“Politics of Victimhood” from Relatos Zapatistas Radio

We just received a radio interview/podcast from Relatos Zapatistas @ Radio Zapatista pirate radio from Berkeley. The first 30 minutes cover much of the protests from the Mehserle sentencing and jailing of 100 protesters @ Oakland during the ensuing protest as well as the UC Regents meeting at UCSF at which Jared Kemper drew his gun against some students. Please listen.

The following is a written transcript of the introductory statement:

“The Politics of Victimhood”

On the evening of November 5, after BART cop Johannes Mehserle was given the minimum sentence for the murder of Oscar Grant, over 150 people were arrested during a protest in downtown Oakland. Instead of declaring an unlawful assembly, which would have allowed protesters to disperse, the Oakland police simply declared the march a “crime scene,” blocked off all escape routes, and arrested everyone. Oakland Chief of Police Anthony Batts later told the news media that the final straw was when a protester took an officer’s gun and pointed at him.

On November 17, students protested at the UCSF Mission Bay campus, where the UC Regents were meeting to approve an 8 percent tuition increase, on top of the 32 percent increase last year. When protesters tried to push their way into the meeting, police fought back with batons and pepper spray. At one point, a police officer Jared Kemper drew his gun and aimed it at a group of unarmed students. UCSF Chief of Police Pamela Roskowski later told reporters that the officer was forced to defend himself when a protester had snatched his baton and attacked him with it.

We begin this month’s show with these moments, in which heavily armed riot police backed by the full juridical authority of the state are portrayed as victims, in order to think about “the politics of victimhood.” What does it mean for the state to position itself as the victim, or being victimized in these situations? Being that the states defining characteristic could be the monopoly on violence, what mechanisms does it use to reasonably represent its agents and institutions as victims? How do movements on the left address and confront the states implications of “victimhood”? Is “victim” always a representation, an ideological position, and if so, what does that mean for solidarity politics based on an acknowledgment of victimhood? We are interested in victimhood as a category for analyzing the rhetorical positionings that underpin political and ideological conflict.

In the first part of the show, we’ll talk with one of the protesters who was present on both November 5th and 17th, who will tell us about the actions and the police response in each case. The point is not to show that “we’re the real victims!” but to think through the political implications of that label.

In the second part of the show, we turn from what to how. We suggest that the mainstream media is not “liberal” or “conservative,” but obsessed with the state. Those press conferences where police spokespeople tell reporters “exactly what happened” are the symptom of a disease: they can’t think outside the state and its agents as the primary source of knowledge, of absolute truth. We’ll talk with a reporter who has worked with both mainstream and alternative media in order to explore how the mainstream media’s fetishization of the state enables these claims of victimhood. We close the show with a discussion around the importance of alternative media which, by providing other venues to tell and create different histories and struggles, disrupts the crystallized networks of complicity that link the mass media to the state.

The Rebels are looking forward to making more of these podcasts available to you.


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