History has been made. The mainstream press has said that the debate over global economic system will never be the same and that the alliance of movements is unprecedented. Using direct action and mobilizing tens of thousands of people on the streets, the World Trade Organization conference was completely disrupted. The WTO, representing the pinnacle of capitalism and the domination of our society by the elite economic interests, suffered a deadening blow.
So, after this inspiring victory created by thousands of people organizing, what kinds of lessons can we learn?
Non-Violence and Police Repression
The organizing by the Direct Action Network was great. The affinity group structure, of 5-20 people performing actions together and coordinating through mass meeting of representatives was highly effective in organizing thousands of people in a decentralized manner.
The protests were so effective that within several hours the conference was shut down. We had been able to hold our occupations and blockades of the hotels and intersections by non-violently linking arms and using our numbers. Ultimately the police shifted tactics and began violently attacking the protests with tear gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades and rubber bullets.
I was extremely disappointed by the reactions of some protesters. They demanded everyone sit down and chant – that this would stop the police; the police only continued their attacks without mercy. They argued against erecting barricades to protect ourselves – that this was \”property destruction\”; this caused more people to be brutalized and the crowd was easily dispersed by gassing and grenades. No amount of chanting \”non-violence\” would make the police listen and no peace sign would deflect any rubber bullets.
This is the difference between tactical non-violence and ideological non-violence. Letting people be hurt is itself violent and furthermore defeating to our movement. Instead we need to be prepared, so that when the police use violence against us, we can respond with a reasonable amount of self-defense. During the confrontations, when people threw tear gas canisters back at the police, the gassing stopped. When they erected barricades from dumpsters and newsboxes, the police stopped advancing.
The Black Bloc
During the demonstrations on November 30th, the actions of the members of the Black Bloc were very controversial. But it is important to argue for a diversity of tactics and viewpoints rather than say everyone should only attack corporate symbols or everyone should only sit-down and let the cops kick their ass.
These actions created a great symbol, put the Anarchists into the spotlight, and are making the elites very nervous. But, sensational actions like these draw attention to the most radical parts of the anarchist movement rather than the long-tem, mass organizing that goes unacknowledged.
The black bloc wasn\’t only about property destruction. I saw them earlier in the day blockading the hotel and they were impressive. Where ever they were needed, they went. They held their line against the police, when others were pushed and intimidated.
Seattle Everywhere – Building a Movement
To make our movement grow we need to educate in order to raise consciousness and spread our idea of a free society through all means possible. We need to show that Anarchist principles of organizing from the bottom-up and using direct action are the most practical and effective. The alliance of different movements needs to strengthen and grow.
Organizing in the schools is important because young people are catalysts for social change and full of energy and new ideas. Organizing with workers is equally important. Most existing unions are top-down bureaucracies married to electoral political interest and will never truly fight for workers. Many rank-and-file workers realize this and we need to work with them in advocating for greater militancy and democracy.
Ultimately we need to create independent and militant organizations and unions based on rank-and-file initiative and direct action. We should fight for better conditions and worker control, for the rights of the unemployed and immigrants, and against discrimination in all forms. Working together to organize and educate we can show a viable alternative to the present system and to both endless reformism and the authoritarian politics of political parties. Let the events of Seattle be a catalyst of it all.