Action Not Division: Some Thoughts on Tactics for A16
unfortunate that so little progress has been made, in the wake of last fall's
Seattle/WTO actions, on the front of bridging a perceived chasm between
practicing "pure nonviolence" and "property destruction" as
appropriate tactics for massive demonstrations. On the one hand, perhaps more
people than ever are advocating property destruction as a viable and sensible
tactic, often to the extent of denouncing as liberals and otherwise
ridiculing those who oppose or at least refuse to advocate it. And on the other
extreme, some of those who argue against property destruction as a tactic are
focusing more energy on opposing "trashers" than on opposing the
some extent, each side is right. Property destruction, in the form of wonton
window smashing, is not an appropriate tactic for demos like N30 and the
upcoming A16, for a host of reasons I'll delve into in a moment. But direct and
indirect intervention in cases of property destruction is also unacceptable as
an activity in the streets.
group of people calling themselves "Keep the Peace" is upset because
the leadership of the "Mobilization for Global Justice" (the main
group organizing actions for April 16 and 17) have announced that "Any
affinity group organizing 'peacekeepers' in the traditional sense for the A16
direct action component is disregarding the consensus of the mobilization."
This has been taken as something of a threat by some, particularly the
above-mentioned Keep the Peace contingent, which is organizing autonomous
affinity groups, in part to operate as "peacekeepers" during the
direct action and civil disobedience portions of the A16 events. Keep the Peace
claims autonomous groups should have the prerogative to intervene when other
activists get out of hand.
the position quoted from the A16 organizers' statement seems to have an awful
lot of vehement dissent for a "consensus," it was ostensibly arrived
at through a desire to preserve a diversity and tolerance of tactics during the
more militant parts of the actions. The position sounds very dictatorial as the
stance of organizers, and it does seem to leave affinity groups and individuals
the option of carrying out actions with harmful effects on other parties. But it
is also probably the most sensible approach, all options considered.
the Peace, as represented by an anarchist named Carol from DC, is concerned
about "protect[ing] demonstrators from outside agitators and disruptive
passerbys [sic] during the civil disobedience." Carol later clarified that
by "outside agitators" she is actually referring to black bloc
participants and others who may engage in property. I can't think of a more
devisive term by which to refer to folks who will be, as they were in Seattle,
integral to the success of A16 as organizers and as militant activists prepared
to erect barricades and assist in civil disobedience. I have become familiar
over the years with black bloc organizers, and while we may disagree on one
particular tactic, it is without hesitation that I insist many are among the
most dedicated and capable activists and organizers I've ever known. Dismissing
them as "outside agitators" essentially guarantees that no
understanding will be achieved between self-proclaimed peacekeepers and those
who might smash retail store windows at actions.
more disturbing on a practical level, by omission in her statement and later
responses to my queries, Carol's group is not outwardly concerned about
protecting demonstrators from the police. Their focus is on others who share
their goals and common struggle, not on the agents of state and corporate power
who will be bent on thwarting any and all militant tactics used against their
masters on April 16 and 17. The target of our resistance should be those who
oppose our cause, not those who disagree about how to pursue it.
don't folks who feel disposed to act as "peacekeepers" of any kind
commit themselves to less divisive activities? Medics are sorely needed, and
will be thoroughly and gladly trained in the days leading up to A16. Affinity
groups who wish to keep the peace could also help contain, divert or return tear
gas canisters or protect protestors from gasses and plastic bullets, or unarrest
activists who have been captured by cops. The possibilities which might be
presented by law enforcement are rather limitless -- why anyone should focus on
resisting other protestors' actions, at risk of inflaming conflicts, is beyond
the same time, although I don't accept the moral reasons some opponents of
property destruction argue against attacking inanimate objects as a tactic, I do
wish those who are riled up to start trashing downtown DC would be a bit more
thoughtful. Morality aside, there are a number of reasons it makes no sense, or
is in fact counter-productive, to attack storefront windows and the like as
"fragile symbols of multinational capital."
starters, at a time when our movement needs to grow, engaging in tactics which
turn huge numbers of people off to our cause (right or wrong!) only hurts us.
The main argument against this concern is that, understandably, many of the most
oppressed are not turned on by giant puppets or privileged white students
getting arrested intentionally. Instead, some want to see or participate in more
active, militant forms of resistance.
standing up to cops and resisting them by any means sensible, it would seem, is
pretty militant, and a realistic common denominator of acceptable behavior among
a broad range of people in our society. Just about anyone can break a window and
run; it isn't impressive, but cowardly. Only a strong and well-organized social
movement can resist thousands of police officers in riot gear. By working
together on common objectives -- but not otherwise -- we can achieve the primary
goals of the day, which should be disrupting the World Bank/IMF meetings and
propagating a coherent statement of "Enough is enough!"
are also some rarely-mentioned questions regarding who suffers most when a
Starbucks or McDonald's gets attacked. It certainly isn't the franchise owner or
the corporation, insured to the hilt for such activity (or just plain not
affected by such a brief, trickling drain from their financial pool). Instead,
it is the people who work there, mostly young people and the elderly, for
minimum wage or barely above, unable to miss a single day's work.
corporate headquarters and government buildings are usually left unscathed by
black bloc participants who later brag about having shut down stores on which
people rely for livelihood, and in the case of McDonald's and many other
restaurant chains, convenience for working families. How can self-proclaimed
anarchists justify destroying places that provide for people's basic necessities
before we have constructed viable alternatives? Destroying without building is
severely counterproductive. When people are otherwise fed and employed, we can
tear it all down. But not before.
to the issue of attracting media attention, often cited by people who claim
Seattle wouldn't have been covered as much as it was by the mainstream news
outlets had there not been serious vandalism, I'd like to ask on what planet
such people were watching television November 30, 1999. The "additional
coverage" by mainstream media was so blatantly biased and inaccurate, it
can't possibly have served to inform people about the WTO or our movement
against corporate globalization. Ironically, Keep the Peace, in their argument
against property damage, reprinted a disgustingly inaccurate tirade from the NY
Times about events in Seattle (12/2/99). Each side of this debate seems to have
a very limited understanding of the situation.
you don't think the networks and major dailies would have covered Seattle had
protestors not broken Starbucks' windows, think again. The police started
rioting, firing tear gas and plastic bullets, herding and arresting
demonstrators and onlookers en masse -- of course there would be coverage. There
was substantial coverage before the property destruction even began! And without
giving the media a bullshit excuse to latch onto in order to rationalize
atrocious police behavior, the coverage would have drawn sympathy and admiration
from far, far more people throughout North America.
useful than attacking inanimate objects which pose no immediate threat to the
day's actions, it would seem sensible for black bloc type affinity groups to
engage in diverting police attention from those aggressively or passively
engaged in trying to shut down the streets and the meetings. Moreover, such
affinity groups could engage in all manner of offensive actions to penetrate
police lines, spontaneously construct barricades where needed, and so forth.
Remaining focused on that goal -- which many black block activists began the day
with on N30 in Seattle but were themselves diverted from -- would go a long way
toward ensuring the sustainability of protest, and the success of civil
But short of heeding any of these practical suggestions, I hope people on all sides of this debate will learn to respect one another's opinions and preferences without physically interfering in each other's activities. Our adversary's favorite tactic is to divide and conquer -- why would we want to achieve that goal for them?
Brian will be in Washington, DC on April 16 & 17, with his affinity group, On the Ground. He will be operating as a field medic.