The Internet Is Not a Force for Change in and of Itself
Take to the streets if you can! And yes, the irony of this posting is not lost on me.
My intention in writing this is not to shame anyone, police anybody’s actions, or diminish any valid forms of online resistance — they all have their place of course. On the contrary, I’m arguing against any kind of “woke-policing”, which can only ever fully cease by disconnecting from the Internet. The goal of this writing is to provide an alternative prescription for the heavy information-consumer that may feel paralyzed (as I once was) by wanting to say, think, or do the perfectly “right thing” at a tumultuous time when no such solitary moral form exists. By engaging in offline forms of resistance, I believe one can leave behind the fear they may have of not embodying moral perfection in these unprecedented times, as well as obtain a renewed sense of connectedness that many of us sorely lack due to heightened COVID related alienation. This writing is my attempt to make the case.
The Power & Necessity of Offline Resistance
Attending Black Lives Matter protests in my local city the past several nights has solidified it for me. The internet is not, and cannot, be a vector for revolutionary (read: real) change in and of itself. The internet is an invaluable decentralized tool that democratizes organizational coordination as well as the dissemination of information and resources. However, as a tool, the Internet cannot be used to drive material progress forward solely from within its prismatic lens. All those who interface heavily with the Internet know this on some level, but whether or not they are conscious of it is a different story. Indeed, the shackling weight of the moment is reified by the hypothetical plane that is the Internet. And this isn’t an indictment on the Internet, this is simply a byproduct of the frictionless nature of the medium. Again, for the heavy user, the hyper-polar nature of the Net renders it a barely traversable hall of mirrors where everything is simultaneously true and false. The only way to rid oneself of these imaginary shackles, and shatter the mirrors, is to disconnect from the medium itself — not entirely, but enough to fruitfully engage in offline social contexts.
In the context of the current uprisings, the only way to cement the current patchwork of protests into something cohesive and class-based containing concrete demands is with active mass participation. And with the unprecedented scope and intensity of these protests, the State will likewise return the favor with unprecedented suppressive force. (Some of which we’ve already graphically witnessed either in person or via social media). Meaning, these protests will necessarily have to evolve, but the only scenario that allows for this evolution is the one in which protests are perpetuated. Note that the State will only resort to a full-scale assault on the people to the degree that they calculate they will be able to get away with it. The only way to balance this calculus in our favor is to unequivocally “dominate the streets”, as in President Trump’s words. Veritably, the stakes will only rise from here on and the way that we rise to meet them is by placing ourselves on the streets every night. Ultimately, every night spent on the streets is another night that we can build and cement power. This is also not a fetishization of action for action’s sake. Rather, without engaging in the action first, we cannot generate the base capacity needed to intelligently build and strategize around this momentum second. This rings true from the individual level all the way to the social level. And it is why, if one is able to, there is no replacement today for offline action when it comes to freeing oneself from the inherited emotional and mental burden inflicted by trying to find, absorb, and display the *Truth* on the Internet.
Moreover, these protests feature a rich spectrum of ideologies and backgrounds. Witnessing a collection of disconnected and alienated people, from wine moms to anti-capitalists such as myself, and everything in-between, come together to protest ongoing injustices filled me with a sense of mental and spiritual clarity that is unfamiliar but nonetheless welcome. Chiefly because I had vastly underestimated the opportunity for these movements to serve as the bridge between the varying struggles that the diverse body of protestors represent. These protests provide an indispensable chance to break down the barriers of suspicion and disconnection that exist between our diffuse struggles—often reproduced by the stratification and segregation of physical spaces within cities. The destruction of these intentionally imposed barriers will serve as the beginning of the construction of a shared commitment to one another that can be built upon. Only by disengaging from the Internet and engaging in the Real are these crucial social bonds able to germinate and bloom. Again, this is the basis for freeing oneself from the need to reaffirm one’s beliefs online (what I believe to be the “woke” trap) because by engaging offline, one is actually doing something in congruence with those beliefs and with this action comes the dissipation of anxiety/guilt surrounding feelings of helplessness endlessly sharpened against the whetstone that is the performative Internet sphere.
In material terms, the demands to defund and disarm the police are not remotely compatible with the hyper-accumulation of capital in America’s urban centers. The gross inflation of police budgets is a byproduct of the unfettered dismantling of the social safety net — the police simply filled the void left by it. They necessarily had to in order to maintain property values in cities at a time when profit rates continue to decline and real estate increasingly becomes the final non-abstract (as opposed to intellectual property, genealogy, etc.) avenue for capital accumulation. Inevitably, this also serves as the material pretense for gentrification, and subsequently, over-policing. Thus, in practice, these protests, while they may appear disjointed superficially, are in reality the spearhead of a coming conflict with capitalism. The precise Marxian language to express it might not be widely present at the individual level, thanks to the bourgeois media apparatus and education systems, but the impetus is there.
The Age-Old Question: What Is to Be Done?
All social unrest ultimately resolves in one of two eventual trajectories. It either fizzles out, becomes co-opted by bourgeois institutions, and results in paltry reforms, or it leads to a revolutionary struggle that restructures a given society. However, the propellant that undergirds the current upheaval possesses some unique characteristics that situate it for continued success where past movements have failed. Such as the social obstacle of people having to attend to their workplace being less relevant now than ever before due to un/underemployment. As a result, the fear of having something to lose is likewise at an all-time low. Also at an all-time low is the socio-cultural buy-in to America as an institution. Never before have Americans believed less in their Nation as a concept, sans the Civil War. It appears that underpinning everyone’s quarantine was a silent radicalizing alienation that touched even the most apolitical among us. Interesting to note is that the police differ from the citizenry in this regard due to being deemed “essential” workers. Having maintained their employment, the police have remained further insulated than the rest of society throughout the pandemic. Encouragingly, however, this radicalizing alienation is why the media’s attempts to distract and disaggregate the resistance thus far, under the guise of flaccid “respectability” arguments, have broadly failed to resonate.
Be that as it may, the hegemony of the ruling-class is not easily disrupted. Already, we are seeing those who stand to gain from a return to the status quo proposing impotent reforms like the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign. Some of the policies put forth under the proposal include the “requirement to warn before shooting”, the “banning of shooting at moving vehicles”, as well as “comprehensive reporting”. The guidelines almost read as if they come straight out of a satirical piece done by The Onion. No matter what, we must not allow the current movement to be co-opted into toothless reform that then gets channeled into vapid political campaigns. We must take whatever concessions the ruling-class offers us and then take more because the moment that the upheaval begins to recede, the ruling-class will immediately begin working to erode those gains made.
Indeed, even with all the fervor in the world, people cannot protest indefinitely so we must use this time to mobilize now so that when the protests inevitably do lose steam, we are sufficiently prepared for the police state’s response of heightened militarization, surveillance, and incarceration. These protests are not some trend or hashtag; they are a necessary and messy conflict that we must all engage in today in order to protect what little freedoms we may still hold onto tomorrow.
The city of Minneapolis is leading by example in this regard. The city has not and will not settle for petty reforms in the wake of George Floyd’s lynching. Protestors have abolished the police in many areas of the city by burning down precincts and pushing out officers in the midst of the fray. In their place, locals have begun building community defense organizations, organized countless pop-up food drives all over the city, and even taken over an abandoned hotel to provide shelter to the homeless. Residents have also commandeered abandoned corporate groceries like Target, turning them into distributive community food shelves, and have gone door to door to check up on each other and ensure everyone has food, water, basic necessities, and emotional support. Donations have been organized for local immigrant, Black, and Brown owned businesses to help with the rebuilding process. Residents of the city are even taking turns guarding George Floyd’s memorial site against white supremacist groups as well as the police and National Guard. In tandem with this, residents are blocking off side streets with makeshift barriers to protect vulnerable areas from the violence of those aforementioned groups. The last group to try and establish this kind of alternative social order, the Black Panthers, were systematically destroyed for doing so. At their height, the Panthers provided free breakfast meals for thousands of children daily alongside free health clinics and door to door checkup services. Building upon their work, Minneapolis is providing the modern blueprint for fostering stronger communal bonds and bolstering defensive preparedness free of the corrosive police state. Fitting in with the tradition of the Panthers we should work to intelligently arm the working-class as well in order to further shore up community defense before the coming crackdown.
Those who view abolishing the current police state as putting the cart before the horse should know that the police state as we know it is a 19th-century invention born out of racist slave patrols and anti-labor private “Pinkerton”-esque agencies. At the very least, we all can agree that the police must be disarmed, defunded, and democratized at the inter-municipal level in order to delink them from the prison industrial complex. (Another racialized institution of capital that likewise ought to be abolished.) Police spending will consume 54% of the city of Los Angeles’ revenues. Imagine the necessary improvements that could be made if those funds were diverted back towards the sectors of housing, education, public health, green energy infrastructure, and more. Again, I cannot overemphasize the class implications of these protests.
Log on only to the degree that it helps you log off
So please, flood the streets now if you’re able to. Marching is not required, even handing water and other items can have a huge positive effect. Get to know your neighbors and begin organizing and mobilizing within your community. Log on only to the degree that it helps you log off. Only then will the police and military apparatuses fear the consequences of trying to pulverize us. And only then can we extract real concessions from a failing state whose institutions have abjectly failed to provide for its people. The media’s attempts to break up the resistance are failing and only with unbroken mass participation can we ensure the continuation of this rarity. Real change won't come from within the Internet nor from more diversity and inclusion training. It will not come from the lazy pedestalization of electing more Democrats. As Cornell West puts it: “It looks as though the system cannot reform itself…we’ve tried Black faces in high places.” Indeed, real change, revolutionary change, can only come from the mass of people uniting in their commitment to change a society, which can only necessarily take place by the People physically placing themselves at the contemporary points of conflict within that society. Today, those points of conflict are the streets. Remember to stay safe and stay angry.