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(en) US, The Meaning Behind the Message of the RNC Protests By Robert Augman

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 15 Oct 2004 17:12:42 +0200 (CEST)


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For those of us who participated in the protests against the Republican
National Convention (RNC) this summer, reading the newspaper articles,
watching the TV reports, or speaking with their audience was a
schizophrenic experience. It seemed that what we took part in, and what was
conveyed, were two entirely different things.
The mass media attempted to cover the protests. They reported numbers,
transmitted images, and included statements from protesters. But the
meaning was lost. Protestors were reduced to numbers, activity reduced to
images, and dialogue reduced to sound bytes. In their best reporting, the
protests were reduced to mere means toward affecting the upcoming
elections. Nearly everything below the surface was ignored.

While popular dissent was mobilized against the Bush agenda, no simple,
seemingly-corresponding proposal could be assumed: there was very little
support for John Kerry (or for Ralph Nader for that matter). While this
observation may be disappointing to political pragmatists opposing the
current administration, it suggests that something qualitatively different
is at work in American dissent today.

Contemporary dissent, particularly that of street protest, inherits the
changes the "anti-globalization" movement made to dissent. In that
movement, protest-as-usual went through a serious transformation. Internal
qualities, rather than merely externalized views, became central to its
meaning. The mass protest against the World Trade Organization's 1999
Ministerial in Seattle, Washington was a landmark far beyond its success in
physically shutting down the meetings.

The WTO protest was a landmark because it turned protest inside out: it made
the participants and their forms of organizing values in themselves.
Democracy became a value of the movement not merely through its criticism
of the undemocratic nature of the WTO, but through the lived experience of
organizing protests in democratic assemblies. The criticism of capitalism
became a value of the movement not merely through attacks on private
property and calls for universal health care, but through the real-life
experience of freely shared food, housing, and legal aid.

What the RNC protests share with the anti-globalization movement is the view
of itself as more than a mere means toward reforms or better candidates. The
lack of banners for Kerry or any Presidential candidate during the RNC
protests, characterized the movement's unorthodox, uneasy, and somewhat
disinterested orientation toward politics-as-usual. While mainstream
analyses view the protests as a mere means for influencing elections,
dissent views it the other way around.

For the movement, elections are a means to recover lost ground. This ground
is not an end in itself, but a new place for further struggle. Dissent sees
itself as the place of hope and possibility, and current political reality
as a limit upon it.

The half a million person march only tells one story. But the RNC protests
have many stories. In the week leading up to the major march, I went with
fellow activists to the No-RNC Art Space to paint a banner. The space was a
large building which activists rented for the month and transformed it into
a place for making puppets, banners, and the like.
On arrival, we were welcomed with a tour of the space's free paint and cloth
area and were encouraged to dig in. We painted our banner at the pace of
conversation, and when dinner was ready, we were offered a free meal.
Sitting in that environment we experienced the collective spirit that gets
at the heart of the meaning of the protests.

The experience of the No-RNC Art Space was matched with the coordination of
free housing, free legal aid, free media equipment, and free bicycles
during the week of protests. This collective spirit represents radical
views about how we want to relate to one another. While this radical
politics signifies the meaning for many protesters, these experiments in
non-capitalist relationships were absent from mainstream portrayals of the
protests.

This cooperative and mutualistic dimension was complimented by another
important quality of the protests: a democratic and participatory spirit.
At St. Mark's Church, in the East Village, we held regular assemblies to
collectively organize the logistics of protests and civil disobediences,
and to strategize relations with the mass media and police. A wide variety
of organizers came together, from New York to New Mexico, to share
information, coordinate activities, and converse. The church was
transformed into a hub of activity, a meeting place, a resting spot, a
connecting point, a political identification in a city of mass
commercialism. Protesters participated in lengthy and lively discussions
all week long around local, national, and global political issues with
fellow protestors and non-protestors alike. Despite divergences in
political perspectives the space the church leant represented the need for
space that all political communities depend upon. It was here, in radical
democracy and participatory politics, that we found the meaning of the
protests.

On Monday, August 30th, a loud and lively march, organized by the Still We
Rise coalition, passed my friend and I as we waited to join from the
sidewalk. Behind an energetic street band, a great pink banner came into
view declaring "This is a Movement, not a Market!" The power of this
movement is that it views itself not as something to be bought or appeased
by politicians, not as a means for others' self-promotion, but possessing
its own quality instead. This movement may see itself as one of the few
existing places for a cooperative, participatory, and democratic culture.
This is what was missed by surface-level reports.

The movement’s meaning lies within. Whether it will be recognized on a
popular scale, and become influential in society, depends upon its ability
to make its meaning intelligible in a political context where intelligence
is often ruled out. It has to make its internal qualities of radical
democracy and mutual aid external. For it to change the world, it must
grapple with this reality.

***
Robert Augman worked with the Free Society Collective during the RNC
protests. You can find information about FSC at their website
www.freesocietycollective.org, where you can also read the leaflet they
distributed during the protests, titled “Don’t Just [Not] Vote, Get
Political.” Rob can be reached at rob@riseup.net
================
About the Free Society Collective

About Us http://www.freesocietycollective.org/archives/000003.html
The Free Society Collective, formed in 2002, is a small,
membership-based group in central Vermont. We
seek the abolition of capitalism, the state, and all
other social relations built on coercion, hierarchy,
and oppression. To that end, we engage in a politics
of resistance that simultaneously highlights a
reconstructive vision. In critical solidarity with
anti-authoritarian social movements around the globe,
we work toward a free and ecological society premised
on mutual aid, confederated direct democracy, and a
liberatory culture.


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