rn: May 1971: If the govt. won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the govt.


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,

I woke up thinking about the posting I sent last night by Elaine Holstein,
the mother of Jeff Miller, one of the students killed at Kent State
University 30 years ago.

I wonder, how would we feel if one of our friends (or relatives) who we have
been encouraging to go to the demonstrations at Seattle and Washington, DC,
were to be killed, or to come back wounded for life?

And what to say to Elaine Holstein? On the one hand, surely the killings at
Kent State did help bring that disgraceful war to an end. On the other, the
war still continues, really... the same war to make the world safe for
"democracy" - no way! -- to make it safe for corporations to make money. And
even those of us who never knew Jeff Miller know other young activists his
age and can imagine what we lost when he was killed.

...We humans tend to judge the success or failure of events based on the
events that follow them, rather than on the events themselves. Even our
lives. It does matter how long or short a life is, and yet, in an important
way, it does not matter. Jeff Miller's life was a good one; nothing can
steal that from him or from his family.

Let us make our efforts to build a better world good efforts. And let us not
be too quick to judge disparagingly our best efforts. With this in mind, I
send you the posting below.

all the best, Jan
>Date: Sun, 16 Apr 2000 21:46:49 -0400
>From: "Global @ction" <•••@••.•••>(by way of Brian Burch)
>Subject: Fwd: Fwd: [free radical] SHUTDOWN REDUX
>>From: "L.A. Kauffman" <•••@••.•••>
>>pass it on . . .
>FREE RADICAL: (almost) weekly chronicle of the new unrest
>>            ------------------------------------------------
>by L.A. Kauffman
>>to subscribe, send a blank email to •••@••.•••
>>SHUTDOWN REDUX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
>>Issue #4
>>As opponents of corporate rule gather this week in Washington, D.C., vowing
>>to shut down the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary
>>Fund, they will unwittingly reprise a pivotal but nearly unknown moment in
>>radical history.
>>In May 1971, a staggering 13,000 people were arrested while attempting to
>>shut down the nation's capital through nonviolent direct action, in the last
>>and least remembered major protest against the Vietnam War. The slogan for
>>the Mayday actions explained their rationale: "If the government won't stop
>>the war, the people will stop the government."
>>It was the largest civil disobedience action ever recorded, bigger than
>>anything carried out by Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, an uprising so
>>unnerving to the Nixon Administration that it palpably speeded U.S.
>>withdrawal from Vietnam. Yet Mayday has slipped completely from our
>>collective memory, left out of the books and popular accounts that shoehorn
>>protest history into "the Sixties" (and equate the distintegration of the
>>elite Students for a Democratic Society with the end of the New Left).
>>The Mayday actions are worth rediscovery not only because of the uncanny
>>parallels between what went down in May 1971 and what is planned for April
>>2000. Mayday is the lost beginning to the radicalism that is now swelling up
>>with such force, the forgotten segue between the centralized, male-dominated
>>leadership of the New Left and the more diverse, radically decentralized
>>direct action movements of today.
>>"Nobody gives a damn how many dumb sheep can flock to Washington
>>demonstrations, which are dull ceremonies of dissent that won't stop the
>>war," declared one Mayday leaflet circulated in advance of the 1971 event.
>>Then as now, many of the most dynamic activists rejected the classic leftist
>>demonstration style -- endless speeches, chants shouted through bullhorns,
>>marshals to keep the crowd in line -- as not just ineffective but boring, as
>>soul-destroying as any assembly line.
>>In keeping with the desire to create a protest that was "free, joyous,
>>exciting, fun," Mayday promised something that had never been tried before:
>>a major national action organized on a regional decentralized basis. "This
>>means no 'National Organizers.' You do the organizing," explained the
>>elaborate Tactical Manual distributed by the tens of thousands in advance of
>>the end. "This means no 'movement generals' making tactical decisions you
>>have to carry out."
>>Instead, the initiators of the action detailed twenty-one key targets
>>throughout Washington, D.C., and called on activists around the country to
>>take responsibility for blockading them, by throwing parties in the middle
>>of the street, stalling automobiles at strategic locations, or other
>>creative means. "We had no organization, so we made a virtue out of our
>>weakness, which was what guerrillas had always done," remembers Jerry
>>Coffin, one of the key figures behind Mayday. Demonstrators were encouraged
>>to organize themselves into small "affinity groups," something that had
>>never been tried before in the United States.
>>Affinity groups will be the building blocks of the "A16" World Bank/IMF
>>actions, and they've become such a routine part of large nonviolent civil
>>disobedience that their origin has been obscured. The concept dates back to
>>the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, who created "grupos de afinidad"
>>for reasons of both life-and-death security and anti-authoritarian
>>The idea first surfaced in U.S. on the most militant reaches of the New
>>Left: among radicals, like the Weatherpeople, who were going underground and
>>structuring themselves into cells; among people who were gravitating away
>>from nonviolence and toward armed struggle. The Motherfuckers, a swaggering
>>group of late 1960s East Village radicals, defined the affinity group as a
>>"street gang with an analysis" which, they said, would evolve into armed
>>cadre during the revolution.
>>The initiators of the 1971 Mayday protests took this guerrilla form and
>>transplanted it into the arena of nonviolent direct action, where it has
>>evolved up to this day. Mayday -- like the IMF/World Bank protests -- had
>>nonviolence guidelines, which disavowed property destruction as well as harm
>>to living beings. The Mayday Tactical Manual explicitly asked those not
>>willing to abide by these guidelines to stay home.
>>But it was a different era. The Weather Underground had just set off a bomb
>>inside the U.S. Capitol to support the antiwar cause; nobody was going to
>>get all exercised over a few broken windows. "There was very little talk
>>about sitting down and just being arrested," recalls filmmaker John
>>Scagliotti, who was part of the Gay Mayday grouping within the protest. "It
>>wasn't just bodies that were going to be laid out there, it was going to be
>>vehicles, and things. You were supposed to scope your area and build
>>Some people managed to do that. "We threw everything available into the
>>streets," one participant wrote afterwards in the Berkeley Tribe, "garbage
>>cans, parked cars, broken glass, nails, large rocks, and ourselves. To add
>>to the confusion we lifted hoods of cars stopped for lights and let air out
>>of tires."
>>But most of the protesters were arrested before they could block much of
>>anything. The government mobilized a force of more than 14,000 police and
>>National Guardsmen to sweep the radicals off the streets by the thousands,
>>and herd them into custody at RFK Stadium (promptly renamed "Smash the State
>>Concentration Camp No. 1" by the imprisoned activists).
>>It was an object lesson in government power, in the huge resources the state
>>can use when it chooses. Rennie Davis, one of the initiators of the Mayday
>>action, called a press conference where he pronounced the protest a failure.
>>"We want to make clear that we failed this morning to stop the U.S.
>>government," he declared. "Our biggest problem was not appreciating the
>>extent to which the government would go to put people on the skids."
>>But Davis was wrong -- and not only for the classic New Left hubris that led
>>him to present himself as movement spokesman without any movement input. It'
>>s a mistake to gauge the success of a no-business-as-usual protest like
>>Mayday -- or A16 -- too literally.
>>As John Scagliotti observes about Mayday, "What's the whole point of closing
>>down the government anyway? It was a rhetorical, theatrical concept, which
>>most street activism is -- like turtles at the WTO, or AIDS activists
>>putting ashes of dead people on the White House lawn. The power was in the
>>statement that if the government doesn't stop the war, we'll stop the
>>government, and that 13,000 people would be arrested and 30,000 people came
>>down to do this."
>>There is already much pressure for A16 to live up to some shutdown ideal, to
>>replicate the seamless blockade in Seattle. Sure, the Seattle action
>>actually stopped the World Trade Organization from meeting for several
>>hours, but that was really just the coup de grace: The real victory was in
>>the pressure applied, the publicity garnered, the movement energized.
>>Mayday is remembered, if at all, as a rout. Yet even former Nixon
>>Administration officials admit it did much to end the Vietnam War. And
>>whatever plays out on the ground in Washington, D.C., this time around, this
>>new movement will change the course of the global economy. The only question
>>is how much.
>>                    ================
>>                    ABOUT THE AUTHOR
>>L.A. Kauffman (•••@••.•••) is a longtime radical writer
>>and activist whose work has appeared in the Village Voice,
>>The Nation, The Progressive, Spin, Mother Jones, Salon.com,
>>and numerous other publications. She is writing a history of
>>American radicalism since 1970, and is active in an array of
>>New York City direct action campaigns.
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