When I think about the Black Lives Matter shutdown of the 405, my thoughts are scattered, and they’re all wrapped up in my personal anxieties. Here are some of those scatterings:
* I spent about 6 hours last night re-watching the NetRoots interruptions of O’Malley and Sanders and all the commentary surrounding it. (Holiday break boredom yay!) Almost 6 months have passed since then, and other than continuing a dialogue on the Left, and other than for the three weeks Bernie was talking a little more about structural racism… I don’t know if it did much else. Leftists were saying it was part of a strategic power analysis — you get the people on your side first — well…? Key point: I found very little other than progressives talking about it. Some of my Lefty union friends still haven’t heard about it. Fox News briefly mentioned it, but only in the context of Trump saying O’Malley was weak for apologizing. In fact — and I’ve watched all of it in full now — the rhetoric of O’Malley saying “white lives matter too” was fucked, but in substance he was calling for civilian review boards in every city with the resources to hire independent staff and the power to fire police, just like he did in Baltimore (how did no one talk about this?) — Sanders is into vague community policing — so if the point like the protesters said during their action is a revolutionary overthrow of the state, then I don’t know how many they recruited (you need a mass movement, I counted, maybe a dozen protesters were there), and if they want reforms like they said in interviews afterwards, then now with the long view — at the time Leftists were celebrating it — I don’t know if it did much to help create policy. Ultimately, the action didn’t do much.
* I was part of a blockade that cut a million dollar contract between UC Davis and US Bank. I helped organize a mass arrest sit-down that blocked traffic to a Walmart on Black Friday. I have been arrested so many times I’m not sure I know the accurate number. I have the mental wounds from police brutality and the scars to show for it. It is Privilege that allows me to have engaged in all this, and this is also true: something I’ve learned is that the sexiest actions are not always the most impactful. All the radical stuff I’ve participated in has helped transform the lives of those already on the Left — myself included — but trust me, no one else cares. Certainly no one else was transformed. How many people were transformed by the freeway shutdown? My suspicion is that it merely entrenched people’s already-formed opinions… When I talk with ordinary people/workers, and help build them up to withstand a crazy boss fight, help build them up to get over their fear of losing their livelihoods and their family’s security, these people/workers without any particular political leanings and who otherwise may not be life-changingly transformed, and they win their union — I can honestly say I am more proud of that. Many of these people continue fighting from there. In struggle we transform; in struggle we grow.
* The shutdown of the freeway is righteous. It is the morally right thing to do. Black lives matter. And black lives matter more than some people getting to see their loved ones for the holidays… so what’s next? If the goal is a revolutionary overthrow of the state, we are not going to grow to the critical numbers we need (that freeway shut down was, I saw, maybe a dozen people?) by shutting down a freeway. All those moments in history that we celebrate, those revolutionaries who shut shit down, and it led to meaningful results, that was because first they built a base of thousands, tens/hundreds of thousands, millions of people who wanted to fight. And if the goal of shutting down a freeway is reform, umm… what’s next?
* Revolutionary struggle doesn’t come from Leftists doing what they think is the right thing; it comes from Leftists having systematic conversations with the masses and building struggle centered on the masses and what they feel. Building up others, and not just Leftists, is what creates the movement.
* It is disingenuous to say that a dozen people represent an entire community without that community democratically electing them. Black thought, just like my own API community, is hella diverse. First you gotta organize that community, and you gotta grow a base.
* There’s a more contemporary postmodern thing of, not only are the masses oppressed, we are also oppressors — which is why we should shut down freeways just outside of Inglewood: to target even ordinary working people and get the message through. Get the people to pay attention. I understand it. I also feel like the dying art of community organizing — knocking on doors, having house meetings, social mapping, recruiting leaders, building lists, mobilizing, fucking the System — is just that: dying. Maybe we gotta do both. I’m frustrated that so much of the Left isn’t training itself on how to have conversations with ordinary working people. Saying stuff like “I made things awkward at the dinner table” or “I called that racist out” or “ugh I hate/am scared of people” doesn’t change anything. Like I said, all the sexy revolutionary stuff we admire in history was done in the context of a mass movement fucking the System.
* I’m not saying we shouldn’t shut down freeways. I have been a part of freeway shutdowns multiple times. I’ve even helped organize one. Just know that we are kidding ourselves if we think it does more than speak to the people already on the Left.