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(en) US, BRINGING THE HEAT IN MIAMI: Last take on November 2003 F.T.A.A. Ministerial [EXCERPT]

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 25 Dec 2003 20:44:35 +0100 (CET)

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It was almost a miracle, not to mention a victory for our
movement, that the mobilization in Miami happened at all.
Miami was one of the most repressive police states North
America has ever witnessed; the $8.5 million security plan,
funded by federal anti-terrorism dollars, fortified an already
incredibly brutal police force. In the days leading up to the
event, paramilitary police stood guard on every downtown
corner, arresting anyone who looked like they might be a
protester. The media engaged in a smear campaign of lies and
slander about anarchists, lionizing the police force that was
to protect the city from these invading beasts. Plans for the
protest seemed to grow murkier rather than clearer as the
event approached. Many expected the worst.

Not to be deterred, anarchists entered a city with no
infrastructure for direct action and set one up in a mere few
weeks. The convergence and welcome centers, the legal,
medical, and food support, the independent media and art
spaces—these expressions of mutual aid, solidarity, and
gift economics were living examples of the world we are
fighting for. This infrastructure, pulled together in such a
short period of time, was comparable to analogous structures
that have taken months and even years to set up in cities that
regularly host mobilizations. Our ability to put down such
roots in the face of such repression is a moving example of
the strength of our movement.


On Thursday afternoon, as a mass of activists were beating a
spirited retreat from the police line to the sound of marching
drums and whistles, a legal observer turned to face his
comrades. “As your legal observer, I advise you
to…” he began, echoing the familiar words of many a
legal observer before him, “…pull shit into the middle of
the street and set it on fire!!” Cheering ensued all around.

This anecdote foregrounds a marked difference in our
movement today from the atmosphere of even three years
ago, when direct action tactics such as property destruction
were extremely controversial. Many of the liberals who
claimed we were going to wreck “their” movement
with our confrontational approaches are gone—they’ve
joined us or disappeared. And the new people who have
gotten involved have, in large part, done so because they are
attracted to the opportunity to confront power, rather than
merely beseech it.

The mainstream media kept referring to an elusive minority of
“bad” or “violent” protestors, the so-called
“self-described anarchists”—as if there was any
other kind! But make no mistake about it—besides the Root
Cause and union marches, Miami was largely an anarchist
mobilization. The entire infrastructure described above,
including the convergence center, planning framework, and
Indymedia coverage, was organized on decentralized
anarchist principles. Nearly everyone involved was indeed a
“self-described anarchist.” Even many of the N.G.O.
employees in Miami were closeted anarchists! And not only
that: people and press mobbed a forum in Lake Worth called
“A New World in Our Hearts,” to hear about anarchy
from anarchists themselves—and some of the attendees
were inspired to offer assistance, or even join the protests

This is not to say that we anarchists are not still struggling
with internal problems—with sensitivities to race, class,
and gender, for example, which groups like Anarchist People
of Color brought to the forefront. One manifestation of this
was discrimination against older people or people perceived,
especially by the security crew, to be “normal,” i.e.
from outside the anarchist community proper. In one episode
which almost beggars belief, a group of long-time anarchist
organizers who had dressed in civilian clothes to avoid police
attention were set upon by some other activists who
attempted to force them to give them their food! If we
dismiss, alienate, or immediately suspect people who look
and dress differently than the stereotypical black-hooded
anarchist, we will piss off our most valuable allies—and
many anarchists as well!

On the other hand, there were some remarkable bridges built
across demographic lines. One of the best examples of this
took place on Tuesday, November 18, when some anarchists
typically associated with the Black Bloc got together for a
ritual with the Pagan Cluster. Words cannot describe the
feelings of solidarity and love experienced by these two
groups, groups many would have written off as incompatible:
singing, dancing, drumming, raging, and continuing an alliance
built in the front-lines of earlier street battles, we wove a web
that knit our communities together to be stronger and more
inclusive. The black and gold bracelets that were shared that
night could be seen on many a wrist over the following days,
an uplifting affirmation of common cause and courage in the
face of adversity.


Presumably, one of the reasons the powers that be picked
Miami to host the negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the
Americas was the ostensible absence of an anarchist
community. All sorts of rumors went around in advance about
how the locals were all going to be hostile to us, would
perhaps even attack us. The discovery we made upon arriving
in Miami—that not everyone there is a pro-capitalist Cuban
refugee, that there are people everywhere who are suffering
under the heel of the corporate class and know it—should
be a reminder not to get carried away by our own alarmism in
the future. In countless experiences with locals, we received
heartfelt support and encouragement. Most people don’t
believe everything they see on television, nor do they
appreciate their neighborhoods being overrun by belligerent
police officers—nor do they believe corporate capitalism
offers us the best of all possible worlds.

The police and media spent months and millions spreading the
lie that small family-run businesses in downtown Miami
would be destroyed in an orgy of anarchist violence. In an
effort organized from the convergence center the week before
the days of action, many activists visited businesses with
letters of solidarity explaining anarchist ideas, the content of
the proposed F.T.A.A., and what to expect from the upcoming
demonstrations—not to recruit, but to give people an idea
of why the protests were taking place. Most welcomed these
activists with open arms, glad to hear what they had
suspected all along to be police hype dispelled by the
protesters themselves. One person working at a local
business said she had enough papers and letters from the
police on the upcoming protests to start a fire—and she
just might! In support, some shops even gave protestors free
food or offered their stores as havens to those wishing to
escape the police. Outreach efforts like these are powerful
direct actions themselves, not to mention examples of
successful acts of resistance in a city suffering such vicious
police occupation that just walking downtown put individuals
at risk of arrest.


Despite all the pressure and police intimidation tactics, or
perhaps even partly owing to the ambience they created,
there was an incredible energy among activists in Miami in
the days leading up to the F.T.A.A. ministerial. The
convergence space was buzzing with activity; spokescouncil
meetings were held every night to plan for the actions. The
spokescouncil meetings focused on a direct action framework
for what was to be the main day of action, Thursday,
November 20, as well as a jail solidarity plan, preparations for
smaller actions throughout the duration of the convergence,
and general logistics for the convergence space itself.

Arriving in Miami, everyone wanted to know what the direct
action plan was. As a large percentage of those participating
in the actions came from far away, much of the organizing
was done in a decentralized fashion. Consultas were held
regionally throughout the U.S.; affinity groups and clusters
made plans to implement when they arrived. In the months
leading up to the event, it really seemed like people were
coming with tight, organized plans to contribute to a larger
collective action. Early the preceding summer, the plan for a
Padded Bloc emerged, and organizers in Pittsburgh
announced that a large number of people equipped with armor
and shields would be ready to defend areas from police. This
plan didn’t actually materialize. Word of this plan helped
to build momentum as people prepared for the protests, but it
also spread the illusion that more people planned to attend
than actually did, and that people were more prepared then
they ended up being.

What happened in the end was far less organized than many
expected. In conference calls and a consulta in Gainesville, a
small working group was formed to plan a structure for direct
action. This group planned a very basic framework that relied
heavily on the independent planning of those who were to
participate in it; but it seemed that the plan was not clear
enough for many to know how to plug into it, even if they were
prepared to do so in the first place. A 7 a.m. gathering was
planned at Government Center a few blocks from the fence
surrounding the hotel where the summit was taking place. The
idea was that people would rally and then march towards the
fence to carry out actions to “bring down the fence and
shut down the F.T.A.A. meetings.”

In an attempt to placate the A.F.L.-C.I.O., there was an
agreement made at the spokescouncil meetings that the
direct action would stay clear of the intersection of Flagler
and Biscayne between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., the hours when the
union march was to take place. Some felt that this decision
was forced through without regard for the perspectives of
many activists. Flagler and Biscayne is the main intersection
in downtown Miami; it was the area outside the fence closest
to the F.T.A.A. meeting site, and it ended up being the only
place close to the fence that was accessible. This plan
disregarded the rules of thumb that have helped to make
direct action successful in the past: it meant that direct
action activists would be alone out on the streets, with no
permitted areas or safe zones to retreat to. Essentially,
agreeing to a separate time of day for direct action offered the
police a perfect excuse to brutalize and arrest everyone on
the streets of downtown Miami outside the hours of the
permitted march.

Naturally, this situation scared off many people who were
uncertain about participating in direct action; it also gave the
police a justification for picking people off before they got to
the action, or at least blocking them out. These
considerations may explain why the turnout for direct action
in Miami was so much lower than expected—in the end, it
was not so much the intimidation of the police as a lack of
concrete and convincing preparation on our part that
discouraged more people from joining in.

This submissiveness to the wishes of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.
hierarchy compromised the times and places of the direct
action while gaining little except empty words of
“solidarity” from the union officials. After months of
frustrating negotiations with them, representatives of the
A.F.L.-C.I.O. hierarchy were still being introduced as
“allies” by facilitators and certain others at
spokescouncil meetings. We anarchists can choose our own
allies, thank you very much; we should not unquestionably
accept such loaded terms as descriptions of organizations
that have done little in the past to warrant being called allies.
And, not surprisingly, while affinity groups of rank and file
union members did join the protesters in the streets, the
A.F.L.-C.I.O. hierarchy urged union members to flee the
protests into their buses as soon as their permitted march

Ultimately, this “direct action free” period during the
main hours of the protest reinforced separation between
members of unions and direct action activists, a separation
that must be destroyed for both our sakes. Yes, it is
important not to provoke unnecessary conflicts, but when
representatives of a hierarchical organization that has a
history of selling out workers’ struggles inform us that
the best way we direct action activists can show solidarity
with them is by not engaging in direct action… well, even if
a spokescouncil of anarchists decides to honor their request,
that shouldn’t prevent the rest of us from making up our
own minds about the issue responsibly, and being prepared to
do the organizing to make another approach possible if we
deem it worthwhile.


Despite all these factors, the protesters made the best of
their situation. At the last minute, a section of the Black Bloc
decided to meet at the Convergence Center, many blocks
away from the fence, where it was felt they could at least
marshal a whole bloc to defend themselves, and travel into
downtown side by side with puppeteers and foreign media for
safety; but the puppeteers with automobiles, and most of the
media, ended up driving to downtown, leaving them isolated
on foot. For a time, this bloc march had the advantage of
surprise, and it took a few minutes for the police to mobilize
to block their route; but after a scuffle the bloc was
contained, and attempted negotiations with the police only
resulted in the bloc being contained again and brutally
attacked with tasers and clubs. Ultimately, the group was
forced to disperse, and some were arrested.

The larger group of protesters met as planned in Government
Center at a peaceful rally, and then marched to the fence.
Once there, a single grappling hook was successfully thrown
and hooked on the “anarchist-proof” fence—and it
did wobble! But as the Padded Bloc didn’t end up coming
together, the police were able to attack an essentially
undefended crowd. They attacked mercilessly with
concussion grenades and rubber bullets, and charged peaceful
and dancing protesters with their clubs and batons, brutally
beating many. Heroic defenses were staged, bottles thrown,
but little could be done in the face of such overwhelming

A couple hours later, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. march took off. Many
protesters tried to join, but were stopped at first by the
A.F.L.-C.I.O. marshals, who only much later let the protesters
in. Even inside the march, some protesters were attacked by
police, and though steelworkers—not marshals!—came
to their rescue, a few were arrested. At the conclusion of the
march, new conflicts began with the police, that proved to be
some of the most dramatic and exciting of the day… yet
even then, the overwhelming force of the police ultimately
forced us to split apart and flee to safety. Protesters were
attacked by police wielding batons, tear gas and pepper spray
and other chemical agents, and rubber, wooden, and plastic
bullets. Over one hundred protestors were treated for injuries;
quite a few were hospitalized—one with a bits of a police
bullet in his head! Small groups leaving the protests were also
targeted by police.

As people regrouped themselves, it was clear that the protest
was neither a failure nor a success. It was far from a
victory—many of us were wounded and bleeding, others in
jail. The fence was not taken down and we had not had the
numbers or militancy that we had hoped for. But it was a
show of strength and courage that we assembled that day in
the heart of the world’s most well-defended police-state,
and survived.

WHAT DID WORK: Building Alliances, Putting Down Roots,
and Taking Aim

Outside the haze of tear gas and robo-cops wielding guns and
batons, there were many successful aspects of the Miami
mobilization against the F.T.A.A., and it’s important that
these efforts aren’t obscured by all the discussion of
police brutality. Here are a few:

-Free housing, free food, free legal and free medical support
was provided by and for thousands of people throughout the
mobilization. Talk about workable alternatives to capitalis

-The Green and Eco-Bloc set up a community garden in
Overtown, and distributed cherry trees throughout the
neighborhood as well as sharing gardening skills and other
resources that will be of lasting value.

-Hundreds of people participated in the Root Cause march,
which crossed the thirty four miles from Fort Lauderdale to
Miami, one mile for every country involved in the F.T.A.A.
discussions. The march connected important struggles in
South Florida to the F.T.A.A. and brought out the ways that
poor communities and people of color in the region are already
being affected by “free” trade. Many alliances were
built and strengthened between those who took part in this

-Six weeks before the F.T.A.A. ministerial, the anarchists in
the Lake Worth Global Justice Group organized the Free
Carnival Area of the Americas (F.C.A.A.) in Lake Worth,
Florida, about one hour north of Miami. The F.C.A.A. opened
a warehouse to provide space for puppet and art making,
planning meetings and workshops, and other preparations for
protests against the F.T.A.A. They put out a call for activists
to join them in this effort in the weeks before the F.T.A.A.
ministerial. The art and puppets were used in the Root Cause
march and the direct actions in Miami, and the activist
infrastructure in Lake Worth contributed in other crucial ways
to the mobilization. Many other inspiring and successful
events occurred under the umbrella of the Free Carnival Area
of the Americas, too.

-Both prior to the main days of action and after, anarchists in
South Florida organized three press conferences and public
forums. One of these events, entitled “A New World in
Our Hearts,” was held in Lake Worth a week before the
main days of action. It attracted large numbers of people from
the Lake Worth community and helped to get many involved
in organizing and playing other supportive roles, such as
providing much-needed housing for activists arriving from out
of town.

-A couple affinity groups working together compiled and
distributed packets including posters, wheatpaste, stickers,
annotated maps, and similar redecorating tools to dozens of
other groups and individuals. Several crews covered various
Miami neighborhoods with messages of resistance to the
F.T.A.A. in the nights before the main day of action. These
groups went entirely unnoticed by the police, and put up a
massive amount of posters and graffiti in neighborhoods
whose only source of information on the F.T.A.A. might
otherwise have been the corporate news media.

-Autonomous direct actions… One can guess that many
affinity groups organized covert actions in Miami that have
not been widely publicized. A communiqué on Indymedia
announced that multiple military recruiting centers had
suffered property destruction. Rumors have circulated about
other similar actions. The powers that be have made a point
of keeping silent about all such activities, of course, and from
this we can deduce that they regard them as a genuine threat
which must not be encouraged by any free publicity.

-“The Really Really Free Market” took place on the
day after the main actions. Hundreds participated in setting
up this working example of a gift economy in action. Groups
set up blankets and booths providing free stuff from food, art,
literature, and music to massages, new banner dropping
methods, funny hats, and healing circles. This action
highlighted our alternatives to “free” trade and
capitalism, and showed examples of how human beings can
provide for one another through mutual aid.


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