From Stonewall to Blair Mountain

Stonewall riots. (2024, June 18). In Wikipedia.

Once upon a time, in a village called Greenwich, there was a dingey little bar called Stonewall where several shades of queens and dykes used to hang out, get lit, and get their rocks off. It wasn’t much to look at, just a punchy little hole in the wall run by the Genovese Crime Family on the Queer end of Manhattan. The truth is, there were actually a lot of Stonewalls. They came and went, popping up here and there only to be crushed by the cis-het state for this reason or that.

However, in June of 1969, this Stonewall was a temporary autonomous zone, a shitty little pirate utopia for the most marginalized members of the Queer community; a dizzy hodgepodge of drag queens, bulldykes, trannies, twinks, hustlers, and street kids, most of them Black and brown, extras cut from a Lou Reed song for forgetting to shave their legs that mourning. But they were family and, for fifteen minutes, Stonewall was their home.

Then the pigs came. The pigs always came. Aggressive, sexually confused white men with no necks, limp dicks, and square haircuts. Nasty, role-crazy, civil servants hitting up any place misfits dared to call home for their “gayola,” a dirty wad of cash the mob would pay these glorified welfare scroungers just to fuck off for a few weeks.

And when the pigs didn’t get what they wanted they took what they wanted. Throwing teenage runaways up against the wall and thrusting their grimy hands up their skirts. Beating us. Raping us. Locking us up for crossdressing and then beating and raping us some more. But something happened when the pigs came to Stonewall in late June 1969. The queens and dykes said enough.

You can call it a riot. You can call it an uprising. You can call it a rebellion. I call it an ass whooping and it was well deserved and a long time coming. After the Public Morals Squad of the NYPD attempted to trap about 200 Queers inside the Stonewall Inn, a small army of their comrades slowly swelled outside the bar.

A stone cold butch bulldyke and Black buck drag king named Storme DeLarverie threw the first punch. In fact, she threw the first twenty, taking on multiple pigs at once for nearly ten minutes straight before being cracked wide open by a truncheon with her fists chained behind her back. Bloody but unbowed, Storme barked to her people, “Why don’t you guys do something?” as she was being crammed into a police cruiser. So, we did something.

The crowd of irate Queers, which now outnumbered the pigs by several hundred, armed themselves with bricks from a nearby construction site and rained down hell on the invading army in blue. When those ham-fisted cowards barricaded themselves in the bar, our bar, with a bevy of handcuffed hostages in tow, this spontaneous Queer army tore out a parking meter, turned it into a battering ram, and burned that motherfucker down.

More pigs came, tactical patrol forces with their helmets and tax-funded, “less than lethal” toys. The Queers met them with a kicking chorus line, and when the pigs failed to get the joke, when they failed to get that they were now the fucking joke, we kicked their pink asses black and blue, up and down Christopher Street, until they literally ran home screaming for their lives.

I wasn’t there. I wasn’t even born yet. But I say ‘we’ because a movement was born that night, a movement that literally saved my life and the lives of so many other strange, beautiful things raped and ravaged by a state designed by satanic cunts who call themselves Christians to confine the individual in a jar with no holes in the lid. I, like many others, would have suffocated there, broken and alone, if a few pissed-off queens and dykes hadn’t said enough at Stonewall and detonated the closet.

The assimilationist Homophile Movement had been begging breeders politely to abuse us a little more softly for decades and achieved nothing. It took a riot to wake this country and gather its broken toys into an army and I’m tired of pretending that this act of vengeance was anything but justly violent and absolutely fucking necessary.

I have been a part of the antiwar movement in this country for nearly as long as I’ve been Queer. I have opposed every imperial bloodbath that this country has ever partaken in, including literally every war since I was born screaming in the wrong gender almost 19 years to the day after the Stonewall uprising.

From Panama to the Persian Gulf to the former Yugoslavia and back to the Gulf again, from Afghanistan to Libya to Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and Gaza, I despise war like I despise my dick, but I am not a pacifist. I am a rare post-left student of the libertarian Non-Aggression Principle, which opposes all initiatory violence, including taxation and carceral confinement. But there was nothing initiatory about Stonewall and it wasn’t the first or the last popular uprising necessary to defend the public from the oppression of the state in this country.

Every single chickenshit privilege that we call a right in this nation was taken by force in uprisings frequently labeled as riots. There would have been no eight-hour workday or five-day workweek if it wasn’t for the West Virginia Coal Wars that forced Washington to send in the National Guard to put down the largest uprising since the Civil War at Blair Mountain in 1921. And we might have held onto a few of those hours too if we had kept fighting instead of joining the federal government with FDR’s duplicitous New Deal.

Every single civil rights act pushed through by liberal progressives like the Kennedys and LBJ was a desperate attempt to extinguish the growing fires of the ghetto rebellions of the 1960s, with the patron saint of pacifism, MLK himself, often using the specter of looming Black Power to bring white power to the table and the riots inspired by his assassination spooking forward the last of these congressional pay offs.

The antiwar movement itself achieved its greatest victories, pausing the draft and ending the Vietnam War, with a rash of riotous behavior that spanned from the campuses of this nation’s finest universities to the jungle bases where LBJ drafted Black ghetto rebels to kill for Uncle Sam. The Pentagon estimated that 3% of its officers killed in Vietnam between the years of 1961 and 1972 had been fragged by their own GIs with their acts of incendiary insubordination peaking between 1969 and 1971 with 730 known incidents.

And this war against war was mirrored back home with at least 174 antiwar bombings occurring on campus during the school year of 1969-1970 alone. Long story short, the only reason why we aren’t still killing babies in Indochina to this day is because the Pentagon believed it may have cost them the entire empire and it probably should have.

This isn’t to say that violence is the only answer. Far from it. Every single one of these riots and insurrections was furthered by the tireless work of non-violent activists who provided the status quo with proof of a peaceful alternative to the violent lifestyle that their system made inevitable and many of those uprisings also include cases of good people taking direct action too far.

What we need is a diverse and tempered movement open to all non-initiatory tactics available to affect change. But in an increasingly despotic nation engaged in dueling genocides directed at both trans kids and their siblings in Palestine, pacifism practiced as a dogmatic religion is complacent at best and complicit at worst.

The sad fact of the matter is that the only way poor people have ever been afforded any real and lasting peace in this country is with a brick in one hand and a flower in the other. This empire has smashed enough fag bars and refugee camps. It’s time to make like my Queer elders and smash back.

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.