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(en) US, [Infoshop News] A31*, Don't Just [not] Vote, Take Action — Report from UFPJ Marc h, August 29, 2004

From <chuck@mutualaid.org>(dontjustvote@mutualaid.org)
Date Fri, 3 Sep 2004 08:12:03 +0200 (CEST)


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On August 29, a radical contingent called for by the Don't Just Vote
campaign participated in the massive march, estimated to include
400,000+ people, organized by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). The
Don't Just Vote call attracted a diverse range of individuals and
groups, who gathered in sections along lines of affinity and mutual
interest. These included marching bands, social ecologists, pagans,
proponents of direct democracy and direct action, anarchist activists,
and puppeteers. Perhaps the most impressive of the puppets was a dragon
large enough to fill an entire street, its wings emblazoned with the
words Don't Just Vote, Take Action " and Self-Determination for All. "
The mutual respect and high spirits shared by the participants were
evidence of the symbiotic relationships that are possible for those who
take their politics beyond the confines of the electoral system.

In stark contrast to the diversity and free expression of this
contingent, UFPJ attempted to impose a rigid, top-down structure on the
march as a whole, in order to enforce the decisions of an elite upon
hundreds of thousands of people. Rather than planning the march in
assemblies or spokescouncil meetings comprised of the people that would
make up the event, as was done before several massive anti-war and
anti-globalization protests within the last few years, plans were
negotiated in closed settings between a small group of UFPJ organizers
and city officials. One t-shirt sold by protest profiteers read Shut Up
and Vote, " and in view of the limitations placed on the movements,
attire, and behavior of the participants, it was hard not to suspect
that this was the vision of political empowerment offered by the
official organizers of the event.

Undaunted, those in the block-long Don't Just Vote contingent dressed as
they saw fit, carried signs and banners of all sizes, and proactively
opened the police barricades on either side of the march, liberating
those trapped on the sidewalks. Live music from the marching bands and
popular protest songs from a powerful PA system provided the soundtrack
for much festive dancing; people shared food and water and took great
pleasure in each other's presence. This manifestation of liberty and joy
complemented the gravity of the contingent who emphasized the costs of
Bush's reign of terror by carrying coffins. Papers expanding on the
theme It's Not Just Bush, It's the System " were distributed to
thousands, providing an alternative to the communist propaganda and
expensive liberal bumper stickers so prevalent at these events.

The contingent gathered between 5th and 6th Avenues on 20th Street, and
marched north up 7th Avenue to 33rd Street, arriving at the doorstep of
Madison Square Garden, the location hosting the Republican National
Convention. Although most participants in the march desired for it to go
forward to Central Park, the UFPJ leadership had agreed with the city
government to turn the march around at 34th Street, charting a circular
route that many found senseless and compromising. As the contingent
approached this turnaround point, tensions ran high; many participants
covered their faces, intimidated by the massive police and mainstream
media surveillance concentrated in the area.

The pagans initiated a spiral dance in front of Madison Square Garden,
chanting and moving in a performance of ritual. A few seconds later,
under ambiguous circumstances, the enormous dragon puppet went up in
flames. The police backed away in confusion, then reacted violently,
beating and arresting people and reportedly pepper spraying
demonstrators and each other. Some participants in the march defended
themselves by throwing projectiles at the attacking police, and pulling
one another free of their grasp; despite this, perhaps a dozen
individuals were arrested. Eventually, the police cleared the area and
blocked the march for a period of time. The Don't Just Vote contingent
broke up into smaller groups, some heading to Central Park, some
following the remainder of the UFPJ march route to Union Square, and
some going north on Broadway to boisterously meet the delegates to the
convention as they arrived for evening entertainment.

The surprise immolation of the dragon remains a mystery. The puppeteers
who brought it had no knowledge that anyone intended to burn it. Some
mainstream media accounts attribute the fire implausibly to the Greene
Dragon group, a media and street theatre campaign " named after the
tavern in which Paul Revere and the other Sons of Liberty plotted the
Boston Tea Party. [www.greenedragon.org] Despite their suspicious name,
this group was not known to have joined the Don't Just Vote contingent.

Perhaps someone set fire to the dragon to give teeth to dissent in this
country, showing that it can be taken right to the front door of those
in power. Perhaps it was a gesture of defiance provoked by the extensive
police repression during the protests, and the limitations enforced upon
participants in the march by the UFPJ elite; perhaps it was not meant to
represent anything at all, but was simply intended to create an intense
situation in which no one could help but be present. It might have been
a carefully orchestrated plan, or a spontaneous gesture "who can know? A
member of the pagan cluster has even conjectured that it could have been
a spontaneous combustion, touched off by a spark from the cone of
power " created by their spiral dance, going on to imagine that Liberty
herself bent down with her torch to ignite a burning flame of truth at
the threshold of the convention of lies. "
[http://www.starhawk.org/activism/activism-writings/RNC_update9.html]

Some have said the fire was an act of violence. Whether it was set by
protesters, by police, or by accident, it's important to put this in
perspective: the burning of a puppet is nothing next to the violence
perpetuated daily by the powers of state oppression from Rikers Island
to Baghdad. Those who oppose violence would do well to remain focused on
the real violence suffered globally, and to utilize news items like this
as an opportunity to bring up more important issues.

There have indeed been some speculations that the fire was the work of
police agent provocateurs. While it is possible that for some
unimaginable reason police set fire to the puppet, it should be
remembered that such speculations are generally made from a distance, by
those whose ideological commitments preclude the validity of militant
direct action. To allege that property destruction, fire-setting, and
the like are always the work of police agent provocateurs is
disempowering " it rules out the possibility that activists could have
done such things themselves, overestimating the powers of police
intelligence and reinforcing the illusion that the State is omnipotent.
Likewise, it preemptively dismisses the value and reality of a diversity
of tactics. When people feel entitled to make unfounded claims that
every tactic of which they disapprove is a police provocation, this
obstructs the very possibility of constructive dialogue about
appropriate tactics. Rather than presuming that the Don't Just Vote
contingent was filled with police infiltrators who went on to throw
projectiles at their fellow officers, or joining the mainstream media in
attributing the action to the notorious Anarchist Black Block Group "
(or the group Black Box, " according to one article), it may be most
sensible to accept this strange event for what it is, an enigma.

One thing is for sure " something happened. The participation of the
Don't Just Vote contingent in the march may not have sufficed to end the
occupation of Iraq or free those who languish in prisons and cubicles in
the United States, but it showed that there are many who are searching
for the means to do so. There's a lot of work to be done to dismantle
the systems of oppression in place today, and neither marches nor fires
in the streets will alone be sufficient to usher us into the free world
we hope to live to see. All the same, every action which interrupts the
monotony of business as usual, or protest-as-usual, is a potential first
step on a road to that world.

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* [Ed. Note: A31, is antiauthoritarian anticapitalist
direct action social struggle initiative.]


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