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(en) US, defenestrator #29 - March 20: Philly Anti-Capitalists Take to the Streets - By dave onion

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 15 May 2004 07:50:54 +0200 (CEST)


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It had been a long year since the US invasion and subsequent
occupation of Iraq. Much of what had made up the anti-war
movement in the time leading up to March 20th last year had
quickly trickled away either in defeat and hopelessness or to other
seemingly futile pursuits such as electoral activism. Having to
read daily reports of homes invaded and demolished, impromptu
executions by US troops, demonstrators shot etc. amid the
relative vacuum of resistance had many anti-capitalist activists
wondering if we as a movement had in effect resigned ourselves
and our Iraqi comrades to this. Was this a fight we'd
given up on? A small feeder march had been organized by some
anarchists and anti-capitalists in hopes of creating some political
space to express an anti-capitalist critique of wars as well as the
chance to be able to take the streets in a way not confined by the
constraints of the larger coalition organizing the main march.

So it was a nice surprise to watch people gather for the
anti-capitalist contingent on March 20th in Rittenhouse Park.
When a friend and I arrived with a small bicycle propelled sound
system, a crew were practicing their drums while some Pagans
had just started a ritual to start off the march. Others filtered in
including a crew of anti-racist skinheads, Food Not Bombs, some
predictably enthusiastic (to be diplomatic) radical cheerleaders,
the Stick and Stones drumming crew as well as other
miscellaneous affinity grouplets. Compared to the tradition of
anarchist / anti-capitalist feeders and contingents in Philly,
Saturday's mob seemed bigger and contained a good
number of faces I don't recall ever seeing before. Young
people, people with energy, people not apparently jaded, cynical
or burnt out. I looked around and despite radical cheerleaders
flaunting their glee, I was momentarily inspired. We are
regenerating and renewing. Spring had come after a year of
political winter.

The march took off down 15th St. and wound its way through
center city slowly, but energetically toward Broad and Spring
Garden where the main march was gathering. To be honest, for a
small march as we were, we had a lot of energy. Leaving
Rittenhouse, we were hard to ignore, with 2 small PAs, about 2
dozen drummers and a mob some 250 strong that generously
filled the street. A flyer explained why we were there (because
we're against capitalism and the wars it creates), Food
Not Bombs handed out free sandwiches with their own flyers to
passerbys and a veritable ruckus filled center city. As if in a
beautiful dream, there were neither uniformed cops nor civil
affairs visible. It later turned out the Phila PD had priorities in
South Philly where a biker gang was partying on another
MC's turf. The pig free zone was one thing new to a
potential corporation sacrificing rampage we're not
accustomed to. Spray paint perforated our path as we went. We
slowed down to decorate the INS HQ on Callowhill St. and then
moved on towards the main march, behaving only too well
considering...

The plan had been to arrive at the main march at the end of the
rally or even join the crowd once folks started moving. But
somehow we arrived at the main march earlier than some of us
who'd helped organize the feeder expected. Up in front of
the feeder, a loud "Class War!" chant came
wafting to the rear of the march where I was, and in contrast, the
assembled crowd already looked dreary and a bit disturbed upon
seeing us arrive (though a number of people came up to me and
made the point that that energy was exactly what the demo
needed). I stopped to turn off the PA while the rest of our
contingent marched straight past the sound truck to where the
procession was about to start. It was around then I started to
think something is not quite right.

Sometime in the early 90s, a friend had complained to me about
how the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) would march to
the front of demonstrations in some US city with their red flags,
giving the impression they were leading the charge of the
proletariat masses, while they'd just shown up and
walked in front of a demonstration organized by a bigger coalition.
That memory flashed through my mind for a second but I blew it
off.

The main march was bigger than many had expected. It certainly
came as a surprise to organizers who had been overworked and
had serious trouble getting organizational support from the
endorsing organizations let alone the anti-war movement of a
year ago. Most estimates seemed to average around 2500, though
police weirdly enough gauged the crowd at 5000. Police had also
issued a permit even though they hadn't even been
approached for one. We stuck with the main march until the
closing rally. At which point a hundred or so mostly anti-caps
spontaneously broke off with the Sticks and Stones drummers for
another small march through the city, finally ending up back at
Rittenhouse Park.

All in all the march and the anti-capitalist contingent, the
consensus suggests, were a success. The anti-war movement it
seems was not entirely smothered by electoral aspirations or
defeatism. We were a veritable force on the street still. Also
considering another anti-war event went down in the suburbs as
well as thousands of commuting Philadelphians helping account
for NYCs numbers (some reports say 100,000 protested the
occupation there). Still some of the fallout from the march, i feel
is worth mentioning: An incident occurred during which a small
group within the anti-capitalist contingent made a point of
refusing to move when the sound truck from the main march was
trying to move to the front, apparently saying something to the
effect of "hey we're having fun, unlike
you" and then ignoring people who were attempting to get
the sound truck to the front. Of course it was just a handful of
individuals from the contingent, but it did reflect an attitude that
was present on what our role in the march would be. From
talking to various folks since the march, it seems many
considered the demo to be an ANSWER (Act Now To Stop War
and End Racism) event. ANSWER has been accused of
attempting to gain hegemony of the anti-war movement in the
past few years and certainly being led by Workers World party
folks has political motivations which run counter to those of most
anti-authoritarians. That said, the March 20th Coalition, who
pulled together the main march was not that. It was a coalition of
a number of groups and individuals more or less spanning the
political spectrum opposed to the war: anarchists, leninists,
liberals, democrats, stalinists and people who don't
identify as any of these. It was not an ANSWER event (though it
was incorrectly listed as one in last issue). Though activists from
ANSWER were involved, there was a concerted effort on the part
of various folks in the coalition to keep the politics and tone of the
demonstration tied strictly to the painstaking consensus of the
coalition and not give ANSWER any appearance of any sort of
place as the Coalition. We made the effort to be heterogeneous
and democratic. Though sometimes the headache involved in
negotiating ones way through bigger coalitions, there is, i feel an
obligation for anarchists and revolutionaries who believe in
broader social transformation to engage in larger struggles in a
way that engages others (both on the street and as activists). If
anything our auto-isolation needs to be something we step out of.

Another criticism of the feeder march would also have to be that
although we intended to give a distinct voice to an anti-capitalist
perspective, politics felt remarkably absent from the march.
Granted there were banners, fliers etc. but the march also had a
tone which sometimes felt more like a party than an expression of
political rage. I had heard Dahr Jamal, an independent journalist
who'd just returned from Iraq speak the night before the
march, relaying vivid painful stories and showing pictures of
massacres of Iraqis by US troops, of Iraqis tortured during raids
on their houses by their colonizers and other pieces of a society
shattered and crushed by this war. With these images fresh in my
mind, the tone of the march seemed oblivious to what we were
there for. I'm by no means arguing for humorlessness or
for being "more hardcore". But we should be more
articulate, by all means.

Despite the encouraging size of the feeder march, our
constitution reflected a narrow segment of even the anti-capitalist
movement, with an overwhelmingly white turnout in a city in
which people of color are both the majority and the ones primarily
under the gun of capitalism on many different levels. Our march
should be considered what it was, probably more of a celebration
of sub-cultural youth. And there's certainly nothing
wrong with that. Just let's either call it what it is or work
towards a different more articulate and more representative
anti-capitalist presence.

These are just a couple items from a long list of self criticisms
which has transpired in the last days, criticisms which I feel are
important to take to heart and not blow off. We haven't
thrown in the towel and as things get steadily worse in Iraq,
there's a hell of a lot of political weight as anti-capitalists
in the heart of the beast on us. So let's use this new and
regenerating momentum to build on and move forward just one
step the wiser. After all, this is war!


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