An anarchist analysis of the RNC 2004 protests
An anarchist analysis by a faction of the infamous CrimethInc collective of the events of the RNC 2004, focusing on the organizing and direct action aspects of the protests and what it means for the future of direct action in the United States.
by Alexander Trocchi, CrimethInc. International News Agent Provocateur
The Republican National Convention was the ultimate slight to New York: those who made careers and a quick buck off the September 11th events returned to feast like vultures on the corpses of the dead, attempting to rally support for a failing war and a disastrous regime by parading around near the site of Ground Zero. As one might suspect, there were going to be protests, courtesy of an amalgamation of New Yorkers and out-of-town protesters, direct action anarchists and anti-war pacifists, community groups and Marxist sects. The question of the hour was: Were the protests going to bring the house of cards down?
The answer is no, they didn’t, but there were signs that this will be possible - and soon. The RNC 2004 protests showed that resistance is possible in this country quickly sliding towards old-fashioned homeland fascism: a vast multitude of people are getting ready to roll against the corporate aristocracy that runs this country. And many in New York are willing put their bodies on the line against the regime.
To understand the historic importance of this protest, one must know a little of its genealogy. The RNC 2000 protest in Philadelphia was the first major failure of the anti-globalization movement, a movement that had seemed unstoppable after Seattle, and its long shadow hung over the minds of many of us as we prepared for the 2004 RNC. The failure in Philly was primarily a failure of imagination and organization: the organizers attempted to repeat a “shut-down the city” protest - complete with blockades, a risky proposition on the East Coast where those skills are less common than on the West Coast - without sufficient numbers. Heavy-handed police tactics succeeded in thwarting this strategy, setting a precedent for militarized repression that culminated in the so-called “Miami Model” during the protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas ministerial in 2003. Ever since the RNC 2000 protests, anarchists have whispered about decentralized action as an alternative to badly-planned centralized action.
Before September 11th, the anti-globalization movement was becoming increasingly anarchist in orientation, pursuing increasingly militant tactics in the streets and developing a sophisticated analysis of global capitalism. After September 11th, the anti-globalization movement let the traditional authoritarian Left, such as the Marxist-Leninist ANSWER or their more liberal counterparts in UFPJ, seize control of the anti-war movement. These groups discouraged actual direct action, while occasionally borrowing the rhetoric of confrontation from more militant groups. Soon, these elitist organizers had set the movement back to marching around in circles. While many did their best - as massive direct actions from San Francisco to New York on the eve of the Iraq war showed - to put their bodies on the line to halt the war machine, the authoritarian Left did all it could to divert energy away from genuine resistance. As any veteran of the anti-war movement of the Sixties could have foreseen, mere marches could not and did not stop the war. All the same, the vast networks, such as Indymedia, created by the militant anti-globalization movement became vital to the anti-war movement.the networks and influence of the anarchist underground were continuing to spread.
Popular hatred against the government, particularly as symbolized by its leading figurehead George W. Bush, was at an all-time high. Kids were coming home in bodybags from a war based on lies, the economy was in shambles, and the government was obviously run by a self-interested rich elite. This was a socially volatile situation to say the least. Unlike at the 2000 RNC, there were going to be massive numbers of protesters, and it appeared people were finally fed up enough to do something more than march in circles. The gambit was that the spirit and tactics of Seattle could merge with the massive numbers of the anti-war movement: combined, they would be unstoppable.
A year in advance, the website www.rncnotwelcome.org had been set up to coordinate these protests. Although anarchists were often caricatured as an alienated balaclava-clad minority, in reality they were the backbone of the organizing around the RNC. The main group that handled legal at the RNC was the explicitly anarchist People’s Law Collective, with the help of the National Lawyer’s Guild. The noRNC Clearinghouse meetings were started by anarchists, and these meetings enabled a wide variety of groups to plan for the protests. Anarchists organized housing, put up posters, and, with their usual humility, did much of the dirty work, without bothering to tell the world of their political affiliations.
In New York City, during the months preceding the RNC, Republicans not only lacked support but were openly hated. For example, while I was eating a falafel in Queens, the chef came out and gave me a flyer for the anti-RNC protests, telling me to be there. I assured him I was going to be. Later, I observed a well-dressed, evidently Republican young man tearing down anti-RNC posters. He was caught red-handed in the act by myself and a New Yorker, and with the approval bystanders, was quickly scared into running away. One local actually grabbed the poster and put it back up.
New York is the essence of the city taken to its almost illogical conclusion: miles and miles of skyscrapers and concrete, so large that it is always teetering on the edge of collapse, with only 40,000 cops standing between capitalism and chaos. Among its massive numbers, there is a wide range of groups that have been excluded, marginalized, and exploited: everyone from old Puerto Rican men working in community gardens in the Bronx to radical lesbian biker performance artists. This diversity in turn makes New York one of the most explosive and exciting places for radical politics. Yet New York is also large enough to be home to some of the most retrograde elements in North American radical politics: ridiculous Leninist cults such as the Revolutionary Communist Party, liberal activist superstars, and continual infighting. This makes planning a centralized protest almost impossible - there are simply too many variables to take into account, and even anarchists have trouble getting along together. But if one thing could draw people together, it was the common outrage against the Republicans.
Decentralization Beyond the Point of No Return
The noRNC Clearinghouse meetings were crucial for creating the infrastructure needed, opening a non-denominational space in which everyone from United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) to Shutdown NYC could get together to coordinate, make announcements, and connect to others. As the RNC drew closer, the noRNC Clearinghouse meetings had so many participants that it took hours just for all the groups to proclaim their plans. Instead of becoming a spokescouncil for the entire protest, the clearinghouse transformed itself into the noRNC bazaar. The bazaar was a far cry from a consensus meeting; groups set up tables and solicited people to join their actions. There was a spokescouncil for the A31 Direct Action on Tuesday, but this spokescouncil only dealt with that day.s actions, not the protest as a whole. Much to everyone’s surprise, St. Marks Church wasn’t set up explicitly as a convergence center, although that space functioned as an informal hang-out and meeting spot. Initiatives such as the Anarchist World’s Fair encouraged anarchists to come early, and events ranging from the academic “Life After Capitalism” to the down and dirty “Really Really Free Market” heightened the energy in the air. The RNC was a grand experiment: everything was completely decentralized. As the communique delivered by the NYC Anarchist Grapevine said, “We should all finally face it - there is no Big Plan.” Just show up and see what was going down, or organize something yourself.that was the zeitgeist. Beautiful maps of New York City featuring multi-racial kissing pirates, subway stops, and corporate targets were provided a la carte.
As the dates of the RNC drew nearer, some were getting butterflies in their collective stomachs about this lack of concrete action plans. One advantage of openly decentralizing the action plans was that many groups creatively called for autonomous actions: the “Mouse Bloc” and “Chaos on Broadway” call to interrupt the delegates as they watched Broadway shows, the humorous “Man in Black Bloc” call to reclaim Johnny Cash from the Republicans, and a host of increasingly surreal calls like the “Viking Bloc” were all examples of this. While this decentralized model opened space for autonomous action, it was unclear if the maturity and vision to plan even a single fully realized, effective decentralized action existed anywhere. The lack of a central spokescouncil prevented incompetent groups from taking control and instead invested faith in the people themselves, which is an inherently anarchist strategy for success; however, the fact of the matter was that while many were empowered, many coming in from out of town were bewildered. Most had neither the experience nor the time to organize their own direct actions or even navigate New York City properly. This enabled authoritarian groups that organize behind closed doors to take center stage with their plans to march everyone aimlessly around - you guessed it - in circles.
Predictably, they called for a large permitted march to go right by the Republican National Convention’s location at Madison Square Garden. The march was to take place on Sunday, before the Convention even began, in order to maximize turnout and minimize possible conflict with the State. As one right wing website put it, “If this is the best the Revolution has to offer, the Establishment is safe.” Monday was reserved for not only one, but two, three, many Poor People’s Marches. Then out of nowhere, a group of West Coast activists parachuted in with the help of the usual suspects.the activists known during the RNC 2000 debacle as the Direct Action Network.to plan massive nonviolent civil disobedience in New York on Tuesday, hoping to repeat a success like the anti-war demonstrations in San Francisco.
The unprecedented decentralization of the RNC protests was perhaps the only way to organize in the chaos that is New York City, yet it left protesters with a schedule of events curiously similar to the Philly 2000 RNC protests. In fact, the schedule was almost exactly the same, down to the very days of the week. As experience has shown us consistently, anyone who suggests that protesters should divide their forces over a few days, with each day being reserved for one special type of protest, is a danger to all. Such a strategy always pans out in this way: on the first day of protest, usually a Sunday, there is a big march of a supposedly broad-based coalition, and the limits of this march are controlled by a small hierarchical group. Since these liberal and Marxist groups usually are well-funded, they can bring in bus-loads of people to march with them; they generally use the opportunity to hand-out mass-produced signs, sell newspapers, and bore people senseless with an endless array of carefully selected speakers. Most people leave town immediately after the big march is over. The next day, often a Monday, the various poor people’s marches begin, usually being mostly local people of color groups. Since poor people are inherently more dangerous to the State than liberals marching around in circles, they get hassled or attacked by the police. Anarchists support both of these marches and join in them, creating infrastructure and support work often for both. On the last day of action - a Tuesday - people interested in direct action are finally permitted to take the reigns, but in complete isolation. They take to the streets by themselves and, having announcing their plans all over the Internet, are quickly arrested and brutalized by the police. Now that many of us have experienced this way of scheduling protests several times, it’s hard not to see it as a sign of either sub-human intelligence or collaboration with the State - but in this aspect the protests against the RNC 2004 appeared to ape those against the RNC 2000.
After Seattle, everyone agreed that we couldn’t repeat that particular model, as the element of surprise was gone. However, while we have lost the element of surprise in massive demonstrations, the other crucial element of Seattle that can and should be repeated is synchronicity. The combination of well-coordinated organized lock-downs, massive and festive demonstrations that provided support for direct actions, and decentralized autonomous actions like squat take-overs and Black Blocs, all at the same time, is what made the Seattle protests impossible for the police to control. Whenever any of these elements is isolated, it will most likely fail. Our power lies in the ability of diverse groups to coordinate, each offering its strengths in mutually beneficial relationships with other groups that may be completely different in ideology and tactics. This is the true strength of any network-based anti-authoritarian movement. To declare a return to staid leftist marching under a unified banner as one faceless mass, or to proclaim that “militant Black Blocs” or “non-violent civil disobedience” is the one true tactical way forward.both of these approaches are ridiculous and potentially detrimental to what potential we have. Anarchists should set the stage, then do whatever it is they do best in conjunction with everyone else, all at the same time. It’s a simple recipe, yet it’s never really been repeated in the United States on a large scale since the IMF/World Bank protests in 2000.
Many anarchists organizing for the RNC were veterans of Seattle and other successful anti-globalization protests, and were hoping that the RNC protests would follow such a model. Yet UFPJ, lest their good names be tarred with the taint of actual direct action, did their best so keep their march separate from the direct action and civil disobedience. In the vain hope that we could somehow make an alliance with them, many anarchists did not openly confront UFPJ. In reality, old-fashioned Leftist groups like the UFPJ leadership are taking advantage of all the hard work of the anarchists and then throwing them into the jaws of the State. Since many Marxist-Leninists and liberals, as well as the frightening “anarcho-liberals,” are career activists, they don’t actually want to change things - if they did, they’d be out of a job - so they naturally avoided any real disruption of the RNC.
Fortunately, anarchists and others who were more interested in action sent out calls for direct actions. These included a giant critical mass organized by Time’s Up, a unified direct action and direct democracy “Don’t Just Vote Take Action” contingent in the UFPJ march, a “Mouse Bloc” to personally confront the delegates Sunday night, and the A31 call to - shut down the RNC - on Tuesday. The possibility that the massive numbers of the anti-war movement would join in with the direct action tactics of the anti-globalization movement was negated by the scheduling of events. However, despite the best attempts of the police, media, and liberals to demoralize and divide the protesters, including a few “radicals” like Todd Gitlin humorously showing their true colors by saying any protest would just play into the hands of the Republicans, it was clear that something big was going to happen.
Things were heating up, and even UFPJ’s rhetoric took a turn to direct action as they were prevented from going to Central Park and instead forced to turn around and go to Union Square. Although the war of words over which symbolic goal would be reached was a bit humorous, Mayor Bloomberg and the powers that be were getting scared. In an act of high comedy, the City began offering discounts at shops and museums to protesters who signed an agreement to be peaceful. Obviously the mayor hoped to obscure the fact that many of the protesters were there primarily to act against capitalism. Had the Queen offered to give Boston Tea Party protesters some Nestea coupons in return for a promise of pacifism, would we still be swearing “God Save the Queen”? The media proclaimed that “Anarchy Inc.” was going to take down the city. In a special “leak” from the police, the media revealed fifty of the country’s leading anarchists, each with fifty loyal followers willing to sacrifice themselves for their leader (?!), were being trailed by individually assigned goon squads. Obviously, all the money in the newfound massive intelligence budgets of the NYPD and FBI can.t make up for their fundamental lack of human intelligence. Virtually no anarchists any of us know were actually trailed, except for those who have appeared on major television channels in the last few years as “anarchist” media spokespeople. We all know those people are not involved in direct action in reality, due to the nature of their roles as media spokespeople.
In an effort to help turn the tide of fear, a media event was held entitled “Are You an Anarchist? The Answer May Surprise You.” The participants ranged from the preacher Father Frank Morales of St. Mark.s Place to Kazembe Balagoon, author of “Queering the X: James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and the Third World.” As Warcry reminded the media, the real violence is never caused by the demonstrators, but the capitalist system, which is busy destroying the foundations upon which all of life rests. Since neither candidate is in favor of abolishing capitalism, no matter who wins the election, we all lose. Starhawk ended the session by reminding the media that the President personally condones violence as our official foreign policy, which puts a few streets clogged by sit-downs and the possibility of a broken window into perspective.
The Protest that Never Sleeps
The protests began in earnest on Thursday with an upbeat touch, as the RNC2DNC march arrived from the Democratic National Convention in Boston wearing Zapatista masks, breaking the law to bring the message of the Lacandon jungle home against the impressive backdrop of New York City’s glass-plated skyscrapers.
Time’s Up! had been busy repairing bikes for weeks before the RNC. Their work set the stage for the great role bicycles played throughout the entire protest. On Friday night, the largest Critical Mass in NYC history seized the street in defiance of the terrifying environmental costs of this oil-driven civilization. Over five thousand bikers of all stripes and colors seized the streets for two hours, fouling up traffic in Manhattan and generally humiliating the police, who have never been able to control Critical Mass in NYC.
As things wound down, the Critical Mass returned to St. Mark’s Church, and the cops attacked, targeting random bikers, breaking bones, and arresting anyone who tried to prevent them from doing so. In one telling moment, a few cops walked into the middle of St. Mark’s Church and arrested someone, even when they were surrounded by hundreds of protesters who could have stopped them. Still, for the most part the bikers managed to evade this repression and accomplish their goals. It was clear the battle was on, and the NYPD were playing for keeps. Instead of using the high-tech weaponry favored by police at Miami, the NYPD were going to rely on old-fashioned clubs, numbers, and beatdowns.
On Sunday, the UFPJ march slowly but surely gathered in the streets. Earlier, when the permit for the rally in Central Park had been denied, there had been rumors that people were going to try to march to Central Park anyway, regardless of what the UFPJ leadership said. While on many levels both possible destinations for the march were merely symbolic goals, marching to Central Park would have placed the march going right through Broadway around the time the Mouse Bloc was to confront the RNC delegates as they attended musicals. The feeling among local anarchists was that a giant Black Bloc at the march would have caused police to single us out for attack - in retrospect that might not have been the case, or even have been a bad thing if it had happened, but at the time anarchists from out of town took the advise of the locals seriously. To provide an alternative, the Don’t Just Vote Get Active campaign called for a “Unified Direct Democracy and Direct Action” contingent to deliver “a radical message to what otherwise might be a reformist event.” Gathering the Rhythm Workers Union and the Infernal Noise Brigade, the Pagans and the Greens, colorful hippies and black-clad anarcho-punks, pink-clad musicians and radical cheerleaders; this amalgamation grew into one of the largest and most festive contingents in the entire march.
A huge Green Dragon of Self-Determination led the entire contingent, taking up almost an entire block. A small group of people with strange signs urging people to “disassemble the totality of power,” holding black umbrellas to hide themselves from the ever-present cameras filming on the tops of buildings, gathered behind the dragon. Others danced in front of the dragon, and the march seemed to be riding a crest of sheer joy as it approached Madison Square Garden, where the convention was to be held. At this juncture, right in front of the convention center, the sound system of the dragon finally ran out of batteries. In this opening, the Pagans began their inspiring Spiral Dance, and then, as Starhawk of the pagan cluster wrote, she felt “some powerful earth energy, a kind of raw life force that pulsed and thundered and rose up into a great, focused cone of power. Someone told me to look behind, and in the relatively empty space between us and the line of cops at 34th St., the dragon was burning.” The Green Dragon had burst into flames. Police retreated behind their barricades, and then gathered forces and began arresting people at random. A spontaneous Black Bloc appeared, defending themselves from the attacking police by throwing bottles as the flames raged behind them.
To this day, no one knows exactly why the Green Dragon went up in smoke. I was dancing relatively near it and have no idea if it was a malfunction, a Pagan spell, an undercover Black Bloc using the Green Dragon as a Trojan Horse, or just some random act of madness. Regardless, in this downright surreal course of events, it became clear to me as the crowd fought back against the police assault that at least some people were bored of marching around aimlessly in circles and wanted to take militant direct action against the powers of the State. At one point, the cops even retreated from the crowd.
We should be very careful about saying that anything is caused by “police provocateurs,” unless there is solid evidence. I remember groups like Ya Basta! floating the same accusations around Genoa against the Black Bloc. It’s always easy for protest organizers to call “police provocateurs” those militants who refuse to be corralled into their “organized” plans. While the burning dragon on strictly rational grounds made little sense except as a visceral manifestation of discontent, there was something fitting about a giant bonfire being set only a few yards from the castle of the self-proclaimed rulers of the world. If only the fire was on the inside!
Unfortunately, the march turned dead around instead of forcing its way to Central Park. UFPJ marshals told the marchers to try to make their way to Central Park individually, in what could only feel like an anti-climax. Many anarchists and other angry citizens who weren’t already at Broadway went there to participate in the “Chaos on Broadway” and “Mouse Bloc” actions. This is where another phase in direct action began, one that fit almost perfectly the personality of New York City: small groups followed Republican delegates around New York and made their lives a living hell by being as rude as possible to them. On Broadway, I was greeted by an amazing sight: hundreds of protesters gathering in both large clumps and small clusters, undercover cops everywhere but seemingly unable to do anything, hundreds of ordinary tourists wandering about, and the cops generally losing control of the situation. As I walked out of the subway, I heard a girl scream as she fell, nearly wrapped in this strange orange mesh the cops were using to attempt to corral people, literally knocked off her feet by a cop.
Generally, the rule seemed to be that groups of protesters who were wearing bandannas, holding up anti-Bush banners, or dressing in even more black than is usual in New York City, were targeted by the police and arrested as soon as they attempted to do anything even mildly illegal. The police even arrested the participants in a giant kiss-in. One can almost hear the officer saying, “We can’t have those queers kissing in public, it’s a threat to public order!” However, many protesters were dressed for the occasion, easily blending into the constant stream of tourists on Broadway. The cops were unable to arrest everybody, as the Republicans, protesters, and unsuspecting people passing by were mixed together. The protesters appeared as if by magic just where the Republicans were, as the Republicans could be easily identified by their blue tuxedos and red badges, as well as their pasty all-white faces and the gleam of greed and religious fundamentalism in their eyes.
The organizational backbone of the whole event was the text messaging txtmob.org set up the Institute for Applied Autonomy. A network is only as powerful as its communications. Tactical information about the location of the police and the Republican delegates was sent out to hundreds of small groups of protesters, who used the information to gather and disperse quickly. It was the second coming of smart mobs, a fading trend given new life by a political objective.
One of my friends nearly caused a delegate to choke him in anger by remarking how he would love to engage in homoerotic acts with said delegate. As the delegate removed his chokehold from my friend’s neck, my friend calmly stared him in the eyes and told him that “Your entire cock could fit inside my mouth.” At that moment, the delegate’s small mind cracked and he just lost whatever sanity he had left. Further down, a small bloc of anarchists terrified Republicans by blocking them with a black banner and chanting that “Right-wing scum, your time has come!” It was definitely not a pleasant night out on the town for the would-be masters of the universe. The arrogance of the Republican delegates was shocking: most of them didn’t even have security or bodyguards. I walked right up to one of them who looked like John McCain and told him he would wish that the Vietnamese had finished him off after what we Americans were going to do to him because of Iraq. I hope I had the right senator! Regardless, everywhere the delegates went there were both peace signs and fingers in the air, and the promise of “RNC Not Welcome” fulfilled itself, lasting hours until the cops finally managed to arrest several hundred people and the remaining protesters left tired but smiling.
On Monday, the several Poor People’s Marches took place. I showed up at the Kensington Welfare Rights March to help a friend of mine manage a large “Boxing Bush” puppet, a life-sized effigy of Bush made especially for people to punch - the perfect puppet for inciting rowdy behavior in a crowd. I noticed a strange dynamic, as white middle-class activists told me to “stop causing trouble” and put our puppet away. While a white liberal told me I was distracting the gathered poor people from listening to yet another speaker, lots of people, especially kids, had a hell of a fun time punching the living daylights out of Bush. I wondered how the previous night’s events would have gone had we had some more of these people on the streets with us to hassle the Republicans. When the march finally got going, the true class war began, as police put on their riot gear. The cops were absolutely idiotic and reckless, harassing and arresting people just for dual crimes of marching and being poor. At another poor people’s march the police claim that an African-American protester gave an undercover a boot in the jaw. Quick point to remember: if the cops claim you assaulted a police officer and your face is on television, do not march around the next day in broad daylight. The police nabbed this man the next day. He’s the kind of guy we need to maintain solidarity with, even if he isn’t a card-carrying member of Anarchy Inc.
The direct action plans for Tuesday originated as some strange plan for a coordinated primal scream. When I went to one of the planning spokescouncil meetings, they were passing around a flower to denote who was given the floor to speak. While I understand there are cultural differences between the East and West Coast, I somehow had difficulty imagining actual New Yorkers in that meeting. Still, when the day of action on Tuesday actually took place, it was impressive. Using the same text-messaging techniques employed successfully in the Broadway actions, large masses of people attempted to block intersections and hassle delegates, bringing large parts of Manhattan to a standstill. The police responded by arresting as many people as they could, as quickly as possible, with little regard to what they were actually doing or if any laws were being broken. At one point cops surrounded me and a friend with the dreaded orange netting. The orange netting was more of a psychological barrier than a physical one: riled up crowds sometimes broke through it. However, most of the crowd I was with didn’t even seem to notice that they were about to be mass-arrested. I walked calmly up to a cop, stared him straight in the eye, and said “You are not arresting me. I’m not a protester. Let me go.” The Jedi mind trick worked, and the cop meekly opened up the orange netting to let me and my friend out. Reports kept flooding in that people were sitting in the streets blocking traffic, and groups like the True Security Cluster did in fact seize a block occasionally.
While the police were arresting people, things were getting out of hand. Some members of my affinity group managed to find themselves face to face with Barbara Bush and George Bush Sr., but the Secret Service arrived before we could effectively confront the former President. Meanwhile, one member of the People’s Law Collective went outside their office for a smoke break, and was pleasantly shocked to see piles of burning trash along Madison Avenue!
There’s a Song Beneath the Concrete
If anything, the RNC protests showed that domestic dissent is alive and well in the United States in the face of the creeping fascism of the Bush regime. This happened against overwhelming odds, and broke a spell of several years of bad luck. It had seemed that the anti-globalization was movement was in retreat since September 11th, unable to adapt its tactics and strategies to the new era of perpetual war and heavy repression. The large anti-globalization summit-protests seemed to be faltering and the anti-war protests ineffectual, with the harrowing nightmare of Miami was still fresh in many people’s minds. In the face of such odds, the RNC protests were a powerful showing of a popular uprising. They stole the media spotlight from the Republicans. The amount of new groups, new faces, and new alliances was overwhelming. Anarchist politics and culture have been kept alive, and a whole new generation is ready to commit their lives to the battle between people and power.
This is a cultural triumph, since just five years ago at Seattle many anarchists felt purposefully excluded for their “too radical” political beliefs. Not only that, but anarchists are hip! A school-teacher friend of mine ran into kids in Queens who were debating the pros and cons of CrimethInc.’s “Evasion” and “Off the Map.” Besides being easily pigeon-holed into the doddering Black Bloc tradition, anarchists of all kinds, from the Radical Reference librarians to the squatters helping out Casa del Sol, were present everywhere. On every level, the direct action movement has shifted toward anarchist decentralized network models of organizing and action. The use of mobile phone technology to communicate tactical information via texting was put to great use. Dressing normally allowed anarchists to infiltrate Republican events.
This was not a pro-Democrat protest: almost everyone I talked to there hated the Republicans but realized that the Democrats did not offer a real alternative. There was almost no pro-Kerry sentiment in evidence, and most protesters claimed that the entire system was bankrupt. More and more people are being drawn to an increasingly radical analysis of capitalism, from MTA workers to veterans back from Iraq. In the words of one paper anarchists distributed at the RNC, “It’s not Just Bush, It’s the System”!
Why did anarchists let hierarchical groups like UFPJ direct events like the Sunday march from behind closed doors, when it was clear that those were the main body of the protests? Like it or not, if we truly believe that decisions should be open, democratic, and available to all, we can’t back down on that stance on the grounds that we need to make some sort of tactical alliance with liberals and crypto-leninists. Since it was anarchists who were doing much if not most of the actual work for the protests, we were in a position to tell UFPJ that they needed to open up their process and operate by at least a consensus-based spokescouncil; this might even have provoked a coup from within their grassroots membership, which is continually irritated at the sheer lack of backbone of their leadership. Often spokescouncils are just platforms for authoritarian cliques, yet as a forum a spokescouncil is better than none at all. After all, where else do we go to announce we are going to disagree with the plan, propose better plans, and meet our friends from out of town?
The authoritarian Left is not our friends: if anything, they are holding back the power of people everywhere to take action. We need to stop pandering to union hierarchies and washed-up Marxists. We can provide spaces for people to take as much action as they feel comfortable with, such as the Green, Yellow, and Red Zones did in the Quebec City anti-FTAA protests. We can build alliances with groups that matter like the poor people of the Bronx who fight against the system for survival everyday. Let’s not tolerate a conscious return to outdated tactics and organizing, even from those of supposedly “anarchist” backgrounds who backslide into retrograde Leninist and liberal behavior, as Chomksy did in pleading with people to vote for Kerry. Let’s keep up the prison support - Banno is still up on trumped-up felony charges for the burning puppet incident, and a movement is only as strong as its prisoner support is.
One more concern is worth voicing - the attrition rate in our community. We anarchists are the most experienced wing of the direct action movement. The generation that gave us Seattle was built up out of nearly a decade of largely unsung valuable work within groups such as Earth First! and Anti-Racist Action - but where is the Seattle generation now? Far too many experienced anarchists have gone into early retirement, which is both ludicrous and pompous since the situation has only gotten more oppressive since September 11th, not less, and most of the world does not have the luxury to retire to a comfortable life-style of dumpster-diving, gardening, or writing theory. We have to be in the front lines until the day we die or win, spreading our collective knowledge so we can finally have a multi-generational movement of resistance in the United States.
As anarchists, it’s not our job to lead by giving commands. We lead by being an inspiring example, and the RNC was an example. We need more heroic examples to show that resistance is possible. The vast majority of people are so caught up within this system of oppression and despair that they cannot imagine another way of life. We can show it is possible by building gardens in abandoned parking lots, by not letting police brutality go unpunished, by fighting police in the streets whenever their masters come to town. We need to show that the Republicans, the G8, the Empire - call it what you will - doesn’t rule the world, but that the power to reshape the world lies in their own hands. It is these demonstrations, in which people realize their own strength and apply it, that keep us inspired and still fighting. The liberals and the remnants of the old Left falsely posit themselves as “representatives” of the people in order to constrain the possible choices and actions of the people. This makes them functionally, if not ideologically, complicit with the forces of the state. We anarchists seek not to represent the people, for we know people can only represent themselves. If someone truly does not want to riot, if they truly want to march around in circles, we respect that choice. Still, judging from the numbers of people who were interested in taking action at the RNC, there is clear evidence this tendency towards action is back and growing. Even if the RNC protests seemed like only a small step, these are the small steps of an awakening giant.
Where are the mysterious anarchists? You’ll find the mythical and dreaded anarchists, both facing off the cops in the streets and building infrastructure, working their fingers to the bone and risking it all for the greatest of stakes: freedom. We’re not superheroes, but ordinary people, dirty and tired, weary yet still smiling, toiling away at mind-numbing drudgery and acting with unbelievable heroism for the dignity of life. We all have the courage we need within us. We can feel it in our bones and in the soil. As Aresh and the folks working in the community gardens in the Bronx know all too well, the soil is still rich and fertile beneath the concrete skyscrapers of New York. All that is required is that we have the courage to break open the concrete. And in New York, I could almost hear the concrete breaking.