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.
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!”
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.