Walking on the freeway during a protest is like a fear of heights on Hard Mode. You get light-headed, you have to take very small steps, constantly looking down at your feet to make sure the ground doesn’t give out beneath you. You feel around for things to latch onto or to push away to make sure you don’t fall into the bottomless pit of adrenaline.
It’s that, plus cops. All around you. Cars on the road, uniforms lining the off-ramps in case any of us panic and try to leave ahead of the group. You’re surrounded, and you can’t hear shit because the cops are making demands at the same time the cars are all beating their horns and your comrades are cheering and people lighting fireworks and road flares.
It’s a lot. People get scared. They want to run, but if they run they’ll be snatched. So you try to . Take deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. What’s your favorite colour? Do you need some water?
You reach a point where you accept that at any second, the police may start firing non-lethals or rushing in with riot gear, and all you can do is just keep yourself and your comrade present and level headed.
Because hey, this is our “off-night” – our “deal with the cops and the neo-Nazis” shift isn’t until later.
While we held the streets and freeway of Oakland to honor the memory of Heather Heyer and other anti-racists attacked by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Tina Fey was on SNL tearing into a sheet cake and telling people it’s better to just stay home and not deal with fascists.
I don’t find that surprising, or even ironic. Tina Fey is like a white feminist raccoon – attracted to garbage and revered for her approachability, which makes people want to believe that she will one day be beyond a callous creature capable of eager malice, motivated solely by self-preservation.
To be clear, when I mean garbage, I’m speaking about her politics, not sheet cake.
Sheet cake is amazing. It’s tasty, inexpensive, and sometimes you can pay the decorators to put offensive messages on it.
I could get behind eating cake as activism. Especially for mediocre centrist white feminists – if all they did in times of political upheaval was just eat cake and rant to themselves about the men who will put forth legislation to brutalize, arrest, and deport Black and Brown people for the sake of protecting the sanctity of women like Tina Fey, the rest of us could get some fucking work done.
I am, sincerely, all for cake and self-monologue as a means of praxis. Part of learning and evolving your politics is taking a seat when someone with actual lived experience of an axis of oppression tells you you’re misinformed. If I know a lot, if people trust me with my solidarity, it’s because I’ve been wrong a lot, and told to shut up a lot, and actually took the seat offered me.
In a real way, being told to shut up a lot helped me find my voice as a leftist, prison abolitionist, and anti-racist organizer.
So, shut the fuck up and eat some damn cake. Either you’ll see the work get done without you, and you’ll actually apply yourself to liberational organizing, or, in the likely event your commitment to white supremacy is more overt than you’re letting on, you’ll be out of the way.
But you don’t need the whole thing to yourself.
The notion of buying a sheet cake for yourself and then ritualistically eating it in one sitting as some sort of contribution to the collective struggle against fascism is the epitome of the neo-liberal co-opting of self-care.
It exemplifies this Randian prerogative in community activism. It’s your responsibility to make sure you schedule time away from your work in the community to make sure you have the energy for the community to continue making use of your effort. Fuck that. Even startups have better politics around self-care.
If care of the individual is necessary for collective struggle, why isn’t it a collective priority?
Sheet cakes are meant to be shared. That’s literally why they exist. Making a sheet cake eaten alone a symbol of safety and self-care is, well, you could say it validates the current framing of self-care, which eventually makes self-care available to those with more privilege and resources.
You could also say it’s boneheaded, bad optics, and you shouldn’t do it because you’ll look like an asshole to the people who’s lives are actually on the line when fascists come to our cities. 6 of one, half a dozen of the other, I suppose.
For a sheet cake to be an effective means of self care for people struggling against fascism, you’d have to actually share it with people who would be targeted by white supremacists. That is the absolute bare minimum you can do to aid in the struggle, the bar cannot be set any lower.
And it’d have to be a co-op or a bakery/grocery store that employs union labor. Tweeting or otherwise showing off a sheet cake that undercut organized laborers is, not to make this about optics again, but probably the worst possible way to memorialize the labor activists attacked in Charlottesville whose courage and sacrifice was necessary because others (i.e. you) didn’t have any.
Eating cake by yourself in the face of fascism is not courageous. If resources permitted, I’m sure the neo-Nazis would bake a cake for every white woman in every city they march in.
You might grow from it, out of a sense of internal shame at your own selfishness. Or you might distract yourself from making some misinformed FB post about an issue you know nothing about that validates other misinformed people’s beliefs about anti-racist counter protestors. But neither of these are particularly courageous, and you have to accept that.
It might be the best thing you can contribute to the movement right now – and I totally support you doing it, if it’s literally all you can do – but that action doesn’t contain one iota of the courage it takes to admit you pooped or peed yourself a little because a firework went off and you thought you were about to be shot.
Okay, I made that last part up. That’s never happened to me or anyone I know. In fact, I avoid eating anything more than maybe some trail mix before a protest to make sure I don’t have to poop during a four hour rally.
But if someone “passing by” the protest offered me some union-made sheet cake at a street corner as a sign of solidarity, I might make an exception. And so would the police; I have seen a lot of horrible actions done by police but I have never seen a pig attack a white person holding cake.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is
Give 👏 Your 👏 Cake 👏 To 👏 Antifa 👏
Author: Jetta Rae
Founder of Fry Havoc. Can be found on twitter at @jetta_rae