By Peter Linebaugh
In Ferguson Michael Brown a young man, age eighteen, was shot eight times while he walked down the middle of the street. That is indubitable. Here’s a spin on it. The earth, including the street, is “the common treasury of mankind” as the Diggers and Gerrard Winstanley said in 1649. As a moment in the sun Michael Brown walked down the middle of the street in youthful glory.
Whose streets? Our streets.
Michael Brown wore a cap; it was red. That is true and backed up by evidence available to all. Here’s a spin on that. Since Roman times the red cap has been the cap of liberty, the sign of the manumitted slave. You see the cap on the first coinage of the USA. It was the cap of liberté, égalité, and fraternité during the French Revolution. It is on the Haitian flag.
I do not say that Michael Brown was a Jacobin revolutionary or a Digger of the commons. Those are interpretations of the significance of his assassination. I read them as signs of the times.
I thought of Ferguson and Fukushima and the Financial Crisis as several big branches of the capitalist system but it’s hard to see how they are connected. That’s why we call it a system. There is a big suck from Ferguson to Fukushima to Wall Street. The “convenience store” is but a tiny particle in that suck of “the fruits of earth” from the Ninety-Nine to the One Per Cent. As an historian I find that it’s sometimes easier to understand the mutual re-inforcements of disparate elements in rendering
stopthiefprofit, interest, rent to the great possessioners or the One Per Cent by returning to the origins of those elements.
The structures of racial slavery (Ferguson), the steam engine (Fukushima), and the enclosures (Financial Crisis) did not actually originate in 1802 but that is one of the years when people tried to put a stop to them.