A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Català_ Deutsch_ Dutch_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ The.Supplement
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) Alt. media, Recovering the Power of the Global Grass Roots in the Antiwar Movement By Cindy Milstein (IAS)

From Uri Gordon <uri@riseup.net>
Date Thu, 13 Mar 2003 15:04:37 +0100 (CET)

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

> The global day of antiwar protests on February 15 was remarkable for several reasons. 
First and foremost, of course, was the fact that some 12
million people came out in over 600 cities spanning every
continent to express their outrage at a potential preemptive
strike on Iraq. So enormous and unprecedented were these
demonstrations that even the New York Times was forced to
admit, no doubt grudgingly, of ?a new power in the streets.?

Then too, the face of that new power defied categorization.
There was no single agent of social change, no
all-encompassing political ideology. It was difficult to
typecast dissent based on color, age, gender, class, and so
on. Those who rallied together on that Saturday in February
mirrored the rich diversity of humanity itself.

Most noteworthy of all, though, was the democratic impulse
that reemerged on this particular day of activism. In the
reactionary months since 9-11, especially in the United
States, resistance has been marked by a clampdown of its
own. The period of a transparent politics-from-below that
interlinked a multiplicity of uprisings from the Zapatistas
to Genoa in a global movement against capitalism seemed to
disappear with New York?s twin towers. Certainly, the
nonhierarchical forms of organization that defined the
?anti-globalization? movement lingered -- from consultas and
spokescouncils to a do-it-yourself infrastructure of media,
medics, and legal aid -- but now only among
anti-authoritarian leftists, who had introduced such utopian
notions in the first place. In the post-September 11 culture
of fear, liberal social justice activists and orthodox
Marxists alike raced away from the grassroots practices that
had become normative at the mass direct actions of the
recent past. 

Yet they didn?t run far. Here in the States, progressive and
Marxist-Leninist groups pushed full steam ahead with an
antiwar movement as if -- and this is pivotal -- there was
not and never had been an anti-globalization movement,
particularly one structured along egalitarian lines. One
could perhaps applaud them for their willingness to take
charge, relying on the belief that, ?well, somebody?s got to
do it.? How else could tens of thousands descend on
Washington, D.C. or New York City to hinder the present
military juggernaut without the single-minded, centralized
coordination of an A.N.S.W.E.R. (no matter how politically
despicable) or a United for Peace and Justice (no matter how
politically docile)? 

But that?s where F15 proved them wrong.

By making use of inclusive structures that allowed diverse
individuals to collectively reclaim social and political
space, the direct action wing of the anti-globalization
movement had forged a desire for self-organization. Whether
one identified with anarchists and other libertarian
radicals who espoused these prefigurative practices was
immaterial. It felt good to shake off the alienation of
everyday life and join together with others to actively
shape a better world, if only temporarily. Moreover, such
experiments in mutual aid and confederated direct democracy
seemed to point beyond themselves, toward forms of social
organization that could daily institutionalize freedom for
everyone. Even after the anti-capitalist movement?s promise
seemed to be eclipsed by a draconian ?war on terror? and a
top-down antiwar movement in response, the decentralist
sensibility was not forgotten. 

Which brings us back to F15. New York City was the
metropolis perhaps most symbolically crucial to the day the
world said no to war. The UN Security Council meetings in
Manhattan had taken on larger-than-life proportions as a
contest of wills between nation-states. The so-called terror
alert was upped to orange, or high, with New York
coincidentally named as a prime target that weekend. And on
the island watched over by the Statue of Liberty, no matter
how tarnished, NYC?s police department, with the later
backing of federal courts, would not sanction a permitted
march to express political dissent. If there was ever a time
for an activist group to seize the moral high ground and,
permission or no, announce a march route, February 15 was
definitely it. But United for Peace and Justice (UPJ) meekly
acquiesced to a relatively small legal rally spot.

In the void created by this failure of nerve, the eagerness
to organize from the bottom-up reappeared. Tens of thousands
of people were emboldened by the participatory praxis of the
seemingly bygone anti-capitalist movement. They formed
themselves into varied blocs intent on feeding into one big
unpermitted march. Unfortunately, because UPJ had dragged
its heels for so long in hopes the authorities would relent,
these autonomous contingents had only a few days to attempt
any sort of federation. And such short notice certainly
proved limiting. Given a bit more time, we could have
converged together from all corners of the city and brought
NYC to a near-standstill. But as it was, in the last couple
days before F15, almost hourly a new bloc would add its name
to the list (hosted, to its credit, on the UPJ website),
which eventually totaled 70 feeder marches: from the
Militant Moms Bloc, Housing and Green Space Feeder, and the
NYC People of Color Contingent, to the Educators Fee!
 der, Queer Anti-War Contingent, and Doctors, Nurses, and
Health Care Workers March. And these feeders did shutdown
dozens of streets for hours on F15, opening up space for
everything from free expression to work stoppages. 

Two such moments leap out. When demonstrators brought
stretches of Third Avenue to a halt, a U.S. Postal Service
truck (along with other vehicles) found itself unable to go
any farther. The driver got out and stood back as people
clambered to his van?s roof for an impromptu dance. Rather
than getting angry, however, he gladly enjoyed the
performance along with everyone else. Later, when groups of
protesters stopped to warm themselves at a chain
sandwich-and-coffee shop, they found a packed communal café
instead. The ?employees? brought vats of steamy soup out,
and they and the ?patrons? literally ate freely, while other
people passed out antiwar literature, pulled homemade
lunches from their backpacks, or engaged in political
dialogue while sprawled out on the floor.

Such instances of pleasure may seem trivial when compared to
the deadly seriousness of warfare, but they are part and
parcel of what we should be fighting for. Stepping back from
the micro-level of Manhattan to the macro-level of the
world, February 15 again revealed the strength of voluntary
cooperation in league with global solidarity, perhaps on the
largest scale yet in human history. Contrary to what those
bent on directing this antiwar movement would have us
believe, F15 proved that it is possible to utilize
grassroots organization and still be highly coordinated. It
is also a much more powerful form of opposition. For
starters, police and governments can easily block the
actions of  any one single organization, as happened time
and again with regard to UPJ?s plans in New York City. It is
much more difficult to hinder the activities of thousands of
independent yet interconnected groups. More significant,
though, F15 stands as persuasive testimony to the capacity
of huma!
 n beings to craft resistance of their own in concert with
differentiated others. This, in turn, offers a sliver of
what freedom might look like for us all.

It doesn?t, however, mean that war against Iraq will be
averted; nor that the U.S. government?s designs at
unilateralist, Christian fundamentalist control will be
rethought anytime soon. Sadly, even as I write, a full-out
attack looms likely within a week or so. And just as likely,
it will only be the first of many proactive aggressions in a
quest by the United States, but also others for global
domination. The power of F15 lay not in its ability to stop
war but in its potentiality to again make self-management
the norm for contemporary political struggles. Such a
commitment to nonhierarchical social transformation is
absolutely necessary to build an antiwar movement capable of
abolishing those structural relations (such as capitalism,
statecraft, and racism) that make war possible -- an antiwar
movement that models, if only partially, notions of the good
society in the process. Nowhere is this perhaps more
important right now than in the United States, where
principles such!
  as freedom are only trotted out by the government as the
flimsiest of covers for state terror at home and abroad.

This past fall in Washington, D.C., a day before the World
Bank/IMF protests, the police used preemptive tactics to
arrest almost five hundred people milling around a public
park near Freedom Plaza at a low-key ?drumbeats against war?
circle. After some thirty-plus hours of handcuffing, body
searches, fingerprinting by the FBI, little food and less
sleep, the traffic-ticket-equivalent charge of ?failure to
obey? was dropped. Despite the injustice of jailing those
deemed guilty before being proven innocent, the state?s
allegation should, to its everlasting dismay, be picked up
and worn as our movement?s badge of honor. 

The coming New World Disorder is already facing
delegitimation by those unwilling to blindly follow orders.
Such ethical acts of defiance include librarians refusing to
tell the government who?s checked out which books, soldiers
resisting the call to arms, and high school students
skipping classes on March 5 for a civic education of their
own. In the hard months ahead, principled noncompliance will
likely continue to escalate, becoming more broad-based as
well as creative. 

Yet this same ?failure to obey? shouldn?t just be reserved
for entities outside an antiwar movement, as F15 made clear.
Be it at the hands of social democratic NGOs or party-like
Marxist-Leninist groups, resistance too will not be
controlled from above. Indeed, we should deliberately expand
on the emancipatory practices of the anti-globalization
movement; we should self-consciously cultivate directly
democratic and confederated forms of organization as a basis
of unity that equally allows for diversity. A successful
antiwar movement will be one that openly disobeys
self-appointed authorities -- no matter who?s issuing the
* * *

Cindy (cbmilstein@yahoo.com) is a board member for the
Institute for Anarchist Studies, a faculty member at the
Institute for Social Ecology, and a member of the Free
Society Collective in Vermont. A writer for various
anti-authoritarian periodicals, her recent essays are
available in the online library at
www.social-ecology.org/learn/library/.  (March 2003)

       ****** The A-Infos News Service ******
      News about and of interest to anarchists
  COMMANDS: lists@ainfos.ca
  REPLIES: a-infos-d@ainfos.ca
  HELP: a-infos-org@ainfos.ca
  WWW: http://www.ainfos.ca/
  INFO: http://www.ainfos.ca/org

-To receive a-infos in one language only mail lists@ainfos.ca the message:
                unsubscribe a-infos
                subscribe a-infos-X
 where X = en, ca, de, fr, etc. (i.e. the language code)

A-Infos Information Center