Documenting the Art of Street Rebellion

The historical tactics of domestic and international street uprising is one usually condemned in the moment and glorified decades later. I’ve never ceased to be amazed by those who support mass demonstrations in Egypt while criticizing civil disobedience here in the states. They recognize the value the Boston Tea Party but abhor the notion of burning cop cars.

As a graduate of the NW Film Center, I was taught essential theories of documentary ethics. The importance of recognizing the camera as a weapon for social justice was stressed in most courses. Used as a tool to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, cameras are a powerful weapon indeed. So much so that globally, journalists have recently suffered a massive increase of attacks and murders while on the job.

Few spectacles draw more journalistic interest than the riot. While obviously portrayed disingenuously by corporate media, such uprisings are not mindless acts of aggression. What begins as a peaceful demonstration against injustice often escalates into more severe methods. This happens most commonly for one reason: police escalation.

tumblr_nc19523Tt71qexjbwo1_1280Courtesy: America Wakie Wakie

The police are weapons of the state. They use cameras as a tool as well, though not to tell the truth. They also use chemical agents, automatic firearms, and armored personnel carriers as weapons to brutally put down the kind social upheavals so necessary for democracy to function. There’s a reason elected ‘leaders’ tolerate police aggression; when the shit goes down, the status quo that rewards them is best protected by those boys in blue.

When reminded of these facts, liberals usually retort talking points about how not all cops are bad, how there’s lots of good cops out there.

They’re dangerously wrong.

The fraternal order of silence that ensures virtually no cop will ever snitch on one of their own makes all cops bad, save for maybe Frank Serpico. To quote my comrade Jessie Sponberg, “If you were in a social circle, and that social circle contained child abusers, spouse abusers, and rapists – and you knew which ones were which, but never said a word or attempted to stop them, would you consider yourself to be a good person? That seems to be the fuzzy criteria. When people say “good cop”, it makes me question the parameters of how they define good.

And as the saying goes, if you want to know who’s looking for a riot, just look at how they’re dressed. It’s not hard to see the military commando gear worn by Ferguson police recently to understand: those who make peaceful resistance impossible make violent revolution inevitable.

Whether people are massing in the streets to resist politicians’ refusal to act on global warming, fracking, deforestation, animal rights, institutionalized racism, endless wars, workers’ struggle, or police brutality itself, the cops will always be there – surveilling at the least, but more often unleashing the full extent of their powers, including assassination.

140813_POL_FergusonCops2.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeFerguson police inciting a riot. Courtesy: Slate.

Capturing their violence on video is important, but likely will do little reform the unreformable. As we saw with the street execution of Eric Garner, the police have no qualms about killing in full view of civilian cameras, to say nothing of the police cameras many falsely believe will curtail state abuses.

Still, images of uprisings draw us in. These photographs are more provacative than literal war-zone journalism. This strife isn’t some embedded abstraction thousands of miles away. This is our backyard. This battleground is the store where you shop for food and the park where your kids play.

Without the weapon of the camera, we wouldn’t even know about uprisings in Istanbul, in Cairo, in Madison, in London. Without the riot that happened in Ferguson, few journalists would have covered Michael Brown’s execution at all.

In a way, the police are their own worst enemy. The harder they press their boots down, the stronger the neck of resistance becomes. Likely, this abusive relationship won’t end soon. If we’re to overcome the regimes destroying the planet and our ability to exist on it, our greatest endowment is the ability to organize, take to the streets, and document the truth.

The founding colonialists of North America may have been slave-owning bigots, but they knew the first infrastructure of social progress was freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Documenting our course through history, our course through rebellion, is without a doubt mandatorily justifiable.

Enjoy the collection of photographs below via Tumblr.

See you in the streets.


Without the riots, you never would have even heard of Ferguson. Without the riots, you never would have even heard of Mike Brown. Without the riots, the police would have hardly been challenged. Without the riots, issues of race and authority would not have been on the cover of every newspaper and magazine. Without the riots, the peaceful sign holders and candle light vigils would have been ignored instead of trumpeted as the only acceptable action by the media. We owe every person who took something back from the system that takes from them a thank you. We owe the rioters of Ferguson gratitude for everything that they sparked.
~ Angry Hippo via Tumblr