The following reportback is from a comrade in a Marxist Center affiliate organization, who witnessed the uprisings in Minneapolis in the wake of the lynching of George Floyd. Here our comrade recounts the ebb and flow of the uprising as he saw them. This reportback can only represent the views and experiences of this one person. Personal and organizational information is redacted for security.
The uprising begins.
Mass protests at multiple sites in the city. Primarily political targets such as the police 3rd precinct and the site of the murder. Our cadre are not on the ground yet.
The protests continue to escalate. There is an increase in direct confrontation with cops and expected escalation the next day. We prepare all day and come up at night to distribute safety gear to Black and Brown youth.
Tonight, corporate storefronts and a police station are burning to the ground.
The precinct was stormed; an all out cop retreat was forced; the streets were barricaded, the station was ablaze.
Reflections from this night:
This uprising is led by urban poor Black and Brown people, especially youth. Revolutionaries filled critical logistics roles–medics, safety gear production and distribution, tools and teams to put out tear gas grenades–but urban poor black and brown youth led the action hands down.
People advanced into the open streets; when enough of them did, they were met with a hail of police projectiles. Our empty bottles vs. their tear gas, our cardboard signs vs. their rubber bullets, our screams vs. their marker rounds (paintballs). Quite literally, our strength in numbers vs. their weapons, our palpable rage vs. their terror.
People are shot in the head (and all over) with marker rounds and rubber bullets. Teenagers and revolutionaries run to their aid with medicine, water, and handfuls of medical supplies. Many are tended and back at the front in minutes. Some are not so lucky.
Among the layers of youth on the front and behind the scenes are former and current youth of the organization we helped to build, Our Youth Organization (OYO) (actual name redacted for security). Past members (high school graduates) are in the thick of the protests while many current members use the moment to respark the OYO campaign to get cops out of Minneapolis schools started in 2016. What once was deemed impossible is now our horizon.
Seeds planted lie dormant until the force of a whirlwind knock the barrier between them and the sun. Many OYO were politicized in 2015 and 2016 by two other police murders of black men in Minnesota (Jamar Clark and Philando Castile). These resulted in multi-week occupations (OYO Minneapolis was born at the occupation of the 4th police precinct) which were a battleground not only against police and the state, but also between urban poor Black and Brown people and revolutionaries on the one hand and nonprofit staff and liberals on the other.
Today, the nonprofits are nowhere to be seen.
We surrounded the precinct while corporate storefronts from the last day of action burned and were looted for many blocks up and down the street. Looting had spread all over in small pockets including in large amounts in the city of St. Paul, diverting police and National Guard attention. Due to a weak flank of ours, the cops consolidated and made a rapid retreat–a lucky mistake on our end.
After their tear gas filled retreat, people pushed over the rest of the barriers and stormed the building. It’s contents were liberated, thousands of people had just created a police free zone for blocks and miles. Not long after the seizure of the building, it was set on fire.
Comrades have been building and distributing lots of simple shields especially to Black and Brown youth. If we had hundreds instead of dozens, this would’ve changed the game. The offense and defense dynamic of an action is entirely different if we could have established walls of our own instead of relying just on the moveable objects and existing infrastructure around us.
We are in the middle of a global pandemic. The moment requires even more risk in that way but the people are willing to do it and so are we. Pray for us whatever way you do.
Shifting dynamics tonight.
National Guard out. Cops back in. They gave up the 3rd precinct by mid-morning, under no pressure.
The leadership from urban poor Black and Brown people from specific neighborhoods makes militant action possible. Their activity enables masses to join and achieve critical mass. It worked great last night. It was still there but less so tonight.
With the 3rd precinct ransacked and burnt, the highly localized energy shifted from the precinct as a political target to regular looting in the area for residents. There is increasing evidence that looting and fires of community institutions (like black/immigrant owned restaurants) is carried out by white supremacists/out-of-town adventurists.
Hundreds of others gathered; we distributed shields, and pressed a small line of cops west systematically and easily for many blocks down the main street only having to fend off occasional rounds of tear gas. This went on till we reached a natural political target, the fifth precinct, this was the cops next last stand, and they were very ready for it.
We didn’t quite have the numbers most of the night. A march of a couple hundred people that had taken over the freeway came off the highway and joined us at the precinct. A tactical mistake–instead of staying with us at the precinct they actually absorbed a lot of our numbers and kept marching for several more blocks.
The lack of poor Black and Brown neighborhood residents organically acting with escalated militancy meant we did not use our new critical mass to mount waves of actions. The energy and organic leadership just wasn’t quite there enough to direct it.
What escalated militancy did occur later in the night was in reaction and as methods of defense against dramatically escalated police action. However we did not have critical mass; even our cadre/affinity group had exited based on scouting information. There was no fight to advance or defend in a serious way at that moment.
It is possible that a militant revolutionary organization rooted in the urban poor Black and Brown neighborhoods could have seriously directed the masses into excellent strategy with key tactical advantages. But that organization does not yet exist in our context.
Our work with our youth organization has never quite gotten to systematic training in direct action and Affinity groups. Had we done a better job developing those skills and that consciousness within youth in the last 4 years it could have made the difference.
Our youth organization is very likely however about to win a major victory in the main campaign we have been waging in Minneapolis with students for the last 3 years: getting cops out of schools. The school board is pretty much guaranteed to end their contract with the Minneapolis Police Department. This would not be possible if it wasn’t for the last three years of sustained action across the Minneapolis schools led by our students. Once the uprising began, our students instantly began a mass calling and emailing campaign on school board members and Administration staff which has resulted in the new policy that will be voted on on Monday. A campaign we thought was likely to die is now about to win. And I can’t talk about it without crying.
Other graduated youth, ones we have not been in touch with for years, are suddenly talking with us again about strategy. The point is not necessarily membership in the organization’s we build but about trust. Our organization is largely white and comes from another town; uniting with Black and Brown youth doesn’t just happen from one night of struggle, but from years of building trust.
The anarchists scene locally is doing a very good job of background logistics support. We have yet to hear of a serious spokes council of affinity groups. A serious spokes cancel rooted in skilled Affinity groups would shift dynamics beneficially. But the bottom line is the necessity of leadership of poor Black and Brown people at the forefront. It’s their home and their fight and we are here to help them build power and lend support and critical mass to their actions.
Onward comrades, the only way is forward.
There was no return of organic urban poor Black and Brown escalated militant leadership tonight and very few active protests.
In its place, many thousands of south Minneapolis residents self-organized into neighborhood and community defense committees, many with their own blockades and checkpoints. Many community institutions are also defended. There are some looters but the main threat by far was an increased presence of white supremacists looking to target community institutions and Black and Brown people.
Through large democratic assemblies held in parks during the day, the political consciousness within this context is an odd mix of patterns and contradictions. It is so widespread and robust that after our affinity group had delivered fire extinguishers and supplies to key community defense centers, and discovering no serious protest activity to support, we decided to head home as we were not needed further. Glad we did. We narrowly avoided a mass police violent crackdown across the city.
Later that night the police and national guard started driving and marching around residential streets shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at anyone standing outside or on their porches or in their cars. They’ve caused an immense amount of violence against the community defense infrastructure. But the people are holding after minor retreats as the cops are mostly just passing through and causing terror. You may notice similar patterns all across the country of massively coordinated escalation in police violence like we saw nationwide at the end of occupy.
Dozens if not hundreds have also been arrested for being out past curfew. Including a large affinity group of close comrades to us.
This might be too soon to say but it is likely we are at the end of this phase of the whirlwind in Minneapolis.
Our affinity group was not on the ground much today. We needed rest and a step back for assessment. We did deliver more shields and fire extinguishers.
The protest type actions have shifted in geography and the social base engaged represents an almost entirely new constituency.
The escalated and militant direct action leadership of urban poor Black and Brown people in South Minneapolis seems to have subsided. In its place today there was a march of many thousands concentrated mostly in downtown Minneapolis. A mass social base of thousands of people of different race, class, and geography. This mix of class, race, and gender diverse liberals and progressives and particularly young workers of mixed political consciousness marching together in the thousands and being attacked by a white supremacist and to some extent by police has likely many repercussions. Time will tell. The march today is not one that necessarily lent itself towards building organization but expressing mass solidarity and a possible entry point into the movement.
But honestly I don’t think any of the organizations on the ground have the capacity to focus on absorbing new layers of activists from this so far.
The community defense infrastructure in South Minneapolis is still fully deployed across it’s mixed political consciousness. We will get more shields and equipment to OYO youth tomorrow for them to continue to distribute to their peers. We will also await the final vote about getting cops out of schools and maybe taste the sweet victory of a years-long campaign OYO has waged on that front.
Love and rage my friends.
Our affinity group is doing overnight community defense of a hotel, seized by the people to house dozens, possibly up to a hundred, houseless people. This is at least the third night that the hotel started operating this way.
No massive protests today but there were peaceful protests in different spots around the city. Ton of arrests at a protest at the governor’s mansion tonight once curfew started. Again, actions are being called by random people, resulting in large numbers but no tactics and often large arrests.
The established and experienced organizations and activists across the Left in Minneapolis are at full capacity doing defense and support.
As I said yesterday, this is a huge variety of social classes and politics and religion and race and gender class etc.The big question is about momentum and organization. How many of these people will join existing organizations, or start new ones? How long will it take to link them up? Because of this how many of them will always view movements as fully spontaneous and only existing around flashpoints?
The neighborhood defense infrastructure is still going strong. I would argue that it genuinely represents a certain kind of dual power. However, it does not represent Left revolutionary dual power. The political consciousness among the South Minneapolis residents with robust neighborhood defense infrastructure is mixed. A significant chunk of it is white and reactionary and organized at the micro Grassroots level.
The gap left by the State acting as merely an occupying force, abandoning its role as a protector of the white middle class and above, has produced neighborhood level self-determination, a certain manifestation of dual power. This manifestation doesn’t inherently carry Left revolutionary politics. Honestly, Left revolutionary politics do not carry the masses at the moment. Progressive social justice politics certainly do.
What I think I am gleaning from this is that this moment across the country may produce similar elements of quasi dual-power self-determination but that those manifestations do not inherently carry our Left politics or even a majority of those participants turning to Left and especially revolutionary politics.
This is the moment where I wish we could point to existing smaller institutional alternatives of democracy and restorative justice; alternatives to police and things of the like that are at a scale that are serious and not absolutely tiny. But we don’t have those locally, not in a coherent enough way. If we did we could raise mass consciousness around these alternatives and help them become popularized demands within the new masses. But for now the primary political consciousness in the streets is anger, arresting and finding guilty the murdering police officers, and the vague slogan for justice.
The open question remains about navigating this rupture with strategy and not just emergency response. And when we come back to the war of position, the landscape will be so different.
Also, the vote on Cops and Schools is tomorrow, it did not happen today. We will let you know what happens. OYO is mobilizing heavily for a march around it. The Black and Brown youth we have been supporting are immensely grateful for the shields and protective equipment we have been providing. We appreciate all of you so much.
The police have basically been functioning with autonomy from the governor’s office and the mayor. I have no sympathy for the governor or the mayor but the police are actively disobeying their orders and doing as they please. The police union president, a white supremacist, literally drew up plans for deploying the National Guard and police forces across the city and brought them to Republican Senate majority leaders in Minnesota to completely undermine the power of the governor and the mayor.
A few substantial victories.
OYO is actually the foundation of our affiliate organization. We started it just after graduating high school/while in high school in a nearby town a few years ago. Within two to three years, we had expanded to Minneapolis based on a police precinct occupation. Ever since then, getting cops out of schools has been OYO’s main campaign. For the last four years, OYO students have done surveys, petitions, political education workshops, protests, school board meetings, and actions all to get cops out of schools.
Last night we won.
Partially. All it took was murder and the riots but the Minneapolis School Board ended their contract with the Minneapolis Police Department to provide cops in schools. The school board is looking for alternatives in the forms of Department of Parks and Recreation police which are technically different than the Minneapolis Police Department although they are in the same white supremacist union. Not a full victory but getting them out is the first and massive step.
Had OYO students, and other youth organizations, not been pressing the attack for years this swift vote and victory would not have been the same. Doesn’t mean it would not have been possible. Hard to tell.
Arguably, these partial victories really only set us up for flashpoints in the future. When the state inevitably fails to achieve anything even close to justice, there is the potential to spark mass anger and action. Our task is to get into position in the downtime through organizing and relationship-building to maneuver during the next ruptures.
Also, today it was announced that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) would send some critical permits to a Minnesota court further delaying the permits. This was our main political goal recently. Last week, we had actually just calculated to not press our luck by doing house actions on MPCA staff and instead focus on other political targets. That calculation proved right I guess!
I’ll say this in a short way here. If it wasn’t for the last two years of direct action training and affinity group building, years of OYO organizing, and our Collective going through a very intentional political education process about what a revolution is and how do we build towards one, we would not have been able to act as quickly and as usefully as we have in the last week.
it all brings to mind what Teresa was writing about recently for Marxist Center cadre about war of position and war of maneuver. We can’t accurately guess what the next ruptures will be but we can come close with scenario planning for multiple possibilities. We should then be very intentional about working backwards from those moments of possibility towards what we need to be building now to take advantage of them. That’s a core lesson so far. We are moving on to victory.