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Democracy… sort of

Spectacular October weather here in San Francisco. Yesterday, Saturday the 30th, Med-o and I went for a late afternoon walk in search of a coffee. Up Cole Valley we strolled, and came upon a very odd sight: at Carl and Cole, clusters of campaigners for District 5 Supervisorial candidates jammed all four corners, clamoring for attention. As we drew closer, we learned that Ross Mirkarimi was there, as was Lisa Feldstein, and the big draw was Mayor Gavin Newsom hisself… we wandered into it with no particular idea of why or what we’d see… It was just a sunny moment of “real” democracy. Wasn’t it? Newsom was there to give a boost among the presumably “moderate” (i.e. rich) voters in Cole Valley for his guys, Andrew Sullivan and Nick Waugh (never heard of Waugh until yesterday).

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Halloween Critical Mass 04

Last night was one of the best Critical Mass rides in San Francisco this year. A great turnout, I’d put it between 2,000 and 3,000. Various co-conspirators planned ahead to direct the ride to the locked-out hotels, which went off beautifully. The police were largely a non-factor, though I saw a photo of one cyclist getting roughed up in the driveway of the Hyatt Regency, behind the pickets, so I assume he broke through and was manhandled for his trouble. Didn’t hear of any other real problems. Fantastic costumes all around, and the energy level was spectacular. But the best thing about this Critical Mass, in this pre-election, more politicized moment, was its unconscious manifestation of a new political subject that I’ve been referring to now for a while.

Perhaps that’s speaking too grandly, but I was reading the new issue of Greenpepper magazine on Precarity, a very interesting piece about the Bolivian working class. Back in the 1970s the tin miners and other industrial workers of Bolivia were famous for their militance, independence, and strength. They brought down a number of governments. But their power was diminished by neoliberal globalization and deindustrialization, undercutting the unions and the organized sectors of the class. Many of those communities were dispersed and one result was the growth of a “mega-slum” above the country’s capital of La Paz. By geographic quirk of fate, there are five roads leaving the capital and they all pass through this area, known as El Alto. Over the past decade, precarious workers who survive by selling things in markets, hustling various gigs, black market activities, and the cocaleros, the Cocaine growers, have become the backbone of the new indigenous social movements threatening the government. In fact, they have used their location, commanding the roads that leave the capital, to paralyze the country’s economy, gaining thereby a virtual veto over government policies.
Similarly, in Argentina during the December 01 uprising, unemployed seized freeways and blocked major highways to paralyze commerce and transport…
All this is to say that the new composition of work and production, spread widely through temporary and precarious employment (the hotel workers of Local 2 themselves are almost all immigrants from South America or East Asia), is giving rise to a new set of tactics for resistance and revolt. Rather than workplace occupation, the diffused nature of economic organization” globalization in a word” has moved our collective power from specific worksites to the arteries of economic life, the roads.
And voila! Critical Mass has been engaging in a mass seizure of urban streets for more than a decade. Last night’s ride, festive and zany with its Halloween theme, was also one of the most pointed and powerful expressions of class (albeit, cross-culture) alliance, perhaps relatively un-self-conscious, but nevertheless real. Young urban bicyclists, many of whom survive as members of the burgeoning ‘cognitariat’ and/or at the margins of steady employment, come together monthly to affirm a new way of living, a new way of being together in city life. Last night that monthly affirmation took a further step, expressing an aggressive and joyful solidarity with the locked-out hotel workers of Local 2. A new sense of comradeship and respect was established, at least for a few hours. Where it goes in the future, like all things associated with the magic of Critical Mass, is impossible to predict. But it bodes well.
Indybay has a bunch of cool pics and some reports. The New York ride seems to have been attacked by the police again, even though (maybe because) the police were themselves rebuked by a federal judge for their illegal seizure of bicycles in September, and their ham-handed attempt to get an injunction against Critical Mass. Check out New York Indymedia

Guantánamo good for selling cars?

Has anyone else had the jarring experience of seeing that bizarre ad for some car or SUV crusing along a road with an endless series of orange jumpsuited men standing shoulder to shoulder along the whole length of the road? When it gets closer they’re logo’ed and maybe their jumpsuits are actually red, but from afar you’d think they were all internees. The vehicle proceeds along a completely empty road, in the country and the city, but at a pointless stoplight one of this endless series of autonomic mechanics stoops down to tighten the cap on the air stem on the gleaming, polished tire. He shares a smile of deep pride with the adjacent prisoner. This wins this week’s Imperial Porn Award.

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