What we are seeing in the streets of Minneapolis and Memphis and New York and Los Angeles is the result not just of a decade of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist organizing amped up by the pandemic. We are also witnessing a rebellion against the many inequities exposed by the pandemic. Health, space, income, race, and the ability to stay away from person-to-person job duties have produced enormous disparities in the impact of the coronavirus. Wall Street has been made so whole it is soaring while renters—prevented from working—have been largely left out to dry. The same forces causing today’s pandemic-fueled inequality were at work when Occupy Wall Street protesters first occupied Zuccotti Park in 2011, and many strands of American protests from the past decade are now working together.
As any military tactician or social justice organizer can tell you, direct action gets the goods. The destruction of a police precinct is not only a tactically reasonable response to the crisis of policing, it is a quintessentially American response, and a predictable one. The uprising we’ve seen this week is speaking to the American police state in its own language, up to and including the use of fireworks to mark a battle victory. Property destruction for social change is as American as the Boston Tea Party and the Stonewall Riots. And before he unconvincingly qualified a statement so violent Twitter put it behind a warning screen, the president saying he would order shots fired to protect property—that’s as American as the MOVE bombing and apple pie.