The coverage of the Michael Brown and George Floyd protests were almost breathless. What’s new with this iteration of popular uproar? Is it the “bottoming out” that finally leads to racial progress? The further militarization of the police? Rather than seek out an event in today’s headlines, the contiguities are more sobering. Toddy Tee’s grudging 1985 homage to Daryl Gates’ police tank—“it’s coming”—could be taken as both a warning to crack dealers and a protest over police violence and the suspension of the fourth amendment in black and brown neighborhoods. And it would be just fine as that. But there’s also the mayor’s decision to “legalize something that works like that.” Operating during the early height of the War on Drugs, the Batterram was used to strike in indiscriminate discriminatory ways. The police are like “F Troop,” knocking on random doors trying to entrap residents. But these circumstances are a dime a dozen with law-and-order governors and police departments inheriting equipment used during recent wars. According to one protestor from Ferguson, Missouri, the city “could be any town in the world.” Absolutely true, but more often not. As the places add up—Dearborn Heights, Sanford, Los Angeles, etc.—the patience wears thin. Both the media’s hopeful exhaustion and a healthy dose of neighborhood utopianism.
According to this trax, there’s a certain kind of joy associated with being an embarrassed American. R.E.O. Speedwagon’s statement song—released two years before Nixon’s resignation and in the midst of continuing domestic/Vietnam violence—lyrically shifts the sheepishness over to those in power, momentarily. Your faces must be “so red,” we hear, given the race riots and “cryin’” of the anti-war left. And America’s general neglect of the poor, the starving, and the vulnerable will lead to only one result if there isn’t a day of (self-)reckoning: “your country will burn.” Shaming the powerful, the people will “put an end” to “all this ugliness.” But there’s a note of abandonment here as well. “Before we leave,” we’ll have to “make a stand.” Wait. Where are we going? Maybe more importantly, where’s the band going? Ending before a beginning, while everything’s started already. What looks like the verge is a monetization of protest—astroturfed, as well. An inadvertent antecedent to FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and Trumpism more generally. When standing up also means ponying up.
The farmworker strike in the fields becomes interminable, as growers die and “another became a grandmother.” The picket sign an ongoing attachment (“with me all my life”), and even replacement for persons. Permanent resistance as cardboard-thin, flat refusal of the intolerable, without resort to subjects.