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Anarkids & Hypocrites

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  • Dan Clore
    From the Progressive (www.progressive.org): Anarkids and Hypocrites by Barbara Ehrenreich In retrospect, it looks like a case of false advertising. Posters for
    Message 1 of 2 , May 31, 2000
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      From the Progressive (www.progressive.org):

      Anarkids and Hypocrites

      by Barbara Ehrenreich

      In retrospect, it looks like a case of false
      advertising. Posters for the April 16 anti-IMF
      actions in Washington, D.C., promised a
      "nonviolent demonstration." But what actually
      happened was that thousands of demonstrators were
      tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, and/or beaten with
      police batons.

      The Midnight Special Legal Collective, which
      provided legal support for the demonstrators,
      reports that one protester had three ribs broken
      during his arrest. Another was beaten bloody, then
      tossed into a paddy wagon with the instruction
      that he be driven around for a few hours before
      being taken to a hospital. In jail, hundreds of
      protesters were denied food or water for twenty-
      four hours, leading in at least one case to a
      severe hypoglycemic reaction. According to the
      legal collective:

      "One group of men was taken into a basement, put
      into a cage, and told by a U.S. marshal, 'There
      are no cameras here. We can do whatever we want.'
      Anyone who looked up while the marshal was speaking
      was punched in the face. People were being released
      from prison in the middle of a cold, rainy night,
      without jackets, shoes, in some cases without
      shirts, and without any money to take a bus or cab
      anywhere--all had been taken from them by officials."

      If this is nonviolence, you'd be better off taking
      up extreme boxing.

      The anti-IMF posters were, of course, promising that
      the demonstrators themselves would behave in a
      nonviolent fashion, but nonviolence on one side is,
      at least in theory, connected to nonviolence on the
      other. If the protesters are civil and predictable in
      their actions, then, it is generally hoped and
      believed, the police will be moved to emulate them.
      And if the police should fall short of perfect
      nonviolence, then--the reasoning goes--the poor,
      martyred, demonstrators will at least have the moral
      upper hand. Hence, in no small part, the excessive
      reaction by organizers of the Seattle anti-WTO
      protests to the black-clad anarchists who threw rocks
      through the windows of NikeTown, Starbucks, the Gap,
      and a few other chain stores last November.

      No humans were harmed in the rock-throwing incidents--
      the stores were closed at the time. Yet anti-WTO
      organizers from the Direct Action Network reacted as
      if their protest had been taken over by a band of
      Hell's Angels. Instead of treating the young rock-
      throwers like sisters and brothers in the struggle--
      wrongheaded, perhaps, but undeniably enthusiastic--
      protest organizers swept up the broken glass. They
      hinted that the perpetrators were agents provocateurs
      paid by the police. Some proudly assert--though I
      cannot confirm this--that Direct Action Network folks
      helped finger the rock-throwers for the police.

      Will somebody please call Hypocrisy Watch? The same
      people who administered a public spanking to the
      anarkids featured, as one of the anti-WTO's honored
      guests, one José Bové, the French farmer who famously
      torched a McDonald's. The double standard for what
      counts as "violence" was never explained.

      Seattle organizers also fretted that the anarkids'
      actions would upset the unions, although no union
      leaders issued a peep of complaint. It would have
      been odd if they had, since America has one of the
      most violent labor histories of any industrialized
      nation in the world, and not every little bit of that
      violence was perpetrated by the Pinkertons. Nor did
      the rock-throwing demonstrably "ruin" the Seattle
      protests in the eyes of the public. In fact, it
      probably doubled the media attention, with most press
      accounts carefully distinguishing between the 50,000
      rock-less protesters and the twenty or so window-

      And it would be interesting to know how many of the
      anarkid-bashers ever took the time to denounce the
      riot that swept Los Angeles just after the Rodney King
      verdict in 1990. Yes, I said "riot"--including attacks
      on people as well as property, much of it belonging to
      merely middle class, mostly Korean American, citizens.
      But the oh-so-politically-correct, whose numbers no
      doubt include some of today's self-righteously
      nonviolent protesters, prefer to call that an

      The events in Seattle and D.C. are in many obvious ways
      enormously heartening, but they also illustrate how
      absurdly ritualized leftwing protests have become, at
      least on the side of the protesters. Once, back in the
      now prehistoric sixties, a group would call for a
      demonstration, with or without a police permit, and
      the faithful would simply show up. If you were fortunate
      or fleet of foot, you got away unscathed. Otherwise--
      well, everyone knew there were risks to challenging the
      power of the state.

      Sometime in the early 1980s, demonstration organizers
      started getting smarter--or, you might say, more
      scientific and controlling--about the process of
      demonstrating. In the anti-nuclear power and anti-war
      movements of the day, they carefully segregated
      protesters who wished to be arrested from those who
      did not and insisted that the potential arrestees be
      organized into "affinity groups" that had been trained
      for hours or even days in the technology of "nonviolent
      civil disobedience." It made sense at the time. Affinity
      groups provided a basis for consensual decision-making
      among large numbers of people. The training--in linking
      arms, going limp, and "jail solidarity"--helped assure
      minimal bodily harm to the arrestees. Besides, everything
      gets professionalized sooner or later: Why not the

      But there are problems with the new liturgy of protest.
      For one thing, not everyone has a master's degree in
      nonviolent civil disobedience, and many potential
      protesters, even quite militant ones, would be put off
      by the counter-cultural atmosphere of the trainings. I
      can remember almost being turned away from an
      anti-nuclear action in 1982 until one of my companions
      had the wit to lie and claim that we had indeed gone
      through extensive training.

      Then there is the numbingly ritual quality of the
      actions: Protesters sit down in a spot prearranged
      with the police, protesters get carried off by the police
      and booked, protesters get released. Sometimes safely
      ritualized protests can be effective, as when, in March
      1999, almost 1,200 people--including dignitaries like
      former New York City Mayor David Dinkins--got themselves
      arrested to protest the shooting of Amadou Diallo. But
      even one of the organizers of that protest, longtime
      activist Leslie Cagan, points out the irony in the
      protesters' harmonious relationship with the very police
      force whose homicidal behavior they were protesting.

      Worst of all, nonviolence on the part of protesters does
      not guarantee nonviolent behavior on the part of the
      police. In Seattle, as well as in D.C., many protesters
      were rewarded for their civility with pepper spray,
      beatings, and gas. These are not crossing guards we are
      up against, but some of the most highly militarized
      police in the world. In a few decades, they have moved
      from terrorizing communities of color to deploying
      torture as a tactic against anyone, of any color, who
      steps out of line: starving detainees in D.C., rubbing
      pepper spray in the eyes of anti-logging protesters in
      California, confining prisoners to potentially lethal
      restraint chairs, as Anne-Marie Cusac reported two
      months ago in this magazine.

      Clearly the left, broadly speaking, has come to a
      creative impasse. We need to invent some new forms of
      demonstrating that minimize the danger while maximizing
      the possibilities for individual self-expression (sea
      turtle costumes, songs, dancing, and general
      playfulness). We need ways of protesting that are
      accessible to the uninitiated, untrained, nonvegan
      population as well as to the seasoned veteran. We need
      to figure out how to capture public attention while, as
      often as possible, directly accomplishing some not-
      entirely-symbolic purpose, such as gumming up a WTO
      meeting or, for that matter, slowing down latté sales
      at a Starbucks.

      Rock-throwing doesn't exactly fit these criteria, nor
      did the old come-as-you-are demos of the sixties. But
      neither do the elaborately choreo-graphed rituals known
      as "nonviolent" civil disobedience. The people at Direct
      Action Network, Global Exchange, and other groups were
      smart enough to comprehend the workings of the WTO, IMF,
      and World Bank. Now it's time for them to figure out how
      large numbers of people can protest the international
      capitalist cabal without getting clobbered--or trashed
      by their fellow demonstrators--in the process.
    • David Graeber
      I reposted this to the NYC DAN list and am currently putting together ideas for a response to this rather annoying piece. Myself, I find Ehrenreich s rather
      Message 2 of 2 , May 31, 2000
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        I reposted this to the NYC DAN list
        and am currently putting together ideas for a
        response to this rather annoying piece.
        Myself, I find Ehrenreich's rather Olympian
        detachment, and hardly-veiled condescension, annoying
        in the extreme. She obviously knows next to nothing
        about the Black Bloc, or DAN, or their relation, or
        the growing anti-capitalist movement in America today
        (her own aging-lefty malaise seems to great she mistakes
        a nation-wide surge of enthusiasm for depression. Huh?)
        But a few observations:

        DAN is mostly composed of "anarkids" as well:
        it's membership, at Seattle and still today, is quite
        youthful and majority anarchist, though as a broad
        umbrella group it includes pretty much anyone else who
        (unlike B.E.) wishes to actively oppose global capitalism
        as well.

        The purpose of non-violent demonstration is
        not to cause the cops to be nice, but, in part, to
        mobilize public opinion and reveal the genuine violence
        that lies behind state policy. Before N30 and A16 most
        of the public didn't know the WTO or IMF existed, let
        alone that the US government was willing to call up
        thousands of Imperial Storm Troopers to bludgeon
        non-violent teenagers who tried to oppose them. The
        initial frustration with the Black Bloc at Seattle was
        that stone-throwing would help justify the use of such
        police-state tactics in the public's mind.

        Another purpose of such demonstrations is to
        provide participants with occasions for the actual
        practice of democracy - real participatory democracy.
        Affinity groups are a way of creating an actual experience
        of what an anarchist-inspired social order might be like.
        Is B.E. opposed to this? Does she feel that ordinary
        people who have no idea what they will be facing should be
        encouraged to face the brutal DC police she describes
        without being told anything? Of course, DAN never stopped
        anyone from participating who wanted to - there was no
        rule one _had_ to be part of an affinity group at all -
        but it would be incredibly irresponsible to encourage
        people to face plastic bullets and pepper spray and the possibility
        of brutal arrest without at least offering them some
        training in how to deal with the situation beforehand,
        if they want it.

        The gap between DAN and Black Bloc-style anarchists
        was never as great as B.E. seems to think, and in fact most
        of the latter are active participants in DAN in one
        capacity or another. NYC-DAN for instance has loudly denounced
        the recent targeting of Black Bloc anarchists at rallies
        in New York and elsewhere, and in DC, Black Bloc anarchists
        played a highly cooperative and constructive role in the
        demonstrations (though one rather feels that B.E. actual
        sees this as a setback. Or what does she think? Does she even
        know who the respective parties are?)

        Far from running out of creative steam, DANs around
        the country are already dealing with some of the issues
        B.E. sets out. In a couple weeks NYC-DAN for instance will
        be holding a days meetings specifically on how to expand
        the movement, and particularly, how to adopt
        Civil Disobedience tactics to include more working people
        and people of color, who have different constraints,
        experiences and different histories of relation with the
        police. I am going to send the Progressive a letter challenging
        her to show up and see if rather than airy condemnation, she
        actually has something positive to contribute.
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