Filed under: Milwaukee area | Tags: anti-capitalism, austerity, black bloc, crowds, elections, milwaukee, occupy, recall, rowdy crowds, scott walker
Four arrests Wednesday evening. A “keep it in the streets” protest in downtown Milwaukee followed the re-election of Governor Scott Walker, and was scheduled to respond to the victory of either politician. At this time, four have been released and cited with disorderly conduct and one more recently released back into our arms a day later than the rest. The five that were arrested were almost arbitrarily chosen for their close proximity to the blind and fevered panic of the police. The police, despite their smirks, had far less control over the situation than they want to say. At moments they had to put their hands on their guns just to convince themselves of who was in control. Shit was out of control.
After a year and a half being wasted on a recall election, after all of the energy put into the Capitol occupation and state-wide strikes was funneled into useless electoral politics, there is now room to breathe and begin again. This newfound freedom to act was seen in the streets of Milwaukee with surprising clarity. What started as a gathering of talking heads quickly escalated into a push and shove match with police, whose aim was to corner and stop any unpermitted march from taking place. Within seconds of the march, protesters took to the streets as dozens of cops in riot gear attempted to contain them. The crowd was unwilling to be pushed aside, and worked together to shove back and wind around the horses, motorcycles, and beefy baton-wielding helmets.
The black bloc, though dormant in Milwaukee for years, seemingly reappeared (some in all black, some with red bandannas, and some other groups and individuals who wore some form of the mask) and it both engaged in confrontation and helped to defend individuals in the crowd, while others that weren’t bloc’d up joined in and initiated their own actions. Its very presence declared non-violence an impossibility.
Police tried to stop the crowds, but failed again and again to contain its excesses. People pushed against police lines and horses and pulled their friends to safety as cops attempted to arrest them. One startled cop had some unknown liquid thrown at his face during the first attempted kettle. At another moment of police provocation a member of the crowd wrested a baton from the grip of a cavalry officer, hit him, and threw the baton at another, then jumped into the cloak of the crowd. It was unruly, disobedient, and willing to shove, at least 150 deep.
After twelve or so blocks of low-intensity conflict, protestors made it to Zeidler Park, the planned to be space of occupation. At this point the PA once again became an instrument of boredom as the crowd was talked at by people that wanted to give speeches instead of dance, or eat, or fight. Attention was then shifted to supporting those arrested, and a small crowd moved to the local police station to await their release. No occupation happened, but for now that is ok. All in all, the event was a short but inspiring leap away from the silly matter of a recall election.
When asked about the protest, police chief Flynn was quoted saying that it was MPD’s job to “babysit” the crowd while they “pretend to be relevant protestors”. We couldn’t disagree more. It is only now that the police have been identified as a thing to be fought, and the recognition that democracy will always fail to appease its audience that Wisconsin joins relevant contemporary struggle. Last year at the Capitol there was some confusion as to whether or not the police could be considered a part of the working class and it is very nice to see this question can put to rest. There is nothing more salient to present-day politics than an antagonism towards police.
Meanwhile, the media acted with calculation, minimizing and simplifying events, as they are expected to, creating a safe distance from any possible intensity. To them, it was simply a protest, it was “40”, it was “several”. It marched roughly half the actual distance down the forgettable avenue of Plankinton, when the wildness really cut through Water Street, the center of downtown. We blocked traffic “briefly” (ahem, forty god minutes at least). Their tendencies are to be non-descriptive, to imply that those that got arrested deserved it, and to minimize the actual event as much as possible, acknowledging it only so as to explain it away.
Similarly, the Left attempts to erase the excitement and power we experienced at the march. They talk about a peaceful, nonviolent protest where police officers unjustly arrested individuals to stifle free speech. From their press releases to the photos they post, the shining activists of the 99% were all but crushed, helpless victims.
The truth is that the march wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been as unruly and forceful as it had been, and there would have been many more arrests and injuries at the hands of the police. There was anger, and there was power.
To the rest of the world that is fighting and making 2012 the year that the world ends: Don’t wait for us, we’ll catch up!
We were not the 99%. We were 150, and we were angry.
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, anti-capitalism, austerity, barcelona, communism, crisis, flames, general strike, rioting, riots, spain, strike, the movement of riots, Vaga General
“The General Strike of 29 March paralyzed much of Spain. The ports shut down, along with many factories, electricity consumption fell by 24% (even though in Madrid, for example, they kept the street lights running during the day to jack up the usage rates and affect the statistics), transport in many areas was paralyzed, strike participation ran between 80-100% in most industries (and at about a quarter to a third in the service sector and the small shops).
In Barcelona, the general strike began at midnight with pickets closing down bars. In the center, one group of hooded picketers entered a casino, presumably to shut it down, but once inside they carried out a quick robbery and made off with 2,300 euros in cash. Early in the morning, at least 8 blockades, most of them involving burning tires, shut down the major highway and rail entrances to the city. Pickets throughout the morning in most neighborhoods of the city patrolled the streets, blocking transit, barricading the streets with dumpsters, and forcing shops to close. At midday the strike in Barcelona escalated into heavy rioting that lasted most of the day. Hundreds of thousands of people converged in the city center, seizing the streets and slowing down police. Innumerable banks and luxury stores were smashed, innumerable dumpsters set ablaze, and a large number of banks, luxury stores, Starbucks and other chains were set on fire.
In a couple occasions the police were sent running, attacked with fire, fireworks, and stones, and for the first time ever the Catalan police had to use tear gas to regain control, although large parts of the city remained liberated for hours, and columns of smoke rose into the sky from multiple neighborhoods late into the night. Many journalists and undercover cops were attacked and injured by the rioters. Fires spread to unseen proportions, often filling wide avenues and sending flames shooting several meters into the air. Firefighters were so over extended, they often took half an hour to reach even the major blazes, and were often seen bypassing burning dumpsters in order to extinguish burning banks. Dozens of people were injured by less lethal ammunitions fired by the police, and a relatively unprecedented number of people participated in the riots directly or indirectly. The heaviest fighting and smashing was carried out by anarchists, left Catalan independentistes, socialists, and above all neighborhood hooligans and immigrant youth. Nonetheless, thousands more people of all ages and backgrounds supported and applauded the rioters and filled the air with anticapitalist chants. Accounts and memories differ, but many people feel that they have just witnessed the largest and most important riots in Catalunya since the 1980s, if not earlier.
A more detailed report will follow when the smoke clears.
Some interesting videos are linked below, but bear in mind that the most intense moments are never recorded, because the journalists are getting their cameras smashed, and also because generally the government requests that the media not show footage of large groups of people smashing banks or attacking the police.”
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anti-capitalism, austerity, burning things, capitalism, demonstrations, fire, Greece, molotov, rioting, things on fire
From Occupied London:
There are various estimations about the number of the people concentrated on the streets and squares of the country. Athens had anything over 500,000 people on the streets, it is not easy to estimate it, but before the attack of the police every street leading to Syntagma and the square were packed, with thousands more coming from the neighbourhoods on foot or by buses and trains. Half an hour before the demo one could see the metro stations and the bus stops full of people waiting to get on a vehicle that would bring them to the centre. Every city saw rallies and mass marches, with Heraclion of Crete, a city that holds a record in the recent wave of suicides, having a 30,000-strong march. Demonstrations alla round the country turned violent, with people destroying banks or occupying governmental buildings, e.g. in Volos the branch of Eurobank, the Inland Revenue Offices and the town hall were torched or in Corfu people attacked to the offices of their region’s MPs, trashing them, the town hall of Rhodes was occupied during the demo and still is occupied, to mention but a few of such actions.
Police did several preemptive arrests in the morning hours before the start of the demonstration. Several activists were attacked by police officers in plain clothes and were detained as soon as they came out of their houses, while it was obvious since very early that police wanted to keep people away from the parliament. In there the new austerity package (an over 600-page document that was given to the MPs 24 hours in advance with the advice to vote for it before Monday morning when the stock markets will open) was being “discussed”. Early afternoon when the occupiers of Law School tried to march from the School to Syntagma the police attacked to them breaking the block, while they attempted to raid the School several times during the night, using also rubber bullets. Well before the arrival of most demonstrators who were still on their way, the police attacked en masse the crowd in Syntagma Square using physical violence, chemical gases and shock grenades. After the attack a big part of the demonstration was concentrated on Amalias st, Fillelinon st, Ermou st, Mitropoleos st and Karagiorgi Servias st. People battled with police for over 5 hours in their effort to return to Syntagma. Other people erected big barricades across Korai sq. on both Stadiou st and Panepistimiou st. and fought trying to reach Syntagma or defend themselves from police attacks. On Panepistimiou st. police concentrated much of its forces on the barricade in front of Athens University and people clashed head to head defending their barricade. DELTA motorcycle police raided several times the crowd, esp. in Mitropoleos street, MAT riot police did the same several times but also things went the other way around. Besides the barricades and the substantial groupings of people, demonstrators broke in various smaller groups that clashed with small groups of police or walked around searching for a barricade or to join a larger group.
After midnight the majority of the parliamentarians (199) voted for the new austerity memorandum that -among other measures- includes the drop of salaries by 22% and drops the minimum salary at about 400 Euro per month, while unemployment rate has been doubled (over 20% in Nov 2011) within 16 months.
74 demonstrators were arrested and over 50 people injured by the police were hospitalised, the number of detainees remains unknown.
Several banks, governmental buildings and two police departments (Acropolis and Exarchia depts.) were attacked by demonstrators during the night, while Athens city hall was occupied, but police concentrated forces invaded the building and arrested the occupiers. Over 40 buildings were burnt in Athens, while occupations of public buildings still are holding all around Greece. The Law School occupation issued a statement in early morning of 13/02/2012: “It was decided by the assembly of the Law School occupation that the occupation continues. We call everyone on the streets to continue the struggle. Nothing ended, everything now starts, the Law School is a centre of the struggle and as such it will remain”.
Filed under: Milwaukee area, war-machine | Tags: austerity, collective bargaining, madison, milwaukee, occupy, occupy everything, occupy MKE, occupy wallstreet, politicians, public space, take, take things, the rich
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, Athens, austerity, general strike, Greece, police, rioting
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, austerity, become everything, capitalism, commune, communism, deferal, democracy, insurrection, occupation, occupy wallstreet, plaza, research & destroy, riot, the political, we are nothing
Posted to Anarchist News:
We are the generation of the abandoned, the betrayed. Tossed up on the shores of the present by 150 years of failed insurrection, by the shipwreck of the workers’ movement, the failure of a hundred political projects. But it is not only our once-upon-a-time friends who have departed. Today, even our enemies flee from us, even capital abandons us: no more its minimum promises, the right to be exploited, the right to sell one’s labor power. Abandoned, we greet the world with utter abandon. There is no longer any possible adequacy of means and ends, no way of subordinating our actions to the rational or the practical. The present age of austerity means that even the most meager of demands require the social democrats to pick up bricks. Betrayed by democracy, betrayed by the technocrats of socialism, betrayed by the dumb idealism of anarchy, betrayed by the stolid fatalism of the communist ultraleft. We are not the 99%. We are not a fucking percentage at all. We do not count. If we have any power at all, it is because we are the enemies of all majority, enemies of “the people.” As the old song goes, we are nothing and must become everything.
Though it is a key characteristic of capitalism that each generation of its victims has, in its way, considered its persistence beyond a few decades unlikely if not preposterous, the difference between us and them is that in our case it just happens to be true. Now, not even capital’s footservants can paint a convincing portrait of a future based upon markets and wages – all the sci-fi dystopias of flying cars and robot servants seem truly ridiculous. No, the future only presents as ruin, apocalypse, burning metal in the desert. It is easier to imagine the end of life on earth than our own old age.
This is why anxieties over the implicit statism of anti-austerity struggles are baseless. With the exception of a few benighted activists and media ideologues, everyone understands quite well that the Keynesian card was played long ago, blown on wars and bailouts, the victim of its own monstrous success. There will be no rebirth of the welfare state, no “reindustrialization” of society. This much is obvious: if there is an expansion of the state, it will be a proto-fascist austerity state. Nor is there any longer a “Left” in any meaningful sense, as a force that desires to manage the existing world on different terms, in the name of the workers or the people. Those radicals who, tired of the weakness of the loyal opposition, imagine themselves called upon to “destroy the left” find that their very existence is predicated upon this old, vanished enemy. There is no Left left: only the great dispirited mass of the center, some wild and misdirected antagonism at the fringes.
The hopelessness of deflecting the state from its current course; the realization that even a slight reform of the system would require collective violence of a near revolutionary intensity; the attendant awareness that we would be idiots to go that distance and yet stop short of revolution –all of this gives many anti-austerity struggles a strange desperation and intensity. Our hope is to be found in this very hopelessness, in the fact that, in the current cycle of struggles, means have entirely dissociated from ends. Tactics no longer match with their stated objectives. In France, in response to a proposed change in the retirement age, high school students barricade their schools; roving blockades confuse the police; rioting fills city center after city center. In Britain and Italy, university struggles recruit tens of thousands of youth who have no hope of attending the university, nor any interest in doing so for that matter. There is no longer any possibility of a political calculus that matches ideas with tactics, thinking with doing. Do we suppose that French children are really concerned about what will happen to them once they are ready to retire? Does any young person expect the current social order to last that long? No, they are here to hasten things forward, hasten things toward collapse. Because it is easier to imagine the end of the world than retirement. Because anything is better than this.
For the neo-Leninist philosophes who build their cults in the shells of the dying universities, such an impossibility of lining up means with ends is nothing but a barrier or block. Where is the revolutionary program in the Egyptian revolution, they ask, where is the program in the streets of Britain or Greece? Who will discipline these bodies for their final assault on the palaces and citadels? For such thinkers, only an idea can guarantee the efficacy of these bodies. Only an idea – the idea of communism, as some say – can make of these bodies a proper linkage between means and ends. But communism is not an idea nor an idealism – it means freeing bodies from their subordination to abstractions. Thankfully, we are skittish, faithless and flighty people. We have trouble listening. For us, communism will be material or it will be nothing. It will be a set of immediate practices, immediate satisfactions, or nothing. If we find discipline and organization, it will come from what we do, not what we think.
By “idea” the philosophes mean something like “the Party.” They intend to make themselves and their ideas mean, as structure and social form. They intend to cement the old pact between the intelligentsia and the workers’ movement. But there is no intelligentsia anymore and there certainly is no workers’ movement to speak of. The entire structure of duty and obligation – Christian in origin – upon which the classical programmatic parties were built no longer exists, because capital no longer needs morality for helpmeet. There is acting for ourselves; there is acting with others; but there is no sustained acting for another, out of obligation.
Our indiscipline means that among political ideas only the one idea which is, by its very nature, determined to remain an idea, an ideal, can gain any purchase here: democracy. From Tunisia to Egypt, from Spain to Greece, from Madison to Wall Street, again and again, the “movement of the squares” buckles under the dead weight of this shibboleth. Democracy, the name for the enchantment of the people by its own image, by its potential for endless deferral. Democracy, a decision-making process become political ontology, such that the form itself, the form of the decision, becomes its own content. We democratically decide to be democratic! The people chooses itself!
In the present era – the era of the austerity state and the unemployment economy – radical democracy finds its ideal locus in the metropolitan plaza or square. The plaza is the material embodiment of its ideals – a blank place for a blank form. Through the plaza, radical democracy harkens back to its origin myth, the agora, the assembly-places of ancient Greece which also served as marketplaces (such that the phrase “I shop” and “I speak in public” were nearly identical). These plazas are not, however, the buzzing markets filled with economic and social transaction, but clean-swept spaces, vast pours of concrete and nothingness, perhaps with a few fountains here or there. These are spaces set aside by the separation of the “political” from the economy, the market. Nowhere is this more clear than in the most recent episode of the “movement of squares” – Occupy Wall Street – which attempted, meekly and rather insincerely, to occupy the real agora, the real space of exchange, but ended up pushed into a small, decorative park on the outskirts of Wall Street, penned by police. This is what building the new world in the shell of the old means today – an assembly ringed by cops.
If there is hope in these manifestations, it lies in the forms of mutual aid that exist there, the experimentation people undertake in providing for their own needs. Already, we see how the occupations are forced against their self-imposed limits, brought into conflict with the police, despite the avowed pacificism of the participants. The plaza occupations – with all their contradictions – are one face of the present dissociation of means from ends. Or rather, they present a situation in which means are not so much expelled as sublimated, present as the object of a vague symbolization, such that the gatherings come to pre-enact or symbolize or prefigure some future moment of insurrection. At their worst, they are vast machines of deferral. At their best, they force their participants toward actually seizing what they believe they are entitled to merely want.
How far we are from Egypt, the putative start of the sequence. There, the initial assembly was an act of symbolic violence, decidedly so, which everyone knew would open onto an encounter with the state and its force. And yet, even there, the separation from the economy – from the ways in which our needs are satisfied – remained inscribed into the revolution from the start. In other words, the Egyptian insurrection was not deflected to the sphere of the political but started there to begin with. And all of the other episodes in the so-called “movement of squares” repeat this primary dislocation, whether they remain hamstrung by pacifism and democratism, as in Spain, or press their demands in material form, as in Greece.
This brings the plaza occupations into relation not only with the entire development of orthodox Marxism, from Lenin through Mao, which places the conquest of state power front and center, but also its apparent opposite in this historical moment: the riots of Athens and London and Oakland, which, bearing the names of Oscar Grant, Alexis Grigoropoulos, or Mark Duggan, treat the police and state power as both cause and effect, provocation and object of rage. Though the looting which always accompanies such eruptions points the way to a more thorough expropriation, these riots, even though they seem the most immediate of antagonistic actions, are also bound by a kind of symbolization, the symbolization of the negative, which says what it wants through a long litany, in letters of fire and broken glass, of what it does not want: not this, not that. We’ve seen their limits already, in Greece –even burning all of the banks and police stations was not enough. Even then, they came into a clearing, a plaza, swept clean by their own relentless negations, where negation itself was a limit. What then? What will we do then? How do we continue?
Between the plaza and the riot, between the most saccharine affirmation and the blackest negation – this is where we find ourselves. Two paths open for us: each one, in its way, a deflection from the burning heart of matter. On the one hand, the endless process of deliberation that must finally, in its narrowing down to a common denominator, arrive at the only single demand possible: a demand for what already is, a demand for the status quo. On the other hand, the desire that has no object, that finds nothing in the world which answers its cry of annihilation.
One fire dies out because it extinguishes its own fuel source. The other because it can find no fuel, no oxygen. In both cases, what is missing is a concrete movement toward the satisfaction of needs outside of wage and market, money and compulsion. The assembly becomes real, loses its merely theatrical character, once its discourse turns to the satisfaction of needs, once it moves to taking over homes and buildings, expropriating goods and equipment. In the same way, the riot finds that truly destroying the commodity and the state means creating a ground entirely inhospitable to such things, entirely inhospitable to work and domination. We do this by facilitating a situation in which there is, quite simply, enough of what we need, in which there is no call for “rationing” or “measure,” no requirement to commensurate what one person takes and what another contributes. This is the only way that an insurrection can survive, and ward off the reimposition of market, capital and state (or some other economic mode based upon class society and domination). The moment we prove ourselves incapable of meeting the needs of everyone – the young and the old, the healthy and infirm, the committed and the uncommitted– we create a situation where it is only a matter of time before people will accept the return of the old dominations. The task is quite simple, and it is monstrously difficult: in a moment of crisis and breakdown, we must institute ways of meeting our needs and desires that depend neither on wages nor money, neither compulsory labor nor administrative labor, and we must do this while defending ourselves against all who stand in our way.
Research & Destroy, 2011
Filed under: war-machine | Tags: anarchy, Athens, austerity, general strike, Greece, riot, riot police, syntagma square, the state, violence
According to LA Times:
“Riot police fired tear gas at youths hurling rocks and petrol bombs near the Greek finance ministry Tuesday, trying to quell the anger unleashed during mass protests and a general strike as parliament debated new cost-cutting measures.
The latest austerity measures must pass in two parliamentary votes Wednesday and Thursday if Greece is to receive another batch of bailout funds to see it beyond the middle of next month. If the votes don’t pass, Greece could become the first eurozone nation to default on its debts, sending shock waves through the global economy.
The clashes came at the start of a two-day strike called by unions furious that the new (euro) 28 billion ($40 billion) austerity program will slap taxes on minimum wage earners and other struggling Greeks. The measures come on top of other spending cuts and tax hikes that have sent Greek unemployment soaring to over 16 percent.
“The situation that the workers are going through is tragic and we are near poverty levels,” said Spyros Linardopoulos, a protester with the PAME union blockading the port of Piraeus. “The government has declared war and to this war we will answer back with war.”
A peaceful demonstration of 20,000 people in Athens was soon marred by outbreaks of violence, when two groups clashed. One side took refuge near a coffee shop, and police fired tear gas in an attempt to clear the crowds and get them out.
The situation quickly degenerated, with masked and hooded youths pelting police with chunks of marble ripped off building facades and steps. They set fire to giant parasols at an outdoor cafe, using some to form barricades, and smashed windows of a McDonalds outlet and other snack shops.
Peaceful protesters nearby braved thick clouds of tear gas to stage an outdoor street party, banging pots and pans in time to music on loudspeakers.
Staff at upscale hotels handed out surgical masks to tourists and helped them with rolling luggage past the rioting, over ground strewn with smashed-up marble and cement paving stones.
Youths torched a satellite truck parked near parliament. The fire caused a freezer at a neighboring kiosk to explode, and hooded youths ducked behind the burning truck to help themselves to ice-cream cones.
The scale of the strike bought large parts of the Greek economy to a standstill. Everyone from doctors and ambulance drivers to casino workers and even actors at a state-funded theater were joining the strike or holding work stoppages for several hours.
An ongoing strike by electricity company workers kept up rolling blackouts across Greece. Not far from the violent protest, cafes and ice cream vendors popular with tourists used portable generators to keep the power on.
Hundreds of flights were canceled or rescheduled as air traffic controllers walked off the job for four hours in the morning. Another walkout is scheduled for later. Strikes by public transport workers snarled traffic across the capital and left tourists stranded around Piraeus.
Many Greeks insist they should not be forced to pay for a crisis they believe politicians are responsible for.
“We don’t owe any money, it’s the others who stole it,” said 69-year-old demonstrator Antonis Vrahas. “We’re resisting for a better society for the sake of our children and grandchildren.”
Despite the discontent being displayed – a sizable but peaceful demonstration was held in Greece’s second city Thessaloniki – the country’s lawmakers are preparing for their second day of debate over the austerity measures. The package and an additional implementation law must be passed so the European Union and the International Monetary Fund release the next installment of Greece’s (euro) 110 billion ($156 billion) bailout loan.
Without that (euro) 12 billion ($17 billion) installment, Greece faces the prospect of a default next month – a potentially disastrous event that could drag down European banks and hurt other financially troubled European countries.
But even lawmakers from the governing Socialists have been upset over the latest measures and Prime Minister George Papandreou has struggled to contain an internal party revolt. He reshuffled his cabinet earlier this month to try to ensure his party’s support for this vote, but the Socialists still only have a 5-seat majority in the 300-member Parliament.
Papandreou urged lawmakers Monday to fulfill a “patriotic duty” by voting in favor of the new measures, but two of his own lawmakers have suggested they won’t.
European officials have also been pressuring Greece’s the main conservative opposition party to back the austerity bill.
“Both the future of the country and financial stability in Europe are at stake,” European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said. “I fully respect the prerogatives and the sovereignty of the Greek Parliament in the ongoing debate. And I trust that the Greek political leaders are fully aware of the responsibility that lies on their shoulders to avoid default.”
But conservative party leader Antonis Samaras has refused, arguing that while he backs some austerity measures, the overall thinking behind the package is flawed.
As well as looking to get the next batch of bailout funds, Greece looks like it will need another financial rescue.
The initial plan had assumed that Greece would be able to return to the markets next year.
That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen so Greece is looking for more money. Papandreou has said a second bailout would be roughly the same size as the first and hopefully on better terms.
“I call on Europe, for its part, to give Greece the time and the terms it needs to really pay off its debt, without strangling growth, and without strangling its citizens,” he said.
Even with the new austerity measures and a second bailout, many investors still think Greece is heading for some sort of default because its overall (euro) 340 debt burden is too great.”
Filed under: Milwaukee area, war-machine | Tags: anarchists, anti-capitalism, austerity, conference, crimethinc, intervention, look to wisconsin, madison, milwaukee, occupation, students, wisconsin
Some notes and reflections made by Crimethinc on the Look To Wisconsin Conference, which took place in Milwaukee last month (these are conclusions made by individuals from Crimethinc, and not some consensus made by the conference attendees):
On May 20-21, anarchists and fellow travelers gathered in Milwaukee for a small conference about the ongoing crisis of capitalism. In the final discussion, people from around the US compared notes on recent anti-austerity protests, focusing chiefly on the student movement in California and the recent protests in Wisconsin. We’ve summarized some of the conclusions here in hopes they can be useful in the next phase of anarchist organizing.
So far, anarchists have not been very successful in contributing to anti-austerity protests in the US. Starting in December 2008, anarchist participation in school occupations was instrumental in kick-starting a student movement, but by March 4, 2010 this movement was dominated by liberal and authoritarian organizing; it subsequently ran out of steam. More recently, anarchists participated in the occupation of the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin in protest against anti-union legislation and occupied a university building in Milwaukee, without substantial impact on the course of events.
It’s troubling that we’ve had such limited success in a context that should be conducive to our efforts. Eleven years ago, during the high point of the anti-globalization movement, anarchist participants were essentially the militant edge of an activist movement addressing issues that were distant from many people’s day-to-day needs. Today, the livelihoods of millions like us are on the line; people should be much more likely to join in revolt now than they were a decade ago. If this isn’t happening, it indicates that we’re failing to organize effectively, or that the models we’re offering aren’t useful.
European anarchists have had more success, but they benefit from a richer and more continuous lineage of social movements. In the US, the birthplace of the generation gap, our task is not just to intensify ongoing struggles, but to generate new fighting formations—a much greater challenge. We seem to go through one generation of anarchists after another without any gains. Although our predecessors rightly caution us against measuring our efforts in purely quantitative terms, we can’t hope to overthrow capitalism by our own isolated heroics, turning the world upside down one newspaper box at a time.
A small fire demands constant tending.
A bonfire can be let alone.
A conflagration spreads.
We have to figure out how to connect with everyone else who is suffering and angry. To that end, here are some observations and proposals derived from the conversations in Milwaukee.
—The anti-austerity protests in Wisconsin are not the last of their kind; on the contrary, they herald the arrival of a new era. It is paramount that we learn from our early failures to develop a more effective strategy for engaging in these conflicts.
—In Madison, anarchists largely focused on establishing infrastructure for the occupation. This is not the first time anarchists have contributed their organizational skills to an essentially liberal protest. At the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, about 100,000 people participated in demonstrations; this included thousands of anarchists, many of whom limited themselves to logistical roles. Afterwards, this was recognized as a tremendous missed opportunity—hence the efforts to take the lead in planning actions at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Our task is not just to facilitate protests of whatever kind, but to ensure that they threaten the flows of capital—that they create a situation in which people abandon their roles in maintaining the current order. To this end, we have to seize the initiative to organize actions as well as infrastructure. Clashes with the state will be more controversial than free meals and childcare, but this controversy has to play out if we are ever to get anywhere.
—A wide range of sources concur that the occupation of the capitol building in Madison was undermined one tiny compromise at a time. First the police politely asked people not to be in one room—and they were being so nice about everything that no one could say no. Then they gently asked people to vacate another, and so on until the dumbfounded former occupiers found themselves out on the pavement. This underlines an important lesson: the first compromise might as well be the last one. Whenever we concede anything, we set a precedent that will be repeated again and again; we also embolden our enemies. We have to be absolutely uncompromising from the beginning to the end.
In popular struggles, anarchists can be the force that refuses to yield. We can also pass on our hard-won analyses to less experienced protesters—for example, emphasizing that however friendly individual police officers might be, they cannot be trusted as long as they are police. To do these things, however, we have to be in the thick of things, not looking on from the margins.
—A common complaint from the more combative participants in the Madison occupation was that leftist organizations had already gained the initiative and determined the character of the protest. Anarchists were afraid to act, taking the leftist control of the narrative as an indication that there was nothing they could do. Indeed, after the end of the occupation, liberal organizers channeled the remaining momentum into a recall campaign confined to the electoral sphere.
In fact, in circumstances like the capitol occupation, there’s nothing to lose. The solutions promoted by authoritarian leftists and liberals don’t point beyond the horizon of capitalism; even when they aren’t utterly naïve, they’re no better than the right-wing agenda, in that they serve to distract and neutralize those who desire real change. Where the field is split between left-wing and right-wing, we may as well disrupt this dichotomy by acting outside of it. Even if we fail, at least we show that something else is possible.
—One Wisconsin anarchist proposed that we should distinguish between two strategic terrains for action. Some events, such as the occupation of the capitol building in Madison, function as tremendous spectacles; the most we can hope to accomplish is to interrupt them, forcing a more challenging narrative into the public discourse. Other spaces that are under less pressure, like the occupation of the theater building in Milwaukee, offer an opportunity to develop new social connections and critiques.
In the latter, we can create new channels for discussion and decision-making that will serve us well in subsequent confrontations. We can measure our effectiveness by how well we accomplish this, not just by the material damage inflicted on targets or the numbers of people who show up to demonstrations.
In upheavals such as the one in Wisconsin, we can unmask authoritarian domination of resistance movements and debunk the idea that the democratic system can solve the problems created by capitalism.
—At no point during the buildup to the protests of March 4, 2010 or the occupations in Wisconsin did anarchists establish an autonomous, public organizing body to play a role such as the RNC Welcoming Committee played at the 2008 RNC or the PGRP played at the 2009 G20. This was a strategic error that enabled liberal and authoritarian organizers to monopolize the public discourse around the protests and determine their character and conditions in advance. In the Bay Area, the word on the street was that anarchists had established some sort of back-room deal with public organizers that the latter reneged on. This betrayal should come as no surprise: without the leverage afforded by public organizing of our own, we can always expect to be hoodwinked and betrayed by those who don’t share our opposition to hierarchical power.
We need public, participatory calls and organizing structures, both to offer points of entry to everyone who might want to fight alongside us and to make it impossible for authoritarians to stifle revolt by arranging the battlefield to be unfavorable for it. Public organizing can complement other less public approaches; often, it’s necessary to render them possible in the first place. Compare the 2008 RNC and 2009 G20 to March 4, 2010.
—As capitalism renders more and more people precarious or redundant, it will be harder and harder to fight from recognized positions of legitimacy within the system such as “workers” or “students.” Last year’s students fighting tuition hikes are this year’s dropouts; last year’s workers fighting job cuts are this year’s unemployed. We have to legitimize fighting from outside, establishing a new narrative of struggle. Who is more entitled to occupy a school than those who cannot afford to attend it? Who is more entitled to occupy a workplace than those who have already lost their jobs?
If we can accomplish this, we will neutralize the allegations of being “outside agitators” that are always raised against those who revolt. Better, we will transform every austerity conflict into an opportunity to connect with everyone else that has been thrown away by capitalism. Our goal should not be to protect the privileges of those who retain their jobs and enrollment, but to channel outrage about everything that capitalism has taken from all of us.
—Anti-austerity protests may offer a new opportunity to resume the practice of convergence so important in the anti-globalization era. Anarchists could respond to upheavals like the one in Wisconsin by converging on these “hotspots” to force things to a head. But this would require local communities to be ready to host visitors—to have the necessary resources prepared in advance. These resources include food and housing, but also a relationship with the general public and leverage on the authorities, such as the Pittsburgh Organizing Group built up in the years leading up to the successful demonstrations against the 2009 G20.
—Between peaks of protest, we can attempt to connect with social circles that could be politicized. Punks entered the anti-globalization movement with a preexisting anticapitalist critique and antagonism towards authority, thanks to two decades of countercultural development. This enabled them to escalate the situation immediately, shifting the discourse from reform to revolution. The more people enter anti-austerity struggles thus equipped, the less time will be wasted relearning old lessons.
—In addition to exacerbating the contradictions inherent in the financial crisis, we should undertake to make life in upheavals more pleasurable and robust than workaday life. Those who participate in wildcat strikes and occupations should experience these as more exciting and fulfilling than their usual routines, to such an extent that it becomes possible to imagine life after capitalism. As many anarchists live in a permanent state of exclusion, making the best of it despite everything, we should be especially well-equipped to assist here.
In this regard, there is a real need for infrastructures that can provide for the practical needs of those who wrest themselves out of the functioning of the economy. But these infrastructures should not be simply ad hoc protest logistics; they must demonstrate the feasibility of radically different systems of production and distribution.
There is probably some new way of engaging, some “new intelligence” appropriate to this era that we haven’t discovered yet; the formats we retain from the past may not serve us now. There is much experimenting to be done. Dear friends, may you succeed where others have failed.
Filed under: Milwaukee area, update | Tags: 11 x 17, austerity, conference, crimethinc, crisis, end notes, fist, gender mutiny, look to wisconsin, may 20th, poster, yadira lopez
Filed under: Milwaukee area, update | Tags: austerity, capitalism, conference, crisis, glenn beck, insurrection, look to wisconsin, milwaukee, UWM
Look to Wisconsin; this is the beginning of the American insurrection.”
– Glenn Beck, 2/17/11
As the crisis unfolds across the globe, it is more apparent than ever that the situation in Wisconsin is not unique. Scott Walker means nothing: he is simply the local face of what has become a situation of globally imposed austerity. All over the world, we can hear Scott Walkers of all shapes and sizes telling us that this is necessary, and that we all need to make sacrifices. In each instance, what’s clear is the willingness of those in power to continually sacrifice our lives and well-being in the name of the survival of the capitalist mode of production.
The redemptive quality of the current situation can be found in that everywhere austerity has been imposed, the dispossessed have revolted against the economic system and state apparatuses that degrade their lives. in Greece, France, Italy, England, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Libya, South Africa, Iraq. Street-fighting, occupations, festivals, barricades, fires, strikes. In each situation, the persistent triumph of misery over life is contested by life itself. As with the movements of capital, so too must resistance be diffuse, autonomous and international.
It is in this spirit that we are calling for a brief conference concerning these increasingly pertinent themes, offering and providing space for a discussion of how we might envision responses to recent and future events which might far outrun us if we fail to grasp the present of our conditions. The fever of activity that shocked many has come to a lull in Wisconsin, though we know that this is not over either here or elsewhere. Instead this lessened pace allows time for reflection that was not afforded to us within a situation that demanded throwing ourselves fully into it. We intend to take full advantage and we encourage others to join us in doing so.
The conference starts Friday May 20th and events TBA will take place throughout the weekend.
For more information in general, about housing and updates please check:
Sponsored by UWM Anti-Authoritarians Anonymous