Report from F2 manifestations against
the World Economic Forum Meetings,
The Divas for Democracy, an affinity group including 6 Divas from Colorado and one from Queens, NY, took a week off from work and school and drove to New York City to protest the World Economic Forum (WEF). Five of us were participating in mass actions for the first time. Our organization sent affinity groups to Seattle, DC a16 2000, the RNC, D2KLA, TABD in Cincinnati (Nov 2000), Québec City, the San Diego actions simultaneous with QC, and last September's DC action. i myself was at all of the above except RNC and San Diego.
The organizing structure
We attended the Students for Global Justice teach-in on January 31 and February 1st at Columbia University. We attended the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC) spokescouncil on the 31st and the joint ACC and Another World is Possible (AWIP) spokescouncils on the 31st, 1st, and 2nd.
We learned from the spokescouncils that AWIP had decided to do a permitted march. They were using the Québec City terminology of zones labeled green ("safe" zone in which mutual promises have been negotiated with police), yellow (classic pacifist non-violent civil disobedience) and red ("more aggressive forms of non-violence"). The march would be a "green zone" but it would incorporate the most sophisticated position on "diversity of tactics" which was stated as "no one shall condemn actions of other activists". Organizers took pains to point out that it was their first time to be involved with a permit but felt that in the post-911/mourning/civil rights crackdown context it was the right thing to do. Someone described it as "kind of an experiment" for people who were used to direct action. According to ACC, AWIP had agreed to police preferences for the march "in order to get their dream route" which would deliver them to the doorstep of the WEF meetings at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. The end of the AWIP march would face the ANSWER Coalitionís permitted protest pit.
The ACC spokescouncil on the 31st was attended by about 50 people. ACC had suffered tension and division in part because of overlapping membership with AWIP. Some ACC people had privileged knowledge about AWIP scenario which was apparently undermining ACCís own scenario planning in what disgruntled ACC folk described as "conflict of interest". But more importantly for the folks at the 31st meeting, the only "anti-authoritarian" ACC actions planned for F2 were secret affinity group actions. There were no action plans that out-of-towners could become part of. A number of people said that the green zone would be "a trap" or that they would be stuck in a green zone "unable to act". Many people who spoke during the ACC meeting said that they couldnít really talk there because it wasnít a safe space. The outcome of the ACC meeting was that ACC had a responsibility to at least provide a time and location for such activists to converge on F2. Our first-timers found the ACC atmosphere depressing and unwelcoming. They were on the verge of tears that this was the manifestation of the movement which they had come so far to be part of. One of the Divas commented "people werenít even giving enough to speak up so that people could hear them."
The joint ACC/AWIP spokescouncil which took place in the same room immediately afterward was cheesily upbeat, starting with cheers. Skilled facilitators insisted that people speak up when they talked. There were about 100 people there. At some point, someone reminded the group that in AWIP people had agreed not to do "security culture". And Starhawk said "thereís a tension between mass action and security culture. Security culture disempowers people because they feel left out and canít get the information they need to make decisions." ACC did not have another separate spokescouncil. The joint ones on the 1st and 2nd were packed with about 500 people most of whom were familiar with affinity group structure, consensus process, twinkling, the zones, indymedia, and legal procedures. Some of the affinity groups included the Long Island Percussion Party Squad, Reclaim the Beats, Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, Clevelanders Composting Capitalism, R2K Legal and Other People Whoíve Learned the Hard Way, and Kansans Against Capitalism. There was no convergence space, no food at meetings, but housing was covered and a coherent schedule was available. The legal team had 20 lawyers and phone numbers for arrestees and harassment reports. We were surprised to hear privately from a member of the legal team that there were no plans for jail solidarity. The legal team had not given instructions at spokescouncil for citing out. (And based on the level of experience evident in the room, people were probably expecting to do solidarity.)
The AWIP march on F2 would start at noon and everyone was expected to respect the green zone in order to ensure the safety of people who could not risk arrest or police brutality. There was one exception to this which was that AWIP welcomed people to wear masks in defiance of the mask ordinance. Reclaim the Streets NY would meet "yellow" without a permit at Columbus Circle at 11:30 and then move to join the AWIP march. AWIP organizers made clear that they were not sure that police would respect the green zone and that activists should be prepared for tear gas and arrest. The police terms included "keeping the march moving", and, to our surprise, only one lane of Lexington Avenue. However organizers said that they planned to "stop periodically to entertain the police". They also encouraged people to be ready to use direct action defense tactics such as unarresting, protecting people from the cops by encircling them, and sitting down in the street to make the crowd less threatening if the police were getting tense. They established three hand gestures (silence, sit down, and circle up), to help with communication at the march ó "not to organize what weíre going to do, but to organize a way of responding". The green march was to include "stage managers" who might give the hand signals, "crossing guards" who would make sure we didnít leave intersections unoccupied during the march (which enables traffic to cross), a com system, and six tactical personnel at beginning, middle, and end of the march.
Although the permit was negotiated to go until 8 pm, they expected the green zone to end much earlier. The joint ACC/AWIP spokescouncils on the 31st and F1 were spent defining the transition from green to yellow and brainstorming yellow actions for that point. Proposals included spokescouncil as street theater, Ya Basta! style pushing through police barricades, and snake marches near Wall Street (where the WEF participants would be partying "on the graves of the World Trade Center victims"). We left the F1 spokescouncil before a final decision was made, but it looked like Lisa Fithianís proposal for a "framework" that would include various of these activities was the only thing people would be able to agree to at that late point. According to that proposal, a mass civil disobedience would happen at the Waldorf and a spokescouncil would be held at Grand Central Station at 6 pm, probably to be followed by snake marches in Wall Street.
Our experiences in the street
On Friday F1, we participated in the Save the Redwoods action at the Gap on 5th Avenue. There were about 100 activists (including drummers and people accompanying a 200 year old old-growth stump), 30 media, and 40 cops in regular uniforms. Two protest pens had been created on the sidewalks in front of the Gap and across the street. Cops bullied protesters into the protest pits quite unnecessarily as the sidewalks were not crowded. Passersby were mostly disinterested and annoyed. We could only get our hands on a few leaflets to hand out. Our Diva gear attracted a lot of media attention as did Luscious Bunnyís sign (made that morning out of a pie pan) which read "Capitalism stole my virginity so letís fuck imperialism."
Later in the evening, after some more time at the teach-in, we attended the Pagan event at Washington Square Park. I know that a number of us would not have attended a Pagan event if there had been a choice of activities. There were about 1000 people there and 200 very relaxed cops. We felt better because at least they were taking us seriously enough to put their helmets on. People seemed to enjoy the spiral dance. There was some sort of personalistic Starhawk-gaga which took the form of somebody saying "have you read the book?"
On Saturday F2, we joined the AWIP march at the SE corner of Central Park (59th & 5th). When we arrived at noon (the time set for march departure), there were maybe 1500 people there. It felt shockingly small, particularly given that the previous nightís spokescouncil was packed, at about 500 (which was about the same size as the Québec City spokescouncils). There were very few cops visible in this area. We had been told that there would be cops on the subways but saw very few. We tutud-up and again attracted a lot of media attention. We had to explain pink bloc and "tactical frivolity" to many protesters as well as media. We never got a good look at the pre-march crowd, but we heard an announcement that a larger number of people had gathered with Reclaim the Streets and were on their way. Lots more people must have showed up, because a very systematic crowd counter reported giving up at 20,000 with conservative estimation techniques.While we waited to leave there were a series of speakers, a complex puppet "pageant", a woman singing on an amplifier, and announcements regarding the hand signals (but you could only hear these signals in one direction). There were no com people circulating through the crowd to communicate the signals more broadly. Once the march finally began, it took a very long time to get out of the park because people had to funnel through very small openings at the South end of the park. For the first few blocks, the march still felt small to us because it was thinned out by the slow pour rate. We moved up to try to catch up with some drummers hoping it would be more festive there.
Finally we ended up for about two hours very tightly packed in a block of 46th street. There was not enough space for people to sit down or start drum/dance circles although people kept drumming and spirits were pretty good. There was no motion forward. We guessed that the front of the march had arrived at its destination in front of the Waldorf with no plans for what would happen to the rest of the folks behind. After a very long time, we managed to move one more block forward to the intersection of Park Avenue and 46th. Park Avenue is a divided street. We had the side closer to the hotel and the cops had their stuff on the other side, with barricades, but as on the march, rather sparse positioning (still 10í apart).
At this point there starts to be a high rate of filtration of people going toward the front of the march and coming back. We start to ask them what is going on up there and they say "nothing". We ask if there are any tactical instructions as to what we are wanted to do and they said "no". Oddly, the puppets, which had been at the head of the march, came through from behind us. We asked them if they knew anything about tactics and they said "no". Close to 5 pm, the police open the barricades at the West end of the intersection of 46th & Park and many people leave. We sat down to decide what we wanted to do. Shortly after this, the cops decide to open the street and tell us to move. In the following 5 minutes, very quickly, they demand everyone in the area either enter what is now a pen going north from 46th on Park Ave or leave West on 46th. People are also leaving East on 46th. At no point during the entire 2+ hours that we were on 46th were there any com or tactical announcements. On the whole march, we never saw a "crossing guard" and the police did stop the march to let traffic through intersections. We also never saw any "stage management".
Some in our group had become seriously cold by this time, so we decided to stay outside the pen for the moment. We went west on 46th. A block away from the pen was another police barricade at which some well-dressed people were arguing with the cops that they wanted to go in and "see it", but the cops wouldnít let them. After we warmed up, we went back to that barricade and talked with people who said they were releasing only ten people at a time out of the pen. As we stood and talked on the corner, a bevy of bike cops told us we had to move on the basis that we were blocking the sidewalk. This was patently false as there were very few of us and the sidewalk was particularly wide. We heard from these folks that they werenít sure the meeting at Grand Central was still on and that another meeting had been set for Bryant Park. We walked there and met about ten people, who suggested we go on to Grand Central. There was relaxed cop presence outside the station and inside on the main floor about 40 cops (in regular hats) were just standing around talking in what would have been the obvious space for a spokescouncil. There were no activists in sight. We thought it would have been really cool if people had just sat down all around the cops and went ahead with the meeting, asking them to turn down their radios and so forth as they inconvenienced us. We went downstairs to use the restroom and found a few clusters of activists talking down there and no police presence. A small group was headed for Wall Street. We ran into a reporter who had interviewed us the day before and wanted to follow up so we did that and then we left and went to spokescouncil (hoping to hear everybody rip into the folks who had negotiated us into a single lane march and then left us bored, freezing, and serving no purpose).
On the way to spokescouncil we indulged a walk through Times Square where we did spontaneous performance art (goosestepping while doing the AWIP-suggested chant "Just keep telling yourself: Capitalism works"). Our group was unanimous that our tiny act was by far the most empowering action that we had taken part in. Arriving at spokescouncil we were surprised to find the hall almost as full as the night before (so people apparently werenít snaking Wall Street shut). Folks were brainstorming yellow actions for the next day.
, which requires an actaul assault in order to escape. They didn't stomp around in formation. They penned people in with metal barricades, but they didn't menacingly surround the larger actions with inhuman heavily-armed darth vaders. In many places we could have walked right through their lines (or jumped the barricades). In addition, they weren't wearing riot gear, most weren't holding batons at the ready, and they were not threatening us constantly with things that look like big guns. They did not put an intimidating presence outside of spokescouncils and meeting points nor did they rush 14 cars by with sirens wailing or show up suddenly to make people fear a raid. They didn't kidnap puppets. Last, but not least, they didn't bomb us with tear gas every time we got within 20' of the fence surrounding the event in question. i'm not complimenting the cops here, just trying to put in perspective a lot of reports which say there was a "total police state" or "tight grip" in NY. We were certainly not "outnumbered"! In DC last september there were so few of us that the cops surrounded the entire ACC march with riot cops on a spacing of 3-5' and took us on a walk around the city. There is no way they had the manpower to do that this time. There were 20,000+ of us and max 4,000 of them trying to defend the whole city!
look, no batons!
In many ways, F2 was a repeat of the DAN-LA protests of the Democratic National Convention in LA. The many experienced direct action organizers involved with AWIP had put all their energy into planning a green march. The rationale, providing a safe space for unarrestable and otherwise vulnerable people, was inadequate since both in LA and NY other groups had already established permitted spaces and people were going to the "direct action convergence" to do direct action. Aside from secret affinity group actions, the "yellow"/direct actions were left to last minute planning. The Saturday night spokescouncil was a brainstorming and planning session for actions for Sunday! Since people didnít agree about what to do, the group broke up into smaller planning groups for multiple actions. This approach means that direct actions, when they took place, didnít involve more than a few hundred people and were hastily organized. Iím amazed to be writing this, but LA was better than NY in two ways: at one point a permitted march went AWOL and police were sufficiently threatened to do that aggressive stuff that politicizes people like nothing else. In NY, the police werenít concerned enough to even bother with overkill. (Except at a few select actions attended by relatively small numbers of people.)
Ü Perhaps there should be separate convergences for green, yellow, and red actions. Red would clearly be a space with high "security culture". Yellow would organize well aware that infiltrators are in the room, as someone stated in LA "that way they know that we know that they know that we are not planning any violence". A leaflet entitled "Anti-Capitalist Struggle Needs Revolutionary Strategy and Leadership" put out by the League for the Revolutionary Party argues that ANSWER and AWIP behaved in a sectarian manner "organizing competing protests on Saturday, deliberately timed to prevent the two demonstrations from uniting." Sectarian green events!
Locals and some out-of-towners can plan very effective secret affinity group actions, but many people from out of town canít assemble the information, clothing, and equipment to do clever cell-type actions. We need the leadership of organizers who have been preparing for the actions in the city for a while. Also people from out-of-town may be able come only for a very short period of time, one or two days, and we are expecting to make a contribution to something already organized. Even someone at the ACC meeting said "yes, weíre anti-authoritarian, but if weíre from out of town, weíre depending on people here to organize something for us to participate in." We couldnít stay for F3 to do direct action, as we had planned our trip around the impression that the main days of action were F1 and F2.
Ü If there is real resistance to large-scale planning of yellow actions, affinity groups need to know this in advance, so we know we must do our own tactical analysis and planning. This is a very easy thing to put on email lists and wonít compromise security.
The purpose of having a green march was to show ourselves and the world that people are not going to be cowed by the anti-terrorism crackdowns and that the movement is still happening in the face of the confusing ideological messages generated by 911. This makes sense. However, in the words of Skip Smith (posting to crashtheparty listserve on 2.5.02) "I understand why the march was permitted and the arguments behind it, but i must say this kind of shit wouldnít happen if we decided just to take the streets. I understand it was this time, this place, iím just staying letís not do that again." The "shit" included both a media blackout (only the ANSWER rally got press) and police brutality against small groups trying to do yellow actions. We had 20,000 people and people are out there trying to do yellow actions with 100-200 people.
More importantly, yellow actions must be planned in advance so that people can prepare themselves to participate in them. In many ways we must not aspire to repeat Seattle but there is one way in which perhaps we should, which is designing actions in which people will move from seeing themselves as "green" to acting yellow (or red). In New York as elsewhere the attitude was either youíre hardcore and youíre ready to rumble or youíre green and wussy. Getting masses of people to go yellow (and red) requires attention to how that commitment to risk develops. In Seattle, people were invited to make advance psychological preparation for a meaningful plan of action; hastily constructed plans hardly inspire this. In addition, tactical leadership was provided in the street which encouraged spontaneous yellow action. What was impressive in Seattle was that the tactical leadership seemed informed and trustworthy. I donít run off following whoever is trying to round folks up in the street. I look for organizers who I recognize or I try to find people who have com equipment so that I know something Iím engaging in is related to a larger tactical effort. The lack of com and tactical in the march (as well as its resolute greenness) made it totally disempowering.
Incredible effort was put into building and choreographing puppets. Puppets serve two purposes. The first is to contribute in specific ways to direct action, by taking up space in intersections, distracting and deescalating tense situations, and cheering and entertaining activists in lockdowns. For these purposes puppets are well worth the effort put into them. The second purpose is that they are part of educational street theater. The person who described the puppets at the spokescouncils said that the art group had wanted to design something "never seen before in New York, something so beautiful that people will fall in love with our message." This was a lovely idea. Ü But if actions are going to include elaborate educational components, can we please make sure that we are doing them at a time and place when there is an audience other than ourselves. Elaborate educational puppetry in the business district on a weekend doesnít make sense. Nothing makes me feel sillier than chanting at empty buildings and deserted sidewalks.
Lisa Fithian and Starhawk were basically running the show. They have been whispering in the background at spokescouncils at past actions, but this time it was all about their ideas and they were actually running things. The vanguard has become visible. I really wish that some other people who know whatís going on would let the rank and file know what the hell is going on with these people. Why has Lisa Fithian had so much influence on every single US action? (She gave trainings in Québec City but was not visible at spokescouncils. Why didnít organizers there fall for her?) Itís hard to believe that New York, home to the only Ya Basta! in the US., needs Fithian to be in charge. In different ways, both Starhawk and Fithian are manipulative and irresistable. Starhawk provides smart analyses, such as the one quoted above, which make people trust her. Fithian pretends not to have an agenda and to provide skillful synthesis of others ideas. This makes it hard to figure out what her real agenda is. All we can say is that her role in NY resulted in channeling 20,000 people into mass impotence down a one-land parade that the cops werenít even worried about and then creating a "framework" which scattered people into dispersed yellow groups in the evening of F2 and the day of F3 which made these groups very vulnerable to police attack. It may be instructive to note that while in the past Fithin hovered around the outskirts of spokescouncil, this time she did a lot of talking. She became increasingly prominent over the course of the three spokescouncils - perhaps because local organizers were no longer willing to be her mouthpieces? Ü Why was Lisa Fithian permitted to lead 20,000 people prepared for direct action down a one-lane parade route that didnít even make the cops nervous when there was a green event already set up? (Since writing this, i saw an interview with her on f2 in which she complains that the police changed the march from 2 lanes to 1 at the last minute. Was that a moment to use the direct action hand signals? Does anybody know who made the decision to simply accept the cops' route changes?)
And the final, obvious, point, so pithily made by David Graeber on the no2wef listserve 2.5.02 "we tried being nice: the police attacked us anyway and the media refused to cover our issues because Ďthere wasnít any violenceíÖSo obviously being nice doesnít work." The Wall Street Journal said basically the same thing: "That is the bind globalization opponents find themselves facing...If they resort to violence, they get people's attention, but their causes are discredited. If they demonstrate peacefully, they are ignored." (Neal E. Boudette & Ian Johnson, staff reporters, "Kept Out by Tight Security, Protesters Go Unnoticed" 2.4.02)
Other analytic points
here's a response from another Diva for Democracy, Séan Robin:
Fear & Protest
was there to counter these kinds of fears? When I described to a friend
how people did not want to get arrested, he replied "but I thought
the whole idea was to be willing to risk arrest when you are fighting
for a just cause." We went on to discuss the Civil Rights Movement
and the long-term effectiveness of civil disobedience during that struggle.
What was missing was a critical mass of people during the planning phase who had conquered their fear of the police and who had a strong enough conviction in the justness of their cause to be willing to express it in a diversity of ways and then risk all the consequences. We did not have strong solidarity with the people of the "Third World" in our hearts, and perhaps in part this was because we didn't even feel the solidarity among ourselves.
to New York to protest the police, I pointed out. And yet, given the times,
it was a miracle that anyone showed. So overall, the events were both
highly frustrating, as well as reaffirming of our right to express our
perspective. Even if, as you have pointed out, we were only expressing
it to ourselves.
Also at the debriefing others made the point about the need to search for alternative tactics. Starhawk mentioned her spiral dance, which apparently she organized again in Grand Central Station on Saturday. She also played the role of mediating with the cops so that no one got arrested. I guess it pays to be somewhat older and to have a name.