EcoPunk #62 - WTO

    As I sit here in the smoky depths of my trailer in the snow choked Cascade Mountains, it is hard to believe that a mere five days ago, 50,000 of my friends and I took over downtown Seattle for a day stopping the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization from going down (and taking us, our freedoms and our Earth with it). Peering out the steamed up window, across a meadow of glistening silver illuminated by a full barrage of the best stars the goddess Night could provide, it is difficult to recall dashing though the streets with tear gas canisters flying overhead and concussion grenades echoing between the buildings of the terminally hip Babylon. Under the weight of the subalpine silence, it is strange to try and resurrect the sounds and noises of the big city as a literal war for the streets went down. Sitting back in the shitty lawn chair with my feet propped up on the warmth of the woodstove, mind and heart comforted by the smells and sights of home, it is hard to recall the adrenaline, hatred and loving bliss that had so swarmed in my chest only days earlier. After such an experience, it is sometimes hard to go home.
    The dust may settle and clouds of tear gas and hailstorms of rubber bullets fade away, but for me, deep in my heart, the events in Seattle changed me. Forever.
    Aside from the fact that the anti-WTO event gave me the warm fuzzy surging opportunity to reconnect with old friends and lovers and to bond with new or unseen ones, it was also a cauterizing point for me politically. As an anarchist punk, I was at once terribly disappointed and immensely proud of the manner in which the anti-WTO movement ebbed and flowed throughout the week.
    The very fact that a few thousand demonstrators, most from the eco-fringe of the Northwest, managed to shut off downtown Seattle and block one of the most important events of the decade from occurring (for a day) is reason enough to allow vain pride to swell in my breast. In the spirit of that old Conflict song about the demo in London, the events in Seattle showed us that we can win and if we go on trying, we will. It was wonderful to stroll through the streets of Seattle, arm in arm with a loved one, and see not a businessman nor a car, to window shop through the smashed glass of GAP, NIKE, and STARBUCKS stores and to hear the triumphant sounds of the Seattle Anti-Fascist Marching Band, Tch Kung, and just random people singing. It was inspiring to see so many people out on the street in defiance of one of the biggest fuckovers that Global Power could muster up and gave me a bit of faith that we really are something more than a silly little fringe with as much political power as a soggy donut at the bottom of a dumpster.
    However, the flotsam of negativity always floats to the top of my mind, and as much as I would like to paint a perfectly rosy picture of the resistance in Seattle that week, I cannot as there were some damnright psychotic things going down on our side of the lines.
    First and perhaps most controversial of everything that happened during the week, was the resurrection of the violence vs nonviolence debate: only this time, the battle wasn’t being waged in some stuffy infoshop or college classroom or journal editorial, but on the streets, face to face, in the middle of a war zone with tear gas and rubber bullets flying through the air. My first Seattle encounter with this over-flogged movement horse happened early Tuesday morning as the dreaded black block appeared in a middle of the eight block liberated zone we’d created. Much to the chagrin of 1960s throwback liberals and the self appointed “protest police” who thought because they had a cell phone, radio, or fancy anti-WTO protest poncho they were in charge of the protest, the persons in black covered their faces, wore gasmasks and were obviously “up to no good” (as one protest “organizer” told me).  As soon as it was made clear that the cops were not going to try and pass through the lines of protesters and that our eight block area was indeed a liberated zone, some people in black started vandalizing select targets with pens, spraypaint, hammers, and the ever so potent fist sized rock. These actions offended the “passive-ism” of some members of the crowd who took to not only condemning the vandalism of Nike and Gap stores, but actually physically assaulting the humans in black while screaming “non-violence.” Several people reported having been punched, shoved or even hit with sticks by other protesters for having the audacity to vandalize corporate property.
    It seemed that the battle between conflicting tactics and ideologies came head to head in our festival of defiance. On the one hand, there were the liberal organizers and peacenik marchers who were there to chant and protest just like their heroes in the civil rights movement and were exceedingly cautious not to offend the thousands of union members who were likewise protesting the WTO, nor give the media anything that could possibly give the “cause” negative publicity. On the other hand, there were the people in black who know that their qualms against the WTO are just as valid as any third world campesino or big chested steelworker’s and furthermore realized that if people were really serious about thwarting the WTO, that the pressure must be increased beyond symbolic gestures for an unamused populace. And for a small group of people, in that particular situation, they did the best they could by smashing some particularly egregious corporations’ shit. And like always, the vast majority at the demonstrations (myself included) sat on their ideological duffs somewhere in between. 
    Unfortunately, these fissures kept spreading, and before the end of the first night, much of the anti-WTO movement had conceded to the government and media claims that the protesters in black had acted “violently” and subsequently entered into a backlash in the perpetually futile struggle to legitimize fringe movements in the eyes of white bread America. Before long, people had concocted plans to redeem the “movement” in the eyes of the world by scrubbing off the effects of vandalism and forging plans to stop further disruptions of orderly demonstrations.
    My problem with these developments isn’t so much that I give a flying fuck whether or not someone wants to go wash graffiti off a store owned by Louisiana Pacific which has helped clearcut 99% of this continent, but that these sentiments were my first real exposure to elements which for lack of a better word, ought be considered “counterrevolutionary.”
    By ceding the terms of the debate to the media and corporate government, the dogmatic “doves” in our movement allowed people writing on walls to be put in the same class as the police tear gassing people, shooting kids’ teeth out with rubber bullets, and breaking heads with clubs. The entire time I was in Seattle, I saw not a single member of the black block harm another life form and accordingly, not a single one of them could ethically be considered “violent.” At the same time, I saw numerous instances of people being hurt by the police or other demonstrators who felt it their duty to physically enforce an unwritten code of “non-destruction” on others. After agreeing to play on the field forged by the media’s use of words, the demonstrators unwittingly allowed themselves to be forced into an uncomfortable situation where the media called the shots and they had to follow, lest they be impaled on their own rhetoric.
    But what is arguably worse than the linguistic surrender of much of the movement or even the violence by cops and peaceniks is the fact that this issue had pitted our movement against itself. In trying to pander to the conciliatory spirit of militaristic non-violence, people began reporting troublemakers to the police or becoming the police themselves. I showed up at a certain demo a bit early to find the rendezvous location swarming with police. Later, I overheard a conversation in which a fellow protester bragged of having given a cop the flier for the demo because she didn’t agree with the fact people were going to march through the street with torches. On my last night in Seattle, I had the privilege of watching as a young woman walked up to a motorcycle cop and fingered two protesters as having things that might be thrown. The two black men were hastily arrested for having an empty bottle in their pocket and the woman began bragging about her role in keeping the peace.
    Perhaps even worse than these episodes were the times in which protesters decided that they were authority figures and assumed law enforcement roles themselves. I personally saw three different people tackled by fellow demonstrators while trying to confront the police and perhaps two dozen instances where self appointed “organizers” attempted to restrain fellow protesters from doing an action that went against their moral code, even in spontaneous street riots that no one could take credit for organizing. Aside from the fact that such rigid divisions within a movement were allowed to progress to such a point, it is shameful to note that there is a historical precedent for actions such a these. In the past 30 years, the same tactics were used by national security states in Vietnam, El Salvador, and Guatemala as part of the hamlet pacification programs designed and executed by the United States military. If the powers that be can foster enough divisions within a movement to create police forces within the population itself, than half the conquest has already been completed. And they succeeded in this respect during the WTO conference in Seattle.
    However, by far the greatest enemy of the anti-WTO resistance was the familiar face of DRAMA. At various points during the week, I had to walk away from a meeting or demo because the drama and pseudo-seriousness of the situation was too much for me to bear. The tear gas must have sapped the movement of its humility and sense of humor as there was a horribly exaggerated sense of self importance in the air. Having a mild form of CS tear gas set upon us by the cops suddenly gave people the fantastic idea that we were just like the Zapatistas or Spanish Anarchists in the 1930s about to get blown off the face of the Earth by bombs and guns and consequently, panic became endemic. People who are ordinarily friendly, sweet individuals began being rude, intolerant and downright egocentric.
    And this stress and sense of self importance likewise filtered into our information and communication areas to the point that a conservative 75% of what was said during a given conversation was probably bullshit. Rumors that martial law was declared and that the cops had started using nerve gas rose next to hearsay declaring that the Teamsters had taken up arms to destroy the WTO or that 17 steel workers had been killed after their second march, began circulating through the crowd, only intensifying the already tense situations. Security concerns, which are always an important aspect of any illegal action, became so inflated with self importance and emotion as to be almost completely ridiculous. People started getting in fights over the fact someone used their real name to address them in a friendly way or god forbid had the audacity to doubt that 5,000 riot cops were not actually waiting just around the corner to destroy us.
    But dammit, for every bad thing that happened or was allowed to get out of control, there were a hundred more good things that happened. A group of rag tag riff raff took over downtown Seattle for a day. The WTO talks flopped (although due more to internal divisions than the din of chants echoing from the streets). Several band members in famous punk bands were sighted throwing bottles at cops, breaking windows or organizing disturbances. Hundreds of jobs were created replacing shattered glass, guarding stores and scrubbing graffiti. Anarchist punks marched and rioted side by side with hip hop gangsters, ravers, hippies, communists and workers. Friends and lovers had an excuse to get together and foment inspiration. We all saw a glimpse of what was and what can be.
    However, we must not forget the lessons we learned in Seattle. We learned that instigating the authorities to overreaction can be our greatest outreach tool as the public’s burning eyes and seething hearts are naturally shoved in our direction after being wrongfully gassed or beaten by pigs. We learned that sometimes the worst enemies are those in your own scene. We learned that we need better chants; after three days of repeating “The people united will never be defeated” most of us were ready to barf. We learned that the system has built in methods of co-optation by which they need protest, but only ineffective, nonthreatening symbolic gestures like marches and old civil rights songs, to validate their regime. If we want to succeed in anything we are striving for, we must necessarily increase the struggle a notch. We learned that smoking tear gas grenades are really hot and that rubber bullets sting like the dickens. We learned that cops are mean and national guard soldiers are generally pretty nice. We learned that if there is enough of us, we can get away with a lot of shit. We learned that big puppets may not win revolutions, but they’re damn fun, made by wonderful folks and serve as a nice distractions for other activities that can go on behind them. We learned that no matter how theoretically lame an action is, it just might work. We learned that the media loves riots almost as much as we do. We learned that together we DO have power.

    In the wake of the WTO struggle, the future is now burning with the flames of possibility. It is up to each and every one of us to keep them burning. Eventually, if we strive hard enough, we just may burn the bastards out.

“...’til the blood on your sword is the blood of your king...”

—mike antipathy
pob 11703 , eugene, or 97440