ps/o4 public trading | value system | anti-imperialism and boombox politics
23 August 2000
ultra-red reflects on the "festival of resistance in los angeles"
After months of preparation, members of the audio-activist group, Ultra-red emerge from the protests around the Democratic National Convention (DNC), held in Los Angeles August 14 to 17. Collaborating with guerrilla cartographers, the Independent Media Center's radio collective as well as assisting in organizing a queer rights march, Ultra-red members reflect on how a week of protests transformed the city from a militarized zone to a patchwork of sovereign public spaces.
a city on two axes
The booster class (the Mayor, their chief cheerleader), has spent millions remodeling downtown Los Angeles as the capital of global capital. As a result, LA is home to more billionaires than any other American city. What a rusting military industrial complex left behind, has now become the centerpiece of Pacific Rim finance capital, real estate, entertainment and media and, as always, oil. These are the pillars in both the southern California contemporary miracle and its myth.
For in addition to the billionaires, Los Angeles is also home to the largest number of sweatshops in the United States. The fifty wealthiest Los Angelenos have a combined wealth equal to the three million poorest Los Angelenos. Los Angeles has the highest number of working poor and low-wage manufacturing workers in the United States. In other words, Los Angeles truly is representative of the existing economic geography under today's corporate globalization.
the global becomes local
As a result of this collaboration, domestic issues and those mobilizing around them acquired a focus not seen before in Seattle and DC. A prominent player in the RNC protests was the anti-poverty struggles of the Kensington Welfare Rights Organization. In Los Angeles, organizations affiliated with the October 22 coalition dedicated an entire day for protests against police brutality, heinous three-strikes laws and the general assault on civil liberties represented by the war on drugs. In the context of international resistance, both of the these local efforts found a very real affinity with anti-poverty and anti-militarism struggles on a world scale.
It's not that local activists have been unaware of these connections prior to the RNC and DNC. But now there is a movement in which to articulate and connect local and global struggles and, in effect, bring the conflict home.
From the vantage point of the streets, these observations couldn't be more indicative of the very thing which brought us into the streets to begin with: the absolute control of public space by self-interested corporate monopolies. The very notion of "politics as usual" conceals the assumption of what is meant by politics. When was the last time a news analyst reminded the viewers that popular sovereignty is protected by the constitution and that corporate influence is not?
If, as the mass media claims, protesting has no effect on the course of events, then our democracy truly is dead. After all, all positive social change in America from women's suffrage, voting rights for African-Americans, the 8 hour work day, the criminalization of child labor, all resulted from social movements and street protest. On this account, politics as that which is controlled by corporate-funded political parties is nothing but a "mockery of democracy".
Welcome to the local manifestation of the global police state.
the vision thing
It is significant then, that the RNC and DNC protests took shape not around a singular goal or issue (such as campaign finance reform, or even the Nadar candidacy). Instead, in contrast to the call for a single vision, the Philadelphia and Los Angeles protests embraced a wide range of issues; corporate control of the democratic process, the right to organize a union, pay equity for women, queer rights, police brutality, the war on drugs, immigrant rights, militarism in Columbia, the sanctions against Iraq and Cuba, homelessness and others. The resulting diversity did less to further fragment disparate struggles than to energize local struggles within a global context.
But still, "the vision thing" does have one legitimate target of complaint. Unlike Seattle in November and, to a lesser extent, DC in April, Labor chose to keep its full weight out of the RNC and DNC protests. Granted, the Pennsylvania State Labor Council endorsed the Unity 2000 March during the RNC and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor helped organize labor actions during the DNC around a teachers' strike and a pending strike for public employees. But neither actions assumed the scale equal to that of Seattle. Obviously, Labor had a vested interest in refraining from raising its fist at the Democrats. If Bush and Gore differ on anything (and that difference shrivels each day), the latter has made consistent promises to continue a hands-off approach to Labor. In sharp contrast, Bush has sworn to launch an executive-branch assault on organized Labor, picking up where Reagan and Bush, Sr. left off ten years ago.
From this point of view, the question isn't whether the anti-corporate globalization struggle has the vision to become a movement. The more pertinent question is whether Labor itself has the vision to join that struggle in the streets as a way of building working class power.
For more information on the RNC and DNC protests, check out the following websites:
Independent Media Center of Philadelphia: http://members.telocity.com/phillyimc/
This dispatch is fifth in the Ultra-red series, "Value System." Founded in 1994, Ultra-red are audio activists producing radio broadcasts, street actions, performances and installations. The group's work radicalizes the conventions of electro-acoustic and ambient music to explore acoustic space as enunciative of social relations. Membership within the group changes according to collaborations with grass-roots political organizations. Ultra-red have released CDs and albums on Comatonse Recordings (Oakland, California), Mille Plateaux (Frankfurt, Germany), True Classical (Los Angeles) and Beta Bodega Coalition (Miami).