Patrice Riemens on Tue, 21 Dec 1999 21:10:54 +0100 (CET)

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nettime-nl: Participant getuigenis uit Seattle/WTO dagen

Weliswaar in het engels, maar te goed om te missen (nmbm)
(sorry voor X-posting...)


How We Really Shut Down the WTO

 by Starhawk

 It's been two weeks now since the morning when I awoke before dawn to join the 
blockade that shut down the opening meeting of the WTO. Since getting out of 
jail, I've been reading the media coverage and trying to make sense out of the 
divergence between what I know happened and what has been reported. 

 For once in a political protest, when we chanted "The whole world is watching!" 
we were telling the truth. I've never seen so much media attention on a 
political action. However, most of what has been written is so inaccurate that I 
can't decide if the reporters in question should be charged with conspiracy or 
simply incompetence. The reports have pontificated endlessly about a few broken 
windows, and mostly ignored the Direct Action Network, the group that 
successfully organized the nonviolent direct action that ultimately involved 
thousands of people. The true story of what made the action a success is not 
being told. 

 The police, in defending their brutal and stupid mishandling of the situation, 
have said they were "not prepared for the violence." In reality, they were 
unprepared for the nonviolence and the numbers and commitment of the nonviolent 
activists-- even though the blockade was organized in open, public meetings and 
there was nothing secret about our strategy. My suspicion is that our model of 
organization and decision making was so foreign to their picture of what 
constitutes leadership that they literally could not see what was going on in 
front of them. When authoritarians think about leadership, the picture in their 
minds is of one person, usually a guy, or a small group standing up and telling 
other people what to do. Power is centralized and requires obedience. 

 In contrast, our model of power was decentralized, and leadership was invested 
in the group as a whole. People were empowered to make their own decisions, and 
the centralized structures were for co-ordination, not control. As a result, we 
had great flexibility and resilience, and many people were inspired to acts of 
courage they could never have been ordered to do. 

 Here are some of the key aspects of our model of organizing: 

 Training and Preparation: 

 In the weeks and days before the bockade, thousands of people were given 
nonviolence training-- a three hour course that combined the history and 
philosophy of nonviolence with real life practice through role plays in staying 
calm in tense situations, using nonviolent tactics, responding to brutality, and 
making decisions together. Thousands also went through a second-level training 
in jail preparation, solidarity strategies and tactics and legal aspects. As 
well, there were first aid trainings, trainings in blockade tactics, street 
theater, meeting facilitation, and other skills. While many more thousands of 
people took part in the blockade who had not attended any of these trainings, a 
nucleus of groups existed who were prepared to face police brutality and who 
could provide a core of resistance and strength. And in jail, I saw many 
situations that played out just like the role plays. Activists were able to 
protect members of their group from being singled out or removed by using 
tactics introduced in the trainings. The solidarity tactics we had prepared 
became a real block to the functioning of the system. 

 Common Agreements: 

 Each participant in the action was asked to agree to the nonviolence 
guidelines: To refrain from violence, physical or verbal; not to carry weapons, 
not to bring or use illegal drugs or alchohol, and not to destroy property. We 
were asked to agree only for the purpose of the 11/30 action--not to sign on to 
any of these as a life philosophy, and the group acknowledged that there is much 
diversity of opinion around some of these guidelines. 

 Affinity Groups, Clusters and Spokescouncils: 

 The participants in the action were organized into small groups called Affinity 
Groups. Each group was empowered to make its own decisions around how it would 
participate in the blockade. There were groups doing street theater, others 
preparing to lock themselves to structures, groups with banners and giant 
puppets, others simply prepared to link arms and nonviolently block delegates. 
Within each group, there were generally some people prepared to risk arrest and 
others who would be their support people in jail, as well as a first aid person. 

 Affinity groups were organized into clusters. The area around the Convention 
Center was broken down into thirteen sections, and affinity groups and clusters 
committed to hold particular sections. As well, some groups were 'flying 
groups'-- free to move to wherever they were most needed. All of this was co-
ordinated at Spokescouncil meetings, where Affinity Groups each sent a 
representative who was empowered to speak for the group. 

 In practice, this form of organization meant that groups could move and react 
with great flexibility during the blockade. If a call went out for more people 
at a certain location, an affinity group could assess the numbers holding the 
line where they were and choose whether or not to move. When faced with tear 
gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and horses, groups and individuals could 
assess their own ability to withstand the brutality. As a result, blockade lines 
held in the face of incredible police violence. When one group of people was 
finally swept away by gas and clubs, another would move in to take their place. 
Yet there was also room for those of us in the middle-aged, bad lungs/bad backs 
affinity group to hold lines in areas that were relatively peaceful, to interact 
and dialogue with the delegates we turned back, and to support the labor march 
that brought tens of thousands through the area at midday. No centralized leader 
could have co-ordinated the scene in the midst of the chaos, and none was 
needed-- the organic, autonomous organization we had proved far more powerful 
and effective. No authoritarian figure could have compelled people to hold a 
blockade line while being tear gassed--but empowered people free to make their 
own decisions did choose to do that. 

 Consensus decision making: 

 The affinity groups, clusters, spokescouncils and working groups involved with 
DAN made decisions by consensus-- a process that allows every voice to be heard 
and that stresses respect for minority opinions. Consensus was part of the 
nonviolence and jail trainings and we made a small attempt to also offer some 
special training in meeting facilitation. We did not interpret consensus to mean 
unanimity. The only mandatory agreement was to act within the nonviolent 
guidelines. Beyond that, the DAN organizers set a tone that valued autonomy and 
freedom over conformity, and stressed co-ordination rather than pressure to 
conform. So, for example, our jail solidarity stategy involved staying in jail 
where we could use the pressure of our numbers to protect individuals from being 
singled out for heavier charges or more brutal treatment. But no one was 
pressured to stay in jail, or made to feel guilty for bailing out before the 
others. We recognized that each person has their own needs and life situation, 
and that what was important was to have taken action at whatever level we each 
could. Had we pressured people to stay in jail, many would have resisted and 
felt resentful and misused. Because we didn't, because people felt empowered, 
not manipulated, the vast majority decided for themselves to remain in, and many 
people pushed themselves far beyond the boundaries of what they had expected to 
  Vision and Spirit: 

 The action included art, dance, celebration, song, ritual and magic. It was 
more than a protest; it was an uprising of a vision of true abundance, a 
celebration of life and creativity and connection, that remained joyful in the 
face of brutality and brought alive the creative forces that can truly counter 
those of injustice and control. Many people brought the strength of their 
personal spiritual practice to the action. I saw Buddhists turn away angry 
delegates with loving kindness. We Witches led rituals before the action and in 
jail, and called on the elements of nature to sustain us. I was given Reiki when 
sick and we celebrated Hanukah with no candles, but only the blessings and the 
story of the struggle for religious freedom. We found the spirit to sing in our 
cells, to dance a spiral dance in the holding cell, to laugh at the hundred 
petty humiliations the jail inflicts, to comfort each other and listen to each 
other in tense moments, to use our time together to continue teaching and 
organizing and envisioning the flourishing of this movement. For me, it was one 
of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. 

 I'm writing this for two reasons. First, I want to give credit to the DAN 
organizers who did a brilliant and difficult job, who learned and applied the 
lessons of the last twenty years of nonviolent direct action, and who created a 
powerful, successful and life-changing action in the face of enormous odds, an 
action that has changed the global political landscape and radicalized a new 
generation. And secondly, because the true story of how this action was 
organized provides a powerful model that activists can learn from. Seattle was 
only a beginning. We have before us the task of building a global movement to 
overthrow corporate control and create a new economy based on fairness and 
justice, on a sound ecology and a healthy environment, one that protects human 
rights and serves freedom. We have many campaigns ahead of us, and we deserve to 
learn the true lessons of our successes. 

  This letter available online at: (Please feel free to forward this 
and post it or reprint it. You don't need to ask my permission although I'd be 
happy to know where it ends up. I'd appreciate it if you'd include a link to the 
Reclaiming website, where my personal website can also be found: http:// . Please also include also the following note.) 


 The Direct Action Network needs your help to cover expenses and legal fees 
which are still mounting up. Any donations will be appreciated. Please show your 
support! Checks can be made to Cascadia Art and Revolution and sent to DAN at 
Direct Action Network, PO Box 95113, Seattle, WA 98145. 

 Thanks and blessings, 


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