Anti-Capitalist Globalization Organizing
by Brian Dominick
From: Arise! Journal
I delivered this lecture to the 2001 class of the Z Media Institute. It was wonderfully transcribed by Amanda from Arise!, a bookstore & publishing collective in Minneapolis.
So this talk is supposed to be about capitalist globalization, and specifically, how we oppose it. In order to present my take on the whole thing, Iím going to tell the story of my involvement in this movement, which started back in 1993.
The big thing in 1993 was NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement.) When we're talking about global economics, NAFTA was not only a major thing for Mexico, the United States and Canada, but it was recognized by the entire world as the model of free trade agreement that would be expanded. If it answered capitalist needs, the way the capitalists were pretty sure it did, there was no reason to believe that they weren't going to expand it. But looking at Mexico, the US and Canada (the three nations most affected by NAFTA, the three parties to that agreement), the impact on its own was enormous enough and we didn't have to recognize that this was going to become a global thing in order to know that we needed to stop it.
At the same time, there were various other types of institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank were certainly alive and well then and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the process that culminated in the formation of the World Trade Organization, was active. NAFTA had been approved in Canada, approved in Mexico and we were pushing it through here.
A bunch of us were struggling to stop it. And when I say a bunch, I mean a bunch. There were a few of us, in every community, who were sitting there scratching our heads, trying to figure what to do. There were some demonstrations, and they were pathetic by today's standards. I think I attended one; I can't honestly remember because it was just as small as a whole lot of other little things I did at the time. I mean, it was really nothing to write home about. We were trying to raise awareness. We were desperate for some way to raise awareness. We couldn't figure it out. We were writing op-ed pieces and trying to do whatever we could to get people in our communities to know that this was happening.
These trade agreements used to be fairly secret. It wasn't that it was a conspiracy in the deepest chambers of Congress and various corporate institutions in this hemisphere; it just wasn't being talked about in the media, and when it was, of course, it was touted. And why the hell not? The media companies and their supporters were going to profit from this agreement and there was no real reason not to be for it. It had the word "free" in it, so it's got to be wonderful, right? People now realize that trade unions were the only large contingent really organized against this. There were various interests-- environmentalists and lots of other groups-- who realized this would certainly be an important factor in their future, and the future of their interests. That didn't culminate into anything big at the time, and it certainly didn't culminate into a general awareness among the US public, or really even in Mexico or Canada at that time.
On January 1, 1994, that culmination actually did take place. All of a sudden something happened where people did realize all this. It came about as a result of activism. That activism I'm referring to, as most of you know, is the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, the southern-most state in Mexico, the poorest state in Mexico and one of the poorest places in the hemisphere. The indigenous people there, having organized for a very long time, but organizing explicitly as the Zapatistas for about ten years, chose NAFTA, the first serious, major manifestation in the hemisphere of this neo-liberalism in the form of a free trade agreement that would a have massive impact on their future and on the future of Mexico, the United States and Canada. They said, "We're going to raise hell."
One of my biggest frustrations now, organizing in 2001, is that there are a lot of activists coming into the anti-capitalist globalization movement who don't even understand what happened there. The Zapatista uprising-- which I played absolutely no role in and nobody up here did-- was autonomous activism that came to invigorate support throughout Mexico very rapidly and to certain sectors of the radical left in the United States and Canada. That was a big boost for us. It was a big morale boost, and, not just that, but we began to learn lessons about how to organize against globalization. Who better to take those lessons from but the people who did it originally in this hemisphere, starting 500 years ago?
Who better to take those lessons from but the people who did it originally in this hemisphere, starting 500 years ago?
Indigenous communities have always been the people most impacted. Now, in a third world country, or in an arguably third world country, if you want to use that terminology, as Ward Churchill and others have referred to this, indigenous populations are what are sometimes referred to as a fourth world-- super-oppressed peoples. They managed to organize not just some demonstrations, but an army. And not just any army, but an army that had answers to the questions that a lot of us had emerged from the 1980s with about Central American, South American and global national liberation movements. They were very inspiring in that they were able to take action when we weren't even able to take action up here. And given their circumstances, not only was there was no particular reason to believe that they would be able to stage something as successful as they did, and as earthshaking as they did, but also in that they were doing it very differently. I'm going to talk about a couple of lessons that our movement has picked up or has been reminded of at the very least, by the way the Zapatistas organized and the way they continue to organize today.
My present involvement revolves around doing medical work at these actions, doing some writing here and there, and some lecturing. As an organizer, I'm organizing medical support for these demonstrations that are currently growing throughout the world, though my current involvement is only in North America. I actually think that lends me with, when I'm looking at tactics implemented on the ground at these demonstrations, a unique perspective that only medics have. I'm going to be sharing some of the lessons that I have personally learned from these things as we go. I'm going do some criticizing, too. I am very, very critical of a lot of the organizing going on around anti-capitalist globalization right now. I'm also an enormous optimist and I hope, by the end of this talk, I will have said a few inspiring things that will make you think that I am very hopeful about this movement. From the beginning, I want you to know that the end of this lecture will be that I do think we can make change. I think we are on to some really amazing things, and that this movement is going to augment a lot of other movements and other movements are eventually going to augment the anti-capitalist globalization movement, forming lots of bonds of solidarity all over the globe.
So, what is the movement that we have? I refer to it as the anti-capitalist globalization movement, even though there is no official title for this movement. The reason that I like it is because there is a two-fold definition to it. We are a movement that is for globalization. At this point, among the radical milieu within this movement, there is not a big trend of people saying that we have to retract into our little isolationist societies. The point is not that we are against a globe or against recognizing that we have a globe. The idea of that was introduced by colonialism and is sort of here to stay. There's no point in pretending that we don't have a globe and that people are not going to interact. In a society like the United States, it is absolutely ridiculous to assume that, when we've got this diversity of cultural influences from all over the world. Instead, we need to take advantage of it. We need to recognize and incorporate it. So there's certainly no point in considering anything other than that globalization is the way forward, especially when we live in a society that is based on having taken from all these other societies. To suggest that what we want is to halt globalization and stop interaction-- economic interaction in particular-- is to say, "Well, now that weíve got everything that you all had to offer, because we've strip-mined your land, taken all your resources, and enslaved your people, for christ's sake. Now, fuck you, we want to shut it all off. We want no more trade."
Well, certainly that's the most ridiculous thing we could ever suggest. We want the word globalization in this, but we are anti-capitalist. This points out that we have radical critiques of the economic system that is dominant in this part of the world and growing throughout the world. At least the major sector of our movement is explicitly anti-capitalist, and, in the rest of the work we do that doesn't necessarily have explicit foundations in the globalization issue, we're also anti-capitalist. Also, referring to it as anti-capitalist makes it clear that all of the work against capitalism, whether itís against certain elements of capitalism or capitalism as a structural identity, is against capitalist globalization as well.
Where does capitalist globalization get its foundation? Well, some of the ideological roots are in colonialism, but the basis of it is in the ability of capitalists to expand wealth, to expand control over markets regardless of the term "free market" being involved in this-- we all know that much. That is why I like the term itself.
When we define our movement, we want to define it in an international manner. I think that's imperative at this moment, and I think that's where we're losing some of the most obvious work when we define our own character. It is important to realize that our movement is not the thing that started since Seattle, or even since we realized that NAFTA was going to be this really fucked up thing. We need to recognize all these people who've been doing work against the IMF and the World Bank since before anyone on the left really recognized that these institutions were all that significant, when economists and labor folks were the only ones who realized that these sort of things even existed. Africa has been in resistance, India and South Asia have been in resistance, all throughout Latin American there has been resistance, all throughout Asia, really, there has been resistance to what are now considered neo-liberal policies, and certainly resistance to capitalism. This movement goes beyond us, and if we don't recognize that now, we will put ourselves in a large scale, but very limited, ghetto. That's what we're facing. We need to pay attention to some of the voices that are contributing themselves to our movement from other places in the world. But just realizing the interconnectedness is going to require us to build ties between our movement here and other movements with similar goals and similar objectives around the world.
Domestically speaking, we want to recognize a plurality of issues. The key lesson from Seattle was the coalition that came about. The fact that groups previously thought to be fairly disparate interests came together around one thing. The benefit was that we came together and realized, finally, that we do have common interests and we need to augment each other's work. I'm not sure if that's clear. What I'm really saying is that the benefit is not to the handful of people who started out saying, "Well, I'm an anti-capitalist globalization activist." Very few people have said that. We come to this from a whole range of issues and we realize that there is one issue around which we can come together and interface from various movements. That is one of the biggest benefits of this movement; I don't think the benefit comes from globalization or our ability to oppose it.
So when we start understanding the global context, we start looking at one thing in particular, and here is a very explicit lesson from the Zapatistas. The term is "solidarity." It's a term that's been around for a while and is here to stay. The Zapatistas helped redefine it, and we're finally learning the lessons from it.
In the 1980s and a little before, solidarity almost always meant-- when we're talking about colonialism and US imperialism-- that we send stuff to these other countries that were in need. We were trying to offset the horrible things that our military and our economic system were doing by saying we're going to send people for "protective accompanyment," and we're going to send lots of toilet paper, medical supplies and other things like that. Now, we do have a privileged society, we do have excess and we can acquire these things and send them down. There is nothing wrong with that at all. But the Zapatistas decided to say "That's great, that's really cool, we want all that stuff, keep sending the toilet paper, keep sending the diapers, keep sending the medical supplies, keep sending yourselves down. But when you come, learn. And that's one thing: solidarity cannot be unilateral. We have to bring things back. We have to realize that there are a lot of people in this world, no matter the color of their skin or socioeconomic position in life, and they have a lot to teach us, something that we are just figuring out.
Solidarity for the Zapatistas meant, first and foremost, that we're kicking ass here at home. They said: "We can hold these folks for a little while longer, but if you can remove the boot from our neck by stopping your society from funding our government who is doing it directly to us, then, boy, wouldn't that be a big relief? So if you can please go home after your visit, learn some things, and maybe contribute here and there where we say you should. (The respectful folks have been doing that for years, contributing where they are asked and shutting up the rest of the time.) Then, please go home and organize people against all the shit that's going on in your society. Organize not just against imperialism and the massive military expenditures going to support the war in Mexico, but against the shit that you need to recognize as your own problems. Stop letting us distract you from the fact that your cities have third worlds in them, that racism and sexism, things that we are really beginning to get a grip on here, are rampant in your home. Go home and take care of that shit."
It isn't the idea of bringing a front home and starting a war here so that they forget there's a war down there. The idea is to build infrastructures that aren't interested in focusing on sending things down south, but infrastructures focused on building an actual movement. Only then will we be able to contribute to this "rescue attempt" we've all been so desperate to engage in regarding to the rest of the world, especially the global south.
We're beginning to realize that the US is probably not the best vanguard for the rest of the world-- whether itís the radicals or the capitalists. Maybe we shouldn't be the ones doing the leading. We should be doing a lot of work, and maybe we should be taking advantage of certain privileges that a lot of us have here in order to do that work, but maybe we should be taking inspiration and ideas from people in other parts of the world. I still take a lot of time talking about the Zapatistas because I don't know of any other group in the world that is quite as inspiring as they are. Certainly there are smaller groups in other places. There are even in groups in North America that do some awesome work, but when it comes down to flat out having their shit together, they have something to look at and learn from. That is an important lesson for us.
The next topic I want to talk about is movement demographics. Who is making up this anti-capitalist globalization movement? We hear a big complaint, and I think it is very legitimate, that our movement is not diverse. "Why aren't more people of color, why aren't more poor people coming to join our movement?" Well, boo-fucking-hoo, it's because we're not making our movement very palatable to them. Not only that, but it is the perspective we're taking, that "we need to make our movement more palatable to them."
"Why aren't we," I ask people I work with, "working on issues that affect those people?" Why don't they prioritize anti-capitalist globalization as the pinnacle of their liberation? Itís quite simply because there are people in this society who really do have bigger, more immediate problems. Again, the organizations and the infrastructure that those communities are building-- doing work around issues that explicitly affect them more directly than, at least they perceive, the capitalist globalization issue (I think that that issue affects them too) are indeed building a movement against capitalist globalization. (I'm using "those" and "them" in this case because, look at me, I'm a white boy, okay, and I'm fairly privileged and I don't mean to exclude anyone, I'm just trying to use some shorthand.) If they are fighting capitalism or elements of capitalism, they are building part of the infrastructure that we need.
So, it's not worth crying about that not everybody is doing exactly what we're doing when we go out in the streets of Quebec or Seattle. We have to define this movement a little more broadly. It isn't just the folks who show up there. When it comes to the folks who show up there, I do think that's still relevant. I'm not saying that it's really wonderful that we have these almost exclusively white demonstrations that are pretty exciting and pretty inspiring to those white people who show up, and to the white people watching TV, etc. We have to realize that there are some barriers there and we need to get around them to make things more accessible.
One barrier is that we keep having these in very localized situations. The capitalists pick a place to have a summit, and we say everyone has to go there and protest. What is beginning to happen, which is really refreshing, is that communities are realizing that A) the base of support against globalization has grown to the point where we can have local demonstrations and B) these summit things, they're starting to wear thin. What we really need, and can now do because we have a foundation for it, is to start organizing locally, so there are sister demonstrations in lots of cities in North America and the world when these major summits happen. That's good. We need to be supporting that. One of the ways we can be supporting that is by acknowledging that it happens in our media, especially in alternative media.
Also we need to be sharing our organizing lessons. Those are much more difficult demonstrations to pull off right now. How do you get people to come to this thing if you don't have this summit or the promise that the black bloc is going to show up? We must learn how folks who are doing these things successfully are getting people to show up and getting them inspired.
The black bloc presents an interesting example of diversification-- culturally, racially and economically-- of our movement. The tactics that are being used on the streets, and I certainly don't want to just pick on the black bloc here, put off a lot of people. People of color are targeted more and treated worse inside the system. People of color know this will be the case for them. There's no point in saying, "We'll take care of you if you get arrested" or any of that shit. It's not going to work, it's not true and they know it, and we have to start realizing that this is exclusive. If we're going to keep escalating tactics, we're going to keep turning people off to them. The people we're turning off are the ones we keep crying about not having there. It doesn't mean that we eliminate those tactics completely. It also doesn't mean that in some cases these tactics donít inspire underprivileged folks to say, "Damn, it's really cool that these white privileged kids are kicking a little bit of ass and are willing to get their asses kicked."
I was in Cincinnati for the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue protest. It was a small protest being organized out of a primarily Black community called the Over-the-Rhine community, a neighborhood in Cincinnati where impoverishment is just an extreme; it's where the riots last Spring began and will continue to go on. It's where lots of resistance to police brutality is going on. While there, we got a chance to interact with folks. They were asking, "Well, what are you guys here for?" I didn't realize how hard it was going to be to answer that question until an African-American guy just kind of wandered up and said, "What are you guys doing here?" "We're organizing against the TransAtlantic...Business...Dialogue?" How the hell do I explain that? To this day I don't fully understand the TABD, but I did start to explain globalization. He said, "Yeah I know what that is." So he understood, big surprise there. I didn't know exactly what TABD was, and neither did he, but we both knew what free trade was and we both knew what globalization was.
He and other people we were meeting in that community were very supportive of us. We, the medics, were actually doing work in the community around health care. We figured, "Hey, if we're coming to town, we might as well offer some services here." There was a lot of respect and appreciation for all these white kids pouring into town to take on these issues. Part of the reason was that these were the same white kids who were willing to take on the police brutality issue, which was extremely hot there, just like it was this spring and like it will be all summer. Another reason was because the neighborhood did realize this was an important issue. What we couldn't do was convince them to come out to the demonstrations. I tried, I admit, I tried real hard. I said, "Hey, we're going to have these great marches!" I wasn't convinced that they were going to be great, but I figured, "What the hell, give it a shot." I admit I didn't know whether I was going to be interested, and I knew there was a pretty good chance that people of color and diverse communities weren't going to be interested--that they werenít going to be thrilled about puppets and quiet chanting. I've had indications in that direction before.
So people didn't come out and the reason was, "While on the one hand I think it's really cool that you guys are out there confronting the police and trying to get through the police to raise your issuesÖ I'm afraid." That was what it boiled down to. "We'll watch, but we DO NOT want to be mistaken for you. If you are out there and you do anything from yell at the police to throw things at the police, I want to be as far away from you as possible."
That made me sad because I knew that there was actually nothing I could do about the fact that some people were going to increase the violence brought upon us, just like at every single one of these demonstrations, ranging from Cincinnati level to Quebec level. A lot of people were hurt, a lot of people suffered, a lot of people were arrested, and a lot of people were tortured and abused in jail. That sucks for us-- privileged people, white people. Itís going to suck more for people of color who have fewer resources, more to lose, and feel the fullest bias of the system. These are some of the things we are beginning to realize and aren't doing too much about. In some ways our efforts are thwarted by people who insist on escalating when maybe we should be looking at ways to have demonstrations more inviting.
Here is where another lesson that the Zapatistas have been teaching us is important: One thing the Zapatistas insist on is developing a culture of resistance. One of the reasons the Zapatista Army could form is because the democracy among the Mayan people there developed into resistance democracy in opposition to the bullshit of the bigger system. They recognize that and live by it. That's part of their culture. That is something that we will have to manufacture and fudge here. There are certainly resistance cultures here within the US, and some of the best examples are indigenous cultures and other "minority" cultures or ethnicities who can contribute a lot to resistance. But we've lost a lot of that.
There are examples of culture within our movement, but the idea is that we need cultures that are informed by a lot of other cultures. Here, I'm going to pick on the puppet thing again because I've heard a lot of people of color and lower income people say things like, "Why do you keep making puppets of people of color that are carried by white people?" Well, that's a really, really valid criticism. Why aren't we inviting people of color to come and lead us in cultural expression and actually introduce some things to some of the white folks who have been dominating organizing here. These are some important things we need to address. Developing that culture of resistance, in our own way, and I'm not saying adopting and incorporating lots of other cultures and saying, "Well now look how diverse we are," but, coming up with something new, and puppets are part of that. Puppets are absolutely an element of that if that is what is getting people excited like I keep hearing, then that's fine. But, there's a lot more elements that need to be introduced as well.
Objectives and strategy: I don't have too much time to talk about this point. There are too many objectives and too many types of strategies to get into detail. We need to highlight and admit or expose, for ourselves, what some of our strategies and objectives are going to be. One of our objectives at this point and for a long time in the future needs to be exposure. When we look at the history of the anti-capitalist globalization movement, letís just say in the last decade, exposure has been a major component in growing the movement. Without that we don't know what's going on. It has also been a good component in working against some of agreements and bullshit they've been trying to pass at us. The Zapatista uprising was a major form of exposure. It didn't stop NAFTA-- it came after NAFTA had passed-- but it did give a big boost to our movement. In Canada, when the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) came about, lots of Canadian organizers said "Hey, hey! We're going to recognize this." This was an agreement that was very secret compared to a lot of the other ones that have been coming around. The strategy was: "All we need to do is tell the public that this is happening and those who are negotiating it will be stalled," because the imperative there was that these things happen in secret. We no longer have that advantage because now they are working around ways to actually negotiate these things in secret. But, the MAI was a pretty severe agreement that was mostly run by corporations. There wasn't a lot of public involvement, if really any. What the Canadians had to do was expose it and they did that. They did that through massive demonstrations, consciousness raising, and a lot of actual ground work and community level organizing. With exposure, we are going to continue to have these big demonstrations, we are going to continue to point what's going on, and people are going to learn there is something called the International Monetary Fund, there is something called the World Bank, there is something called the World Trade Organization-- even that there is something called the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue. We are going to start exposing these things.
What we are also going to do, I hope, and what I am beginning to see, though not enough of, is when we get home from these big summits, the big climactic events, we're going to work in our communities. We are not only going to be working around informing people about globalization, but we are going to be working on these other issues that I am insisting are part of the anti-capitalist globalization movement, whether they're explicit about it or not. So exposure is one of the major goals we have at this point.
Another goal we have is to increase inclusiveness and participation. We need to make it an explicit objective. Not all of our objectives are external. Not everything is what effect our movement can have on the outside world. Some of it is what we need to accomplish within our movement. Letís get it out there and say it in order to be able to grow and, in turn, be able to have that effect on things outside of our movement.
One of the main components of that and an explicit objective again is the coalition building-- drawing the connections between the various issues, various interest groups, and various organizations and movements that are already in place. Letís say that one of the big things about Seattle and one of the things about every future demonstration that we can do is drawing those coalitions. Letís get out there and say it. Not necessarily what its effect will be on globalization, again, but what it means to our movement.
I do want to talk a little bit about tactics-- tactics in the streets, whatís going on in the streets. The visible presence is, and will be for a long time, the most important thing going on at demonstrations. The size of the presence and the creativity of the presence, the vocality of the presence, are all factors in it. But, the most important thing, letís not make a mistake about it, people are always, at this point, going to be most impressed, with the least controversy, if people show up and express themselves in creative ways and massive numbers. That should be the focus; thatís my proposal.
One of the new things thatís happening is that weíve demonstrated, as an accomplishment of our movement, is that if [capitalists] want to meet and talk about [free trade], they are going to have to do it behind the police barricades, behind small armies. All the delegates are going to have to bring their own henchmen, which they are literally now doing. Theyíre all bringing people who have special permits, even in places like Canada, to carry pistols in order to protect the delegates. We are going to make them paranoid, we are going to make them realize that if they are going to do this, weíre going to show up and theyíll have to do it in secret. Or theyíll have to move the meetings to Qatar. Theyíll have to move to a country that none of them will even want to go to, that none of them have considered taking a vacation to. Instead of going to beautiful Quebec, they have to go to Qatar, because in Qatar, of course, there will be a fair guarantee that there wonít be any major protests-- because anyone who does it stands a high likelihood of being killed. Thatís what theyíve resorted to and that kind of hides things too. It puts them off in Qatar and we donít have access to exposing them. So, thereís a downside to a lot of these upsides, but it does show them that we are able to mobilize. And it will also push us to find other ways to mobilize in the absence of a Castle Grayskull to protest around while the delegates cower in secrecy inside.
Our mobilizing, however, isnít impressing them much. The ability to shut them down, to blockade them, was most successful in Seattle and really hasnít had much effect since, except a short delay in D.C. at A16 and then a short delay in Quebec. This isnít how weíre going to stop them. They are going to find a place to meet. Thatís all there is to it. Unless we can really get in there and eject the delegates, and ensure they donít get replaced, we really donít stand any chance of stopping them from continuing to meet, so letís not make that a major objective. Letís recognize that sometimes itís fun, and sometimes it as movement-building capacities, but thatís the limit of it. Itís not going to stop globalization. They have these internet things with the videoóif they need to, they can do it from home. And, letís face it, going to hang out at summits is nice for them, but really what theyíre there for is to plan the demise of the world, and thatís going to continue (laughter), whether they get to do it while they are on vacation or not.
Iím going to throw out a quickie here. Weíve got to stop having these long marches. Theyíre killing the medics, you know. Iím carrying thirty pounds of gear, and Iím carrying other peopleís water, because they forget it. Letís just stop with the long marches, unless we can keep them exciting. So letís also stop with the boring marches, and the boring rallies. (applause)
Another thing in the movement that Iím not sure is having a positive effect is the intentional arrest thing or the symbolic arrest thing. On April 17, 2000, in DC, there was a negotiation between the police and some people who thought they represented the folks there, that they would cross the line and be arrested as they pretended to walk toward the IMF building. "And weíll bring signs, I think, and we wonít say anything on our way and you can nicely arrest us." And that was done, legitimately, to add to the numbers of people in jail-- to clog the system and ensure that there could be really good jail solidarity, and that people could get out with close to nothing or nothing as charges. Iím not sure whether that particular part of the demonstration was necessary because there were already around 900 people in jail, but it was effective that way.
What it also did was make a whole bunch of people, and again underprivileged folks, including people of color, look at us and say, "Thatís absolutely insane. I donít want to be part of a movement where thatís what we do." And a lot of us who had already been really loud out there, said, "You know, I donít want to negotiate my own capitulation." I think we really need to look at the effect that has on morale. It was a rainy day, and thousands and thousands of people left that area thinking, "Damn, that was the most depressing climax Iíve ever seen. If we hadnít shown up today, I would have felt a lot better, because yesterday was a hell of a lot better." Letís try to keep the days getting better than the day before. Letís try to pay attention to those sorts of things when we are doing our strategizing.
I think there are some neat elements to these spokescouncil things that are going on. I think we can incorporate a little more inclusion in them, and also pay attention to what are actually real security needs right now. Those groups that are doing things that require secrecy need to be organizing the spokescouncil things a little bit better. Weíre seeing a lot of infiltration; weíre seeing a lot of arrests that are absolutely unnecessary as a result of the police just being able to wander in wearing a Mumia t-shirt and listening to find out what people are doing. Or worse, being able to join an affinity group because you are wearing a Mumia t-shirt. This isnít where the idea of an affinity group came from. It wasnít that you have a group; it was that you have affinity, and thereís lots of different ways to organize. I have some opinions on that, but I also want you to keep in mind an important element to this: to the extent that secret organizing, direct action and radical tactics are beneficial and necessary, letís organize those more carefully. Letís also pay attention to how damn exclusive that stuff is. There is a balance there. Weíve got to find it. I am never going to ask people not to do direct action. Iíve done it in the past. Itís been one of the most inspiring elements of my participation as an activist. Eventually, I think, weíre going to have to practice [it] because there will be a much bigger role for it in the future. So, I like that weíre doing it now, but we have to make sure weíre careful and that this whole diversity of tactics thing-- that is mostly insisted on by people who just want to destroy property and might have inclinations for violence-- is actually respected from both angles.
Let me finish up my blabbing part here by discussing just a few things. After all this criticism, I want people to realize that there is a reason why Iím animated right now. There is a reason Iím still in this movement, the anti-capitalist globalization movement, the explicit part of it and the not-so-explicit parts of it, for a long time to come. Like I said before, Zapatismo and the EZLN uprising was a major part of my inspiration for a long time, and Seattle was too. My current participation, what Iím doing as a street medic, is inspirational for me, too. This is just a perspective I want to share, whether it means anything or not to you. I hope it does.
What I get to do is meet people who are sometimes at their most vulnerable moment, which came directly after their strongest moment that has happened so far in their life. I met a kid named Todd on April 17 in DC last year who had seen a police car coming to escort a van that didnít contain anybody, but people suspected contained some delegates trying to leave one of the meetings. He decided he was going to lie down in front of the police car. Iím not going to talk about the soundness of that decision. We all ended up getting teargassed and a whole bunch of people got beaten who didnít even know he had done this. But this guy decided, regardless of his understanding of the context, he was going to lie down in front of a police car. He was dragged by police, and a cop emptied a can of pepperspray in front of his face. I recently saw a video of it; I hadnít seen Todd get injured. Todd got dragged and he had welts-- by the time I saw him several minutes after he injuries were incurred-- all the way up his back. To this day, I havenít seen someone quite so damaged by chemical weapons. He could not open his eyes and it took us about twenty minutes (and we were fairly practiced medics after flushing peopleís eyes for two days) for him to barely open his eyes. I think he was crying. It could have been the tearing effect or that he was sad, but he looked like shit. Taking one look at him almost scared me into peeing. I talked with Todd and tried to increase his morale the whole time and I asked him "Whatís going on with you? What are you here for?Ö How ya been?" (laughter) I was trying to make conversation.
Todd was really new. This was his first major demonstration. He didnít know what commitment was until he lay down in front of that car. Meanwhile a few of the people who had brought him over to the medics were explaining to us, "Holy shit, this guy got really taken out. He did something really courageous.
After taking twenty minutes of constant work on his eyes and back thatís all torn up, when I got his eyes flushed, I saw his eyes (they were the most beautiful eyes Iíve ever seen) and he said, "When can I get back out there?"
These are the people that are making up this movement. Todd was a bit of an exception because he was crazy enough to jump in front of that car, but he wasnít an exception as far as I have witnessed with my patients who have been injured. That is the question people have: "When can I get back out there and begin contributing again?" Sometimes I have to tell them, "Look, youíre done for the day, you might be done for the week," depending on the injuries. But itís really hard to convince people, even those with severe injuries, of that.
There was a young woman in Boston at the debate protests (who had also been kind of dabbling in the anti-capitalist globalization stuff and was really inspired by this movement), and she got some really bad pepper spray. She had never even understood that police would hurt white people. She really didnít get it. She didnít think anything would happen to her. She had a transformative process there while she was being treated. She explained to me that she made this realization. She went from being really scared to being really empowered.
I treated a kid in Quebec who was beaten pretty severely over the head with a club, he got his earring torn out, and he looked like an absolute disaster. His injuries were pretty severe. His name was Cabbage, that was the name he gave me. He was wearing the black sweatshirt and he was a black blocer. Something I realized about him, after joking that his dreadlocks may in fact have saved his life since they prevented the gash the cops had given him from spreading beyond a couple of really thick dreadlocks. He was explaining to me why he was there. I didnít agree with a lot of the kinds of things he was doing, and I started thinking that a lot of people are doing things that are getting the people that I spend time treating, hurt. Then I realized that he had four plastic bullet wounds from the day before on his legs, and that he had gone out and gotten beaten again. It doesnít tell me a lot about his ability to think clearly, it really doesnít.
But look at these folks and the risks they are taking, and the resources are there, the energy is there. Young people are actually invigorated, weíre becoming militant, and as soon as we can get a grip on ourselves and say, "How do we direct this?" thereís just no stopping it. If weíve got this kind of energy, this dedication, and this willingness to take risks, and if that willingness is transferred to the risk of feeling humiliated when I go and organize among my community, among people who might laugh at me, who might not answer the door the first ten times, if I can really translate the courage that I take into the streets as I go out there as a medic, if I can harness that at home, do some community organizing and do some outreach that really countsÖ then we have a revolution on our hands. That is quite simply the truth. That is what we need to do right now.