I’m not quite sure how he pulled it off, but my friend Jeff, by calling in a few favors, and doing a bit of bartering, has been able to publish a new Ypsi-themed work by famed historian Peter Linebaugh. The 75-page pamphlet, entitled “Ypsilanti Vampire May Day,” is the first thing to be published on the Occupy Ypsi Press, and copies are, as of this moment, available, free of charge, at the base of Ypsilanti’s iconic water tower. Copies, from what I’m told, will also be available at 5:00 PM on Tuesday, at the Water Street Commons, where several folks are planning to celebrate the workers’ holiday together, around the maypole. For those of you who are unable to make it to Ypsilanti for your free copy, the book is also available online via Counterpunch… Here’s how it begins.
On May Day sometime in the 1890s, an ordinary Englishman boarded a train in Munich. His destination was a castle in Transylvania, a country wedged between the Danubian Provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia. It was a dark and stormy night when he arrived.
“Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things of the world will have full sway?” asked the landlady of a nearby hotel, and she implored him to reverse his course. Other commoners then warned him it was a witch’s Sabbath. Heedless, he persisted to the castle where pure terror awaited him in the personage of a bloodsucking monster. Count Dracula was at once as smooth, polite, and persuasive as President Obama, and as terrifying, shape-shifting, and diabolical as George W. Bush. He was undead—a zombie, or a werewolf—and lived only as long as he was able to suck human blood.
As for the crisis of our own lives, in 2009 Matt Taibbi assigned blame to the banks, calling Goldman Sachs “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Reverend Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan, referring to the Emergency Manager which was wrapped around the face of his city, said “he’s for the corporations that suck the life out of people.” Banks, insurance companies, and corporations belong to the total circuit of capitalism whence the sucking originates. When Alan Haber, the first president of SDS, spoke last winter at the Crazy Wisdom Book Shop and Tea Room in Ann Arbor about his experiences at Occupy Boston and Occupy Wall Street, he concluded his remarks by reminding everybody that “Capital is dead labor, which vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.”
As May Day 2012 approaches Ypsilanti, by all means let us tell stories of ﬂowers and fertility rituals and of the ancient festivals on the commons; and let us, for sure, commemorate the great struggle for the eight-hour workday that reached a climax in Chicago at the Haymarket in May 1886, and gave birth to the holiday of workers around the planet, east and west, north and south. As the prospect of the appointment of an Emergency Manager (EM) looms over Ypsilanti—with powers to abrogate union contracts, close schools, sell public assets, expropriate municipal lands, and whose very word is law—we must also greet the day with the realistic gloom that comes from an uncertainty about health, roof, studies, and livelihood. The tooth is at our throat!
Our green parks are turned into toxic brownfields and our common lands have been laid waste as collateral for unspecified “development.” Our eight-hour workday is lengthened by multiple part-time jobs, or by the time-consuming caretaking of elders without pensions or children without day care. Our lives now are in the grip of mysterious forces called securitization or financialization, to which we submit in dumbfounded helplessness, though the blush on our faces reminds us that these forces are but the bloodsuckers of old. Voltaire wrote that “stock jobbers, brokers, and men of business sucked the blood of the people in broad daylight… these true suckers live not in cemeteries but in very agreeable palaces.”
We face a crisis of production, yes, but also a crisis of reproduction. Production pertains to factories, sweatshops, mines, and fields; it is the realm of commerce, technology, and commodities. Reproduction pertains to kitchens, families, schools, neighborhoods; it is the realm of society, service, and a very special “commodity”—actually no commodity at all, rather: human beings. Reproduction takes place over various cycles of duration. It may mean the daily preparation for the next day or week—the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, etc. Or it may mean the preparation of the next generation, beginning with its creation and extending from diaper changing to graduate school. Michaela Brennan, a public health nurse at the Packard Community Clinic outside Ypsilanti, sighed in near despair: “So many people need looking after!”
REVEREND PINKNEY AND GREECE CIRCA 2012
Benton Harbor is on the other side of the state, but its tale is Ypsilanti’s too. Reverend Pinckney opposed the expropriation of the parklands which had been deeded to the city a hundred years ago, to belong to it “forever.” Such places are common lands. Whirlpool Corporation wanted the land and so did the developers who had in mind a golf course for executives and the Chicago summer people. The people’s park had to go, and so did the people. When they squawked, an Emergency Manager was forced on the town. Its commons were then privatized by the 1 percent.
One aim of this book is to oppose EMs—in the name of democracy!—and, in the name of the commons, to oppose the capitalist system behind them. We are being hoodwinked.
In 2007 Reverend Pinckney quoted scriptures to a judge:
Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the ﬂocks of thy sheep…. The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inﬂammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish (Deuteronomy 28: 14–22).
The judge found these lines threatening and ordered Edward Pinkney to prison for three to ten years. Pinkney kept up the fight inside jail, where despite the mutual resentment of blacks, whites, and browns, he coordinated with each group and collectively they won better food for themselves.
An Emergency Manager is a dictator. In ancient Rome, Sulla was one of the patricians who opposed the populares, who were still in mourning for the death of the fraternal people’s tribunes of Caius and Tiberius Gracchus, whose Agrarian Law redistributed the land of the patricians and preserved the common lands of the people, or the ager publicus. Sulla ravaged Athens until its streets ran with blood; in Rome he slaughtered five thousand prisoners. Under an emergency, he had himself declared “dictator” and murdered his friends. His word was law, and law was death. The Roman people were offered bread and circuses; we are offered McDonald’s and golf. In Benton Harbor the ager publicus has been privatized; it now has no people and eighteen holes.
This phenomenon is worldwide. Take Greece, for instance. From Thessaloniki a woman named Anna writes me, “I don’t know if you are aware that since last fall, instead of having an elected government, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the European Bank have appointed an emergency government to manage the crisis.” The manager used to work for Goldman Sachs. He puts the funnel in to draw some blood…
Those wishing to discuss the vampirism of modern capitalism, against the backdrop of May Day, are welcome to join Peter, Jeff, myself, the rest of the Occupy Ypsi family, and those sympathetic to the cause, tomorrow evening on Water Street. Details can be found here… Bring your stakes. And a dish to pass.