I don’t like seeing the city destroyed. This is not at all within the spirit of May Day celebrations.
-Seattle City Council Member Bruce Harrell, May 1st 2012
Here we are again. For us, not much has changed. However, the cities around us have grown, strengthened, become more adaptable, resilient, and overwhelming in their ability to absorb all of our energy. The contemporary metropolis is a machine designed to extract capital from humans and to keep them pacified while doing so. Those who reject pacification are demonized, marginalized, imprisoned, or murdered.
On May 1st, 1886, hundreds of thousands of workers did not go to work and took the streets in a General Strike, determined to show the capitalists that they would only work eight hour days from then on. In Chicago, the city where the movement for the eight hour day was the strongest, striking workers were locked out of a machine plant. On May 3rd, they held a large rally in front of the plant, and when the striking workers confronted the scabs, the police opened fire on the crowd and killed several of the strikers. In response to these murders, a rally was called for May 4th in Haymarket Square.
It was here that three thousand people listened to speeches while being watched by dozens of Chicago police officers. And it was here that someone, filled with hatred and anger at the continuing murders of poor workers, decided to throw a bomb into the crowd of police. Six cops died and several workers were killed when the police opened fire after the blast. The square emptied. Everyone left. And then, over the next few days, eight anarchists were rounded up by the authorities and thrown in jail. One killed himself in jail. Four were hung. Four were were eventually released. The anarchist who killed himself in prison, Louis Lingg, said the words to the court before he was sentenced: I say to you: I despise you. I despise your order, your laws, your force-propped authority. Hang me for it!
These are the people who died so that workers might work eight hour days rather than fourteen hour days. These are the anarchists that are remembered on May 1st.
Throughout the world and for over a hundred years, people have celebrated May Day by actively revolting against capitalist and state institutions. A cursory internet search reveals a wealth of evidence supporting this statement. May Day is in no way a day reserved for exclusively peaceful demonstrations—and it never has been. The city, the police, the Democratic recuperators, the banks, and the business and property owners would prefer if May Day was peaceful, for this would perfectly serve their interests.
For those of you who still don’t understand, we will make it simple: anarchists fight for total freedom. And on the way, we are consistently disparaged, misquoted, attacked, imprisoned, and murdered. So now we’re here, one hundred and twenty six years later, about to say the same things we have said again and again. Pay attention this time, huh? Ready? Ok. Here we go.
Seattle police are investigating after vandals threw rocks through windows at the home of Mayor Mike McGinn following violent May Day protests. McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus confirmed Wednesday that the rocks sailed through his dining room and living room windows around midnight. McGinn and his wife were home but were not injured. According to a police report, the mayor’s wife saw two people outside the home after the rocks were thrown. One waved and then both suspects walked away. A police search of the area failed to locate them.
-Komo News, May 2nd, 2012
On May Day, the mayor declared a state of emergency that allowed the police to confiscate any large sticks they saw people carrying in the crowds of protesters. This state of emergency ultimately allowed roving bands of police to dive into crowds and attack people carrying signs and banners. The justification for these emergency laws was the massive ‘violence’ inflicted downtown by the anarchists. Mayor McGinn and Chief Diaz busied themselves with hyping the fear and terror through the mainstream media in order to build support for their one-day, micro police-state.
Let’s look at reality for a second before proceeding. All that actually happened downtown was the smashing and vandalizing of several widely-loathed corporate shops, banks, and stores. In addition, a half dozen vehicles had their tires slashed, bodies painted, and windows smashed. The US Courthouse was paint-bombed and smashed. A few right-wing citizens and mainstream journalists were physically assaulted. Needless to say, the majority of the vandalism was directed against capital. The destructive period lasted no more than an hour, and probably closer to 40 minutes.
While what we are about to say is simple, we will write it in a bold font so the point is not lost: the state of emergency declared by the mayor was an effort to protect capital and nothing else. While he may continue to cloak his actions under the guise of liberal-humanism, the mayor revealed himself yesterday as being a reactionary guardian of capitalist order and harmony.
The purpose of the anti-capitalist march that began at noon and proceeded to trash the exteriors and facades of the previously listed institutions was to attack capitalism. The anarchists who were present were very clear in their messaging, even if they were a bit blunt in their expression of it. And it was not only the anarchists who attacked capital in the early afternoon. Dozens of random people were swept up in the lightning assault while a crowd of hundreds cheered. The black bloc did not infiltrate any march or movement.
The sentiment of the marchers was largely anti-capitalist and the vandals were opposed by only a handful of individuals, a couple of whom are the self-appointed super-heroes of Seattle. These idiots decided to act like the police and indiscriminately pepper sprayed the crowd around the US Courthouse. The crowd responded by beating them with sticks, rocks, spit, and curses. The super-heroes were left behind to ponder their betrayal of the people they pretend to protect.
Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks. The time during which the laborer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labor-power he has purchased of him. If the laborer consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.
-Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Volume 1, 1867
That evening, as fear of an evening assault spread, bosses and property owners sent workers scrambling to board up their precious windows. The plywood screamed “GUILTY CONSCIENCE” onto empty city streets. Why would Forever 21 think it needed to protect itself against the anarchist menace? It’s not really very hard to figure it out. “Destroy what destroys you,” said one of the May Day promo posters. “Revolt for a life worth living!” said others.
Downtown has by now returned to normal. Cars and buses move freely through the streets as people numbly trudge from home to work to store and back again. Shoppers and shop-lifters pass each other on shining escalators, surrounded by millions of dollars worth of disposable, sweat-shop produced crap. Teens and middle-aged women crane their heads around to examine their asses in dressing room mirrors, frowning with anxiety. Workers slack and pilfer a little at a time, hoping the boss won’t notice. Dead-time reigns.
Not everyone is as satisfied with a return to business as usual as Mayor McGinn. Not everyone is as “troubled” and “saddened” by a few smashed windows as the pancake-faced newscasters. And it isn’t just you and it isn’t just me. This is what terrifies those who profit from us. Their worst nightmare is the reality of hundreds of people actively applauding, encouraging, participating in, and growing ecstatic at the sight of capital being attacked. They want to obscure this reality however possible, to prevent the contagion from spreading even further. Beyond this, they also want to pit different political tendencies and groupings against each other, fearing a unification of the dispossessed. While tactics may differ, our goals are the same, and the authorities wish to prevent us from understanding each other and the beauty of our differences.
The tactics displayed on May 1st not only demonstrate an ability to attack these seemingly invincible structures, they also encourage and promote agency amongst people who rarely get the chance to strike back at the institutions that they despise. The authorities do not want a populace that asserts itself outside the legal framework. They want to preserve the system that has brought us all to the dead end we now face. There is no legal route out of the current impasse. There is only rebellion, illegality, experimentation, mutation, and abandon. Our goal is and will remain to encourage people to disregard the laws that allow this death-culture to grind on and on and on. This does not only mean destruction—for there is so much to create–but it is undeniable that destruction is central to this project of snatching our lives and the earth back from those who have stolen them.
We hope these words find you well and definitively severed from the narrative of the police and the government. May all of our stories intermingle, collide, and develop away from the suicidal master-story we were all brought up to believe. Thank to everyone who came out for May Day and good luck in all of your future efforts.
May 1st, Santiago, Chile
May 1st, Berlin, Germany
May 1st, Jakarta, Indonesia
May 1st, New York City, USA
May 1st, Seattle, USA