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We Demand Nothing

We Demand Nothing

“I do not demand any right, therefore I need not recognize any either.” 
— M. Stirner

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On the night of August 8th, 2009, hundreds of inmates at the California Institution for Men in Chino rioted for 11 hours, causing “significant and extensive” damage to the medium-security prison. Two hundred and fifty prisoners were injured, with fifty-five admitted to the hospital.

On Mayday 2009, three blocks of San Francisco’s luxury shopping district were wrecked by a roving mob, leaving glass strewn throughout the sidewalk for the shopkeepers, police and journalists to gawk at the next morning.

On the early morning of April 10th, 2009, nineteen individuals took over and locked down an empty university building the size of a city-block on 5thavenue in Manhattan, draping banners and reading communiqués off the roof. Police and university officials responded by sending helicopters, swat teams, and hundreds of officers to break in and arrest them all.

After Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man, was killed by transit authority officers in Oakland, California on New Years Day 2009, a march of about 250 people turned wild when a multiculturalist’s dream focus group rampaged through downtown, causing over $200,000 in damage while breaking shop windows, burning cars, setting trash bins on fire, and throwing bottles at police officers. Police arrested over 100.

From December 6th, 2008 to Christmas, a rebellion swept Greece after the police shooting of a 16 year old boy in Athens. Hundreds of thousands of people took part, collectively ripping up the streets, firebombing police stations, looting stores, occupying universities and union buildings, all the while confronting cops on a daily basis with an intensity and coordination worthy of an army.

After the “accidental” deaths of two kids who were being chased by police in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, on Oct 27th, 2005, youths in the French banlieues burned thousands of cars, smashed hundreds of buildings, and destroyed shops large and small every day for three weeks in response. 8,973 cars burned all over France those nights, and 2,888 were arrested.

What unites these disparate events of the last few years? Neither the race nor class backgrounds of the participants, neither their political contexts nor social conditions, neither their locations nor their targets. Rather, it is a certain absence that unites them, a gap in the center of all these conflicts: the lack of demands. Looking to understand, manage, or explain the aforementioned events to an alienated public, prison officials claim ignorance, journalists scavenge for a “cause,” politicians seek something to negotiate, while liberals impose their own ideology. The fear is that there really is nothing beneath the actions, no complaint, no reason, no cause, just a wild release of primal energy, as inexplicable and irrational as a sacrifice to the gods themselves. At all costs, there must be meaning, they cry, some kind of handle to grab onto, something, anything. What do they want? everyone asks, and the reply is everywhere the same: Nothing.

Originally published in ‘Fire to the Prisons’ (Issue 7), Autumn 2009.

“The refusal to demand allows for the abstraction of capital to reveal itself, no longer covered up in the mysticism of word-games, i.e., we are fighting for right x because of need y based on condition z. That structure will never challenge the basis of the needs and conditions themselves. The undemanding struggle is not for anything, it is a position, a stance, a risk to become a subject of one’s own activity; until then, we are nothing but objects of capital, things moved around to work, vote, and reproduce. Capital is personified in our actions (work, consume, repeat), and the state is personified in our words (rights, justice, freedom). To refuse both personifications means to destroy the form of Man which capital and state need for their reality, that form is the proletariat and the citizen, the worker and the activist, the entrepreneur and the poet.”

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