A Message Written in Fire: In Defense of Social Upheaval

It always ends this way, you can almost set your watch to it. A glamorous soirée rambling into the wee hours of the morning in an opulent townhouse on a tony tree lined street of any given international city. The kind of event held for some obscure charity to save a species of bird that likely never existed as anything but excuse for a deceptively benevolent orgy like this. Glamorous beautiful people with household names, dressed to the nine in three-piece-suits and silk gowns that cost more than most people will see in a lifetime. Ornate ballrooms echo with the bellowing sounds of the kind of excess that only this kind of downright flammable income can afford. Senators and Wall Street bankers dry hump underage courtesans, slurping Champaign twice their age and snorting Scarface-grade amounts of the same kind of narcotics they have twelve year old children of color locked up for decades for peddling in dime bags. Obnoxious plastic debutantes force theatrical laughter at racist jokes delivered by the direct descendants of Mayflower monsters and slave drivers. The only people of color are token police chiefs dressed like ornate African dictators. The only poor people are servants and the victims of white slavery, but suddenly they become very scarce.

Half empty horderve dishes litter the marble floors and bottomless cocktails go un refilled. The bourgeoise guests begin to scoff and bitch amongst themselves until loud explosions can be heard in the not so far distance. “Fireworks!” some dizzy general’s wife exclaims ignorantly and everyone becomes silent for a moment until a flaming trash can comes crashing through the plate glass window, scattering ashen refuge across the Persian carpets. The privileged partygoers gather at the windows to see an ocean of unwashed faces flooding the streets like a human storm, lit by torches and Molotov cocktails. Some of them carry rifles, most just sticks and pipes. A handful busy themselves assembling a makeshift guillotine in a nearby park. The beautiful people gasp and clutch their pearls, but it’s already too late. It always ends this way, every empire built on the broken backs of the poor, from Carthage to Bastille. What makes them think it could ever end any differently?

No, dearest motherfuckers, the violent uprisings multiplying in cities across the American Empire and beyond are not this end, not yet at least. They are merely a warning. A message written in fire to our current elites reading, “Your days of plenty are numbered!” to paraphrase a favorite film of mine. After another grotesque public lynching of what seems like the thousandth unarmed black man, poor people of every race have finally had enough. They have decided to draw a flaming line in the sand, constructed with turned over cop cars and shattered brand name boutiques. This was inevitable, and this article is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation on my part, but merely a weather report. This uprising is not a conspiracy or a movement, but a man-made natural disaster like the roaring wildfires of climate change. I am merely an articulate weathergirl, but any illiterate fool can tell you which way the wind blows.

It’s popular for journalists and media types to look down their noses at the excesses of populist violence. I won’t do that. I haven’t the right and neither do they. I may personally be far from a pacifist but I am a devout believer in that old libertarian spiritual tradition known as the Non-Aggression Principle, that condemns all initiatory violence and teaches us to never throw the first punch. But I cannot ignore the uncomfortable fact that for many of these besieged neighborhoods this is not the first but rather the 17th or 18th strike. Black and brown people, and many poor whites as well, have lived under the knee of a fascist gestapo state for generations, undertaking daily humiliations from an occupying force of heavily armed thugs from the suburbs who behave like wicked gods behind badges. The news wants the peasants to ask nicely to be treated with the respect you would afford a goddamn farm animal. But haven’t we all been asking nicely for decades?

We asked nicely after Trayvon Martin. We asked nicely after Eric Garner. We asked nicely after Freddie Gray, Breanna Taylor, and my friend Osaze Osagie. But all their killers walked free. They stroll the streets whistling like cartoon wolves who’ve gotten away with bloody murder because that’s precisely what they did. We asked nicely with Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, and Huey Newton, but all our pacifists and pragmatists have been shot dead. The chalk outlines still haunt us on the sidewalks long after their blood has been washed away. We asked nicely with Black Lives Matter, but those pleas too fell on deaf ears. So now George Floyd is dead and it’s a new day in America, where only black rage seems to count for a goddamn thing.

This is tragic. It didn’t have to be this way. I am the daughter of a small business owner. I grew up watching my mother build something proud from nothing, it still inspires my commitment to this blog. No hardworking person should have to watch that go up in flames. But I’m also a Queer person, a transwoman who’s identity is too complicated for binary choices on bathroom doors. This month marks the 41st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, where irate dykes and drag queens said enough with beatings and having white hands thrust up their skirts and went toe to toe with New York’s finest street gang. A movement was built on the ashes of torched cop cars outside a dingy fag bar that night. A movement that may have literally saved my life and countless others. So who am I to tell the United Ghettos of Amerika that they can’t have a taste of liberation too? We pretend like force never works but sometimes it does, usually in conjunction with the kind of peaceful protests we’ve seen bloom from this carnage in recent days. A diversity of tactics. This is what ended the Vietnam War. This is what forced America’s unwilling hand on labor and civil rights. There were riots between the guns with flowers in their barrels, war cries between the Baptist hymns. Los Angeles had to be burned to the ground before anybody got serious about reigning the gangsters of the LAPD in.

It’s not too late. The beautiful people who selfishly horde power in this empire could just let go. We might even let them keep their pilfered riches if they could just end this 500 year campaign of greed, of raping and pillaging the Third World at home and abroad, of Manifest Destiny and indispensable power. If they could just stop dropping their bombs. If they could just let our children walk free from their prisons. If they could just give us back our streets. But who are we kidding? It always ends this way. Our so-called president hides behind a forest of soldiers, cowering in his own mess in the irritable bowels of the White House, as the hands of the poor and perpetually fucked-with shake the bars around him. Even a belligerent imbecile like him knows its over. The grand illusion of our “democracy” has been demystified. There’s nothing left but pure uncut fascism and they don’t have enough knees to lynch us all. Yes, dearest motherfuckers, it doesn’t take a weathergirl to tell you that it always ends this way, but here I am. Somethings never change.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.

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