Cracks in the Steel City: Reportbacks from Pittsburgh

“No longer are we faced with Marx’s famous choice of socialism or barbarism; we are confronted with the more drastic alternatives of anarchism or annihilation”

– Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism


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Our Lives are Too Precious to Wait

The votes are in, and the oppressed, the students, the workers, the poor, the undocumented, and (most importantly) you,  lost once again. As if we had any chance of winning their games;  everyone knows the house stacks the deck (and we don’t just mean at Rivers Casino). Every four years, the ruling class offers us two representations of different ‘factions,’ where the capitalists back their choice via campaign funds. Many capitalists will back both candidates, just to be sure each will meet their will (Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs, etc). Historically, the winner of the US presidential race is whoever raises the most campaign money.

This year was an exception. Most of the left, anarchists included, resigned themselves to another four more years of neoliberalism under Clinton. How could she lose? She ran a typical campaign, talking about pragmatic “solutions” and policies she’d put in place, against a Republican whose own party barely wanted. While not everyone can agree on everything he is – he’s been called a rapist, a white supremacist, a misogynist, a fascist – it’s  worth considering Trump’s insistence on jailing the opposition party leader (1). Not your typical presidential campaign mudslinging. CrimethInc writes,

Those on the Left who have persisted in the naïve belief that the right government could solve the problems generated by global capitalism are partly to blame for this situation. The Democratic Party was foolish to back an establishment candidate at a time when so many people are desperate, angry, and rebellious. In legitimizing the idea that America is or should be great in the first place, Democrats smoothed the way for Trump to promise to make it great once more. Every tax dollar good liberals paid to the government hoping it would care for the poor, sick, elderly, and underprivileged has built the juggernaut that will now roll across their civil liberties. Every law they continue to obey will aid and abet that process. And if the media outlets and politicians that decried Trump as the candidate of the apocalypse accept him now in the name of the democratic process, this only confirms their complicity.

The problem is democracy itself: the form of government that brought Adolf Hitler into office. In response to the polls, we assert that no one should have the right to rule over anyone else. Neither Donald Trump, nor Barack Obama, nor Mother Theresa could ever use such power for good. We have to create horizontal structures and autonomous movements that can meet our needs directly, rather than continuing to feed resources into structures that will be used against us for the benefit of a few.

There is plenty of liberal clickbait (2) whining over the failure of neoliberalism and the Clinton dynasty. We have no interest in repeating the mistakes of the liberal-left, or of helping the Democratic party get itself together so they can continue derailing social movements with piecemeal reforms and recuperating our desires. To hell with Hillary Clinton, to hell with Trump, to hell with capitalist democracy!


Say good night to the old neoliberal order, long live the new fascist order.

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We are not the only ones to realize the sham of democracy. Only half of all eligible voters turned out, and passive refusal can be a precursor to active refusal. Millions across the United States know that our representatives do not represent us, that they cannot represent us.

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Maybe the problem has to do with democracy itself. Honestly, when has it fully delivered on its promises? In ancient Athens, when women and slaves were prohibited from participating? In the days of the Founding Fathers, some of whom also owned slaves? Today, when everyone supposedly has a say but self-determination feels further out of our hands than ever?

We keep blaming specific politicians and political parties, as if it were just a matter of personal failings. But any system that doesn’t work unless the people using it are perfect is a bad system. What if some politicians really do mean well, but there’s nothing they can do? All the good intentions in the world won’t help if the structure is broken.

Beyond this passive refusal, there’s been a spark lit under the ass of the Left. Talk of guns, talk of organizing, talk of the same talk but louder and more passionate, and no talk of why now is the best time to reach the People/the Masses/they-who-must-be-organized. Somehow the Left thinks it can repeat what it’s been doing the past 8 years but with more urgency, and suddenly the problems of the past are gone. Pass around your reading lists, get together your reading groups again, sell your boring as fuck monthly papers that we only buy so you’ll leave us alone.

Even for a crowd that knows full well in advance what may be coming there is a first-mover problem which prevents the riot itself from being a straightforwardly intentional act; no individual or group can simply decide unilaterally to riot, unless the riot is already in process. This is why the immediate trigger very often appears as some relatively minor act of the police which unites a crowd in indignation against them; but such tipping-points do not come out of the blue – rather, they are themselves produced from some escalating dynamic, in which a crowd can certainly play an active role.

 – A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats, Endnotes #3

On the ‘other side’ of the Left, the spark is still lit except its being used for warmth rather than a way out of the dark. Some anarchists, marxists, all stripes of radicals have resigned themselves to another 4 years of the same, as if Trump does not mark a change in US politics. Much of what Trump ran on were things already running. Mass incarceration was started by Clinton, mass deportations have peaked to historic highs under Obama, and there’s no need for a wall since a fence has been built since the 90s (3). While all true, this stance ignores the overall movement that got Trump into power. It ignores the emboldened far-right getting more active over the past year or so. Neo-Nazis, the Klan, and White Supremacists trying to launch one National Front in Harrisburg earlier this month, the anti-fascist battle of Stone Mountain in Georgia, the Nazis who stabbed several anti-fascists out in Sacramento, and all the violent attacks against individuals.

Many of our friends are torn between repeating the same failed activities, or just ceding more ground to the far-right thinking they’re no different from neoliberals. Maybe we need new friends outside the Left to deal with this ever changing political terrain.


The Left is Dead, Long Live the Post-Left!

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The secret is to really begin.
At Daggers Drawn

We could go on again about how the lines have been drawn, but this is obvious every time they are crossed or redrawn (4).­  It has never been about who has the right ideas or comes from the right background, revolution can only be made by those who revolt (5)! Movements can not survive being ideologically homogenous, movements survive by continuously being able to refresh itself with new ideas and tactics. We can not maintain momentum only working alongside those who use the same language as us, who use the same coffeeshops, and have the same haircuts. We learn this lesson every time the streets are taken back.

You are waiting for the revolution! Very well! My own began along time ago! When you are ready — God, what an endless wait! — it won’t nauseate me to go along the road awhile with you!

– Renzo Novatore


Reportback from the Yinzurrection (11/8-9)

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From “You Can’t Stop the Revolution, Late-Night March Against Trump:

“To the hundreds of kids that spontaneously gathered in opposition to a Trump presidency last night, we’ve spent our entire college careers looking for you! It figures that we’d meet only briefly, sharing no knowledge of each other outside of a collective moment of militant passion and defiance. We don’t know where you hang out, or what you do for fun, or how you balance the uncertainty of the future with the anxiety of the everyday. But we want to. We hope that someday soon we’ll find each other again, if only to enjoy another chance at cheering each other on as we confront the political manifestation of a Fox News article’s comments section.
[…]

We could take over the lobby of Posvar and convert it into a Free Store, where we would share and exchange textbooks, toiletries, clothes, food, ideas, tactics, strategies. We could throw parties in Market, taking turns cooking free food for students, workers, and faculty alike, and then doing our own damn dishes afterwards. We could finally unclench our fists and pass around a fat-ass blunt on the rooftops of a newly autonomous dormitory, because this really could be our campus if we keep creating more situations that attract those that are ready to fight. If only for a few days, we could create another world here and now, become the long-awaited, uncontrollable crisis of priorities that forces those in power to make real changes—like students are doing in Montreal, Santiago, London, Oaxaca, Athens, Paris, Rome

In the meantime, we look forward to screaming our hearts out by your side, laughing and crying because holy shit those ignorant fuckbois preaching hate actually won…”


Reportback from the East Liberty/Shadyside march (11/9)

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Account from a straggler: I arrived at the march late, when the crowd had just taken the streets. Apparently they had gone for a walk already and came back to tell the cops how they feel. The crowd takes off, snaking around the neighborhood, the police stand with some distance to the protesters until around 9:30 when a few calls for the crowd to disperse comes from some police loudspeaker. The crowd mostly responds with laughs and snarky comments, how are you gonna disperse a crowd that hasn’t broken the law? The crowd turns the corner from South Graham to Centre Ave, when police in riot gear take up the front line of police.

Without warning, two smoke canisters were dropped in-between the riot police and protesters, who were corralled into the parking lot adjacent to Wendy’s. Words get exchanged between police and the crowd, and bystanders and police. Police start telling people around to go away as if nothing just happened.

“Can you believe this is happening in Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh! Police using gas in our city,” someone walking by said to me (6). Yeah, I can believe it, the police union backed Trump. I just didn’t expect it to be tonight of all nights. Cameras are out as half the bystanders start live streaming. After a tense ten minutes, the crowd breaks out through the Wendy’s parking lot and continues to snake around police cruisers. Myself and few others gather together and get distance from the rest of the march, fearing another kettle attempt. The march ends where it began, and we wait to see if any of our loved ones and comrades got snatched. Thankfully everyone got away and no arrests were made tonight.


Hillman Library Banner Drop 11/10

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Yesterday, November 10th, three pissed-off queer women set out to do a banner drop and protest outside of the Hillman Library at the University of Pittsburgh. The banner read “Unite Against Fascism// Fuck Trump.” Two of us stood on the balcony behind the banner giving speeches and starting chants while a small crowd assembled below.

“We have to stop letting these fuckers control our lives. It may feel like we’ve lost, but we were never made to win. This government, this country, this society cannot survive without widespread violence and oppression… We can protect each other better than any policeman, government or authority. This is not about Trump, this is so much bigger than that!”

There were about 10 people chanting with us here and there, a handful of trump supporters shouting “Build the Wall,” and plenty of police.

Less than ten minutes in, a few police officers approached the people with the megaphone demanding that they take the banner down. They refused. As officers started gathering behind the banner, we started chanting “show me what a police state looks like,” followed by a few voices echoing “this is what a police state looks like,” and “Stand up, stand up, we want freedom, freedom, tell those racist-ass cops we don’t need em, need em.”
Around this time, a person who appeared to be a detective hand picked someone from the crowd who was not directly involved in the protest and ID’d them. Shortly after, a few officers took the banner down.

The three of us set out to do this spontaneously, not knowing how to do anything except act in the face of the fucked up reality that still feels like a dream. We didn’t want to lose any organizing traction that we seemed to have gained through the unfortunate circumstances, we wanted to maintain the energy of a pissed off campus, ready to revolt, that we witnessed the few nights before. We wanted to attract comrades, motivate people and make connections, and unite students on our campus against fascism. While we certainly had some supporters, and some people threw up their fists while passing, we were also met with plenty of head-shakes and laughs.

But what this action really gave us was an important reminder about surveillance. As the crowd was standing below, uniformed officials started photographing our faces, writing down our information and pointing microphones at us. A non-uniformed individual approached one of the people who was using the megaphone, asking questions about the protest and previous protests that happened that week, while someone in a uniform less than 10 feet away pointed a cell-phone at them. An undercover? Who can say.

What we know is that we’re being watched. Many of our friends or random students whose appearances fit the state’s idea of what a student protester looks like have been stopped and IDed, emailed, called and photographed. The police have been more and more aggressive since Trump’s election, which we shouldn’t be surprised by. This is state repression. If we ever had freedom (we didn’t), we certainly won’t now. It is more important now than ever to remember that we are being surveilled, and it is are important now than ever to resist, revolt, hold hands and fight back.


Fractions and Factions Run Deep

After the anti-Trump march on the 9th, Mayor Bill Peduto was reprimanded by the president of the police officers’ union for yelling at police officers and the commander for using smoke canisters.

“Police were there trying to keep control of a situation that was potentially spiraling out of control. They acted appropriately, and the mayor intervened. And in my opinion, that was unprofessional. and and dangerous,” Bob Swartzwelder said.

A little anxiety after four police officers were injured during the anti-Trump protests back in April. 

“These were kids that were marching and demonstrating the First Amendment of this country, and there was no need to use smoke and there was no need to use helmets,” Peduto said.

Peduto also admitted that he told officers on Wednesday, “If you think it was bad under Cam, it’s going to get worse.”

Looks like the mayor has a soft spot for soft policing strategies, unlike the police union that endorsed the candidate the crowd was against. Whatever happened to police chief Cameron McLay anyways?

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay said he would step down on Tuesday (Nov. 8th), weeks after the union representing his department’s active and retired officers held a vote of “no confidence” in him.

Mayor Bill Peduto appointed McLay in September 2014 to head the Pittsburgh police force and work on improving relations between the department and the city’s many minority residents.
[…]
In speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July, McLay called for reforms of the criminal justice system to bring about greater fairness in policing across the country.
“Without question, the criminal justice system has had a disparate impact on our communities of color,” McLay said in his speech. “We can respect and support our police officers while at the same time pushing for these important criminal justice reforms.”
[…]
In September, the union representing the Pittsburgh’s 900 police officers and 900 retired officers cast a majority “no confidence” vote on McLay’s ability to lead the department.

The Post-Gazette writes,

Officer Swartzwelder said 459 officers — a little more than 60 percent of those who were eligible — voted on the no confidence issue. Of those 459 officers, 421 said they did not have confidence in Chief McLay. Sixteen officers indicated they do have confidence in the chief, and 22 abstained.

“We needed somebody, as Chief McLay called it, the wrecking ball chief to come in and be able to build reform and that helped to pave the way to where we are now with a data driven police force, a community relations police focus of community policing,” Peduto said.

And let’s not forget back in January 2015, McLay had his picture taken holding a sign saying “I resolve to challenge racism @ work #end white silence.”

The photo sparked outrage and accusations from some, including Pittsburgh police union president Howard McQuillan. “The chief is calling us racists. He believes the Pittsburgh Police Department is racist. This has angered a lot of officers.”

We don’t miss McLay. We don’t buy Peduto’s political posturing. However, the growing ideological schism between the police and the State is worth noting, as it’s not isolated to Pittsburgh. To do what we do best and quote CrimethInc yet again,

In response to the uprisings of the past few years, we are seeing police—and the subset of middle-class America from which many of them are drawn—beginning to conceive of their interests as distinct from the rest of the state structure. In 2011, during the peak of Occupy Oakland, Mayor Jean Quan wrestled with the Oakland Police Department, which repeatedly asserted a contrary agenda. Something similar occurred between the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City last winter, when New York City police carried out an unofficial strike demanding more unconditional support from the government—in effect, demanding the freedom to employ violence with impunity. After the Baltimore uprising, there was a lot of grumbling among Maryland police who blamed their superiors for not permitting them to use more violence against demonstrators.

This kind of frustration could give rise to new racist movements that will understand themselves as needing to take the law into their own handsin order to maintain law and order and defend private property. Something similar has occurred in Greece with the emergence of the fascist party Golden Dawn, which now counts a great part of the country’s police officers in its ranks. That makes it especially ominous that the Oath Keepers, a paramilitary organization of former policemen and soldiers, have made repeated appearances at demonstrations in Ferguson.

We see a political landscape that has always been defined by factionalism and faux-unity through nationalism. We see the election as a spark that reveals this factionalism to those of us who aren’t perpetually pissed off. Let’s turn this spark into a wildfire. Across the United States riots, walkouts, vandalism, highway blockades, and refusals have taken place in almost every metropole (New Orleans, Philadelphia, DC, Kansas City, New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, Minnesota, we could go on). As always, we (the ones who turn the “not our president!” chants to “no one is our president!”) must keep up the tension and coordinate together. Not that any affinity group or organization should be subordinate or responsible to another, but to turn our spontaneous refusals and blockades into a unified revolt.

Not whether we accomplish anarchism today tomorrow or within ten centuries, but that we walk towards anarchism today tomorrow and always.

– Errico Malatesta, Toward Anarchism

For a university against itself,
Pittsburgh autonomous student network & Friends

Footnotes:
1: As if we could call the Democrats “opposition”, but the threat of jailing political opposition should alert everyone.
2: 
Let’s be honest, The Guardian is only good every now and then.
3:The wall Trump means does not have to be physical though. White nationalism and national trade-protectionism, two of main planks of the Trump platform, thrive on xenophobia and concessions to the white American working class.
4:Unless you’re among the classes who either don’t feel the violence of capitalism’s restructuring or are the new rising class of restructuring.
5: Must be noted that revolt is not just taking the streets. Revolt is personal and collective. Revolt is healing, love, rage, all kinds of cathartic expressions. Beyond retaking the streets and blocking traffic, we must care for each other. Collective dinners, venting sessions, bonfires, how that takes shape is up to you.
6: It should be noted that at the time, bystanders and passersby thought the police dropped tear gas not a smoke cannister.

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