May Day’s assault on invisible violence

This article was published in the May ’14 issue of the Central Circuit.

by Casey Jaywork | Editor in Chief

May 1st, 2014: A luxury sedan pulls up to a stop sign. The driver has just finished dinner at an upscale restaurant in Seattle’s business district. The evening sun casts a long, creeping shadow across the car’s sparkling hood. He’s tired, and ready to go home.

Suddenly, a wall of human beings pours into the intersection, like toothpaste squeezed from a giant tube. Screeching, hooting, shouting, swearing, they bear radical signs and radical hair. Photographers scurry around the crowd’s perimeter, flies on a lumbering beast. The driver blinks and shakes his head—is this for real?

Now they’ve surrounded the car. Most are walking past, but one young man—garbed in what looks like rags and facepaint—stops in front of the sedan. He screams and waves his arms at the car. The driver’s eyes go from pinched to wide as other marchers congregate around him, pointing and yelling. Someone kicks the door, then others: percussive feet bounce off the car like rain on a tin roof. The guy at the front jumps onto the hood. The driver does not know what to do—who are these people?

Then, salvation: the police. A current of dark uniforms cuts through the tide of protesters, shoving away the mob with bicycles and clubs. Surrounded by a perimeter of body armor, the driver breathes deeply and relaxes the muscles in his shoulders. The rabble have been diverted.

I don’t know about you, but my immediate reaction to this (true) story is sympathy for the driver. He was minding his own business, bothering no one. What right do these ne’er-do-wells have to tarnish his car, block his path, threaten his person?

But wait. Just what is “his own business”? How did he afford that luxury sedan and that upscale dinner—who pays his salary, and where do they get their cash flow from? And why are the police going all-out to defend storefronts and fancy cars, but not cracking down on wage theft or white collar crime—or, for that matter, distributing aid to the city’s homeless or training young women in self-defense?

It’s a lot easier to see violence when it’s unusual. When a million black Americans live inside cages, when shell-shocked veterans sleep under bridges and in parks, when tax dollars buy drones to slaughter Pakistani children by the dozen, when elections are bought and sold like NFL teams—we don’t see these events as “violence.” In a sense, we don’t see them at all, any more than we see the sky or the road. They’re the backdrop to our lives—normal, reliable, expected.

But a rich guy gets his car dented? Unusual—and therefore visible, violent.

Whether and when it is ethical to deploy violence, and against whom or what, is a question for which I don’t have simple answers. Maybe kicking in luxury cars is laudable; maybe it’s juvenile and self-indulgent. But I do know that it’s hypocritical and silly to criticize would-be revolutionaries for a few hundred dollars’ worth of property damage while remaining silent about the systemic violence all around us.

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