Recently, author and activist Vicky Osterweil was interviewed on NPR to discuss her new book “In Defense of Looting” a powerful, yet radical take on the idea that looting serves a tactical purpose and should not be outright condemned. In arguing for this underappreciated perspective, Osterweil and NPR received backlash for promoting the idea of looting, (Therapeutic Property Diminishment) as a legitimate component of the movement for social justice.
Many members of the corporate-controlled media thought it was distasteful and unbecoming of an institution such as NPR, an organization often viewed favorably for its reporting and professionalism. This criticism of Osterweil and the negative perception of looting as a tactic for social change is expected; dominant narratives of what constitutes “violence” and “destruction” pervade our political landscape. Often, these narratives take a narrow, biased perspective to squash any variation with regard to the actions of those engaged in an act that Osterweil rightly characterized as “joyous and liberatory”.
But the point Osterweil is making is not without nuance and requires a careful understanding of the historical context for which we find ourselves in. Osterweil makes this distinction abundantly clear in her NPR interview, stating:
“When I use the word looting, I mean the mass expropriation of property, mass shoplifting during a moment of upheaval or riot. That's the thing I'm defending.”
On the surface, theft and destruction of property of business owners appears violent and unjust. But when carefully viewed within the context of where their property originated (Native genocide, mass enslavement of Black People), the black and white perspective of looting being harmful begins to become filled with shades of grey.
While Therapeutic Property Diminishment may seem violent to the uninitiated, property attained through privilege, conquest, and capitalism is inherently violent on its own terms, something that requires a response from those who are oppressed.
Osweiler continues to eloquently make this point in the interview:
“The very basis of property in the U.S. is derived through whiteness and through Black oppression, through the history of slavery and settler domination of the country....So you get to the heart of that property relation, and demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free.”
This take brings home the truth that "property" as we know it today was attained through slavery, genocide, and the toxic masculinity of our colonizing forefathers who looted their way through the world to arrive on top. When a protester, regardless of their race, gender, or economic status decides to enact property expropriation, it can serve as a vital reminder of the power of the masses and an example of what happens when the master class does not give in to the demands of the oppressed.
Osterweil provides a controversial, yet often unvoiced point-of-view with regards to civil unrest and property diminishment. Although her rough-around-the-edges writing style may turn off those who may be more receptive to the message, it does not detract from the truth that property diminishers provide a potent weapon in the fight against systemic oppression.
"Looters Don’t Know What They’re Doing"
In the midst of social strife and the movement to push back against the capitalist, white supremacist system of control, many comrades have found themselves swept up in the wave of the mob, escalating mostly peaceful protests into something that touches a nerve for most onlookers. But as Osterweil rightly points out:
“To say you're attacking your own community is to say to rioters, you don't know what you're doing. But I disagree. I think people know. They might have worked in those shops. They might have shopped and been followed around by security guards or by the owner.”
Indeed, many property diminishers are not simply swept up in mob-fueled excited delirium and acting without purpose, but a large percentage are engaged in an empowering act of civil disobedience to draw attention to those who’d rather bury their heads in the sand. You can no longer ignore a movement whose time has come if you are forced to end your meal, raise a fist against your will, or clean up the smoldering remnants of your successful business.
These actions state loud and clear that business as usual will no longer be tolerated, especially if that business has burned to the ground. Osterweil poignantly discusses the point in full:
“Looting strikes at the heart of property, of whiteness and of the police. It gets to the very root of the way those three things are interconnected. And also it provides people with an imaginative sense of freedom and pleasure and helps them imagine a world that could be.”
Mass acts of property diminishment serve as a harsh reminder that the status quo’s days are numbered. Peering beneath the ashes of a destroyed city lies the Phoenix of liberation and justice waiting to take flight. Much like the ancient agricultural traditions used by native Amazonian cultures, the destruction of cities and neighborhoods serves as the metaphorical biochar for a new world to emerge.
If we are to give birth to a new world, it is clear the old world must be dismantled, demolished, and sometimes literally destroyed. Property diminishment adds accelerant to the process of abolition, a collective growing pain for which many property owners are left to bear.
The Solution is Voluntary
At LootSafe.org, we do not condone the more wild, unrestrained versions of property diminishment that we are currently witnessing.
But we understand it. We feel it. We know that violence-adjacent actions are frequently the consequence of a people pushed to their limits.
But we also recognize the need to be better. To do better. To become the promise set forth by our forepersons and to guide ourselves to the world we all want to live in.
It’s the very reason why we’ve created this organization: to acknowledge the transformative power of property diminishment, but to do so in a way that benefits all parties.
Voluntary looting is the answer to all of these issues.
Disaffected individuals who are inspired to commit therapeutic property expropriation and diminishment should be empowered to express their primal rage at an unjust system.
Discomforted property owners asking “How can I help this movement?” are provided with a path to stand in solidarity and redistribute their privilege among their comrades.
We believe in the statement “People over property” and we stand poised to expedite the process of joyous liberation offered by Therapeutic Property Diminishment.