In commemoration of the fourth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the Los Angeles Review of Books interviews Micah White about his forthcoming book, The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution.
The interview covers a wide array of topics: from the future of protest, to race in America, and the possibility of a rural revolt. Here's an excerpt:
JUSTIN CAMPBELL: And so, when Patrisse Cullors, cofounder of Black Lives Matter, recently said that we are living in the land of creative protest, she’s saying that we’re living in a time in which groups like Black Lives Matter are moving beyond ineffective protest tactics of the past. Do you agree with this assessment?
MICAH WHITE: So I really respect what she’s doing and in my heart, of course, the Black Lives Matter movement, I want as a black person, for it to succeed. At the same time, it’s very easy to fall into the kind of critical or negative perspective. But if I could give some gentle criticism, it would be that, if Black Lives Matter is living in the time of creative protest, then I would say they were only being creative around one theory of social change, which is the voluntarist model. They are too focused on the idea that we need to innovate the specific human actions that we do. I think that’s fine, but there needs to be innovation within the other three perspectives on revolution, that I mentioned earlier. You can’t just maintain a kind of materialist, disruptive perspective on protest. That would be the point that I would make. Innovation needs to happen in all the different kinds of ways we think about activism. Simply changing the ways we are disruptive, doesn’t in itself really solve the fundamental problem, which is, how are we going to become sovereign?
If you want to end police violence, if you want to stop police from killing black people, killing other people, then you need to be in a position where you’re appointing the police, where you’re picking the police commissioner, where you’re actually picking who the police chief is going to be in each city. If you want to change the police or abolish the police or become the boss of the police, then you have to win elections, you have to be in power. You can’t just be disruptive at the end of the day.
JUSTIN CAMPBELL: So when Patrisse talks about how we have to protest the police because we live in a police and prison state, and that’s why we have to protest them, is that kind of what you’re referring to when you say we shouldn’t protest police?
MICAH WHITE: I’ll say this. There’s this really great military strategist named B. H. Liddell Hart and he lays out these principles of military strategy. One of the principles that he says is that you should never attack an opponent who is on guard, waiting for your attack. This is the nature of the police. The police are a force designed to be waiting for your attack. That’s why they’re wearing riot gear and armored gear and they have shields and helmets. That’s why they’re allowed to hit you and you’re not allowed to hit them. The police are like a mirror of our own inner reality; they’re just a distraction. They’re a phantasm. They’re designed to distract. They’re bullies who are designed to take your blows and hit back harder than you’re able to hit them.
I think that if you want to defeat the police, if you’re asking, how do I defeat the police in actuality, and that’s your real campaign objective, taking a step back from what I just said, there is a way to do it....