Disclaimer: This was mostly written before the anti-lockdown/ anti vaccine mandate protests that broke out in Narrm on Monday, September 20th, 2021. While those protests added extra layers of complexity, I am still comfortable putting the ideas contained in this piece forward as being relevant to the whole mess we’re in.
Another lockdown drags its weight through the winter and into spring, embellishing hours into days and days into weeks. I endure time by going for runs, strumming my bass, reading, writing, cooking. Materially comfortable enough for now. Missing those I love. Staying close to the few I love that I’m able to. Sometimes bored, sometimes worried. Just passing time.
There’s another post saying not to complain about lockdowns because there’s people in jail or in detention centers or dying. I half nod, caught out by the instinctive call and response posture. Then I shrug. There’s always the guilt of someone worse off. These words are emptied of meaning precisely because of their transcendent righteousness.
Their emptiness is a mirror of the baffling mess that they critique – the anti-lockdown demonstrations. Whereas the righteous words sit in a hollowness of their own creation, of being so correct that they (seek to) leave no space for any other feeling, the protests are all feeling at their core with little interest in the sense they make or in being able to grasp something that holds true. And so we have a constellation of narratives seeking to unearth the greatest conspiracies, possibly entertaining if not for the darker endpoints they often lurch towards.
(An uncomprehensive look back on the era of the counter summit, anti-capitalist movement inspired by the recent 20th anniversary of the G8 protests in Genoa. Not going into detail about specific events or the content of debates, just a general reflection on lessons learned and some of the tactics, ideas and cultural markers that circulated during that time.)
The size, force and fury of the protests that confronted the G8 when it met in Genoa marked the peak of what was being called the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement. This naming never sat right with many of us who were around at the time for numerous reasons including that, to whatever extent it was a coherent ‘movement’, it tied together a series of disparate rebellious moments and ongoing struggles that occurred across the globe. The common affect of that time could most precisely be described as a sense of connection that we were part of the same thing happening in so many parts of the world. So instead of ‘anti-globalisation’, I’m going to refer to this as the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement, even though that isn’t perfect too.
Building anti-capitalist knowledges from disparate sources
One of the defining aspects of an upsurge in social struggle are the forms of knowledge that are generated and how these circulate, seeping into a broader societal consciousness. At the level of analysis, of creating a generalised understanding of the systemic conditions which shape our lives and the world we inhabit, the era of the summit protests made popular a wide-ranging discourse around its core idea: anti-capitalism. This wasn’t one central theory but a series of divergent, and sometimes conflicting, ideas and experiences.
marshals cannot protect us from police – marshals end up policing the protest, restraining rebellious energy – the authority imbued in the role of marshal makes people suspicious of other participants within a protest – the role of marshals exacerbates two negative tendencies of solidarity; laziness and distrust – an imposed, rigid structure to ensure ‘safety’ cannot be flexible enough to account for variables in danger – instead, organise with friends to look out for each other and then communicate with other groups across the protest – safety can’t be the only factor in determining what action looks like, we have to take risks beyond the pre-determined boundaries of a formal protest – conclusion.
This piece is influenced by a series of diverse and informal conversations about the entrenched role of marshals at demonstrations in this town. However, the political inflection it takes, the conclusions drawn, are mostly reflective of my own thinking. While there are common starting points, I don’t want to suggest that where I end up is necessarily representative of any greater collective intent. That is to say, I think some of you who I’ve had these conversations with will disagree with parts of this. I write this as part of the ongoing discussion, hopefully contributing to new forms of acting alongside each other at street protests that is open to taking risks and looking out for each other without always handing our power over to some higher authority.
It should be noted that there are 2 distinct layers that constitute critical conversations around marshals – one being the articulation of a variety of issues with how the current marshalling structure conducts itself, the other being a more general questioning of the very existence of formal marshals at demos. I start with the first, but quickly move to the second.
Some reflections from a town under curfew, as further authoritarian measures are imposed.
Today The Guardian – which has taken an unapologetic deep-dive into asserting liberal obedience as its M.O. – runs a headline that ‘Tighter restrictions bring relief to Melbourne locals’ , with the tagline that “the sense of structure provided by the new lockdown plan has comforted many”. A comforting sense of structure!? Who are these people? I guess i’m not that surprised, liberals have always been the likeliest bootlickers, the ones preparing the confetti at the sound of imminently approaching goose-steps.
Down here there’s a strange Stepford Wives-esque, idyllic suburban calm hiding the darker scenes. An implicit consent to creeping authoritarianism. An attempt to flatten social contradictions as the comfortable, but always anxious and fearful meditate on their mantra of “we’re all in this together”. Ohm.
In the midst of the COVID-related lockdown I wrote of how “time passes at the tenor of a slow murmur” to try and describe the sense of a distortion that I was feeling. It might have been apt at the time, but the weeks following have passed at a different, much quicker tempo. Now the institutions (police, prisons) and systems of oppression (white supremacy, anti-blackness, colonialism) that seemed so fundamental to daily life that they must have been born with the changing of the seasons are teetering on the precipice. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has sparked a rebellion that has spread and taken form in all corners of the globe. Suddenly, time is a blur as history crashes around us.
(a printable zine/ pdf version of this can be found at the end or in ‘zines’ tab).
Part I: Finding each other.
“The noise of excited voices could be heard, the streets must be full of people, the crowd shouting just three words, I can see, said those who had already recovered their eyesight and those who were just starting to see, I can see, I can see, the story in which people said, I am blind, truly appears to belong to another world.”
– Blindness by Jose Saramago
I want you to describe for me the scene when the pandemic passed and social distancing ended. The one where we poured out from the cocoons we’d harboured within over these long months and into each others arms. Homes with doors opened to the streets and into neighbouring houses, creating a chain of encounters and dancefloors – the greatest party of all. Was it the block party to end all block parties, an after-the-revolution style celebration like Run the Jewels depict? Or was it more a stunned exuberance as Saramago describes? I’m sure that, just as importantly, there were quieter moments of coming together – moments of closeness with dear friends, of sharing meals again, of enjoying the sun and outdoors in company. How did we create the necessary spaces for grieving and reflection?