is a tradition that skates back more than a hundred years, it rarely stands out as the most pressing of days, mainly because it is part of a regular organizing cycle.  Good years or bad losses, May Day comes on the same day.

In Portland, Oregon, it was the obvious confluences of forces, the ongoing revolt happening in Trump’s America, that helped to ignite the substantial growth around its activities.  How the Portland May Day Coalition planned for this year’s event was largely based around the practical work of the groups involved, how it tied into the ongoing projects of the component organizations.  The Portland Committee for the Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP) held an earlier event in the day along with the Brown Berets and Gabriella outlining the JustPeacePH project, supporting the peace talks currently happening between the Government Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the People’s Democratic Government of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).  They were then leading the anti-imperialist contingent in the following march, linking together the struggles against colonialism in the Global South and the increased victimization of Latinx immigrants from the Southern U.S. border and the long-standing history of workplace organizing that May Day signifies.

The Burgerville Workers Union was celebrating the anniversary of its break-out campaign, one that went public in multiple shops a year ago, bringing with it one of the most dynamic and persistent struggles seen from a direct union shop in the Pacific Northwest.  The showing from organized labor was large, as it usually is, and there was a clear openness to the growing linkages between social movements as the possibility of nationwide Right-to-Work and the further erosion of state programs lends urgency to an already dire attack on working people.

You wouldn’t hear about any of this, however, because what came next was a full-frontal assault on the long-planned event, its organizers, and their neighbors.

From the march of almost a thousand people through the streets of the Southwest Downtown district came the militarized invasion of hundreds of police, letting loose with explosive weaponry and laying siege on a crowd comprised of families, people with disabilities, and many raising their voices for the first time.  From many photos from that afternoon it is hard to see what happened, a haze that filled the gap between skyscrapers from the canisters of “tear gas” that were fired with only seconds in between.  When the police forcefully rushed the crowd, which had already formally dispersed, they began a frightful chase through the streets of the commercial and financial territories.  It would be obtuse to point out that the narrative that the police offered, which began even before the actual force was felt as they took to Twitter to premeditate the media stories, was dishonest.  Instead, it showed a clear set of priorities, ones that double back on several decades of crowd control, ones that had evolved to avoid the kind of escalation that was doubled down on here.

 

The Cop in Our Heads

In Mike King’s recent treatise on the repression of Occupy Oakland, When Riot Cops Are Not Enough: The Policing and Repression of Occupy Oakland (Rutgers University Press, 2017), he reflects on the way the repressive police measures evolved nationally to the more complex web they have today.  During the wave of confrontations starting the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and the urban uprisings that rocked urban areas in the 1960s, police used heavy handed dispersal tactics that were aggressive to forcefully put down that unrest.  While some would argue they are tame by today’s standards, they were an outgrowth of the institutionalized white supremacy that was holding on for dear life.  Starting in the 1970s, police entered a new phase acknowledging that the “brute force” strategy they were employing was only escalating and mobilizing increased opposition, and it began radicalizing a generation of those injured in street fights.  They began systems of negotiation and compromise with protest movements, offering up permits for demonstrations.  This concept relied on the negotiating power of the state, and a large majority of American social movements have been brought in on these agreements, usually accepting some limitations in exchange for less direct police repression.  A permit is much easier than going through a mass crackdown on a simple street march, so why not?

The effect of this change was, by and large, for the police to transfer their authority of containment from the station to the protesters themselves, turning the organizations and leadership themselves into the acting agents of the state’s boundaries.  If protesters were given legal leeway, they would then police themselves, and it could even hold a few people in leadership roles accountable for the actions of participants.  This can and does have the effect of turning many in a project against other elements, where those engaging in certain tactics are necessarily blamed for putting others at risk, all outlined in the structures of the permitting system.  This created a structure that, when mixed with a moderated police presence, would both contain the social movements and make sure that the effective repression came without social backlash.  As the years went on and the war on drugs, gangs, and poor people broadly took shape, the structure of police engagements increased volatility across the board, until now the police that surround broad-based political rallies look liked they are armed to “liberate” Fallujah.

Since centrist Democrat Ted Wheeler took the reigns of the Portland Mayor’s office, he has made the decisive move to crack down on the growing discontent in the city.  The election of Trump, the organized resistance to gentrification and displacement from housing organizations, and the reaction to ongoing police killings of black and brown “suspects” has led to a climate of resistance that is growing exponentially.  This hit a fever pitch in the days after the election where thousands flooded the streets, blocking every major highway and shutting down businesses.  The direct action taken by some protesters, amounting to broken windows and other property destruction, was not out of bounds for the city’s history, nor was it maliciously interpersonal as the police department persisted.  Nonetheless, the police, under oversight from the mayor’s office, went after suspects aggressively, charging some with compounded multiple felonies in stacked cases that shocked even the most jaded activists.  In one case, a protester is facing upwards of thirty-months in prison for some broken car and bank windows, using riot charges to compound the offense and turn it into a veritable “anarchist scare.”  In another, they tried to charge different broken windows as separate offenses so as to make the case eligible for a state statute that allows excessive sentencing if the acts of property destruction are seen as separate incidents.

Wheeler’s actual approach seems to be done within an amnesia of institutional memory, the lack of a known history.  “Little Beirut,” as Portland was named in the 1990s by George H.W. Bush, has always had a long history of militant street protests and projects, from the Earth First! and ELF campaigns of the 1990s to the more recent Black Lives Matter insurgencies.  For Wheeler to lean on the side of aggressive policing, especially in situations where the police appear as the clear instigators, he is acting without a clear understanding of the role of police in the escalation of confrontation.  The police were not there to quell unrest, they were the foundations of that unrest, and their presence, violent victimization of protesters, and unwillingness to even own up to their own “let them police themselves” idea has ended the specter of the police as an institution of “public safety.”

What they destroyed with their flash grenades was the police in the protester’s head, not the willingness of protest movements to take the streets.

 

So what happened?

Twenty minutes into the march on its negotiated route,  as they went down 2nd Ave, the police summarily announced that the “permit for this march has now been revoked.”  This mid-march revocation is a new concept for the city, one more step in the extra normality the events took.  This decision was allegedly because a window at the Federal Courthouse had been cracked and some in the Black Bloc had thrown Pepsis at the riot cops that were encroaching on the route, a reference to the disastrous recent Pepsi ad with Caitlin Jenner and the “peace” brought by handing the police soda.  Apparently, that doesn’t work in real life.

While some will see even that as an escalation, it comes after the police honed in on the rally park beforehand, confiscating mundane objects like flag poles and surrounding march attendants, often destroying materials.  The conception of the permitted march as one that would be free of police intervention seemed dashed quickly, so the impetus to follow the narrowing constraints was compromised.

Within a few minutes of the first notifications an order of dispersal came that, because of their position at the back of the march, only a few people could hear.  Many of the families, younger children, people with disabilities and special needs, and others were towards the front.  The first they heard of this dispersal was when flash grenades started indiscriminately flying into the crowd.  Dozens flowed in violent bursts in the next few minutes as protest goers frantically tried to figure out just what was happening.  Security volunteers were ushering people to safety, yet there seemed to be no safe spot as flash grenades were going off in every corner and there was literally no sidewalk area that people could crowd into in compliance.  Legal observers from the ACLU tried to document this in flurried rushes, but as full tear gas canisters began flowing into the streets, there was mass confusion, especially as people were collapsing, struggling to breathe in the chemical cloud.

The response from the Black Bloc came in kind, with debris being lit on fire in the area between the cops and the protesters, the windows being busted out at a Target location, and a police SUV vandalized.  The police chased protesters around the city, bum rushing crowds with dozens of officers in formation, attacking those that appeared the most vulnerable.  Many noticed riot police prioritizing a houseless woman in the area, while others saw that anyone in marked attire, whether or not they were a part of the Black Bloc, was suspect.  By the time many arrived back at the park where the opening rally was the police were in tow behind, declaring that this was “now officially a riot,” and promising the use of projectile weaponry.

 

Unity Through Struggle

While there are often disagreements over tactics and strategy, the May Day Coalition immediately placed the blame on the police, both for instigating violence and propping up false allegations on their social media and PR outlets.

Today the Portland police chose to violently escalate a peaceful march. The people asserted their (lawful) right to be in the street and express solidarity with immigrants, with workers, with Indigenous sovereignty, and against capitalism. The Portland Police Bureau responded by

1) Forcibly removing the accessibility vehicle, which was present to allow those with mobility issues to participate and raise their voices

2) Fabricating stories about “Molotov cocktails” being thrown at them, which thousands of eyewitness reports will refute

3) Trying at every step of the way to force themselves into a crowd that very clearly did not want them there

4) Arbitrarily revoking the march permit and informing only the rear of the march, while the elderly, youth, and folks with mobility issues were at the front

There will be a lot of articles about “the march turning violent” but make no mistake, the PPB attacked a permitted march whose only goal was to keep moving along its planned route because some noisemakers and name-calling were enough of an excuse for them to use their large surplus of explosives and chemical weapons against those who had committed to rise, resist, and unite, against fascism and capitalism.

In general, the local media parroted the police as well as they could.  There was minor vandalism of the KOIN news truck while KGW did their best to turn the event into a veritable “car chase,” complete with their helicopter live-streaming the protest locations. The Portland Mercury, which leans a little to the left of the rest of the regional outlets, did a large spread of photos and videos, indicating that the police charged after very minor vandalism and even went after a press photographer.  Even in their photos you can see protesters flung to the ground as twenty-five were arrested, reporters being screamed at to walk away from their posts.

After the arrests were made and the streets cleared, mayor Wheeler eventually made a public statement echoing the kind of liberal non-committal signaling that many “progressive” Oregon politicians are known for.

In Portland we respect peaceful protest, but we do not and cannot support acts of violence and vandalism.  That’s not political speech. That’s crime… Last night was another chapter in a story that has become all too familiar in Portland: Protests that began peacefully but devolve quickly due to the actions of those whose only desire is to damage people and property.

This “tough on crime” rhetoric seems perfectly in line with the language of Trump’s administration, and it could be simply that Wheeler does not want to deal with what will likely be several years of escalating conflict as the austerity and white supremacist machinations of the political state unfold. He thinks that by demonizing protesters, using extreme acts of violence, and shifting the narrative, he will be able to create a ghost of fear in the collective left, and turn them in the direction of moderate parades like the Women’s March instead of the more militant formations.  The police have followed up with broad requests for information on protesters, and will likely do what they have done in the past: post pictures of people they are suspecting for different activities to try and get the community to turn them in.

This is not, however, the historical legacy of the city, nor the pattern that the growing revolutionary spirit has had over the past decade.  Instead, the truth is that this will not actually stop the organizations from participating in growing demonstrations, but instead show them that the middle ground provided by state actors offer little comfort.  Long-term movement building and organizing is what will actually create a force capable of resisting the mission of Trump and the profiteers in Portland, and even these kind of momentary showings of force from the police are not going to scare off those who have committed to confronting this terror.  As Trump attempts to rename this as Loyalty Day, and the Alt Right and white nationalists acted as the strong-arm of the police in many cities, the flung Pepsi cans seem to fade in importance.

On May 2nd, the organizers in PCHRP, the AAPRP, the Burgerville Workers Union, and all the other organizations and projects continued their work.  No matter how the police and mayor’s office intend on reframing this work, the projects themselves have a life that goes far beyond one repressed event.  The question is if the state will make it a priority to put down these social movements as the administration continue to speed to the right, and how we will respond.  This highlights why the movement against police violence is at the critical intersection of all other struggles, but also why we need to make this a collective fight with our arms firmly linked together.  The revolutionaries of the city are more unified than they were before the event, the realities of repression has a way of firming up alliances in defiance.  The opinions about the efficacy of the Black Bloc are diverse(and principled), but an understanding was forged clearly, and the sight of the Black Bloc defending protesters and acting with conscious unity has bridged a divide that, at times, seemed unresolvable.  Many in the Bloc brought in large Black Widow props, owing to the defensive actions that the spiders take in mutual aid and lending to the language of direct action.

When the grenades landed, we were seen as one large mass, all dangerous (though people of color and other marginalized identities took on a special focus from state actors).  Our fate is firmly in the hands of each other since, as has been the record, the only way we are to continue is if we find solidarity even in these moments of repression. If the state wants to instigate violence, then they will see our numbers grow, our resistance mount, and our spirit firm up into the vocalized rage.  The next time will be larger, permit or no permit.

Don’t Shoot PDX: Confronting Racist Police Violence

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We come to mark it on our calendar every year. It comes as the annual chance to bring issues together, meet and greet and have an action that is often more about getting re-energized than about getting something done. This has gotten many May Day actions locally criticized for taking a huge amount of time, energy, and money, yet not resulting in movements that are any stronger. However, the last two years have really started to buck this trend, with last year really drawing issues of immigration together with the high profile fight between the ILWU and United Grain. This year Portland joined with cities around the country in identifying an overarching theme that effectively dominated the messaging: Black Lives Matter.

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As groups gathered in the South Park Blocks there was a clear trend moving in that direction. $15Now had a large presence, which is drawing on the strength that they have had in the Northwest in recent months. The recent April 15th Fight for $15 action drew hundreds in Portland as $15Now, Jobs With Justice, SEIU and AAUP worked together to target the wage gap for workers in fast food, care working, and adjunct teaching. This messaging was continued, though Black Lives Matter was notably added to many signs and banners. They, along with Portland Jobs With Justice, made the largest labor showing, which is not unusual for a march that tends towards the more radical side of labor inclusion. Along the way there were many from Unite HERE Local 8, SEIU 49 and 503, AFSCME, Laborers’ and the Teamsters, though ILWU was notably absent. This is surprising after the announcement of ILWU’s May Day action in solidarity with Baltimore, as well as their huge contingent last year. The Carpenters and Painters unions, respectively, all brought notable contingents, as well as groups like the Portland Industrial Workers of the World, Portland Solidarity Network, and the VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project.

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The day began with a pre-march starting at Portland State University called by groups like the Student Organizing Committee, made up of students from multiple Portland area colleges, and Don’t Shoot PDX, marching in solidarity with Baltimore. Several hundred challenged the campus and took the streets in a large un-permitted march, galvanizing energy that they led back down to the May Day central meeting space. From here on the messaging continued towards targeting racist police violence, and it integrated that message into areas that this type of analysis is often absent. A large banner read “Labor Against Racist Police Murder” drew a strong line about where many in the local labor community stand, where the police union often tries to draw divisions in the AFL-CIO over this issue.

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The participation demographics also shifted further away from the sea of homogenous white faces that have often colored other actions. Folks of color, as well as organizations like the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party, shifted the conversation in a way that really indicts the institutional racism that is getting highlighted in these high-profile police killings. Throughout the march, which made many stops, detours, and splits, folks of color took the lead in showing direction and targeting purveyors of institutional violence.

“How many people must die in this system before we realize it was not built for us?” said Adrienne Cabouet, challenging the liberal notion that the institution of policing simply needs to be reformed.

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After the march took off, taking well over a thousand people to the streets, the first stop was to swarm the Justice Center, as speakers called out the trend, both nationally and regionally, to scapegoat communities of color and to act with violent fervor with complete impunity. The march then headed straight down to Burnside, the major road dividing Downtown Portland, and hit a right to take the bridge. This was when police made their first confrontation, lining up to block protesters. It was in moments like this that we have seen a clear change in the character of protests, where organizers and participants are much more willing to challenge the violence of the police. Instead of backing down, their voices were loud with chants and speak-outs that showed a real energy that stood against the officers. Quickly storm troopers in tactical gear showed up, and police began pepper spraying the crowd, clearly agitated that some people were peacefully using strong language. Instead of running, the crowd blocked the tear gas and sat down in defiance, proving that they controlled the situation and the streets.

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At this point the march split in two and one headed down the Naito Parkway, then up to Pioneer Courthouse Square. Here, street theater and chants targeted the racial aspects of Wells Fargo’s involvement in the private prison system. The downtown Wells Fargo branch shut down as protesters did a mock “slave auction,” and a banner was displayed reading “Felon is the New Name for N*****.” After a convergence in the square where speakers discussed the personal ways that police violence has brought fear into their families, the march re-engaged the streets in an unpermitted action. It was here the police openly used flash-grenades and pepper gas, hitting several protesters that had to be carried out. The police demanded the streets cleared, which had almost no response. Burnside Bridge remained a target, getting shut down as protesters continued to push.

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What we saw for the 2015 May Day is a notable shift towards militancy, really brought about by the escalations in state violence. While all of these issues are clearly related, as economic inequality and racism are scourges of social hierarchy, the blood that is soaking our streets brings us to a place of urgency. This was felt in spades around every movement represented there. Cultural and ethnic groups were standing alongside the various community organizations. Groups like the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Movimiento Estudianti Chicano de Astlan, as well as a coalition project made up of groups like the AARP and BLMPDX declaring “Solidarity Against State Violence and U.S. Imperialism.” This is a strong turn where by the idea of organizing has pushed out of its usual circles and into those that have often stayed on the periphery. Now it is necessary.   Now it has to happen.

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Another notable addition was the increase in the presence of housing groups. Beyond the Portland Solidarity Network discussing its tenant support campaigns, there were representative organizations from the Right to the City Coalition and the Western Regional Advocacy Project. Right to the City is looking towards focusing on progressive candidates for local office in 2016 and WRAP has been focused on the Homeless Bill of Rights, but both show a trend returning housing justice to the forefront of organizing circles. Much of this may be coming from the beginning Renter’s Assemblies, which have been having a huge recent success in Portland and around the country. It also is likely coming from Socialist Alternative’s push to follow $15Now with a focus on rent control, which is the pattern they showed in Seattle. Either way, this return to the targeting of housing issues is critically important as Portland’s livability rapidly declines with rising rents, and a new housing crisis could be close on the horizon. PDXSol was specifically discussing a project on the outer eastside of Portland, where they have been working with tenants who have been pushed out of the center of the city by rising rents and gentrification.

Black Lives Matter is a movement that is changing the shape of organizing. This kind of mobilization towards inclusivity and against the institutional racist violence that is ever present is an incredible development. As Freddie Gray’s killers have been indicted, let’s hope this only mobilizes folks to take on the police in further escalations. It is through the collective action of the people that we can transform systems, and create a community that can use systems of transformative justice rather than state violence to drive safety. What we are also seeing is that movements are again using annual mobilizations like May Day to push existing social movements, which is the perfect way to utilize a mass grouping that already exists. In 2014 ILWU drew a breakaway to confront United Grain, but this year it was more than a dozen groups who were all converging on a single theme: end racist violence. In this way it was several parallel and converging movements not just tapping into the existing thrust of May Day, but completely taking it over. And in this situation, that is the best thing that could have happened.

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