The government “shut down,” and where are we? Not in the streets. My Twitter and Facebook feed are filled with people puzzling over this fact. We know the effects of the shutdown could be devastating for precarious populations—the poor, the food insecure, the sick. We know that the worst effects of the shutdown will be absorbed by raced, gendered, and classed subjects. We know that we’re angry. And we know that we’re not in the streets.
We’re being scolded for not being in the streets. We’re being told that Millennials aren’t serving their world-historical function of maintaining the liberal-capitalist state. We’re informed that we “should be vigorously protesting as the House GOP holds the state and the economy hostage.” We’re even offered a script: “It’s our government, they ought to declare.” We’re told that we are making “it harder for the progressives who do hold public office to do their jobs.”
But what if our puzzled self-descriptions index a political consciousness that all these pious prescriptions can’t want to think? What if we know something, we who don’t go out into the streets, what if we know something that we ourselves almost can’t let ourselves know, a knowledge that we can only become conscious of in the form of a half-shocked self-assessment: “We’re not in the streets?!”
What if we know that we Millennials were born into an already abandoned world? What if we only know the welfare state of yesteryear as a myth? What if we can only laugh when someone encourages us to declare, “it’s our government”? What if we only know a world of de-pegged dollars, of flexible production, of fast-moving finance? What if we only know a world in which the state at every turn functions to stack the world against us? What if we only know a world in which the state’s primary mode of being is as an agency dedicated to the proposition that black and brown people around the world should be incarcerated or killed? What if we only know a world in which our most “progressive” president was the one who gave us the horrible, racist Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act? What if we only know a world in which liberals justify the maintenance of the state by rhetorically gesturing to the very raced and gendered populations that the state only cares to fuck over? What if we know that the devastating abandonment to which precarious populations are now subject as a result of the “shutdown” is simply the agonizing materialization of an already established fact?
What if we’re not cruel optimists because we were never optimistic in the first place.
We want to be in the streets. We showed that. We want nothing more. We want to be in the streets. Dancing, laughing, arguing. Feeding one another, caring for one another, defending one another against the organs of the state that never shut down. Shattering windows, tearing down fences, making the world our commons. We want to build worlds where the hungry can eat, where the sick can repair. Where black skin isn’t a marker of disposability and where bodies can embody as they like. Where the forms of ableism at times implied in the political shorthand of “the streets” are annulled.
For us, the streets are an impossible actuality. The streets are a place where the fantasy of contact and care becomes concrete. A place where we realize that we are abandoned to one another. Where we hold on and hold together and, in so doing, get in touch with something new.
Why aren’t we in the streets? We’re already there, already in them, in and through our very withdrawal from them. We’re in them in our recognition that the state has always already abandoned us, that it has created a world in which speech cannot become act and our presence doesn’t matter. We’re in them in our decision to abandon the state in turn, in our refusal to participate in the statist scenography that congregates a crowd in order to re-ground itself.
We know this—vaguely, hazily, inchoately. The question, then, is not, “Why aren’t we in the streets?” It is, rather, “What will happen when we realize we’re already there?”
And we know this, too.