Occupy Atlanta Fights a Policeman's Eviction: What Does It Mean for Radicals?
Occupy Atlanta recently stood up against an eviction that was eventually served to a policeman in Gwinnett.
Fighting this eviction was a good way to satisfy—without compromising either position—the radical injunction to help fellow workers stay in their homes as well as the misguided, liberal urge to reach out to those who represent state power. We're able to walk this line because helping a policeman and his family stay in their home doesn't help him in his capacity to serve the state. Neither do we diminish our power and dignity as a movement by fighting eviction, because we lay claim to our broader focus on socioeconomic injustice—even when it affects class traitors—and because we avoid soliciting the fatherly approval of police power. This is precisely how we can help class traitors, but when they're beating. kidnapping, and caging us, they wear the uniform: they put on the skin of fascism like a prophylactic, they wear the gun, the baton, the mace, the taser. Perhaps they're stuck between a rock and a hard place, but they will pick up that rock and beat us with it if their masters tell them to do so.
If a mob of armed thugs charges a crowd of our people, beats us, runs over us with vehicles, kidnaps us, puts us in cages, holds us for ransom, and isn't wearing uniforms, we call them psychopaths. We call them dangerous criminals, brigands, and pirates—perhaps even "terrorists"—but if they wear the skin of the state, we call them traitors, heroes, or victims of circumstance. The uniform doesn't shed a light on the crimes of class traitors: it obscures and naturalizes those crimes, covering them up with the "safe" authority of a badge and a gun, telling us, "It is okay to oppress your sisters and brothers so long as you are doing it in the service of the state, whose authority we hold sovereign by siding with the palpable threat of violence that speaks a single word: obey." We should unequivocally insist—liberals and radicals alike—that such behavior is criminal, that it de-legitimizes the state, and that only class traitors perform it.
But the transformative power of class solidarity tells us: "You do not have to be a pig. Take off the pig's skin and join the people." This is not an especially important invitation: the police are few in number, they are unlikely to oppose the state in meaningful or lasting ways, and subversive political movements are by definition opposed to state power. When our friends insist that it's vital to win the approval of the police, they're really saying: "We invest more importance in the muscles and weapons—the aggressive dick—of state power than we do in everyday people, because rather than focusing on the victims of police violence, we first ask the police to join us, and we secondly ask our comrades to respect the police rather than insisting that the police respect our comrades." They point to Tahrir, ignoring how the police attacked protestors daily, how the protestors fought back, and how the Egyptian military continues Mubarak's legacy of dictatorial rule. So, in a city with 1,600 police officers and 540,000 people, we should prioritize those who have already chosen to oppose state violence.
When the police cage us, it tells us that we're on the right side of history and that they haven't yet sacrificed their violent, privileged role within the capitalist machine. In the meantime, we shouldn't waste our efforts evangelizing to agents of the police state any more than we should reason with cultists who enshrine two-party politics. Still, if they ask for our help as people (not as police), then we should extend our hands—not to be put into handcuffs, but to provide aid. We should focus on the battles that we can win: actions. If that means fighting an eviction (even for a cop and his family), marching on a bank, or seizing the streets, then so be it.
That we tried to help a policeman and his family stay in their home doesn't compromise our opposition to state violence, but instead shows a way to step on that violence, to help the person while condemning the institution. Fighting this eviction was not the first step toward winning the police over to our side: it was an example of helping a fellow worker (and his family) concretely, and of fighting evictions symbolically. We oppose police violence but we also oppose economic injustice, so in struggling against the eviction we condescended to the one and combated the other. In the same way, we work alongside people who we don't like or agree with because we have to, although whether such work will prove effective for Occupy Atlanta remains unclear. What we can be sure of, however, is simple: we will rarely be presented with circumstances that perfectly intersect with our politics.