Yesterday, a jury in Portland, Oregon found the Bundy brothers and their militia not guilty of conspiracy. Apparently, the armed occupation of state land is not the big deal many thought it was. Moreover, the acquittal arrived at the very moment a militarized police force confronted and arrested 141 people (many Native Americans) in North Dakota who were protesting the construction of an oil pipeline that threatens the water supply of Standing Rock Reservation. What will be the fate of those people? Will they go to trial and be found not guilty? Is blocking an oil pipeline the same as occupying a wildlife refuge?
Many on Facebook and Twitter saw the judgement as yet another example of white privilege. Though we cannot dismiss race in this business, the far more important factor concerns the true status of a protest or occupation in relationship to the core parts of American power, which are above all economic.
The Bundys are actually aligned with these parts and principles, which are politically represented and reinforced by organizations on the right. This is why they could never start a revolution. They have, according to the principles of power, done nothing wrong. What is wrong is that there is a massive bird sanctuary to begin with, protected by the public from economic exploitation, from the meat industry, from the mining sector. The people who place birds or rivers or air quality above economic interests are the real enemy. This is why the Standing Rock protesters will be treated differently from the Bundy brothers and their Vanilla ISIS crew. They are actually challenging the core parts of American capitalism. Within the Standing Rock protest are elements that, if fully expressed, would completely transform our society. No such elements will be found in the concerns of the Bundy crew, which is why we can laugh at them and their protest. Which is also why they can be acquitted. And which is why when David Fry, an acquitted occupier, was released from jail last night, he went straight to a Domino’s pizza. These are just some good old boys, never meaning no harm.
We can also laugh at the Trump supporters who threaten to start a revolution if Hillary wins. There is nothing in their program that opposes the principle constituents of the form of power that rules their lives. Indeed, their leader is a billionaire.
But always keep this in mind: White privilege is not limitless. It ends when a white person begins to directly challenge those who reproduce the structure of their economy. When we speak of white privilege, we must also not speak of it as something that is disconnected or non-aligned or ahistorical. It does not exist in a vacuum. The economic history of America is its maker.