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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: San Francisco | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism
On the Anarchist Action Strategy Against the G-8
Anarchist Action San Francisco is building a mass movement of militant action against capitalism. On July 8th, 2005, the Anarchist Action west coast mobilization against the G-8 culminated in a strong, vibrant march against capitalism, the G-8, the war and the border through the Mission district in San Francisco. This action succeeded in mobilizing over 200 people, most of whom identify as anarchists, in a march that targeted numerous banks and major corporations for property destruction.
Many people tend to criticize or laud direct action, protests, and/or demonstrations as 'effective' or 'ineffective' without real reference as to what this in/effectiveness means. In other words, criteria are lacking. With different criteria, there can be many different evaluations of the same action without an overall 'Was it effective or not?" It's possible for the anti-G8 demos in San Francisco to be both effective and ineffective without submitting these different insights and critiques to an overall, bland, lowest common denominator 'lesson.' The event holds more lessons that can be gleamed from a single sentence.
To organize these lessons, we need to discern classes of criteria. Some that come to mind are a) Was it movement-building? b) Did it cause real damage to those who most benefit from capitalism? c) Was it media-savvy? d) Did the message come across clear? e) Was it inspiring to those involved and/or those who watched? f) Did it change the nature of the space involved? g) Did it show solidarity to those in Scotland? h) Did it allow a moment of liberation? i) Did it involve non-hierarchical organizing characteristics that empowered those who participated? j) Was it self-critical before and after? k) Did it educate others about anarchism? These just are few of the types of different criteria that come to my mind as I think about the Anarchist Action march. I don't think putting them together will give a yes or no answer to the question of effect. In fact, I would hope that marches like this call into question our standard, inherited concepts of effectivity.
The march has been criticized for not contributing to movement building, but I would refute this criticism. There is no inherent contradiction between engaging in mass direct action which includes property destruction and building a movement. This was not a small, clandestine action to smash a window. This was a mass action to collectively, publicly and openly cause financial damage to the physical manifestations of the capitalist system which is killing us all.
Further, someone must engage in resistance against the system if we are going to ultimately end capitalism. Many people talk of doing more than marching, and at this march, that is exactly what we did. While many people are engaged in building alternatives to the capitalist system, someone must work to destroy it, and that is what this night was about. If we never succeed in stopping and destroying capitalism, all the
effort spent building alternatives will only go into building subculture.
On my way home, I passed a young Latino man in a grocery store who was slouching as he walked past. He commented to me that he was so tired from working. It made me think that I am so happy to have been able to spend some of the energy of my body, which is limited by my lifetime, on an act as valuable as fighting against the system of capitalism that is holding so many under the boot of wage slavery.
The targets of the property destruction included Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Kentucky Fried Chicken and PG&E. These corporations are actively engaged in investments and actions which are destroying what is left of our fragile ecosystem. Bank of America is engaged in investment which supports the murder of Colombian organizers. PG&E continues to run the Hunter's Point power plant which causes the residents of Hunter's Point numerous health complications, including increased rates of cancer and respiratory disease. These corporations are the instruments of oppression, the foundation of the capitalist system. Banks themselves are the root of the system which allows capitalists to become rich through investment by doing nothing while the people laboring endless hours for them can't provide health care for their children.
I realize that smashing windows is not going to stop these corporations. It may lead to increased spending on security measures. It may lead people to realize how much collective rage is felt toward them. It may show someone who is angry at having money stolen from her by a bank (simply because she is poor and bounced a check) the solidarity she has with many others in her outrage.
Also, property destruction is not the only meaning of the event. It’s not even the most important. The internalization of hypermediatized approaches to violence and/or destruction is what makes the property destruction aspect of the event the most 'memorable.' Property destruction happens everyday, in the financial district, in the mission district, and in the suburbs. We normalize this structural violence: pollution, car accidents, police brutality, drug dealing, decadence due to lack of public funds, evictions. We exceptionalize this spectacle violence: protests, blockades, corporate property destruction, confronting police. Why do we reproduce the very same mechanisms of thought in our analyses that we are trying to eliminate? It is the hypermediatized nature of our own minds that need heavy decolonizing in order to critically formulate a counter-hegemonic strategy.
Another valuable effect of this march was to show that resistance in the US is possible. Anarchists were in attendance from all over California. Some of them were teenagers. How many people last night broke their first window as an act of resistance? Are you going to condemn Palestinian children for the first time they threw a rock at an Israeli tank or are you going to celebrate that? This is potentially the seed of a newer, more vibrant, more direct movement of resistance against war and Empire. If we believe that the system we live under is horribly wrong and causes immense suffering, are we not obligated to act against it in a way that tries as hard as we can to end it?
Criticisms of the march have pointed out that the Mission is a working class neighborhood and that organizers took advantage of the low police presence in the neighborhood. To that I say, low-income neighborhoods have a higher police presence than other neighborhoods. Having lived in Sherman Heights in San Diego I know that you see police every time you leave the house. Many of the organizers of this event live in this neighborhood. The instruments of oppression are entrenched in our lives, right in front of us. Is it wrong to fight them wherever they exist? The Mission's street layout also allowed for very tactical action in the form of numerous autonomous groups to continue to operate for hours while evading the police, allowing the situation to unfold as it did.
People tend to forget who owns the property that is usually damaged in such demonstrations. Comments and critiques tend to focus on the fact that workers are hurt by damaging property, that workers have to clean it up, and that workers are not liberated but such actions. I don't think that essentializing the demeanor of workers toward protests or toward anything at all is productive. The "worker" is a fluid concept that allows for many types of people and politics, views and feelings. And one of those feelings is "Fuck the boss and fuck his window too!" Because the question of property destruction should always be followed by the question of property ownership: Are they the workers windows or the bosses’ windows? How many times have you gone to work hoping your bosses’ tires would be slashed, or their window would be broken? As the labor organizer on Enemy Combatant Radio said that night, the workers he deals with despise their managers and cheer when their property is thrashed.
There is a lot that happened last night and a lot that can be said about it. Some of the actions taken in the street may not have been productive. Some of them were tactical decisions to allow the protest to continue in the face of violent repression by police. When the women suffragists marched through London and smashed every window they passed, were they condemned? Are their actions condemned now? How do the children of Iraq feel about what happened at the Anarchist Action march, or how would they if they knew?