The rebellions have arrived in the occupied Native lands now known as the Inland Empire, a largely forgotten region that encompasses San Bernardino and Riverside counties in Southern California. This text is a report-back from autonomous individuals who were on the ground during summer 2020. This report-back remained in our drafts since June 2020, and so it is a combination of our initial reactions to the uprisings, as well as our reflections on the mobilizations (as we complete this writing in January 2021).
Reports of manifestations had been found in almost all cities of the region, a phenomenon without precedent in this area’s history. Documentation of demonstrations in the IE occurred in the following places: San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Rialto, Yucaipa, Redlands, Riverside, Moreno Valley, Highland, Upland, Chino, Chino Hills, Montclair, and others.
The legibility of these manifestations had yet to become clear to both people within and outside of the Inland Empire. For many, this was the first time they had taken the streets. Some of us had yet to find the language to describe the days and nights of uprisings in the IE as we processed our experiences, feelings, and thoughts. For those of us that joyfully participated in the uprisings, common feelings and affinities had become clear between strangers in the streets. Drawn together by a passion for Black liberation and abolition, new communities were taking hold in the Inland Empire.
Even so, we want to push back on the tendency to come up with some grand narrative or final word on the events of summer 2020, with respect to the IE. We tell only one story — among many others’ stories — and do not believe ours is the most “legitimate” narrative or assessment of the uprisings. It is a white supremacist, colonial tendency to cut up historical moments into objective “periods” or to pretend to provide the “official account” without paying attention to power dynamics or erasure. We tell only a partial, unfinished story of the revolutionary possibilities of the place known as the Inland Empire, and hope that you find some of what we have to share as inspiring as we feel about it.
Setting the Stage: On the Significance of the IE Uprisings
Speaking truthfully, some of us thought that the scale of IE mobilizations during summer 2020 would take years of work on the ground to cultivate. Instead, it began to organically self-organize almost overnight, beginning in the last days of May. We are not arguing that there was no “leftist” activity or base-building occurring before June 2020, but a considerable amount of autonomous activity began to sprout in unforeseen, visible ways. We are also not arguing that we should always depend on spontaneous self-organization, mostly because spontaneity “versus” organization is a false dichotomy. We are merely pointing out that living conditions are fucked up out here: there is a considerable weight of oppression on the lives of people in the IE, and we have all had enough of living in complacent silence.
Inland Empire residents live with the burden of unique problems, such as the emergence of the racial-logistics sector and its ensuing warehouse gentrification, among many other issues. With a working-class burdened by debt, the high costs of living, low-paid labor, and racist state violence, the boiling point has arrived and we aren’t taking this system’s shit anymore. The more fucked over that people are, the more we will be seeing of emergent, rebellious self-activity against this shitty system. In our opinion, the Inland Empire is one of the most strategic areas for resistance against racial capitalism because of the system’s hyper-dependence on this region for cheap labor and the movement of goods to the rest of the country. Our resistance has and will look like hundreds of burnt down warehouses (such as the one from Redlands, June 2020) and the proliferation of hundreds of gardens from the ashes.
The uprisings in the California Inland Empire were connected to the greater national upheavals that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. We will say, however, that in most cases, there were no riots or large-scale revolts in our region. Nevertheless, we want to propose that insurrection did in fact occur in the IE, although it is not the mainstream image of an “insurrection” that most people are familiar with. What took place in the IE after the initial George Floyd demonstrations was the eruption of unprecedented activity, abolitionist initiatives, autonomous direct actions, and newly cultivated affinities. We want to counter the grain of mobilization culture by expanding the notion of the insurrection: imagining insurrection as the event that catalyzes routine proliferation of new affinities and projects that are able to then create the wide-scale movement base from which future uprisings can form from.
The manifestation of anarchy from the (predominantly working-class and BIPOC) suburbs is dynamically different from the mainstream image of anarchy that many are acquainted with. Anarchic activity in the Inland Empire must grapple with unique formations of oppression, such as warehouse gentrification, alienation and individualism in working class suburbs, the hyper-invisibility of the racist state and patriarchal violence, and so on. Modern day revolt in the belly of empire, then, has been taking place in unpredictable places, such as here in the IE. The explosion of affinities that emerged from the 2020 protests are what we understand as the true nature of our insurrectional summer. What we took away from the 2020 uprisings is that relationship-building might be a key point of emphasis for abolitionist, autonomous movements, with a particular focus on having the capacity to move in coalition and handle conflicts. If affinity is the glue to any insurrection, then we are well on our way as people in the IE continue to find each other and build connections in the community. We must nourish emergent communities and the feeling of co-ownership in the formation of our power so that everyone can participate and stoke the flames with us. Building in the community now can serve as the catalyst for the future insurrections to come in the IE.
Situating the Uprisings: On the Importance of Centering the IE’s Ungovernability
The uprisings in 2020 have shown social movements the importance of learning from the antagonistic methods created and cultivated from revolts in overlooked and forgotten regions. In particular, organizers could benefit from learning about the methods of self-organization and self-activity initiated by working-class/ proletarian BIPOC predominant communities, especially from areas in the outskirts that rarely ever make it onto the map of visible resistance in the US. When we shift our attention to the creative modes of resistance and militancy in these overlooked communities, our tactical and strategic repertoire will continue to grow and expand our collective ability to foment revolutionary situations. As we saw in the Inland Empire, all of the established leftists and non-profits were left in the dust as primarily Black and Latinx insurgents took the streets. While the old Left is caught up in attempts to hold officials accountable, spending energy on social democratic laws, and wasting their time with petitions, IE proletarians led the insurrectionary initiative. The insights from comrades Shemon and Arturo on the 2020 uprisings also ring true for our context:
“In the United States, black proletarians are constantly refining and sharpening forms, tactics, and strategies of struggle… The fact of the matter is that leftist organizations are simply not prepared to deal with the illegal nature of the revolutionary struggles and politics that are taking place in the present moment. The black proletariat continues to show a practical commitment to fighting the police, setting fire to carceral infrastructure, and looting the commodities of this dying capitalist system.”
We can learn a lot from BIPOC-centered struggles emerging from otherwise overlooked non-urban places:
“Organizational, tactical, and strategic clarity is emerging for the first time since the 1960s, but it is not coming from the left – it is coming from the practical initiatives and strategies of the black proletariat. Leftists [and Marxists] run their mouths about organizational questions in abstract and antiquated terms, regurgitating a played out formula modeled on Russia or China that has been repeated ad nauseam for many decades now, but which has produced little more than sects and cults. They ignore the concrete forms of revolutionary organization that are already taking place in the uprising.”
Shemon and Arturo elaborate further on the significance of this autonomous BIPOC self-activity in the United States context:
“Revolutionary organizations are not built in the abstract, but are expressions of the real tactical and strategic challenges raised by the proletariat in the class struggle. The fundamental organizational question that revolutionaries face is how to contribute and relate to the uprising, specifically in terms of street fighting, looting, and other riot tactics. Those who are truly committed to revolution will have to push past the stale organizational forms of the past and begin to account for the diverse, illegal, and creative organizational forms that the black proletariat is developing in the present, the use of cars being one of the most innovative and effective tools in this emerging tactical repertoire.”
By shifting our attention to creative modes of resistance and militancy within new sites of struggle, we can see new horizons and points of intervention that radicals and communities can begin to tap into. For example, a common tactical innovation that sprung up from uprisings in the outskirts – and that we also observed in the IE – is the strategic use of cars in reclaiming space and the streets. In Shemon and Arturo’s words:
“What we see from Ferguson to Philadelphia is the growing use of the car as a weapon of mass struggle. In Ferguson cars were used for defensive purposes, while in Chicago, Louisville, Philadelphia and elsewhere cars were used for offensive purposes: for looting, for attacking police, and for spreading the geography of the uprising. We should expect cars to continue to play an important role as riots continue to unfold and the uprising potentially mutates into other forms of mass struggle: blockades, strikes, and occupations. Undoubtedly, the state will respond with new forms of surveillance and repression, but how it will do that is unclear. In the meantime, black proletarians will probably take advantage of the state’s lack of capacity to deal with widespread car-looting.”
By honing in on new forms of self-organization from places such as the IE, we can better strategize ways to fuel the fires next time.
Notes on Insurrectional Possibilities in the IE
What follows is a loose collection of our experiences and observations in a few of the many uprisings that have occurred since late May. In sum, the conditions in the Inland Empire allow for the emergence of extremely effective autonomous movements, but the lack of experience, infrastructure, and its overall nascent organizing are currently hurdles that hold back autonomous potential and must be intentionally overcome. The following are our preliminary notes on the IE uprisings.
The invisibility of state, economic, and police violence in the Inland Empire:
- The IE leads in cases of police violence statistics for the state of California, yet police violence in the IE is not really discussed or documented.
- The staggering poverty rates and forms of exploitation in the IE are almost unheard of, especially given the high relevance of warehouse and logistics sector labor in this region.
- The IE is on average predominantly BIPOC, working-class, first and second generation, and younger. The millennial discontent and frustration are especially prevalent here with the suburban structure of the area and enclosure, creating conditions for a potentially unruly and fed-up population of young people.
The character of the police in the IE uprisings:
- San Bernardino police was almost nonexistent vs Fontana or Riverside Police.
- The magnitude of police presence and force was contingent on the size of the city budget.
- Helicopter and other aerial surveillance were greatly prevalent.
- Police encouraged white supremacist vigilantism in predominantly white places like Yucaipa and Redlands.
- It’s clear that in places like San Bernardino, the police force has never seen these types of gatherings before. How could this inexperience possibly affect future protests? What about in cities with more seasoned officers, like Riverside?
The presence of white supremacists at protests:
- Guns were pulled out in Upland.
- Man threatened to run protestors over in Redlands.
- Trump supporters and white supremacist vigilantes brutally attacked outnumbered protestors in Yucaipa.
- Violent men in Highland aggressively tore down Black Lives Matter banners and posters in front of protesters.
- (CW: anti-Black violence/ lynching) A young Black male was hung from a tree in Victorville and although the perpetrators have not been caught, there was speculation that supremacists might have done this. Assumptions stem from the high number of white supremacists and conservatives living in areas bordering outer regions of the Inland Empire, such as the High Desert where this took place.
Unique sightings and tactics discovered at the uprisings:
- In the initial days following the Minneapolis uprising in late May, spontaneous actions emerged in places like Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga, which have never experienced protests before.
- Most of these initial uprisings were youth-led and composed mostly of hood Black and brown youth/ young adults.
- There were hella smaller scale marches coordinated and organized by local high schoolers and youth.
- As the weeks passed, a few reformist/ liberal minded protesters tried to monopolize the momentum, with varying results across cities and contexts. For the most part, none of these self-appointed leaders co-opted most of the power.
- Actions were still relatively autonomous and self-organized, and as time had passed, the momentum had surprisingly not ended just yet (as of June 20th, 2020).
- The lack of non-profit and leftist specialists truly created a unique protest context.
- Lack of leadership/ organization is both good and bad: the movement is harder to contain when there are no organizations or leaders as the “face” of it, but there is also a lot of inexperience in the streets and a vacuum in the organizing scene that can be filled with anything (another double-edged sword).
- Car caravans in San Bernardino followed the demonstration in support and also served as a barrier between cop cruisers and protestors.
- Respectability for protestors in the San Bernardino area: There was a big concern with being perceived as “ghetto” and a strong attempt to prove wrong the classist (and racist) stereotypes of the Inland Empire. People here are very conscious that we already have very little resources, leading to folks guilting rioters and looters with calls for respectability and “morality.”
We want to end off on a few words by James Baldwin from “The Fire Next Time”:
“Neither civilized reason nor Christian love would cause any of those people to treat you as they presumably wanted to be treated; only the fear of your power to retaliate would cause them to do that, or seem to do it, which was (and is) good enough.”
See y’all in the streets again next time.