Review: In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action

In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action by Vicky Osterweil
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Osterweil writes a book that is likely to rattle many folks based upon the title but is definitely worth the read. Throughout the work, she makes a series of convincing arguments about the role of violence or how violence is mislabelled and misrepresented dependent upon who is doing it both in the present and through the lens of various historical movements (e.g. labor and civil rights).  For instance, when colonists seize land and take lives for their own benefit or when police seize bodies or personal property (asset forfeiture) without little or no consequence, looting is not a word that is used though it is quite evident in such work. Her strongest point is the illustrating of the questionable and blurred lines of distinction between violent and nonviolent, civil and uncivil, and how these lines are so easily manipulated by structural forces such as police, media, and government to easily disregard or delegitimize or even erase how relevant and valuable violence, looting, and non-nonviolent measures have been in protecting and reclaiming rights and resources for marginalized groups against entities who overwhelmingly will use violence. Added to her arguments, Osterweil draws of interesting elements about supposed nonviolent aspects of the Civil Rights Movement to raise questions not just about its effectiveness but whether in fact, it was the nonviolent faction of it that effected change as much as the threat and action of the non-nonviolent movements.  Yet the narrative has been written to put attention and credit to the nonviolent wing, creating an easy way for future movements to be dismissed and less threatening to systematic change.  Not all will be convinced by Osterweil but it's a compelling argument that also sits at the heart of the most significant change in this country (from its formation to the freeing of enslaved people to the increase in workers' rights). All such significant progress has included some level of violence and resistance; of reclaiming what had been stolen.  Osterweil reminds us that the march for equality and equity needs this as one of the tools for change.

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