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Variations on a Theme: #Ferguson

Image: Demonstrators confront police with their arms raised during on-going demonstrations to protest against the shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri
As protests and riots spread across the country, so too poems, stories, quotes and pieces of theory from previous struggles circulate to describe the present moment. We’ve collected some of these fragments together. Justice for Mike Brown!

Resistance is a natural response to oppression and the story of people of African descent in the western hemisphere is one of rebellion and broken shackles.

Women and men marching on: these rag tag armies of black, brown and yellow soldiers armed with farm tools, the occasional musket and a plan to kill the slave master. Rising up out of their bondage, the rebels intended to be free in this world, or the next. Get free, or die trying.

Charles Deslondes. Makandal. Nat Turner. These names would produce a fear so strong in whites that the thought of an armed and angry black man would echo that fear for generations to com.

-Marshall “Eddie” Conway, Marshall Law

For me, I found that from my experience in the [Black] Panther Party, that counter-intelligence program, federal government, local police departments, politicians: they do what they supposed to do in terms of maintaining this system of oppression on the back of the Turtle. But we, as people who are trying to resist, sometimes don’t realize how we harm each other when we are not conscious of our own sexisms, our own ageisms, ableisms, our own inferiority complex, or how we act out, you know, especially men, how we act out of our own sense of male supremacy and hurt others. So the caring part means that we have to really look at how we treat each other. The loving part means that we have to see how we treat each other, because it means that we gonna create this new society right out of what we are doing to each other, or trying to do better in terms of how we wanna be loving to each other, we wanna be caring to each other…that part, we can’t minimize, we can’t say that ‘Oh, we’ll change after the victory.’ The victory is really how much we can accomplish as we struggle in changing our own social relationships.

-Ashanti Alston, Ferguson: Chronicle of An Insurrection



-Amiri Baraka, Monday in B-Flat

Revolutionaries know the system is fundamentally rotten. We believe that millions of people overthrowing capitalism and the government is the only way to stop police killings for good, and make a better life for all. Revolution means more than just putting a new president in office, or firing the worst cops. It means making a new kind of society, where everyone participates directly in running society. It means abolishing bosses, landlords and the police, and providing the means for a good life to everyone FOR FREE. It means ending racism, heteropatriarchy, and more. It means all human beings…relating to each other in a new and better way.

-East Coast Renegades, The Flatbush Rebellion


If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, there’s no progress. You pull it all the way out that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even begun to pull the knife out, much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there!

-Malcolm X

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.

-Ella Baker



My entire Oeuvre is against the police
If I write a Love poem it’s against the police
And if I sing the nakedness of bodies I sing against the police
And if I make this Earth a metaphor I make a metaphor against the police
If I speak wildly in my poems I speak against the police
And if I manage to create a poem it’s against the police
I haven’t written a single word, a verse, a stanza that isn’t against the police
All my prose is against the police
My entire Oeuvre
Including this poem
My whole Oeuvre
Is against the police.

-Miguel James

***: It does feel like its easier for people who weren’t there to see the more spectacular things – the looting, the arsons, the Molotov cocktails – but unfortunately the efforts to create space without police is harder for people to see from afar. It seems obvious that this was really central to the ferocity of what was happening. What did it feel like to be at the [QuikTrip]? What was that space like? Also what were some of the more specific ways that people prevented the police from coming there or other areas that had been carved out?

+++: Well for the most part the QT was this incredibly festive and joyful place in the daytime where people were doing graffiti, driving up with giant barbeques and giving away hundreds of hot dogs; everyone brought water to share, nothing cost money, everything was free. It became a weird cultural center as well. There were rappers, people break dancing, a teenage step-crew came in. There was a joyful street fair atmosphere at times. At the same time people would be handing out masks for the night, sharing stories from the nights before. At one point I hung out with a man who shared pictures of all the shoes he’d looted the night before and we traded stories. People were talking about what to do if they gas this way, what to do if they come from that way. So while it was this festive and celebratory atmosphere it was clearly also a space where people were forming strategies and talking and connecting. Since it was the central gathering point, everyday you’d come back and you’d start to see people and recognize faces; maybe you’d have talked to someone the night before or you’d engaged in something with them and you’d be able to see them again and talk; you’d begin to form relationships and share ideas. That was really exciting.


Toward the night the police would eventually push towards the QT, but the QT itself was about half a mile from where most of the conflicts happened, so often they’d only be able to reach it after hours and hours of street fighting. It took them so long because they were terrified of coming into the crowd, especially during the day when there would be thousands of people around. The St. Louis area has a history of police being shot at, and police are very aware of that. The police know people are armed and willing to shoot. From the beginning of the uprising, rebels made this very clear: one of the first things to happen after they killed Mike Brown was shots being fired into the air. And then Sunday, the first night of rioting, during the looting, people were again firing shots. I can think of one particular situation where the police tried to push in, and people formed a line to fight them off. As the standoff was ending, the police cowardly gassed the crowd and left. Instantly there were gunshots at the police all up and down that mile stretch of road. You could hear gunshots everywhere, and see people jumping out of cars to shoot; shooting at them, shooting in their general direction. People learned that you didn’t even need to shoot at them, but simply shooting in their general direction or making it known that you were armed was enough to keep the police back. So the guns kept them at bay. It was the first time in my life that I’ve ever seen that level of blatant armed action in a riot or demonstration or whatever you want to call what was going on up there.

Secondly, the other thing that I’d never seen before, specific to this situation was the car culture and the way cars were used in a few ways to confuse the police, block them and also just tie them up. West Florissant, the major street where all the rioting and looting and fighting was happening, is a four lane highway. And so up and down the strip people were using it as a cruising ground with countless cars packed with people, blaring music, with half a dozen kids on the hood, honking horns, and everyone screaming. This created a situation where it was impossible for the police to drive into the crowd; the cars were so dense. And also the general noise added to the insanity of the situation, so it was totally nuts to be out there. It was a situation that was completely uncontrollable and they had no idea what to do. If they came in on foot, they were attacked; if they came in cars, the cars would get stuck and they were attacked. Also a lot of the guns were kept in peoples’ cars, so people were mobile and armed. At times cars were also weapons. On one night cars actually crashed into police lines. People would use the cars as barricades; everyone would drive and park their cars across the street and form lines behind them. I remember at one point two young girls parked their cars hood to hood blocking all four lanes of traffic and on the other side of the cars, facing the police, everyone had guns. The cars were used as barricades to shoot from, as a means to stay mobile, as celebratory parade vehicles, and in general a way to confuse and intimidate the police. So I really think these two things particular to Ferguson, the gun culture and the car culture, helped to create and keep this autonomous police-free zone. Not to mention the fact that there were thousands of people participating.”

-Conversation between *** and +++, Guns, Cars, Autonomy




From a Shrinking Place


When we lose a body, we lose everything.

Today in class, I was prepared to talk about Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition, a collection of short stories set against the backdrop of the Iraq wars. I was prepared to talk about the role of politics in art, of the ways that we shape and recreate history to fit an artistic framework. We were going to discuss the structure of Blasim’s work, consider his historical eye constructing a narrative for a Western audience.

Instead, I am stuck, reading Albert Camus’ The Wager of Our Generation, and trying to find a way to absorb the heaviness that comes from tears shed and wasted anger.

What has my country done to my people?

This land is your land, this land is my land. I remember singing this song in school, wrapping my tongue around the flat sounds of my new American accent. I was a new American, a small black girl in a neat row of white faces. Somewhere in boxes I have kept closed for another time are photographs that show my visible alienation. The song was proof of a more subtle distance that lay between what I sang and where I stood, in this country, in this body, in this blackness, stumbling across this still-forming accent.

It is easy to sit in the residue of last night’s grief and assert that this land has never been truly mine. But no. It is my land. I claimed it long ago and I will not relinquish my rights to it. This is possession by necessity, as much about love as politics. The racist attitudes that put Michael Brown and so many who look like him, and me, in their graves will not distance me from this place that I will, that we must, continue to remake so it is also in our own image.

Last night, I tweeted a 1968 photograph of a march by sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, taken by Ernest C. Withers. The black men are holding up stark signs that read, “I am a man.” The assertion is unequivocal. It is direct and emphatic and beneath it all, there is also this: the body and its frailty. I am a man. It is a declaration that strips away race and forces a consideration of their humanity.

But we should be further than this today.
But we should not be discussing our humanness. Not after all of this.

And yet, I sit here as an adult thinking back on that small girl smiling for a class photograph and I know that despite my years of education and travel and living, there are some things that have not changed. I am still in this body, with the same physical heart. The breaths I take move through the same lungs. The voice I speak with, now fully American, springs from the same small girl’s throat. This skin is still my own.

These are not metaphors.

I am looking now at the last of Blasim’s stories. He opens with a statement: “The body must be protected, not the thoughts.” I had believed, naively, that we had progressed enough in this country to move beyond the body. I thought it was possible to live in the world of metaphors and literature, to eschew the physical trappings of the body for the higher aims of the intellect. But now I am not so sure.

Last night’s verdict proves otherwise. Our bodies must be protected. Harriet Tubman dedicated her life to shepherding bodies towards safety. But today, the safe places have shrunk and we are many, and we are still standing in these bodies that will not disappear. And we refuse to be erased. And nothing I am saying, even now, is a metaphor.

So what now?

“We have nothing to lose except everything,” Camus writes. “So let’s go ahead. This is the wager of our generation. If we are to fail, it is better, in any case, to have stood on the side of those who choose life than on the side of those who are destroying.”

When we lose a body, we lose everything. The body must be protected, as Blasim says. What I am hearing as I read this and prepare for class, on this morning of incoherent thought, of reaction and fatigue? It is this. This land is your land and this land is my land and we are in it, you and I, and there must be space for these bodies to fit. And we must work to stretch the boundaries of this country that is shrinking. We have nothing to lose except everything. So let’s go ahead.


This Week in Art Crime


The so-called John Lennon Wall in Prague, which, since its namesake’s assassination in 1980, has been a popular destination for tourists, taggers, and street artists, was completely erased with white paint on Monday by an artist collective calling itself Prague Service.

Buffing years of accumulated graffiti, the group left the wall entirely white save for the sentence “Wall Is Over!,” the AFP reported, an allusion to the subtitle of Lennon’s song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” The artists timed their white-washing to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution — the nonviolent uprising that led to the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia — and said they hoped that their gesture would “offer a free space for the messages of a rising generation,” according to the AFP.

It didn’t take long for others to take advantage of the free space and begin filling the Lennon Wall with tags again. However, the wall’s owner, the Order of Malta, was not so quick to dismiss the incident, and is pursuing legal action against the artists.



• • •


The company is suspected by the tax authorities and Tracfin—a public body fighting money laundering and terrorism financing—of “deceptive marketing practices,” and “gang fraud.” At time of writing, the Aristophil website as well as the websites for the museum and the institute appear to have been taken offline.

The implications of the case are far-reaching, and could have significant impact on the rare manuscripts world as a whole. According to Le Parisien, Lhéritier owns five percent of the global books, letters, and manuscripts market, worth an estimated €3 billion a year.

For years, Lhéritier’s company Aristophil has been aggressively buying, paying top dollars for pieces including the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom and Napoleon’s Wedding Certificate

The collection is worth between €400 million and €500 million depending on the source. It has been leveraged via an investment scheme, which the French press have likened to a Ponzi scheme, a type of financial scam made famous by Bernie Maddoff.


• • •


Graffiti in Shaw, St. Louis: “If We Burn, You Burn With Us. FTP”

• • •


Perschke created the red ball project in 2001 and has taken it to more than 20 cities, including this year Montreal, Rennes and Galway. Next year it will go to Singapore and, Perschke hopes, to Wales. When it came to London as part of the Cultural Olympiad, the balls appeared on the Millennium and Jubilee bridges over the Thames.

“The piece is about playing with the architecture of the city,” said Perschke. “It is about imagining what can happen in a city, it is about playing.”

Last week Perschke was alerted to the Shell billboard poster campaign which uses even bigger red balls. One is pictured behind Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, and another next to the Forth bridge in Scotland. They come with the tagline: “Imagine capturing this much CO2 every day.”

Shell denied it was using Perschke’s concept. “This Shell campaign uses red spheres as a visual device to illustrate the volume of CO2 that the Peterhead CCS project is designed to capture each day. It is intended to help consumers understand through a simple visual representation the importance of capturing CO2 for a better energy future,” a spokesperson said.

“The campaign uses imagined illustrations of a red sphere in iconic locations. They are not actual or physical installations of red balls, which is the focus of the artist’s installations.”


Shell advert

• • •


In his work, Zaides traces the body language and movement of soldiers and settlers who are filmed by Palestinians. The connection between the adoption of the Palestinian perspective and the movements of the Israeli solders or settlers allow him to emphasize the physical reactions to which they resort to in various confrontational situations. Zaides wished to examine the somatic influence of the Israeli Occupation on the bodies of those administering it, while raising questions about his own involvement in the act.

With the exception of the electrical sabotage and shouts coming from outside, the talks proceeded with little interference for those of us in the hall. Suddenly we see people throwing stones at the windows. The police rushed to the location of disturbance, and discovered that the protesters appeared to have broken the security camera at the entrance.

The evening ended with questions from the audience, but the tension made it difficult to concentrate. Before leaving the room, a security officer instructed the audience to avoid conflicts and not to take any pictures. As they left our guests were cursed and taunted in a shocking way. Arkady and Ruthie stayed inside for an additional 20 minutes, and left only with a police escort that accompanied them to their car. Through the windows we saw protesters running down the street in all directions, we decided to leave later — and only after police reported that the protesters had dispersed. The right-wing Israelis yelled at the Jewish Israeli attendees all types of obscenities, including “You Nazis, we’ll make soaps out of you,” “You fucker, you leftists,” and “You need to go to Gaza.”

Later on we heard reports from friends and guests about harsh verbal and physical violence. A friend, who was stuck outside with the protesters, was punched in the stomach, and a woman was beaten with a flag pool on her head, but all are ok now. All the people I spoke to were very shaken by what happened.

Here in West Jerusalem the police protected us. A few protesters were arrested and released the following day, however we don’t believe the police filed a report. During the same period, in East Jerusalem, protests and riots by Palestinian youth continued, and the police continued to shoot tear gas and stink bombs at the protesters, while beatings and arrests were frequent. In Gush Etzion, a young woman was murdered by a Palestinian, and a security guard was stabbed on the light rail. The next morning the walls of the bilingual school, the only place in Jerusalem were Arab and Jewish children learn together (and some of our children and the children of our friends go there), were graffitied with “Death to the Arabs” slogans. Just another November day in Jerusalem.



• • •


In February 2012, word trickled out around Sharon and Lakeville that Jim Meyer wasn’t working for Jasper Johns anymore. It didn’t take long for Meyer’s friends in the local art community to hear the reason, though the details were vague. “Someone emailed an image to check against the catalogue raisonné, and it got back to Jasper,” one friend of Meyer’s says. Johns “knew immediately it was not something he permitted. Jim was fired that day.”

Naumann was shocked, he says, and puzzled. The artwork that exposed Meyer was not the drawing that Naumann had helped his client Kolodny buy. Naumann spent more than a week unsure of what to do. Finally, he says, Johns called him and politely asked Naumann to tell his lawyer everything he knew about what had happened. Naumann, relieved, said he’d be happy to. During that call, Johns said something that astonished him: Meyer had mailed Johns back one of the stolen drawings. Naumann told Johns that he hoped he kept it in its original paper. “If somebody mailed back a drawing, isn’t that a clear acknowledgment that you were the thief? Isn’t that, like, admitting to it immediately?”

For 18 months, Meyer and his family proceeded as if nothing were wrong, at least outwardly. Meyer mounted two different exhibitions of his own art—at the Hotchkiss School and Gering & López on Fifth Avenue. Meanwhile, he quietly transferred ownership of the Lakeville house to Amy’s name. When the indictment was finally unsealed in August 2013, Meyer stood accused of stealing 22 artworks, some unfinished, between 2006 and 2012. They all apparently had come from the same drawer in Johns’s studio, a drawer Meyer maintained. Meyer was said to have created fictitious inventory numbers for the pieces — and, for certain sales like Kolodny’s, fake pages in the ledger book. The pieces brought in $6.5 million, with Meyer pocketing $3.4 million.



Resistance in the Neoliberal City


San Francisco is rapidly shedding its radical bonafides as a second dot-com boom evicts more and more of its working class.

San Francisco is the most expensive city to rent housing in the United States. But even putting nostalgia aside, it was not always this way. The second coming of dot-com wealth, venture capital, and neoliberal development has eviscerated the right to the city for its working class members. San Franciscan city politics, once famously radical, have become dominated by bourgeois interests and exclusionary projects. Its civic structure now serves the desires of only those who can afford to live in a city where Twitter receives a $22 million tax break but the working class are increasingly pushed out to suburbs. But San Franciscans also have a history of fighting back.

James Tracy, a long-time housing and anti-poverty organizer, writes about the past 35 years of collective organizing in San Francisco in his new book, Dispatches from Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco’s Housing Wars. The book is a rich trove of extensive field notes on the various housing campaigns Tracy has been involved with, and the alliance-building across race, class, and political ideologies necessary to make them happen. He reflects on the tactics he has learned to deploy successfully, from direct action like occupying vacant houses and showing up at landlords’ homes to participating in electoral politics. Here, Tracy offers lessons and goals for building a future city envisioned by “alternative urbanism” and anti-capitalist resistance, where housing is no longer a commodity to be inflated for profit on the speculative market, but just a place where working class people can live.

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