The April Actions
It is April 18th, too soon to arrive
at conclusions about the anti-WTO/World Bank demonstrations in Washington,
DC, but a good time for congratulations.
First, issues of IMF and World Bank imposed poverty, powerlessness, and ecological
and social devastation were given moral and economic visibility. Subway car
drivers told riders about the anti- IMF demonstrations while bypassing certain
stations. Comprehensive teach-ins were held in many venues. Images of thousands
upon thousands of A16 activists were seen worldwide. CNN had Robert Weissman
explaining the events in a repeatedly shown headline news report. This and
more was major progress.
Second, the anti- IMF and World Bank demonstrations addressed third world
poverty, the situation of farmers and laborers abroad and in the U.S., political
prisoners, the debt, consumerism, ecology, issues of race and gender, and
much more. Constituencies with narrower political agendas worked with those
who had broader ones, and vice versa. There was mutual understanding and support.
The AFL-CIO, individual unions, mainstream green organizations, U.S. Jubilee
2000, A16, and anarchist groups had political differences, sure, but they
were well-managed by organizers on all sides. That is major progress.
Third, the various tactical wings of the movement—whether seeking to
get arrested, to militantly protest, to make a public but peaceful statement,
or just to learn or teach—worked together. Diverse tactics did not trump
one another. Tension was minimal. Intercommunication was considerable. Coalitions
were strengthened rather than dissolving into tactical disputes. There was
in-the-street mutual aid, careful planning of venues and events, and pre-demonstration
communication of intents. The Anti-Capitalist Blocs of young anarchists
brought to the actions tactical energy, creativity, and courage, as in Seattle,
but also a willingness to blend these attributes into the larger venue respecting
the desires of other constituencies and repeatedly defending their less prepared
fellow participants. Likewise, activists dedicated to non-violence respected
those advocating different tactical views. Tactical differences remain, of
course, as do political ones, but they are being constructively discussed.
Fourth, the numbers of people ready to actively engage in or support law-breaking
was huge— roughly 20,000 people went to DC to risk or provoke arrest,
or support such choices.
Fifth, many who attended A16 perhaps feel the logistics of the days of confrontation
were a defeat for the demonstrators. This snatches defeat from the jaws of
victory. No one should be the surprised that the U.S. government can amass
an effective coercive force to control events in the streets of Washington,
DC. (In this respect Seattle was an aberration, not Washington.)
Yes, the Washington police had a very effective strategy. They used illegitimate
preemptive arrests, set out a huge restricted area around the World Bank and
IMF, keeping activists from the target of dissent, invaded and closed the
Convergence Center as intimidation, used a mixture of arrests, aggression,
and sometimes forbearance in an effective brew to try to channel outcomes,
and worked hard to goad protesters into acting out, though unsuccessfully.
Activists countered with a fledgling but steadily growing non-violent army—mobile,
determined, decentralized, anti-authoritarian, learning while doing, yet nonetheless
holding its own. No doubt we can learn many new lessons for the future, but
to judge demonstrations by narrow tactical norms is wrong on two counts. First,
we should not expect outright victories anytime soon. Second, it just isn’t
the point. The point is to raise consciousness, to increase dissent, to solidify
awareness and skills, to create ties and solidarity, to raise the image to
elites (and ourselves) of a trajectory of dissent that will steadily enlarge,
solidify, and diversify unless demands are granted.
The victory on the streets of Washington was in the discipline, organization,
steadfastness, creativity, and insight of the demonstrators doing their best
against a powerful, armed, mobile, trained force whose sole purpose was to
keep them at bay and demoralize them. The victory was in accomplishing the
priority goals of consciousness raising and solidarity and bringing the issues
to the public. The fact that the meetings were not totally terminated is a
Finally, the overall mainstream media coverage in Washington DC was much better
than in Seattle. The media doesn’t have new values, much less new structure,
of course. Instead, strong watchdog and alternative media work have created
a context in which the public knows too much and is able to get information
from too many sources for the media to distort certain realities without getting
condemned for it. This could be seen at almost every level including TV coverage
on CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and more local
newspapers and media. Of course, the coverage wasn’t perfect, but what
else is new? The point is, coverage was improved over Seattle, due to the
pressures brought from media activism and alternative sources and the growing
power and visibility of this movement.
Still, each time we protest we ought
to gain new insights. So here are some things to think about.
Why were the numbers of union members and of representatives from religious
communities who might have participated in the public legal events such as
the Jubilee 2000 rally (April 9), and the AFL-CIO/CTC rally (April 12) lower,
rather than much higher, than they were in Seattle? Was this due to diminished
organizing of these constituencies? Was it due to a fear of what the situation
might be like? If so, what could have been done to alleviate such fears and
to provide congenial venues for folks not prepared to run in the streets or
get arrested? Having 8,000 people for civil disobedience and another 12,000
for militant support only gains full power when there are another 100,000
for legal peaceful assembly to keep repression at bay.
Why were communities of color largely absent from the legal peaceful demos
and overwhelmingly absent from the civil disobedience demos and the leadership
throughout? Acknowledging A16’s aggressive efforts to incorporate these
communities as participants and leaders, plus the presence of Free Mumia constituencies
and active efforts to communicate with diverse communities in DC, what more
needs to be done in what new ways to have more success? Does it just take
time, so we need to continue as is and the work will begin to show serious
results? Is it in part due to a very warranted difference in expectations
of handling at the hands of police, and if so, what is to be done about that?
More, do organizers need to offer movements that oppose anti-racist police
violence the kind of support that we want their members to provide global
economics efforts? Surely it shouldn’t surprise anyone if that turns
out to be a precondition for serious trust and solidarity.
Young constituencies were overwhelmingly the backbone of the April 16 demos
and provided a powerful display of growing youth radicalization, yet the issue
of outreach arises for young people too. Why could young people amass 10,000
to 20,000 activists from campus and youth constituencies to take substantial
risks, an amazing achievement, yet not amass another 100,000 from those same
constituencies for legal, peaceful, participation?
Why were almost all the young folks veterans, with so few rookies? For campus
militants and radicals to meet together, rally, organize, and educate is excellent.
But what matters as well is for radicals to go into their neighbor’s
dorms or apartments, into the libraries, the dining halls, and into the fraternities,
gymnasiums, bars, and malls to organize people who don’t yet agree.
Attaining a certain size and then operating more or less in cultural, social,
and political separation from the rest of one’s community, campus, neighborhood,
city, or workplace must not typify movement practice. Reaching into new arenas
is the core task of effective organizing. Z