By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
So Lamont tried to organize a union. "But when the chips fell, people got scared," he asserted. "The company scared them into voting no on the union. The people that stuck to the campaign got laid off." The layoffs included Lamont, who said he could no longer pay rent on his apartment. "So I kicked it on the streets," he said. "That's when I got involved in the revolutionary struggle."
Lamont said he first heard about anarchism from a person he met on a bus who told him that people were organizing an anarchism conference in Long Beach. "I started learning stuff, and the more I learned about the system, the more I hated it. I figured, what's wrong with fighting back? The system is starving people. It's in their interest to have a pool of surplus labor. If they're going to starve people, why not rob a bank and re-appropriate the money?"
Instead of robbing a bank, on May 1, 2001, Lamont and more than 100 other anarchists descended on downtown Long Beach to celebrate May Day by calling for an end to global capitalism. Roughly 300 police—carrying riot batons and armed with rifles—surrounded the protesters and ordered them to disperse. When the group refused, the police herded the crowd into a corner and shot dozens of protesters with rubber bullets.
"I got shot at but not hurt because I had protection on," Lamont said. "They tried to say I was affiliated with the Black Bloc gang"—a reference to SKAA, whom police believed had organized the rally. Lamont laughs at the notion. "The Black Bloc isn't a gang; it's a tactic," he said. As for SKAA, Lamont said, "To be real with you, homie, it doesn't exist. People would just throw that name around. Nobody knows who organized the May Day rally."
What about Lamont? Does he know?
"I wouldn't say if I did," he answered.
After the shooting stopped, Lamont and 91 other anarchists were thrown in jail and forced to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of failure to disperse. He paid a fine and went back to fighting the system. In November 2001, he helped open the Info-Shop on Redondo Avenue in Long Beach. Lamont said he used his meager construction skills to repair the building's roof. For $1,200 per month, he and several other anarchists made the center their home while they tried to organize the community. They gave out free anarchist pamphlets, established a Food Not Bombs program that provided free food to homeless people, gave out free clothes, and tried to start a Long Beach chapter of the anti-police brutality organization Cop Watch.
"We were really trying to break things down to the bread-and-butter issues: police brutality, food, housing, and shit like that," Lamont said. "That's the reason why the police came down on us. They wanted to shut us down. They tried to get us evicted. They will stop at nothing to keep people from improving their community."
It's possible Lamont became of particular interest to the Long Beach police as a result of a Long Beach Press-Telegram article that appeared shortly after the Info-Shop opened. The article featured a photograph of Lamont but identified him only as Rampage.
"The police don't like me because I believe that communities need to police themselves, not have the police coming into areas and occupying them," he argued. "The way the police operate is no different than the way the Israelis do in Palestine. It's neocolonialism. They have certain sections in this country like ghettos where they view the people they're supposed to protect as enemies. That's what I'm trying to do with my life: kick these motherfuckers out."
* * *
If anyone can relate to what Matt Lamont is going through in jail, it's his friend Sherman Austin, a freelance web developer who lives at the Info-Shop and used to run the anarchist website raisethefist.com. In January 2002, a team of law-enforcement agents from the FBI, Secret Service and ATF confiscated his computers and a stack of literature.
When he traveled to New York to demonstrate against the World Economic Forum a few weeks later, he was arrested and charged under the USA Patriot Act with distributing information about manufacturing explosives on the Internet. Austin's case is still pending because the judge rejected a guilty plea that would have given him only a month in federal prison. He faces a sentencing hearing on June 30 and expects to serve up to a year.
Sitting on a metal chair in the Info-Shop, Austin absent-mindedly twisted his dreadlocks and tried to remember when he first met Lamont. "I think I met him on May Day 2001 in Long Beach when 92 of us were arrested," Austin said. "I had heard about the Info-Shop from a friend who was part of the collective." Austin started hanging out at the Info-Shop and began working with Lamont.
"We tried to do meetings with the truckers at the port and did Food Not Bombs," Austin said. "A lot of homeless people knew him. When he was at the Info-Shop, if anyone came in, he would talk to them. He was always sharing ideas, getting into intellectual conversations. That's all he did. I'm sure he had radical viewpoints and stuff like that, but it's not like he was drawing up plans to blow stuff up."