Here we are. 2 years deep in the latest war, 4 years since 9/11, 6 years since the Seattle shut down of the WTO, where do I start?
I recently returned to the U.S. from the G8 protests in Scotland. Having stayed at Sterling Camp, I got to meet lots of international anarchists and global justice activists and share critiques, feelings, successes, stories, and knowledge with many of them. We learned a lot from each other and shared an experience that was both positive for us as individuals and strengthening for us as a group.
After the G8 protests, lots of people we’re asking “Are you gonna be in Russia?” in reference to next year’s G8 meeting in St. Petersburg. The way folks asked this question made me question where our heads are at this point in time, if we are still thinking in terms of global change and compassion for people and planet, or if we are trapped in a game between us and our worthy adversary. Are we really just going wherever they go and has this movement become focused on making sure they have a bad time in their meetings?
If you asked folks how the G8 protests we’re, they’ll use words like “fun”, “intense”, and “exciting”. Yeah, the G8 protests we’re all of these, but did we effect global or local change? Did our actions and rhetoric echo throughout the world or spread through movements and instigate more action? No. And that’s OK, we don’t have to be successful every time or expect that all our tactics will work in our favor.
We just pulled a fence down, setup a fun campground, roughed up the cops a bit, saw some performances, and a few windows of insignificant corporate businesses were smashed. Big deal.
Victory was declared pretty quickly by lots of organizers and protesters after Scotland, celebrating the fact that we even got up there and made an attempt at shutting down the meetings. Now don’t get me wrong, there we’re a ton of great successes; Over 40 blockades went off on the 6th and disrupted the summit, a train was chartered up from London, folks got to the fence and tore part of it down around Gleneagles, none of our actions we’re cancelled in face of the massive police state, we shared conversations and helped each other understand our movement better, we networked and built connections…
But was this mobilization successful as a whole? Can we gage the successes of our mobilizations on their physical successes in the streets or the successful deployment of people to actions? Can we declare a victory over the G8 because we managed to do actions in the face of 11,000 police and sneak around some checkpoints?
No. We have to take into account the global ramifications of our words and actions. Sure, the actions shaped us as organizers and activists and provided us with ideas, critiques, and experiences that we can get nowhere else. But nothing matters in the seclusion of a mass demonstration to the rest of the world. We did not change the fate of the G8 meetings nor did we reach out to folks who weren’t attending the protests with our ideas and visions of a world liberated. We just faced off with the police and the authorities.
Anarchism is about how we interact with each other and the planet more than it is about how we interact with authority and the state, When we face off with the cops in the streets of anywhere, we are not building a new world, we are challenging aspects of the old world. While this is obviously an essential part of a mass movement, it is not something we should focus on in a critiques of our movement or used as a way to gauge our successes. Property destruction does not mean a successful action nor does the amount to which people resist police violence. While these two things are important at certain times, we can’t ignore the reality. War is property damage and fascists resist the police too…
We are not radical because we fight the police or smash the windows, we are radical because we struggle to find ways to interact that break down social barriers and lead to the downfall of authoritarian government and capitalism and bring an end to ecological destruction. We are radical because we care so much that we are willing to throw our bodies on the line in defense of our ideals and our visions.
So we must address our movement’s successes based on the amount to which our actions are instigating and creating change in the world, how much we as individuals are instigating and creating change in the world, and how much things are changing. How are you participating? How is your group participating? Are we growing?
In the U.S., we have been duped into a war that does not seem to have an end in sight. There are hundreds of thousands of soldiers in Iraq and double that coming back with mental disorders and injuries… or they’re dead. We have an increasing security state that is bringing out realistic comparisons to both Nazi Germany and George Orwell’s 1984. We are securing immigrants with tracking-anklets, installing security cameras everywhere, scanning non-citizens’ irises at the airport, reporting “suspicious activities” to the Department of Homeland Security, and the Central American Free Trade Agreement just passed on July 26th.
Wages are getting worse, benefits are getting worse, jobs are being moved overseas, low-wage workers and folks in the old factory towns are manipulated by the companies that destroyed their towns and took their jobs away to hate immigrants and non-whites as their enemies. The prison population is sky-rocketing and normal activities are being increasingly criminalized.
As a movement, we have been duped into acting in 2 ways: One way is to play into the political game as a peaceful and “respectful” activist, to make changes through politics, to not break laws, to condemn any acts of violence or sabotage against symbols or conductors of oppression, to urge folks to find some sort of legitimacy in the things we are fighting against. The other is to play into the protest game as a soldier and forget about the world behind you, to see it as a game between you and the police or you and the financiers, to view the movement as a tournament of protests to be won, to fail to critique our global reverberations and instead only critique our military actions or defeats in the streets.
In Scotland, we we’re determined to tear the fence down around the G8 summit and a couple hundred people made it up there tore it down. Nothing changed.
A few years ago these things had huge ramifications. When folks in Seattle blockades the WTO summit, it hit the world like a ton of bricks. When the fence in Quebec City tore the fence down around the FTAA summit, it gave a boost to the anti-capitalists in North America as a sign that our militancy in the streets was being met by a society that was becoming ready to topple old structures and begin building a better life for each other and ourselves.
But there was something different in the air back then. People we’re talking to each other everywhere about the movement. People we’re aware, interested, ready for change. The walls we’re shaking and you couldn’t ignore it. That was before 9/11.
We are now faced with a society that seems completely brainwashed and unable to remember the days 5 years ago. Now we’ve got folks from within the movement turning into politicians and profiteers in some hope to find safe ground while maintaining the illusion of grassroots activism. Now we’ve got a thicker separation between the movement and society as well as a battle between the movement and the state.
Our main focus as a movement should be building a society that is intolerable of injustice, that opposes the destruction of life and the planet, that desires liberation and change, that does not settle for political scraps and does not fall for political scams. We’re not really going much in that direction when we continuously face off against thousands of armed cops in pre-arranged battle spots.
More than anything else, Scotland finalized a feeling inside of me that we have fallen into a sort of trap where we perpetually confirm the media-image of anarchists. We fall for the bait they set. When there’s a fence, we’ll goddamn tear it down. When there’s a line of cops, we’ll charge them with a bunch of flimsy shields and make-shift weapons. When we see corporations, we’ll smash their windows and act like it a world-changing action, when we get arrested, we’ll cry out as if we didn’t see if coming, as if we didn’t realize we were the enemy in a war against those who respect life, liberty, and justice.
And we seem to do it again and again. It has gotten so bad at times that I’ve heard anarchists talking about outreach as a “liberal” or “reformist” tactic, as if talking to people outside of our little bubble was a waste of time, as if the only actions that matter are the ones between a few thousand people and the police. I am disgusted by that notion and see no hope in the future of the movement if it stays on that track or gets any deeper entrenched and voluntarily separated from everyone else. I don’t wanna be in a scene I wanna be in a movement.
So, there’s two huge questions at hand, and a movement with any future must ask them both and spread itself out enough to work on both levels.
1. Where is the system of rule going and how do we stop it?
2. Where is society going and how do we influence it?
That’s what we need to be asking ourselves and each other. The system is going for more control, more dominion over life, more control over your choices, more prisons, endless war, and increasing criminalization of dissent and opposition. Society is going for more acceptance of oppression, more hatred toward “foreigners” and xenophobic violence, more fear of the unknown and fear of change, more demanding of protection from the state, more carelessness for the fate of others, and more passive acceptance of corruption, lies, and violence from the state.
While we combat the state and corporations in their spheres; mobilizations, street protests, direct actions, etc., we must also act within the greater mass of society as an alternative to the absurdity we are settling for and reach out to people to break the cycle and fight for liberating change.
On the other side of the madness, people are still talking to strangers, most movements have not been crushed yet by the PATRIOT ACT and anti-terror legislation in other countries, huge unions are breaking away form the AFL-CIO and getting back to organizing, soldiers are becoming increasingly aware that they are pawns in a fucked up war for profit and control, the Bush Regime is exposing the U.S. Government for what it is and people seem to be a little more aware that everything is fucked up beyond recognition…
Unfortunately, this understanding is met by a strong choke-hold of apathy and hopelessness, but the line between action and apathy is thin. As revolution’s show, even the most downtrodden people can rise up in surging masses at surprising moments. This is what keeps my head above the water and pushes me to always work harder, to look for ways around the obstacles, to reach out to my friends, family, and strangers to join me in this fight. No matter how hard the government works to destroy the structures we put in place to destroy it, they cannot destroy our ability to interact with others and spread subversive ideas. That is up to the individual and no one else, and you don’t need a union or a non-profit group to talk to people. We are each other’s oppressors. To stop capitalism where it starts we have to stop it within each other and ourselves.
And that’s how I see it. Let’s talk to each other and start building this thing up again. We lost our footholds for a bit but we are good people and we have a future to win and a lot of things to save.
I met a soldier recently who is about to be shipped back to Iraq. He spoke about the war as a horror that no one should face. He has put his life on the line in defense of greed and is through with supporting it. He will inevitably spread his ideas to other soldiers there and I see him as a spark of hope in an area of the struggle that could never touch. He told me that 5 years ago he would have hated me, but here we were, discussing the politics of movements against capitalism and war. These are the moments I live for, when the strongest barriers between people are broken by their own understanding of each other and the workings of the system.
Will I be in Russia? Nope, but I support those who take on the G8, and I urge everyone to work their hardest to bring about the end of the G8 and capitalism, in all of the areas of it’s existence, and to see beyond the traps that have been set for us. The new world is not just in our hearts, it’s in our hands, and we have to make it real.