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(en) Unconventional Futures: A Proposal for Building Decentralized, Nationwide Anarchist Momentum

Date Sat, 20 Sep 2008 19:53:46 +0300



Over a year ago, a group of anarchists hoping to initiate nationwide
anti-authoritarian organizing against the DNC and RNC formed a project called
Unconventional Action. Their vision of catalyzing organizing on the local level
to promote coordinated resistance to the conventions yielded success, as over 20
different collectives in various cities and regions took on the UA banner and
began preparations for plugging into the convention protests. The informal
network of UA groups from coast to coast, working in conjunction with local
projects and organizers in Denver and the Twin Cities, successfully mobilized
hundreds of anarchists to attend the DNC and RNC protests. Now that the
conventions have come and gone, let’s continue to build on the infrastructure
we’ve created for this single event. Rather than simply letting that energy and
organization evaporate with the conventions done and gone, what sorts of uses
can we create for these active, interconnected nodes of direct action-oriented
radicals?

Anarchist organizing in the post-Bush political situation

If Obama becomes president, many anarchists and other radicals predict, the
euphoria on the part of liberals and progressives will quickly give way to
disillusionment as the shining star of the Democrats fails to follow through on
his empty promises of hope and change. It’s extremely unlikely that an Obama
administration will end the occupation in Iraq, threats against Iran, police
repression, anti-immigrant crackdowns, escalating poverty, oil dependence, or
any of the other crises facing the US; given this, how will the country respond?
One possibility is that the vast liberal/progressive base of Obama’s campaign
and the new Democratic Party followers will find themselves disaffected from the
two-party path and open to new, increasingly radical directions. In this case,
anarchists should be ready to seize the moment with consistent, visible,
exciting actions and propaganda, and provide accessible points of entry for
people to become involved in anti-political organizing and direct action. On the
other hand, another possibility is that large sectors of the US population will
respond to the failure of the hope/change rhetoric by moving in a more overtly
fascist direction (supporting heavily authoritarian leadership, accelerating
imprisonment and police repression, intensified scapegoating of immigrants,
etc). In this instance, a solidly functioning network of communication and
action will be crucial to anarchist self-defense, to oppose right-wing reaction
from the community level and promoting anti-authoritarian analyses of the situation.

It’s also possible that McCain will become president, in which case two distinct
trends may emerge with possibilities for anarchists. For one, military
involvement abroad and border militarization at home will likely increase even
more swiftly, along with social conservative attacks on reproductive rights and
queer and transgender people. In all of these areas, direct action will be
crucially necessary to stem the tide of militarism and oppression, and the
haphazard, disconnected, and sporadic undertakings of these past years won’t be
enough. Also, the massive grassroots swell behind Obama will find their hopes
frustrated, and many will seek new political outlets for their disappointment.
Anarchists demonstrating alternatives in practice to the electoral system can
provide a path for this energy away from the two-party black hole and towards
direct action.

In any of these scenarios, anarchists in the US will need ways to effectively
mobilize ourselves to respond to the political situation. In recent years, the
fantastic variety of projects, networks, actions, and culture that constitutes
anarchism in the US rarely comes together in a coordinated way except around
specific mass mobilizations. This can result in an effective but woefully brief
fighting force that coalesces sporadically at the expense of local organizing
and projects, and at great cost in terms of time and resources invested with
little lasting momentum beyond the mobilization in question. How can we harness
the collective power that we have, but in a way that sustains rather than
depletes it and expands beyond mass mobilizations to everyday and local resistance?

What we’re proposing is to use the infrastructure we’ve created through these
Unconventional Action chapters in different cities and regions, and expand them
into a network that can plan, coordinate, and carry out anarchist action and
resistance on a variety of fronts.

As we see it, here are some of the potential strengths of using the foundation
of Unconventional Action organizing to create a national anarchist action network:

It already exists. UA collectives exist in over 20 cities and regions around the
country, and with the context for them already established, can be easily
founded anywhere. The UA framework has successfully mobilized people to attend
the protests, to create and circulate propaganda, to gather and disseminate
information, to initiate and carry out local organizing and solidarity actions,
and more. Since we’ve seen that this loose network of collectives in different
places works effectively, it is the most promising starting point for national
and regional anarchist organizing.

Seize the post-convention momentum, with an eye towards the future. As a first
step, this emerging UA network can take on organizing election day and
inauguration day actions. For November 4th, UA collectives can offer each other
strategies, talking points, messages, propaganda, and our collective wisdom;
conversations between chapters could produce a few themes or tactical
innovations to make our efforts coherent. Unlike previous election years, in
which either scattered acts of consciousness-raising or resistance went
unnoticed in their isolation, or focused solely on the elections without
connection to previous or subsequent actions (i.e. the Don’t Just Vote
campaign), actions from a UA network will allow us to make connections between
resistance against the conventions, the elections, the inauguration, and more.
Coordinating actions by UA chapters and through UA networks has the triple
advantage of tapping into an existing, effective network [increasing
participation]; having an explicitly anarchist/anti-authoritarian “brand”
[making our perspectives clear and avoiding simply having to participate in
liberal or communist front-group actions]; and using the common UA theme to link
them [building coherent connections in the media and public consciousness around
the interconnectedness of anarchist resistance to politics, capitalism, and all
systems of oppression]. After the election and dialogue about whether a national
mobilization in DC or coordinated local actions makes the most sense, we can
apply the same reasoning to the inauguration on January 20th. Looking even
further ahead, we can anticipate immigrant and worker solidarity actions on May
1st; resistance to police brutality on the US day of action October 22nd and/or
the Canadian date, March 15th; opposition to the occupation of Iraq on March
20th, the war’s anniversary; and other coordinated days of action that we can
decide regionally and nationally. These coordinated days can combine with our
own locally-focused organizing to create vibrant, active, and nationally linked
momentum of anarchist resistance in the US.

Organization for specific action, not for organization’s sake. By basing the
foundation of regional and national anarchist networking in an existing web of
interconnected nodes that came together for a specific purpose, we can avoid the
pitfalls that come from attempting to create an artificial organizational
structure for a general purpose anticipating future actions. Learning from the
mistakes of regional efforts such as the Southeast Anarchist Network, where such
an artificial framework for general purposes never got off the ground in spite
of considerable enthusiasm, we can ensure that the network always has a basis in
shared actions, and that organizational structure can be adopted or scrapped on
an ad-hoc basis as necessity demands. Anarchists and others will join or found
collectives for the UA network out of a desire to work on a specific action or
campaign, so it won’t get abstract and overly formal.

Accessible points of entry beyond the cookie-cutter projects. One part of the
stagnation of anarchist resistance over the past years is that of the
“cookie-cutter” project. Many types of common community anarchist projects –
Food not Bombs, Indymedia, etc – that once held fresh and vital roles as a part
of broader anarchist resistance often now provide the only local entry points
into anarchist action, and become bogged down in inertia and internal politics.
Because they frequently exist in isolation both within communities (detached
from other radical projects in the same area) and between communities (little or
no regional and national discussion, gathering, or organizing amongst different
chapters), these groups often putter along without genuinely engaging
participants, threatening the status quo, or assessing how to build towards
long-term success. Local UA chapters can avoid this stagnation by staying rooted
in organizing for particular actions (election day, the inauguration, and
beyond), with the energizing effect and multiplied support and resources of a
national network behind them. At the same time, chapters can provide an entry
point for new anarchists and radicals, pathways into various projects and a
catalyst for broad, integrated anarchist resistance.

Harmony through diversity. UA collectives are not homogenous or uniform. Not all
are comprised solely of self-described anarchists; some focused exclusively on
the convention organizing, while others organized a variety of events around
different themes; their sizes, styles, and methods of functioning varied
greatly. This is one of the network’s strengths, and can continue to be as it
expands past the specific focus of the conventions. Continuing and new UA groups
can range from tight-knit anarchist collectives who undertake numerous specific
local projects together, to a loose coalition of radicals who agree to come
together to organize non-hierarchically around particular events or issues in a
broad region. Some collectives take the name “UA-city/region,” while others have
entirely different names; ultimately what’s important isn’t the title but the
commitment to forming a tight-knit network of mutual aid, solidarity, and
coordinated action. We don’t need to strive for unity and identical ideological
lines, but for harmony and mutual interests, goals, and tactics. The conventions
showed that we can do this, so let’s take it further.

Connect capitalism, the state, and oppression coherently through harmonized
anarchist resistance. When the UA network takes on coordinated active resistance
not just to the political conventions, but diverse manifestations of the
oppressive power of capitalism and the state, we will demonstrate concretely the
links between these struggles. For example, currently anarchists who search for
a visible militant response to a police murder in one city or an ecologically
destructive building project in another have few ways of tapping into our
collective power other than resorting to an empty “call to action” posted on
Infoshop or Indymedia. What if instead we could count on a national network to
turn out solidarity actions in 20 different cities under a common UA theme? Our
power to respond as anarchists would expand exponentially, and the coherence of
our critique of all power and domination would increase along with it, as people
witness UA resistance to various manifestations of domination culture. It will
take consistent and coordinated anarchist action to begin to demonstrate
anarchism and direct action as viable alternatives to government and voting, and
a network rooted in UA organizing can build our capacity to deliver it.

Decentralization with coordination. Because UA chapters take diverse forms, and
since regional and national networking need only involve as much formality as
the moment demands, there’s no risk of creating some central anarchist directive
whose commands we’ll slavishly obey, or risk excommunication from anarchist
circles. As St. Paul showed, our decentralization is one of our strengths:
pre-emptive arrests of the Welcoming Committee “leaders” couldn’t stop four days
of actions from different groups and individuals. But in the absence of
effective coordination, our power and effectiveness remains a fraction of what
it could be. Based off of the model of different UA collectives tackling
different sectors, actions, and tasks, we can extend this decentralized but
coordinated approach to a wide variety of campaigns and days of action across
the country using the UA network.

Capitalizing on renewed anarchist visibility. One success of the convention
protests is renewed anarchist visibility: journalists, politicians, and pundits
across the country used the terms “anarchist” and “anarchism” consistently in
association with radical or “violent” protestors, to an extent unprecedented in
recent history. So now that anarchists have entered the popular consciousness as
the militant opposition to the political order, it’s up to us to continue that
process by showing more and more examples of anarchist action as a viable
alternative to the futility of politics. An expanded UA network can provide the
basis for consistent coordinated anarchist action that can keep up that
visibility, demonstrating alternatives to the two-party dead end that will come
increasingly under scrutiny as disillusionment with Obama intensifies.

The consulta model works. Regionally and nationally, Unconventional Action
chapters organized consultas to share information and skills, develop links
between cities and regions, and make decisions about strategies and planning
actions. From these gatherings emerged concrete plans for actions such as the
blockades strategy and the map of sectors, as well as new and strengthened links
between collectives and individuals and also broadened bases of skills and
knowledge. We can continue this model of consultas on a regular or infrequent
basis, as we plan for future coordinated actions, set themes for giving
coherence to local projects and campaigns, and continue to teach each other
skills and analysis. Of course, for a decentralized network to work, local
collectives shouldn’t be dependent on consultas to authorize their actions or
set their priorities for them. Instead, consultas can convene only as they’re
needed to address issues of collective concern.

Now is the time. With a national network of anarchists organizing diverse local
projects and actions under a common theme, we can offer an accessible route for
disaffected ex-Obamaites to tap into resistance to politics and capitalism. At
the same time, we can offer cohesive resistance to any right-wing backlash, with
a network for efficient communication and to mobilize support and coordinated
action. There hasn’t been any national anarchist organizing network beyond
event-specific coordination since the Love and Rage Federation, which
disintegrated before Seattle. Building off of the UA framework, we can create
the strongest foundation for collective anarchist resistance that has existed
for a very long time.

Conclusion – Where do we go from here?

To summarize, we believe that the network of Unconventional Action collectives
contains the seed of a vibrant, nationwide, decentralized network for anarchist
action and resistance. It currently exists and has demonstrated its capacity,
and its concrete purpose and orientation towards action avoids the pitfalls of
organization for its own sake and the staleness of cookie-cutter projects. We
can take advantage of the diversity of different UA chapters to create a
decentralized but coordinated framework for anarchist resistance, using the
successful consulta model to move forward collectively. Our actions through the
network can capitalize on renewed anarchist visibility and demonstrate clear
links between capitalism, politics, and oppression, advancing anarchist analysis
and providing crucial accessible points of entry. Using this network, we can use
the momentum from the conventions to flow into election day, inauguration, and
more actions, and effectively respond to this pivotal moment of political change
in the US.

So how can we make this vision into a reality? We propose that over the next two
months, local UA collectives meet, debrief their experiences at the convention,
and set local priorities for action based on their own local circumstances and
capacities. One of the key functions of the UA network can be to support the
initiatives of local collectives, so at home with our crews we can focus on
planning creative new directions for action and assessing how a broader network
can support us in those. On regional and national levels, we can direct our
efforts towards prisoner and legal support from the conventions and continuing
the conversations about the future. Specifically, we can discuss possibilities
for coordinated election day actions on November 4th: what themes should we
focus on? What kinds of writing, propaganda, and information should we share and
distribute? How can we link together our actions in different areas? What are
our goals, targets, and tactics? And in the aftermath of the election, we should
immediately begin discussing plans for responding to the inauguration. Should we
collectively mobilize in Washington, or focus on local action? Depending on
who’s elected, what themes are most important to emphasize? Over the winter,
different UA chapters can consider hosting regional consultas to plan for these
days of action and discuss possibilities for the future. Above all, let’s keep
talking, planning, and resisting, with an eye towards building our capacity to
fuck their shit up and create other worlds.

This statement was created through the collaboration of members from UA
collectives in several cities. You can reach us at unconventionalfutures@riseup.net.
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