Claustrophobia collective, July 2001
[all quotes unless otherwise identified are from local members of Anti-Racist Action]
HOW FAST IT ALL BLOWS UP
"What's up everybody got some news for you from lovely sin city. We're sure everyone has heard the news about our glorious riot. Well here's some inside info for you. Let us start with a little history for you. 15 African American males have been murdered at the hands of the Cincinnati police department since 1995. Six of those murders have occurred since September. The murder of Timothy Thomas was simply the last straw. Timothy was a 19 year old who had a fiancé and a new baby girl. His only crime was a few traffic misdemeanors which included the horrible offense of driving without a seat belt. He also had numerous citations for driving without a license however on the police reports that was the only offense that was written up for why he was stopped. I ask how can a cop stop you for driving without a license they wouldn't know you didn't have a license until after they stopped you, driving while black maybe?
"The community of Over-The-Rhine (which is one of the most neglected areas in the city) has a long history of incidents of this nature. It is where the murder took place as well as the majority of the protest. Over the Rhine borders the downtown business district on the northern side. Over the past 15 years the people of the OTR community have been pushed farther and farther back to make room for trendy bars who sell $8 drinks to yuppies and $35,000 lofts for those business people who simply want to live downtown. The people of Cincinnati have plenty to be angry about.
"The shit finally hit the fan on Mon. April 9, 2001. We simply thought we was going to another boring old city council meeting, maybe this one would be a little rowdier since Timothy was just murdered, but my hopes weren't too high. Damn, was I wrong. City council was packed, people were flowing out into the hall and everyone was angry. We all wanted the same thing - ANSWERS!!! Why did this happen...again? But of course no answers were given. The idea was come upon to hold city council; until we got those answers, no one was to leave including and especially council. This idea was kind of crushed when news reached us inside that all of city hall was surrounded by cops in riot gear. Also no one had really prepared to stay there ahead of time and it just didn't seem to be an a effective tactic.
"The idea was brought up in the meeting that this was not over and that they were not satisfied with the cities lack of answers. A march to the police district one headquarters was the new idea. The march consisted of about 80 people primarily youth however there were a few hard-core old fogies as well. Once at district one the American flag was promptly taken down and re hung inverted to show a lack of respect for a racist classist city council and pig department. We then continued to the site of the heinous police murder. Chanting the NWA song Fuck the POLICE, we continued along picking up numbers as we moved, then we were joined by cars with low end bump blaring the crowds rage. After about two and a half hours of marching, we settled once again in front of District One blocking off both streets and occupying the median. Then came out the BLUNTS... for a giant block wide smoke in which the line of sixty riot cops were forced by numbers to overlook. It was good. The night wore on this way until about 12:15am when the crowd had thinned out enough that the cops felt like they could attack. They charged the people with their horses so of course everyone ran the opposite direction straight into an ambush of rubber bullets. Apparently there were swat cops hiding behind us just waiting. If they thought the people were pissed before...
"Tues. April 10, it was all over. We took our city back. The streets of downtown were filled with trash and glass, there were no more windows and every single newspaper box was laying in the street. It was an anarchists wet dream. Cars were rollin down the street (and sidewalk) bumpin with people covering them. The march made it's way to our fountain square (the very spot the klan puts their cross up every year). The cars were then driven up on fountain square and all the chairs were promptly thrown into the fountain. Everyone then proceeded to the stage area, lined up and threw up the power to the people fist. I know it sounds corny but it was mad powerful to be there. The march then retreated down an external storefront lined hallway that echoed the magnificent sound of shattering glass. The day continued in this fashion until darkness fell and then the city burned. How glorious."
The following day, as the protests got even rowdier, the white liberals stepped in with their "peace march" and press conference to try and reclaim the initiative. However, there was just too much energy to divert, or more likely, the organizers just had next to zero support in the communities that were keeping the protests alive. There was even an idea pushed by CHE (Citizens for a Humane Economy), the left-liberal group trying to take over the protests, to limit the press conference to WHITE speakers to be acceptable to liberal suburbanites, but the radical momentum of the protests made this impossible.
"That night shit got kind of heavy; the media had been pushing that this was a race riot even though it was not, we were on the streets every day with the people in the thick of the shit and all we got was hugs and support. However by Weds. night people were coming down that had not been there from the beginning believing it was a race riot so some people did get hurt. Out of all the violence that did occur throughout the whole riot 99.9% of it was done by the cops and .1% was by the people."
"I WANNA RIOT... A RIOT OF MY OWN"
The history we have here is only partial, and we're certainly not in the best position to write it. Our purpose is just to tie some of the threads of stories together concerning the cinci riots and draw out the lessons for those like us looking for a way to push the envelope during events like this. Riots are opportunities - not just for 'us', but for our enemies as well. They're opportunities for the police to take advantage of the fear and hysteria created by the disturbances and further militarize themselves, in the immediate instance and for the future. They're opportunities for white power groups to recruit in white working class and middle class neighborhoods. And they're also opportunities for all levels of reformers, bureaucrats, and other self-appointed saviors to grab the nearest soap box and tout their services to one and all.
The riots were a wake-up call; a clear sign of a desparate crisis situation in the ghetto and the near-total absence of believable leadership - whether revolutionary or cooptive - to avoid mass protests. There is nothing particularly unique about the people of Cincinnati, there are plenty of cities where police have killed, beaten, and tortured as many if not more people. Any city could have sparked protests just as easily, and if our observations are on point, several other cities may well see similar protests over the next few years. The word on the streets right away was talking about a "hot summer"; only time will tell but its a safe bet to try and be prepared for it in the months and years to come.
What we're trying to do here is bring together and contribute our thoughts to discussions that have been happening among our networks - predominantly white radicals organized around working-class centered anti-racist politics - about the possibilities for offering meaningful solidarity and support in a riot situation. Maybe the next time the black community throws up mass protests like this, we'll have thought things through and be in a position to support things better. We're hoping especially to reach people who find themselves in similar positions, but we welcome criticism or dialogue from any perspective.
WHY RIOT? WHY NOT? JUST DO IT
Over the last decade or so, the "zero tolerance" school of policing first introduced in Giuliani's NYC has spread to dozens of other cities, including Cincinnati. Police forces which have converted to the "New York model", along with the introduction of a new chief or FOP president trained in New York, emphasize tighter discipline in the ranks and an increased independence of the police as a political force in the city's politics. This means that police "partnerships" with social service agencies, drug treatment facilites, etc., are being neglected or dropped, states attorney's offices are being pressured to reorganize their priorities for prosecutions in line with police straegies, and that ghetto areas (especially those with real estate potentials) are targeted with relentless zero-tolerance pig saturation. Although this development came mainly from within the police force itself with support from city politicians, recent supporting state and federal initiatives, like Bush's plan to make all handgun charges federal crimes, are like the federal government's seal of approval.
The most obvious result of this program on street level is the increase in police/community confrontations. Nearly all the cities where the program has been introduced have seen an increase in police shootings of civilians. And while in earlier times killer cops were occasionally sacrificed to community outrage, the new police forces are refusing to break ranks on this issue. Rather, there are widely publicized prosecutions of 'corrupt' cops - the message being that the cops are 'dealing with their problems', so there should be no reason for community oversight. Cinci FOP head Keith Fangman's insistence that 'there are no rogue nazis on the Cincinnati police force' makes sense in this light: of course there are nazis, but when it comes to the day-to-day business of harassing and shooting black kids, they're not going it alone anymore. We've been studying what this has meant in Baltimore, and the analysis can be applied lots of other places as well.
The anti-cop sentiment in the ghetto has all kinds of roots, but for our purposes its easiest to understand it as the identifying mark of a more general struggle in the black community against the state's micro-management of everyday life. Just on a basic level, the degree which the state regulates every aspect of life today - from mandatory parenting classes and child-support enforcement to probation programs and workfare to uniformed cops in schools - is maybe unprecendented in recent memory and resistance to it is really just starting to move beyond the isolated and unarticulated subtext to a solid antagonism. (None of this is strictly a 'black' phenomenon, but in any of the programs mentioned above, there'll be probably a dozen blacks for every one poor white caught up in the system. And, too, the white people living this reality tend to speak 'black' when they're trying to describe it - 'white' english just doesn't have concepts for a lot of the things you need to say.)
Now all along we've been thinking of our role as white anarchists as trying to bring together two radical cultures of protest, to bring the strength of the 'black bloc' and radical direct action contingents that have successfully fought riot police at anti-capitalist demonstrations over the past few years to support the much quicker and more intense street fighting that flares up against police in the ghetto. We realize this is a completely new direction for many of the participants in the direct-action movement, and a lack of political sophistication in most of our understandings of the dynamics of class and race makes any meaningful intervention difficult. But as the anarchist movement grows in strength and confidence, these kinds of alliances on the ground are crucial if we want to be a real force in upcoming struggles. Actually, the synchronicity between the Cincinnati uprising and the anti-globalization protest in Quebec was interesting because in a sense there is a real parallel between the developments of the two struggles - the all-encompassing nature of a common enemy and the empowerment of massive street actions in both cases being the catalysts that helped bring together a new front of alliances of previously isolated organizations and struggles.
THE RACE TO CALL IT A RACE RIOT
From the first word, the events in Cincinnati were put in the context of a "race riot". Happening in an American city such a description has an inevitable amount of truth to it. A lot of people on the streets saw themselves as fighting the oppressor white society (which, it shouldn't need to be said, is not quite the same as fighting against white people). And of course Timothy Thomas probably would have never been shot in the first place if he had been "white". But a few random attacks against white passersby in the midst of a full out attack on yuppie property and the police does not turn this into a race riot. America knows how to throw a race riot. Check out 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1943 Detroit, 1898 Baltimore, and so on and so on, where masses of whites and blacks fought it out in the streets. The only race riot in Cinci was "black against blue"..
Through the first days of the upsising, at least a couple mainly white crews took part in the street actions, and didn't report having any serious conflicts over racial issues. When the protests were just about saying fuck a cop, there was a natural unity between pissed-off black kids and at least a few pissed-off white kids. But in the alleys of Over-the-Rhine and the project complexes of the West End, that pretty quickly connected to a much deeper anger that the white kids couldn't keep up with. Still, even though a general anti-white attitude was most definitely part of the anger that fueled the riots, its not necessarily true that the mass feeling was racial as opposed to class-based. A few organizations organized around narrow nationalist politics may have played a leadership role in the rebellion and took the spotlight on account of their strength and discipline, but the majority of protestors probably weren't so rigid in their thinking.
"As far as the 'Race War' aspects there have been some problems. 2 R&R [Refuse & Resist] kids got a really bad beatdown from some rather angry black teenagers in separate incidents and had to be hospitalized briefly. People are in fact being pulled from their cars and having their asses kicked. However this feature of whats going on is far from a dominant aspect of whats going on. But dont deny that its there. White Radicals now are not in the fighting at night because of this danger at the advice of Black Radicals who feel like they can no longer protect folks. [But] by and large folks on the ground in OTR are resisting on a class rather than race basis on their own without having to hear a book out of the mouth of college radicals about the nessecity of doing so."
As the days went on, the large crowds got dispersed and the 'rioting' was carried on by smaller crews of friends. This period coincided with the police containment of things to a few black neighborhoods where any damage done was of little concern. Each of these factors made it difficult for any sympathetic protesters from outside ground zero to continue to take part, which would account for most white protesters. This fracturing and isolation of the protests was probably the key police strategy and remains a real barrier to extending the power of these events next time.
This situation raises the question of what role outsiders, particularly white outsiders, could play in trying to support the riots. Just being involved on the streets would be plenty inspiring and exciting, but there are a lot of other things that could be done as well. We're aware of a few different outside interventions during and after the Cinci riots, with varying results.
On Saturday, the day of Timothy Thomas's funeral, an attempt was made on the part of Anti-Racist Action/Black Bloc veterans to hit the streets in support of the community struggle. The crew however was spotted by police helicopter 'looking too much like anarchists', rounded up and robbed by cops within ten minutes of their feet touching ground. Keep in mind this was one of the tensest days since the main fighting died down - on the same day a SWAT team rolled up on people walking peacefully from the church where the funeral was held, and with no warning, opened fire with 'bean bag bullets', then drove off without identifying themselves.
The riots also brought out the graf writers who no doubt saw a chance to get up like crazy as well as offer their skills to the moment. After being asked to borrow cans and markers on so many occassions by neighborhood kids, some writers came back with crates of supplies and handed them out in Washington Park with much success. Graffiti played a minor but important role in supporting the rebellions throughout - like a street-level Independant Media Center - from helping put out the community's messages against the police during the uprising to painting swastikas on the FOP building weeks later to draw attention to the welcome given by police to white supremacist groups.
There are some basic rules we would draw out as anti-authoritarians. An obvious mistake to avoid is the typical white leftist arrogance of trying to propagandize the people actively resisting. There will always be locals to defend the neighborhood's interests, and hopefully there will arise revolutionary black leadership that can articulate the politics of the rebellion and organize in its aftermath. We should be on the ground hearing the word from the rebellion - both from the 'radicals', the neighborhood kids with red bandanas on the street, and the older civilian elements of the communities. Any alliances we make should be based on the mood we understand coming from the community as a whole. The desire to make alliances with 'respectable leadership' just to have some way of being involved in the situation is understandable, but it doesn't help anything in the long run. And the backward politics of some of the alliances that get made on these terms end up trivializing the demands of the protests themselves.
Plenty of solidarity actions can also be taking place outside the areas where rioting is happening to great effect. Some well-planned targets can put the rebellion in context to good effect without interfering, like the spraypainting of the FOP building mentioned earlier. And in this and many other cases, there is a clear cause-and-effect between white yuppies gentrifying the ghetto to have their snobby overpriced clubs and their artists lofts, and the fact that cops are shooting black kids on sight to "keep the neighborhood safe". Something that surely didn't escape the attention of the black protestors who smashed every window on gentrified Main Street during the rebellion, but the media did everything possible to ignore. There's gotta be a way to turn up the heat on these spots. Ain't that supposed to be what anarchists do best?
Of course predictably enough, the right wing spent a lot of time taking the news media to task for playing DOWN the racial aspects of the riots. A report by a local militia leader and former head of the Libertarian Party claims:
"Most everyone outside the Cincinnati area was treated to tightly edited footage of what appeared to be integrated crowds of blacks and whites. What actually happened was that a few local white Socialists and Communist activists joined in the rioting and later were reinforced by white leftist activists from outside the city and even the region. The national media then went to work editing the footage to make it look very much unlike what it really was - a RACE RIOT...."
See, the radical right wing knows how to manipulate white fears and racial tensions to their advantage. Look at the recent troubles going on in northern England, where white supremacists and Pakistanis fight each other in the streets and the only clear winners are the fascist Nationalist Party. What happened in Cincinnati was a completely different situation, but if its allowed to be seen as a black vs. white 'race riot', then it fits perfectly into the nazis' strategy the same way.
Related was the fascists' propaganda trying to ridicule whites who were involved in the uprising - just a slightly more sophisticated version of the 'race traitor' diatribes they go on all the time. The third-positionist "Libertarian Socialist News" put out an article complete with phony quotes from the Refuse & Resist kids who were beaten up, concluding snottily: "Communist and left-leaning groups for the past few days have been trying to deny the racial characteristic of the riots, and have been ordering their local white members to go out and get involved to make it appear as if the riots are not racial. Their efforts, as can be seen, have been less than successful."
See, black riots like these are just the kind of scenes that trigger militia end-of-the-world fantasies, and send every little crew of would be racial holy warriors riding. What are the objectives of the right wing at a time like this? Glimpses of white power activity during the riots in Cincinnati suggest a range of responses. To what extent there were coherent overall strategies is unclear. If they're anything like the "left", white power activists probably operated on a few half-baked dog-eared battle plans. There was one case where a 20 year old white man got arrested for throwing a brick through a black man's windshield and yelling some racial shit. Not too much of anything there. The initial reports from nazis and third positionists made it sound like there were groups of white vigilantes out all over attacking blacks in 'retaliation'. For the most part this was probably just nazi wishful thinking since we haven't heard much since, but its a safe bet that these ideas are taking hold in the white power movement, who are seeing a clear path of action to organize their recruits to a higher level of involvement.
Most of the bigger national players on the fascist scene, predictably enough, used the riots to bait their propaganda hooks. The National Alliance put a print ready flyer ("Diversity... had enough yet?") online for militants to download and litter peoples windshields with. Matt Hale of the World Church of the Creator used the riots to pump his own brand of white power, as did the Aryan Nations. This kind of shot in the dark propaganda efforts most of the big name fascists are making is somewhat hard to gauge in terms of effectiveness and harder to counter. If each time out they might draw a few strays into their fold, they're still less troublesome than any real on-the-ground organizing would be. From what we know there was little visible nazi activity that would serve to galvanize a real counterforce, but there was no doubt some significant direct propagandizing by local crews.
We need to have effective intelligence that identifies local crews of white power activists - as well as non-ideological white crews that could be swung toward this stance in a racialized situation - so that we can be in a position to counter any moves they make. As far as we're aware this has never been on the program of the left at times like this, and it needs to become so. Among current anti-fascists doing this kind of intelligence gathering we could define two types. Those that are at least half prepared to do something on their own with this information and those who will be left out of commission when they realize that dialing 911 on nazis in the middle of a black anti-cop riot is sure to be the funniest skit on the next Def Jam Comedy special.
Moving to actively counter physically and politically any organizing attempts by white-power groups is a crucial rear-guard support maneuver during black rebellions that we can easily work towards pulling off. Cincinnati ARA seems like they've already picked up this line and done some good work, challenging the cops on their white power politics and preparing to confront the WCOTC and any other nazis who plan public appearances to capitalize off the riots. For example, there's a mass racist rally planned in Cincinnati for July 13th: we need to mobilize right away to shut that down along with any other similar events.
More of an immediate problem for Cincinnati's black community, although harder for us to counter, are the 'respectable' racists who actually managed meetings with people in power. Klansman David Duke reportedly somehow met with the county district attorney and convinced him to press 'hate crime' charges against people arrested during the rebellion - his work is already showing fruit as 14 year old kids are getting convicted as adults and sent away for ten years or more just for getting caught up in what was happening. And Richard Barrett, head of the Mississippi-based Nationalist Movement, held a rally in support of the F.O.P. where he was invited onto their property to speak in front of their memorial to fallen officers. These big-name clowns can really only be fought by publicizing their involvement and using it to attack the police who are stupid enough to meet with them.
BUILDING WORKING-CLASS SOLIDARITY
But even without the efforts of the white power groups, far too many working class whites are going to fall victim to the race hysteria pumped by media and insecurities over how to relate to black rage. Every city in the Northeast and Midwest is full of otherwise seemingly cool and anti-racist white dudes who'll tell stories about standing by the window in pop's store during the 60's riots with a shotgun. And a lot of old people still remember the anti-black race riots of the 40's too. Beyond countering white power activity, we need to build sympathy and solidarity for the uprising outside of the neighborhoods in which it was provoked. This of course doesn't begin at the next riot, but the next riot is a time to solidify and express some of the social bonds that have been developed prior.
In the best case, the experiences of black rebellions can be a lesson in struggle for poor whites and folks like us to learn from and build off of, and adapt to the needs of own own communities. This should always be the point of whatever agitation we do. It seems like any softer line, of just trying to get people to feel a bit of sympathy for the black protesters and stay out of the conflicts themselves, might work for suburbanites but for working-class city folk, it offers no help cause ultimately it doesn't give people the strength to deal with the racialized context of the situation. The moment when somebody feels threatened or has to defend themselves, they're liable to slip right back into the racist siege mentality. The only way past that emotional block is arguing a position of total solidarity with the rioters and against the police and the state.
From basic common sense and our general experience, we know the same antagonisms between police and community exist in poor white or mixed neighborhoods as in the ghetto. The cops are much quicker to shoot without provocation in black ghetto neighborhoods, but its a matter of degree, not an altogether different relationship. [related to what?] (In a lot of cities there seems to be an unwritten rule on the police force keeping the black officers in white areas, while cops in the ghetto are almost always white...) Poor whites fear and hate the police too, but often they're just as scared of black rage as of power-tripping pigs. What we need to do is attack this fear and find the fault lines in the 'white community' where a significant core of people who support the rebellion can come together and make their presence known. Cultural strands of resistance, especially outwardly anti-racist ones, need to be deepened and supported. From the beginning of a protest situation (and long before), we should be explaining the role of the police, making some cultural space for kids to articulate their anti-cop feelings, and from there working towards a position of support for the black community's protests, whatever form they take.
A recent scandal in York, PA offers a few warnings. Mayor Charlie Robertson was arrested recently on a murder charge stemming from his role as a cop in a gang war in the summer of 1969. At the time two white youth gangs had made an alliance in a conflict with several crews from black neighborhoods. As the two white crews were meeting in a park a police cruiser approached and the kids began to scatter until Robertson got close enough and yelled out "white power", reconveining the meeting but on a whole new level. During the meeting Robertson told the crews that if he weren't a cop he'd "be leading commando raids against niggers in the black neighborhoods". Robertson was also seen supplying ammunition along with a few other cops from an armored police vehicle to the kids on Newberry St. Soon enough Lillie Belle Allen was shot dead beside her family car. Two local white youth gangs were drawn into the conflicts first by fate of history and circumstance and then pushed over the edge by the cops. These two crews were no more committed to white power politics than any other teenage white boys of their time, but their crew affiliations were manipulated by police into serving police repression efforts. The specific geopolitics of cliques and crews beyond just those affiliated with any outright political sect or ideology need to be understood and some basic mutual understandings developed.
HOW QUICKLY THINGS FALL BACK INTO PLACE
Two months after the rebellion, the white liberal left finally and dramatically achieved its goal of taking back the momentum of the struggle. No longer a shared outrage of the black community and its allies, the struggle is now seen as a reform issue in which they and their hand-picked black representatives call the shots. (And even that tokenism will probably soon disappear; when the city announced the membership of their 'special taskforce on race' it was - no surprise - almost all police and white politicians.) That this happened was probably inevitable - after suffering over 800 arrests and seeing no reinforcements anywhere, the revolutionaries had grown tired of fighting a losing battle. What seems more fruitful is describing how the struggle collapsed, and where along the way there were openings that we as outsiders could have moved into to support.
Probably the first sign of the collapse of the spirit of the rebellion was when the Rev. Damon Lynch, head of the Black United Front and a prominent public spokesperson of the black community through the rebellion, accepted a position on a Reconciliation Council set up by the city as a pacification program. This nearly split the Black United Front, but even still, the community outrage remained strong enough that Rev. Lynch contined to run afoul of the city in his public statements and the 'reconciliation' that police and city officials hoped for did not come easy. Blatant co-optation like the "Proud of Over-the-Rhine" posters that appeared in the same yuppie businesses that were targets during the rebellion just seemed laughable. But eventually the joke grew old, and the peace sign billboards stayed up, and the city's promotional festivals kept happening...
Finally, when the live anger had diffused sufficiently, CHE felt it was safe to take charge and call for a "March for Justice". Early on it was apparent that this would be carefully moderated and coordinated with the cops to keep the community it was supposedly speaking for quiet and out of the loop. It was out of a sense of disgust at this that we in Anti-Racist Action decided to get involved. Months ago CHE had made it clear that ARA was not welcome at any action they organized, and we felt that if we were excluded just the same way the militants in the black community were going to be excluded, well, we'll just crash the party and hope others feel up to doing the same thing. And so a call went out for an anti-authoritarian bloc (or "Black Bloc" as the slang goes).
All along there was a lot of ambivalence towards the official CHE protest march. Some carefully orchestrated public displays of submissiveness like 'peace prayer' sessions where a few Over-the-Rhine residents would join hands with groups of white suburbanites set the mood. The few radical BUF members who got involved had to fight tooth-and-nail just to give the march at least the surface appearance of the militant culture of the rebellion, like having the neighborhood marching band "The Bucket Boys" lead the way. (This was initially vetoed by organizers for being 'too loud'!) What little organized black opinion we in ARA were in touch with seemed to be split - on one hand, a feeling that the time was still ripe to tear up the city, and if we could help with that, so much the better, and on the other, a more resigned "Screw them, let them have their march, do something in a white neighborhood if y'all want to do something" attitude. In the end, only two points were clear to us: one, that simply swelling the ranks of an essentially racist recuperation march wasn't really an option, and two, that whatever we from the outside anarchist movement would do, we'd have to be on our own for the most part cause the local community had already done more than its share of fighting.
ARA's organizing for the June 2nd march really only seriously started a week or so ahead of time when a few out-of-towners stopped by to help out the local activists. At that point there was still no clear plan for action, so we started by flyering a few neighborhoods with our call and our demands - primarily amnesty for everyone arrested during the rebellion. While we got about 500 leaflets out beforehand in a few racially mixed working-class neighborhoods, we didn't have the chance we needed to really talk to people. As a result, local involvement in the march leaned heavily toward the liberals.
Planning for the anti-authoritarian bloc ran up against a few clear political problems. It became clear that the CHE organizers were pulling out all the stops to keep the anarchist presence from stealing their thunder. Members of the Nation of Islam who had volunteered to do security were directed to watch out for the anarchists, to physically stop any disruption, and to take pictures for the police if necessary. The clear threat to us was a media spectacle of a mainly white anti-authoritarian bloc scuffling with black marshals, making us look like juvenile outsiders disrespecting the black community. The combination of lack of community outreach beforehand on our part and political differences within the anti-authoritarian bloc made it impossible for us to adequately deal with these problems. (In the end, the NOI turned out to be basically a no-show, so this really wasn't an issue during the march.)
One other attempted intervention by anarchists, as bold as it was flawed, is worth mentioning. The Cincinnati Radical Action Group (CRAG), taking the line that the 'black community' had made its wishes known that radical whites should protest in white neighborhoods, called for a civil disobedience in Mt. Adams, an upper-class restaurant and artist district north of Over-the-Rhine. 80 demonstrators walked into the neighborhood and briefly blocked the street before police herded them onto the sidewalk, arresting and pepper-spraying 12 people. This kind of symbolic martyrdom appealed to some, but plenty more people stayed away. While the people who took part deserve respect for boldness, we had some problems politically with this action. Its hard to claim to take leadership from the 'black community' when there's no one viewpoint predominant in that community. And symbolically 'confronting priveleged space', while its always fine, is not necessarily the same as supporting the struggle of the Black community. The demand that curfews should be implemented equally in rich white neighborhoods when they're imposed in the ghetto, while its an appealing idea in its utter absurdity, is at the same time kinda irrelevant to the situation happening in Over-the-Rhine.
What we need to do is think through the situation and find ways we can offer real and direct support for the community struggle at the base of the riots and protests - not just the empty words or symbolic protests the 'white left' lives on. Hopefully some ideas will have come out in this article. As we've said, the story of the rebellion itself was only a small part of the story. Of course there's much more to be said about that experience, but we weren't there.
"This riot has definitely been one of the most inspiring moments of our lives. We 've developed some very strong coalitions with groups in this city such as Black United Front and we see now without a doubt where some other pretend to be leftist groups really stand... All we can say is we hope a riot comes to your city soon. Some advice for cities across the country in the wise words of the Wu-Tang Clan: wake the fuck up before you get woke the fuck up."