Virglen Co. on Tue, 11 Apr 2000 17:30:44 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Action Not Division

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Action Not Division: Some Thoughts on Tactics for A16
By Brian Dominick

It's 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 police.

To 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.
A 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.

While 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.

Keep 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.

Even 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.

Why 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 me...

At 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."
For 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.

But standing up to cops and resisting them by any means sensible, it would
seem, is pretty militant, and a realistic common denominator of acceptible
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

There 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

As 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.

If 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.

More 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 disobedience.

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.