“A philosophical tradition in the Americas began with Bartholome de Las Casas (writer of The devastation of the indies: a brief account) in 1514” – Enrique Dussel
I have spent the last few years being a community organizer in Los Angeles, a very difficult job despite the popularity of many of our positions. Sometime during my work in South Central and in Compton, I came to the conclusion that community in the US is an insurgency. It is a traditional form of insurgency in the US, fighting devastation by capitalism that does not recognize community and the governments, the levels of government, that facilitate it.
What’s being devastated is potential. When Francois Rabelais wrote Gargantua and Pantagruel, he was writing one of the great novels on inequality of his time: Gargantua is a giant mis-educated glutton and slob of a child monarch who feasted on 17,000 sheep at a time who will be refined by Ponocrates (Socrates?) to rule at a University in Paris. Writing in the Renaissance, Rabelais had no idea that Gargantua’s would become a democratic settlement, a city led by the strategies of its business elite and its $50,000 universities thanks to this stage of capitalism. In a city of massive, gluttonous inequality, does a new day come? Where the pace of life persuades denizens that they are part of a collective project but who are, in the end, to be urinated on, as Gargantua drowned Parisians in urine?
So then order tramples on potential, imposing morbidity to a collective’s dreams. LA, a city, which here we will define as both infrastructure and populace of Gargantuan public order, is no longer a working class or rebel song, a beloved sensualist poem, native folk tales heard by a river. Life, all known life, in Los Angeles today, as it is the case for life in most major cities in the US, is defined by its biopolitics. What are biopolitics? Biopolitics decide who is and who is not worthy of the rights and privileges conferred to citizens de jure or de facto. De jure citizens are as per the constitution: all who are born and naturalized are de jure. De facto citizens are as per practice and politics and where biopolitics in LA found themselves: the de facto citizens of LA who are privileged enough to have a social contract with the city that ensures that they live a life of ease and comfort are those who can afford the city and make enough money to do so. This making enough money as a landlord or what it may be in biopolitical terms creates the pool of folks who advise politicians on the cities future and guide the city. How else could Los Angeles come to have this much homelessness amidst this much development with zoning exceptions and heavy policing, two biopolitical policies among many that are used to favor the wealthy?
LA passes for civilization. Los Angeles is the homelessness capital of the United States. Its river is the literal definition of abjection and having lived next to it and smelled dead bodies after mornings of heavy rain, the indifference that residents feel about their river is as abject. It is a physically demanding city, that requires much effort to transport one’s self to and back from wherever. Bus rides are outrageously long. Train stops are out of the way. Car rides are plagued by traffic. Walking by foot often feels bizarre, and LA is not urbanized to be a walkable city. Bike riding and skating are very dangerous and I can tell you as a bike rider cars act with absolute sovereignty or philanthropy but almost never in solidarity on the streets of LA. Furthermore, LA is a segregated city where most brown folks like in the east, the valley, and south, most black folks in central and south, and white folks everywhere really but importantly in west, central, and north and northeast LA, the wealthy parts of the city. It is a modern plantation because it literally works certain communities to death while being a big house for a few. Having experienced two riots, 1966 Watts and 1992 in South Central (starting in Harvard Park) LA’s government coerces citizens into order by spending 53% – 60& of its municipal budget on the brown and black faced police force armed to wage war. Lately, the plantation has decided to transition from an industrial plantation system to being mostly a post industrial residential heaven while providing some relief for those in its servitude through some money, care, and some housing. LA has begun displacing residents like no other from their once underserved communities into the streets and out of LA. The culture of this is car culture, charter culture, consumption culture, in language rid of pedagogy where all politics not guided by the sovereign is considered quixotic.
What’s next for insurgency? Let’s hope that a culture of rights and obligations, instead of this. That can only come from disobedience, yes but mostly from insurgency when an ethics of reciprocity, work, and representation comes to the fore.