A look back and an analysis of the George Floyd uprising and how it played out on the streets of so-called Tucson, Arizona.
by Blair Brechen
I – Joy
Late in the evening on May 28th, in the balmy throws of a Minneapolis night, a destituent spell was caste. A spell which took the nation by storm, spreading its insurrectionary currents to the streets of Portland, Atlanta, Bogota, Paris, Lagos and now Bristol. Each of their own accord yet connected by the magic of flames created by the rebels who burned the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct to the ground. Friends in Minneapolis spoke of gathering around the burning police station, witnessing how the air was filled with joy, festivity, the sharing of spliffs, whisky and communal happiness. People were recreating their lives. The forest’s fact of fire – being a regenerative force – found its way to the heart of the metropole. In the ashy rubble that greeted the morning’s rising sun, the inhabitants of this hellscape were tuned to a different drum.
These fiery thermals of magic found their way to the streets of Tucson. Though the magic that was conjured here was not of the same scale and intensity as other cities in this country, lit by the pyroclastic flow of the 3rd precinct reduced to ash, it opened new pathways to confrontation and revolt for Tucsonans. That fire gave us joy, an insurgent joy, that rose like a phoenix from grief and anger and exhaustion. The fires lit along Broadway Blvd were mirrored in the Catalina mountains, north of the city, where a wildfire raged for much of the summer; burning in an intensity of destructive and regenerative potential. Some of the most fertile and palpably riotous moments of the uprising came from the direct confrontation with the police line. There is a history in Tucson of demonstrators not engaging the police, largely because of the Tucson Police Department’s progressive veneer of community policing. In other cities, rebels have picked away at the police through years of direct contact and a constant pouring out to shift the culture around street demonstrations and consequently how the pigs respond. Largely in Tucson, the routine has been one of people walking on the sidewalk when told to and dispersing after taking an intersection for a time.
Two historically notable, albeit completely apolitical, exceptions to this stem from the University of Arizona’s basketball team, the Wildcats. In both 1997 and 2001, basketball hooliganry went full on wild on Fourth Ave, a hub of local business and bars in proximity to campus. A plethora of cars and an RV were flipped and burned. It should be noted, though it adds to a discourse of the media blaming outsiders for riots, that a large portion of the University of Arizona students are affluent white folks who can’t get into California schools and consequently only live here for half of the year. This plus the winter “snowbirds” adds a peculiar air to Tucson’s quality of life. The riots that took place during the George Floyd uprising however, were of a different character. Fires were set and an insurgent-becoming, initiated by residents from all walks of life, began pushing back at the cops through gestures such including taking onramps, building barricades, and holding intersections for hours. What grew in these moments is a proximity to and understanding of the knowledge that we can access a magic which brings our life into direct contact with the forces that aim to keep us in a position of obedience. This obedience is the song of the citizen, the city loving settler.
Those who took the streets passed through a happiness by way of magic and a rebellious determination. Time can only tell what this experience will do for future conflicts with the forces of order. There is a reality in life, curated by particular modes of being, that escape the appropriable logic and capture of domination. An inappropriable truth runs through nature as it does insurrection. They are the atmospheric currents that gesture towards becoming-communized, in being happy and with the act of unifying the puzzling conundrum of both living and fighting. This is communalized magic transferred via becoming ungovernable. As Giorgio Agamben wrote, “To have a name is to be guilty. And justice, like magic, is nameless. Happy, and without a name, the creature knocks at the gates of the land of the magi, who speaks in gestures alone.” Let the fires of revolt fill us with the truth that we want to be happy, that this hell, what some have called Dogville, cannot offer us happiness as such. I look forward to the fires growing like an archipelago of flames raging and razing this nightmare. The corporeal enchantment of sharing and being in revolt is where we find our magic. In the process of confronting our fears together in the street and not letting the managers of revolt and police officers alike kettle our spirit into an arena of docility and sedation. We begin to uncover a line of flight from this modernized wasteland. The story of Gilgamesh is the story of western civilization, lush forests being turned to deserts. In our case it is a lush desert turned to sand and a monstrous gash some may call a border. Let us turn away from this horror and toward more battles and more communalized joy.
II – Geography
Geographically, the uprising in Tucson seemed to be tied to particular spots within the city. These spots were campus/ Fourth Ave., Downtown/ westside and Reid Park. A spatiotemporal restraint felt unintentionally imposed upon the marches. As though, because the city told us these were the most popular and highly visited areas, that there is a need to also march in these areas. As the demos carried on through the arid and hot southern Arizona summer, demonstrations succumbed to a lack of strategic and creative thinking. A rebellion became a symbolic reoccurrence of marching through downtown, campus, or around Reid Park simply for the sake of marching. Strategic objectives such as holding intersections, occupying infrastructure, and barraging the police stations all became a moot point to that of just walking in line together. Sticking to these prescribed symbolic points in the city drained the joy and creativity out of the later events. There was a loss of vitality that was only rarely regained after the first few days. As the fires were doused in the streets, others continued to spread across the Catalina mountains now enveloping the city in an apocalyptic haze.
Those who were there for those first nights will not forget it. Intensity rang out with the shattered glass and burning city infrastructure and howled towards the ungovernable. Tucson became something else in those days, something terrible and beautiful.
There was a feeling of an unnameable duty to be in the streets because Portland, Richmond, Rochester, and other cities kept going out night after night. The question of strategy and longevity presents itself here; can an uprising be only maintained in a place with a constant outpouring? In a city that lacks this consistency, is it appropriate to just mimic these other city’s methodology, possibly stretching our capacity to stay creatively engaged? What if partisans choose other areas that violate the logic of city epicenters? In choosing downtown, campus and Reid Park there is an implication of symmetrical warfare. Knowing that the police will be heavily mobilized and equipped in these areas, we enter with the expectation of it being a frontal battle. It seems like this was the way the demos and street battles in Portland went as well, though their capacity to stay ferocious altered that situation. It is worth considering the decentralized model attempted at the 2008 Republican National Convention. The strategy was to break up key parts of the city into sectors, and then clusters of crews committed to raising hell in whatever chosen sector. Ideally this would spread the pigs out and tax their resources. This proved to be a failure (aside from the black bloc that ripped through the business district) for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here. The take away is that overall, despite the peoples attempt, it was still a frontal battle due to its predicability. In the spirit of diffuse asymmetrical warfare, LA cops however, confirmed the potential threat of this model in a relatively recent internal review by stating something to the notion that they can handle 10,000 protestors far better than they can handle 100 groups of 1,000 protestors. We can speak to safety in numbers, but we can also speak to safety in diversion and diffusion. Imagine an ensemble of diffuse swarms who devastate infrastructure with unpredictable strategies of blocking, occupying and burning…
III – Apparatuses
The thermals of revolt carry on them a phenomenological residue. What one could call a process of relation that opens up in intensity, scale, and a desire to live differently after an Event, simultaneously using the apparatuses of this machine as pickaxes against it. A process of profanation that leads to destitution. In the era of so-called late capitalism, where all of our wants, desires and senses-of-self are filtered through these dumb little screens, it is no wonder that insurgents continue to seek and search for better technology to use during revolt. Though the question of technology, does not simply beg a yes or no answer. Rather, it is and must be an ethical relation. I think of the RNCs and DNCs of the early 2000’s, when TXTMob was a new software to better link those in the street. One can then think of the Arab Spring and its use of Facebook/Twitter, or Hong Kong and Telegram. Now there’s the George Floyd Rebellion and TikTok, Instagram, and yes, Telegram.
Telegram became a prominent and quickly deployed resource to disseminate info around demos, arrests, mutual aid calls, etc. This was no different in Tucson. Where communication lines between disparate radicals had been diffuse and scattered, hundreds quickly flocked to Telegram threads to keep their ear to the street in preparation for the next demonstration. On a surface level, this surge in folks interested in what is happening in the streets of Tucson is cool. But on another level, it is hard to discern who is simply replicating the gawking they do on their social media feeds, who is a cop, and who is down to get down. It is true that in recent months, there has a been a massive number of people leaving Facebook and WhatsApp to download Signal and Telegram. It is too early to say what this could mean. If anything, this process is instilling into the general populace an understanding of and relationship to cyber security. This, linked with the anti-cop sentiment stemming out of last summer’s uprising, seems to create an interesting rebellious cocktail of ethical qualities.
Mutual aid is another conceptual practice that found an autonomous resurgence during the pandemic and then the uprising in Tucson. Anti-detention center car caravans, street medic crews, and food distribution programs grew in size and scale. Seeming strangers at street demos offered up personal protective equipment and information on how to stay safe and what to do if arrested. Various gestures of humans recognizing their power in the communizing act of revolt.
This form of direct, communal action seems to have been further accented by its proximity to not only the uprising but also the pandemic. There is an insidious conundrum however, that hides at the heart of the practice of mutual aid. Said another way, there is a mechanism of recuperative marketing aimed at it through the rhetoric of togetherness, sharing, and linking. This is the constant shifting of market-making by this iteration of technocratic capitalism. Through the act of doing and providing for ourselves, we learn that the institutions in place give little concern about the fallout of the whatever-citizen. So, people step up and start to destitute those previous reliances and sacred relationships to the political economy by being and doing something other than demanding state and capitalist intervention. Within this, phenomenologically speaking, there is a larger method of unity that evokes the warped universalistic mentalities of western humanism. One must be weary of the recuperating yoke and social justice virtue signaling rhetoric of humanists. It goes without saying, but this is not our land. We must go beyond the humanism of western civilization and journey into a terrain of culture building around and within an ecosystem of ungovernability. Mutual aid can be a part of this as long as we stay sharp to its capacity to be recuperated by counterrevolutionary methodologies. The minor is our home, the molar is our prison.