Richard Moore

Date:         Mon, 14 May 2001 17:09:03 -0700
From: CyberBrook <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••

  FREE RADICAL: chronicle of the new unrest
                  by L.A. KAUFFMAN
[to subscribe, write •••@••.•••
with the word subscribe in the email subject or body]
TURNING POINT. . . . . . . . . . . . .  #16 (May 2001)

Radicalism is rising in North America. The large and
varied late April protests throughout the continent
against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)
confirmed, if there was any doubt, that this anti-
capitalist, pro-democracy movement of many
movements continues to grow. There's creative
ferment everywhere, and the greatest sense of
radical possibility in a generation.

For parts of the American global justice movement,
the exposure and connection that the FTAA protests
brought to Canada's more freewheeling direct-action
tradition are greatly accelerating the move toward
more militant tactics, which began when the anarchist
Black Bloc went window-smashing during the late
1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle.
These two dynamics - a broad sense of momentum
and growth, and an increasingly combative culture of
street protest - give this moment a feeling of promise,
unpredictability, and peril. It's a time of great
excitement, daring acts, much serious organizing, and
some very stupid posturing.

I spent late April in Quebec City, where the leaders of
34 Western Hemisphere nations were meeting, in a
charming walled city made sinister by the addition of
another man-made wall, guarded by phalanxes of
faceless police in riot gear. There an estimated
50,000 demonstrators were barraged with nearly
5000 canisters of tear gas, in two days of stunning
street confrontations that greatly eclipsed Seattle
in intensity.

Simultaneously, thousands of protesters in dozens
of places - from the Tijuana-San Diego border to
El Paso to Kansas City - were answering the call
to "localize the movement for global justice" by
holding rallies, marches, and direct actions that made
connections between pressing issues in their
communities and the sweeping trade pact being
negotiated in Quebec City. These were also a
response to widespread critiques of "summit-hopping,"
the post-Seattle activist trend of jumping from one
mega-mobilization to the next.

In both its lead-up and its realization, Quebec City
felt like a turning point. Two of the main groups
calling for the protest, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence
and the sardonically named Welcoming Committee
for the Summit of the Americas - familiarly known
by their French acronyms, CLAC and CASA -
announced from the start that they would organize
on the basis of "respect for a diversity of tactics."
Specifically, they committed not to renounce
"violence" (always a slippery term) or to denounce
any demonstrators' methods of dissent.

For Canada, this stance wasn't out of line with past
radical direct actions, although CLAC and CASA's
position did stir up a lot of controversy in the weeks
and months before the Summit. For Americans,
though, this kind of tactical carte blanche has been
virtually unheard of at large-scale protests since the
street-fighting days of the late 1960s. Beginning with
the anti-nuclear movement of the mid-1970s, it's been
standard procedure at most mass actions in the United
States to have nonviolence codes, explicit agreements
about the limits of acceptable behavior that all
participants are asked to respect. They have varied in
intensity and scope. Some guidelines have been
incredibly sweeping, prohibiting even angry speech,
while others have been more limited, mainly
proscribing physical violence against people
(including police).

One of the hallmarks of the direct-action
anti-globalization movement in the United States
has been its growing unease with these traditional rules.
It's not that there's been a mass embrace of street
combat or property destruction among American
radicals, although interest in those tactics is clearly
growing among a small but highly visible group.
Instead, there seems to be a broadening consensus
against denouncing people who do those things, a
reluctance to draw lines between "good" and "bad"
protesters, and a recognition that the overwhelming
majority of the violence to date has come from the police.

In Quebec City, outrage at the hated wall and the
vicious tear gassing quickly overwhelmed much
lingering ambivalence about the "diversity of tactics"
approach. When armed thugs are barraging you with
chemical weapons simply because you've gathered to
oppose the secret negotiations of a tiny elite, it's hard
to get real worked up about whether folks should be
throwing rocks at them or not. Don't get me wrong:
I strongly disagree with some things that Black Blocers
did in Quebec, particularly the use of Molotov cocktails.
But out there in the streets, under attack, the atmosphere
was one of almost total unity.

>From moment to moment, you felt you were in the
midst of a fireworks display, a sporting event, or a
war zone. A low thwomping sound announced the
discharge of each gas canister, and you looked up
at the sky to trace its arcing path and gauge how
close to you it would land. There's a delay then
before the noxious chemicals are actually released,
and in those crucial seconds, the crowd would wait
to see if someone - usually a Black Blocer wearing
thick gloves - would pick up the superheated thing
and hurl it back at the cops. Often, someone would,
and a huge cheer would go up as you saw the trail of
gas head toward the police line. Or, if not, a thick toxic
cloud would begin to spread; some folks would panic,
but others always urged the crowd to stay calm. There
would be cries for medics to wash out the burning eyes
of the unprotected - the movement medics were flat-out
amazing, selfless and superbly prepared - and before
long, you'd hear the French chant that became the
watchword for the action: "So - so - so - solidarité!"

This scene repeated itself countless times, most
movingly for me on Saturday evening, the second and
larger of the two big days of protest. My buddy Mark
and I joined a crowd of perhaps a few thousand
engaged in one of these standoffs on an elevated ramp
of the Dufferin-Montmorency Highway, which juts out
from a high cliff that the police were seeking to clear of
protesters. The gassing was relentless: canister after
canister of the foul stuff, sometimes so much of it you
could hardly see. But the more they shot at us, the
more it made people want to stay. Mark and I had
mediocre goggles but great masks - the kind painters
use when working with solvents - so we were pretty
well protected, but all around us were people with
nothing more than vinegar-soaked scarves around
their faces, coughing and crying but still chanting
their solidarity and standing firm.

Suspended in air, we all held our surreal ground as
best we could, but inevitably we were pushed slowly
down the ramp, as the riot squads advanced and
blanketed us with poison. When it comes down to
brute force, after all, the state will always win. But
below, underneath the freeway's concrete tangle,
was L'Îlot Fleurie, a longtime sculpture and community
garden that served as a kind of staging ground for the
protests. Mark and I had been there earlier - it was,
among other things, where Food Not Bombs was
serving up free vegetarian meals to all comers - but as we
descended we saw that the place was now packed
with thousands and thousands of bedraggled, euphoric
veterans of the weekend's battles. People were
creating art, sharing food, providing first aid, building
bonfires, and making music - astonishing music, for
their instrument was the freeway itself, its guard rails
and light posts transformed into the biggest, most
sonorous drum set you ever heard. We threw down
our backpacks and joined the joyous rave, dancing
beyond all fatigue. Up on the cliff you could see the
glint of streetlights on the face shields of the riot cops,
and it made us smile: Sure, they had walled us out and
pushed us down, but it had only brought us all more
strongly together, and that counted as victory.

In some radical circles back in the States, though,
the militant acts at the front lines are being seen -
and celebrated - in isolation, as part of a growing
mystique of insurrection. Check out the collage
poster of FTAA photos assembled by the
Barricada Collective, a Boston-based anarchist
group that has been influential in Black Bloc circles.
It features image after image of young men in the
throes of battle - tossing a gas canister, waving a red
flag, pushing downthe fence, wielding a big stick, lifting
a barricade - with the tag-line,"against the violence of
capitalism and the state." Perhaps one or more of
the costumed figures is a woman, but I doubt it. You
don't see any of the medics, or the folks who supplied
us with food, or the camaraderie of L'Îlot Fleurie.
You see anger and adrenaline, but you don't see

Meanwhile, I'm hearing more and more loose talk
about dangerous things: someone saying there
should be "lots more violence" in the movement;
others talking up the idea of armed struggle;
jokes about explosives that leave a sense of
unease. And I wonder if all the folks who are
moving toward greater militancy have really
thought through the possible consequences.
Given the government's posture to date toward
the global justice movement, and the Black Bloc
in particular, I think it we could soon see people
doing serious jail time for things that happen
during demonstrations.

A call is already circulating for a "diversity of
tactics" Black Bloc at the next big summit action,
outside the Washington, D.C. meetings of the
International Monetary Fund and World Bank in
early October. It reads, in part, "We will not be
content with reforming, or even abolishing the
IMF/World Bank. We will not rest until every
last bank has been burned, till the last memory
of banks has been erased from our world."

I find this hyperbole more humorous than
menacing. But it brings me back to the debate
about summit-hopping, and why it's a problem
for the movement. New York-based activist
Lesley Wood says, rightly I think, that major
mobilizations and local organizing don't have
to be seen as antithetical to one another, a
ssuming people are involved in both: Big
actions like Seattle or Quebec City inspire
and energize people in ways that can directly or
indirectly benefit community-based campaigns
when they return to their hometowns.

Radicals whose activism largely consists of
mobilizing for one big action after another,
however, tend to develop very different politics
from those who are deeply enmeshed in local
organizing. There's a kind of rigor to nuts-and-bolts
campaigning with concrete, immediate stakes -
say, fighting to stop a power plant from being
built in a low-income neighborhood with
epidemic asthma rates - that privileges strategy
over gestures. Without that grounding, it's all
too easy to make the great militant error of
elevating tactics to principles, rather than
seeing them as tools, and to engage in
confrontation for its own sake.

But even as I worry about a creeping
recklessness that's likelier to fuck people up
than fuck shit up, it's clear that the audacity
of the Black Bloc is an electric charge - and
it's getting people juiced. CLAC has a slogan:
"It didn't start in Seattle, and it won't end in
Quebec City." Look for things to intensify.


FREE RADICAL: chronicle of the new unrest
is a column on the current upsurge in activism,
written by L.A. Kauffman (•••@••.•••).
    It appears on average every few weeks.

Back issues can be found at www.free-radical.org

             This article is archived at


                ABOUT THE AUTHOR
L.A. Kauffman (•••@••.•••) is perhaps
the first person in U.S. history to be arrested
for allegedly committing a crime by fax machine.
(The Manhattan D.A. declined to prosecute.)
She is currently writing DIRECT ACTION:
activism since 1970. A longtime radical journalist
and activist, she was a principal organizer of the
direct-action campaign that saved 115 New York
City community gardens from development in 1999.
Kauffman is a frequent speaker on protest movements
past and present, and her writing has appeared
in the Village Voice, The Nation, The Progressive,
Spin, Mother Jones, Salon.com, and numerous
other publications.

TO SUBSCRIBE, write •••@••.•••
with the word subscribe in the subject or body of the email

    All contents Copyright 2001 by L.A. Kauffman

For information about reprinting FREE RADICAL,
                write to •••@••.•••


Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland

    A community will evolve only when
    the people control their means of communication.
    - Frantz Fanon

    "Consensus does not mean agreement.  It means we create a
    forum where all voices can be heard and we can think
    creatively rather than dualistically about how to reconcile
    our different needs and visions."
        - Starhawk, "Lessons from Seattle and Washington D.C.", 
        in "Democratizing the Global Economy", Kevin Danaher, ed.,
        Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, 2001.

Permission for non-commercial republishing hereby granted - BUT 
include and observe all restrictions, copyrights, credits,
and notices - including this one.