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Thread: It's time to rethink facile 1968 = 2020 comparisons.
2/ Similarities: As in the 1960s, today’s protestors are enraged by the still unresolved problem of police violence.
3/ Persistent racial inequality is still the tinder lighting the fires.
4/ The line between peaceful and violent protests both then and now is blurry. Many 60s uprisings--for example Birmingham ‘63, Newark ‘67--began with demonstrations followed by looting, arson, and clashes with the police.
5/ As in 1967-68, urban discontent is a response to the delegitimation of key institutions, especially government.
6/ As in the long hot summers, many police are themselves (unacknowledged) rioters.
7/ Key differences: The crowds on big city streets today are far more racially diverse today than in 60s. Yes, there were white looters during the long hot summers, but this weekend’s crowds are far more mixed racially than could be imagined fifty years ago.
8/ While protestors in both periods broke into stores and burned buildings. But most 60s looting and burning happened in African American neighborhoods. Mom and pop businesses, including black-owned stores in many cities, were targets, not national chains.
9/ 60s rebels were much less likely to loot and burn central business districts, malls, and stores with a predominantly white clientele than today.
10/ Examples: Philadelphia 1964: North Philly, Columbia Avenue and North Broad. Philadelphia 2020: Center City, Chestnut and Walnut Streets near Rittenhouse Square. Los Angeles 1965: Watts. Los Angeles 2020: Melrose, the Grove Mall, even Rodeo Drive.
11/ Why the shift? We will need more research for a definitive answer, but I have a few hypotheses.
12/ The boundaries of commercial segregation have weakened since the 60s, even if housing and school segregation have persisted, even hardened. We still have shopping while black incidents, but in the 60s malls and upscale shopping districts were nearly all white. Not today.
13/ Neighborhood shopping districts have died off over the last 50 years, especially in places with large non-white populations. In most cities, they are not ecomomically or symbolically important targets for protests anymore.
14/ More importantly, I suspect that today we are seeing a new, hybrid form of protest emerging in places like Minneapolis, NYC, Chicago, Philly, et al. It’s a fusion of anger against the police with opposition to global capitalism symbolized in multinational chain stores.
15/ Watching peaceful protests, along with police blockades, along with footage of the burning of a Doc Martens in Philly, the attack on a Nordstrom in LA, the burning of a Target in Minneapolis suggests a new pattern: LA ’65 meets Seattle ‘99 meets Ferguson ’15.
16/ We have seen similar combinations here and in other countries—think locally AND globally. In the last decade, protestors in places as diverse as NYC, Paris, London, Madrid, and Seattle have sometimes separately, often together challenged police and multinational businesses.
17/ For example, protests at McDonalds in Paris; the fires and window breaking of anti-gentrification activists in London; the occupation of Wall Street, the marches on Madrid’s banks, the anti-police profiling demonstrations in Place de la République.
18/ If I am right about this fusion, we are in for protests and disruptions that are bigger, more intersectional, more disruptive, and more transformative than what we have seen in the last fifty years. More to come. /Fin/.
Postscript: With a little more time, I could add other comparisons: Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities in 2013 to name one important case. The Indignados movement in Mexico 2012. Maybe there's a book in this?
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