All posts by P. Wingnut

Conceptualizing Disruption – Republican, democrat, corporations

In the context of the national occupy movement which has wisely rejected both the corporate-Democrats and the corporate-Republicans, it isn’t too early to begin thinking about how folks might converge to disrupt the national political conventions this summer. The Republican National Convention (RNC) is scheduled for August 27-30 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, FL, while the Democratic National Convention (DNC) will be in September 3-7 at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Even a cursory examination of the Democrats and Republicans demonstrates that they are the same snake with two heads representing the interests of corporations. On any policy important to corporate expansion and control, they share one position and act in concert to promote economic growth — which means expanded corporate control of our lives. The tiny number of issues on which they differ only put in more stark relief the extent to which they share a single platform on the really important issues of economic power.

Massive and militant protests at both the Democratic and Republican National conventions this summer can move forward a fundamental challenge to the corrupt political system in the United States. While most regular people struggle to get by and think it is obscene for a few thousand people to control most of the wealth and power in society, neither party wants to give more then lip service to inequality, since they exist to preserve the wealth gap and are funded by the richest individuals and corporations. It’s time to crash the party and expose the empty spectacle of the presidential election for what it is.

The Republicrats, the government, Wall Street, the mainstream media, etc. are all institutional expressions of a vast system of corporate domination in which powerful economic forces dominate the earth and its people. Decisions affecting everyone are monopolized in a few private hands — made for short term profit — and disregard any consideration of human happiness, beauty, sustainability or health. Somewhere in New York, a few men are paying themselves billions to decide which species will survive, who can go to the doctor, what jobs you can seek, whether the air will be clean, and what you will do, buy, and know. They meet in secret. Its not a conspiracy — its called private industry. The Democrats and Republicans are where corporations buy control of the US government for mere pennies.

Disrupting the conventions isn’t about “protesting” the Republicrats — it’s about creating a crisis that will open up dialog about alternatives to politics-as-usual and corporate control. Its about building our own power and community of resistance. The corporate media won’t accurately report it, but that won’t matter. People around the world intuitively understand what it means when thousands of people surge into the streets and create chaos.

As we’ve done with our occupations, its time to smash the veneer of “satisfaction” with business as usual. We don’t have to just take the world anymore — something else is possible and it’s happening right now. Tame marches and scripted civil disobedience actions won’t be enough. Our advantage lies in being unpredictable, refusing to operate on the system’s terms, and having fun while doing all of it. Have you ever seen a cop smile?

Believe it or not, Charlotte is called “the Wall Street of the South” because of all the financial companies located there. Police started riot training for the convention in October, 2011 and the city council has passed new anti-protestor laws in January that ban camping, body armor and gas masks based on laws passed in Denver before the 2008 DNC. Authorities in Tampa are reportedly expecting 15,000 protesters and are working with the Secret Service to define a free speech-free area around the convention in which no protests will be permitted. We can beat the expectations, can’t we?

Your Face Here: Join the Chaos in New York’s Streets

By all accounts, tens of thousands of people from all across the United States are poised to protest — and attempt to physically disrupt — the Republican National Convention (RNC) August 30 to September 2 in New York City. The RNC protests could be the largest and most tumultuous in the USA in several years.

The RNC sets up the perfect storm for chaos in the streets. New York City is the largest city in the US and one of the least friendly for Republicans. Many New Yorkers feel that the RNC was forced down their throats, and tens of thousands of locals are expected to join the protests.

The Republicans opportunistically decided to have the convention in NYC to take political advantage of the attack on the World Trade Center and to highlight Bush’s “war on terrorism.” But since they selected the location of the convention, things haven’t gone well for Bush or the war on terrorism. In the name of 9-11, Bush dragged the US into an increasingly unpopular war that may be generally recognized as a fiasco by late August.

New York is ground zero for many social groups that have been special victims of Republican policies over the years — gays, African-Americans, Arab Americans, the poor and urban dwellers, women who support abortion rights . . .

New York has a massive police force — if it was an army, it would be the sixth largest on earth — which is threatening to take a “zero tolerance” stance on protesters. As of the date this article is being written, the city has still failed to issue any permits for “legal” demonstrations. The Department of Homeland Security and John Ashcroft have announced that they expect a terrorist attack within the US before the election — perhaps at the RNC — which you can better believe will be used as an excuse to squelch public protests and whip up fear.

Thus, the stage is set for huge angry crowds, inadequate and restricted places to gather, vicious police, hype about terrorists hiding in the sewers — all in a huge, crowded urban setting — basically chaos on a mass scale. While it may be difficult for protesters to get near the heavily defended convention center at Madison Square Garden, delegates will still have to get there from almost 50 hotels, most of them within a mile of MSG. This area of midtown Manhattan cannot be entirely closed by the police because to do so would shut down the world’s economy which is operated largely from New York City.

But even given the challenging but opportunity-filled tactical situation at the RNC, we should stop and give some thought to why people should go to New York City for the RNC. Organizing to bring in thousands of activists from across the country will involve the expenditure of millions of dollars for travel and the use of huge chunks of time that could be used on many other grassroots protects or protests.

What will be accomplished by protesting the Republicans? We should think of street action as a tool — we should have some understanding of what goal we are seeking and how application of pressure on a particular point will promote that goal. Certainly the Republicans are responsible for promoting terrible policies and values, but it is just as certain that protesting them won’t change their policies or their values.

And are we just falling into an electoral politics trap by focusing on Republicans instead of capitalism in general? I’m not so ideological as to dismiss a bit of election year “lesser of two evils” pragmatism, but assuming that we think it might be slightly better for Bush to lose the election, does protesting the RNC even promote that goal? In the 1960s, many candidates used street protests to their advantage.

Perhaps the best reason to go to the RNC is to use the huge stage it will provide to send a powerful message to people — not politicians! — both in the US and internationally that the road we’re on is unacceptable. The world’s eyes will be on New York City during the convention, and massive protests will be hard to ignore. There has been relative calm in the US since the large anti-war protests before the war started, and in the absence of massive protests, there is less of a sense that there is popular opposition to the war and the disastrous course the world is on.

Visible massive protest is a tangible way to change the political climate — to make clear that there is strong opposition. News events can’t help but look different through a lens tinted by the glow of chaos in the streets.

In the US, visible protest will help those with questions about the current political direction to feel less isolated and more empowered. For viewers in the rest of the world, it will be an important reminder that Americans are not united behind militaristic, unilateral, imperial policies. When the United States appears more split, it makes it easier for people everywhere to oppose the current regime’s policies — from Baghdad to Berlin.

In the increasingly globalized world, we need to keep our eye on world public opinion. Anti-Americanism is at an all-time high, but much of this opinion is really targeted against the current rogue regime. It’s up to those on the streets in New York to de-legitimize the regime and shatter any remaining sense that the US public uniformly supports the terrorist US policies since 9-11.

Our Fuckin’ Streets!

New York offers many tempting targets for popular outrage besides the Republicans and Madison Square Garden. Besides Wall Street, it is home to the corporate media and countless corporate headquarters. If all else fails, there are hundreds of Starbucks.

Many activists, understanding that the police will be well organized around Madison Square Garden, are advocating a decentralized strategy in which action is taken to areas all over the city simultaneously. For instance, it has been suggested that people from each particular state disrupt the hotel housing that state’s delegates, so local media can’t charge “outside agitators” and to spread the police as thin as possible.

Certainly, our strength will be our diversity of tactics, spontaneity, unpredictability, and adaptability. We need to go to New York organized and ready to test for weak spots, and seize opportunities as they arise. We’ll be most successful if we avoid being rigid about any particular plan or tactics, and are instead able to drop ideas that aren’t working quickly and figure out other options.

We also need to focus on being effective and drop, to the greatest extent possible, tired and doomed scripts and behaviors — fuck the black block and swaggering around looking punker-than-thou with way too much silly attitude! Excluding our potential allies on fashion grounds will get us exactly nowhere.

For instance, while the biggest, most legally sanctioned and moderate marches may be boring, it would be a mistake to simply ignore them, since there are tremendous opportunities for small group actions within the context of a massive crowd. Radicals and militants have a special role to play in New York. We need to avoid getting trapped in situations where we are totally surrounded by gobs of police and there are just a few of us who are easily swept up and arrested right off the bat.

Going to New York with an affinity group will provide the best chances for operational flexibility, effectiveness and safety. An affinity group is a small group of 6-12 trusted comrades who agree to stick together, cooperate to accomplish goals, use their collective wisdom to identify opportunities for action, and watch each others’ backs. Affinity groups can provide decentralized and non-authoritarian “leadership by example” in chaotic and uncertain situations, because they have enough people to try something as a group that can be noticed and followed if other people in the area think it makes sense. As an individual or a couple in a chaotic situation, you’ll often feel disempowered, scared and reserved — as an affinity group, you’ll feel courage.

So study up on New York maps, get your affinity group together and network with other groups so you can run in a pack (known as a cluster). Then make your travel plans. We have the summer to discuss our goals and figure out which actions, targets and tactics will fit those goals. But on the hot, humid New York streets, the main thing will be to be there, be visible, and fuck shit up!

For more information about the RNC protests, check out these website.,,,,,

The hotel assignments for the RNC are as follows:

Alabama – Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers

Alaska – Sheraton Manhattan Hotel

American Samoa – Embassy Suites Hotel New York

Arizona – The Roosevelt Hotel

Arkansas – W New York

California – New York Marriott Marquis

Colorado – New York Marriott East Side

Connecticut – Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers

Delaware – Millennium Hilton

District of Columbia – The Algonquin

Florida – Hilton New York

Georgia – The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park

Guam – New York Marriott Financial Center

Hawaii – New York Marriott Financial Center

Idaho – Park Central New York

Illinois – Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square-New York City

Indiana – Embassy Suites Hotel New York

Iowa – Sheraton Manhattan Hotel

Kansas – Park Central New York

Kentucky – The Westin New York at Times Square

Louisiana – Helmsley Park Lane

Maine – W New York

Maryland – Park Central New York

Massachusetts – Swissotel The Drake, New York

Michigan – Hilton New York

Minnesota – New York Marriott East Side

Mississippi – Hilton Times Square

Missouri – The Westin New York at Times Square

Montana – Renaissance New York Hotel Times Square

Nebraska – New York Marriott Financial Center

Nevada – RIHGA Royal New York, A JW Marriott Hotel

New Hampshire – InterContinental, The Barclay New York

New Jersey – Crowne Plaza Hotel Times Square Manhattan

New Mexico – The Roosevelt Hotel

New York – Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers

North Carolina – The Warwick

North Dakota – New York Marriott Financial Center

Ohio – New York Marriott Marquis

Oklahoma – The Roosevelt Hotel

Oregon – The Roosevelt Hotel

Pennsylvania – Hilton New York

Puerto Rico – Millennium Hilton

Rhode Island – Millennium Hilton

South Carolina – Helmsley Park Lane

South Dakota – Sheraton Manhattan Hotel

Tennessee – New York Marriott Marquis

Texas – Hilton New York

Utah – Millennium Hilton

Vermont – Hilton Times Square

Virgin Islands – Sheraton Manhattan Hotel

Virginia – Helmsley Park Lane

Washington – Millennium Broadway Hotel New York

West Virginia – Millennium Broadway Hotel New York

Wisconsin – Millennium Broadway Hotel New York

Wyoming – Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers

Roll Over E-ville

Call to Action: cyclone vs. sprawl

Early spring can be one of the best seasons in the East Bay. In February, the flowers start blooming everywhere and a thick scent of jasmine and plum blossoms hang over the city. It was just such a day that I decided to take a little bike ride down to the shore of the bay where a new bike path runs along the water. Everything was great — I was biking along feeling the sun warm on my skin, feeling the road roll under my feet.

At the end of the bike path, I got dumped out in Emeryville. Emeryville is a tiny little city right on the water wedged between Berkeley and Oakland. It only has about 20,000 residents and most of it stands in the shadows of Interstate-80, a 10 lane freeway that leads to the Bay Bridge and San Francisco. Emeryville was once a heavy industrial town dependent on access to the main railroad line and the port of Oakland.

Over the past dozen years, as manufacturing in the US has been replaced with retail and service jobs, developers have turned Emeryville into what can only be called an urban nightmare. The factories were torn down and replaced with a massive series of malls, retail outlet stores, parking lots and sprawl. Emeryville embodies everything that is wrong about our “culture” here in the U$A — consumerism on a mass scale, horribly designed and constructed mass produced box architecture and a life style totally out of balance with the earth. Although Emeryville is on one of the most beautiful water fronts in the world — with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Tamalpais — being in Emeryville you only experience concrete, exhaust, mass produced products and ugliness.

The whole city is totally dependent on auto transportation to the point that attempting to move through sections of Emeryville by foot on bike is dangerous and almost impossible. The parking lots are so vast, you practically need a car to get from your parking space to whichever big boxy store you’re trying to get to. Most of the people who shop at all the stores drive there on the freeway, park, shop, and jump back on the freeway.

As you can tell, I fucking hate Emeryville. Lots of folks call it “E-ville.” I’ve always wondered how a place which resembles the worst aspects of Los Angeles could exist right next to Berkeley and Oakland, which are both beautiful and ecologically aware cities. Emeryville has never met a consumer product, a new paved section of ground, an ugly building, or a car it doesn’t like.

Anyway, so my bike ride ended in Emeryville and since it was a shorter distance home to go through it rather than go back the way I came, I decided to bike the half a mile through Emeryville. “How bad could it be” I asked myself.

Passing under I-80, my first obstacle was the off-ramp. Even though it was just a normal day (not X-mas, etc.), the cars were backed up on the off-ramp onto I-80. I couldn’t see how far, but pretty damn far. As I proceeded through town, the back-up from the freeway extended to every street.

I decided that making left turns on my bike would be suicide, so I was forced to take a ridiculous and circuitous route through town on which I saw almost the whole freeway business district. I realized to my shock and horror that even in the few months since I was last there, tons of new stores have gone up — all of them chains, none of them with any socially redeeming value.

Basically, the whole city was just a girdlocked traffic mess. I felt impressed at the depth of suffering people are willing to endure — trapped in their cars on a hot day, exhaust clogging the air — just to buy some bullshit at Ikea, Trader Joe’s, Barnes & Noble, Ann Taylor, Abercrombie and Fitch, Talbots, Bath & Body, Pottery Barn, Old Navy, Ross, etc.

So here’s my idea — it’s time to protest E-Ville and all the consumerism, car-dependency and environmental irresponsibility it represents. Emeryville’s Achilles heel is transportation. On a good day it barely works. A tiny additional disruption could shut down the whole sorry mess hitting the corporate merchants in the only way they understand.

Once a month, Berkeley has a very polite, diverse and non-confrontational critical mass bike ride. It’s at night. Given its social breadth, it lacks the consensus necessary to put itself in the position of tying up traffic and causing a confrontation. In fact, I don’t want it to — critical mass is a great chance once a month to have a mellow ride, meet new people, be safe, and have fun.

So there should be another critical mass-type ride with a different name (“Bike Justice?” – “Cycle Force?” – “Cyclone of Doom?”), which happens during the day — maybe sometimes on the weekend and sometimes during rush hour (not after rush hour). This new ride would seek out places and situations where the current car-dependent transport system is already broken and overloaded — teetering on the brink of collapse. And by riding legally in those places and at those times, the ride would trigger that collapse.

Such a ride would result in a blockade, except that it would do so by moving legally rather than by stopping. The fact that bikes would be able to move while car traffic ground to a halt would allow the action to proceed (hopefully) without arrest, as well as sending a subtle message about alternatives — you don’t have to live your life in a car, and you’ll only keep moving on a bike.

E-ville is a perfect target for this type of action. It’s only a few minutes ride from Oakland and Berkeley locations, it’s flat, and it’s compact. Since it’s a tiny town, there are usually only 4 or 5 police on duty at any time. And aside from logistics, E-ville deserves to be disrupted. Shutting down E-ville strikes against corporations, consumerism, concentration, environmental degradation, and just plain conformity, boringness, ugliness, and beige. Our lives are more precious than the mediocre shit E-ville has to offer.

If you like this idea, drop by the East Bay Critical Mass bike ride in May or June to talk it over. The ride starts every second Friday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Berkeley BART station (May 14 or June 11). I would love to organize such a ride on Buy Nothing Day, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.

Leap Day Actions

150 people rampaged through downtown Berkeley targeting banks and chainstores with foam rubber bricks, glitter and popcorn during the second quadrennial Leap Day Action Night, February 29, 2004. The leap day action once again served as a laboratory for research into new forms of disruption while getting folks into the streets to target the local expressions of the global capitalist monster. Apparently, the idea of “using your extra day to smash capitalism, patriarchy and the state” has a powerful and strange appeal. The action went off action without the usual need to react against the latest outrage or focus on a simple, single issue or single representative of the power structure.

Leap day in Berkeley was free flowing, spontaneous and broad in its critique of social institutions. The protest was determined and militant at times, but also had a sense of humor and knew that we are more effective when we can laugh at ourselves instead of grimly taking ourselves so fucking seriously.

Leap day was also an alternative to the increasingly standardized forms of street protest that have developed over the past few years — the repetitive national extravaganzas at summit meetings. As focus, energy and resources have shifted to big national protests, we’ve neglected the kinds of grass roots organizing, protest, and militant disruption that give depth and meaning to a mass movement. Most folks can’t take a week off to go to Seattle or Miami or Cancun to protest, so they sit at home feeling powerless, isolated and marginalized by “the movement.” The big protests privilege the young, affluent and those with flexible schedules and few community ties — mostly students, trust-funders, “professional” activists working for non-profits and drifters. You don’t see a lot of 40-hour-a week workers, parents, school teachers, etc. out in the streets at big national gatherings. Increasingly, radical circles have split off from a grassroots base, from the community, and ultimately from reality. This is a serious problem.

Leap day action night was everything these ritualized mega-confrontations are not. It took no resources, no preparation, no bureaucratic structure, no airline tickets or road trips and no mysterious movement superstars with financial backing. There was exactly one meeting of 6 people to brainstorm some ideas, a few hours gathering props, a few email messages and a tiny number of flyers (not glossy postcards). At the event, no one was in charge — there were no communications and no plan. It was amazing to see tactics more in line with our goals. Small, decentralized and local was beautiful.

What happened?As folks gathered in the dark that Sunday night, the sense of mystery mixed with expectation was palpable — what would happen?!? The customary black flags were passed out, but also pieces of cut up foam couch cushions and Styrofoam bricks painted bright red. A day of action flyer proclaiming “We’re NOT calling for a consumer boycott! This is about taking Direct Action in Self-Defense!” had a map of downtown Berkeley with the locations of 29 chainstores, banks and fast-food restaurants marked. Someone handed out little envelops of glitter with funny messages like “more glitter, less government” written on the envelopes.

The original plan discussed at the meeting a week before was to march to the nearest Safeway store to support the grocery workers’ strike in Southern California. But 2 days before leap day, the union had announced a settlement, so the focused march was scrapped and replaced by no plan — just march around and cause trouble to those corporations which deserve it most.

Strangely, there were no police around as the large and black-clad crowd filled the BART subway plaza. Soon after 6 p.m., the crowd marched into the streets and headed north. The closest target on the map was the Bank of America, but since there were two busses stopped in front of it, the march proceeded to Domino’s pizza. The Domino’s workers looked surprised as the crowd came out of nowhere and started hurling dozens of funny looking bricks at the plate glass windows . . . which bounced harmlessly when they hit their target. The front door was glittered and the crowd demanded that the restaurant close its doors. The CEO of the 7,000 store chain has contributed handsomely to right-wing causes, including funding anti-abortion activities. When the Dominos employees didn’t shut for the night, a rag tag marching band (trombone, baritone horn and accordion) occupied the lobby. “Hey, the acoustics are pretty good in here!”

Next, the march headed to McDonalds and the Citibank store across the street, blocking University Ave., a major Berkeley street. Again, foam flew, and then the crowd moved on to one of the 2 Starbucks outlets within a 2 block area in downtown Berkeley.

At Starbucks, an attempt to cover the store with used coffee grounds failed – they had solidified into an uninspiring mass that lay lifeless on the sidewalk. But people managed to tie the doors shut with yarn, pelt the windows with foam, and spread glitter and chaos in every direction. A few passers-by were supportive and joined in.

Across the street, the Eddie Bauer outlet was having a going out of business sale. At the last leap day in 2000, the crowd had rampaged through the Eddie Bauer store inspired by the fresh memory of the mom and pop ice cream store the chain had just displaced. Now, in only 4 short years, the store was going out of business leaving another vacant storefront. A huge “CLOSING” sign hung above the locked door.

Tiny light bulbs were visible over numerous heads in the crowd as knives came out, cutting the ‘CLOSING” sign down. The sign was turned into a 4 lane wide banner at the head of the march. Just then, the Twisted Sister song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” came on one of the two bike propelled sound systems in the march, and the mood turned electric. From then on, we marched behind the “CLOSING” sign from business to business, demanding that they too close up shop.

On the second pass by the Bank of America, people hurled the stale popcorn from the Food Not Bombs cart at the mega-bank. The B of A together with Citicorp are working with the US occupation in Iraq to set up a foreign controlled banking system. Fuck that — have a foam brick and some popcorn and glitter, pigs!

At the second downtown Starbucks location, the march used a pretty red bow to tie the doors shut, and then used outdoor cafe tables and chairs to barricade the customers in, just in case. At a nearby Shell station, the crowd decorated the gas pumps with cardboard flame cut-outs while decrying Shell’s role as the 31st largest military contractor. Later on Telegraph Avenue, the crowd was marching north when the police blocked the way south. Incensed, the mob made a U-turn and marched between the cop cars while they impotently ordered us to stay back. After a long march South into residential areas, the march turned down the street on which the Mayor’s house sits. No one could remember quite which house it was, so we demanded on the bullhorn that the neighbors bring out the mayor for a discussion on corporate control of Berkeley. When he didn’t emerge (it was Sunday night after all) the crowd proceeded back to downtown Berkeley, stopping along the way to fill the “video return” slot of Blockbuster with glitter and popcorn.

Throughout it all, no windows were broken — but it was because the crowd decided that was how it should be. The police took a ridiculously long time to show up, and even when they did, they lacked sufficient numbers to really do anything. Even without any property destruction, the message of leap day was clear — Berkeley belongs to the people, not corporations. There shall be no business as usual while the earth is destroyed and the people are enslaved. Chainstores: we will fight you. Today Berkeley, tomorrow, everywhere else! Leap for it!

Houston Leapday update

In spite of intermittent thunderstorms throughout the day, people gathered in Lamar Park in Montrose to celebrate their free day. Temporary shelters were constructed, various arts and crafts projects manifested and free veggie food was enjoyed. A few people met in the park in the afternoon and then when the rain refused to let up, the party moved to a neighboring house. Later it reconvened at Amy’s ice cream, the launching spot for a bike ride back to the park where guerrilla gardeners planting a beautiful garden of veggies and flowers. Free food and beverages soon re-appeared and people continued to arrive. Party in the park — a leap of dreams.

NYC Leap Day Action!

In New York City, a pirate parade on Leap day started at St. Mark’s church with about 50 pirates and went through the Lower East side back to St. Mark’s church. Folks chanted “What do we want? Booty! When do we want it? Now!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, The royal navy has got to go!”

There were no police until Houston St., then the parade got escorted by several police cars. There were no arrests. Some time around 6 pm the police shut down Tompkins Square park when the parade got close to the park. As the people who got kicked out of the park saw the reason the cops were shutting down the park, they agreed that this was a really silly action by the cops. Pirates: 1, NYPD: 0.

Tomorrow’s Tactics: in the news

Now that the war on Iraq is finished, Bush is already thinking about the next conquest: maybe Syria or Iran, or maybe somewhere else. Thus, it’s already time for those opposed to a US empire to figure out our next move.

The state has become extremely skilled at limiting the effectiveness of traditional, predictable oppositional movements and actions. Tame mass marches are ignored, while ordinary militant street actions get you arrested or shot at with rubber and wooden bullets. Sometimes, the most effective tactics are disruptive actions that the state couldn’t possible imagine and thus won’t know how to react to — surrealist, absurdist actions. Such actions are just too strange for the police to figure out what to do. Or maybe they aren’t even clearly protest tactics at all — they are just things that massively disrupt business as usual, cause chaos, sow confusion, and gradually rot out the empire’s ability to project power globally.

Here are a few examples, but really, you have to think up your own or else they won’t work. Be creative and remember, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

America’s favorite problem solver: Duct Tape

It seems like every action these days has to have lock boxes. You know, pieces of pipe that people use to lock themselves together that have to be cut apart by the fire department. The problem is that the fire department is quickly learning how to handle the problem. The police magazines probably have whole articles written on this stuff by now, and maybe some company is making a “lock box cutter tool.” Why should we support a whole industry?

What about introducing some other kinds of materials that are intended just to confuse the fuck out of the authorities. For instance, what about at the next blockade, everyone shows up with a box of duct tape and just goes at it. Taping doors, locks, access points, people to cars, cars to trees, people to trees, etc. A few layers of duct tape is surprisingly difficult to cut because it is so gummy. The gum gets stuck in knives. Maybe we could layer some wire in with the tape or something.

Or what about using those wide roles of shrink wrap that shipping companies use to seal boxes together.

Best of all, duct tape and plastic wrap look so good together, so relevant — they are the official government solution to the threat of chemical and biological weapons. When the cops arrive, you can just say you wanted to have some homeland security.

Fake fear cuts both ways

With all the hype around SARS, and before that anthrax and even small pox, the average American is more than ready to believe in crazy health risks. Instead of trying to shut down, say, Bechtel by linking arms outside its front door, how about try something a little more interesting.

Picture this. A bunch of people wearing full white body protection suits and respirators emerge from a series of white vans. They have official looking picture ID badges, white buckets full of a fancy green colored soapy water and scrubby brooms. They tape off the Bechtel entrance with yellow caution tape and start soaping down all of the surfaces and posting official “Warning – Contamination Quarantine” stickers.

They probably shouldn’t answer any questions or talk to anyone — just act official. At the very least, this is going to create chaos and confusion. At best, the building will be shut down until someone can figure out what is going on.

From Protest to Disruption

Living in the Homeland of Empire USA was depressing during the war against Iraq, but at least in the San Francisco Bay Area we could take a little heart in all the dedicated, powerful, militant and exciting anti-war protests. The day after the bombs started dropping, we lived up to our pledge to shut down San Francisco’s financial district. The action started at 6 a.m. and lasted until late at night as thousands of people ran circles around confused, impotent police. Vigorous protest continued for days after, with 2,500 people arrested over 3 days.

We need to remember the lessons we learned that first day and during the rest of the war — both in terms of actions that slowed down business as usual, and tactics that were ineffective.

The struggle has moved beyond the time for polite protests and “petitioning our elected leaders”. The men ruling the US empire are less and less interested in public opinion. For them, might makes right. Increasingly, the only way to stop their drive to empire, their wars, their domination of the earth, and their suppression of freedom is to make their rule physically impossible in the streets.

Direct action or withdrawal from cooperation aimed at stopping the economy, the military and the government from functioning are increasingly crucial in the face of Bush’s New World Order. In this struggle, our friend is disruption, not orderly cooperation with the police. Our actions need to be measured by our disruptiveness, spontaneity, decentralization, individual initiative and creativity.

Pre-planning and organization are good if they impair the system’s functioning, but organization for its own sake — especially when it produces scripted, compliant protest and merely symbolic “actions” — is not going to get the job done. Excessive emphasis on pre-organization will make our opposition bureaucratic — with leader figures who can be coopted, negotiated with or bought into irrelevance.

Conversely, now isn’t the time to succumb to fantasies that we can engage in armed struggle within the US against the US empire. In the war on Iraq, the regular Iraqi military units didn’t stand a chance against the better armed imperial troops. Those Iraqi units were better armed than any opposition group in the US could hope to be.

Organized and spontaneous civil disruption at home is far more threatening to an empire than either polite, predictable protest or armed resistance. The cops have a hard time crushing non-compliance and disruption, which gradually rots the capacity of an empire to project its military and ecological domination abroad.

Our movement is quickly being pushed into a resistance movement against an imperial power. The forces building the American empire have made it clear that domestic opponents of the regime may be labeled terrorists or “enemy combatants” and thus stripped of any formal legal “rights” accorded to obedient citizens. Even though we’re in our own homes, living in the United States means we’re operating in occupied enemy territory.

What Worked

As the day dawned in San Francisco on Thursday, March 21, small groups of unusual looking commuters began emerging from downtown subway stations, along with the usual crowd wearing their ties and skirts, briefcases in hand. The night before in Iraq, US cruise missiles had started raining down, opening an unjustified, preemptive war of aggression. The People had come to a financial nerve center of the empire to stop business as usual.

The action to shut down San Francisco had been planned for months, with hundreds of affinity groups assembling detailed, specific action plans. But many more people came downtown without precise plans — just the notion that something had to happen.

The organized affinity groups quickly threw up blockades at numerous pre-determined points. Because the location of these blockades had been announced in advance, the police were well prepared. Almost as soon as a blockade was established, it was surrounded by swarms of police.

This created an amazing opportunity for the thousands of folks who weren’t involved in pre-organized actions to seize control of the rest of the city. There weren’t enough police to simultaneously surround numerous pre-organized blockades and protect the rest of the city. At intersection after intersection throughout the downtown, there were no police in sight.

It only took 20 people holding hands to block a street and attract another 100 folks who were on the sidewalk out into the street. If the police came around in sufficient numbers to threaten one of these un-planned actions, the participants could simply melt back onto the sidewalk, only to reappear somewhere else where there were no police a few minutes later.

These blockades were short-term cat and mouse operations where the intent was to avoid arrest rather than to seek it. While it’s hard to know, it felt like the un-planned and roving blockades were able to stop business as usual at least as effectively as the larger pre-planned actions. The difference was that those who did pre-planned actions got arrested fairly quickly and now face court dates. Few people involved in roving blockades got arrested, so they were free to disrupt the city long after their pre-organized comrades had been removed, even once more police got freed up from the large pre-planned blockades.

What does this mean for the future? A lot of activists like sitting in meetings polishing plans for pre-organized actions. That’s fine — as long as the movement doesn’t conclude that those pre-organized actions alone will be enough to disrupt a target. Pre-organized actions often don’t create much real disruption — the police love it when they know precisely where all the activists are and have them surrounded with a double line of riot cops. We shouldn’t delude ourselves into believing that we’ve disrupted business as usual merely because we’ve blocked an intersection — if the police know which intersection we’ve blocked, we haven’t seriously threatened social stability or order.

The pre-organized actions can act as decoys — diverting police attention and opening space for other activists to achieve a higher level of disruption elsewhere. Just like police love knowing where all the activists are, they fear a scenario in which they have no idea where all of the participants are, or are heading next. Its even worse for the police when there are 50 autonomous groups moving in all directions all at the same time.

On March 21, the police and media struggled all morning as intersection after intersection was blockaded at random. The police didn’t know what might happen next or where. The cops would get a report of a disturbance, dispatch officers, and by the time they reached the intersection, the problem would have moved elsewhere. Such unpredictable, spontaneous disruption is far more threatening to the system than a stationary, pre-organized, controlled or largely symbolic action.

As the day and the war continued, the police cracked down harder and harder. Opportunities that were available early on became impossible later. Moreover, in the days after March 21, the media viciously criticized the financial district shutdown. “Blocking ordinary people on their way to work just hurts the anti-war cause.” These reactions from the police and the media just proved how effective the effort to disrupt business as usual had been. This proved that our actions threatened social stability and couldn’t just be ignored. The massive marches leading up to the war were beautiful, diverse, and heartening, but they didn’t threaten social order, and could thus easily be ignored.

Bike cavalry to the Rescue!

Another totally inspiring and amazing tactical innovation during the March 21 San Francisco shutdown was the application of critical mass bicycle tactics to militant disruptive street protest. It is fitting that bicyclists finally realized their full potential as militant street fighters in San Francisco, where critical mass was born.

Critical mass bike rides, which have spread to hundreds of cities around the world, are usually good natured, fun, non-confrontational celebrations of bicycling. Since there is no organized “leadership” of critical mass, there is no organized political message or demands.

It is precisely these cultural traditions that helped cyclists on March 21 be so effective and disruptive. The bicyclists were used to making quick decisions on the fly without any formal organization or leadership.

When pre-planned blockades pinned down most of the police during the morning, numerous bands of roving cyclists were able to ride around at will, tying up and slowing traffic for miles. Since bikes can move rapidly, they were an even more confusing and disruptive problem for the cops and the media. They could be everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. Over and over, folks blocking intersections at random on foot would suddenly be reinforced by a roving band of bicyclists. The bikes also brought load after load of food, water and other supplies to people on foot. The bikes could scout ahead, warn of approaching danger, and distribute information about which roads were already blocked and which ones were waiting to be shut down. The one disadvantage of being on a bike is that it can be hard to dismount and change your role, because you have to do something with your bike. Thus, the bikes were most effective when they cooperated with folks on foot, each doing what they did best.

It was especially excellent to see all of the bikes, given that the war on Iraq was fought in part to enable Americans to drive as much as they want using cheap, foreign oil. During the brief war, spontaneous mini-critical masses calling themselves “Bikes Not Bombs” roamed San Francisco every weeknight, maintaining the momentum of protest. In a period of empire and war to maintain a dying motorized mode of transportation, riding a bike became our silent, daily protests against oil wars.

What Didn’t work

Police arrested about 2,500 people in San Francisco during the first 3 days of the war. Some of those arrested had “meant” to risk arrest at pre-organized blockades. But a lot of other folks got arrested — swept up and arrested en mass — the first day by accident because they tried to march in a black bloc.

We need to look critically at the black bloc tactic and figure out if it has outlived its usefulness. The black bloc tactic originated in Europe in the 1980s, and folks have marched in a black bloc in the Bay Area since the late 1980s, if not before. The idea is to have a large number of militant people in a large block so they can protect themselves and be disruptive. People dress alike (in black) so that the police can’t pick out a particular person from a crowd and try to pin a particular crime on them.

While at some points this tactic might make sense, recently marching in black has seemed to have more to do with making a fashion statement than trying to act collectively and effectively. Rather than allowing people to avoid police detection and arrest, the police have gone after the black bloc because they are wearing black, whether they do anything or not. The black bloc was surrounded and all its members arrested the weekend before the war — and then because no one seemed to learn anything, the exact same thing happened again the day after the war started.

Under these conditions, our tactics need to evolve. The point is to be disruptive and not get caught, not ensure that you’re going to get taken into custody. I realize black looks cool, and seeing a bunch of punks in black with face masks looks tough and militant. But if the group is singled out, monitored more closely by the cops, and thus can’t actually do anything, what is the point of looking cool? In Seattle, while the media and the police followed the small black bloc with helicopters, a much larger “plaid” block was able to get a lot of jobs done.

Face masks bring a certain level of militancy to a crowd, but they also can look unnecessarily scary and serve to separate those in the streets from the public at large. We want to inspire ordinary folks to struggle with us against the system, not convince them that we’re spoiled children with criminal tendencies. A lot of times you see face masks when nothing is even going on at all — what the fuck?!?

I thought the white face masks printed with “no war on Iraq” were pretty damn cool and a lot easier to understand. The point is to cover your face if you’re going to do something illegal, or if you might later on, not to just wear one all the time like it’s jewelry!

A lot more thinking, discussion and debate needs to go on within the community about the black bloc (and every other tactic we use). Far too often it seems like folks are just doing what they’ve done before, or seen done before, without actually thinking about what is going to be effective.

Finally, one the worst protest mistakes I saw during the war happened at a large and spirited blockade of the Chevron headquarters in San Ramon. The action, starting at 6 a.m. way out in the suburbs, was a triumph of pre-organization. Somehow, hundreds of us made it out there on crazy hipster shuttle school buses from the subway station in Walnut Creek. There were two roads going into the headquarters campus with large groups blocking both of them.

Although the action couldn’t have happened without a lot of pre-organization, it ended up demonstrating the limitations of pre-organization, and the tendency of pre-organized actions to become bureaucratic, predictable, tame, and ultimately non-disruptive and ineffective.

At the gate where I was, people were stopping cars, but the police were just parking workers a distance away and walking them in. Some people were trying to block the pedestrians, and the “organizers” were doing everything they could to stop participants from being spontaneous, effective and thinking for themselves. The “leader” on hand with the bullhorn told us that we had to “obey” the decisions of the spokescouncil and that he wanted to make sure the picket and the blockade were “orderly.”

I knew it was all over when the police came over a bullhorn and told people to be quiet so our “leader” could make an announcement. The “leader” told us to get out of the road or we would be arrested. People complied immediately, even though it was quite clear that the police had neither the numbers not the inclination to actually remove a large, fluid group from the road. That left the pre-appointed people willing to “risk arrest” sitting in a thin line, defenseless against the police who politely took them into custody. The potential disruption of the hundreds of people on hand was dismantled by one unelected “leader” cooperating with the police. Everyone stood on the sidewalk and watched the police carry out their duty.

We need to keep in mind that when we organize, we should be doing it for our own goals. Helping the police maintain order should never be one of our goals. Organizing to get a large group outside of a corporation is an excellent goal. Then the organizers need to fade away and trust the People to take responsibility for our own actions and our own future.

In Case of War take Direct Action

As Slingshot goes to press, Congress has authorized Bush to go to war against Iraq, although the bombs haven’t actually begun to fall. Action on the political field within mainstream channels — calling one’s congressperson, lobbying, writing letters — has been attempted and has failed. At this point, there are really two options: turn on the TV and watch the cool video of the smartbombs blowing up Iraq, or prepare to resist and disrupt the war in the streets however you can.

Its easy to get discouraged and figure there’s nothing anyone can do to stop the war. Maybe the war will be like the Gulf war, which happened so fast, and with so few (visible American) casualties that it was over before anti-war activity could really be widely felt. Then on the other hand, even during the long years of the Vietnam war, the war appeared impossible to stop. Yet we know now that those in the seats of power were blocked from fighting the war as vigorously as they wanted, and ultimately forced to pull out, because of the treat of domestic disruption and unrest.

If domestic opposition to the war is to play any effective part in Bush’s decision making on whether or how to wage the war, the opposition must take the form of disruption of the operation of American society. In the period leading up to the actual attack, Bush needs to come to fear domestic chaos and disruption should he invade. He could care less about polite, legal rallies on sunny Sunday afternoons in which liberals stay within the police lines and threaten . . . nothing.

Disruption must be aimed not only at the progress of the war itself, but at any economic activity that contributes to the ability of this country to function. People around the world understand that once the United States, with unquestioned global military superiority, adopts a policy of unlimited military preemptive strikes, as it has now done, a Third World War pitting of the US against the rest of the world is a real possibility. The US is run by an un-elected regime accountable to no one. Its up to those of us here in the belly of the beast to avoid this disastrous outcome by impairing this country’s ability to wage war.

In the context of the war on terrorism, traditional methods of disruption carry increased risks. Typical window smashing, rioting and arson are likely to result in a very short period of disruption, since the practitioners of these methods are likely to be quickly apprehended and imprisoned. Likewise, polite “sit in the road” civil disobedience actions are very limited in their ability to cause economically damaging disruption, because they are over so fast, followed by months of court hearings.

The above tired methods, which emphasize self-sacrifice, danger of state repression, and worst yet, boredom, aren’t sufficiently disruptive and should be avoided. Instead, its time for a burst of creativity. The anarchist milieu has a crucial opportunity to contribute disruptive surrealist actions which sustain and amplify disruption, making the disruption ever increasing in its size and economic damage.

In particular, these actions burst the bounds of the expected — permitting self-expression, exploration, discovery, creativity, freedom and fun. Such actions, rather than burning activists out as we trudge through the valleys of tired obligation, have the potential to attract thousands of people new to radical political action. These surrealist actions are effective beyond traditional tactics because the state doesn’t know how to react to something that’s never been done before.

When disrupting business as usual, our main alley is chaos, confusion and uncertainty – the uncertainty of the authorities about what we might do next. If they know what we’re going to do next, our disruptive capacity has already been isolated and limited. Maybe we can block a certain street — but the police are expert in knowing how to reroute traffic around any given street. Maybe we disrupt a whole city — but if pressed, the authorities can just decide to concede us that city until we grow tired.

But when the authorities don’t know what could happen next – where we’ll be next, what we might do next – then they have no ability to make decisions to limit our disruption. Instead, the authorities may panic and amplify our disruption out of fear about what could happen next. Like when the cops seal off a freeway entrance, blocking hundreds of cars, just in case people might try to get on the freeway. The cops just did our work for us. Except with surrealist actions, the ripples of the authorities fears can be far greater.

Logically, practicing disruption where the authorities don’t know what might happen next implies that perhaps even we don’t know what might happen next. If you’re in a group of people participating in a disruptive action and none of you know what’s gonna to happen next, but you’re mobile, militant, fluid, disrupting whatever is at hand in the most creative, joyful, liberated fashion possible, you’re probably being very effective, indeed. You’re running amok.

Here’s some examples of unexpected yet disruptive actions we hope will become popular in the next phase of the struggle. Please think of many, many more yourself.

West Side Story Surrealist Threat

In this highly car-dependent society, blocking major roads is always an excellent disruptive tactic. But things have been getting harder and harder when it comes to taking the streets. New creative thinking is called for.

A few years ago, British activists devised the brilliant Reclaim the Streets tactic of holding a rave in the middle of the street. RTS actions disrupt traffic, and because the blockage is a party, cops have a harder time reacting violently like against a standard blockade. Plus, RTS is fun and beautiful, attracting lots of party-goers/blockaders and embodying our vision for a society based on life and freedom, not money and machines.

The West Side Story Surrealist Threat (Theatre with the letters rearranged) is a theater troop in Berkeley which stages fully costumed performances of the musical West Side Story in the middle of major intersections during rush hour. Like RTS, traffic is immediately blocked and replaced with drama, singing and dancing. A bike-drawn sound system pipes out the songs from the musical without the words. Performers sign karaoke style. Because WSSST emphasizes participatory drama, parts are rotated during performances, and performers have crib sheets with the words to the songs to help them along. Since so many people know West Side Story, commuters are invited to spontaneously throw off their chains and join in the musical! WSSST is even developing rolling, bike-drawn sets (picture the balcony scene on wheels) that can be locked down with bike locks to further block intersections for the duration of the performance, which last about 2 hours plus intermission. Food Not Bombs may eventually be enlisted to serve a hearty meal with home brewed refreshments during the intermission.

WSSST performances literally blow the police’s minds, and they don’t know what to do. Official looking casting directors and directors negotiate with cops once they show up, telling them the whole thing is the newest Americrops project to keep underprivileged 20 somethings out of trouble. If all else fails, the whole cast can break into a rousing rendition of “Officer Krupke” before dancing off snapping their fingers in unison. Cool, Daddy-O!

This tactic, and the resulting severe damage to America’s capitalist / industrial economy should it be replicated all across the country, is just one possible idea for disruptive surrealist anarchist actions. A whole touring drama movement could develop, performing the greater works of Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams plays, and lots of other groovy musicals — from Guys and Dolls to Grease to Hair. See the “Cut Bush” section, below, for ideas to try during the nude scene during performances of Hair.

This is cultural enrichment at its best, not limited to the richest classes of society who are usually the only ones who can enjoy live theatre.

Critical Mess

San Francisco just celebrated the 10th anniversary of the first Critical Mass bike ride in the world. As 10,000 of us rode through the narrow downtown San Francisco streets whooping and cheering in celebration, auto traffic came to a standstill. The ride stretched for 40 blocks, crossing and re-crossing major streets.

The ride started at 6 p.m., permitting most commuters and business traffic to escape before the ride. If Bush invades Iraq, folks could scheduling critical mass bike rides in downtown financial districts around the country, with a small difference — the rides would start at 9 a.m., and proceed throughout the business day. Day after day.

You don’t need 10,000 cyclists to seriously disrupt auto traffic in central business districts. Such auto traffic is normally slow at best, just verging on the edge of gridlock under the best of circumstances. As few as 50 or 100 bikes, carefully obeying all traffic laws and therefore taking only minimal risks, will push these kinds of dense traffic conditions over the edge.

As above, such rides are a perfect way for a tiny portion of the civilian population to disrupt the economic foundations of the war machine way out of proportion with their numbers. Whereas a small street march will be quickly broken up by the police and arrested, a small bike ride, going with the flow of traffic, obeying all traffic laws, and moving from place to place, is much more effective. Because a bike ride can move quickly and easily, its possible to circulate around a business district, tying up lots of it even though the ride is only at a particular location for a few minutes and then moves on. This kind of mobile action is particularly frustrating for the authorities – they don’t know what could happen next, or where.

It is possible police will arrest such a ride even though it obeys all laws, as recently happened in Washington DC. The key will be finding the balance between being disruptive and staying together, and appearing to just be out for a ride on one’s bike. “Hey, its not my fault if there’s a lot of bike traffic today!”

Cut Bush!

Despite the fact that human sexuality is a beautiful, natural experience that connects us all, public sexuality has a vast disruptive capacity that shouldn’t be ignored by those seeking to shut down business as usual. We can think of countless ways in which a small group or people (or even a single person) could create chaos using nudity, public sex, or related actions.

The techno-industrial system relies on moving cargo, workers, raw materials and information quickly and smoothly. Actions should focus on locations, times and situations where disruption and delay can cause ripple effects costing the system millions of dollars in lost productivity. Key freeway interchanges, ocean terminals, rail stations, airports, power plants, water supply facilities, military bases, etc. are all highly vulnerable. Cells engaging in these types of actions don’t even need to identify themselves as protesters or call attention to specific demands. It may be safer or more effective to take action without an overt political message. Even police have been disrupted or distracted by sexual actions. If the cops realized that these acts weren’t merely self-expression (or lust or depravity), but were part of the resistance movement, they might be better able to focus on carrying out their duties.

We have a particular action in mind that could be replicated in communities around the country: pubic shaving or trimming. The message – cut Bush – is implicit in the act. Moreover, your average member of the regime, the economic elite, or the military finds the idea either distracting and titillating, or disturbing and disgusting, hopefully both at the same time, creating a critical moral / sexual contradiction that could cause a spontaneous mental breakdown.

Without checking it out too carefully, we do not believe the government has enacted a law preventing one from mailing one’s pubic hairs to the President. We suspect he would quickly get the message once thousands of pounds of the stuff starts spilling out on the desks of his mail opening staff. From a public relations standpoint, he’s stuck – if he complains, the story will get out and everyone will start doing it, while the whole world laughs its head off.

With advances in DNA technology, its probably better to be careful about this sort of thing. Therefore, we’re proposing that each neighborhood would have collection stations which would mix the hair from various people into less than 1 pound packages. Such packages can be mailed with stamps anonymously from any postbox. Use gloves and other precautions when mailing. Just to spice things up a bit and confuse the DNA folks, mix in some hair or other bodily coverings from your pets (dogs, cats, rats, reptiles, maybe a few bids) and include all of this in your package.

Good luck!

Anarchist Love Rolling Blackouts!

As California faces a summer of rolling blackouts, the anarchist strategy around the alleged “energy crisis” is clear: we like rolling blackouts! The more the better! The longer the better! How about permanent blackouts!

Just think for a moment about what a blackout really means for community, for democracy, for decentralization, against corporations and capitalism, and for the earth. Most of the things hurting the world need the electricity grid to function:

  • Television Stations
  • Police, armies and prisons
  • The auto traffic system
  • Security cameras and surveillance
  • Factory Farming and toxic industries
  • Chainstores and consumer society
  • ATM machines and credit cards
  • Global corporate computer networks

In contrast, imagine what still works great without a single, fossil fuel-powered watt:

  • You can still talk to a friend
  • You can do creative stuff: play guitar, paint a picture, dig in the garden
  • You can ride your bike or go for a walk
  • You and your friends can organize a collective to provide for the necessities of life
  • You can make love with no interruptions from the phone
  • You can enjoy the stillness after the sun goes down when orange/purple light lingers in the west, and not worry about missing your show on TV or all the work from the office you were going to go through under a bare light bulb, late into the night.

Without the electricity grid, there is immediately more freedom, more face-to-face community and direct democracy, and more harmony with nature. Bikes whiz around SUVs caught in a failed-traffic-light gridlock. Acoustic music rings out from candle-lit communal housing while yuppies can’t get through to their stock brokers on their cell phones or get food from High Tech Burritos™ and Whole Foods™.

Bureaucracy, hierarchy and authority all require the centralized, fossil-fueled power grid, but direct democracy, face to face voluntary organization, mutual aid and small, local collectives all function great without the electricity grid. If folks decide it’s necessary, bits of electricity can be generated locally for local use with solar or wind power.

The hype surrounding the “energy crisis” is overwhelming, but it tells you the rulers are worried.. And that’s pretty satisfying, because they don’t often get worried, or at least they don’t often admit it. When the lights go out, the rulers lose control. Worse yet, they become irrelevant. If there’s no electrical grid, they can’t watch and manage you, and you don’t “need” them. In fact, without television and their constant intervention and repression, you might not even know they exist. Rulers hate being irrelevant.

Because of the prevalence of ATM machines and credit cards, when the electricity goes out, money itself practically ceases to exist. You can’t buy and they can’t sell. The most crucial activity of the whole earth-eating machine falls strangely silent.

When complex, national systems like the power grid fail, people get the chance to see that they can function just fine, thank you very much, with the simple things in life, without the bureaucracy and control the rulers claim is necessary “for your own good.”

The industrial revolution, followed by the plastic age, followed by the high-tech revolution haven’t exactly caused mass elated happiness amongst the populace. Comparing a boring, controlled life of toil, consumption and isolation (run by electricity) against the real, lived experience of direct community and harmony with nature, the population may decide they want the electricity kept off.

Imagine if the blackouts lasted longer than an hour. Instead of office workers sitting around bored waiting for their computers to come back on, they would to start thinking about other better ways to occupy and organize their time. Talking together would lead to empowerment and questioning the techno-corporate order.

Blackouts are a tremendous opportunity for organization, mass education, agitation and action. As this is written, a significant discussion amongst the rulers is whether they should offer any warning before power is shut off in a rolling blackout. Proponents of warning argue it would permit companies to start back-up generators and avoid “data loss.” The main argument against advanced warning is that criminals would use this information to go on a rampage.

Hearing this, it’s hard to picture your typical burglar planning their schedule and their target community so rationally. Clearly, what the government is really worried about is the anarchists! For example, a rolling blackout in San Jose, given enough warning and planning by Food Not Bombs, etc., might lead to a full-on insurrection. Rolling blackouts aren’t a problem-they’re a treat and an opportunity! Like an accidental, government/corporate created temporary autonomous zone!

Our house is already experimenting with blackouts to get used to them and be ready for the tremendous opportunities blackouts bring. We started by turning the power off for a few hours, then trying it for a few days. It’s easy to do. Find the master circuit breaker in the basement and you can turn off the whole house at once!

We suggest putting together “rolling blackout kits” and distributing them around the neighborhood along with some good anarchist texts about mutual aid, how to organize an affinity group, etc. Kits could include everything you need to really enjoy a blackout: a candle and a good book, condoms, lube and a vibrator (solar), spooky stories for telling after dark, a frisbee, magic mushrooms, and pen and paper for plotting revolution and/or how to demolish the eco-wrecking corporations in the neighborhood.

There are also good games you can play and excellent alternative spectator sports you can watch during a blackout. Go out to the corner to play “watch the SUVs trying to get through the gridlocked intersection.” You sit on the sidewalk eating popcorn and score the contestants with number cards like at a diving meet. The grand prize is awarded when everyone abandons their SUVs, their computer office jobs, their isolated air conditioned lives and re-learns how to live free.

Rent Hike or Strike

The housing crisis in the Bay Area has reached a new plateau of desperation, with rents doubling or more in recent years. Tiny studios go for $1,500, if you can even find one. Hordes of tenants, renter\’s resumes in hand, jockey for each vacancy. If things keep going like they\’re going, San Francisco, Berkeley and maybe even Oakland will lose their diverse, vibrant quality. Each will be exclusive playgrounds for the rich, \”cleansed\” of most blacks, Latinos, and Asians¾of most of the middle and working class. The only artists or young people will be trustfunders, heirs to oil fortunes, or nouveau riche dot.comers. It\’s increasingly common for people-close friends, family members, neighbors, even this issue a Slingshot writer-to just give up on the whole Bay Area housing mess and move to another state. The more \”undesirables\” that move out, the more this area forever loses its unique character and the few who remain begin to wonder, \”is it worth it to hang on?\” Meanwhile, greedy landlords are chortling in delight-replacing single moms, taxi drivers, musicians and young people with khaki-wearing stock option millionaires, at triple the rent. Their units haven\’t improved, they\’ve spent nothing to fix up the dump, but suddenly they reap riches.

All of us tenants who hate this grim future scramble to figure out some kind of solution before its too late. Rent control laws have been weakened at the state level, and Oakland\’s attempt to pass a just-cause eviction statute failed. Some hope bans on new high rent housing will help, but this just intensifies price pressure on older, cheaper units. Building more dense urban housing helps, but takes years and most new units are built for the rich. No one is considering building enough new housing to change the market and bring prices down. Government subsidized new housing is a drop in the bucket.

Are there any other options? What have others done in similar situations? And how does class struggle over housing fit into the general struggle for revolution? In certain ways, the situation was similar in Barcelona in 1931. Their solution: a massive rent strike with direct actions to re-house anyone evicted. How many people have to get individually evicted before we realize that this isn\’t just bad luck, but a system acting simultaneously on thousands of people, and that together, it can be fought!

Revolution is the Only Solution to Global Pollution

While the scientific evidence makes it more and more clear that automobile travel and other human industrial activity is causing global climate change that is likely to extinguish millions of species from the earth, possibly including human beings, nothing is being done. Business as usual proceeds, and everyone gets in their car every day to drive more as if nothing was up. At what point do we realize that every car on the street is waging war against life and must be stopped, by any means necessary? At what point do we realize that our struggle for \”revolution\” can\’t just be idle talk-a dream for some distant time in the future after we\’re probably old or dead-but needs to be a very immediate reality if human life is to continue? Nothing short of revolution is going to save our asses at this point: the entire global economic system is designed to use as many resources as quickly as possible. Capitalism >requires constant \”growth\” which basically means more cars, more fossil fuel use, more pollution, more green house gases, more global warming. This is not a joke.

A draft report from the United Nations\’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leaked to the press October 25 concludes \”there is now stronger evidence for a human influence\” in global climate change. The IPCC, made of 2,500 of the world\’s top climate scientists, predicts that the average global temperature could be as much as 11 degrees F higher by 2100 than it was in 1990. Temperature at any particular place could rise more than that. An increase in the average global temperature adds energy to the world weather system, making weather far more chaotic, with more severe storms, flooding, droughts, cold snaps and heat waves. The change would be larger than the world has seen since the end of the last Ice Age, and plants, animals, human societies and agriculture won\’t be able to adapt fast enough to avert widespread, diverse disaster.

The IPCC report blames the global climate change on human emissions of green house gases, mostly carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels. Driving is the largest contributor to green house gas emissions.

One example of the drastic and devastating ecological changes that are being caused by global warming, car driving and ultimately global capitalism is provided by a recent report by scientists at the 9th International Coral Reef Symposium. They found that more than a quarter of the world\’s coral reefs have already been destroyed, mostly by global warming, and that unless \”urgent measures\” are taken to prevent global warming, \”most\” of the world\’s remaining reefs will be dead in only 20 years. The reefs play a crucial role as an anchor for most marine ecosystems, and their loss could trigger the extinction of thousands of species of fish and other marine life. Ultimately, if the oceans die, we\’re next.

The above studies aren\’t done by wingnuts in People\’s Park or by the Slingshot Collective. These are mainstream, world class scientists who tend to be pretty wary of making dire predictions until they have a lot of data. These scientific reports seem to exist on another planet, given most human\’s behavior. For example, a couple of months ago, Europe erupted in protest against high gas prices. These protests were eventually copied (in a much weaker, Americanized version) here in US suburbs. The beef: government taxes on fuel make driving \”too expensive.\”

Europe has fuel prices many times that of the US, and gasoline costs over $6 a gallon around Europe. In England, with the highest taxes in the continent, taxes account for 76 percent of the cost of gasoline. These taxes are intended to reduce driving, and it is no coincidence that Europe is light years ahead of the US in non-auto methods of transportation. Most European countries have excellent public transit; everyone is accustomed to taking trains; broad segments of the population bike frequently (not just young, \”healthy\” people); walking is feasible, fashionable and fun; European cities are dense and vibrant; European urban planning is oriented towards options for non-private auto transport. Not that they don\’t have a long way to go-we need to learn to drive a lot less not just a little bit less. But its a start.

Amazingly enough, despite endless talk about how expensive gasoline is now that is costs over $2.00 a gallon, it turns out that in inflation adjusted dollars, gas in the US is still cheaper now than it was in the early 1980s. Until this year, in inflation adjusted dollars, the price of gas had been consistently falling for 20 years. When all of the real costs of driving are factored into the price of gas-environmental damage, government subsidies, the cost of military action to protect oil supplies, -the \”real\” price of gas is as high as $15 a gallon!

Is the reformist tactic of increasing gas taxes to discourage driving the way to avoid global warming? No, but when even these modest measures are the targets of popular protest, one worries \”are we doomed?\” Americans, constituting about 4 percent of the world\’s population, consume about one fourth of all energy in the world. And apparently, that isn\’t enough. Gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks are the most popular vehicles sold (the car companies can\’t keep up with demand) and it seems like every 20 something hipster-people who should know better-has to have one.

I\’m thinking about all of this as I stand by a cross-walk, trying to get across a busy street in Berkeley. A river of cars passes by. About half of them are SUVs, pumping carbon into the air. Whether they\’re SUVs or compact cars, they\’re mostly occupied by a single person. Most of these people don\’t have to be driving-far from it. Two thirds of car trips are under 5 miles-easy biking distance. A third are under one mile-walking distance. And most of the one third of trips over 5 miles are pretty silly indeed-long commutes from sterile suburbs to meaningless jobs. Time to move closer to work, ditch the job, or both.

What to do? I don\’t precisely have the answer. Emotionally, I want to start a war on cars and driving with escalating tactics. Start by putting bumper stickers on everyone\’s car in the city in the middle of the night reading \”driving this car kills the planet.\” Next a guerrilla front would issue threats to stay off the road or else. People who still drove would start to experience petty inconvenience and vandalism: air released from their tires, scraped paint, broken windows and lights, barricades in the streets, parking opportunities sabotaged, gas stations disabled. Finally, there\’d be all out insurrection: cars seized, overturned and burned in the streets with running street battles erupting everywhere.

The above fantasy isn\’t the answer because its all based on force rather than free will and consent, and because it\’s all directed at the individual, who doesn\’t necessarily want to drive or choose to drive at all.

Over the last 100 years, our transportation options have been stolen from us-car, oil, and tire companies bought and closed down public transit. They bought politicians who subsidized the construction of suburbs, they bought culture, our likes and dislikes, so that people love cars, driving and sprawl more than they love life itself. The opportunity to live within walking distance of work, your whole life-everyone walked everwhere until 1800-no longer seems to exist, given our modern definitions of reality.

The answer is revolution-where people would be free and therefore where people\’s needs (including all of our environmental needs) would be more important than corporate needs. Where everything would get re-evaluated. Despite all of the scientific evidence about the drastic reduction in driving and fossil fuel use that needs to happen immediately, no one can even begin to explain how this would happen under the current global capitalist order. Every indication is that this order is entirely incapable of making any kind of drastic resource consumption reductions. We can\’t \”reform\” away the precise purpose of an entire economic system-nothing would be left without ever increasing resource use.

And no, revolution isn\’t exactly an easy solution either. How to get there is beyond unclear; what \”it\” would even be is open to considerable debate. But more business as usual is just no longer an option.