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Taking Space Feels Like A Drug: Reflections On A Coup Attempt

Posted in Creative Commons, Journalism, and Occupy Wall Street

After watching the coup, I keep imagining the feeling of breaking through. The rush. The giddy high of taking space.

Just like every other morally centered person, I felt a sense of horror at the images flooding out of Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2020. The day of the coup attempt.

And like so many antifascists, I saw something like this coming. I wasn’t surprised, but I was still shocked at the sight of a war-helmeted christofascist raising his fist in the air as he stood atop the heart of American political power.

It still startled me to see how easily they breached security, how nonchalantly they strolled through the Capitol, taking whatever souvenirs they wanted, rummaging through the unlocked computers of Congresspeople. Cheerfully calling for the execution of Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi.

And I keep coming back to how good they must feel. These nasty fucking fascists, white supremacists, and Qsuckers are riding one of the biggest highs of their lives. And that makes them even more dangerous.

When I think about that, I’m afraid we’re not nearly through with this.

The rush of taking space is like a drug

It’s 2013 and the people are occupying the Texas Capitol. Their voices are so strong the entire pink granite building shakes around us. At one point, a friend and I leave, knowing we won’t be allowed back in. The front lawn is full of people shouting.

We’re handed a box of provisions. Fruit and bottled water. The Troopers are turning people and supplies away. But someone distracts them while my friend and I rush through the exits against traffic, and the boxes of water and food get passed hand to hand and back to us and somehow we disappear into the crowd, even as someone shouts behind us. We’re inside and feel like superheroes.

It’s 2011 and around the country, Occupy Wall Street activists are claiming space. Creating tent villages, food tables, community media centers. Renaming public parks and taking back the public square. For a moment, anything feels possible.

It’s any year at any protest march, with the pigs at the barricades but there’s just too many people so you break through and take the streets. And the rooftops echo because for a moment you feel like you could flip a cop car end over end with just the power of your voice.

What does it feel like to stage a coup attempt?

I bet it feels pretty fucking great.

“Not gonna lie … aside from my kids, this was, indeed, the best day of my life. And it’s not over yet.”

That’s what Lt. Roxanne Mathai, an officer of the Bexas County Sheriff’s Department, wrote about her experiences at the coup attempt on Facebook.

A (now former) West Virginia lawmaker infamously, ecstatically shouted “We’re in, we’re in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” to his livestream audience.

I don’t have any sympathy for the participants of the coup attempt. When the Left occupies spaces, it’s to protect human rights or make the world better. The only demands of the coup attempt were genocide and dictatorship, and there can be no sympathy for that.

What I can understand is the impulse to push as far as you can push, in a moment when you know you outnumber the forces of the state. And I know the thrill of pushing through.

It’s a buzz that’s unlike any other I’ve experienced. You know the hammer will come down but, in the space before it does, you paradoxically feel invincible.

Then comes a hangover.

Of course, the Left knows that civil disobedience and insurrection, even beautiful insurrections of people seeking justice… it always leads to consequences.

The fascists are getting arrested. Antifa are exposing their identities and making sure they lose their jobs and face shame in their communities. Roxanne is on suspension. Derrick had to resign.

This is the hangover after the drug. It remains to be seen whether it will seem worth it.

In 2013 we lost. The police spilled blood in the halls of the Texas Capitol and abortion became much harder to access. In 2012, Obama’s Feds and local cops worked together to crush Occupy. Lots of people went on trial, and some went to prison. But some of us got radicalized too. Those of us that were there know it’s possible for people to take a space like that, given enough momentum and enough numbers.

We remember each other. We organize together. When we share stories around socially distanced campfires, we say, “you were there.”

When it comes to Occupy and other Leftist movements, I believe these shared experiences bend the famous arc of history towards justice.

And so I worry about the residue of a shared experience like a fascist coup attempt. I worry about the bonds it forges, and the people who remember, and work together later to plan violence. To plan genocide.

It’s up to everyday antifascists to make sure they can never live that day down. It’s up to us to decide whether they remember January 6 as a bad trip, or a glorious dream of fascist power.

Let’s make them regret it.

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Creative Commons LicenseTaking Space Feels Like A Drug: Reflections On A Coup Attempt by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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