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On June 2nd, we and a large number of people protesting a rally by the presidential candidate Donald Trump in San Jose clashed with his supporters, delivered many righteous beatings, tore up and set their racist paraphernalia on fire, and rioted at a scale that hadn’t been seen in city for almost 20 years.
What began as an attempt to impose yet another demoralizing peaceful rally was taken over by people who refused accept idly standing by and chanting while fascists shat on us boldly and without fear. We were a big enough crowd to leave SJPD unprepared to respond to the size and speed of our rapid maneuvering, which at its peak swelled to about 400 to 500 people. By and large, SJPD lost control of the area near the Convention Center for several hours while it attempted to corral and contain us. By the time streets were cleared later that night, 4 arrests were made by SJPD with the help of mutual aid from other local police departments. As of this writing an additional 3 people have been arrested, all of which are juveniles, and additional arrests are believed to be imminent. Our collective actions for which we have no regrets were seen and heard around the country and world, and have drawn the condemnations of the people we’ve always known to be our enemies and that of people who pretend to be our friends and allies in fighting for a better world.
Contrary to the racist tropes deployed in the narratives of publications such as that of the New York Times, which attributes the violence of the day primarily to Mexican youth associated with the Norteños and Sureños gangs (though members were present and overcame their antagonism to unite during the protest), the crowd that clashed with Trump supporters was quite diverse and varied in terms of their race, gender, sexuality, religion, and explicitly displayed political affiliations.
Despite all attempts to paint the violence of the day as the work of Mexican and other Latino undocumented immigrants through the use of racist language like “thugs” and “illegals” by Trump himself and other media sources, a casual glance at the imagery and footage from that day reveals a quite different story. Not only were there large numbers of Mexican and other Latino protesters, especially youth present among us, but also considerable numbers of black, brown, indigenous, Asian, and white protesters, including women, queers, and Muslims who directly participated in rioting.
The mood and movement of the crowd and the resulting violent clashes were the culmination of the efforts of different actors such as ourselves that came together with a desire to unapologetically and militantly protest Trump, and to break free of the elaborately orchestrated attempts to keep us pacified. What’s significant is that the riot not only marks a violent clash with the vulgarly racist, misogynist, and capitalist pig that is Donald Trump, his supporters, and the Republican Party, but in addition, (we would argue more significantly) is a break with the San Jose liberal establishment which up until this point had secured the South Bay as its impenetrable fortress. The establishment had been able to achieve this remarkable feat of governance despite the city being home to large numbers of people of color, immigrants, and undocumented people and the massive waves of rent increases, displacement, and gentrification that the booming tech industry has leveled against them.
Things initially began slowly with small pockets of people arriving at the rally point near the Convention Center shortly after 4pm. True to form, the RCP (a vanguardist cult of personality surrounding chairman Bob Avakian) was there to opportunistically attempt to hijack the rally and disseminate their recruiting materials. This attempt ultimately fell flat due to their contradictory chants and pointless verbal debates with Trump supporters, and was mostly ignored once the crowds began to enlarge.
From the get go, unapologetically profane chants such as “America was never great! Fuck Donald Trump and his hate!” and “Culero! Culero! Culero!” were pitted against the polite and disimpassioned chants from the Silicon Valley Rising contingent, which had appointed itself as the regulator of the protest (more on that shortly). These profane chants were instrumental in allowing the militant protesters to push back against the attempted pacification of the atmosphere, and in practice, reject the hollow and superficial “no hate” rhetoric they were trying to impose on the rally.
It’s unclear which particular incident kicked things into high gear, but by large, it was the result of the aggressive and arrogant racist Trump supporters engaging with the crowd of protesters. They leveled racist insults (“illegals,” “niggers,” “terrorists,” etc.), made fascist gestures, threatened violence, and felt entitled and safe to enter large crowds of angry people while aggressively insulting and in some cases, initiating violence against us. Once the grip of the police and peace-police loosened, all hell broke loose which lasted for several hours.
It is quite significant that these events represent a breakdown in the highly refined local and regional machinery of pacification and counter-insurgency that had successfully until this point, maintained a consistent climate of social peace in the face of increasingly deteriorating social conditions facing communities of brown and black people, immigrants, and other working class people.
This machinery which at it’s core is the seamless integration of the politics of Democratic Party, the local business unions and policy organizations (Working Partnerships USA, South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, SEIU, etc.), non-profits, colleges, universities, and community groups into the militarized security and counter-insurgency apparatus of local and regional government and police, immigration authorities, and the Department of Homeland Security. This machine is comprised of a complex web of elected officials, paid political staffers, non-profit workers, and on the ground activists, all connected through formal and informal relationships between the different political entities listed above. Many of these entities and institutions are staffed by and serve primarily constituents of people of color, and function to channel the rage and discontent of local populations into an endless array of dead-end campaigns, photo-ops, petitionary efforts, and annual parades like the heavily policed (both by uniformed cops and self-appointed civilian peace-police) May Day march.
To illustrate how this machine operated on May 2nd, we need to go back to Tuesday, May 31st, when a Facebook event titled Dump Trump San Jose popped up before the time and venue for the Trump rally were announced, and began gaining traction. Later, another event page titled Manda A Donald Trump A La Chingada! was also created by a local musician associated with Silicon Valley Debug. On Wednesday afternoon, another event was created by Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition lead by Working Partnerships USA and South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, and other local business unions, non-profits, and community groups (including SEIU, NAACP, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Silicon Valley Debug, etc.). Unlike the two former events, which named the San Jose Convention Center as their rally points, this event called for a rally at Plaza de César Chávez Park (a location further away from the Convention Center), and used a title similar to the more widely shared Dump Trump event page. The organizers proudly announced that “monitors” (which included the Brown Berets with their ironic masking of their faces with bandanas) would be present at this rally to keep everyone in line.
As Thursday afternoon drew near, many posts were made on these event pages by various individuals (some affiliated of SV Rising or supporters of the campaigns of Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders) making recommendations or demanding the protests adhere to a certain orderly and respectable format, rally at a certain location, or follow a particular marching route. In the words of the people making the posts, this was all to prevent rioting and violence.
Back at the Trump protest, once the SV Rising rally was over at the park, they began marching towards the Convention Center with full coordination and escort from a squad of SJPD motorcycle police. They entered the Convention Center from the San Carlos St. side, marched through the facility, and exited on Market St. apparently as an expression of symbolic defiance for the consumption of the crowd. Once this contingent joined the rally, large numbers of people wearing SEIU or other SV Rising affiliate organization t-shirts and signs began dictating chants and policing the rally. At this point, as more youth and other people not affiliated with them began joining the crowd, the chants of the SV Rising contingent were increasingly drowned out and ignored. Not long after that, the skirmishes broke out.
In the aftermath of the riot, most of the San Jose liberal establishment has been quick to thoroughly apologize for and issue strong denunciations of the violence of that day. Many pieces have made use of patrimonial language to chastise those who engaged in violence, and to forward the usual range of liberal rhetorical tools in an attempt to explain away the fact that so many of the people they claim to represent as their faithful and obedient constituents, had in practice, completely rejected their politics of dignified and respectable passivity.
Pieces such as the one published by Silicon Valley Debug, insist mainstream media have misrepresented the situation, that this was all the work of “a few bad apples on BOTH sides,” or that the violence cast the city, in its totality, in negative light. At another press conference held by so-called “local community leaders,” Salvador “Chava” Bustamante urged Latinos to “do it the way that hurts them — deny them our vote.” He failed to issue a similar prescription for achieving broad social change for undocumented immigrants, whom lacking the legal right to vote are apparently to be relegated to the political sidelines and further disempowered. All while the threat of elections installing a president that will carry out the deportations of up to 11 million undocumented people is at its peak. Others such as prominent immigrant rights activists and frequent invokers of revolutionary imagery and language have openly stated their willingness to cooperate with and provide information to the police because they have “nothing to hide.”
These responses betray the strong sense of paternalism and condescension that these establishment liberal groups and non-profits harbor towards the communities they simultaneously celebrate and through the application of identity politics, claim exclusively represent, while paving the path for state repression and criminalization of these very same communities with their condemnations, hypocritical espousals of non-violence, and at times, open snitching. The message embedded in the respectability politics that frames their political ideology is one that is first and foremost concerned with the subjectivity and approval of the white supremacist oppressor with the naïve (or intentionally perpetuated) notion that we’d cease to be oppressed and exploited if we just look and act like respectable subjects for the white supremacist patriarchal capitalist political system. This also grants them the perfect excuse for their politics, decade after decade, failing to produce any meaningful social change by attributing this failure to not achieving the sufficient degree of respectable and orderly masses to get out the vote or petition the centers of power for change. For them, the bitter lamentations of violence are in truth the lamentations of the threat of imminent irrelevance and a desire to return to the comfortable status quo where their symbolic rituals of disempowerment as the path to liberation can resume uninterrupted.
What these liberals are incapable of ever doing is deeming or acknowledging that violence that isn’t carried out or sanctioned by the state (with its monopoly on legitimate violence) can be political and liberating (except when it’s carried out in far away places or times that have long since past, of course). Thus, the violence of institutions like the police, prison system, patriarchy, and capitalism is normalized and treated as invisible while the autonomous violence of people subjected to a lifetime of systemic white supremacist oppression and humiliation, who for once, refuse to endure yet another insult from the belligerent racists standing before them is deemed beyond unacceptable. For the liberal, even those explicitly espousing non-violence, the issue is never violence itself, but the particular violence of the oppressed with its frightening and uncontrollable dimensions, which can’t be easily channeled into state-sanctioned forms of pacified symbolic protest and petition-based politics for their masters.
Ultimately, liberal ideology when espoused and practiced by a managerial class of people of color who’ve been thoroughly integrated into the institutions and logics of the white supremacist establishment, serve as the agents of protecting and reproducing that power structure, and work to obscure the shared memory of violent social struggle by hollowing it out of its content and reducing it to unthreatening sanitized symbols. They act as the softer and more empathic faces of the same power structures and systems of oppression by feeding us a preprocessed diet of passive disempowerment dressed up as gradual social progress. Maintaining the veneer of social peace is central to this process, and the plain on which their long-term manipulations and gas lighting take place. They shroud themselves in the symbols and imagery of past violent people’s struggles and uprisings, only to tell us violence is never legitimate or effective, all while the violent social war waged against us daily continues to claim millions of lives.
We reject the slow death that is liberalism with its array of institutions, political parties, non-profits, opportunist pacifiers, and willfully naïve dupes. To us, they are part of the forces that must be overcome to achieve liberation, and we will never forget their shameless betrayals, snitching, and rubberstamping of our criminalization and repression.
To all those who chose action over masochism, your bravery and acts of defiance sustain us, and breathe hope into our alienated lives. It was an honor to stand with you in the streets, to experience the power of directly acting on the world surrounding us based on a collective rejection of submitting to racist humiliation, and to feel the joy of singing and dancing together in the streets when for a time, the pigs couldn’t do anything to stop us. The warmth of that laughter and howls joy still radiates off the asphalt and concrete of San Carlos St. despite the there being no visible signs of that day, except for now, in our memories. We will never forget those moments where we were no longer passive spectators in our lives, and each in our own way, took action in the face of the aggression and entitled hubris of white supremacists. We will never allow them to convince us this was just some senseless violence that “has no place in the democratic process,” or that what we experienced wasn’t significant and meaningful beyond just roughing up some deserving Trump supporters.
The future we want to fight for is not one of “diversity,” token representation, empowerment through consumption, unshakable calcified identities, dogmatic and nostalgic adherence to failed ideologies, or symbolic reverence for a different social existence that will never come. We will continue to have the jackboots of the police and the Che Guevara t-shirt wearing “community organizer” on our throats until we qualitatively change how we relate to one another in a manner that goes beyond just displaying symbols, enacting the correct identity-based performances, and longing for an abstract nebulous concept of changing the world that we can’t even imagine ourselves living and experiencing firsthand.
Fighting to free ourselves of the hierarchies and domination of white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, and the state cannot be waged on the chessboard and within the confines and safety of state-approved activity and its institutions. We need to seize the resources and space to put into practice liberating social relationships based on real solidarity, self-determination, equality, and shared power. We cannot do this when everything about the sanctioned paths that are laid before us are directly counter to ever realizing that. We need to build the collective strength and resources to protect and take care of each other, and to move towards building a different world. A world not created through charity, coercive authority, paternalism, and resignation to the collective pathology of symbolic moralism and pre-approved lip service as solidarity. We seek to embody a form of solidarity whose very practice destabilizes and destroys hierarchies, exploitation, relations of dominance, and the violently maintained social peace imposed on us.
The struggle before us is immense and seemingly unwinnable. Yet, the idea that San Jose, with its well-oiled machinery of pacification and repression, would be the site of such a powerful violent autonomous response to the white supremacist establishment and its dutiful liberal caretakers seemed impossible on June 1st. We yearn to see you again in the streets, to share more moments like these together, and to perhaps one day, make a world arising out of standing and fighting together and for each other permanent.
The authors and contributors of this piece are people of color from San Jose and the greater South Bay Area.