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(en) US, YARNING OTHERWORLD IN WASHINGTON DC - Experiences and Thoughts

From Chuck0 <chuck@mutualaid.org>
Date Sun, 20 Oct 2002 11:23:52 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

On the Future of Mass Mobilisations Against
Global Capital and Corporate-Led Globalisation
By Rodney Vlais windscape@planet-save.com

It was a beautiful, spinning web.  Yarn of all the colours and of
transformational change - greens, blues, browns, yellows and more ...
including an intertwined thread of red and black.  Fifty nonviolent
warriors of the pagan cluster weaved throughout this web, representing the
spirit of an action designed to transform people's fear into wonder of how
life in a different world could be experienced.  Dressed to represent the
four elements, with several covered in mud to engage the essential cores
of onlookers, the cluster grounded to the earth and started its meandering
dance from Dupont Circle in downtown Washington DC.

Taking the web out into the streets was an act of what could be as
fortress capitalism progressively comes down.  In the pagan cluster's
preparation circles leading up to the action, it was strongly felt that
much of our lives occur in the space between the crumbling of the current
system and the formation of something new.  They felt a yearning to do
more than create a symbolic spectacle for people to stare at from a
distance, but rather to evolve an expanding shapeshifting dance of some of
the essential elements of an otherworld that people could engage with.

At first the riot police seemed not to pay much attention ... most of
those in the pagan cluster were determined not to get arrested, and so
were happy to stay on the sidewalks, and to leave traffic blocking actions
to other affinity groups as part of the day's anti-capitalist activities.
For about twenty minutes they weaved magic until cornered on all sides by
legions of riot police, when the cluster sang and commenced a spiral dance
as the lines of black started to close in.

The mass arrests were characteristic throughout the major events of the
People's Strike, called by the Anti-Capitalist Convergence
(www.abolishthebank.org) as part of a carnival of resistance coinciding
with the 2002 annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary
Fund (referred to here as S26-29).  Approximately 650 people were arrested
that day, the vast majority for extremely minor charges such as disobeying
a police order or parading without a permit ... charges equivalent in
severity to a minor traffic conviction.  Included in the arrests were many
onlookers and corporate-media journalists, who were swept up in
pre-emptive strikes against the protestors and treated the same, despite
not being a part of the actions.

Police treatment of the arrested protestors and onlookers was remarkable.
During their detention many were shackled from wrist to opposite ankle for
between 24 and 36 hours, denied food for periods of 12 hours at a time and
given vastly insufficient amounts of water.  Spending hours on buses
waiting to be processed, one bus driver felt so sorry for the plight of
the detainees that he gave his lunch to be shared by the dozens on the
bus, who literally had to pass the sandwich around with their teeth due to
the inability to handle food as a result of being handcuffed.

The police response took the current fervour of "pre-emptive strikes" to
new, and domestic, heights.  Most people were arrested without any police
warning, participating in events such as a peaceful drum circle in a park
to protest the looming war against Iraq's citizens.  Hundreds of riot
police lined the boundaries around the park, not letting anyone leave ...
eventually closing in and arresting everyone.  The police response was
clearly designed to keep as many protestors away from the streets as
possible, and to keep them detained until the weekend's actions were over
... a striking example of the use of the police state to criminalise
democratic dissent in the so-called 'free' world.

Yet despite this, the People's Strike had considerable success.  Some two
thousand black blocers, revolutionary anti-capitalists and independent
individuals - many participating in their first activist mobilisation -
converged to DC for a day of non-cooperation with capitalism.  The theme
being to strike against the business-as-usual workings of capital, several
affinity groups were able through autonomous actions to shut down parts of
the city.

One group, for example, blocked traffic at a number of intersections, by
reclaiming street space to play the game of twister ... symbolically
representing how the World Bank and IMF tie cultures and ecosystems in
knots through their destructive ideologies and policies.  Free vegan food
and information sheets outlining the local and global reasons for the
protests were handed out to commuters in the mass of vehicles banked up
due to the blockages, with the response from commuters being largely
positive.  While these and other roving, small autonomous actions had some
success, the larger and more centralised events - snake march, critical
mass bike ride and the anti-war drum circle - resulted in the mass

Many participants in the protests reported a surprising level of positive
response from onlookers - including among some police officers -
suggesting a greater level of agreement with the injustices caused by
corporate greed than what many activists assume.  There were also reports
of individuals who did not participate in the actions but who nonetheless
decided to take the day off work in solidarity of them ... emphasising
that major days of direct action can be combined with calls for people to
non-cooperate with capitalism in other ways.

The response by the police paradoxically assisted the protestors'
objectives in disrupting capitalism.  With warnings from the police
hierarchy throughout the week of likely disruptions, many offices shut for
the day, and in some instances usually busy downtown streets were
half-deserted.  The massive police response on the day also in itself
caused many streets to be closed.

The heavy police presence was repeated the next day, where the
Mobilization for Global Justice (www.globalizethis.org) organised events
to protest more specifically against the World Bank and IMF ... in terms
of them being two of the godfathers of corporate greed.  Approximately
eight thousand people from very diverse social change backgrounds - black
blocers, grandmother activists, puppeteers, revolutionary drummers,
environmentalists, independent activists (many masked up, in a range of
colours) and concerned individuals - marched in a permitted rally flanked
by walls of riot police.  The mobilisation was characteristic of much of
the diversity seen at previous mass protests against corporate
globalisation, being a carnival of drama, symbolism and sound.

While the organisers' intentions were for affinity groups to blockade
delegates from leaving the WB / IMF meetings - a huge perimeter fence was
established around the adjoining streets to where the meeting was being
held - only one exit point was successfully blockaded due to the
relatively low numbers of well organised protestors compared to the
massive police intimidation.  Nevertheless, the day's events were a major
success given the police presence, demonstrating that the movement against
corporate globalisation is continuing to grow, and will not be intimidated
out of reclaiming public spaces for protest.

The theme of the blockade was to incorporate the symbolism of the
perimeter fence and police tactics to isolate the meeting in the spirit of
a quarantine of the WB and IMF ... to protect Washington DC and the rest
of the world from the destructive policies of these institutions.
Massive amounts of tape was organised to surround the institutions as
off-limits to people concerned about their health and that of society and
the environment.

The following morning saw a series of simultaneous people's assemblies
where hundreds of people discussed a range of issues concerning
transformational change towards a more just and sustainable society.  A
spirited anti-war rally of between 1500 and 2000 people followed,
representing the tip of the iceberg of the degree of concern among
Americans about their President's policy of war against Iraq.

(As a relevant aside, for the many Americans who actually support a
pre-emptive strike against Iraq, it is often not for them a means to
expand American imperialism or domination over the world.  While such
claims could accurately be leveled against U.S. capital and
military/industrial/state complex, many Americans honestly believe that
militarised force is a necessary means to achieve peace, and that the
United States with its military might has an international responsibility
to create the conditions for peace.  Indeed, as a non-American wanders
among the numerous huge monuments in downtown DC, one realises that for
many Americans their sense of patriotism is intertwined with a long
history of fight for values of freedom, justice and equality ... and that
a strike against that U.S. (as what happened at s11) is seen as a strike
against the very values of decent human life.  While this author does not
agree with the use of warfare to achieve peace, nor in the predominantly
patriarchal story that is conventionally told about U.S. history, it is
important not to belittle American's sense of justice and internationalism
if we are to dialogue with them concerning alternative responses to the
current threats posed by terrorism.

Many Americans conceive of the history of their nation as almost four
centuries of struggle to uphold the very values held in high esteem by
much of the world, and so feel a special sense of responsibility in
defending what has been fought for.  This sense of historical and
patriotic pride requires greater depth of analysis than simple
characterisations of Americans as "arrogant" who "want to take over the
world", if we are to make sense of how President Bush's remarkably inept
comments can strike a chord of truth among many Americans.)

The program of activities at S26-29 was inspirational for many people,
including a large number of first-time participants in mass actions.
Hundreds who were arrested during Friday's actions got a direct taste of
the workings of the police state, and its repression of people's rights in
the service of corporate greed.

Yet the numbers were not huge.  While massive protests continue in the
Global South and in Europe (Quito, for example, is expecting tens of
thousands to protest against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in
late October - see www.stopftaa.org), the landscape for mass mobilizations
in the United States is changing ... and possibly in ways that reflect
issues facing mass movements in other industrialised nations as well.
The remainder of this article will explore some of the possible reasons
underlying this change in landscape, and will offer suggestions for the
future of mass mobilizations against corporate-led globalisation and
global capitalism.

The s11 terrorist attacks were a major turning point for the movements
against corporate globalisation in the United States.  In early September
2001, organisers were anticipating up to 70,000 protestors against the
World Bank / IMF annual meetings.  On the actual day of the terrorist
attacks, a press conference was planned for organisers across various
social change groups embodying different degrees of radicalness -
including the mainstream union establishment - to express their solidarity
against these two institutions.  The events of s11 not only put a stop to
this, but created temporary splits in the movement among those wanting to
continue with the protest actions, and those who wanted to cancel them.

S11, however, is not the only reason for the changing nature of mass
protests against corporate-led globalisation.  While mass mobilizations
will continue to perform a vital role - hundreds of thousands are likely
to protest against the next World Trade Organisation ministerial in Mexico
in September next year, for example - there are signs that they need to
continually evolve to incorporate new themes to weave into the old.

There has been much discussion - even before s11 - of a shift towards
organising based around local issues, to link them with the broader themes
of work against capitalism and corporate-led globalisation.  Activists
have been taking the principles of direct action, direct democracy and
decentralised affinity group structures to work on a range of issues
affected by global capitalism ... many participants in the recent DC mass
protests are involved in taking their work to a local level, for example.

Indeed, like many other places, Washington DC is abound with examples of
how neoliberalism is making life very hard for the large numbers who do
not count under the global capitalist system.  The general public hospital
has been closed, disadvantaging tens of thousands of poor and
predominantly black citizens who cannot afford to make use of the private
system.  As gentrification sweeps the city, escalating rents beyond the
reach of many households, some fifteen to twenty thousand people are
homeless ... with several deaths each year due to hypothermia.  With adult
wages among the marginalised often at around $6 per hour or less, the
deregulation of the labour force has been a major contributer to the
increasing poverty and homelessness - some 90% of homeless people have
jobs, that pay too poorly for them to afford rental costs.  All this in
the all too common tragedy of a city administration cutting public
services while prioritising corporate subsidies such as the establishment
of a baseball stadium in prime downtown land.  In response to this,
advocates of the homeless (often consisting largely of homeless people
themselves) have engaged in spirited direct actions, establishing squats
in abandoned buildings to return some dignity to the lives erased by

These local actions are very much in the spirit of the unemployed affinity
groups - or piqueteros - in Argentina.  While maintaining a strong
system-changing focus, these groups have been using direct action and
horizontal forms of organising to achieve winable goals rather than to
focus solely on the abstractions of anti-capitalism.  For these
piqueteros, a typical action has been to blockade the streets leading to a
supermarket chain store, to demand that food be distributed among those
who have been too displaced by the crumbling economy to afford it.  In
similar fashion, coffee growing communities in Nicaragua have blockaded
highways to demand a response to the hunger-induced deaths caused by the
plummeting of world coffee prices, while Australian activists have taken
decentralised mass mobilisation tactics to protest against the insanely
inhuman treatment of refugees in that country.

A challenge for organisers of mass mobilisations (in other words, all of
us!) is to invite direct actions concerning a range of local issues to
form part of major days of action.  To date, organisers have often
established their tactics independent of local groups, and in the month or
two leading up to the big day, have engaged in outreach processes as a
means to 'recruit' their involvement.  In future, organisers at an earlier
stage could convene roundtable meetings of various local advocacy groups,
with the open question "how would a major day of protest need to unfold in
order to interest your participation?" ... while making explicit the
system-changing theme of the mobilisation and the need for diversity of
tactics.  Like other recent mass mobilisations, S26-29 was lacking the
involvement of people of colour, and to change this will require working
partnerships established at the beginning stages of the organising
process, with people of colour being true colleagues in the visioning and
planning of strategies and tactics.

A second challenge is for organisers to focus on building movements in the
process of organising large scale events.  A number of local activists did
not participate as fully as they could have in the organising of S26-29,
as the methods of organising appeared in part to be too much like the
current paradigm that they are trying to live their lives away from.
With respect to the Mobilization for Global Justice, some local activists
felt that meetings were artificially upbeat (feeling as though they were a
spectacle manufactured by the organisers rather than a co-creation that
everyone helped to shape), that consensus decision-making was not
thoroughly applied, and that those with previous experience in organising
mass mobilisations tended to hold a disproportionate amount of the
decision-making power.  Patriarchy was an issue within both main
organising groups.  While s26-29 produced remarkable results given the
level of police intimidation and post-s11 circumstances, for some the
organising spaces lacked opportunities for a diverse array of human
expression - laughter, dance, emotions and spirit - of which the
spontaneous expression is part of living the r/evolution in the current

Considerable love was weaved through S26-29 through the amazing work done
by the legal collective, medics and those responsible for setting up the
healing space.  And two relatively new initiatives demonstrated the
maturity of the movement in establishing systems of mutual care and
co-operative support: the Anti-Authoritarian Babysitters' Collective, and
systems put in place to prepare people, and to debrief them after the
events, for critical incidents and psychological trauma due to police
violence during the protests.  The challenge for us all is to take
responsibility to create these and other processes of cultural renewal in
the weeks and months leading up to the big day, through the spaces we
create to invite the diversity of humanity and earthliness in how we

A third challenge is to use mass mobilisations to bring together the
various threads of transformational change into a particular timespace, so
that people can see the connections between them.  Mass mobilisations are
typically organised around one or more of the following themes: to disrupt
the functioning of meetings of the institutions of corporate-led
globalisation (in which dignity-sapping decisions are made that destroy
human and other manifestations of life); to disrupt/dismantle the
operations of capitalism and other systems of oppression; to use symbolic
means (such as the twister game during S27 and the quarantine on the
following day) to expose the truth regarding the operations of these
institutions; and to provide inspirational experiences where people can
take back some of the power required for a more direct form of democracy
(whether this be through participation in horizontally-based affinity
groups or in directly confronting and withdrawing consent from the
guardians of corporate greed).

A possible evolution is to add an additional component that provides
actual, living alternatives to the capitalist system, as part of the
general timespace of the protests, in which people who do not see
themselves as protestors can participate in.  On the same day and in the
same city as (though not necessarily adjacent to) actions which unfold to
disrupt the actions of capital and corporate greed, a series of spaces can
be created that provide positive elements of an alternative and more just
world.  Barter markets can be established in small parks.  Neighbourhood
assemblies could meet in public, outdoor spaces focusing on local issues.
Food distributions could occur near major nodes of public transport to
make the plight of the homeless more visible.  Massage tables, healing
spaces and mini-workshops on do-it-yourself themes (e.g. vegan cooking,
clothes making) could be situated on the sidewalks to downtown corporate
areas, inviting workers to leave their offices and live life for the day.

Not only could this diversity attract a wider range of organisers and
participants to mass mobilisations, but it could also help connect the
need to dismantle the current system with the possible elements of what
could replace it.  With these positive elements spread throughout the city
... and being clearly linked to the more confrontative actions through
using similar banners, symbolism and literature ... people who never
directly see street blocking actions or who hold stereotypes based on the
fictions put out by corporate-owned media, can come to realise how vital
direct actions are in creating spaces for the positive elements of an
alternative world to flower.

An underlying message for participants in a barter market or neighbourhood
assembly would be that the main thing stopping these experiences from
happening more often - and on a wider scale - is the operation of the
corporate-led global economy and capitalism ... and that if we wish to turn
these fruitful seeds into something that builds a new society and more
dignified life for us and our children, we need the actions of the black
bloc and orange bloc and other protest groups to create spaces for this to
occur ... and that otherwise the business-as-usual operations of global
capitalism will continue to suffocate the life out of many of our attempts
to build local, decentralised alternatives.  Positive experiences of how
life could be, and a growing respect for actions that block life-destroying
institutions and processes, could be a consequence of such a mass
mobilization for the majority of people who do not consider themselves as
activists ... and who would ultimately be the main drivers or an
anti-capitalist r/evolution.

The current Argentinian example is a remarkable insight into the workings of
an evolutionary process that challenges capitalism.  While its successes
cannot be transported elsewhere in a wholesale fashion -
circumstances are somewhat different in nations like the United States
where large numbers of people do not feel as directly oppressed by the
system in a life and death way, and where there is not the same lack of
faith in the possibility of a federal government arising to serve the
needs of the people - many people are trying to make sense of what we can
learn from the inspiring events that are transpiring there.  In order to
move closer to the Argentinian example where a r/evolution is based on the
coming together of vastly diverse people in society - where, in a range of
public spaces and barter markets and deserted factories, pot-banging mothers
rub shoulders with masked-up activists and middle class computer programmers
and engineers - the middle and working classes in relatively affluent
societies like our own may need to live some of the elements of a
post-revolutionary society in the here-and-now.

Unlike Argentina, for most of us in relatively affluent societies,
capitalism is currently not threatening to starve our families in the
coming week, nor strip away almost every shred of dignity from our lives
(though it is doing so for significant numbers within these societies).
It is not currently threatening to make whatever money we have saved
unavailable to us through a locked-down banking system.  Although
capitalism and the corporate system is directly affecting our lives in
numerous ways, and progressively destroying the ecosystems on which we
depend, in the immediate future it is not making life intolerable for many
of us.

To excite a burning desire for change, we may need to live some moments of
how a better life could actually be for ourselves and for the planet ... and
to understand the importance of directly confronting the institutions of
corporate and capitalist power to evolve these moments into flowering
possibilities.  The next 'phase' of mass mobilisations against corporate-led
globalisation could be one means through which this work is done.

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