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(en) US, Philadelphia, defenestrator* #31 - Elephant Hunting - The city that loves you back visits by dave onion

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 26 Dec 2004 09:12:30 +0100 (CET)


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It was only a couple months before the
Republican National Convention (RNC)
when a loose group of anti-authoritarian
activists from Philly started to get our shit
together to give the Republicans some hell.
Personally, it seemed like it just had to be
done. Since last RNC, Bush's regime has
rolled back countless gains fought for over
the years in countless struggles, waged a
devastating war on the people of Iraq and
made daily gains for the ruling elite at the
expense of those who struggle the most in
the US. For myself and others who'd been
beaten in the streets and locked up last time
around when the RNC graced Philly
streets on the eve of Bush's selection,
apprehension was running high. Philly's
RNC left a black cloud over anarchist cir-
cles that some younger, more resilient
folks only now are really clearing away.
Also I heard hearing stories from
Philadelphians who'd returned from last
November's protests against the Free
Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)
summit in Miami with welts from rubber
bullets and batons; probably the most
repressive and violent response to an
anti-capitalist globalization mobilizations
in the US so far. Folks were calling it the
Miami Model, and many activists feared
it would be the new norm for confronta-
tional protests. The Philly Cluster, as our
effort had been dubbed, decided to tar-
get our organizing on the Prison
Industrial Complex or specifically the
post 9/11 detentions of Arabs and
Moslems by the BICE. We planned the
basic framework of our own action as
well as basic communication for the
other days of action and headed to the
"city"...

I'd gone down a week early for the Life
After Capitalism conference (LAC), a vision-
ary gathering intended as a collective brain-
stor m for the general anti-capitalist move-
ment to gain radical perspective that would
lead beyond electoral politicking to further
flesh out our praxis as a revolutionary move-
ment rooted in the real and practical. The
conference was intended to work as hori-
zontally as possible which reflected in the
str ucture of the plenaries and workshops
which were unusually participatory with
breakout discussions. Presenting were a mix
of academics and autonomous celebrities
like Michael Hardt, Cindy Milstein and
Naomi Klein mixed up with solid, on the
ground community organizers from groups
like Coalition of Immokalee Workers,
Critical Resistance, DRUM, Root Cause,
People's Global Action and many others,
gathering collective vision for future strug-
gles inside and beyond the confines of capi-
talist democracy. This mix of perspectives
held continuity well during the RNC as we
took our ideas to the street.

The next week, life was qualitatively differ-
ent than I'd ever experienced in NYC. In the
street, on subways, in bodegas, in parks, anti-
Bush rage was thick in the air everywhere.
And everyone, it seemed, wanted to talk
about it. One of several spontaneous con-
versations with NYers I had during that
week was with a fourtysomething African
American guy from Bushwick (the neighbor-
hood I was staying in) I'd met on the sub-
way platform. He'd just missed his appoint-
ment with his physical therapist because of
the police occupation of Madison Square
Garden and was enraged. He had lost both
his knees during the first Gulf War, just
after his partner had given birth to a daugh-
ter back in NY. He raged against his situa-
tion, his trouble finding work with his bad
knees, trouble with health care, politicians,
the war; but what almost brought me to
tears talking to him was when he railed
against what world he had brought his
daughter into. "If I knew now how things
would have turned out, I would have never
brought her into this world. No way. Not
with all the shit I know she'll have to go
through. No way." We parted ways, and
shook hands. It felt like a rare moment of
spontaneous solidarity.

After a number of smaller demonstrations
and actions that week came Friday night's
5000 strong Critical Mass bike ride, a sea of
bikes stretching as far as the eye could see
through Manhattan . I'd never seen anything
quite like it in scale or energy. My week's positive
experience with NYers also seemed to be verified
by the overwhelming positive response to the
ride. People poured onto the streets out of bars,
restaurants and shops, leaned out of apartment
windows welcoming and cheering us on and
cursing the war and Bush. When the ride ended
up at St. Marx Church a street party ensued with
thousands waving their bikes in the air and danc-
ing. The NYPD chose that jubilant moment to
give us the initial taste of violence we'd been
bracing for, riding into the thick of the crowd
with freshly purchased scooters, bashing and
swinging at bikers and partiers until a confronta-
tion of sorts ensued. By the end of the night
260 arrests had been made along with the confis-
cation of hundreds of bikes.

The next days saw dozens of smaller actions
including banner drops and a spectacular naked
road blockade by ACT UP demanding dropping
the 3rd world debt which stole the headlines in
many a tabloid. Kensington Welfare Rights
Union set up their trademark homeless encamp-
ment in several spots around the city. Indymedia
distributed what were obviously gazillions of fre
papers. The IWW took their Starbucks organiz-
ing drive to the public (with IWW organizers
getting picked up by police in the process). The
More Garden Coalition dug up dirt and defend-
ed community gardens in the Bronx while count-
less teach ins, graffiti, wheatpasting and benefit
parties, concerts and pickets rippled across the
city throughout the time of the convention and
onwards. Numerous successful disruptions went
down at elite Republican events including the
RNC itself. Shall we say the City was abuzz..?

August 29
The 29th was the day of the great United For
Peace And Justice (UFPJ) 500,000 strong march
against the war, as well as a day of harassing and
heckling Republicans in the streets. Most of the
Philly Cluster headed straight to Central Park for
our "Kick the Heads of State" soccer game,
avoiding the sluggish throngs we knew would
make for a long and dreary march. The action
was meant as a reclamation of space. The park
was denied to UFPJ organizers as a final rallying
point for the big march. Our hope was to be part
of a defiant and fierce expected battle for con-
trol of land. The people vs. NYPD and Bush.
Less of a disruption than we'd planned, we
shared the park with a number of sun
bathers and families picnicking. No riot in
sight. Later that night our Philly Cluster
reconverged on Madison Square Garden to
disr upt the Lion King performance
reser ved exclusively for RNC delegates.
Instead, following a comedy of errors on
all our parts (but maybe especially mine) we
didn't manage to catch up with our
Republican targets until after they'd left the
perfor mance. Republicans were streaming
out on the streets, conspicuous with big
gaudy Elephant pins and complimentary
New York Times gift bags. It was open sea-
son and felt good to give the bastards some
hell to their faces. "You've got a cemetery
named after you motherfuckers in
Fallujah!" It was healthy radical therapy if
nothing else. With openly Republican hos-
tile pedestrians in every direction and police
apparently reluctant to interfere,
Republicans went running for cabs and
police protection (only sometimes success-
fully). There was also great pleasure in see-
ing NYers come around the corner, to the
spectacle of Republicans getting dogged
ultra aggressively, abused in ways fit only
for pigs like them and see the locals break out
with huge grins of pleasure on their face and
occasionally join in the fun. That night despite
some hundreds of arrests and huge police pres-
ence, Republican elite found themselves on clear-
ly enemy territory. We were on a roll.

The next day, the opening day of the Convention
was the Still We Rise march, an impressive coali-
tion of dozens of NYC grassroots organizations
including housing, labour , racial justice, AIDS
activists, and others, to bring poverty and health-
care related issues to the candidates. According
to some SWR organizers, the effort had brought
together dozens of groups primarily poor people
and people of color, an alliance who will no
doubt be working together on future struggles.
The march was for the most part uneventful,
except for a marked difference in attitude on the
part of the cops towards the protest. By the end
of the march, police unnecessarily penned in the
protest block by block and came out with a
much more visible presence than the day before.

On broadway - for a week of rebel

Later in the day the KWRU marched unpermitted from the UN to
Madison Square Garden, where the convention was being held.
This time plainclothes cops attacked the back of the march on
scooters, again running over protesters and provoking what could
have turned into an escalating mess. In the melee, a cop was
knocked off his scooter and bashed by the protesters who he'd
attacked. Jamal Holiday, a young black man staying at KWRU's
tent city was picked off the streets by undercovers the next day,
slapped with $50,000 bail and is carrying the charges for the inci-
dent. Find out how to support him by contacting the People's Law
Collective!

August 31st was dubbed a day of Non-violent Civil Disobedience
and Direct Action. It was also the day of Bush's renomination.
Our Philly crew had pulled together a protest to start the day at
the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE)
against the hundreds of immigrants who'd been arrested and
detained without charges as well as to remind the world of
Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel Muhti's struggle. Farouk had died
during a talk in Philadelphia just weeks before the RNC after 2
years under INS detention. While in detention, Farouk had been
beaten and withheld medical treatment, things which most likely
led to his demise. After a somewhat chaotic gathering, a short
march left Columbus Park in Chinatown for the Federal Building
which houses BICE offices. Relatives of Farouk spiritedly spoke
about his struggle and what we have ahead of us in our struggles.
We had planned a situation in which ideally no-one would get
arrested, and for the most part police chose to behave themselves.
1 arrest was made when a protester tried to climb a tree in the
park.

Most of the street actions were to happen later in the day. At 4pm
a wave of actions was to start off the general chaos in the streets,
culminating in a 7pm convergence of trouble on Madison Square
Garden. Those who wanted to plug into actions spontaneously
were to log onto a text message list (check out
appliedautonomy.com) which would let us know of where and
what was happening as it happens to keep cops a step behind.
Unfortunately without bikes our Philly mob was sluggish and a
step behind the action. But that may also have been what kept our
asses out of jail. Starting with an explicit pacifist march organized
by the War Resisters League (WRL), pigs started making hundreds
of arrests netting in entire blocks of people, protesters and collat-
eral pedestrians alike with rolls of plastic fence. The WRL lost
some 230 on their march, but throughout the day as we responded
as fast as we could to text messages only to get to each action as
pigs were rolling out the orange netting. Still by all accounts,
despite mass arrests, street actions were well beyond police con-
trol. Our mob made our way up towards Times Square, the site of
some action at a Republican-only event. The path was
closed off, but everywhere we looked sirens were blaring,
delegates looked panicked and the people had the streets.
At one point, a crowd several hundred strong had taken
a street, the exit from a nightclub where
Republicans were having a bash. Riot cops escorted
frightened delegates one by one down a tremen-
dous gauntlet of boos and abuse until they made
their way to safety. Our night ended after several
hours of fucking with Republicans by watching
Arnold on giant screen in Times Square. oh fuck,
of fuck, Ter minator as imperial president, spectacle
made flesh ....

Always optimistic (and radicals need to be), I
should note that no-one to our knowledge was
shot, severely beaten, tazed, nor tortured as we'd
more or less expected. That said pigs had beaten
many people and made roughly 1800 arrests
throughout the RNC, 1,100 on the 31st alone, most
of which were clearly groundless and preemptive.
Little or no property damage, let alone violence had taken place
on the part of activists. Hundreds of those arrested were
moved to Pier 57, an abandoned pier on the Hudson which
incidentally happened to be contaminated with "friable asbestos,
potentially dangerous levels of chipped lead paint, hazardous
irritants, and/or toxic chemicals" (according to an NLG press
release). Upon release, hundreds of arrestees, filthy from the
ground at Pier 57, complained of chemical burns on their skin
and the usual denial of phone access, lawyers etc. NY's People's
Law Collective and the National Lawyers Guild helped hun-
dreds of folks streaming out of the jails over the next days to
orient themselves and defend themselves legally.

So the real question would be, were we effective?
Sure, Bush regained office ensuring the world another
4 years of imperial war, and the erasure of countless
gains won by people's struggles over centuries with
strokes of pen. I know. We all know. But for the most
part, what went down during the RNC had little to do
with electoral politics at all. I talked to organizers of
all sorts who, while fighting Bush, were completely
ready to take on Kerry as our next enemy-in-chief.
Kerry propaganda did not dominate the street actions
or protests and those who organized in NY represent-
ed ongoing struggles overwhelmingly. The Still We
Rise Coalition brought together solid grassroots
organizers and poor people of color, many working
together for the first time. Groups like Critical
Resistance, people most affected by the impact of
prisons doing anti-prison organizing, brought visions
of a world without prisons. ACT-UP
made a spectacular presence, as always,
fighting the AIDS crisis in the US and the
global south. Anarchists of all stripes were
integral to organizing as part of more or
less all aspects of the protests and actions,
keeping direct democracy and a horizontal
understanding of power central to the
process. And like other large protests, the
RNC engaged hundreds of pissed off peo-
ple into various aspects of organizing for
their first time. It also gave hundreds the
experience of on the street solidarity in the
face of jail and police, invaluable to what
we'll be living through in the coming years.
===========================
* [Ed. note: The defenestrator is of an
Anarchist/antiauthoritarian perspective]


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