Revolution and Regurgitation: some thoughts on a new radicalism in the 1990s

I had mentioned a line from this essay to a friend via facebook recently and she asked me to post the entire thing. I'm not the biggest fan of facebook, and since I have my own blog/site, I thought it would be best to post this here.

I wrote this in January 1989, shortly before leaving Buffalo to move to NYC. It was published in a small magazine called Silence in the summer of 1989, after I had already left to start my new life as Production Manager of The Guardian Newsweekly (which at the time was the longest publishing non-party affiliated socialist/radical newspaper in the US).

One thing worth noting: I eventually learned who the artist was that created the flyer that I quote in section 4. In fact, I'm happy to consider him a friend, -- 10 years after I was randomly handed a one page leaflet with his artwork/propaganda at a protest, I helped to produce his graphic novel, War in the Neighborhood, about the struggles against gentrification on the Lower East Side in the 80s and 90s. ( ). This is worth mention because the leaflet and the research I did after reading it are one of the reasons I made the decision to leave Buffalo a few credits short of my degree.

Revolution and Regurgitation:
Some thoughts on the potential for a new radicalism in the 90s


These thoughts are not all my own and at times are rather subjective. The connections between them might not seem clear. However, they are tied together by experience.


There is something happening in America, something that I don't quite know how to explain.

A new left is rising, one that can't be easily defined, summed up and spit back out in a way that will make it seem as if its parts logically fit together into one solid fully understandable whole.

There is no main spokesperson to point to, nor is there one dominant ideology that can be studied -- but, there IS a movement. What follows are some thoughts on what is happening.

I offer these thoughts not as scholar or intellectual analyst, but rather as a participant.


The cop who arrested me after beating me for no apparent reason told me that I was nothing more than a worthless throwback to the 60s.

I have long hair; I own a tie-dyed shirt; I've traveled to distant cities -- sometimes hundreds of miles by bicycle -- to see Grateful Dead shows; I was born in 1966. But I am not from the 60s! Although that is not what the mainstream media would have you believe.

I was one of about one million people who gathered in Manhattan's Central Park in 1982 to demand an end to the arms race. The New York Times called us "reminiscent of the 60s."

In 1986, 100,000 of us gathered. Again in New York -- This time condemning US policy towards South Africa. Newsday called it "a scene from the 60s"

May 1987 found almost 200,000 people on Capitol Hill, in the rain, during a protest focused mainly on Central American issues. "Boycott South Africa, Not Nicaragua," we shouted... "echos of the 60s" replied The Washington Post.

Also In 1987 nearly a quarter million people marched on the U.S. Capitol in support of Gay and Lesbian rights; the Press once again managed to pass it off as a flashback to the 60s.

Last year (1988) I was among the 37 students and faculty who occupied the SUNY University at Buffalo's administration building protesting UB's involvement in classified weapons research for the Strategic Defense Initiative (Reagan's “Star Wars” program)... the local news describe the protest as looking more like 1968 than 1988.

This list can go on forever; it seems that the media have developed a warped sentimental fondness for a movement that it helped to destroy. When will all of this nonsense end?

How many times can the media de-legitimize protests as glimpses of the past, instead of seriously looking at how the issues being raised are part of the present situation?

When will the realization arise that the protests that keep cropping up are not mere 60s nostalgia-fests, but rather protests against specific horrors of modern society?

These horrors exist here and now... I AM NOT OF THE 60s.


There's a war on in America.

I'm not talking about the war on drugs -- which at this moment seems to be the US government fighting the US government, considering the recent Congressional testimony about the CIA smuggling drugs into the country to help pay for its covert operations.

I'm instead referring to the war against the poor.

A leaflet handed to me on the streets of NYC explains it this way:

"1967 – inner city riots.
a commission was set up to study the riots
consisting of representatives of the military, big business, and the government.
they did not believe that poverty caused the riots
they blamed the riots on the people
crowded together in the inner city
poor people could
communicate and
and create resistance.
their solution was to break up this mass of people
and push them out of the city.
already bad areas would be allowed to get worse
cops would turn a blind eye to arson.
then the people would be offered bribes to leave.
the area would be renovated for a 'better' class of people
rents would soar. People would have to sleep in the streets
while 'warehoused' apartments were empty.
this plan has already resulted in a wave of HOMELESSNESS
What are the people going to do about it?"

I've learned that squatting is the solution for an ever-increasing number of people: living in empty “warehoused” buildings, mostly owned (at least as far as NYC is concerned) by The City.

The squatters and the city are at war. The squatters find a way in – the city forces them out and gets stronger locks.

The squatters try to make the buildings as livable as possible, sometimes making large scale renovations -- the city intentionally damages the buildings, in some cases removing the roof and staircase, in order to make them undesirable to squatters.

There is no cease-fire in sight.


I've often wondered what Karl Marx would have to say about all of this.

Aw... fuck Marx!

Marx never lit a joint in Central Part (hands trembling with paranoia) or once had to hide in the dunes from the police at two in the morning because some suit-and-tie bureaucrat decided that natures closes at sundown.

Don't get me wrong – Marx was brilliant, but his theories in many ways apply to a form of capitalism that just does not exist anymore.

The CFDT (a french labor union) considers that "in the current form of capitalist development the condition of the workers is more and more shaped by their existence outside the workplace, by the framework of their lives (transportation, housing, environment, etc.), and by news, culture, teaching, health, consumption, leisure activities, etc.. Industrialized capitalism shapes these various areas in such a way as to make sure that the people's tastes, behavior, culture, and dreams will be instrumental to the smooth functioning of the system and to the growth of new markets"

How could Marx ever have imagined how the mass media spectacle of consumerism would alter society and affect culture?

Hell, Karl Marx never even knew who Bugs Bunny was – how can he tell me how to change my situation.


The Port Huron Statement -- the manifesto of Students for a Democratic Society, printed in 1962 -- opens stating that "We are the people of this generation, bread in at least modest comfort, housed now in Universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit."

There is a new generation, here today, trying to understand for itself what it means to be part of the late 20th century global village.

This movement is diverse. Not all of us were raised in "modest comfort"; not all of us are in universities.

We are working in our local communities on issues of global importance.

We might not all work together or be officially connected, but in our desire for a new society we are united.

We stand United by what divides us. We engage in many fights that are different angles of the same struggle.

The only way to completely understand the connections (if that is really possible), is to become participants -- to move away from being spectators in our own lives, buying back our images from corporate sponsors; to refuse to treat ourselves and our lives as commodities that are to be bought, sold, invested in and enhanced just to bring a higher price and salary.

We must empower ourselves and gain control over the systems that oppress us in our everyday lives!


Revolution should be a festival – the festival of the oppressed.

See you at the barricades?

I hate the stigma of being

I hate the stigma of being in the 60's because we have different opinions regarding the government. I hope as we progress intellectually into the future, these stupid sayings will wither away. I agree that the population must empower ourselves to inspire change in the government. For too long the American citizenry has been dwelling in apathy.

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