Thursday, September 11, 2008

All right, this one’s probably gonna get me killed, but I’ve been thinking about the direct actions I saw at the DNC, especially the failures. I want to be clear up front, I don’t consider any of action — except the IVAW’s — to have failed due to the lack of intestinal fortitude of those engaged in them. I saw nothing but courageous, gutsy folks out there. But there were failures, and I think we can account for some of them.

I also don’t want to make it seem like I’m blaming a lack of action for the lower-than-expected (at least by the media) turnout at the DNC protests. We all knew that numbers were gonna plummet when Obama won the nomination. I was very pleased with what I saw, got to meet a number of my heroes, and had a ball watching the world explode just a little.

But, anyway, the following is one guy’s opinion, so take it for what it’s worth, and feel free to correct me or chime in.

1. Direct action can’t be planned on the internet. Most of what I saw that had been planned openly on the internet never made it off the ground. Either the police crushed the actions with pre-emptive arrests, or they shut things down before they got going. The only way to plan direct action is in affinity groups. Nothing else works. That doesn’t mean that the internet shouldn’t be used to mobilize people, but it should be in the most general terms possible.

The police cannot be assumed to be as technologically incompetent as they were even three years ago. They scrutinize sites, they read blogs (at least if my site stats are any indication).

2. People with a media presence cannot be engaged in direct action. Derrick Jensen and Ward Churchill get a certain amount of shit for not engaging more in direct action. There’s a reason for that, and it sure as hell ain’t cowardice on either of their parts: it’s that any action they’re involved in is sure to get shut down hard, taking everyone else with them. I love Churchill and Jensen, but if either of them invited me to participate in a direct action with them, I would respectfully decline without a moment’s hesitation.

I’m a big believer in incendiary media figures and authors, you may have noticed that. They need to be out there, forcefully articulating points, and never backing up. But you need to pick where you want to be. If your name has appeared in the papers at all, stay the fuck out of any direct action you don’t want shut down.

3. You have to assume you have no rights. The reason for this is simple: you have no rights. Much of what I saw the police doing was flat out illegal. They’re fine with that. They’re happy to violate your rights and take a lawsuit hit later. By their terms, they ain’t gonna pay out much, and it’s worth it to them to lock down what they deem a situation.

Don’t assume, for instance, you can walk down a public sidewalk, breaking no law, and be free of harassment, beating, or arrest. If you’re planning a direct action, assume you’re a target of arrest any time you’re in a public area, especially if you’re alone.

4. Dress for success. Whatever you can do to minimize your presence until the action commences, do it. I ain’t talking khakis and polo shirts, just whatever it takes to blend in with the locals. A Miller Lite T-shirt, cheap sweatshop jeans, and a ballcap will do gloriously.

And, for Christ’s sake, leave off the bandanas. They’re great in certain instances, they scare the hell out of the cops, but if you’re trying to get somewhere without being taken down, put ‘em in your pocket.

5. Arrest and/or a police beatdown is a failure. I’ve met a lot of courageous, hearty young people over the last few months who’ve bragged about the beatings they’ve received and the number of times they’ve been arrested. The only thing that ensures is that those they’re bragging to know they’ve been ineffective. The police love to tie you up in the courts, sap your strength, and, in a best case scenario, pay you a few bucks after the fact. They’ve used that self-same tactic quite effectively on the American Indian Movement, the Black Panther Party, and beyond.

There ain’t nothing more to brag about from a police beatdown than any other kind of beatdown. In a direct action context it usually means what it means in every other type of environment: you were sloppy and didn’t keep your mouth shut.

By way of example, somehow I doubt Jesse James spent much time bragging about the bullet he took in his chest after surrendering to Union soldiers. He spent a lifetime avenging it, quite effectively, but I doubt he ever bragged about it much.

That, by the way, doesn’t mean there’s no room for mass arrests. It just means, like every other tactic, you gotta weigh the cost against the benefit. And, remember, it ain’t just a personal cost: every time the police successfully arrests a hundred or so demonstrators it only reifies state power.

6. Surprise is the only weapon you have. Every one of the above leads to this. They have infinite resources, infiltrators, the right of force with no consequence, and no legal binding. The only thing you have is the ability to out-imagine them.

Laurie Says:
September 3rd, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Exiter Says:
September 3rd, 2008 at 11:51 pm
I have to ask, what exactly is the point of ‘direct action’?

“Disruption?” From what I saw, hardly.

Maybe I missed all the good shit, but the only ‘direct action’ I witnessed was purely symbolic “our streets” bullshit. Hell, in this regard the Taste of Colorado was more disruptive than any of the actions that took place during the DNC.

Exiter Says:
September 3rd, 2008 at 11:56 pm

“Direct action can’t be planned on the internet.”

Seems like common fucking sense for anyone who is serious about disrupting anything. Why would it be expected for Tryworks to give remedial lessons ahead of time. I would have expected those organizing such actions to not need such lessons.

Laurie Says:
September 4th, 2008 at 1:12 am

Benjamin Says:
September 4th, 2008 at 6:17 am
Good point about “direct action” Exiter.

I’m throwing you in with the rest of the John Martin crew and deleting your comments, Laurie. Go be fucking boring elsewhere.

Rama Lama Fa-Fa-Fa Says:
September 4th, 2008 at 11:33 am
Speaking of “elsewhere,” Ben, how ’bout that as a tactic? If the Powers That Be want to concentrate all their cops in the downtown area, why not dispense pay-back in other parts of the city?

And, if all these outlying towns want to contribute their cops to the purpose of turning downtown Denver into an outright police state, why not hit THEM while they’re virtually cop-free?

There are LOTS of ways to go at this.

Beelzebub Says:
September 4th, 2008 at 12:53 pm
There’s an “issue” regarding Ward Churchill’s involvement in street actions?

Last I heard, the guy had been arrested in confrontations with the pigs on about 40 occasions—at least a half-dozen times in Denver alone—dating back to the late ’60s. It’s common knowledge that he’s been prosecuted several times as a result—his last trial was in 2005, if I remember right—facing lengthy periods in lockup without blinking.

It’s also no great mystery that he’s been pretty heavily targeted for the past few years because he says what he believes, and very consistently puts his ass where his mouth is (what a bad example!). In the process, he was thoroughly smeared in the media and fired from a pretty damn good job because he refused to compromise his principles in order to keep it. In fact, judging from the photo on the front page of the RMN the day after his firing, he laughed in their faces.

At this point the man’s 60+ years old—not to mention the fact that he underwent major surgery this summer, among the effects of which are that his mobility will still be impaired for a while and that he can’t afford to take a punch to the abdomin at the moment—and he’s being ya-ya’d by a bunch of 20-somethings because he wasn’t out front in last week’s DNC street skirmishes???

What fucking bullshit!

Forget the books, articles, speeches, etc. I’d like to have somebody point out a single one of Churchill’s detractors whose record matches his in terms of concrete, on the ground activism over a 40 year period.

Okay, let’s make it 20 years.

How about 10?

Yeah. That’s what I thought.


Sybil Says:
September 4th, 2008 at 3:20 pm
It’s true about elsewhere, to some extent. Street protests do play an important strategic media role, and it’s been reinforced that peaceful ANSWER marches don’t get press. It was interesting to watch those The Uptake live videos that you could recognize the same masked people over and over, and also, the progressive reporters went from questioning the newsbox tipping in its first stages, to getting a angry as they were sprayed in the face and stood in clouds of smoke. But another point is that.. anyone with a camera *could* be an onlooker or turn over tape. Once at a demo I felt bad for sending my tape to a democrat I didn’t know well for him to copy it, and never returned it. At the scene, there had been really strange march policing, where all the police suddenly went away for 25 min, then a regular patrol officer came and hurt himself by freaking out over the jaywalking. The police chief ended up going ballistic and fired and reassigned the commander. I just realized that fool stepping out of a bar with a cell camera, could film the same thing and put it on youtube.

Rockabilly Baby Says:
September 5th, 2008 at 11:44 am
I’m sure there’s supposed to be a point in there somewhere, Sybil, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it is,

Your continual posting of rambling streams-of-consciousness have long since become wearisome.

How about you try to figure out what the fuck you’re actually trying to say every once in a while, and then how to say it with at least SOME degree of coherence, before inflicting it on the rest of us?

Laurie Says:
September 8th, 2008 at 8:48 pm
I’ve been kicked out of better places than this!

Laurie Says:
September 8th, 2008 at 8:50 pm
I’ll go post all my observations at popular places where someone will read them. Your name will come up, now and then. Glenn’s too.

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