How Not to Fight Against Gentrification

Gentrification is a process where a working class, low-income neighborhood is colonized by the affluent and transformed into a bourgeois area. The 'embourgeosification' of a formerly proletarian quarter often begins when authentically impoverished low-income artists and bohemians move in. Minimum-toil-culture types are drawn to a low-income area by cheap rents, and are also often animated by an authentic antipathy for the larger homogenous corporatized society around us. Their marginal presence is followed by a proliferation of artsy enterprises: high-end galleries, shops, bars and restaurants drawing mainstream prosperous types to shop and consume in an area once thought to be too dark, dirty and (usually) non-white for upper middle class tastes. The gentry come to shop and party, and end up moving in, driving up the cost of rental housing, annexing affordable housing altogether, helping to drive hardcore wage slaves and the poor out of their homes and remaking an area in the image of the gentry's grasping, conspicuously consuming, conformist selves.

Gentrification is all about private property and the primacy of property rights over human needs in a market society. Vandalism of the property of wealthy invaders is an organic automatic response to the threat of dispossession gentrification brings. But sometimes a brick through a window is only a brick in a window. In fact, in most cases a broken window is just a broken window, a mere expression of atomized powerless rage. Context is everything.

A one-night-only mass vandalism spree that occurred in April 2012 in San Francisco's rapidly gentrifying Mission District shows how a successful episode of mass property destruction can in fact be a complete failure in terms of authentic subversive social struggle.

On the night of Monday, April 30th, 2012, a rally associated with the Occupy movement was held in the Mission District's Dolores Park. As the rally ended, a march departed from the park and headed down 18th street, which is now a hyper-gentrified corridor of expensive restaurants and stores. Marchers vandalized a number of highly appropriate targets and eventually turned onto a particularly loathsome stretch of Valencia Street. Valencia is ground zero in the negative class transformation of the formerly working class Mission and on Valencia high-end eateries and stores were paint-bombed and had their windows broken. Expensive cars were also trashed. The Mission District police station was paint-bombed and some of its windows were broken as well. According to the capitalist news media, more than 30 stores and restaurants were vandalized. Only one person was arrested, and this person was quickly released.

This event was an excellent first step.

Unfortunately there was no second step:

The people who did the April 30th action made no subsequent effort to communicate their reasons for indulging in mass vandalism, thus robbing their efforts of all credibility. Evidently they said nothing because they had nothing to say. Their mass vandalism spree could have been a foot in the door for a larger message against the gentrification of the Mission in particular and against capitalist society in general, but nothing more was heard from them. With this lapse into a characteristic complacency and silence, in their passivity and juvenile ineptitude the wannabe insurrectionary vandals handed a huge propaganda victory to both the Mission's bourgeois invaders and to the corporate news media, who were able to portray the event as an exercise in adolescent nihilism.

This silence of the lambs also left an opening for the event to be denounced by obnoxious liberalish elements in the local Occupy movement, who were given center stage by the mute vandals to decry the vandalism in any way they choose. In fact, people I spoke with at random, both around the neighborhood and at Occupy Oakland events at Oscar Grant Plaza surmised that the police themselves were behind the April 30th vandalism action. This seems absurd, but the silence of the vandals and their abject social ineptitude led to this.

In an anti-gentrification fight, time is of the essence in all things. In a larger sense, public high-profile anti-gentrification actions need to begin before the transformation of an area has become irreversible. And in an action like April 30th, 2012, the larger objectives that motivated the action's authors -- if indeed they had any motivations beyond providing themselves with entertainment -- have to be communicated while the event is still fresh in people's minds. This would have meant some kind of transparently clear public statement within a few days of April 30th. No such statement was forthcoming.

This vandalism spree did not lead to any new resistance. Forms that public collective resistance could now take two years later include:

1. Rowdy demos on Valencia Street during the dinner hour on Friday and Saturday nights to disrupt the pleasures of the table for the bourgies,

2. and big public neighborhood meetings,

3. and sustained picket lines outside of the business offices and home addresses of egregious gentrifiers, akin to what's been happening with the excellent anti-Google bus actions --

-- all of these in combination would be best. In this context, a campaign of vandalism targeting high-end vehicles, restaurants and other unmistakable symbols of bourgeois colonization can have a direct relevance to the larger problem that the April 30th 2012 action lacked.

Barely a month after the April 30th vandalism spree, the event was already forgotten, and not perceived as a credible threat to the galloping gentrification of one of San Francisco's last remaining working class areas. The vandalism spree was not a expression of a commitment to the working class integrity of the Mission, much less to any more widespread working class-based resistance to capitalism.

In a period of relative social peace, authentic revolutionary extremist action is all about communication. It is about communication to the exclusion of all else. If an action or event fails to communicate, then it has failed completely -- and it doesn't matter how much fun it was for the people doing it. Subjectively radical individuals have to try to communicate an uncompromising subversive message, on as wide a scale as possible, of direct relevance to the mundane everyday life concerns of mainstream working people. And this is usually best done as capitalist society itself generates opportunities for it. By this measure the April 30th 2012 Mission District vandalism event was an abject failure. To some degree, it even represented a brief 'colonization' of a real world problem by the 100% American/consumer society/all-entertainment-all-the-time ethos of the Black Bloc.

Black Bloc tactics are solely for the fleeting entertainment of the people who take part in them. They communicate nothing to the world at large. They lead nowhere. They offer nothing to build on. Mainstream working people aren't going to adopt Black Bloc tactics, or join the Black Bloc at protest ghetto events. The lack of credibility and commitment and failure of imagination seen in the April 30th 2012 Mission District vandalism spree is a symptom of the fact that a society gets the dissidents that it deserves. A society that proclaims that being entertained is the highest possible form of human aspiration gets a brand of ersatz radicalism that loyally mirrors this.



The most amazing one-trick pony in the "left communist" / anarchist milieu! Hooray!!!

It doesn't matter how right you are if you don't do anything about it but lecture others. That goes double if you're wrong.

It's weird how the last paragraph doesn't really jive with the rest of the article. Seems to be suggesting only that the organizers and militants should have done more follow-up work, which would imply that the black bloc action itself had merit if it happened in concert with outreach and a more sustained campaign.

Whats the deal Kevin? Just cause these particular folks were a bit flaky or distracted or had other things going on in their lives at that time, you forever want to burn effigies of the black bloc? Your little hate boner for that particular scene in that particular town is a very weird obsession. Like maybe you secretly want to have sex with smelly skid punks in ski-masks or something? I'm genuinely curious after YEARS of you chirping away about this shit.

for real - basically all of this is like "yeah. duh, missed opportunities of communication = failure to take advantage of the action"...And yes, extremist minority-based shit like the black bloc and related attacks really is all about symbolism and communication, in the broad sense. This is all true .....but...

then the last paragraph! wtf???? It totally undermines the rest of the whole piece, which was basically sound. That we fail when we dont follow up on such attacks by agitating and organizing and communicating ourselves in context is, or should be, common sense. But the last paragraph is just nonsense. Theres nothing inherent to the bloc about not communicating. Any number of counter examples could exist by which black bloc attacks occur in the context of a tremendous amount of anarchist communication and engagement with larger/other sectors. This is nt necessarily the job of strictly those involved in the bloc, but regardless, it should and does happen. Whats this dude's problem?

seconding what others said- the last paragraph is silly.

other than that, I agree. the people involved in the april 30th action should have communicated something, but they didn't and that's unfortunate, it was two years ago. let's move on. maybe start planning those neighborhood meetings and rowdy demos you suggest?

"... let's move on. maybe start planning those neighborhood meetings and rowdy demos you suggest?"

This is the only useful response I see here. Prove the author wrong by your sustained, collective public acts, in San Francisco's Mission District, in the weeks and months to come.

prove YOU wrong?! that's what you think people's motivation should be, to prove YOU wrong?! your monomania knows no bounds. . . .

You piece of shit, I can't even afford to travel to San Francisco from where I live, let alone live there. I fight where I am, but there's a reason it's harder for anarchists to keep it up in the unaffordable zones. As for whether working people are into the black bloc, well, I know I'm poorer than you are and I'm into it, and that seems to be the case in places like Rio de Janeiro too, so your pronunciations may just be about your own middle class consciousness.

PS not your personal army

As the other above, you indeed are full of shit for disregarding how hard it is when you're poor to hang out in a trendy yuppie city, like SF or any other. I couldn't take part in neighborhood assemblies in my former city, having been kicked out by gentrification firsthand, because I wasn't part of the fucking neighborhood, because I firstly had to stay in an apartment for taking part in those assemblies, damnit!

Anarchists do not pay capitalists for a living, they occupy.

So you want us to come to SF to join your collective public acts? Agreed... but you gonna have open up your flats and your lofts, for fuck's sake!

Why would you think that such a proportion of the readers here are based in that town?

The Black bloc in Brazil exists in a very different context than you acting-out-for-your-own-entertainment types in the United States. And that doesn't mean I necessarily think its such a great idea there, either.

Good luck brushing up on your eloquent debating skills, there, smart feller.

That's the crux of it... the black bloc tactics this article refers to are solely the questionable North American black blocs. It's got little to do with what the bloc has been doing in most of Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia, which was much mroe intense and conflictual stuff, yet with a lot more openness and outreach.

In Greece that black blocs are mostly not even dressed in black. Neither do they care much about dressing up, other than for covering faces.

This kind of US-exceptionalism is just ridiculous. How about, say, the recent series of black blocs in North Carolina, that were essential in finally breaking the silence on the string of police murders there, and that drew more participants even as the state & liberals did everything they could to split the social momentum around the issue? I'm guessing y'all big city types know less about what goes on in the hinterlands than we know about what happens in your superexpensive metropolises.

lol... if you'd know what isolated countryside shithole from where I wrote this!

I did write North America, where bb tactics are much lower intensity than elsewhere, and it's hard to claim the contrary, even with smashed cop cars and police station windows.

But the person youre responding to DID just claim the contrary, effectively I might add. The author of the original article here is simply wrong in suggesting, as he solidifies in his final paragraph, that the *tactic of the black bloc is inherently at odds with the broader mileu doing a good job at agitation, communication, counter-info, etc. There are just too many excellent counter-examples to speak of. Certainly anti police struggles that have broken out in places like Seattle and more recently Durham, with many events largely organized by anarchists, have spent a tremendous amount of time at the kind of communication that the author mentions. Likewise for the employment of the bloc during many of the summit gatherings of yesteryear. Likewise for the employment of this tactic in a range of struggles all over europe and south america (the author makes no nationally specific distinction when dismissing the bloc wholesale, so i wont either. In any case, as a tactic rather than a social milieu, which is the only useful way to talk about the bloc, the thing came from fucking europe anyway). Earnestly publishing and making broadly available anarchist counter narratives to statist and liberal recuperative garbage, from talking to your neighbors or lefty friends to publicly releasing collective statements of solidarity to graffiti and wheatpasting, holding assemblies - none of these things are in anyway exclusive from wearing identical clothing in a march in order to facilitate defense from police or attacking symbols of power and wealth. This is obvious.

Really, this article is sad, a missed opportunity to talk about why, in some instances, we fail so hard at doing this kind of communication during or after a moment like April 30 2012. Why does this failure happen? What does it mean to think that "actions speak for themselves?" How does this communication affect the kinds of targets and conflicts we choose? Having this discussion would be (and im sure people have had it) useful, but unfortunately it is made impossible when the original author is intent upon completely dismissing the tactic out of hand. This is not a genuine or useful way to approach a topic.

and it's notmjust the US, but all the more developed Western countries that suffer these same issues more or less. Like Australia, Canada, UK, even Netherlands.

black bloc is a tactic against identification you stupid liberal, not a group or a synonymous for riots or attacks. If some people only cover their faces, then they're not using fucking black bloc tactics.

If there aren't any Against Me! patches on your back, then it aint a black bloc. If there are no dread mullets to be seen, then it aint a black bloc. If there are no "Revolution has come, pick up the gun!" chants being shouted by white kids, then it aint a black bloc.

Not this kind of identification! I meant social identification, as in "division", "stigma", "isolation".

Sexy black-bloc lace underwear and handcuff package for 19.95! Be quick, going fast! Look your most ravishing self whilst charging the corporate foyer!

It's not worth debating someone who always says the same thing, doesn't listen, and doesn't appear capable of any other type of action. As has been said before, your obsession with anarchists underscores that either 1.) you're wrong and we are not irrelevant after all, or else that 2.) you acknowledge that you are even more irrelevant, in which case why should we talk to you in the first place?

Here's the problem, in SF/Oak it isn't bohemian gentrifiers. It is tech people who partly are FOR gentrification. Whereas the fucking artist bohemians might say they are against it and do nothing, a lot of the people in SF are in fact for it.

The way to fight gentrification is to actually fucking organize against it if you are in fact moving into a gentrifying area. Also, can we stop assuming artist bohemians are automatically on "our" side. Cause a lot of these fuckers are not.

In my experience of San Francisco and the East Bay, every bit of this statement is exactly on target. Bohemians are not necessarily on the side of resistance to gentrification and capitalism, and I say that as a declasse bohemian myself.

Artists are memeists and extremely booring!

> Bohemians are not necessarily on the side of resistance

Good point but on the other hand, you gotta recruit from somewhere. Bohemians might be the most likely gentrifiers to be "peeled off" by sustained communication efforts. That means giving them personal ethical crises (aka guilt trips) until they get the fucking point.

Last paragraph ruins what was otherwise an excellent analysis - at least as far as I can surmise from Montréal, as a person who only reads about West Coast struggle on the internet.

Kevin Keating, I mostly like you. Respect for the last thing you wrote, about the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project. But what you say about "Black Bloc" (with capital letters, for chrissakes) is moronic. It is clear that the action you are speaking of lacked the appropriate follow-through, lacked imagination, etc. But I live in a city where, to some degree, "black bloc tactics" (rarely as a full package, of course) HAVE BEEN adopted by a significant number of "working class people" in certain situations. They also don't lead nowhere; in situations like the student strike of 2012, and from my understanding to some degree in the Bay Area through various social upheavals since 2009, the continued use of confrontational street fighting tactics (a much more precise way to talk about this shit) does lead to a better capacity to disrupt shit, hold ground, and even communicate a message. A lot more is necessary, but it has the potential to go somewhere.

You even contradict yourself when you say that the action of April 30, 2012, was an excellent start, but then conclude that "black bloc tactics" can't go anywhere or communicate anything. This is much more fatalistic than the analysis in the rest of your piece, which indicates that things COULD HAVE HAPPENED, but simply didn't. And again, it basically makes it easier for dogmatically anti-Keating @news critics (whom I have never understood) to dismiss you as an idiot. Because, in this respect, you have definitely presented yourself as full of shit.

Did he say they can't or did he say they don't. They don't for very real reasons; lack of numbers and lack of character. Not all of us are Kerry Cunneen. You also have to know with what you're working with. In Montreal people were willing and ready to work with a student syndicalist union in resistance. There was a large degree of proliferation of ideology and tactic. People were with those who were with them. Even if they caved in the end it still pushed the boundaries. 15 people showing up out of no where to protest an action in black suits about a neighborhood they themselves might be seen as alien towards isn't just magically going to win any gains in our struggle. You have to make the right connections. It's not about recruiting, it's about shows of solidarity. And in all fairness, for as out of touch as it started, surprisingly the kids in Oakland stepped it up. Even if it took one group of self admittedly asshole trolls to drill the point home. Sometimes conflict is good. Somewhere someone with a big name (tiny ears) and ego doesn't want to admit that. Even if we need to start being more humane and understanding towards one another and knock off the trolling and petty jokes, conflict and ideological friction in terms of tactics and communication can be good. It doesn't mean one sides right or the others wrong but fundamentalism just breeds laziness if what you're looking for is to destroy this world and create a better one.

And the kids in Oakland deserve a hell of a lot of credit. They really stepped it up. I eat my words and you have this trolls unmitigated apologies.

In DC, a lot of yuppies are beaten in the street by packs of young people seemingly at random. We hear about things like the "knockout game" on the news, there are stories about assaults everywhere. OK, I am mixed white and Chippewa, perceived as white, yet I can walk freely and routinely in places a suit-and-tie guy wearing my same long hair would be beaten up within the week.

A couple months ago the news was rife with stories about the "knockout game" where packs of young people would see if they could knock someone out with a single punch. I never saw it, so I wonder if that too was just another format for beating up yuppies.

An especially effective way of keeping yuppies from buying newly-renovated houses in a neighborhood behind the front line would be targetted break-ins of expensive cars on as many nights as possible, combined with people on the street demanding money to "watch your car," the tactic a former DC Mayor used in a failed attempt to destroy a traditional Gay neighborhood in DC in 1993-1994. It's a tool, it works for anyone, for this purpose the community would target upscale cars and leave working class people's cars (their own) alone.

Of course, a really ruthless mayor might respond by bulldozing public housing projects and closing homeless shelters. That too I have seen in DC. Former Mayor William's baseball stadium replaced the Gay neighborhood Sharon Pratt Kelley failed to steal. Since the car breakins Sharon Pratt Kelly had started had persisted to a limited extend, Williams ordered the Arthur Capper housing project bulldozed under Hope VI. It looked like Fallujah at one point. He also closed the nearby Randall shelter. He dehoused hundreds, maybe thousands of people, just to secure "safe streets" for his baseball fans.

"Other aristocrats have echoed Dunkirk and have additionally deflected blame onto regification, a process by which they say they were priced out of their vast rural holdings by kings who wished to consolidate property and develop monumental palatial estates. "

The main point here is not the Black Bloc. The main point is that in San Francisco right now, and I assume other places, there is an increase in hostility to galloping gentrification.

And in the current context you've got:

1. People who are very real-world-oriented in their response, who are also congenital work-within-the-system weak liberals,

2. And those who pose as some kind of "insurrectionary" something-or-others, who do nothing of relevance to anyone outside of their subcultural comfort zone.

Why on earth do I have to dot all the I's and cross all the T's here?

And no, I absolutely do not think physical assaults on apparent bourgeois individuals is a good idea! Messing with their property is another matter. Rampant sociopathy is not an intelligible, credible expression of wage slave resistance to market society!

Why? Because you are the great and mighty KEATING, who knows far more than any of us mere mortals! What would we do without you and your obsessively condescending attempts to get us to see things your way, that is to say, the ONLY WAY, the TRUE WAY? Why, we'd be nowhere, that's where. And so, O great and mighty KEATING, I -- on behalf of the people to whom you condescend -- want to sincerely thank you for deigning to dispense your pearls of wisdom to swine such as us. Hallelujah!

Ha, the 'wage slave' class is far more ruthless in their acts of resistance than Mr. Keating would like to acknowledge. Someday, yuppies will fondly remember the days when petty vandalism was their biggest concern.

For it to go anywhere it has to be a proletarian revolution, not a lumpen-proletarian one.

Ah yes, and here you reveal your true colors, as the self imagined savior of the working class. Lumpen proletariat is one of the favorite phrases of leftist vanguard, revealing themselves as the decrepit societal managers that they achieve to become.

You have to follow up actions with statements and make sure they get to the press, if you find momentum you keep it going.

These are the basics of any successful movement (IRA) (FARC The problem is we have to many cowards. Simple as that.

The IRA and the FARC? Successful at what -- being counter-revolutionary bourgeois rackets?

the person's examples are awful, but their point is basically salient. The missing factor is communication generally, though, not just the releasing of statements, which half the time only speak to others who are already listening. The harder aspect of communication is more subtle, compounding public statements of support with semi public assemblies and get to togethers and one on one conversations with tons of people outside our own social scene(s). These are the harder parts that get left out. This means talking to people, starting conversations with people you work with and live near, hassling dumb papers to print letters to the editor, pasting shit everywhere constantly, holding meetings with people you might not work with normally but have some sense of potential affinity, actively talking with others at demos that seem down but you havent met yet....All that hard shit thats easy to let slip. The IRA and FARC can go fuck themselves - but this stuff is real and necessary.

Your points here are excellent. With this spirit I think the sky's the limit.

"..the wannabe insurrectionary vandals handed a huge propaganda victory [...] to the corporate news media, who were able to portray the event as an exercise in adolescent nihilism."
(emphasis mine)

THere is literally no way inwhich this could have been prevented. The news media is able to portray any even in any way that suits their needs. Spread your cheeks and swirl out another unreadable manifesto if you think it will affect anything in any way. Once you outgrow that stationary bike, perhaps you'll be prepared to actually do something.

"..the wannabe insurrectionary vandals handed a huge propaganda victory [...] to the corporate news media, who were able to portray the event as an exercise in adolescent nihilism."

(Response from subculturalist) "There is literally no way in which this could have been prevented. The news media is able to portray any even in any way that suits their needs..."

There are no guarantees that attempting to communicate using human speech will work. There is an absolute guarantee that if you do not use articulate, energetic, persuasive speech you will fail. But this also depends on what you aspire to -- if it's just a temper tantrum for subculture weenies, then the Dolores Park event of April 2012 was a stellar success.

The news media is all-powerful only when it comes to playing the timid, the cowardly, and the disengaged. Against this, see what Kevin Keating took a chance on in tangling with the bourgeois media in the context of the Yuppie Eradication Project.

Lightweights and poseurs are so terminally disengaged from the world outside their subcultural playpen that they can't be bothered to make the effort to communicate with anyone other than themselves. This level of resignation and effective disengagement in this scenester's statement confirms the argument that actions like the one critiqued in this article are expressions of a completely fake radicalism that is in complete harmony with the instant gratification ethos of consumer capitalist America. Shit like this is no threat to anything.

"There are no guarantees that attempting to communicate using human speech will work. There is an absolute guarantee that if you do not use articulate, energetic, persuasive speech you will fail."

I'm not sure about this, since there are many ways to send a clear and powerful message without even using articulate speech. The endless effort at always articulating everything is within the perspective of reformism, as social or political demands require an intelligible form that can be easily copied or recuperated by the bureaucracy, especially those of the mainstream press.

...actually I totally disagree with this. Shouting articulate slogans and opinions is helpful to a cause, as other "vulgarizations", yet it takes the critique away from the reality of power dynamics in society. Unless something concrete (such as blocking Google cadre and employees, or creating a mess in a brutally pacified urban center) that asserts a form of power.

"The news media is all-powerful only when it comes to playing the timid, the cowardly, and the disengaged."

Not so. Or why all these TV/Radio antennas and newspaper boxes are all over the place? They are rather dominative and pervasive, than timid and disengaged (even though they are at the rhetoric level, which is just one aspect of their system of domination).

Don't do something; make Nothing!
jklolz@t3h niyalist slogan?

But, releasing a communique might've seduced SOME people, outside the scenegard, to unleash rage or fuse more 'neggy'/intense tactics into their lives/the movement at large, might break them out of every day life a little bit to the point where they could be reached, or make them do something?

Short communiques could be wheatpasted around with seductive imagery (words/pictures) after actions. Or compiled into zines distributed around (like Fireworks). Or both.

My closing statement:

Black Bloc = avant-garde of violent communication

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
Subscribe to Comments for "How Not to Fight Against Gentrification"