Tuesday, December 07, 1999
I've been reading a lot about the Seattle Battle since it began, in your magazine and elsewhere, and downloaded and listened to the 5 days of Tradewatch's realaudio broadcasts.
One thing I've been wondering: none of the black clad 'anarchists' were, as far I've heard, arrested. Even while the peaceful sitters were being beaten, shot, gassed, arrested, etc., the window breakers were free to do damage.
Where did they come from? Are they an organized group that helped sponsor the protest? Were they bussed in, or did they come as individuals from all over? Do you have any names, or other info?
I have a suspicion they were undercover government agents, and I bet a lot of your other readers have similar theories.
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and thus clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." -- H.L. Mencken
WTO Protest Organizers:
Don't Throw the Radicals Overboard
Dec. 2, 1999
"The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated," was one of the most commonly heard chants in the days of marches protesting the WTO summit in Seattle. However, one of the most striking elements of the WTO protests was the level of conflict between adherents of a "nonviolent" protest method, and those who preferred to express more concretely their feelings towards global capitalism. A tide of reaction has been swelling against the latter, with great arrogance on the part of the former. As a group of activist intellectuals, we feel the need to state our support for the group the media has been calling, only somewhat inaccurately, "the Anarchists from Eugene."
We - the broad Left, anti-corporate, pro-livable world community - controlled the streets of downtown Seattle from 7 am on Tuesday to roughly 7 pm. After that period - with Mayor Schell and Governor Locke's declarations of martial law and the violent offensive by local, county, state police and the National Guard - the streets were a war zone, but during that period, they were a liberated area.
Inside that liberated area a spectrum of protest and resistance activities took place, many of which warmed our hearts. Violence against property, as we'll call the attacks against corporate chain stores by activists, was one of the conscious strategies that was employed. These activities began on the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 29th, with the smashing of a window at McDonald's. The next day, Tuesday, Nov. 30th, they started again shortly after 10 am, at the corner of 6th Ave. and Pike St., when police began shooting tear gas cannisters and rubber bullets into the crowd. Throughout the day activists, protecting their identities with hoods and kerchiefs, formed "black blocks" to move en masse to attack unoccupied chain stores such as the Gap, Nike, Levi, Disney, and Bank of America. This is a key point that the media and President Clinton, among others, are trying to obscure: the crowd did not attack "mom and pop stores," but the physical manifestations of "McDomination".
Adherents to "non-violent" protest methods preach against targeting corporate property. We feel that this is an uncritical acceptance of the dominant value system of American consumer society: private property has a higher value than life. At this time, we feel that we, as activists, need to debate these issues further among ourselves. The problem we are addressing immediately is that these "non-violent" activists used their numerical advantage to isolate and dominate practitioners of alternate protest philosophies: most visibly, the black block anarchists.
As a spectrum of protest activities manifested themselves, scenes we witnessed included "non-violent" activists linking arms to protect the corporate theme store Nike Town from the aggressive acts of a black block. Riot police soon replaced the "peace advocates" as if to say, "We'll take over now. You're only volunteering to protect property, we do it for a living." Elsewhere throughout the day "non-violent" activists de-masked, and on at least one occasion beat, an individual who was acting against property.
Many elements of the broad Left, anti-corporate, pro-livable world community have been alarmingly willing to distance themselves from the direct, militant forms of protest. The World Trade Observer, a daily tabloid published by a network of mainstream environmental and fair trade organizations, which features the writing of prominent figures such as Ralph Nader and Norman Solomon, offers one example. In describing the previous day's festivities in their Wednesday, December 1st issue, they identified as a "troubling theme" the practice of "the police singling out peaceful demonstrators for gassing and beating... while ignoring black-clad hooligans breaking windows and spraying paint." We witnessed other "non-violent" protesters criticize the police, not for waging chemical warfare to cleanse the streets of protesters, but for failing to enter into the crowd and extract the practitioners of militant protest. The implication of these statements is that the crowd would have handed over some of its members to the police, if the police had only asked. We strongly urge progressive activists to reconsider this stance.
There will undoubtedly be repercussions from the fact that we took control of a major city for twelve hours, as the leading administrative body of global capitalism met to brainstorm for the next millennium. It is unfair, and irresponsible, to offer "the Anarchists from Eugene" to the state as scapegoats. Without the support of the rest of the WTO protesters, the direct action practitioners are at great risk. Grand juries have become common in the militant animal rights and environmental movements: we would not think it a surprising development for there to be an inquisition exploring "conspiracy to riot" charges for the day of well-directed rage in Seattle. Gas-masks have been declared illegal in Seattle under Mayor Schell's martial law, and the donning of hoods is being explored by prosecutors in Eugene as a possible excuse for sentence enhancement. The price of protecting oneself and one's identity from police violence is rising. As people who are interested in counteracting the ill effects of globalization and ensuring a livable new millenium, we need to consciously confront the criminalization of radical political philosophies.
We feel that those who belittle and distance themselves from the actions of "the Anarchists from Eugene" have either ignored or simply did not realize the level of contributions anarchists-black-clad and otherwise-made towards bringing the N30 Festival of Resistance into reality. These include the innovative and joyful protest methods of the Direct Action Network, a sustained consciousness-raising effort from Left Bank Books, alternative social structures offered by Food Not Bombs and Homes Not Jails, the Anarchist hotline, housing networks, and so on. It also should not go unsaid that developing a community able to produced several hundred predominantly white youths with middle-class backgrounds to take militant action against their real enemy is no small feat of organization. It has taken years of sowing and tending to seeds of awareness and resistance, and we, at least, appreciate that effort.
If the Left activist community is to be united and strong, more communication and internal discussion around strategical issues is necessary. Our contact information is listed below. All of us have experience with social movements, and many of us have mapped the repressive tactics used against them. We encourage media to get in touch with us as well.
Daniel Burton-Rose, (206) 324-8165, ex. 1. Co-editor, The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry (Common Courage Press, 1998), editor, win: a newsletter on activism at the extremes.
Ward Churchill, (303) 492-5066 (voice mail). Author, Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America (Arbeiter Ring: 1998).
Kent Jewell, (206) 324-8165, ex. 3. Former co-owner, Left Bank Books Collective.
George Katsiaficas, (617) 989-4384. Author: The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life (Humanities Press, 1997) and The Global Imagination of the New Left (South End Press, 1987); editor, with Kathleen Cleaver, Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party (Routledge, forthcoming); editor, New Political Science.
Wednesday, December 08, 1999
During the last few days, I've received some emails in praise of the window-smashing that occurred in Seattle. So I was glad to read the following new article by Michael Albert of Z Magazine, "On Trashing and Movement Building."
I fully agree with this article, and I hope you'll pass it along to anyone you think might be interested. (Related materials are also posted at http://www.zmag.org)
On Trashing and Movement Building
By Michael Albert
This is a response to a post-Seattle debate troubling many folks regarding movement tactics. As a preface, it goes without saying, I hope, that we all understand that as far as violence is concerned, the violent parties in Seattle were first and foremost the President of the U.S., his entourage, the other major heads of state, the leadership of the WTO, etc. Poverty-inducing violence imposed with a pen trumps a brick breaking a window every time -- not to mention that the former is to defend and enlarge injustice, while the latter is to fight it. For that matter, in the streets of Seattle, mass media coverage aside, in a large public discussion for all statistical or moral purposes the only physical violence was that perpetrated by police and national guard at the behest of the state. Pepper gas, rubber bullets, and truncheons all directed at citizens attempted to dissent from vile economic agendas trump broken windows every time on any violence meter, much less on one that accounts for motivations. Debate about movement tactics arises publicly therefore overwhelmingly because of a manipulative and distorting mass media. The issue of movement tactics as it arises inside social movements, however, gains attention because of potential implications on future attitudes of activists toward trashing, property damage, civil disobedience, and other possible demonstration tactics as well as participation in demonstrations. That said...
Any useful discussion of movement tactics must be about their efficacy for movement building, winning short-term demands, and laying a basis for winning longer term aims. Assessing tactics means evaluating how they cause a movement to grow or decline and whether they enlarge or diminish immediate chances to win some goal.
I have been involved in demonstrations in which trashing grew organically from the event's logic and intentions--for example, clearly enunciated assaults on particular draft boards or ROTC buildings. I have also been in demonstrations where trashing was counter-productive and irresponsible -- for example endangering innocent folks and diluting the message and solidarity of the event. Which was true in Seattle?
Seattle was a massive event and those who tirelessly organized it were committed to legal marches and rallies and also to illegal but non-violent civil disobedience. Upwards of 70,000 people attended. In the first days success was overwhelming and mutually respectful ties developed between usually fragmented constituencies, (turtles and Teamsters, Lesbian Avengers and steel workers). The prospect that civil disobedience would grow was extremely exciting and optimism was contagious. Movement participation was climbing and, amazingly, the official WTO gathering was already thoroughly disrupted. The police began to employ gas, clubs, and rubber bullets. At this point, the highly organized trashers broke off and attacked windows. Afterwards they celebrated that due to their mobility and organization none was arrested or harmed.
I remember all too vividly some sixties demonstrations in which over-eager dissenters would taunt and otherwise provoke police and then disappear, leaving others, often utterly unprepared families, to bear the brunt of the response. I was always far more impressed with the courage of knowing folks who could easily see what was coming and escape if they wished to, but who instead used their talents to help protect their less well prepared co-demonstrators, then with the self preservation instincts of those who brought down repression and then fled the scene. In the sixties, such trashers' behavior was caught up in a set of mistaken expectations and hopes. I suspect that the same holds nowadays.
Imagine that the various contingents in Seattle who had provided energy, song, creativity, and militancy at the rallies and especially at the civil disobedience, had then also, on top of that, not gone off breaking windows but remained with others shielding them, assisting those who were hurt, helping those suffering from the gas. This would have capped their otherwise positive involvement with exemplary behavior on behalf of their fellow demonstrators, rather than tailing off into counter productive window breaking. The meaning of anarchism conveyed by this would have been creative militancy plus humanity and solidarity, in tune with the rest of the anarchist involvement in the Seattle demonstrations.
Does this mean, however, that there cannot be a time and place for confrontation and property damage? No, it doesn't mean that at all, at least not in my view. Instead, the time and place for such behavior is when it will meet widespread approval and increase the power of protest rather than providing an excuse for folks to tune out or become hostile to protest. Up to the trashing, anarchists in Seattle added energy, creativity, art, music, and often greatly needed militancy, courage, and steadfastness to many demonstration venues. They uplifted participants' spirits and otherwise played a very positive role within the rubric of the demonstration's guidelines. It was only when some went off breaking windows against the demonstration's norms that a problem arose. And we should note that it isn't just trashing that is sometimes warranted and sometimes not. Sometimes civil disobedience is out of place too. It too can be at odds with the mindsets of people's current orientation and planning for events so that spontaneously undertaking civil disobedience would violate an event's logic and promise, alienate people who are moving toward dissent, and not spur new insight and solidarity but reduce it. Other times, however, employing civil disobedience makes excellent sense and is even pivotal to success, as in Seattle, for example. For that matter, sometimes even a march can be adventurist; other times is can be the ideal tactic.
In other words, what tactics at an event are warranted and will help a movement grow and strengthen, and what tactics at an event are unwarranted and will hurt a movement and its cause, is very rarely a matter of unyielding principles but depends almost always on how the event has been portrayed and organized, who is at it, what their expectations and consciousness are, what the event's prospects are for impacting social outcomes, and how the event and the tactics are likely to be perceived by and to impact non-involved constituencies. Regrettably, once activists enter a trashing mindset, they most often don't care about such calculations. To trash is good, they feel, exuberantly, because, after all, the targets are criminal corporations and damaging them is a step toward demystifying and destroying them. Anyone against that must be pro-corporate, they announce. The mindset isn't about discriminating the impact of possible tactics, but only about what target to hit. But it is not the acme of wisdom to deduce that McDonalds and Nike are better targets than random passersby or a family grocery store. As far as Seattle is concerned, despite other fantastically valuable contributions to the event, for a relatively minuscule number of participants to impose on a massive demonstration tactics contrary to its definition was undemocratic behavior that should be transcended in the future.
The events in Seattle had, before any trashing occurred, already entirely hamstrung the WTO. They had already evidenced militant creativity and creative organization and knowledge. They had already begun to generate new allegiances and ties among diverse constituencies. They had already combined many levels of creative and militant tactics in a mutually supportive mix. Speeches at rallies already in many instances made the obvious leaps from opposing free trade to opposing free markets, and from opposing global profiteering to opposing capitalism per se. The ground was laid for the work we all now need to do. The addition of trashing had no positive effects. It did not win useful visibility that would otherwise have been absent. It did not enlarge the number of folks participating or empathizing with the demonstration. It did not cause more substantive information to be conveyed either in the mainstream or on the left. It did not respect much less enlarge democracy. What it did do, instead, was (a) divert attention from the real issues, (b) provide a pretext for repression which would otherwise have been unequivocally seen as crushing legitimate dissent, and (c) and arguably most important, cause many to feel that dissent is an unsympathetic undertaking in which instead of actors respecting one another, some, at least, feel that they have the right to undemocratically violate the intentions and desires of most others.
Just so we are clear: again, the issue isn't is trashing per se good or bad. Suppose that the trashers hadn't embarked on breaking windows but had become a support group for those suffering police assaults, rallying spirit and protecting bodies. Suppose that hundreds and then thousands more students and workers had joined the civil disobedience efforts. Suppose that the state had used gas and charging cops repeatedly to break up such efforts. And suppose in this context a good part of the city's population and of the "audience" around the country and a large majority of the constituencies in Seattle to demonstrate felt solidarity with the law-breaking demonstrators. Now imagine, in this context, that the police charged and folks didn't run, but instead suddenly stood their ground. More, suppose they then turned and decided it was time to push the police back. Imagine that this led to battles, and then to cars turned over, barricades built, and so on. The property damage by protesters in such massive melees would dwarf anything committed by the trashers in Seattle and it would no doubt extend beyond corporate targets and damage even the property of innocents. Some would say this couldn't possibly be to the good, but I would say, instead, that as described this would have a completely different flavor and logic from the trashing in Seattle -- and would expand rather than diminish the involved movements and constituencies. There is therefore a judgment call in the use of tactics.
Sometimes a tactic is wise, other times the same tactic is mistaken. What was wrong about the political folks who self-consciously trashed in Seattle was that (1) despite their other genuine and valuable contributions to the events, regarding trashing their judgment was horribly faulty. And (2) they egocentrically thought that their judgment alone was sufficient justification for them to dramatically violate norms accepted by tens of thousands of other demonstrators.
Changing society isn't a matter of breaking windows, it is a process of developing consciousness and vehicles of organization and movement, and of then applying these to win gains that benefit deserving constituencies and create conditions for still further victories, leading to permanent institutional change. Cultivating movement coherence, trust, and solidarity -- not just in a small affinity group but far more widely -- is a big part of this agenda. Coherence, trust, and solidarity are not furthered when small groups undemocratically violate the agenda of massive demonstrations to pursue their private inclinations, even when the small group has a plausible case for its preferences, unlike in this instance.
The fact that corporations are so vile that attacking them is warranted if it will do good, doesn't mean they are so vile that attacking them is warranted if it will do harm. When I was a college student organizing against the Vietnam War I used to appear in front of very large and animated audiences, give long talks, and then field questions. It was a tumultuous time and I was often asked, for example, "would you burn down the school library if it would end the war?" My reply always took more or less this form -- "What moral midget wouldn't burn down a library to save a million lives? Of course I would, in an instant. But there is no connection whatsoever between burning a library and helping the victims of U.S. imperialism in Indochina, nor is there any connection between burning a library and altering the fabric of our own society so that the U.S. no longer engages in such pursuits. Worse, such behavior would have exactly the contrary impact, benefiting those committing the vile bombing. Can we now please get on to something serious such as how to communicate effectively to new constituencies about the ills of the war, and how to build sustained and serious resistance to it, and leave the posturing and baiting behind?"
Back then, it was often very brilliant, well-trained, and highly capable minds that drifted into Weatherman and other such formations. What was always quite notable was that these individuals could engage carefully, critically, and caringly in many domains, but reverted to odd leaps of faith and fancy regarding their out-of-touch lifestyle and "activism" choices. I really hope we do not have to witness and suffer a replay.
The events in Seattle were stupendously successful in bringing the WTO into the awareness of people in the U.S. and all over the world, in making clear to tens of millions that there is great opposition and therefore that there is something here to look into and have an opinion on, and in laying seeds for further effective activism of many diverse and powerful constituencies willing to respect and relate to one another, to multiple agendas, and to diverse tactical options. This was all achieved, however, not via the trashing, but in spite of it.
Some of the pronouncements of defenders of the trashing remind me of a very brilliant and eloquent friend of mine, who came to my apartment one 1969 night, about 2 AM, and with three or four others snuck in and said "We are the Vietcong, we need a place for the night...the revolution is imminent, we are underground, don't mind us, go back to sleep. Wake to a new society." They had as excuse for their delirium that they hadn't done just one demonstration, but had been enmeshed in full-time activism for years. Their environment was almost exclusively their friends in Weatherman and they had all lathered themselves into a well motivated but utterly out of touch turmoil of hope, rage, desire, paranoia, anticipation, and abstract rationalization that was so divorced from reality as to render them, so long as the mindsets persisted, virtually useless as positive agents of social change. These were in many cases the best minds and best hearts of my generation. So please note: those who read this essay or others about Seattle or who were there and are angry at the political people who trashed -- do not make the callous and ignorant mistake of thinking the trashers were by nature anti-political, uncommitted, insensitive, or unsympathetic, much less police agents. Life is not so simple. It isn't the case that those you disagree with are always in some way abhorrent. These are overwhelmingly movement people, indeed some of our best movement people. For those who were involved or supported the trashing to sharply disparage those who didn't, or vice versa, isn't going to get anyone anywhere useful. There is misunderstanding on both sides, but the distance to unity and progress is much less than the distance was between "turtles" and "teamsters" before Seattle. We all ought to be able to quickly bridge that gap and agree on the broad logic of how to assess tactics -- if not to agree on every judgment about every single specific tactic, of course -- and especially on how to abide collective norms at our demonstrations. This accomplished we can move on to Philadelphia, NYC, SF, Chicago, Denver, Miami, LA, Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Detroit, in unity and without fear of one another.
I hope those who did trash won't take these words as disparagement of your potentials and aspirations. I hope you will seriously consider, instead, that perhaps with the best intentions you are mistakenly repeating one part of sixties movement history -- the saddest and least functional part -- and will in reaction rise above the temptations and confusions that bedeviled many of the best of my generation.
Kirby The Konspiracy Boy Says, "I NEED 2 KONFORM!!!"