What happened to DAN in LA?: speculative notes

I am an activist from the anti-globalization movement and am also an anti-racist activist. I spent Aug 5th Ė 19th in LA in and around the DAN movement as an ordinary participant, as I did in Seattle and DC. In LA, I volunteered with the Midnight Special Law Collective and attended Spokescouncil and actions with my affinity group. I worked "security" for the Q&A march, in response to a request at Spokescouncil. This article is written from the perspective of an ordinary so-called "Continental DAN" person (in LA terminology, an "outsider") who came to LA to further the struggle against corporate colonialism. The stories of what must be called DAN-LA "insiders" will be very different than this one, and I hope to hear them.

The purpose of this article is twofold: First, I hope to convey some promising and some problematic aspects of what happened in LA to allies who were not there, in order to enhance their understanding of what happened. Second, I am worried about how democracy and diversity played out within DAN-LA and hope by publishing my incomplete understandings of these very difficult issues to inspire people who were there to contact me and share your insights which I will dutifully compile. I am interviewing DAN-LA organizers and affinity group spokes in an effort to figure out where we are after LA and will provide the findings of this inquiry through appropriate movement channels within a couple of months. I will not inquire into nor publish any tactical or other confidential information which could harm the movement or endanger participants. I do assume that basic aspects of DAN organizational structure are already known to law enforcement as they are rather widely circulated. The only real names included here are of high-profile people who have already identified themselves to the media.

Note: Planning for Philadelphia (July 30-August 3) and Los Angeles (August 14-17) actions was in effect simultaneous. There was not time for lessons from Philadelphia to be integrated by LA activists and organizers, so Philly was not a contextual factor or linear contribution to LA planning. Thus LA is discussed in the trajectory Seattle-DC-LA and Philadelphia is discussed here only when I am able to make comparisons. I was not in Philadelphia, but members of my affinity group were.

the actions, the permits & other supplications to the state

Second, the profusion of activities fed into the mediaís narrative that we were incoherent, didnít know why were there, and refused to say what we wanted. This should have been predictable as they tried to say this about Seattle and DC (although they were pretty well thwarted by a resoundingly coherent message in DC). Naomi Klein and other allies have unfortunately accepted the mainstream mediaís narrative about our incoherence, recommending that we get a "leader" to speak for us.

(That we were incoherent is a myth. The "action packets" distributed to all activists included a concise set of "media talking points" (why are we protesting?, what do we want? what are we doing?) and a list of 12 demands that had been in circulation from DAN-LA for a few weeks before the action. These points were also well-articulated by a band of constantly available media personnel and spokespeople dispatched through the DAN media desk at the IMC. Four incoming phone lines dedicated to serving the media were busy. Every time I went to the Convergence, regardless of the hour, there were media there; often more than one satellite truck was parked outside. Walking through the Convergence, one constantly bumped into pink-tagged media escorts providing tours and interviews to media teams. Moreover, if anything was done right in LA it was the publications, which were plentiful, beautifully illustrated, well-written, and astutely explained the connections between the two major parties and all of our issues with tremendous clarity in two languages. So the media had heard our message. They just chose to invent a story of our incoherence rather than relaying our message. Our allies must not perpetuate the myth that we had messaging problems. We have a consolidated corporate-owned media problem, which is not news! )

Third, multiple actions fostered (or perhaps arose from?) an identity politics framework, which was antithetical to the Seattle/DC movement. The premise of Seattle/DC was that globalization is a threat to multiple identities which got together to fight it as it manifested in the WTO and IMF/WB meetings. Seattle/DC activists probably saw all five DAN-LA actions as excellent examples of the problems of corporate political dominion and were happy to support all. LA organizers seemed to conceptualize support for the multiple actions as "solidarity" in an identity-politics mode.

The fourth problem with multi-day actions was not specific to LA. In advance, there is just no way to predict how many people will still be on the streets by the third or fourth day of action, which weakens the later actions in advance. The last (Thursday) DAN action was weak for a number of reasons all through the planning stages, one of which was our inability to secure the involvement of activists who were busy planning actions for earlier in the week, and perhaps predicting their own arrest early in the week (although few arrests materialized).

Concordant with the worry about vulnerable participants was another conception in broad circulation that "getting arrested is a privilege". This is true; we do not all face deportation as a result. But it was not said in a way like "we want to mobilize people who can take risk to do so on behalf of those of us who cannot", but instead as if these selfish and clueless direct action folk are putting others at risk in their privileged project of getting arrested.

The big and empirical question is did those vulnerable/unarrestable people actually come to the actions? Had they been effectively organized? More importantly, was it was necessary and/or appropriate to reorient Direct Actions around safety when so many other simultaneous marches and rallies were already providing permitted, legal, "safe" places to protest?

"A lot of the local members of DAN-LA are community organizers. They see direct action as a tool for organizing, not as an end in itself." The meaning and purpose of direct action was neither articulated nor even actively contested in LA. The concepts of civil disobedience and direct action were collapsed and used interchangeably. One activist with whom I have corresponded since LA describes direct action as action taken to directly solve the problem in question (which marches and rallies do not, whether permitted or notĺ unless the problem in question is exactly the right to walk down the street without a permit).

Direct Action disruptions serve an additional purpose of publicizing dissent. As a result of the permits and the detailed negotiation with police, the DAN actions were not at all disruptive. Other events, such as the Green Partyís "Beach Party" at a fundraiser at the Santa Monica Pier, were somewhat disruptive. The Critical Mass bike ride, which included about 40 panting cops in riot gear was sufficiently annoying that they finally arrested them. The renegade/unpermitted marches and rallies (such as the Wednesday afternoon youth march which refused to enter the Pit) snarled traffic in unpredicted ways, which somewhat disrupted downtown and convention operations. But from a community organizing perspective, disruptions by a minority would not even be useful; mass actions are only useful to draw more people into a movement which will not succeed in delivering liberation until it is the majority.

Civil disobedience is a moral act of breaking a specific, immoral law in order to draw attention to its wrongfulness. The Wednesday 16th police brutality march on the Rampart police station had a supposed "civil disobedience" component. But the notion of "civil disobedience" was reduced to "getting arrested", so rather than breaking an unjust law, organizers negotiated with police the law the police preferred to be broken in order to facilitate the arrest of 39 people.

The LA organizers were emphasizing the "peacefulness" of their actions, which again required centralized control. DANís to-date established tactic of decentralized disruption was clearly at odds with the message of disciplined "peacefulness". Peacefulness as articulated by DAN-LA was not synonymous with "non-violence" as practiced in disruptive direct actions in Seattle and DC. "Peacefulness" was "non-confrontational" and even seeking cooperation with police, whereas Seattle/DC "nonviolent direct action" was any and all disruptive action right up to the point of violence against persons, which was the only point at which discipline was operative.

the organization

Once the outsiders had arrived, it was made clear that we were seen by DAN-LA organizers as threats to the local Latino community in which the Convergence Center was located, threats to the action messages, threats to the "peacefulness" of the actions, and threats to the "safety" of vulnerable people attending the actions. While Spokescouncil was used to recruit outsiders for infrastructure staffing and for attending the DAN-LA designed actions, outsiders were kept tightly controlled, as will be discussed further below.

DAN-LAís demand for leadership authority was at least to some extent at odds with the affinity group structure, which avoids centralized organizing of an action. (Decentralized, unpredictable actions are seen as strengths because they maximize our power to be disruptive and because they weaken the predictive power of infiltration.) The notes from the Friday August 17th debriefing Spokescouncil include that "people who came here didnít organize their own stuff instead blamed local organizers". But during the week there had been a lot of request for support of the five pre-set DAN-LA actions (which people readily joined). Maybe the DAN-LA organizers wanted to organize actions for just LA people and have outsiders do separate actions? If so, the structure of Spokescouncil (spending a lot of time in clusters around the 5 actions) didnít make this clear. The emphasis on not doing things that would "put people at risk" also discouraged people from doing independent planning.

DAN-LA organizers apparently felt "disrespected" by confrontational speaking styles and criticism, "aggressive confrontational behavior" and activists doing "slash & burn" rather than "organizing". Another form of disrespect was that people didnít pick up their trash at Convergence. "These are some messy environmentalists."

DAN-LA was the first of the major actions to use the word "mandatory" in the Convergence space. "Anti-oppression trainings" were "mandatory" for "white activists". Such a statement reveals several kinds of things about what was going on. First, it communicated the distrust of outsiders and the attempt to control them rather than valuing their presence. Second, it indicates that there was a group which felt it had authority over what would happen in that space, rather than just providing a space in which people would organize. Third, the demand implied that all whites do not understand race and therefore need trainings. This left little space for people who were already "trained" or who engage in alternate forms of anti-racism, such as race traitorship. (Of course there was no way to make your knowledge and skills known upon arrival to this space, which was ok. Most of us were strangers getting together for a short-term action. Given that what was wanted from outsiders was for us to put our bodies in the street, which we had come across the country to do, the mistrust seemed a bit strange.) This approach also presumed that people of color had no need for "anti-racist training"ó or maybe thatís who the "anti-oppression trainings" were for?

After Seattle everybody knew that we needed to clarify the meaning of the WTO and resistance to it to folks of color in the U.S. The Indy Media compilation film featured people of color in nearly all of the speaking roles, presumably in an attempt to show how the movement was indeed relevant to communities of color. Organizers of color announced that they felt incredibly inspired to organize their communities.

In preparation for DC, a lot of effort was spent reaching out to local communities of color, primarily African American, around issues of predatory lending in Black communities; diasporic connections which would lead to concern for structural adjustment conditions in Africa and Caribbean; and the criminal injustice system. In addition, a lot of door-to-door organizing was undertaken in the communities where the Convergence and the radio station were located; this outreach was generally understood to have been effective as measured by the fact that local residents came out to defend the radio station from a raid. (A squat which was set up without consulting the community resulted in understandable rage from the surrounding community which had to deal with increased and aggressive police presence.) Again, the self-criticism was made that we needed to do more, and organizers of color present were enthused about redoubling their efforts to clarify the import of globalization issues to communities of color.

The anti-racist critique of Seattle and D.C. was about the inadequacy of our outreach and the need to make our concerns relevant to urban communities of color. Suddenly in Los Angeles the anti-racist critique was turned against people already in the movement. One piece of evidence given for the prediction of racism on the part of DAN-affiliated outsiders was that DAN-NY had "refused to translate materials into Spanish".

The Independent Media Center provided badges to activist/reporters, and the Midnight Special Law Collective trained several hundred legal observers. Both of these DAN-affiliated organizations also recruited scads of volunteers to answer phones, dispatch personnel, secure their spaces, run their trainings, and manage communications.

The remarkable sophistication of the infrastructure suggests that a significant amount of the creative and logistical skills of DAN-LA organizers went into operations. It is quite possible that the incredible energy that went into infrastructure reduced the amount of energy spent planning and undertaking actions.

Infrastructure roles enabled people to become involved in support work who might otherwise have stayed home. At the same time, the proliferation of infrastructural staffing needs gave many activists the opportunity to play seemingly more important roles and to provide a higher level of skills than they could as bodies in the street. As a result, perhaps too many former arrestables found themselves indispensable to the infrastructure and therefore unarrestable.

Another activity that took the place of direct action was trainings. The recommended trainings at Convergence totalled 16 hours. We were supposed to take four-hour trainings in jail solidarity and non-violence and two-hour trainings in chemical weapons preparedness, consensus facilitation, talking to the media ("street media"), and anti-oppression organizing (there were several versions of this: "anti-racism for white folks", "anti-oppression", and "anti-homophobia"). People involved in communications, first aid, security, and media liaison work had additional trainings. Trainings were also offered in street theater/movement, direct action communications, building a mass movement, videography, consensus facilitation, and specific aspects of direct action.

The Action Guidelines were posted and announced at Spokescouncil from the 5th on as already having been decided. On the 5th it was announced that there had been no Spokescouncil for over two weeks. We can conclude that the Action Guidelines were agreed upon more than three weeks before the action, which means that they were agreed to largely before the continental participants had arrived in Los Angeles.

The Action Guidelines had four main points, which were consistent with Seattle and D.C. These were: "1. We will use no violence, physical or verbal, toward any person. 2. We will carry no weapons. 3. We will not bring or use alcohol or drugs. 4. We will not destroy property. " Philly did not include a property crime statement. The two differences from Seattle & DC were that #1 included the phrase "We consider acts which are racist, sexist, or homophobic to be violent." The fact that there was no discussion of #4 in Spokescouncil disregarded the important and sophisticated post-Seattle debate regarding the effectiveness of property crime as street theater which resulted in vague consensus that people not engaging in it should support the rights of others to engage in it and should also defend such action as non-violent. On reviewing my files, I discovered that a key part of the property crime statement as printed in DAN-LAís Action Packet was left off of the posted version at Spokescouncil, reproduced above. The action packet read "4. We will not destroy property, except barriers that impede our right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly." (emphasis added) It cannot be that #4 was paraphrased for the poster, while the expansive #1 was not. I suspect itís more likely that there was dissention within DAN-LA over the "exceptÖ" clause. That dissention was not allowed to be negotiated within Spokescouncil, and was instead just elided.

Beginning Wednesday the 9th, part of the Spokescouncil meeting included the physical architecture of a Spokescouncil ("empowered spokes" representing each affinity group sat in the center of the room in a half-circle around the facilitators) but the political function of Spokescouncil did not manifest. The Spokescouncil was not called upon to make any decisions and was not permitted to form agenda items. On Friday and Saturday the Spokescouncil was asked to approve jail solidarity tactics and demands drawn up by Katya Komisaruk of the Midnight Special Law Collective in conjunction with some undisclosed segment of DAN-LA. On Sunday the 13th (the day before the first DAN action), 15 minutes were allotted on the agenda for affinity groups to check in. First we were to spend ten minutes discussing among ourselves our feelings (which people familiar with affinity groups should have known is unnecessary; these are the people you are with all day, so you already know whatís going on in the group), then we were to have 5 minutes in total for all the affinity group spokes to all announce our groupís name, where we were from, whether we were media-friendly, whether we were open to new members, what actions we were going to participate in, how many members and how many arrestables they had, and how we were feeling about the actions. A few peeps were made regarding wanting more discussion in Spokescouncil. Then the spoke for my affinity group announced that we had yet to have a Spokescouncil and questioned where the actions, agendas, and action guidelines had come from. The facilitators looked edgy and responded by revising the agenda, but putting off a discussion of "decision-making process" until the end of the meeting (when meeting fatigue would presumably reduce the numbers and cut the discussion short).

But the issue broke out immediately in the first item of the revised agenda in which a DAN-LA organizer finally described to Spokescouncil the origins of the five DAN actions. But he was defensive about the other issue, and the two quickly merged. Since the conversation was not being restricted to official spokes, I raised my hand and quite firmly insisted to know where the decisions were being made. The answer, volunteered by Lisa Fithian from well outside the Spokes-circle, was "OC ó Organizing Committee". Someone asked if the meetings were open "yes, every morning at 7:30 am. But only spokes from the DAN-LA working groups can speak".

Another item on the revised agenda responded to an issue that had been raised during the affinity group check-in by a spoke. He had said in a rather obtuse way that he was concerned about the safety of his group at the DAN actions. When asked to be more specific he explained that he was worried that DAN folk would call the police on his group if they engaged in property crime and that DAN folk would tell the media that his group was "not part of the movement". (After Seattle and in DC this was discussed as the "peace police" problem.) After some discussion, Lisa Fithian (who, again, was not a spoke) made a four-part proposal, {1} that we are solidarity with immigrant and other vulnerable communities (so we will try not to put them at risk with our actions) {2} that we are in solidarity with each other {3} that we will not call the police on each other and {4} we will not tell the media that some of us are not part of the movement. The facilitator expressed annoyance at having to "do the whole consensus process" with a proposal, but eventually, rolling his eyes, called the consensus procedure. There was a block. Immediately, Fithian handled the blocker by inviting him to step out of the Spokescouncil and discuss the issue with her! Another spoke demanded that the block be dealt with by Spokescouncil itself; he was ignored and the blocker was taken out of the circle by Fithian. When he returned he withdrew his block.

By the time we got to the item on "decision-making process" the facilitators knew they were beat and quickly composed and passed several proposals: that the OC have a representative from each cluster (a symbolic gesture to the recognition that affinity groups ought to have some representation there, but probably empty as the clusters were already being led by DAN-LA organizers), that introductory material ("what is an affinity group?", reviewing the action guidelines, emphasis on respecting the neighborhood, etc.) be provided 30 minutes before Spokescouncil in an "Orientation" rather than as the substance of the meeting, and that the Spokescouncil actually operate, in the facilitatorís word "formally" (which ought to have meant democratically ó having discussions and making decisions by consensus among empowered spokes rather than just being lectured to).

On Monday night, the Spokescouncil looked like a circle, but the facilitator was yet another person who had not been attending Spokescouncil and who was very controlling. It felt a lot like babysitting. Moreover this bizarre distinction was made about how the Rage Against the Machine concert "wasnít a DAN-sponsored action" as if that would stop the media, the police, or the public from holding the ongoing melee against us! Moreover, some of us may have been enthused by the courageous confrontations going on as people tried to hold the streets. Information about what was going on was withheld from us. It seemed in this case that DAN leaders wanted to keep the information from activists so they would not get excited and want to take the streets. This is the exact opposite of what happened in Seattle and DC, where the erstwhile leaders kept people informed and actually encouraged people to become outraged and take the streets. (Likewise when 2000 people from the Monday DAN action in support of the Uíwa made a several hour renegade/unpermitted march north of Pershing Square, the supposed "communications" personnel at Pershing did not provide this information to people so as to give them a choice to go with that action. Instead they just kept announcing that everybody was on their way back to Pershing and people should just wait for the next permitted action to start.)

Eventually, by Wednesday 16th August, Spokescouncil had turned from a semi-circle into a circle and the facilitators yielded more to the spokes, but very few people were there (and it wasnít because our numbers had been diminished by arrests). The largest Spokescouncils were on Friday and Saturday; I suspect that lots of folks never went back after first realizing that they were briefing sessions rather than decision-making fora. At no point were more than a few DAN-LA organizers present at the Spokescouncils; this was obviously not a place where they expected anything important to happen. Spokescouncil was not where it was at and anybody who was anybody knew it and didnít go. But it was all the rest of us had. Some people gave up on it too (as evidenced by the rapid rise & decline of attendance after Saturday) and some of us clung stubbornly to it, demanding that it fulfill its promised democratic function.

At some point a DAN-LA person weakly suggested that the Spokescouncils werenít democratic because the affinity groups were and the clusters were, as if we didnít really need a democratic forum for the whole action and our movement.

There is a lot at stake here. Are actions against national or international targets (such as the Democratic National Committee or the IMF) owned by local organizers in the city where the target is manifesting or are they owned by the national movement? If actions are to be appropriate to local contexts & respectful of local communities, is there an appropriate, authoritative, role for local organizers? If Continental-DAN participants have some basic expectations of national DAN actions (like that they will be Direct and that they will be organized democratically in a non-hierarchical Network), is that "disrespectful" of local organizers?