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

From Chuck0 <chuck@mutualaid.org>
Date Thu, 25 Dec 2003 21:07:22 +0100 (CET)

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An Analysis of Direct Action at the November 2003 F.T.A.A. Ministerial
II. MIAMI SCORECARD: What we did, what we didn't do, what we learned…
Before we conclude, let's review some of the goals we have to choose
from whenever we engage in mass direct action:
a. costing our enemies money and otherwise interfering with their misdeeds
b. enjoying the liberating experience of taking on the powers that be and winning
c. revealing the capitalist state for what it is by provoking police repression
d. learning how to act and apply power in anti-authoritarian masses
e. communicating with "the world" through mass media
f. communicating with locals about the issues

All these goals were achieved in Seattle, when we had the element of
surprise on our side, and some of them were in Miami—though more of them
could have been, had we been better prepared for the approaches we
attempted, and augmented them with other tactics. Attacking the fence,
in the presence of such a police mobilization, was perfect for provoking
police repression, obviously; it was also moderately good for learning
how to act in anti-authoritarian masses, though the police presence
discouraged many from attending and interfered with our ability to work
together freely. We were able to attract some mass media coverage, for
those who value that, though it was mostly along the spectrum that runs
between “Murderous Anarchists Hope to Destroy City” and “Harmless
Protesters Brutalized by Police,” which at best only portrays us as
victims and frightens people away from future protests; the massive
police presence prevented us from doing anything that could have really
grabbed worldwide attention on the news, let alone invested others with
a sense of their own limitless power. The goal of interacting with
locals was achieved in part before and after the main demonstration by
those who took the time to go around and do so—though we can always
stand to do better there. Among other things, a more concerted,
extensive effort to get graffiti and posters up around the area would
have avoided the risks posed by police in the occupied zone, while
demonstrating our power and omnipresence and thus raising morale.

As for the goal of actually striking effectively against the powers that
be… considering the massive police presence around the fence, this would
have been better achieved by small groups operating outside the centers
of police occupation, targeting corporate property and infrastructures
efficiently and stealthily. Had such plans been widely deployed and
successful, they would have achieved many goals: they would have sent a
stern message to both Miami and the world that hosting such contemptible
events will result in great costs; they would have provided a new model
for others in the anti-capitalist movement to try out themselves, as the
older models become obsolete in the face of new police tactics; our
enemies would have to consider widening the areas and methods of police
surveillance next time, which would cost them more money, frustrate more
citizens, and generally add to their already acute overextension. The
drawback to such covert activity is that, unlike mass activity, it must
be invitation-only, and thus doesn’t lend itself to movement-building or
skill-sharing; the main reason to go to a mass action rather than
staying home blowing up banks is to have the opportunity to work with
many others in collective projects that anyone can join in. On the other
hand, many among us prefer the covert model as a matter of personal
taste, plenty of us know each other well enough to arrange such
activities together, and it’s no secret that some of our more
experienced folks didn’t participate in actions in Miami because the
overtly planned activities seemed suicidal and no covertly planned
activities seemed to be in the works.

So what did we need in Miami that we didn’t have? We should have had
more clandestine planning sessions, for one thing. Direct action should
not be planned like civil disobedience; in order for it to be safe, to
elicit the confidence it needs to succeed, and to be unpredictable
enough to stand a chance of working, it has to be arranged among
friends. No organizing any massive spokescouncil can do could compensate
for the lack of private initiative and planning, if affinity groups
don’t prepare effectively amongst themselves. More of us should have
been forthcoming with our own ideas: even those of us already known for
our resourcefulness often hesitate to come forward and actually organize
something, feeling that someone else must already be doing it or that it
must already be too late—but all too often it turns out that no one else
is working on the things we’d like to see happen, and we find out after
it really is too late that the ideas we’d had would have worked out
perfectly if only they had been tried. Frequently we end up doing at the
last minute what we should have had the confidence to do ahead of time.
If we’re going to have to organize groups and lay plans anyway, we might
as well get over our fear of doing these wrong and just go ahead and try.

Ultimately, if an effective resistance is to be mounted, all the forces
in a protest have to work together. This means everybody—from rank and
file workers, puppeteers, and black-clad anarchists, to dancing Pagans
and locals from Overton—everybody has to find a way to contribute to
what others are doing, to complement others’ projects without
obstructing or endangering them. The long, steady process of building
this cooperation can’t be bypassed by communicating with hierarchies. A
single representative from the management of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. is a poor
substitute for actual communication with union workers. No amount of
anti-racist workshops could possibly substitute for the experience of
interacting with people of different economic and racial backgrounds.
Many of the problems with the protest resulted from people’s
over-reliance on the spokescouncil to provide some master plan that
would magically coordinate the whole movement. Of course we need to
coordinate in order to work together, but that isn’t going to happen if
we sit around waiting for orders at a spokescouncil meeting. We can do
this inside and outside the spokescouncil meeting, months before
protest, in private as well as in more public meetings. Every affinity
group should come to town with a hundred secret plans to stop the
F.T.A.A. single handedly, as well as ideas they can share with other groups.

But, to repeat this once more, with the full brunt of the forces of the
terror war being brought to bear against us in Timoney’s Miami it was a
wonder, albeit a symbolic one, that a single grappling hook reached the
fence at all. If the more confrontational among us could have wrought
more havoc there, it would have done much to discredit the idea that a
militarized force of any size can succeed in dominating a decentralized,
flexible gathering of freedom-hungry people; all the same, what we did
just by being there at all was impressive and important—and maybe enough.

The difficult time we had in Miami is going to occasion much discussion
of tactics at future demonstrations, but perhaps that focus is
misplaced. Shutting down such meetings was always a symbolic goal,
remember, even when it was possible by such straightforward means. Now
that the government has to spend eight and a half million dollars every
time a ministerial takes place, and not only paralyze the city but also
terrorize its inhabitants, it might be that they’re doing our work for
us: the once-secret meetings are impossible to keep out of the public
eye, the “free” trade they concern is associated with massive police
repression and suspension of human rights, and there are more
opportunities than ever for us to bring up our alternative. All we have
to do is show up, cause them enough consternation that they’ll have to
make the same preparations for the next one, and get away without
unsustainable losses.

Let’s be realistic, anyway: although there are improvements we could
have made in our strategizing for mass activity in downtown Miami—we
could have gotten more militant people to the fence at once Thursday
morning, or turned the retreat from it that afternoon into a forward
march that was routed to pass by corporate targets, to name two
examples—there’s only so much we can accomplish under such intensive
surveillance and repression. But the fact that they had to spend over
eight million dollars to achieve this is a sign of their weakness, not
of their strength—they sure can’t do that everywhere, all the time. It’s
taken them four years since we won in Seattle to fully develop their
anti-Seattle security system, and by now we should be ready to move on
to the next unexpected line of attack. We’ve learned so much about mass
activity in the training ground these summits have provided us—now we
should take those lessons back to the unguarded environments in which
such tactics first thrived. Next time we succeed in coming together in
great numbers without the police state getting wind of it in advance,
it’s going to be spectacular. Let’s start focusing our energy on how to
get people together for mass action outside the context of international
trade meetings—let’s call our own days of action proactively, organize
surprise group activities in our own communities, even hijack crowded
events and turn them into mass actions. That’s the future: more
unanticipated covert activity at mass action demonstrations, more
unanticipated mass actions in other settings!

So what’s next? For starters, let’s not forget to support all the people
who were arrested in Miami, especially the ones with felony charges.
They need both emotional support and assistance with legal costs, and we
need to provide these in abundance so others will not be afraid to take
similar risks in the future. And above all, let’s not neglect the work
in our own communities that generates the social foundation from which
these efforts grow. Now is the time to start new infoshops, new outreach
programs, even new anarcho-punk bands. Let’s plan for the next massive
demonstration such as the G8 in Georgia this June, or the Republican
National Convention in New York City—just to be there to keep the heat
on them without killing ourselves or getting all of us in jail, to keep
them focused on protecting themselves from that angle so they won’t see
what’s coming at them from the other side… and perhaps, also, to try out
some new ideas, to show off how much more creative and powerful and
dangerous than them we are.

As the Black Bloc sang with the Pagans:

No Army can hold back a thought

No fence can chain the sea

The Earth won’t be sold or bought

All Life shall be free.

Postscript: One Activist’s Perspective on


The neighborhood closest to the main action was an African-American
ghetto, blasted and impoverished. Not everyone there was thrilled to
have us around at first; walking and riding around Overtown before the
demonstrations, we sometimes heard locals shout out taunts to the effect
of “let’s here it for free trade!” This didn’t seem to be an expression
of political or economic principles, but rather of resentment against
the predominantly white outsiders who were invading their space—it
probably hasn’t boded well in the past when a bunch of white folks
showed up in Overtown.

All the same, considering what we learned later about the misinformation
the police had spread there, the locals were really patient with us in
the days leading up to the action. After all the chaos was all over and
we had made some friends in the area, an older man wearing a black power
t-shirt confided in us that the police had put the word around Overtown
in advance that people there were encouraged to rob and beat up
activists—not only would the police turn a blind eye, but it might even
improve their relations with the community. Our friend explained that no
one there trusted the police, or followed their instructions. All the
same, given the bad impression of white folks in general that it’s safe
to suppose many in Overtown have, they were generous not to take
advantage of the opportunity to try to redistribute a little wealth.

Encouraging locals to assault activists was not the only way our enemies
rolled out the red carpet for us. The first time I walked through
Overtown, I was approached by a small crowd of children who asked me how
much I was getting paid. This was perplexing to me. I answered that as I
had been unemployed since 1994, I wasn’t getting paid anything. They
persisted in asking the question, until I finally answered that the last
time I was getting paid, I’d been getting five dollars an hour, under
the table. Satisfied, they went away; but I heard this question over and
over, and I soon figured out what it meant: the rumor had been spread
thoroughly that we protesters were being paid to protest. For folks who
live in dire poverty and have to deal with police harassment constantly,
it would make sense to conclude that white folks who presumably have an
easier time getting work and wouldn’t otherwise be on the receiving end
of so much police attention must be doing it for some financial
incentive; but the rumor was so widely disseminated that it couldn’t
have just been a hypothesis somebody came up with. In my opinion, it
must have been spread in advance as disinformation. It certainly made us
look less like crusaders for global justice and potential allies in the
struggle, that at first everyone who saw us thought we were there
gentrifying their neighborhood on salary.

All these strikes against us notwithstanding, the attitudes of Overtown
residents towards us changed dramatically as soon as we were in open
conflict with the police. As we retreated into Overtown ahead of the
police onslaught Thursday afternoon, everyone we passed cheered us
on—most people had come out onto the street to see what was going on,
and now that they saw we shared a common enemy with them, one who was
attacking us as if we were a real threat, they embraced us as friends.
Several people I briefly spoke with encouraged us to step up our level
of confrontation with the police—the implications were that if we could
escalate the conflict, they would join in. That makes sense—though they
have every reason to revolt, people who suffer poverty and constant
police repression already are not going to engage in an uprising unless
it looks like it is going to work. For a moment that afternoon, I could
imagine what would happen if we somehow were able to hold our ground
against the police and create a space for the residents of Overtown to
join in. That happened in Quebec—I remember a local throwing a snowball
at the riot police there a couple hours before all the locals joined in
showering the cops with projectiles, just as a man in Overtown was seen
throwing a football at the pigs in his neighborhood that afternoon—it
can happen anywhere people are angry, if resistance can reach critical mass.

Unfortunately, we were fleeing in disarray and desperation from the most
militarized police force North America has ever seen, in no condition
for touching off the sequel to the L.A. riots of 1992. The most we could
hope for was to get out of the situation without concussions or
handcuffing scars. Before we’d arrived at the inhabited areas of
Overtown, we’d been pulling dumpsters and other obstacles into the
street to slow the police advance; encouraged by the support we were
receiving, we decided to ask around how people on the street felt about
us doing that there. Everyone said they felt fine about it; two of us
began pushing another dumpster into the middle of the road.

At that point, out of nowhere, a large black man wearing a jacket with
an American flag on the back came charging up at us, screaming and
waving a two by four. I managed to get between him and my friends and
defuse things enough for all of us to get away with only superficial
injuries, but the important thing was that we had miscalculated our
place in the situation. Looking around at the people who had just given
us the go-ahead, I saw them shaking their heads at the guy who was
attacking us, but also withdrawing some of their unconditional
permission for us to be there fighting the police now that it was
causing internal strife in their community.

That experience was a reminder that although folks who are really
suffering under capitalism don’t have reason to trust us as allies until
we are actively challenging its power, we also have to be careful in the
process not to make things any more difficult for them than they are.
They didn’t mind the police chasing us into their neighborhood, by and
large—the police were going to be there anyway, and it was a relief that
they were there pursuing white folks for once, rather than locals; but
when our interactions with them resulted in drama among the residents,
that was a problem. It also drove home the point that you can’t consider
the opinions of any demographic in one bloc; everyone we’d talked to was
in favor of us making barricades, but that didn’t mean “the people of
Overtown” were in favor of it, it just meant certain ones were. Whenever
people of one background try to consider the perspectives of people from
another—especially when white activists do so, I’m afraid—it is all too
easy to summarize and oversimplify.

That episode passed quickly, but by then we were surrounded—police on
all the streets around us. We ran down an alley, only to see with dismay
that they had closed off the street ahead of us too. In a matter of
seconds, a full line of police cars blocked every street around us from
corner to corner, and police on foot were arresting every activist in
range. We hunkered down in the alley, trying quixotically to hide
between the scattered weeds at the foot of a chain-link fence, a
veritable lightshow of blue and red reflecting off the brick wall facing
us. A helicopter swooped low overhead. It seemed it was all over.

At this moment, just as we were trying most desperately to will
ourselves invisible, a couple local kids came into the alley and walked
up to us, hands in their sweatshirt pockets as if they were pretending
to hold guns with which to rob us. They quickly abandoned this
half-hearted charade, however, and started asking us questions about
what we were doing. At first, of course, we had to explain that we
weren’t being paid to protest—something that I’m sure was becoming
clearer by the second anyway. Then we explained—succinctly, and not
without a little impatience lest our new friends’ presence attract the
attention of our riot-armored foes—what we were doing there, and asked
their advice as to how we could extricate ourselves from the situation.
There wasn’t much they could tell us—being completely surrounded in
foreign territory by thousands of armored police whose specific goal is
to beat and incarcerate you is a toughie however you look at it.
Eventually they wished us luck and moved on.

We spent a tense hour and a half in that alley, waiting for the sun to
go down and the police lines to break up so we could make a dash for
safety. Long after darkness had fallen, the lights were still flashing
all around us, and police still marching past both mouths of the alley,
and the helicopter was still overhead, now scanning the alley with its
spotlight. Those were some tense minutes for all of us—except the member
of our party who had spent an entire sleepless week volunteering at the
convergence center, who actually took advantage of the situation to nod
off for a while! The only explanation I can come up with for why they
never came into the alley to arrest us is that, for the whole duration
of the protests, the police never moved in groups of fewer than thirty,
and in that “dangerous” neighborhood they feared to break up their
numbers to pick off stragglers. I recount this story here in case it may
be useful to others trying to escape under similar circumstances one
day—heaven help us, such circumstances are getting more and more common.

Finally the police forces moved on, and we made our way out onto the
street two at a time, without any incriminating material, in the cutest
boy-girl couples we were able to throw together (these work for getting
through police lines, I swear—hold hands, look deep into each other’s
eyes a lot, focus on seeming harmless—earlier that day a companion and I
had penetrated the police defenses as far as the front door of the hotel
hosting the ministerial, thanks to our lovebirds masquerade). There we
found locals waiting to guide us to safety, freely telling us where the
police lines were now and offering to lead us down the safest routes.
Trapped inside police lines, fearing almost for our lives, nothing could
have been sweeter mercy than this. Thanks in no small part to their
help; we arrived back safe at the convergence center an hour later,
grateful to be free and alive.

Our guides, of course, inquired if we had any money, and we penniless
anti-capitalists scrounged in our pockets to see if there was any
leftover subway change to share. I emphasized to one of them that there
was no price that could be placed on such assistance, and she let me
know she would have done it for free, needless to say, as she wanted the
same things we wanted. All the same, the situation—basically paying a
native guide to lead us out of a dangerous situation, as if we were in
wartime Morocco or something—was a reminder of how much economic
inequality there still is even between people on the outside of the
capitalist system. What I’d give to live to see a day when the means she
has access to and the means I have access to are no different, to never
have to wonder again to what extent I’m being regarded as a potential
source of income rather than a fellow human being!

That’s what we’re fighting for, when we contest our enemies’ free trade
conventions and economic power in general. Next time we need to make it
clearer to locals in advance what we’re trying to do, so we won’t have
quite as much misinformation and misunderstandings to cut through to
find common ground. If we can get a full-scale anarchist insurrection
going in any city in this empire, there are millions who will join in,
who need it even worse than we do—but we have to work towards this
conscientiously, with an acute awareness of the challenges other
communities face, and in constant dialogue as to what our role in the
larger struggle should be.

I’ll conclude with the letter some friends distributed in Overtown after
the demonstrations were over. Good for them—let’s see more of that!

An open letter to the residents of Overtown from some F.T.A.A. protestors:

Thank You Very Much!

Over the last week there were times when anti-F.T.A.A. protestors were
pushed into Overtown by the police. We want people to know:

1) We had no intention to bring any heat into your neighborhood. In
fact, many of us talked about the need to not do that.

2) We very much appreciate all the help and moral support we received
from hundreds of residents.

3) We understand that the police brutality we experienced is just a
small slice of what poor people of color deal with everyday. We
recognize this system is racist. We are dedicated to smashing racism and
the system behind it.

4) We oppose the F.T.A.A. because it is an attempt by the rich to exert
even more control over all of our lives. It is also the continuation of
the colonial relationships that have been enslaving, killing and
stealing land for over 500 years.

5) We know there are a lot more problems than the F.T.A.A. We are
against the entire greedy corporate-military-police-war machine that
oppresses life. We are for community empowerment, self-determination,
justice and total liberation. ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

For more info on:



Alternative media:


(especially www.ftaaimc.org)



For free posters unmasking free trade for what it is, other radical
material and literature, or to find common cause to overthrow the state
and all other forms of domination, please contact us: CrimethInc.
Protesters-for-Hire, P.O. Box 2133, Greensboro, NC 27402 USA

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