There's a riot goin' on - The Red Menace

Article drawing parallels between the struggles of the late 1960s and late 1980s in Berkeley, California.

Submitted by Spassmaschine on August 11, 2009

The recent wave of media nostalgia for the late 1960s in the USA and elsewhere (exemplified by the re-release of the film of the Woodstock festival) gives the impression that the most important preoccupations of the period were smoking dope and listening to Jimi Hendrix - which of course were not unimportant. The subversive movements of the time however are either ignored or treated as outbursts of youthful exuberance, with superstar radicals like Jerry Rubin wheeled out to prove that "they’ve all grown up now". Recent events in Berkeley, California have shown that not only have the struggles of the 60s not been completely forgotten, but that twenty years later some of them still continue.

In 1969 people in Berkeley turned a vacant allotment into a park; trees were planted and a playground built. The University of California, who owned the land, responded by putting an eight foot barbed wire fence around "People’s Park". In the resulting repression and resistance demonstrators faced 2500 National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets, tanks and helicopters. 700 people were arrested and over a thousand injured; one person (James Rector) was shot dead.

20 years after a group of People’s Park supporters declared "they cannot stand our Life resisting their Expansion of Commerce", a similar battle is being fought in Berkeley. This time the focus of the struggle has been gentrification and "the attempt by the University, real estate developers, the merchants, and the city to clear the area of black youth, homeless and poor, and others who disturb the smooth production of an elite student body, its consumption from local merchants, and the accumulation of real estate and other profit".

On 19th May 1989 (the 20th anniversary of the death of James Rector) 200 people gathered to watch a film about the original People’s Park movement, after which they marched up Telegraph Avenue behind a banner saying "UC out of People’s Park". Bonfires were built in the road and as police intervened they were attacked with bottles, cans and anything else that could be thrown. By this time a crowd of 1000 people had gathered, and the police line was driven back down Telegraph Avenue. Homeless people, punks, black, latin, asian and white kids all joined in as a full scale riot developed. The local Bank of America was attacked and chain stores were looted. As one participant described it: "The whole atmosphere is very friendly, festive and wild. Strangers hug each other and pass out the loot to those who want it."

The police were unable to obtain reinforcements, as they were involved in another riot in nearby Hayward where cops had tried to shut down a heavy metal concert. One sergeant complained: "They won. They proved they can take the streets by force. Basically there is nothing we can do do". Similar lessons have been learnt by some of the rioters themselves: "On May 19th we learned that all is not set in stone, that the capitalist power structure has its vulnerable spots, that an insurrection could start spontaneous]y as a result of pent-up social tension, that the cops don’t always have to win, that clothes and food can be free, that burning cars make great barricades, and that by fighting together we can be very, very strong".

All the quotes come from a "special riot issue" of SLINGSHOT, 700 Eshelman Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. also worth a read is COLLIDE-O-SCOPE~ 2140 Shattuck Ave., Box 2200, berkeley, CA 94794, USA.

For an account of some recent strikes in the US, see the November issue of WORKERS INFO RAG, PM, c/o Zamisdat Press, GPO Box 1255, Grade Station, New York, NY 10028, USA.

Final]y we have received another interesting magazine from North America:

AGAINST SLEEP AND NIGHTMARE, P.O. Box 3305, Oakland, CA 94609, USA

The Red Menace, Number 5, January 1990. Taken from the Practical History website.