Please Hand-Sanitize All Pitchforks and Torches: Tips For a Safe Coronavirus Riot

Ain’t nobody slowing down no way
Everybody’s stepping on their accelerator
Don’t matter where you are
Everybody’s gonna need a ventilator…

–Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, “Ventilator Blues

Oh, those prescient Stones.  And I’m not even talking about their Ventilator Blues.

Rich as they were, sheltered as they were, back at the height of the Viet Nam war even Mick and Keith felt so much rage against the machine that they were tempted to become “street-fighting men.”  Like them, I’m old enough to remember the euphoria of not only marching in the streets but of chucking the occasional long-distance rock at National Guardsmen outside the Pentagon, and of running, head down, through a miasma of tear gas, while clutching a girlfriend’s hand.  Our fight against that war seemed to demand more than words, more than orderly picketing, more than reasoned debate; it demanded the dignity of a physical response.  And now, as the coronavirus shows Americans a sickening X-ray image of capitalism at its worst, like a Bat-signal projected into the night sky, our rage is building to a similar point of battle-readiness.  But here’s the hideous paradox: at the very moment when we should be out in the streets again, expressing that rage in street actions–even, dare I say it, in riots—we’re forced to “self-quarantine”: and what phrase could better express our daily alienation under late-period capitalism?  Maybe just one: “social distancing.”

So while I’m not recommending street actions (or riots) against the pandemic of cruelties and injustices we read about every day—power companies shutting off electricity in the midst of the suffering; Senators profiting from secret virus briefings; prisoners condemned to die for lack of bail money; Nancy Pelosi, etc—just in case people do feel compelled to hit the streets, here are a few simple tips for doing so safely.

+ Please hand-sanitize all pitchforks carefully. Make sure to Purell each individual fork-tine–not just those easy-to-get-to outside ones!–and give a thick second coating to the pitchfork handle itself.

+ Rock-throwers, please remember what riot-savvy epidemiologists tell us: you are only as safe as the last ten people to throw that rock before you. The same goes for all thrown objects, including bottles, half-bricks, etc.: thoroughly scrub down all projectiles before (and after) you throw them.

+ This is a key point. Many people assume that the heat of flaming torches automatically protects the torch-bearer from the virus. Not so! Again—while the entire American political system may well be your enemy, Purell is still your friend.  Rinse all torch surfaces thoroughly before marching towards, say, Mitch McConnell’s house.

+ One weird police tradition that remains intact, going all the way back to those Viet Nam era street-actions, is their complaint that uncouth protestors caused a confrontation by “hurling epithets” at the cops. So if you’re going to “hurl epithets,” please make sure that you have carefully sanitized your epithets as well.  None of us would want to responsible for splashing a cop with a filthy epithet at a perilous time like this.  Ask yourself this simple question: would I want the officer to hurl this epithet back at me?  “If the answer’s no, the epithet shouldn’t go.”

+ Finally: if we start to face serious food shortages, and you do, ultimately, decide to eat the rich, make sure you only eat the ones who have already tested negative. Fortunately, due to the workings of the American class system, the wealthiest among us will have had access to testing, so determining which of the 1% are “good eating” will be relatively easy.  Even so, just to be doubly safe, always boil the rich before consuming them.

It all boils down–so to speak–to one basic thought, if I may (reluctantly) wax serious for a moment: stay alive, brothers and sisters on the left.  You are needed.  Now more than ever.

John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He is a contributor to Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence. He can be reached at: