rn: Reflection on DC: Humour, slipping into militarism ->what works?


Jan Slakov

Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2000 21:05:05 +0530
From: TASC <•••@••.•••>
Subject: [free radical] WE THE PEEPS

Hey folks

here's another great article from L.A. Kaufmann, whose chronicles of the
new unrest are a great resource for nonviolent acrivists. At the end of
this e-mail is a note on how to subscribe to her excellent weekly columns..


>        FREE RADICAL: weekly chronicle of the new unrest
>        --------------------------------------------------------------------
>                             by L.A. Kauffman
>         -------------------------------------------------------------------
>[to subscribe, send a blank email to •••@••.•••]
>WE THE PEEPS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Issue #5
>The best story I heard about the World Bank/International Monetary
>Fund actions in Washington, D.C. came from a North Carolina
>Earth First!er, concerning the Battle of the Peeps.
>It was the second day of protests, and a row of menacing cops
>in riot gear faced a ragtag group of demonstrators, in one of
>many tense standoffs throughout the city.
>The stalemate continued until one protester reached into his
>knapsack and pulled out a package of Marshmallow Peeps,
>those neon yellow confectionery chicks that appear in store
>shelves each Easter, and have developed a hipster cult following.
>One by one the activist placed the Peeps in a row between
>the police and demonstrators: a thin yellow line. Then another
>protester pulled out a doll and started stomping the chicks with it.
>"Whose Peeps? Our Peeps!" the crowd began to chant, and
>the police broke out in laughter.
>In an instant, the tension had melted: Even the most vicious
>cops aren't likely to pepperspray people who have just made
>them giggle. The Battle of the Peeps not only de-escalated
>conflict with a flourish; it also poked fun at some of our --
>the activists' -- pretensions.
>If the D.C. actions didn't have quite the same exuberant
>highs or harrowing lows as Seattle, they were much more
>powerful in terms of movement-building. Thousands of newly
>minted activists poured into town to take part in teach-ins,
>rallies, and direct action against corporate globalization,
>while groups with dramatically different agendas and
>styles found fruitful ways to cooperate.
>But it's worth dwelling for a moment on how A16 and A17
>played out on the ground, to ponder some strategic and
>political lessons learned.
>At the final spokescouncil meeting for the protests, a D.C.
>resident commented that much of what had gone on seemed
>like war games to her. She had a point. The basic action
>scenario was to surround the World Bank/IMF meetings
>with a blockade, much as had been done in Seattle.
>Different affinity groups joined together in "clusters" and
>took responsibility for blocking a slice of the perimeter,
>some anchoring the location with a human barricade, o
>thers functioning as "flying squads" which provided
>reinforcements as needed.
>I was part of the tactical team that coordinated flying squads
>from the New York cluster, in conjunction with clusters from
>Seattle, Colorado, Florida, and several other places. We spent
>endless hours before the actions planning how to use radio
>communications, bike runners, and bullhorns to deploy
>protesters as needed.
>Our logistical discussions were filled with paramilitary lingo
>that became both more seductive and more ridiculous as the
>big action day approached. Suddenly, we were referring to
>ourselves as "tac" or "com," discussing "scouts" and "recon."
>At least some wag had the good sense to give our supercluster
>the appropriately cheesy name of Rebel Alliance (and to
>broadcast "Star Wars" theme music as some of us lined up
>for negotiated arrests on A17).
>What wasn't discussed, in big meetings or small, was why
>exactly we were doing a blockade, and doing it the same way
>as in Seattle. The actions were powerful, but it felt like a slogan
>-- shut it down -- had dictated our strategy, and defined our
>success. Plans already underway for a series of follow-up
>actions (most notably the Republican and Democratic
>Conventions in August, and a September meeting of the
>World Bank and IMF in Prague): Can we try something new?
>More troubling was the secrecy that surrounded part of the
>blockade, and contributed substantially to our failure to stop
>delegates from reaching the meetings. During the big planning
>sessions before the actions, members of the organizing collective
>announced that several areas surrounding the meeting site
>were "taken care of," and no one needed to take them on.
>Apparently, there was a plan to stop the delegates at the
>Kennedy Center, the staging ground for the meetings, through
>a high-tech Ruckus Society-type action, locking down to bus
>axles and the like. Like many such sneaky actions, this one
>proved too difficult to pull off; in the end, the planners gave up
>before even trying it.
>The problem wasn't so much that a substantial part of the
>perimeter was thus left unblocked, and delegates were able
>to zip right in to the meetings. In the long view, these kind
>of tactical blunders rarely have anything like the importance
>they seem to have in the moment. The real damage in keeping
>a matter of such weight on the down low was to our democratic
>process: No one outside a small circle had input into the
>decision not to defend the whole perimeter.
>There's a larger lesson here, about both tactics and transparency.
>Actions like the abortive Kennedy Center lockdown require high
>levels of secrecy; large movements, if they're to be truly democratic,
>require high levels of openness. The two simply can't be merged,
>meaning secret actions must be autonomous ones.
>In any case, covertly organized actions -- from lockdowns to
>banner drops -- are the most useful when movements are small,
>for they allow a small number of people to leverage their power.
>We're in a different phase now, with increasing numbers of
>people becoming inspired to take action. In both Seattle and
>D.C., it was crowds of people, simply linking arms, who mainly
>held the blockades. Bicycle locks and other gear played a
>relatively small role. (Of course, several hundred lockboxes
>were confiscated in D.C. during raids by the police, based on
>eerily accurate intelligence about where they were being constructed
>and stored.)
>But it's crucial to note, as anti-corporate and anti-capitalist
>activism continues to grow, that what we now have is a massive
>movement, but not a mass movement. Instead of ungainly
>organizations composed of undifferentiated individuals, the
>Seattle and D.C. mobilizations were created through coordination
>among many small, closeknit groups.
>It comes back to peeps -- not in the sugar-shock sense, but in
>the hip-hop sense, of the folks you feel most comfortable around.
>Perhaps the most enduring contribution of identity politics to
>radical activism is its insight that diverse coalitions work best
>when members are strongly rooted in their own communities
>and collectives. And in the wake of the affinity-group-based
>actions in D.C., the peeps just keep getting louder.
>Coverage of IMF/World Bank protests (www.indymedia.org)
>Republican Convention 2000 protests (www.thepartysover.org)
>Democratic Convention 2000 protests (http://www.aztlan.net/demconv.htm)
>September Protests in Prague (http://www.infoshop.org/news5/czech_imf.html)
>Ruckus Society (www.ruckus.org)
>Marshmallow Peeps (www.geekbabe.com/peeps/)
>L.A. Kauffman (•••@••.•••) is a longtime radical writer and
>activist. Currently, she is working on a history of American radicalism
>since 1970, and organizing with the NYC Direct Action Network, the community
>garden movement, and the Lower East Side Collective. Her work has appeared
>in the Village Voice, The Nation, The Progressive, Spin, Mother Jones,
>Salon.com, and numerous other publications.
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>All contents Copyright 2000 by L.A. Kauffman
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