In the aftermath of the Met Gala direct action it is abundantly clear that the powers that be intend to maintain the status quo by enforcing deafening media silence. Your favorite celebrities remain silent on the Met Gala protest, tacitly demonstrating their allegiance to capital. If all you heard about the Met Gala was from major news networks, you probably heard some conversation about a certain popular politician wearing a white dress with a milquetoast political slogan painted on, but nothing at all about the protestors arrested outside for protesting the NYPD.
I was at the protest. We were on the street chanting for all of 10 minutes before the NYPD declared the nonviolent assembly ‘unlawful’. Such brazen repression has become standard practice for the NYPD, ever since the brutal national crackdown on the uprisings following the murder of George Floyd. Acts of civil disobedience — even ones as tame as standing in the street and chanting or shaking and kicking a few barricades — have been met with the strongest responses by the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group. Two of the nine protestors arrested at the action received injuries, and two protestors spent over 24 hours in jail.
More unsettling than the arrests, which I have unfortunately come to expect as a result of any action that is critical of the police, was the crowd’s indifference. The crowd of onlookers, many coming from the Upper East Side, showed what at first I might describe as curiosity as the protest began. The curiosity then turned into captivation as SRG began to arrest people, and finally tacit indifference to the passionate chants of “FUCK 12”, “ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS” and similar anti-police and anti-State rallying cries from the remnants of the NYC abolitionist and anarchist protestors. For the crowd outside of the Met Gala, the spectacle of the protest could not compare to the tantalizing prospect of possibly seeing a celebrity.
Many fellow leftists, if they heard my retelling of the reaction of the crowd of onlookers, might shrug their shoulders and simply say, “of course.” Any crowd of bourgeois onlookers, whose presence at the gala was not to attend an anti-police action but rather to get a look at their favorite celebrities and socialites, would likely consider a crowd of protestors chanting “Free the People! Fight the Power!” as misguided and a nuisance at best, and a threat to their social stability at worst. Indeed, I recall one wealthy-looking white woman making an effort to part through the crowd to approach a police officer and thank him for the work he was doing. She decided to thank him mere moments after he had finished pressing his knee onto a teenage femme-presenting person’s back and dragging them away.
I very much agree that we should not expect any bold displays of radical solidarity from a crowd of Upper East Siders who are just trying to catch a glimpse of Zendaya; to suggest otherwise would be naïve. However, I find it instructive to compare the Met Gala’s crowd’s reaction to hearing “BLACK LIVES MATTER” with the performance from affluent white people I witnessed last summer during the uprisings. Not necessarily because it reveals a poignant insight — except perhaps that Americans have a short attention span and the media and police were effective at curtailing the popular uprising — but because it serves as a litmus test for how the middle class and bourgeois class feel about the movement, albeit an anecdotal example. Their reaction to the Met Gala protest showed clearly that they stopped caring in any way that actually matters. They stopped having the motivation to support any people’s movement that could actually affect change. They won’t blink twice as the police grow in power, as the police choose which protests are just. They won’t even support defunding the police anymore. The well of white people’s support has run dry, and they want to go back to the way things were… by any means necessary.
Of course, we know that there is no going back. I am awake now, as are our comrades. The murder of George Floyd was the spark that lit the fire. The embers may be all that’s visible but they still glow bright red. The question that remains is: What is to be done? On the whole we have mobilized effectively; we have led marches and stated our demands as clearly and coherently as a popular movement can. Now, however, we must organize.
The revolutionary Kwame Ture spoke on the importance of mobilization and organization, and the difference between the two. The truth is we have been riding a wave of popular indignation at one or two publicized police killings, and this is not sustainable. To organize, we must build in our communities, in Black communities, in Indigenous communities, and in solidarity with other racialized peoples. We must acknowledge that the Black masses constitute a separate, captive nation within the European settler’s borders and act accordingly. We begin organizing our communities with mutual aid.
Mutual aid is more than just the distribution of resources to our most vulnerable community members. It is the basis of community. It is the basis of trust and it is with this trust that the revolutionary embers begin to burn brighter. We must foster solidarity in the struggle by providing our people with an alternative to the reality they know. Once they know an alternative that does not operate on manufactured scarcity, then their mind opens to the possibility of change. Once people gather around the food distribution table, around the clothing drive, then there is the opportunity to talk about abolition, anti-capitalism, and revolution. Of course, this is not a new method of organizing — the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and many other revolutionary groups have practiced this in the past. Informed by the lessons of these revolutionary predecessors, we must move toward organizing in New York City, and begin with mutual aid.
Look no more to the oppressor. Do not expect them to care. No one has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to their oppressor’s conscience. Just take a look at the Civil Rights Movement compared to where we are now — as states across the country attack voting rights and one of the two ruling parties openly align themselves with white supremacist cells. But do not give in to despair. We are still in the streets. The embers still burn, and the fire is coming
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