Let me first start with an apology of sort. I sincerely meant to write this long ago but was so back-logged by other obligations, tasks, ideas and general laziness that it has set me back…up until now. Now I want to try to remember and give you back the details of the event and what I experienced and learned in Chicago.
Also please note that times may be off due to what my camera had (and I don’t remember when I readjusted it correctly or if I did at all).
Opening – Why did I go?
One of the biggest questions from the get go is obvious, “Nick, why on earth would you go? Did you want to be arrested? Did you have a death wish?” and so on and so forth.
Indeed, I had comrades who wished they could’ve gone but didn’t in part because of the massive police state present (though if it didn’t exist, paradoxically I’m unsure so many people would’ve showed up…) and some outright said fuck that to it and I understood why as I do now. So why would I go? In a word (or two): To learn.
I’m simply not gonna learn much if I spend all (or most) of my time in New Hampshire observing whatever happens here. I might learn a lot and perhaps even plenty to get me by but to do more than that I think I need to explore what’s out there. Chicago was out there and with the group 99% Solidarity providing bus rides for free. So with that and previous arrangements being tried out and somewhat successful I made my plan to go to Chicago.
It was also a chance (just like Porcfest recently was) to network with people, make a few lasting connections and so on. Unlike Porcfest though this proved to be more interesting because it involved mostly people I didn’t know. Only caricatures I had heard and images I had perceived as well as interpreted. In that sense I was very much cautious but in some ways also prepared for what I would see on this trip. Of course nothing could prepare me for a trip of this magnitude but at least I had my bearings…mostly.
So in summary I went to learn, to explore, to network, to connect and more. I thought of this trip as a good way to grow as an individual and a more informed person and perhaps learn some new things along the way. How did the trip match up to these aims? Well let’s see what happened.
I made sure I wall packed up and met outside with two people I’d get to know pretty well over the course of the next almost-week: Mark Provost of Occupy NH and Occupy Boston and Jose of the same. We made it to where the bus would get there in the dead of night just in time, around 11 PM. That was the good news. The slightly less good news as having to wait another hour (ore more) for the buses to actually get here. Apparently the organizers figured most people would be on activist time…it was a good assumption that unfortunately led to a pretty widespread case of first world problems. The problems had just begun though.
Mark, Jose, myself and other comrades (including Garrett Ean of FreeConcord.org) went on the Boston bus while a few Boston people would be fortunate to go on the seats that were left over from the Rhode Island people. The trip, however, proved a very short one. For only 20 minutes out of Boston…the bus broke down. Thus began the longest and the most trialing part of the trip…the beginning.
How would we get to Chicago? Would I ever get there? When would I said Voltairine de Cleyre’s gravesite now? When would I be able to meet these people again? What would I miss? Would I have to sulk back home? What could I do?
All of these questions and more perforated my mind for almost the whole night. We would be stuck in 20 minutes outside of Boston for the next seven hours with any repairs that were made being very much in vain. I ended up only getting an hour or two of sleep but still getting some very interesting conversations out of the deal. And in the end it ended up being a blessing in disguise.
For one thing the discussions that went on outside the store ranged from how the presidential elections and the outcome thereof will affect the larger leftist movements, discussions of religion and discussions of Zionism and the new world order. Lots of interesting stuff among a small group while most of the others stayed in the bus and rested or tried to figure out what was going on.
I tried to be calm and I tried to take it in stride. I tried to hope that somehow, some way, we’d get out of this bad situation and get into a better one, but I just didn’t see how that’d be happening.
The morning came before I knew it and somehow 7 hours had passed us all by. We were going to get another bus from the same company finally…only it was gonna drive us back to Boston and let us figure shit out for ourselves…wonderful!
By 8:30-9:30 AM we were back in Boston and I came up with the name “Boston Stragglers” to term our group. Somehow it had stuck and since then a few people have actually used the phrase to call our group which makes me smile.
The pressure was on though. If we couldn’t get a ride, and fast, we’d be pretty much stuck here. A bus, even if it came (somehow) that morning and maybe even skipped some important steps would probably have us be late by a day or more. If we couldn’t get a bus, other buses (like Greyhound) looked too expensive and the train did as well what did we have left? Sure we had planes but it’s not like…
And after hours of negotiations and back forth (no…seriously, we were there from like 9 AM to 3 PM) Mark Provost and the rest of us managed to get roundtrip tickets to Chicago for free. Ecstatic, relieved, beyond joy, none of these things remotely come close to the collective feelings we all had combined. It was wonderful.
And for the record Mark put us all to shame. I may have had the laptop that Mark used to beg for cash and raise awareness and so on and so forth but his leadership skills and organization prowess was really great and without Mark I’m unsure if we could’ve done it let alone come anywhere close.
But where to now? Well Mark, Jose and I all went back to Mark’s place for the night (since the plane ride wasn’t till around 6 AM the next day). On the way we (of course) came across a car crash that pretty much happened as we were on the road. I never heard it or saw it but Mark did and we all went out to check out the scene.
It was…surreal to say the least. But it was quickly determined the women was gonna be alright and was only shaken up. The scary part? Mark hadn’t even flinched and even I was feeling a bit oddly underwhelmed by the whole situation.
After we got back to Mark’s? Catching up on Facebook a bit and then delicious (and huge!) pizza…did I mention it was delicious? It was also from a local store instead of a corporation so that made us feel a bit better about it too.
Now it was time for the plane and…oh shit…the TSA…
As an anarchist airplanes make me understandably nervous. Ever since 9/11 the airplane industry has, of course, been an increasing focus of government privilege, regulation, supervision and more. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) are, of course, one of the biggest reasons. The scanners, pat-downs, disrespect of personal possessions and human dignity and so on make it difficult for a libertarian of any stripe (anarchist or not) and even people beyond that in many cases to be uncomfortable. Some of my comrades have even gone so far as to deliberately avoid the plane even if it means avoiding large gatherings (say…Porcfest?) of other comrades.
So of course I was nervous for those reasons. But besides those reasons I’m not a fan of flying. I hate the process and the general bureaucracy of paperwork that always makes me feel paranoid I forgot something. I’m not a big fan of heights and if anything went wrong with the plane…well I’d be pretty much fucked. So although I was pretty damn happy I had gotten a ride I had obvious reservations about it being a plane…
Nevertheless…everything went better than expected.
To start off with we all made the plane on time and the process to get in while still a little nerve-wracking wasn’t anything rehabilitating or something that ruined my day. I wasn’t randomly patted down and it was actually pretty smooth. I remember being so shocked it went well that I asked, “That’s it?” and they said it was so I scurried to where I had to wait for the plane. So that went fine. What about the ride itself? Relatively uneventful. Check and check!
When we got off we were supposed to be picked up by a convoy but that ended up not happening. Whatever, we were in Chicago. I couldn’t believe it and I excited as all hell.
After some deliberation we decided to take the train and split up. Some would go to the protest and carry their bags along the way and others would drop their bags off at the church we were gonna stay at for the next few days. I chose the latter position for a few reasons, namely that I was carrying a bunch but also, and perhaps more interestingly, I didn’t come to Chicago for protests, or to be more specific, protests don’t often interest me that much.
Why would I feel like that? Well ok, a bit of an explanation is in order.
Brief Aside #1: On the Effectiveness of Protests
There’s a good reason I generally stay home instead of go to big events and socialize with people…well besides often times lacking money or lacking a car anyways. Being an introvert and having autism makes it difficult to deal in a work-environment scenario let alone a big mass movement. And consequently being in big movements means often times your associated with things you might not want to be. A de-individualization of the self is certainly not something I like.
But it’s a lot more than that really. When I was there I remember I was there to network, learn what I could, see Voltairine’s grave site, see some friends from online and perhaps other things. But protesting? That wasn’t on the top of my list and it mostly comes down to strategy.
I’m simply not convinced protests do much at the end of the day. It’s a lot of walking, chanting and it’s a show of “force” I guess? But I just don’t see where the force is in chanting the same five chants over and over again. I don’t see what’s so forceful about the same state-socialist/liberal reformist/vaguely leftist/democratic establishment entryist fucks/small contingency of radicals complaining about the same thing (the 99%) really does. I mean it gets media attention and perhaps opens up plenty of well-meaning debates but among who? Who benefits?
I just don’t see protests as that much of a thing to do except perhaps networking, learning how to better smash the state (especially dealing with the thugs in blue) and just perhaps engage in some mindless chants.
That said, I’m not against protests. Sometimes they can get radical and militant and inspire plenty of further collaborations and useful counter and alternative institutional buildings that move us closer to a truly freed society. And when they do that then I’m cool with it, but how much they do this and how they could is a larger question then I can address here.
In summary protests certainly can be useful but the actual amount is hard for me to gauge and in any case missing just a little bit of the first protest which was basically having the nurses union (ironically the group that helped pay for the buses to begin with) calling for a heavy dose of tax reform under the guise of helping the worst off. Yuck.
End of Brief Aside, Day 2 Continues
At any rate the church was nice enough and easy to get to. On the way there we saw a newspaper that made the acronym of NATO stand for “Now Arrives The Ordeal”…yikes. Just what had I gotten myself into?
Once we had arrived at the nurses rally I immediately sought out my comrade William Gillis who ended up being one of the few ALLies to my knowledge who actually answered my call to come to Chicago. We soon met up and started introducing each other along with his friend whom I almost thought was named Rand but instead was named something humorously similar. They discussed the benefits of markets vs. the privimitist critiques of it and it was such a relief to be discussing things in such terms. William was a friendly man and a cool guy from the get go it seemed. He told me he wanted to go to the grave sites as well and we arranged for it to happen the next morning.
After we met up I went into the crowd to get half-way decent pictures of Tom Morello telling them I’d be right back. But they either had somewhere to go or didn’t hear me because when I got back they had left. Morello made some comments about history not made through rulers but the people which I appreciated but was notably out of place in such a rally. At any rate I caught up with some Boston Stragglers on the way to the protest and walked into some fellow radicals (or at least they didn’t like the cops…that’s a good start at least) saying, “No justice! No peace! FUCK THE POLICE!” in front of the cameras. It was a bit much in terms of attention grabbing and I’m unsure the point (and I believe one person got arrested) but it was all leading up to the protest.
Once the march started it was hectic. Much more hectic than I thought. At one point we got up near a bridge and the police wanted us to go down the street under the bridge. The crowd protested this…control of the protest? And though I didn’t realize at the time it was obvious to many that they were trying to pen us in and not let us converge with the other protest that was going on. People started occupying the park unsure what to do but eventually went around the park to the other side of the road to meet up with the other protest.
At one point beforehand I had been roughly grabbed by a cop and told to get back in the street instead of the park where I tried to head to (this would be the only time a policeman would touch me on this trip as it thankfully turned out but I was almost instantly terrified) and once we caught up with the other protest…I somehow lost them in the confusion of the police when they closed in on us at another bridge location. From there I tried to go another way and caught up with another small contingency who also got lost. An hour later I was back with the main group.
The main group had moved to Grant Park for a GA later in the night, dancing, discussion, talks on direct action and much more. I ended up participating in a protest that assisted one of the longest going strikes in the US as it turned out. We chanted “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” sang the old favorite “Solidarity Forever” and so on and so forth. We got the strikers a bunch of attention and media coverage and I for one hope they can get better wages and conditions of work.
After that there was a GA that I didn’t attend but I somehow bumped into William again and re-confirmed our plans for the morning. I soon left back to the church with the Occupy NH/Boston crew and soon fell asleep on the hard floor with only my sleeping bag as cushion in a gym.
William and I would meet around 11 AM to see the graves and in the words of a wise philosopher:
WE WE SO EXCITED!
Although I went to bed a bit later and actually managed to get online a bit through a hotspot (which would be most of my access throughout the week) I still woke up around 10 AM and managed to get to he train station by 10:30. I got to where I was supposed to meet up with William by around 11:30 and we waited for his other friends for maybe 15 minutes or so. Then we were off!
We ended up meeting my other friend (and fellow Voltairine de Cleyre enthusiast) Brian Truncale who arrived with us at Forest Home Cemetery around 1:30. And yes, the martyrs are supposed to be buried in a cemetery called Waldheim but apparently Forest Home in English equates to Waldheim and since they are next to each other…they’re pretty much the same thing.
Getting there was such a treat. We all headed straight for the monuments and due to Brian’s expertise made quick work of finding it. On my Day 3 photo folder you can see all of the pictures I took and that others took of me.
I found Voltairine’s grave and…well…I was at a loss for words. I stood there for what seemed like a while and wasn’t sure what to say or how to feel. This was my favorite anarchist, right below me. Buried at such a tragically young age and not around to help give the movement the many clues she gave during her life of what’s next and what could be. The feelings I had are, for the most part indescribable. But I’ll try my hand at it.
For the most part I stared blankly at it. It was surreal for sure and I wasn’t sure what one reaction should have. Should I be sad she’s dead? Happy I got here? Happy I got to see this? Sad that she had such a small grave site? Happy she got one at all? Should I be angry that almost no one recognizes here? I wasn’t sure how to feel.
Apart from that I even took some time to more broadly reflect on the martrys of the Maymarket Affair. How cruel it all was. How unfair. How the system had worked against those struggling for liberation. Against those who sought a better world. Against those who dared to say, “rise, rise and rise again!” instead of the typical kneeling called for beneath the boot of the state.
I also saw the graves of Emma Goldman (who recently had her birthday!) as well as Lucy Parsons and a few others I believe. It was simply amazing the sort of history that was there.
Brian, William and I all discussed several different topics and Brian ended up saying (twice, because I prodded him and asked him to make sure he was serious) that I was much more of an expert on Voltairine and had read much more on her than he had. I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe this but if he believes as much I guess he’d know better than I would.
As we left William told this story of an amazing rebellion that happened back in colonial times that almost overthrew the then existing government in the US that was made through pirates, various Indian tribes and other groups. It was probably one of the most amazing stories I’ve heard and I’m sad to say I can’t remember too much of it now. But it certainly did make an impression on me.
William, Brian and I parted ways from William’s friends after they decided they wanted to go to an anti-capitalist march later that night that was sure to have comrades and fellow radicals. Unfortunately I wanted to just have a day to speak with William and Brian and relax before the big day of Sunday.
We all ended up talking for a while (perhaps from around 2:30 to 3:30 PM before Brian had to go) and then William and I probably talked for another hour or two. We talked about the state of the libertarian movement, the Stacy Litz incident, S4SS, Kevin Carson, how to deal with student debt, anarcho-transhumanism, the scene that existed in Portland and various other subject. It was a wonderful time and I shall certainly cherish the great time I had with William. I won’t get into the details of our conversations but they were quite intellectually stimulating while still being a lot of fun.
We soon both departed for one of the places where food, wi-fi and other things was located. I stayed there for the rest of the night just wanting to relax. From the livestream the march didn’t seem to be going well. Police had them penned in. A few people had been run over by police cars and one person in the place started hysterically crying when they found out their friend had been taken to an emergency room. It was surreal…
From there I eventually left around maybe 10:30 or a bit later and arrived back at the church for some general camaraderie, spaghetti and more! We recounted our days to each other (or at least some of us did) and I went to bed happy and later reflecting that had probably been one of the best days of my life.
On the final day was the big march. This was it. The final march against the G8/NATO (more so NATO) and the day that if anything big was going to happen, today was the day. Man what a day it turned out to be…
But first, I got up with the rest of the people and some of us managed to get to the rally (there was a rally with a lot of music and speakers at a huge park before the big march) around 11 AM. We prepared ourselves with some late breakfast and joined the crowd and what a huge crowd it was.
The media coverage was simply huge. There was a station from, I believe, China that was it’s largest news network just to give you the idea of the coverage. There were probably thousands upon thousands of people there. I tried to stay with Mark and Jose who I was with at the time but once I went to lay down for a second to recover some energy I lost them in almost no time.
None of the talks really interested me. They were soundbites and heavily overly-simplified versions of reality mostly going through the mouth of liberal reformists. I mean, don’t get me wrong, some of the messages was good (one speaker even talked about the harms of public schooling!) but for the most part the talks were inane and I didn’t derive much pleasure from them. Besides that I was pretty much by myself, couldn’t meet up with William while he was there because he was busy.
There were some bright spots. There was a HUGE “Support Bradly Manning” sign and tons of people had stickers and some had signs, so that was awesome. Some of the more radical people had donuts on strings like those in Toronto and held it out in front of cops. I met up with Vermin Supreme very briefly and asked if he remembered me and according to him he did. We’ll see and talk more of Vermin later on though.
The rally kept going on until about 3 PM when the march finally started. We were headed towards a few blocks away from where NATO was taking place and some veterans were gonna throw away their medals in defiance of the ongoing wars. Woo.
It was simply incredible how many people were here. The media had its own section (which I mistook for a section of activists at first and soon found myself stuck in for a short while) and the activists or marchers had their own section. The amount of people? I couldn’t tell you honestly. Later on I literally sat on the sidewalk for about 10-15 minutes and watched almost the whole march go by.
The countless people I saw…well just go to my Day 4 + Aftermath photo folder to just get a snippet of what I mean. But to sum it up…
There were anti-tax payers, IWW people, radicals, Black Blocers, appeasers to government, Food Not Bombs, Bradley Manning supporters, cops, cops on bikes, cops in trucks, media on vehicles, a LBGT section, anti-Gitmo folks, a few places had speakers used to amplify certain chants and of course the section where the veterans were…and so much more.
We finally got to the spot around 4:30 till around 5:30 and the speeches were simply incredible. Even though they fell under the same line and some of them even explicitly apologized for the police it was touching. If I remember correctly at one point when one of the veterans started crying for what he had done I almost started doing the same. They were all heavily anti-war, anti state-based occupations and very passionate.
After that though…well…two words:
Yup, the Black Bloc started gathering around their own group and forming larger and larger and aiming towards where NATO was and urging (I imagine) others to join as they wanted to. The police (at first) only had a few lines as you can see here.
I was back. I couldn’t risk getting the shit beaten out of me for trying to give some transparency to an institution that by its very nature can’t be. I couldn’t risk getting arrested when I’m already upper-lower class at best. I couldn’t risk fucking up the Bloc due to my lack of experience. And I couldn’t risk scaring my loved ones half to death. So I retreated a bit. I wasn’t necessarily happy about it but for me personally it was necessary.
I wasn’t that far back though. I tried to pick some sort of middle ground but it was never stable. People kept coming and going. Either going forward to help the Bloc or West to get away from it all or (like me) to watch from a distance while not getting too involved that you get a baton to the head.
Around 6 PM it happened. The blue helmets (AKA the riot cops) came in full force and were in full force. The push had failed and the Blocers were being pushed back. The Bloc had almost no support. The radicals who were there were outnumbered by the cops 100-1 and those that were there had very little means of defending themselves. Broken sticks from signs, maybe a rock or two and fists, lots of fists. But it wasn’t enough.
The cops had batons and they used them as you can see in the video. Some had shields and all of their armor as I found out has some sort of internal cooling system so they could stand there forever with no real worry of dehydration or anything. The armor was thick and the helmets were as well. Some measly sticks weren’t going to do much against the cops.
Within a half-hour the Bloc became visibly pitiful. They had been reduced to a small group of people who were bravely (though mostly foolishly) trying to make a stand against the cops. It was heroic but it was also in vein.
I saw it. I saw bloodied faces, heads, hands and more come by. I saw the medics rush by with people in their arms. I saw barricades broken down just like other people were. I saw comrades I had just saw maybe not a few minutes before it seemed battered and bloodied. And the police were sitting pretty.
It was pretty revolting to me. And we kept getting pushed back. Thankfully I ran into some fellow Boston Stragglers and we conglomerated…the three of us. I didn’t know where anyone else was and I was in a daze quite frankly. My grandmother texted me worried about me and I told her I was still there but unharmed as of now. She wanted me to leave.
And rightly so. There was no real telling what the police were going to do. Were they going to use pepper spray? Mass arrests? Were they going to use the LRAD to kill our ears? Were they going to just beat the shit out of those who dared to remain? We didn’t know. And this fear and lack of knowledge made many turn away.
And to a certain degree I understand because this is how the state wins: Through a show of force and through causing the masses to fear. Fear so much that they won’t rise up with what should be their fellow comrades against the oppression of the police. No, people were driven out. Whether it be due to this fear, a general lack of care about the Blocers (fuck them! they don’t do anything for the movement! they’re just violence junkies!), they don’t like the radical tendencies in the movement and wouldn’t mind if it shut up (peace and love man! even if the cops are beating you? sure!) and to some degree I understand. But at another end this bothers me to no end.
People should’ve tried to stick with the Blocers. Why? Because the Black Bloc is…get ready for this…an important strategy in the struggle for liberation from oppression institutions and framing of minds.
Now why do I say this? Let’s have another brief aside…
Brief Aside #2: A Brief(ish) Left-Libertarian Defense of the Black Bloc
Let me start off by saying: Yes, one of the tactics of the Bloc is to damage property.
That said there are other facets to the Bloc that should be pointed out. And the Bloc itself should actually be identified and its means briefly analyzed.
First off, the Bloc does use violence (that’s what militant strategies tend to o after all…) and they sometimes target property. Both of these things are true and I just want to get it out of the way from the get-go that I totally recognize this. But there are a few key points I’d like to take note of.
To start with it’s typically not any sort of senseless violence. The violence is, what Jeffery Juris calls in his paper “Violence Performed and Imagined: Militant Action, the Black Bloc and the Mass Media in Genoa” “performative violence” as Juris explains:
Performative violence is a form of meaningful interaction through which actors construct social reality based on available cultural templates.
I use performative violence here to refer to symbolic ritual enactments of violent interaction with a predominant emphasis on communication and cultural expression. … In the context of political action, performative violence can be seen as a mode of communication through which activists seek to effect social transformation by staging symbolic confrontation based on ‘the representation of antagonistic relationships and the enactment of prototypical images of violence’ (Schröder and Schmidt, 2001: 10).
Certainly there are some Blocers who will use violence just to cause trouble or use violence (which are typically speaking based on my best guesses, limited personal experience with the Bloc itself and research provocateurs or people who don’t actually care about the tactic itself…) but they’re in the minority from what I’ve gathered. In any tactic you’re gonna get a few people who just leech off of it for their own benefit and don’t actually care about the movement per se’ just what it can give away. For the Bloc that’s sometimes giving cops their chance to be as violent as they want or to further undermine the Bloc or for wacky individuals to have some fun under the guise of “revolution”.
It should be emphasized (really re-emphasized by this point…) that the Bloc is not an organization or movement. There are no leaders of the group, no Bloc HQ, no official committee that decides what they do or how they do it and so on. The Bloc is simply a tactic that anyone can use. And so when liberal pundits like Chris Hedges talks about it being the “Black Bloc anarchists” he’s dead wrong. I don’t have the time to go over the origins of the Bloc (perhaps in the future) but you can find a pretty good read on it here
As Don Gato in the paper, “To Be Fair, He Is a Journalist: A Short Response to Chris Hedges on the Black Bloc” explains:
Now, as a journalist, I really don’t expect Hedges to be able to “research,”—it does seem to go against the prime directives of the profession, but let’s be clear: There’s no such thing as “The Black Bloc movement.” The black bloc is a tactic. It’s also not just a tactic used by anarchists, so “black bloc anarchists” is a bit of a misnomer—particularly because Hedges doesn’t know the identities of the people under those sexy, black masks.
Gato goes on to further explain that the Bloc can be used for a variety of means that aren’t always necessarily on the offensive side of things. They, as he puts it “…looked mostly defensive—shielding themselves and other protesters from flash grenades and police mob violence with make-shift shields (and even one armchair).”
So there’s no reason to off-handedly write off the Bloc movement at least. They can be used for a variety of purposes which include plenty of defensive ones. This includes (but is not limited to) throwing back canisters at the cops who threw them, making shields to protect themselves and less radical protesters, having the Bloc in general might make the cops a bit more wary of fucking with people, having less militant protesters get away easier through their contingency and so on.
Not only this but let’s look at the performative violence they perform. Who is it again? For the most part it’s against multi-national corporations. Nike (which has dozens of sweatshops in other countries), Starbucks (which has a history of repressing union-organizing and other big time corporations.
Now some of my comrades might persist, “What does this accomplish?” and “You’re still destroying private property!” and so on.
It’s a point well worth examining what all of this does. And Juris examines that in his essay:
Everyday protest often goes unnoticed, while the iconic images of burning cars and pitched street battlesbetween masked protestors and militarized riot cops are instantly broadcast through global communications networks.
But adds that:
At the same time, police and government ofﬁcials can manipulate violent images, decontextualizing and reinserting them within narratives that frame protestors as dangerous criminals or terrorists. Indeed, social movement struggles are largely waged through media wars of symbolic interpretation.
It really is the pinnacle of this tactic: How will it be interpreted? And unfortunately most times the media is none too polite to those who decide to take their protesting a bit farther. But how much does this actually hurt the tactic?
Well as Juris points out it more or less nullifies the action to the general public because it’s reinterpreted as some sort of “senseless violence” (which performative violence per its own definition cannot be to begin with!) through the media’s lens. Some may see that or others may want to see that and others might just be paid to see that. But whatever the case that perception is there so how do we deal with it?
First it must be recognized that (as Juris concludes in his paper) that these sorts of radically militant tactics are going to be double edged swords. And that to some extent or another it’s going to backfire on the movement if we’re not careful in our actions. What we have to do then is be careful in our actions. We should certainly (if we’re going to use the tactic of Blocing at all) use it defensively and even offensively if necessary. Use it against those corporations that have assisted in the large-scale robbery of the people through assisting the state’s regulations, taxation, restrictions on smaller businesses (not that smaller businesses are all angels mind you but barriers to entry certainly restrict market place innovation) and to increase the costs of maintaining itself by smashing it’s shit up.
Perhaps though, You are Not the Target Audience. Perhaps, it’s not the majority of people we need to win over and it’s worth keeping in mind that:
Even the American Revolution–a campaign that sadly wasted much to replace one authority with another–was won with the support of barely over a third of the populace. You don’t need a majority to derail an injustice.
It doesn’t matter if a riot is directly successful on the scale of burning down city hall or permanently evicting the police from a neighborhood, what matters more is the change in perceptions. There’s a long history of social struggle skyrocketing after street confrontations–not because folks believe a few busted windows or bruised cops pave the road to a better world, but because it at least demonstrates potential.
There’s much more I could say on this issue (and if this seems a bit disjointed it’s because I’m trying to take on multiple issues within 1,000 words or less and still couln’t) and I think even Karl Hess and Rothbard (of all people!) can back me here and so can many here.
In the near future I’ll have a much more exhaustive defense of the Bloc coming from a left-libertarian (in the ALL sense of course) perspective but in the end I think I’m going to be Hedging Our Bets on the Black Bloc for now…at least to one extent or another.
End of Brief Aside #2, Continuing now with Days 4 + Aftermath
So why was the Bloc so weak to begin with? As it turned out, several people told me (including people from the west coast) that 99% Solidarity did not want Oakland to come. Why? Because as William said, “They’ve got their shit together.” and 99% Solidarity certainly didn’t want the Bloc to have any sort of force or for state-capitalism and the state itself as well as the oppression of the police to be taken out from the bottom up in any meaningful sense. No! We’ll just wave peace signs, signs in general, do a bit of marching and seminars and that’ll fix shit!
In order for that to happen the 99% Solidarity people apparently lied about how many people wanted to go (you needed 50 or more) and said that in total they only had something really close to 50 but that didn’t cut it. How convenient…
Without that group of more professionally trained and experienced Blocers the Blocers were mostly east coast people with a bit of a mix of some west coasters. The kids, as William said, had a lot spunk, spirit and god bless them and all for that but it certainly wasn’t enough when push came to shove.
Speaking of pushing and shoving we were eventually pushed out of the area by around 7 PM and me and the people I was with headed back to the church for the night. We ended up having more spaghetti, checking on our comrades at the church and making sure they’re ok (unfortunately one of ours got this as a parting gift from the cops for trying to pull people out of the way of harm (again defensive stuff from the Bloc).
We tried to sleep though…
In the morning I woke to decide what I’d do. I ended up deciding I’d help clean with Mark and the rest of the crew and then try to scramble over to the place that William and I had hung out with two days before after the cemetery.
I got lost along the way but finally got there around 2 PM and hung out with William for a few hours. He told me all about his favoring for the Bloc and we saw several comrades who had been beaten come in and out of the location. It wasn’t a pretty sight. We went out for pizza right down the street and had some great talks about the IWW, other comrades and more.
Towards the end William and I bid each other farewell as he encouraged me to not to miss the plane…thankfully I didn’t and it was a relatively pleasant ride home as well.
We all got back to our respective places and a month later here I sit telling you what I thought of the whole thing…
Closing – A Left-Libertarian Take on the Chicago Trip
Overall, what did I think of the ordeal?
Well it certainly wasn’t perfect. There were the cliche’ calls for reform from many in #OWS but that’s to be expected in any sort of populist movement right? Perhaps to one extent or another. Still, the reformism certainly pissed me off at some point. The blind love of police, the defending of the social services given off by the state (which should be replaced by intentional communities built on the values of liberty, equality and solidarity) and the nurses rally in general (even if it was the reason why most of us got there to begin with…) was a bit nauseating.
I kept thinking, “How are higher taxes gonna be put on the rich when the rich control the system and most here probably believe something similar?” Was it through an electoral candidate? Well if he/she is in favor of that who’s going to actually give money to them? Certainly not the corporations that gave out plenty of the money to Obama. I thought about this a lot on one of my walks to get wi-fi at night and it just didn’t make sense to me. I just don’t see how (or why) the 99% would (or should) struggle for some sort of tax increase on the rich.
Let’s say it happens…ok, so what? More money is given from them to certain services that those in power want to see…why wouldn’t that be war? War is probably one of the most profitable things that the state can do for itself. Culturally it induces a state of fear, docile-ness, subservience and blind alliegence. Sure it invokes resistance as well but typically it’s never enough to do much in the short-run, maybe the long-run but either one is a long shot historically speaking. It must be remembered that War is the Health of the State.
So that part certainly didn’t jive with me. But what did jive with me? Stuff like Food Not Bombs, the location William and I kept going to had free food, wi-fi and a real sense of community, consoling and help to each other. I felt like I was a part of something that actually cared and somehow existed in the real world. So the sense of community was real and certainly was one of the most real ones I’ve ever experienced.
The culture was wonderfully eclectic in some ways (though sadly uniform in others in terms of asking for mere reformism instead of doing systematic critiques of state or capital based power) but overall I certainly appreciated the culture and community there more than I did in some libertarian events. We all felt pretty joined and open to me as opposed to a little closed off and isolated. To be clear I’m not saying all libertarian events are like that at all (Porcfest of course was for the most part nothing like that!) but it can bear down on me sometimes.
Each protest I went to was mixed. The chants were the same old (“Show me what democracy looks like!” “This is what democracy looks like!”, “Who streets? Our streets!” (and then some radicals would add “Tear up the concrete!” which was cool enough) and other various chants). I’ve gotta say one of my favorite chants was, “You’re sexy! You’re cute! Take off your riot suit!” I chanted along with that the first time and then started it the second time, it was quite empowering and awesome. A radical message mixed in with some good ol’ “peace and love” liberalism.
My experiences with William were both gratifying and awesome, as were my experiences at the grave site…both of which made the trip worth it alone. Overall I had a good time and overall I certainly embrace August Spies quote, “We are the birds of the coming storm.”
Yes, indeed. We are the birds of the coming storm. We are the bringers of what Voltairine de Cleyre calls “The Hurricane” we are biter, bruised and torn at first…”But yet thy time is not…”. We wait patiently while building gradually towards our revolutionary ends and, “The tide has turned; the vane veers slowly round…”. We are now angry, full of bleeding hearts, we are screaming at that deaf sky.
Finally, “The tide flows in, the wind roars from the depths” and our rage is strong. In our furty we hurl the tyrants down. We needed no prayer and needed no god to answer it. We did it swiftly and effectively. Our anguish and hate has culminated in a revolutionary haste .
It is de Cleyre’s notion of “The Hurricane” that we bring. Not with meaningless reform but with gradual change towards revolutionary ends with a sort of “haste” about ourselves. This “haste” recognizes the urgency of alternatives to the current society as the IWW does when it say “build the new society within the shell of the old” and urging all workers to unite against capitalism and the state.
Through our anguish, our tempered hatred of authority (hatred isn’t personally for me but tempered enough I feel it can be used effectively perhaps by some and in any case it’s just an example taken from Voltai’s text) and our bleeding hearts. These hearts that they’ve torn out of us in the interest of making sure we fight each other all the way down the line.
Sounds romantic? Good. Anarchism is probably the most romantic thing I think you can get into. And I mean that in a few different ways. Living anarchism in any fashion to any degree to me is like a lovely dream that I aspire to. It’s a wonderful future I take steps towards in every day of my life if all goes well. Maybe it’s just haf a step or 0.999999 of a step or not even that. But I want to keep moving forward towards reclaiming as much of my own life as I can. The trip to Chicago helped crystallize some of these feelings and, if you can believe it, radicalized me a bit more than where I was.
I’m thankful to my comrades who hung around with me, had some good discussions with (especially William and Brian) and I’m thankful for the nurses and for the people less radical than me existing that way I can feel like I’m still crazy and like the building of this “Hurricane” is going to take sometime and that’s ok.
That’s my report from Chicago.
May we continue to bring news of the coming storm and remind the ruling class that we don’t need them, they need us.
(Looking for more info on what happened here in my opinion? Check this interview out!)