Marxist philosopher, Walter Benjamin once wrote, “The 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism.”
Indeed this history of oppression, this history of states of emergency used to justify brutality and this history of struggle against armed fascist thugs is still being written as we speak. One week ago, workers, students and faculty across the state of California marched their way onto the stage of this history.
[Left: the erection of barricades at UCSC Graduate Student Commons, indybaymedia]
Last week, at the G20 meeting of the world’s leading economic powers in Pittsburg, friends and comrades in this struggle against economic and political oppression were gassed. Our leaders who are terrified by our generation’s capacity for revolt gassed the demonstrators with chemical weapons developed during the two world wars. The same chemicals that America unleashed upon the Nazis were released just the other day upon young people marching through the streets of Pittsburgh.
[Below: Police suited up in riot gear for 9/24 G20 demonstrations in Pittsburgh]
Members of our generation were clubbed to a bloody pulp in the streets by riot cops hiding behind shields, helmets and masks.
But our generation is not so easily intimidated: as a matter of fact, the police and the people from whom they receive their orders are the cowards. Hundreds of demonstrators overturned dumpsters like the very one overturned outside the Graduate Student Commons at UCSC -- to build barricades to defend themselves in the streets of the working class Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville. For the first time in history , police frequently used high-frequency sound cannons -- a technology developed by our military industrial complex -- to assault American youth, who -- just like those in California -- were marching and chanting “who’s streets, our streets.”
[Below: sound cannon at 9/24 G20 Demo in Pittsburgh]
Those in California express solidarity with those at the G20 in Pittsburgh. We are all in this struggle together. As students of the University of California, we are beginning to see how resistance to economic oppression elsewhere is linked to our struggle over the future of public education here. The state of emergency in which we live is as much in California as it is in New York, in Texas as in Pittsburgh, in France as in China, in Lagos as in Detroit -- and the struggle over our collective future is happening around the world. This crisis is general, and our revolt must be generalized
The occupation at UCSC is not just an occupation of the space barricaded with chain link, locks and whatever else. The entire quarry plaza was occupied. Those up on the balcony were not “the occupation.” Everyone who used the space was the occupation. The idea is a sentiment that I am sure is shared by many people around the world who have written letters of solidarity: occupy everything we can take until we get what we want, which is everything. We want our future back. We want a better life. We want liberation from the terror of world financial markets and from the terror of the political forces propping them up. And the autonomous movements of various groups around the world will not stop until they get all of it.
The occupiers at UCSC are not the only ones who have built barricades. Those in power have been building them for years. The police are a barricade against the people’s use of the street. The supposedly democratic process of negotiating away our future is a barricade to freedom.
[To Left: graffiti message on the occupied building at UCSC.]
Make no mistake about it: Barricades are everywhere. They are as much barriers of the mind, prohibiting free thought, as they are the paranoid plan of power which attempts to co-ordinate the markets and destroy any and all opposition to them. Centuries of capitalism have convinced us these markets are “free.” On the contrary, the history of the oppressed has taught us the brutal price at which they are bought.
Barricades have become the preferred tactic for propping up the dominant political and military order. They stand as evidence that the “politics” on offer are, in reality, a war continued through other means. We live in a society that has built hydraulic barricades to protect the bankers and executives who barter away our dreams of the “good life” on Wall Street. We are bombarded daily with messages telling us to consume more, borrow more, and work harder. These messages are barricades to our freedom. The goal of escalating the state of emergency to something felt as "real" is to put an end to this system, which tells us we have no future except a slavery to this cycle of consumption, debt and war.
Appalling barricades have been built in Iraq. Our tax dollars built a network of concrete barricades to protect world leaders passing through the US-controlled Green Zone from the mutilated Iraqi youth still living in Sadr City. Robert Moses built urban barricades in New York -- much like the interstates, currently linking the suburban sprawl we call America -- which he called bridges and highways. Baron Haussmann rebuilt Paris with wide boulevards so that the people could not claim the city as their own with barricades. He inadvertently drew the architectural blueprint for political modernity.
[Below: On 9/24, students and barricades defend the door of the occupation of the GSC, indybaymedia]
The point is not to oppose the use of barricades. Indeed, they are essential for anyone seeking to liberate the spaces currently occupied by power. We are fortunate in that this very tactic of power can be reversed upon the ruling order by those who know how to use it. The tactic was first employed, the story goes, on the 12th of May 1588 when the citizens of Paris bound together wagons, timber and the heads of slaughtered pigs into a barricade against the army of a monarch. Barricades inherit the history of the Paris Commune. The occupations of late have studied the errors of 1968. The faces on either side of the barricades have changed with the progression of history; however, the naked struggle for the control of space and time remains.
What happens in a liberated place is ultimately decided by those who occupy it. The point is to be in the position to exercise this decision. This is why barricades must be generalized within the social order: so the demand for a free society is without contradiction.
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