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(en) US, NYC, Alt. Media, RNC REDUX: Anarchist Analysis of the 2004 RNC Protests by by Alexander Trocchi

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 30 Oct 2004 17:42:56 +0200 (CEST)


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> Hot Town, Summer in the City
The Republican National Convention was the ultimate slight to New
York: those who made careers and a quick buck off the September 11th
events returned to feast like vultures on the corpses of the dead,
attempting to rally support for a failing war and a disastrous regime by
parading around near the site of Ground Zero. As one might suspect,
there were going to be protests, courtesy of an amalgamation of New
Yorkers and out-of-town protesters, direct action anarchists and anti-war
pacifists, community groups and Marxist sects. The question of the hour
was: Were the protests going to bring the house of cards down?

The answer is no, they didn't, but there were signs that this will be
possible - and soon. The RNC 2004 protests showed that resistance is
possible in this country quickly sliding towards old-fashioned homeland
fascism: a vast multitude of people are getting ready to roll against the
corporate aristocracy that runs this country. And many in New York are
willing put their bodies on the line against the regime.

To understand the historic importance of this protest, one must know a
little of its genealogy. The RNC 2000 protest in Philadelphia was the first
major failure of the anti-globalization movement, a movement that had
seemed unstoppable after Seattle, and its long shadow hung over the
minds of many of us as we prepared for the 2004 RNC. The failure in
Philly was primarily a failure of imagination and organization: the
organizers attempted to repeat a "shut-down the city" protest - complete
with blockades, a risky proposition on the East Coast where those skills
are less common than on the West Coast - without sufficient numbers.
Heavy-handed police tactics succeeded in thwarting this strategy, setting
a precedent for militarized repression that culminated in the so-called
"Miami Model" during the protests against the Free Trade Area of the
Americas ministerial in 2003. Ever since the RNC 2000 protests,
anarchists have whispered about decentralized action as an alternative to
badly-planned centralized action.

Before September 11th, the anti-globalization movement was becoming
increasingly anarchist in orientation, pursuing increasingly militant tactics
in the streets and developing a sophisticated analysis of global capitalism.
After September 11th, the anti-globalization movement let the traditional
authoritarian Left, such as the Marxist-Leninist ANSWER or their more
liberal counterparts in UFPJ, seize control of the anti-war movement.
These groups discouraged actual direct action, while occasionally
borrowing the rhetoric of confrontation from more militant groups. Soon,
these elitist organizers had set the movement back to marching around in
circles. While many did their best - as massive direct actions from San
Francisco to New York on the eve of the Iraq war showed - to put their
bodies on the line to halt the war machine, the authoritarian Left did all it
could to divert energy away from genuine resistance. As any veteran of
the anti-war movement of the Sixties could have foreseen, mere marches
could not and did not stop the war. All the same, the vast networks, such
as Indymedia, created by the militant anti-globalization movement
became vital to the anti-war movement - the networks and influence of
the anarchist underground were continuing to spread.

Popular hatred against the government, particularly as symbolized by its
leading figurehead George W. Bush, was at an all-time high. Kids were
coming home in bodybags from a war based on lies, the economy was in
shambles, and the government was obviously run by a self-interested rich
elite. This was a socially volatile situation to say the least. Unlike at the
2000 RNC, there were going to be massive numbers of protesters, and it
appeared people were finally fed up enough to do something more than
march in circles. The gambit was that the spirit and tactics of Seattle
could merge with the massive numbers of the anti-war movement:
combined, they would be unstoppable.

A year in advance, the website www.rncnotwelcome.org had been set up
to coordinate these protests. Although anarchists were often caricatured
as an alienated balaclava-clad minority, in reality they were the backbone
of the organizing around the RNC. The main group that handled legal at
the RNC was the explicitly anarchist People's Law Collective, with the
help of the National Lawyer's Guild. The noRNC Clearinghouse meetings
were started by anarchists, and these meetings enabled a wide variety of
groups to plan for the protests. Anarchists organized housing, put up
posters, and, with their usual humility, did much of the dirty work,
without bothering to tell the world of their political affiliations.

In New York City, during the months preceding the RNC, Republicans
not only lacked support but were openly hated. For example, while I was
eating a falafel in Queens, the chef came out and gave me a flyer for the
anti-RNC protests, telling me to be there. I assured him I was going to be.
Later, I observed a well-dressed, evidently Republican young man tearing
down anti-RNC posters. He was caught red-handed in the act by myself
and a New Yorker, and with the approval bystanders, was quickly scared
into running away. One local actually grabbed the poster and put it back
up.

New York is the essence of the city taken to its almost illogical
conclusion: miles and miles of skyscrapers and concrete, so large that it is
always teetering on the edge of collapse, with only 40,000 cops standing
between capitalism and chaos. Among its massive numbers, there is a
wide range of groups that have been excluded, marginalized, and
exploited: everyone from old Puerto Rican men working in community
gardens in the Bronx to radical lesbian biker performance artists. This
diversity in turn makes New York one of the most explosive and exciting
places for radical politics. Yet New York is also large enough to be home
to some of the most retrograde elements in North American radical
politics: ridiculous Leninist cults such as the Revolutionary Communist
Party, liberal activist superstars, and continual infighting. This makes
planning a centralized protest almost impossible - there are simply too
many variables to take into account, and even anarchists have trouble
getting along together. But if one thing could draw people together, it was
the common outrage against the Republicans.

Decentralization Beyond the Point of No Return

The noRNC Clearinghouse meetings were crucial for creating the
infrastructure needed, opening a non-denominational space in which
everyone from United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) to Shutdown NYC
could get together to coordinate, make announcements, and connect to
others. As the RNC drew closer, the noRNC Clearinghouse meetings had
so many participants that it took hours just for all the groups to proclaim
their plans. Instead of becoming a spokescouncil for the entire protest, the
clearinghouse transformed itself into the noRNC bazaar. The bazaar was
a far cry from a consensus meeting; groups set up tables and solicited
people to join their actions. There was a spokescouncil for the A31 Direct
Action on Tuesday, but this spokescouncil only dealt with that day's
actions, not the protest as a whole. Much to everyone's surprise, St.
Marks Church wasn't set up explicitly as a convergence center, although
that space functioned as an informal hang-out and meeting spot.
Initiatives such as the Anarchist World's Fair encouraged anarchists to
come early, and events ranging from the academic "Life After Capitalism"
to the down and dirty "Really Really Free Market" heightened the energy
in the air. The RNC was a grand experiment: everything was completely
decentralized. As the communique delivered by the NYC Anarchist
Grapevine said, "We should all finally face it - there is no Big Plan." Just
show up and see what was going down, or organize something
yourself.that was the zeitgeist. Beautiful maps of New York City featuring
multi-racial kissing pirates, subway stops, and corporate targets were
provided a la carte.

As the dates of the RNC drew nearer, some were getting butterflies in
their collective stomachs about this lack of concrete action plans. One
advantage of openly decentralizing the action plans was that many groups
creatively called for autonomous actions: the "Mouse Bloc" and "Chaos
on Broadway" call to interrupt the delegates as they watched Broadway
shows, the humorous "Man in Black Bloc" call to reclaim Johnny Cash
from the Republicans, and a host of increasingly surreal calls like the
"Viking Bloc" were all examples of this. While this decentralized model
opened space for autonomous action, it was unclear if the maturity and
vision to plan even a single fully realized, effective decentralized action
existed anywhere. The lack of a central spokescouncil prevented
incompetent groups from taking control and instead invested faith in the
people themselves, which is an inherently anarchist strategy for success;
however, the fact of the matter was that while many were empowered,
many coming in from out of town were bewildered. Most had neither the
experience nor the time to organize their own direct actions or even
navigate New York City properly. This enabled authoritarian groups that
organize behind closed doors to take center stage with their plans to
march everyone aimlessly around - you guessed it - in circles.

Predictably, they called for a large permitted march to go right by the
Republican National Convention's location at Madison Square Garden.
The march was to take place on Sunday, before the Convention even
began, in order to maximize turnout and minimize possible conflict with
the State. As one right wing website put it, "If this is the best the
Revolution has to offer, the Establishment is safe." Monday was reserved
for not only one, but two, three, many Poor People's Marches. Then out
of nowhere, a group of West Coast activists parachuted in with the help of
the usual suspects - the activists known during the RNC 2000 debacle as
the Direct Action Network - to plan massive nonviolent civil disobedience
in New York on Tuesday, hoping to repeat a success like the anti-war
demonstrations in San Francisco.

The unprecedented decentralization of the RNC protests was perhaps the
only way to organize in the chaos that is New York City, yet it left
protesters with a schedule of events curiously similar to the Philly 2000
RNC protests. In fact, the schedule was almost exactly the same, down to
the very days of the week. As experience has shown us consistently,
anyone who suggests that protesters should divide their forces over a few
days, with each day being reserved for one special type of protest, is a
danger to all. Such a strategy always pans out in this way: on the first day
of protest, usually a Sunday, there is a big march of a supposedly
broad-based coalition, and the limits of this march are controlled by a
small hierarchical group. Since these liberal and Marxist groups usually
are well-funded, they can bring in bus-loads of people to march with
them; they generally use the opportunity to hand-out mass-produced
signs, sell newspapers, and bore people senseless with an endless array of
carefully selected speakers. Most people leave town immediately after the
big march is over. The next day, often a Monday, the various poor
people's marches begin, usually being mostly local people of color groups.
Since poor people are inherently more dangerous to the State than liberals
marching around in circles, they get hassled or attacked by the police.
Anarchists support both of these marches and join in them, creating
infrastructure and support work often for both. On the last day of action -
a Tuesday - people interested in direct action are finally permitted to take
the reigns, but in complete isolation. They take to the streets by
themselves and, having announcing their plans all over the Internet, are
quickly arrested and brutalized by the police. Now that many of us have
experienced this way of scheduling protests several times, it's hard not to
see it as a sign of either sub-human intelligence or collaboration with the
State - but in this aspect the protests against the RNC 2004 appeared to
ape those against the RNC 2000.

After Seattle, everyone agreed that we couldn't repeat that particular
model, as the element of surprise was gone. However, while we have lost
the element of surprise in massive demonstrations, the other crucial
element of Seattle that can and should be repeated is synchronicity. The
combination of well-coordinated organized lock-downs, massive and
festive demonstrations that provided support for direct actions, and
decentralized autonomous actions like squat take-overs and Black Blocs,
all at the same time, is what made the Seattle protests impossible for the
police to control. Whenever any of these elements is isolated, it will most
likely fail. Our power lies in the ability of diverse groups to coordinate,
each offering its strengths in mutually beneficial relationships with other
groups that may be completely different in ideology and tactics. This is
the true strength of any network-based anti-authoritarian movement. To
declare a return to staid leftist marching under a unified banner as one
faceless mass, or to proclaim that "militant Black Blocs" or "non-violent
civil disobedience" is the one true tactical way forward.both of these
approaches are ridiculous and potentially detrimental to what potential we
have. Anarchists should set the stage, then do whatever it is they do best
in conjunction with everyone else, all at the same time. It's a simple
recipe, yet it's never really been repeated in the United States on a large
scale since the IMF/World Bank protests in 2000.

Many anarchists organizing for the RNC were veterans of Seattle and
other successful anti-globalization protests, and were hoping that the
RNC protests would follow such a model. Yet UFPJ, lest their good
names be tarred with the taint of actual direct action, did their best so
keep their march separate from the direct action and civil disobedience. In
the vain hope that we could somehow make an alliance with them, many
anarchists did not openly confront UFPJ. In reality, old-fashioned Leftist
groups like the UFPJ leadership are taking advantage of all the hard work
of the anarchists and then throwing them into the jaws of the State. Since
many Marxist-Leninists and liberals, as well as the frightening
"anarcho-liberals," are career activists, they don't actually want to change
things - if they did, they'd be out of a job - so they naturally avoided any
real disruption of the RNC.

Fortunately, anarchists and others who were more interested in action
sent out calls for direct actions. These included a giant critical mass
organized by Time's Up, a unified direct action and direct democracy
"Don't Just Vote Take Action" contingent in the UFPJ march, a "Mouse
Bloc" to personally confront the delegates Sunday night, and the A31 call
to - shut down the RNC - on Tuesday. The possibility that the massive
numbers of the anti-war movement would join in with the direct action
tactics of the anti-globalization movement was negated by the scheduling
of events. However, despite the best attempts of the police, media, and
liberals to demoralize and divide the protesters, including a few "radicals"
like Todd Gitlin humorously showing their true colors by saying any
protest would just play into the hands of the Republicans, it was clear that
something big was going to happen.

Things were heating up, and even UFPJ's rhetoric took a turn to direct
action as they were prevented from going to Central Park and instead
forced to turn around and go to Union Square. Although the war of words
over which symbolic goal would be reached was a bit humorous, Mayor
Bloomberg and the powers that be were getting scared. In an act of high
comedy, the City began offering dis-counts at shops and museums to
protesters who signed an agreement to be peaceful. Obviously the mayor
hoped to obscure the fact that many of the protesters were there primarily
to act against capitalism. Had the Queen offered to give Boston Tea Party
protesters some Nestea coupons in return for a promise of pacifism,
would we still be swearing "God Save the Queen"? The media proclaimed
that "Anarchy Inc." was going to take down the city. In a special "leak"
from the police, the media revealed fifty of the country's leading
anarchists, each with fifty loyal followers willing to sacrifice themselves
for their leader (?!), were being trailed by individually assigned goon
squads. Obviously, all the money in the newfound massive intelligence
budgets of the NYPD and FBI can.t make up for their fundamental lack
of human intelligence. Virtually no anarchists any of us know were
actually trailed, except for those who have appeared on major television
channels in the last few years as "anarchist" media spokespeople. We all
know those people are not involved in direct action in reality, due to the
nature of their roles as media spokespeople.

In an effort to help turn the tide of fear, a media event was held entitled
"Are You an Anarchist? The Answer May Surprise You." The
participants ranged from the preacher Father Frank Morales of St. Mark.s
Place to Kazembe Balagoon, author of "Queering the X: James Baldwin,
Malcolm X, and the Third World." As Warcry reminded the media, the
real violence is never caused by the demonstrators, but the capitalist
system, which is busy destroying the foundations upon which all of life
rests. Since neither candidate is in favor of abolishing capitalism, no
matter who wins the election, we all lose. Starhawk ended the session by
reminding the media that the President personally condones violence as
our official foreign policy, which puts a few streets clogged by sit-downs
and the possibility of a broken window into perspective.

The Protest that Never Sleeps

The protests began in earnest on Thursday with an upbeat touch, as the
RNC2DNC march arrived from the Democratic National Convention in
Boston wearing Zapatista masks, breaking the law to bring the message
of the Lacandon jungle home against the impressive backdrop of New
York City's glass-plated skyscrapers.

Time's Up! had been busy repairing bikes for weeks before the RNC.
Their work set the stage for the great role bicycles played throughout the
entire protest. On Friday night, the largest Critical Mass in NYC history
seized the street in defiance of the terrifying environmental costs of this
oil-driven civilization. Over five thousand bikers of all stripes and colors
seized the streets for two hours, fouling up traffic in Manhattan and
generally humiliating the police, who have never been able to control
Critical Mass in NYC.

As things wound down, the Critical Mass returned to St. Mark's Church,
and the cops attacked, targeting random bikers, breaking bones, and
arresting anyone who tried to prevent them from doing so. In one telling
moment, a few cops walked into the middle of St. Mark's Church and
arrested someone, even when they were surrounded by hundreds of
protesters who could have stopped them. Still, for the most part the bikers
managed to evade this repression and accomplish their goals. It was clear
the battle was on, and the NYPD were playing for keeps. Instead of using
the high-tech weaponry favored by police at Miami, the NYPD were
going to rely on old-fashioned clubs, numbers, and beatdowns.

On Sunday, the UFPJ march slowly but surely gathered in the streets.
Earlier, when the permit for the rally in Central Park had been denied,
there had been rumors that people were going to try to march to Central
Park anyway, regardless of what the UFPJ leadership said. While on
many levels both possible destinations for the march were merely
symbolic goals, marching to Central Park would have placed the march
going right through Broadway around the time the Mouse Bloc was to
confront the RNC delegates as they attended musicals. The feeling
among local anarchists was that a giant Black Bloc at the march would
have caused police to single us out for attack - in retrospect that might
not have been the case, or even have been a bad thing if it had happened,
but at the time anarchists from out of town took the advise of the locals
seriously. To provide an alternative, the Don't Just Vote Get Active
campaign called for a "Unified Direct Democracy and Direct Action"
contingent to deliver "a radical message to what otherwise might be a
reformist event." Gathering the Rhythm Workers Union and the Infernal
Noise Brigade, the Pagans and the Greens, colorful hippies and
black-clad anarcho-punks, pink-clad musicians and radical cheerleaders;
this amalgamation grew into one of the largest and most festive
contingents in the entire march.

A huge Green Dragon of Self-Determination led the entire contingent,
taking up almost an entire block. A small group of people with strange
signs urging people to "disassemble the totality of power," holding black
umbrellas to hide themselves from the ever-present cameras filming on
the tops of buildings, gathered behind the dragon. Others danced in front
of the dragon, and the march seemed to be riding a crest of sheer joy as it
approached Madison Square Garden, where the convention was to be
held. At this juncture, right in front of the convention center, the sound
system of the dragon finally ran out of batteries. In this opening, the
Pagans began their inspiring Spiral Dance, and then, as Starhawk of the
pagan cluster wrote, she felt "some powerful earth energy, a kind of raw
life force that pulsed and thundered and rose up into a great, focused cone
of power. Someone told me to look behind, and in the relatively empty
space between us and the line of cops at 34th St., the dragon was
burning." The Green Dragon had burst into flames. Police retreated
behind their barricades, and then gathered forces and began arresting
people at random. A spontaneous Black Bloc appeared, defending
themselves from the attacking police by throwing bottles as the flames
raged behind them.

To this day, no one knows exactly why the Green Dragon went up in
smoke. I was dancing relatively near it and have no idea if it was a
malfunction, a Pagan spell, an undercover Black Bloc using the Green
Dragon as a Trojan Horse, or just some random act of madness.
Regardless, in this downright surreal course of events, it became clear to
me as the crowd fought back against the police assault that at least some
people were bored of marching around aimlessly in circles and wanted to
take militant direct action against the powers of the State. At one point,
the cops even retreated from the crowd.

We should be very careful about saying that anything is caused by "police
provocateurs," unless there is solid evidence. I remember groups like Ya
Basta! floating the same accusations around Genoa against the Black
Bloc. It's always easy for protest organizers to call "police provocateurs"
those militants who refuse to be corralled into their "organized" plans.
While the burning dragon on strictly rational grounds made little sense
except as a visceral manifestation of discontent, there was something
fitting about a giant bonfire being set only a few yards from the castle of
the self-proclaimed rulers of the world. If only the fire was on the inside!

Unfortunately, the march turned dead around instead of forcing its way to
Central Park. UFPJ marshals told the marchers to try to make their way
to Central Park individually, in what could only feel like an anti-climax.
Many anarchists and other angry citizens who weren't already at
Broadway went there to participate in the "Chaos on Broadway" and
"Mouse Bloc" actions. This is where another phase in direct action
began, one that fit almost perfectly the personality of New York City:
small groups followed Republican delegates around New York and made
their lives a living hell by being as rude as possible to them. On
Broadway, I was greeted by an amazing sight: hundreds of protesters
gathering in both large clumps and small clusters, undercover cops
everywhere but seemingly unable to do anything, hundreds of ordinary
tourists wandering about, and the cops generally losing control of the
situation. As I walked out of the subway, I heard a girl scream as she fell,
nearly wrapped in this strange orange mesh the cops were using to
attempt to corral people, literally knocked off her feet by a cop.

Generally, the rule seemed to be that groups of protesters who were
wearing bandannas, holding up anti-Bush banners, or dressing in even
more black than is usual in New York City, were targeted by the police
and arrested as soon as they attempted to do anything even mildly illegal.
The police even arrested the participants in a giant kiss-in. One can
almost hear the officer saying, "We can't have those queers kissing in
public, it's a threat to public order!" However, many protesters were
dressed for the occasion, easily blending into the constant stream of
tourists on Broadway. The cops were unable to arrest everybody, as the
Republicans, protesters, and unsuspecting people passing by were mixed
together. The protesters appeared as if by magic just where the
Republicans were, as the Republicans could be easily identified by their
blue tuxedos and red badges, as well as their pasty all-white faces and the
gleam of greed and religious fundamentalism in their eyes.

The organizational backbone of the whole event was the text messaging
txtmob.org set up by the Institute for Applied Autonomy. A network is
only as powerful as its communications. Tactical information about the
location of the police and the Republican delegates was sent out to
hundreds of small groups of protesters, who used the information to
gather and disperse quickly. It was the second coming of smart mobs, a
fading trend given new life by a political objective.

One of my friends nearly caused a delegate to choke him in anger by
remarking how he would love to engage in homoerotic acts with said
delegate. As the delegate removed his chokehold from my friend's neck,
my friend calmly stared him in the eyes and told him that "Your entire
cock could fit inside my mouth." At that moment, the delegate's small
mind cracked and he just lost whatever sanity he had left. Further down, a
small bloc of anarchists terrified Republicans by blocking them with a
black banner and chanting that "Right-wing scum, your time has come!"
It was definitely not a pleasant night out on the town for the would-be
masters of the universe. The arrogance of the Republican delegates was
shocking: most of them didn't even have security or bodyguards. I walked
right up to one of them who looked like John McCain and told him he
would wish that the Vietnamese had finished him off after what we
Americans were going to do to him because of Iraq. I hope I had the right
senator! Regardless, everywhere the delegates went there were both
peace signs and fingers in the air, and the promise of "RNC Not
Welcome" fulfilled itself, lasting hours until the cops finally managed to
arrest several hundred people and the remaining protesters left tired but
smiling.

On Monday, the several Poor People's Marches took place. I showed up
at the Kensington Welfare Rights March to help a friend of mine manage
a large "Boxing Bush" puppet, a life-sized effigy of Bush made especially
for people to punch - the perfect puppet for inciting rowdy behavior in a
crowd. I noticed a strange dynamic, as white middle-class activists told
me to "stop causing trouble" and put our puppet away. While a white
liberal told me I was distracting the gathered poor people from listening to
yet another speaker, lots of people, especially kids, had a hell of a fun
time punching the living daylights out of Bush. I wondered how the
previous night's events would have gone had we had some more of these
people on the streets with us to hassle the Republicans. When the march
finally got going, the true class war began, as police put on their riot gear.
The cops were absolutely idiotic and reckless, harassing and arresting
people just for dual crimes of marching and being poor. At another poor
people's march the police claim that an African-American protester gave
an undercover a boot in the jaw. Quick point to remember: if the cops
claim you assaulted a police officer and your face is on television, do not
march around the next day in broad daylight. The police nabbed this man
the next day. He's the kind of guy we need to maintain solidarity with,
even if he isn't a card-carrying member of Anarchy Inc.

The direct action plans for Tuesday originated as some strange plan for a
coordinated primal scream. When I went to one of the planning
spokescouncil meetings, they were passing around a flower to denote
who was given the floor to speak. While I understand there are cultural
differences between the East and West Coast, I somehow had difficulty
imagining actual New Yorkers in that meeting. Still, when the day of
action on Tuesday actually took place, it was impressive. Using the same
text-messaging techniques employed successfully in the Broadway
actions, large masses of people attempted to block intersections and
hassle delegates, bringing large parts of Manhattan to a standstill. The
police responded by arresting as many people as they could, as quickly as
possible, with little regard to what they were actually doing or if any laws
were being broken. At one point cops surrounded me and a friend with
the dreaded orange netting. The orange netting was more of a
psychological barrier than a physical one: riled up crowds sometimes
broke through it. However, most of the crowd I was with didn't even
seem to notice that they were about to be mass-arrested. I walked calmly
up to a cop, stared him straight in the eye, and said "You are not arresting
me. I'm not a protester. Let me go." The Jedi mind trick worked, and the
cop meekly opened up the orange netting to let me and my friend out.
Reports kept flooding in that people were sitting in the streets blocking
traffic, and groups like the True Security Cluster did in fact seize a block
occasionally.

While the police were arresting people, things were getting out of hand.
Some members of my affinity group managed to find themselves face to
face with Barbara Bush and George Bush Sr., but the Secret Service
arrived before we could effectively confront the former President.
Meanwhile, one member of the People's Law Collective went outside
their office for a smoke break, and was pleasantly shocked to see piles of
burning trash along Madison Avenue!

There's a Song Beneath the Concrete<

If anything, the RNC protests showed that domestic dissent is alive and
well in the United States in the face of the creeping fascism of the Bush
regime. This happened against overwhelming odds, and broke a spell of
several years of bad luck. It had seemed that the anti-globalization was
movement was in retreat since September 11th, unable to adapt its tactics
and strategies to the new era of perpetual war and heavy repression. The
large anti-globalization summit-protests seemed to be faltering and the
anti-war protests ineffectual, with the harrowing nightmare of Miami was
still fresh in many people's minds. In the face of such odds, the RNC
protests were a powerful showing of a popular uprising. They stole the
media spotlight from the Republicans. The amount of new groups, new
faces, and new alliances was overwhelming. Anarchist politics and
culture have been kept alive, and a whole new generation is ready to
commit their lives to the battle between people and power.

This is a cultural triumph, since just five years ago at Seattle many
anarchists felt purposefully excluded for their "too radical" political
beliefs. Not only that, but anarchists are hip! A school-teacher friend of
mine ran into kids in Queens who were debating the pros and cons of
CrimethInc.'s "Evasion" and "Off the Map." Besides being easily
pigeon-holed into the doddering Black Bloc tradition, anarchists of all
kinds, from the Radical Reference librarians to the squatters helping out
Casa del Sol, were present everywhere. On every level, the direct action
movement has shifted toward anarchist decentralized network models of
organizing and action. The use of mobile phone technology to
communicate tactical information via texting was put to great use.
Dressing normally allowed anarchists to infiltrate Republican events.

This was not a pro-Democrat protest: almost everyone I talked to there
hated the Republicans but realized that the Democrats did not offer a real
alternative. There was almost no pro-Kerry sentiment in evidence, and
most protesters claimed that the entire system was bankrupt. More and
more people are being drawn to an increasingly radical analysis of
capitalism, from MTA workers to veterans back from Iraq. In the words
of one paper anarchists distributed at the RNC, "It's not Just Bush, It's
the System"!

Why did anarchists let hierarchical groups like UFPJ direct events like the
Sunday march from behind closed doors, when it was clear that those
were the main body of the protests? Like it or not, if we truly believe that
decisions should be open, democratic, and available to all, we can't back
down on that stance on the grounds that we need to make some sort of
tactical alliance with liberals and crypto-leninists. Since it was anarchists
who were doing much if not most of the actual work for the protests, we
were in a position to tell UFPJ that they needed to open up their process
and operate by at least a consensus-based spokescouncil; this might even
have provoked a coup from within their grassroots membership, which is
continually irritated at the sheer lack of backbone of their leadership.
Often spokescouncils are just platforms for authoritarian cliques, yet as a
forum a spokescouncil is better than none at all. After all, where else do
we go to announce we are going to disagree with the plan, propose better
plans, and meet our friends from out of town?

The authoritarian Left is not our friends: if anything, they are holding
back the power of people everywhere to take action. We need to stop
pandering to union hierarchies and washed-up Marxists. We can provide
spaces for people to take as much action as they feel comfortable with,
such as the Green, Yellow, and Red Zones did in the Quebec City
anti-FTAA protests. We can build alliances with groups that matter like
the poor people of the Bronx who fight against the system for survival
everyday. Let's not tolerate a conscious return to outdated tactics and
organizing, even from those of supposedly "anarchist" backgrounds who
backslide into retrograde Leninist and liberal behavior, as Chomksy did in
pleading with people to vote for Kerry. Let's keep up the prison support -
Banno is still up on trumped-up felony charges for the burning puppet
incident, and a movement is only as strong as its prisoner support is.

One more concern is worth voicing - the attrition rate in our community.
We anarchists are the most experienced wing of the direct action
movement. The generation that gave us Seattle was built up out of nearly
a decade of largely unsung valuable work within groups such as Earth
First! and Anti-Racist Action - but where is the Seattle generation now?
Far too many experienced anarchists have gone into early retirement,
which is both ludicrous and pompous since the situation has only gotten
more oppressive since September 11th, not less, and most of the world
does not have the luxury to retire to a comfortable life-style of
dumpster-diving, gardening, or writing theory. We have to be in the front
lines until the day we die or win, spreading our collective knowledge so
we can finally have a multi-generational movement of resistance in the
United States.

As anarchists, it's not our job to lead by giving commands. We lead by
being an inspiring example, and the RNC was an example. We need
more heroic examples to show that resistance is possible. The vast
majority of people are so caught up within this system of oppression and
despair that they cannot imagine another way of life. We can show it is
possible by building gardens in abandoned parking lots, by not letting
police brutality go unpunished, by fighting police in the streets whenever
their masters come to town. We need to show that the Republicans, the
G8, the Empire - call it what you will - doesn't rule the world, but that the
power to reshape the world lies in their own hands. It is these
demonstrations, in which people realize their own strength and apply it,
that keep us inspired and still fighting. The liberals and the remnants of
the old Left falsely posit themselves as "representatives" of the people in
order to constrain the possible choices and actions of the people. This
makes them functionally, if not ideologically, complicit with the forces of
the state. We anarchists seek not to represent the people, for we know
people can only represent themselves. If someone truly does not want to
riot, if they truly want to march around in circles, we respect that choice.
Still, judging from the numbers of people who were interested in taking
action at the RNC, there is clear evidence this tendency towards action is
back and growing. Even if the RNC protests seemed like only a small
step, these are the small steps of an awakening giant.

Where are the mysterious anarchists? You'll find the mythical and
dreaded anarchists, both facing off the cops in the streets and building
infrastructure, working their fingers to the bone and risking it all for the
greatest of stakes: freedom. We're not superheroes, but ordinary people,
dirty and tired, weary yet still smiling, toiling away at mind-numbing
drudgery and acting with unbelievable heroism for the dignity of life. We
all have the courage we need within us. We can feel it in our bones and in
the soil. As Aresh and the folks working in the community gardens in the
Bronx know all too well, the soil is still rich and fertile beneath the
concrete skyscrapers of New York. All that is required is that we have the
courage to break open the concrete. And in New York, I could almost
hear the concrete breaking.


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