Joshua Clover and student organizers discuss riot and struggle in bookstore panel
Today, May 17, the UC Davis Bookstore will be holding a panel with Joshua Clover, a professor of English at UC Davis and student organizers Brandon Buchanan, a fourth-year sociology graduate student, and Bernadette Fox, a fourth-year international relations and women and gender studies major. The panel, titled Forms Of Struggle: Political Conflict in the Long Crisis, will be held at 4 p.m. in MU II and comes following the publication of Clover’s new book, Riot.Strike.Riot: The New Era of Uprisings. Panelists will discuss forms of contemporary political struggles in relation to current events. A Q&A session and book signing will follow. The Aggie spoke to Clover about his hopes for his book, the recent student protest and the distinction between riots and strikes.
Kate Snowdon (KS): Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell me what your new book is about?
Joshua Clover (JC): No. But seriously, that’s a hard question to answer. It’s an attempt to rethink entirely what riots are. Its first question is why we’ve seen an increase in riots here in the West, and why we’ve seen a resurgence in the last 40 years. I start my history in 1347, renaming what riots and strikes are. They’ve been poorly defined historically, so I had to coordinate those new definitions and theorisations with a history of capitalism in the West, and all of that was necessary to explain the recent rise in riots and their nature, and what we’re likely to see in the future
KS: How do you define the differences between strikes and riots?
JC: That’s an important question, as that distinction has been given to us pretty weakly. The distinction that’s always made is the distinction between order and disorder. Strikes are ordered, almost aesthetically; they involve downing tools, marching in organized lines. Riots are defined as public disorder, a disturbance of the peace. The law defines them as three or more people acting in a disorderly way. That’s been the main distinction that’s been made, and it’s a useless distinction, not least because it ignores the incredibly violent history of strikes. It seems shockingly forgotten. This idea that strikes are passive events is absurd, and I wanted to argue that riots have their own logic. One of the aims of the book is to make these struggles over wage labour and prices relatable to the current struggles where we see a black kid getting shot by a cop, so there’s a riot, and then the cop is not given appropriate punishment, so another riot bursts forth.
KS: Do you find it hard as a white, middle-class male to write about these issues?
JC: I don’t know, because I’ve never come at it from another identity. Certainly I’ve had the experience in my life of having people tell me that I can’t talk about such and such because I don’t fit that identity. For a while, when I was a journalist, it seemed like people were being assigned stories based on their ethnicity. This seems dangerous, creating and separating communities in ways where they are forced to refer to themselves. However, the claim that everyone should be able to talk about everything clearly serves some people more than others throughout history. It’s a difficult question, but if I had to spend the rest of my life only having opinions about things middle-class males did or invented, it would be a real misery and not very good for anyone.
KS: What are your personal experiences with riots and strikes?
JC: I ended up doing union organizing in my second job, just before I started college, I made pizzas and rang the cash register. We signed a contract when we started that required us to dress presentably. A new management team came in and said we needed to wear white shirts and black pants, which I didn’t have the money to buy. I said it wasn’t in my contract, and the next thing I know I’m union organizing. I’ve helped organize some strikes in the UC system with clerical and sanitation workers. Most recently, after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, I was in Scandinavia, and I flew back to find out what was happening.
KS: Why do you hesitate to use the term race riots?
JC: I’m of the tradition that believes that race is constructed. I think the term race riot has the effect of indicating who was what race and that’s somehow explanatory as to what they did, and that’s a whole set of problems. It also forgets that the history of racialized riots is attacks by white communities on black communities, Chinese communities, Latin Americans, the Zoot Suit riots. Riots were just white people murderously attempting to preserve the order. In the ’60s race riots started to resemble our contemporary understanding of them, often of black community response to police violence. The term race riots forgets the history of racialized rioting.
KS: How would you relate your work on struggle to the recent events involving Chancellor Katehi?
JC: I think there’s a close kinship between the occupation and the riot, and that’s what we’ll be talking about.
KS: Do you think that the tactics used by the protesters occupying Mrak were effective?
JC: I think in the short term, they were incredibly effective. #FireKatehi, the chosen hashtag, was very effective, Katehi is all but gone. I think the chances of her surviving this are basically none. I think the mindset however, or some of those students, is a more thoroughgoing change in the university’s running. I hope that’s successful, but it will take a lot of committed and fearless militancy. I can’t imagine anything more educational than entering into serious political antagonism while you’re in school.
KS: Why were your co-presenters chosen?
JC: Both have been deeply involved in campus struggles. Brandon is connected to both riot and organized Davis Stands with Ferguson. Brandon is also a steward for the union that organises graduate student teachers, so it seems like an obvious choice. Bernadette was chosen by the collective students occupying Mrak, and I trust their decision absolutely. Circumstance and campus politics have chosen them and I look forward to that discussion.
I want students to teach me things. I’m one person, I had an idea, I researched it, but it is very limited, and one person can only learn so much. My hope is that anyone who does engage with the book will want to add things and challenge things and hopefully I won’t be defensive when they do.
Written by: Kate Snowdon – email@example.com