A Communique and a Proposal
From the Stochas Collective,
a section of the Black Bloc
from S27, 2002 in D.C.
A Communique and a Proposal
From the Stochas Collective, a section of the Black Bloc from S27, 2002 in D.C.
The weekend of September 27-28, 2002 was an important moment in the history of the anti-capitalist movement. We witnessed a critical juncture where certain realities became, at once, blissfully and painfully obvious. First, we saw a level of passion and commitment that was unparalleled in all our protest experiences from the last few years. And second, we encountered what we took to be a profound, collective frustration as we collided with the reality that the modes of organizing we had inherited from Seattle were no longer viable. We attribute this partly to the increasing sophistication of the police force as they have studied and learned to systematically respond to our tactics, and also to the greater level of leniency granted to security forces by the general public in response to September 11.
Therefore, in some ways the corporate media is correct in asserting that the terrorist attacks took some wind out of the anti-capitalist movement's sails, but not for the reasons we generally hear. Clearly our passion and commitment has not diminished in the slightest. The movement has grown by many indicators that are apparent to most of us at a subjective level. Wherever we live, we have witnessed a rise in consciousness concerning the power of corporations both at home and abroad. It is by now almost common knowledge that this power has become greater than that of our so-called government. Not only this, but the recent wave of scandals have made it clear that this new power (which is actually not new at all) is one that is far from democratic. Instead, the "new world order" is one fueled by the truly chaotic forces of greed and ruthless self-interest. We have seen an increasing number of our friends coming around, joining the struggle in various ways. Our networks for daily struggle have widened. By most indicators, the anti-capitalist movement has become an increasingly important aspect of our daily experience. It is only the quantitative indicator of "protest turnout" that would support the recent Washington Post headline: "Protesters Momentum Weakens."
But if our numbers appear to have diminished, it is not because there are fewer of us interested in the issues, but only because fewer people still believe in the viability of the Seattle-model of direct action. By "Seattle-model" I mean the decentralized organizing strategy whereby disparate affinity groups work and plan autonomously, then converge in a city a week before a "mass action" on a particular day that will consist of various activities ranging from traffic jamming to banner drops and, in some cases, property destruction. As security forces have intensified the sharing of information and resources across state and even national lines, our level of organization has remained strictly local. That is, although a relatively sophisticated degree of coordination has been managed by local groups, such as the Direct Action Network, the Mobilization for Global Justice, the D.C. Anti-Capitalist Convergence, their plans still require the participation of large amounts of people from all over the country—most of with whom they will have had no contact weeks, or even days before the action. Since there is no secure way for all these people to plug into the plans to any detailed degree except for within the most hurried, last-minute encounters, we find here a fundamental limiting factor drawn by this mode of organizing.
What we are criticizing here is not the affinity group model as such. Quite the contrary, we feel that this basic form is and continues to be our greatest strength. Working within such intimate coalitions, united by visions of dignity and justice, is an example of one of the few moments within which direct democracy is possible. When affinity groups merge into "clusters," coordinated through spokescouncil meetings, the scope of possible action widens without the slightest need to defer to "representative" politics. The limiting factor here is not the model itself, but its current unwillingness to grow. Part of this is certainly attributable to context within which we are working. In an ideal, an-archist society, free of systems of surveillance and control, communication could flow freely between clusters and affinity groups over long distances and prolonged periods of time. Thus the problem we face, particularly within the United States, is this: How is it possible to confront the advanced, sophisticated coordination of the State if all of our detailed organizing remains solely at the most local, disconnected level? Put another way, how is it possible to extend our networks securely such that we could collectively raise our levels of communication and organizing without putting ourselves at risk of infiltration on the one hand, and non-democratic, vanguardist elitism on the other?
This has been an obvious quandary since the "Seattle" movement emerged within Western nations only a few years ago, and it is a question all revolutionary movements face at one point or another. It seems clear that we will need to find an answer, or possibly multiple answers, before we will be able to take this movement to the next level—a level exemplified most recently, in my mind, by the uprising in Argentina. We experienced growing pains on the streets of D.C. this last weekend. Our passion and commitment was clearly present. However, our plan was not viable because, quite simply, the State already had our blueprints. We had performed this so many times we didn't even need to publish them on the Internet. This is not intended to be a criticism of either the D.C. ACC or the Mobilization for Global Justice, by any means. If anything this is only a criticism of all the rest of us, who did not participate in the coordinated organizing until the last week. Or perhaps this could be taken as a criticism of the fascist police state we are all currently resisting. Simply put, it was not possible for the groups local to the action, working in isolation as they were, to plan any better than they did. Their call was national, even international, but specific details could not be provided to those affinity groups working in Oregon, or California, or Texas, until we plugged into the networks in D.C. This did not happen until days before the event because although in theory they could have carried out the communication over the Internet months, or even a year before the event, in practice it was impossible to do so securely. Encryption software is in wide supply, but the secure human networks prerequisite to its use are largely lacking.
What we are basically arguing is that the level of trust and intimacy that currently exists within affinity groups needs to be expanded to regional, even national levels. The sort of clusters that arise spontaneously at demonstrations have the capacity to mature into sustained, revolutionary structures that could open up a thousand possibilities for organizing. Long-term, clandestine, affinity group collectivities would be able to carry out actions that are currently unimaginable to us. But what other direction is there for us to go, if not in the direction of the unimaginable? Picture a level of clandestine organizing which would make possible spontaneous demonstrations of the sort we saw at the People's Strike—only in this case subtract the warnings for the police, the publicly announced meeting dates, times and locations, the ready-riot squads bussed in from adjoining states. Clearly such an action would be immeasurably more effective. If anything made the WTO protests in Seattle so successful it was the element of surprise that stemmed from its lack of precedent. With broad, clandestine networks of communication, clusters, super-affinity groups, or whatever you call them, this level of surprise could not only be regained, it could be surpassed. It is time that we, not the State, begin picking the time and place.
I'm sure many of us have dreamed of this for some time now. What we need now is to begin realizing that it is, indeed possible, and begin working to make it so. Before this last weekend I could not imagine where or how to start, but some thoughts occurred to me during my involvement in the Black Bloc Spokescouncils that warrant consideration.
It was truly an incredible feeling to be huddled up with a group of masked strangers, looking over a map, discussing multiple scenarios, meanwhile encircled by a huge banner held up by our friends. As we talked quietly, others from our affinity groups surrounded us with their bodies and their noise—impeding the infiltration of the state in whatever form it might appear. What I found fascinating was the degree of absolute trust we shared in that meeting. Although most of us were strangers, there was something, or perhaps hundreds of subtle minute factors that cemented our bond in that moment. Maybe we recognized each other's eyes from previous actions. Maybe it was the various signs and symbols we wore on our bodies or clothing. Maybe it was the verbal cues present in the language we used. Whatever it was, there wasn't the least suspicion in my mind that we had been infiltrated. The space was every bit as secure as that I had experienced in my own affinity group meetings in my hometown. And what was more, my affinity group trusted me to help form decisions within that group, trusting my judgment, and by extension, trusting the other affinity groups as we all came together again as a Bloc. This sort of organizing inspired me and filled me with a wish. If only this communication could continue, if only we could continue to organize together after this action, we could accomplish so much.
But alas, we have believed, this is not how the Black Bloc works. The whole idea is that it's spontaneous, de-centralized, that there are no "permanent members," that it appears one moment and dissolves the next, that there is, ultimately, no "Black Bloc." I believe this is a beautiful model, one which can and has been extraordinarily effective within certain contexts. It worked amazingly well in Seattle, inspiringly so in Quebec City. However, if we must be honest with ourselves, as I feel we must if we are to grow as a movement, we must admit after this last weekend that this model is no longer working. Despite the level of trust that was established amongst us and other clusters, despite our passion and courage, there was simply no way to organize spontaneously while still being effective against the all-too-centralized, long-term structure of State power.
So am I repeating the oft-heard argument that "Black Bloc" tactics are outdated and must be abandoned? No. Again, the problem is not the model itself but only that it must be expanded, strengthened and sustained over space and time. How is this possible? I believe that it is possible in the same way that it was possible for us to come together as a cluster at the Washington Monument, at Faragut Square, at Murrow Park. That is, we established a circle of trust that was based not on credentials or bureaucratic authority structures but on something more personal and intuitive. We knew we could trust one another because, quite simply, we just knew it—for hundreds of subtle reasons which could hardly be articulated. As elected spokespeople, we had been granted trust by our affinity groups because they believed in our intuitive capacities, and furthermore, they trusted us to speak up if we felt the space was not secure. The bond of trust we held in our own affinity groups transfused into a circle of trust at the demonstration that was nothing short of sacred. I call it sacred because of something I saw in the eyes of the other spokespeople, a gaze of life-and-death seriousness, commitment, passion—a gaze we shared and exchanged and reinforced amongst one another—the fixity of a gaze which bonds brothers and sisters united in a common vision for a better world.
For too long we have been trapped in a mindset of paranoia, fear and suspicion. It has been easier to keep our detailed levels of organizing at the intensely local level because, of course, it is easier to trust friends than strangers. However, I must propose here the wisdom of Gandhi, that we must become the change we wish to see in the world. Simply put, we must begin reaching across the gaping chasm that separates ourselves from strangers—as we come to discover that strangers are not so "strange" after all. For as Guy Debord offers, where geographical distance is disintegrated in a spectacular society by increased networks of communication, that distance is at the same time reproduced as internal, spectacular separation. No longer is the revolutionary problem how to form connections across regional boundaries, but how to cross the infinitely more troublesome distance which divides us one from another, the distance—which is really not so great—that separates the meeting two eyes locked in a gaze. Where as in past revolutions the problem was the spread of revolutionary ideas, our current problem is the spread of networks of trust.
This is not to say that we should become reckless, trusting whoever we meet at a demonstration just to spite the State that wants us to keep us all divided. For I have also met many people I know I could not trust, for a variety of reasons—most of which had nothing to do with anything so dramatic as infiltration. Perhaps I simply doubted a person's level of commitment, seriousness, or judgment. But my experience has certainly sharpened my discernment, such that I can honestly say, with all confidence, that I know when a space is secure. We did not feel that the ACC Spokescouncil meetings were secure, but we believed that the Black Bloc ones were. Why? Partly because we knew it at an intuitive level, and partly also because in the latter instance there were many on the perimeter of our circle that decided who could or could not be a part of the meeting. These were people that we trusted—we, who were also in a position based on their trust. And if anyone within the meeting expressed a concern about a particular individual, that person would be asked to leave.
Was this system perfect? Is it possible that some people who were actually safe might have been excluded? Sure, I have no doubt of this. But I also believe that anyone who could be trusted within that meeting would also not take it personally if she were disallowed for one reason or another. I believe that a genuinely "safe" person would not take it personally because he would by-definition understand the importance of security. The system is not perfect, but neither should we expect it to be. We are human beings, not machines, and as the Zapatistas encourage—"Asking, we walk." Revolution is a sloppy process, never a clear-cut, final answer. The State is an Answer. Revolution is a Question that never closes. Therefore we should acknowledge that our structures are not perfect, but this understanding should not prevent us from, nonetheless, walking on.
I feel that the moment has arrived for the anti-capitalist movement to take the next step. We should do so cautiously, questioningly, but nonetheless with passion and determination. I saw the multitudes on the streets of DC this last weekend, ready and willing to move, but not knowing where to go. We need not seek a direction outside of ourselves, for the motion is contained within. What we must build is not tactics, but trust. Not an increase in numbers, but an increase in connectivity. Again, not in any haphazard way—at least, not more or less haphazard than the path we have walked thus far. We must solidify, secure and extend the networks of trust that already exist but nonetheless appear fragmented. By only a few degrees of separation, our affinity group alone has connections with other affinity groups all around the country. I imagine that the group of us in those Spokescouncil meetings were collectively connected to hundreds, perhaps thousands of others who, like us, are full of passion and ready to move a step further in the long journey of revolution.
But what is this next step? It is not for us to say—and by "us" I mean the affinity group on behalf of which I am currently speaking. We do not have the answer, nor do we want to give one, even if we somehow believed others would follow us. What we can offer is a proposal—a proposal in the sense of the term understood within consensus process meetings. A proposal, which is understood from the outset to be different from the eventual outcome, but is, nonetheless, a point from which our next step may begin.
We propose that a national Spokescouncil Encuentro be called sometime within the next few months, to be held at a location to be determined, democratically, by all interested parties. This is, of course, an open call. There can, at present, be no other, for the clandestine networks of trust we are seeking to build do not yet exist in any concrete, extensive way. What we can create, however, is an open forum within which these networks can be fashioned. We propose that this Encuentro be held over a series of days. The idea is to provide a space where multiple discussions, both planned and unplanned, can be held at a purely speculative, theoretical level. No actions, nor any plans for actions, should be discussed during this time. The point is merely to come into contact with one another, and start—carefully, slowly, and "off-the-record"—building clandestine networks of trust.
If this call is taken seriously by the anti-capitalist community, we should expect it will be taken seriously by the State as well. We should expect infiltrators, but this is not a problem. For this Spokescouncil Encuentro is not the network we are attempting to build, but merely a space within which that network may arise. We feel confident that, in the process of carving out a number of detailed theoretical discussions concerning tactics, history, and political strategy we will be able to determine those whom we shall trust and those we will choose not to trust. This shall be decided organically, fluidly, by all. Not only by quantitative factors such as political knowledge or theoretical sophistication but also the less measurable, qualitative factors that have been discussed above. Again, "we," here, refers only to the affinity group on behalf of which I am speaking, not to any centralized authority determining who may or may not be in the "clandestine networks." Perhaps several networks will arise out of the Encuentro, but the hope is that these networks will remain in some degree of contact and communication after our meeting. We are, after all, seeking to open the net of trust as wide as strategically possible.
We hope that this call will be endorsed by all the ACC's that can lend their support, as well as all other anti-capitalist groups currently interested in direct action. The idea, however, is that the Spokescouncil Encuentro be composed of exactly what the name suggests—spokespeople who are working in active affinity groups interested in direct action. Let us be clear. We are not interested here in yet another anarchist conference whose sole intention is to discuss our visions at an abstract level. Our interest is in building a functioning, revolutionary clandestine network whose purpose is to smash the State. Is this high risk? Of course it is, but no greater a risk than that taken by hundreds of anti-capitalists on the streets of DC this last weekend—some of which are currently facing felony charges. Revolution is risky business, and those who are unwilling to accept that fact ought to consider another line of work. But I would argue that the possible actions, which might emerge from this network, will in many cases be lower risk—due to the diminished pre-emptive capacities of the State—and for that same reason, more effective.
We should not be surprised that the anti-capitalist movement is becoming increasingly equated with terrorism. In fact, we should expect that as our movement grows in sophistication these associations will continue to escalate. As we are becoming a genuine threat to the current order, it is only natural that the corporate media would cooperate with the police, leading citizens to believe that some of us would actually carry nail bombs to our own demonstrations, placing everyone from other activists to police to bystanders at serious risk. We knew this to be a fabrication even before we discovered the truth, that the so-called explosives were benign firecrackers, and the nails intended for an entirely other purpose that would damage little other than an occasional telephone pole. From the perspective of the State, we are the enemy because we represent the possibility that it may one day cease to exist. We represent the possibility of the many worlds the State is currently struggling to eliminate.
There is something that binds us that runs deeper than any ideology that can be articulated. Call it love, call it intuition, call it Zapatismo. Given the proper, radical space of encounter which we are currently proposing, it will become clear to us who has that love, and who does not. None of us need trust anyone else more than we feel comfortable, for to do this would be ignoring our intuition and thus strategic suicide. But when we feel the radical connection of love and rage that unites all revolutionaries, whether we meet in our hometown or the streets of D.C., we must begin to have the courage and passion to trust that which we recognize in others—the same as that which we recognize in ourselves.
Babylon is burning, and we must begin rebuilding from its ashes now.
Let us organize.
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