Building Bridges ...and chains across them
By now most readers of this site will have seen the post by the "organizer" of an upcoming event, in which potential attendees are warned that said organizer may turn them in to the police state, should they step out of line.
Perhaps a little background is in order, for those not familiar with this entire drama. A few months back, this "organizer" and his friends with WCW organized a demonstration in which they called on Portlanders to turn out for what was billed as "mass resistance." Several hundred of us heeded their call. Rather than mass resistance, though, it was to be a boringly permitted, groveling-on-the-ground, marching-in-circles photo op for the organizers. At least, that was apparently their plan. However, that is not how it all went down.
It turned out to be quite a spirited gathering, mostly filled with people who had responded to the "mass resistance" call without realizing that the handfull of naive, clueless "organizers" did not really mean, or even understand, the term "mass resistance." They did not share their plans or the intended route with the gathered crowd. In any event, the march took on a life of its own. Veering spiritedly away from the prescribed and permitted cake walk envisioned by the organizers, the thrumming crowd moved through the city under the autonomous power of hundreds of people with minds of their own. The demonstrators pushed through police lines several times, and stood for a long and raucous impromptu demonstration outside the offices of the bOregonian, where they chanted "tell the truth!" and "Fuck the corporate media!" Amid drumming and fiery speeches, a momentum began to build.
It is my belief, by the way, that such unpredictable autonomy is an important aspect of creative and effective action. If we allow ourselves to be passively herded along by police, if we never disrupt the status quo, then there is no incentive for the system to change. It is also very disempowering for people to be treated to such a show of force by the corporate police state (ie, storm troopers decked out in riot garb, the prominent display of guns and other weapons, and the explicit threat of violence), without even trying to fight back. I would like to see more thought going into strategy, focus, and goals before people are put at risk, but in general, I prefer an unpermitted, unprescribed action over a cake walk, hands down.
The march took off again, and wound up at the intersection of 12th and Jefferson, where the police finally caught up on their horses and off road vehicles, and they proceeded to attack and gas and arrest demonstrators. Not that we weren't all expecting that... we know the drill. But it was an exhuberant occasion just the same, because it took a long time for the police to catch up, and in that long and uncertain interval, the crowd began to sense its own power. One could actually feel a tangible difference in the energy of the gathering, as people began to realize that, if we stick together, hey, maybe we really *can* change the world. Maybe we really *can* break through the lines and drive out the oppressor, just like this little crowd broke through what had appeared to be such a monolithic line of force in our streets. If we could gather this momentum and add a healthy dose of careful strategy, who knows what we could do. So, although the batons and the guns and the gas came spewing forth this time, we nevertheless came to know more about who we are for the next time. We do have the power to resist, we do have the courage to stand together and fight, and we are beginning to realize this.
In the end, on that day, 10 people were arrested, dozens of people were pepper-sprayed, and an unknown number were injured from trampling hooves, batons, gloved hands, projectile weapons, and toxic gases. I watched as street medics patched up the wounded, legal observers rounded up information on the captured, and demonstrators came to the aid of their comrades with water bottles and maalox and herbal remedies. The brute force of the police state was not enough to stop the momentum that was, and is, beginning to grow. We all felt it. It was beautiful to see the solidarity, the mutual aid, the common ground between us as we patched each other up and met each others' needs.
That is, until later.
Later, we learned that we were betrayed by the very people who called us to that march. Russ Hallberg and other WCW organizers, unbelievably, began loudly demanding that the police punish the demonstrators, who had "ruined their march." Bitter and full of recriminations, they whined in the corporate media that they could have accomplished ...something... if only those bad protestors had not spoiled "their march" and obscured "their message" by showing up with minds of their own. Some of those complaints have subsequently found their way into courtrooms, aimed at demonstrators.
Mr. Hallberg, in particular, earned a special wrath by announcing to the corporate media that, as far as he was concerned, the people who were arrested should "rot in jail." (It's pretty much a given that it is Mr. Hallberg who is the "organizer" who posted that ridiculous warning to anyone who shows up on the steel bridge for his next little adventure.) Incredibly, the tiny handful of WCW organizers who were selling out demonstrators and assuring the corporate media that protesters had it coming when the police attacked them, were not even there on 12th and Jefferson when the violence began. They did not even witness the events that they jumped up to testify against activists over. They were back in a co-miserating cluster, blocks away from the donnybrook, trying to figure out where they had lost control. So the accounts that they gave later were nothing more than assumptions.
So this is not a pretty history for these folks. (And I'm leaving out the part about how a deranged WCW organizer actually physically attacked me that day in the name of "peace," screaming and spitting, "The police are not our enemy!" into my camera as she battered the lens. You can read more about that here, if you like: http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2006/10/347140.shtml) Now, they want to organize another trap. The name of the organization may be different, but the faces and ideology are the same.
So what is the lesson here, and how does it relate to the "human chain" planned for the Steel bridge? After trying to meet and hash out differences, only to be stereotyped and insulted and blown off by the WCW folks, most of the radical community gave up on them. Alas, I confess that, in spite of all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I had continued to hold out hope that these naive and clueless dolts could be made to see and understand the error of their ways. I had truly believed that ignorance is only a matter of lack of information, and that being a damn liberal is not necessarily a life sentence. I had thought that, once they understood the connection between their own actions and the oppressive system that they say they want to change, they would understand the stark inappropriateness of their behavior. At the very, very least, I was sure they would apologize. And oddly enough, I had been willing to accept such an apology, even for the almost unforgiveable sin of turning comrades in to the police state. I was willing, because I had truly believed that there was hope, that we could bridge the divide between radicals and liberals, that we would be stronger together than we were apart, and that the behavior of these organizers had been a result of their ignorance and inexperience rather than willful, intentional harm.
This latest chapter in a very distressing tale has finally convinced me that this is not the case. This is not simply a matter of inexperience and naivete. These folks are actually promising to repeat the offense. Not having learned a thing in the intervening time, refusing to listen to the heartfelt voices of the people they had wronged, they are still pretending to be allies, still pretending they know best, and still promising to use the fist of the police state against our comrades. This is willful ignorance. This is a selfish willingness to trade solidarity and common cause for a few moments in a starring role on the cutting room floor of the corporate media. And this, my friends, is dangerous.
Contrary to the stereotypes and assumptions made by Mr. Hallberg et al, my disgust has nothing to do with my thoughts on the relative merits of illegal direct action vs legal and permitted events. On the contrary, I understand full well that there are times and places for all sorts of tactics. There are often logistical or personal reasons for activists to prefer a more tame kind of action, and whatever my personal feelings have been, I have generally respected requests for this sort of thing. For example, on at least three separate occasions, I have heard some very eloquent requests from activists who are older women, who asked that people respect the fact that they cannot run as fast as the rest of us. So when they come to a demonstration with the understanding that it will be a low-risk affair, they do not want to be thrust into a situation that they did not anticipate by people who can outrun whatever they start, leaving these ladies holding the bag, as it were. Fair enough.
Not one of these women would ever have stooped to turning in their comrades, had any direct action ensued in spite of their requests. Not one.
A true diversity of tactics makes room for a healthy respect for, and even a healthy criticism of, all kinds of tactics and all kinds of strategies. However, a diversity of tactics *NEVER* involves the kind of demonizing, snitching, and collaboration with the police state that these "organizers" have consistently displayed. They ought to be ashamed of themselves, rather than envisioning themselves as the "reasonable" ones, the "good" protesters, the ones that "the masses" might listen to. Their behavior has only hurt the causes they pretend to stand for. They have helped to build consent for police violence, and they have put good people at risk. They have hurt people.
To be clear, I believe that the people who betrayed us on October 5th, the same people who promise that they will do it again on New Years Day, are dangerous. As it turns out, they are *willfully* dangerous. Shame on them.
If these organizers really wanted to make a difference in a legal manner, they could have taken a lesson from the good people who have been standing outside Schumacher's, quietly educating the public about the reality of the fur trade every Saturday for the past year. Because they, too, expressed a preference for legal, family-friendly action. They made it clear that their intention was not to commit acts of sabotage or illegal direct action, but merely to educate the public. They informed the community that all were welcome to join them, and they respectfully asked people to help them maintain the image that they wanted to convey to the public. They explained that they wanted to keep the focus on the animals.
While some of them may have made different decisions than I might have made (ie, talking to the corporate media), I absolutely respect, understand and support their reasons for doing so. And one can hardly argue with the results of their hard work. They have been an inspiration to the entire community. And somehow, they managed to do it without ever becoming condescending, patronizing, threatening, or rude to the people who joined them. They did it without ever, once, condemning the actions and tactics of others, even when those actions and tactics took on a more radical nature. And they did it without ever, ever, even once, threatening to turn fellow activists over to the police state.
Somehow, they were able to inspire people to respect what they were trying to do without trying to control them. They never once collaborated with the police state, never once slid comfortably into the role of oppressor, and they never once tried to claim ownership over the actions of others. That, my friends, is the lesson here. It really is possible for people to employ all kinds of tactics without demonizing and hurting those who take other paths.
I remember a watershed moment that occurred in Seattle in 1999. This moment, I think, was probably the most frightening of all for the oppressor. It happened as thousands of rank and file union members marched down the streets of Seattle, even as brick-throwing radicals tore down a McDonalds nearby. And a corporate media minion approached one of the dignified, older unionists and asked, in a snotty and leading voice, how he felt about "those people" who were "ruining their march." And the unionist turned to her and said, in an even voice, "They have their ways, and I have mine. I might not do that, but I understand why they are doing it. Thank God people are doing something to fight back. I'm not going to stand here and condemn them for you. They are my comrades, and we are all in this together. I support them, and they support me."
That went out live across the ether. What a chilling moment that must have been for the tiny, weak, and pale elite that lives off our backs by playing us against each other. I have often wondered if that isn't why something as big and traumatic as the destruction of the World Trade Center happened such a short time later.
In any event, THAT is how to keep others from "ruining your march." By standing in solidarity with them, without necessarily taking ownership of whatever they do. By recognizing your comrades, and being clear with yourself about whose side you are really on. And that kind of solidarity is where our strength lies. With it, we are invincible.
People like "organizer," who would turn others over to the police state, undermine that solidarity, and are dangerous to all of us.
I am very conflicted about this event that is planned for the Steel bridge on New Years day. Because, no matter how I may feel about a particular group or tactic, I generally do not believe in actively undermining each others' work. And so ordinarily, I might offer fair criticism of an event such as this one, in that I might publically wonder what the point is. But I would not actively discourage others from participating.
In this case, though, I am having trouble just sitting back and watching this develop. Because I believe that these folks are dangerous to our community. Not only do they pose a threat of turning people over to the police on the day of the event, but who knows what they might be willing to do, who they might be willing to sell out, further down the road? I think the more they know about any of us, the closer they get to us, the more dangerous they become. In my opinion, they are infiltrators. And infiltrators are to be isolated and avoided.
I would not presume to tell others what they should or should not do, and I will not go so far as to say that this event should be boycotted. But I do want to make it very clear that anyone attending this event could be at risk, and that the people organizing it are not our allies. I will certainly not be there, and I do not support this in any way. I think the symbolism here is very telling: They will walk up on a bridge, and they will throw a chain across it.
That is, if they are able to. It may be that they will be such a small and isolated band after all, that they will be unable to throw up any chains.
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