Washington DC "A16" 2000
Table of Contents
Mobilization Leaders Condoned or Promoted Street Fighting
*"Nonviolence Trainers" Condoned Violence
*Denial of Violence in Seattle
*Stifled Discussion of Tactics
*Sabotage of Action Guidelines
*Emphasis on “Nonjudgementalness” of Diversity of Tactics
*Emphasis on “Nonmarginalization” of Those Who Target Property
*Hostility Towards Peacekeeping
*Intimidating Peer Pressure to Conform
*Procedural Squashing of Open Discussion of Tactics and Peacekeeping
*Process Violations in Peacekeeper Decision
Against Peacekeeping Organizers
*Lying about Intent to Use Violence
*Male Dominance and Female Enabling of Male Violence
*Racist Attitudes and Incidents
*Pre-April 16th Police Surveillance
*Pre-Demonstration Police Repression
*Implications of Police Repression
*April 16th "Permitted" Rally
*Streetfighting on April 16 and 17, 2000 & PHOTOS
*How Street Fighters Integrated Themselves into the Nonviolent Actions
*Chronology of Activist Violence
*Police Violence April 16 and 17th
*What Street Fighters Claim They Accomplished in D.C.
*How Activists Accidently Started DC's 1968 Riots
Mobilization Leaders Condoned or Promoted Street Fighting
Many “liberal” and “reformist” Mobilization leaders condoned or supported street fighting for two main reasons: the virulent demands of street fighters (leftists, radical environmentalists and anarchists inside and outside of D.C.) and, even more so, their own belief that only violence in the streets would bring them the publicity they needed for a “successful” action.
A16 protest defacto leader Nadine Bloch did not admit this until an October, 2000 forum in Washington, D.C. where she stated in general terms: “In other words, what kind of coverage would we have had if there were not windows broken?” However, during organizing one A16 publicist admitted to me privately: “We can’t have peacekeepers, cause if we do the window smashers won’t come, and we won’t get any publicity.”
This also was expressed more explicitly in two e-mail messages shortly after the “Battle in Seattle.” “Josh Feit” wrote in an e-mail, “Seattle's familiar, comfortable style of protest would not have had any impact at all. In fact, it was the destruction and closing of downtown that garnered international attention for the protesters' cause.”1/
A member of Black Planet Books wrote: “Tactically, it is in the best interest of reformist factions to continue to use the anarchists to blame for violence even while benefitting from the extensive media coverage violence against property achieves and the fear it puts into the hearts of the reactionaries they hope to obtain concessions from. The mass demonstrations in Seattle, even with a police riot, would scarcely have received as much press attention had there not been some willing to stand their ground in the face of police repression.”2/
After April 16th, one activist commented on the D.C. IndyMedia web page: “Smash it up and get the headlines! The British mainstream media ignored the peaceful protests and only decided to start reporting (radio and Tv anyhow) when a few windows get broken so is it any wonder that protests turn to property damage? An overturned car will get the headlines of the world but 10,000 having a picnic will not so what do people with real concerns do to raise awareness?”
I believe there also was a third, much deeper, dynamic going on: the desire of thousands of young males nationwide to prove their manhood through violence and the insistence that all activists, male and female, condone or support such violence. I saw exposed very primal fears that males would be unmasked as unmasculine and that women would be abandoned if they did not support male violence. I explore this aspect more below, where I list, in sometimes ugly detail, the problems caused by the defacto street fighting agenda condoned or promoted by lead organizers of the Mobilization for Global Justice.
Only a few brave souls stood up to this wave of pro-violence organizing. Many nonviolent people departed the organizing group when they recognized the agenda. Others went into deep denial of what was happening. Still others bought the hype and deluded themselves that they were still “nonviolent” activists, despite tolerating others’ advocacy of violence.
I started the three months of organizing with excitement at the prospect of helping organize a big and sassy nonviolent action with a large group of anti-authoritarian activists. However, my excitement quickly turned to alarm at the “laissez-faire” attitude of some lead organizers towards various individuals’ open advocacy of property destruction and of “self-defense” (i.e., assaults) against cops. Direct Action Network (“DAN”) members and left anarchists worked together as a formidable “clique.” (It should be noted that while some older members of major organizations who formed DAN seemed to be committed to nonviolence, the more numerous younger, street fighting-oriented members were in charge in D.C.) DAN and anarchist organizers dominated the Communications/Web page, Direct Action Scenario, Training and Media Working Groups, and ran the A16 office.
Clique members manipulated the “consensus decision-making process” used by the Mobilization. In this process participants attempt to produce decisions with which all participants can agree. In the consensus tradition, one person alone can block any decision if she/he has any strong moral or strategic objection to it. (This rule was subtly changed by a DAN leader to be that one could block only if the decision violated the guidelines of the group, not one’s own moral code.)
I have been in hundreds of meetings, including with dozens of participants, that were effectively run by consensus. However, the process is easily manipulated by cliques, especially when it become “representative” as opposed to direct democracy, as was the case with the “Spokes Council” representative structure used for A16 Working Groups. Representatives or “Spokes” were supposed to bring major decisions back to Working Groups for consensus. Supposedly Working Group members also could attend Spokes Council meetings and have input through their Spokes and, as we found out very late in the organizing, even block through their Spokes. Spokes roles were supposed to rotate frequently so that everyone would have a chance to volunteer.
Clique members manipulated the process by volunteering as facilitators at almost every meeting I attended. That control allowed them to recognize speakers who promoted their agenda and ignore or quickly cut off those who did not. During a meeting of the Permitted Protest angry members demanded both “clique” facilitators step aside because of their blatant behavior in trying to stifle discussion of peacekeepers. The week of the action, at the third Affinity Group Spokes Council meeting, there was a mini-rebellion against clique-controlled facilitation. Members demanded the right to choose facilitators. But the clique quickly re-established control by setting up a noontime agenda meeting, technically open to all, where they still controlled the choice of facilitators and the agenda.
The clique also dominated the Working Group Spokes Council meetings by insuring that at least three or four of their members were spokes at each meeting. Doubtless they often coordinated in advance what proposals they would promote at each meeting, while largely clueless rotating spokes from other Working Groups usually went along with their agenda.
While a hundred people or so would show up at general meetings, it was rarely was made clear that members could participate in Working Group Spokes Council meetings through their Spokes. Therefore, those separate meetings rarely drew more than four or five non-Spokes members. At these Spokes meetings, proposals the clique supported usually got passed; ones they opposed usually got sent back to Working Groups for decision, often never to be heard of again. Leading clique members had a finely honed ability to squelch dissent through seeming accommodation, through obfuscation of issues, and through parliamentary tricks. A couple of the real professionals seemed to have the power to suck the energy out of any proposal or persons who diverted attention from their agenda.
And, of course, clique members were very good at “dealing with” dissenters outside of meetings. My alarm turned to anger as I (and others) experienced personally the manipulation, bullying and contempt of clique members for those continuing to speak out against potential violence and to call for adequate peacekeeping. So many D.C. activists were turned off by this exclusionary and disempowering organizing style that in the last two weeks there were at least a dozen desperate e-mails to the various A16 list serves looking for D.C. people to volunteer for critical tasks.
Once the Convergence started, DAN members and anarchists from around the country continued their domination of the direct action organizing, though perhaps not with as a heavy hand as D.C. organizers who have picked up the “imperial” attitude that pervades Washington politics. Needlesstosay, this clique leadership belied the Mobilization’s frequent boasts that this was a “leaderless” movement and that “this is what democracy looks like.” (See excellent article The Empire of the Rising Scum.)
Trainers" Condoned Violence
Perhaps the most disappointing failure of nonviolent activism during A16 organizing was the open collusion of well-known local nonviolence trainers in condoning street fighting and in attacking those of us calling for nonviolent peacekeeping. I specify below when “nonviolence trainers”perpetrated certain unsavory words or deeds.
of Violence in Seattle
During the “Battle for Seattle” I managed to videotape a couple of hours of network coverage. In reporting on that tape to the local anarchist list, and later while making a compilation for lead Mobilization organizers, I was reminded that there were numerous incidents of window breaking, of throwing objects at police officers, of fighting with people at the barricades. It was obvious it wasn’t just the cops who were violent in Seattle. However, two lead organizers dismissed as irrelevant the video tape I gave them.
I also had witnessed how in the five months since the violent Eugene demonstrations members of the local left anarchist e-mail list and community had quickly changed from boasting about their commitment to nonviolence to relishing the publicity Eugene and Seattle mayhem had brought to their brand of anarchism. And I had heard over and over the assertion that the property destruction in Seattle was not violent, despite the obvious use of force used to smash and burn objects. (Property destruction which does not use force, such as spray painting and stickering, is not by definition violent.)
I attended the January, 2000 Civil Disobedience Conference in D.C. and distributed a leaflet criticizing property destruction and suggesting some outrageous but nonviolent actions anarchists could do to gain attention. While most activists took it positively, a few tried to brow beat me for daring to criticize their tactics and for equating property destruction with violence.
During the discussion period in a workshop on property destruction almost a dozen people spoke out to deny that property destruction was violence and/or to speak in favor of it; only two questioned its value. One fellow, who boasted to me of destroying property in Seattle and promised to do the same when he came to D.C. in April, demanded I agree that such property destruction was not violent..
This denial of violence even was repeated during the March 14 Mobilization for Global Justice press conference where "nonviolence trainer" Nadine Bloch, a leading DAN member and the defacto spokesperson for the direct action, told reporters: “I'd like to make it perfectly clear that there was no violence in Seattle save the violence done by police to people and protesters in the street.” This statement was greeted by loud applause by pro-property destruction left and anarchist organizers crowding the hallways.
Bloch continued: “There was property destruction. We witnessed people using different tactics from hand-holding, to sit-ins, to property destruction.” And she repeated the statement which was continually drummed into A16 activists heads, that organizers don’t want to get “mired down in discussions about tactics, because we know that everybody who's going to be out on the street is going to be there because they're motivated by the same great feeling of anger and frustration about the ability to set their future direction in this world.” She also stated (as she had before and after Seattle, as I discovered through a Google.com web search) that: “[W]e cannot control the masses of people who will be coming to Washington.” This, of course, was a winking nod to those planning violence.
Not everyone was pleased by this statement. Endorsing minister Reverend Graylan Scott Hagler evidently was so upset by her statement equating hand holding with property destruction that he immediately got up and heatedly repeated three times over that members of the Mobilization did not condone property destruction. (Click here for both statements.)
This kind of denial of violence carried through to the end. For example, there was little public negative reaction to the widely distributed April 11, 2000 “updated” “A16 Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc Statement which read: “We do not necessarily advocate violence or encourage the destruction of property, but simply that the movement recognize the very real possibility for confrontation and be open to a diversity of tactics as a means of legitimate defense.” The true meaning of Black Bloc “self-defense” would quickly be revealed on April 16th when black bloc members rushed police with a chain link fence, threw stones, bottles and other objects at them, and hit them with sticks in decidedly non-defensive incidents.
Discussion of Tactics
I first heard the stifling of debate on tactics at the January Civil Disobedience conference when a leading female DAN and A16 organizer announced authoritatively at the end of the property destruction workshop that there would be no such discussions of property destruction and other tactics during the A16 organizing because “we will never settle that question and it’s a waste of time.” I discussed this statement with several other nonviolence activists who also were disturbed by what I derisively called a “laissez-faire attitude towards violence.”
I then distributed by e-mail to a few organizers a draft leaflet for the next general A16 meeting in February which expressed my concerns and suggested concrete measures to discourage violence, including having well-trained peacekeepers. This same female organizer called me by telephone to ask me not to distribute the leaflet. She insisted I was wasting everyone’s time and being divisive. She even charged that if I brought up the subject I would be personally responsible for any violence that ensued! (Later I did hear one overt threat by one anarchist that if the Mobilization did not respect their tactics, they would be even more violent in revenge, but I don’t know if this was in fact an ongoing threat made to lead organizers.) She also accused me of being “judgmental” and inferred I was acting “outside the guidelines.” She also put down peacekeepers as “peace cops” (the first of many times I would hear that epithet hurled!) I responded by saying that people who felt that the action was not being organized nonviolently did not have to be involved and she agreed.
I did pass out a leaflet at the February 1st second general meeting. However, it was the reading of the nonviolence guidelines which spurred the most heated debate. Six or seven macho males declared their right to smash property and “defend themselves” against police, something duly reported a few days later in a Reuters story. After that, as we shall see, facilitators kept a tight lid on public meetings to prevent any more such outbursts. It became clear to me that discussion of tactics had to be stifled so that the nonviolent majority was not alerted, alarmed and driven away by such outbursts by the violent, street fighting-oriented minority.
More insidiously, it seemed that lead organizers did not want activists to discuss the fine points of blockading and barricading, all of which push the envelope of nonviolence, and all of which are perfect platforms for street fighting activity. I began to feel more like they were generals looking for clueless draftees ready to follow orders than true nonviolent action organizers.
of Action Guidelines
At the January 11, 2000 first general meeting almost 100 people quickly agreed to four action guidelines: 1) We will use no violence, physical or verbal, towards any person; 2) We will carry no weapons; 3) We will not bring or use any alcohol or illegal drugs; 4) We will not destroy property.
As a nonviolence advocate I found the lack of opposition to the guidelines reassuring. However, after the reaction to the reading of guidelines at the fore mentioned February 1st general meeting, lead organizers blocked further reading of the guidelines at general meetings, insisting they only be written and taped to a wall. As recorded in the minutes, the reasoning was “that this issue is not to be opened back up for discussion and that reading the code to the large group invites further unnecessary discussion of the issue.” Of course, since the guidelines were not read out, many meeting attendees never did find out what they were.
It took a February 22 resolution of the Spokes Council to get the guidelines listed on the month-old A16 web page, which was created by anarchists who favor property destruction as a tactic. So it is not surprising that the guidelines page included a discussion section which quickly degenerated into battles between the pro-property destruction minority and a majority which supported the concept of property destruction. One anonymous poster wrote: “NOW, just because the bourgeois politics of ‘pacifists’ prevent any real revolutionary change from occurring, why should those who have found effective tactics for the advancement of their goals cease to ingage (sic) in such actions? People complain that it should occur somewhere else, that it is not appropriate for such a demonstration - who on earth are these people, that they have such authority as to limit the tactics used by others?”
Both a Reuters article and a front page Washington Times story reported on these web page debates. The Reuters article, titled “Activists divided on use of violence at IMF demo,” led with: “When should a window be smashed, a cop be bashed, a car be trashed? Those are the questions being asked by activists just days ahead of protests aimed at shutting down the IMF's meeting here in mid-April.”3/
Emphasis on “Nonjudgementalness”
of Diversity of Tactics
At the January 11th meeting the facilitator rattled off from memory the four guidelines, with an introduction which was reflected in the minutes as: “All participants were asked to agree to guidelines, which allowed people from many backgrounds to work together. The idea of doing this is to create basis of trust for *this action*.” There was no mention or discussion of the following phrase/concept: “They are not philosophical or political requirements placed upon you or judgments about the validity of some tactics over others.” I and others would have wanted to discuss just what that meant, had it been mentioned.
Nevertheless, the facilitator and others then began to claim that that statement–which was part of the Seattle action guidelines--was an official part of the statement and that anyone who wanted to work with the coalition had to be nonjudgemental. One evening three coalition “nonviolence trainers” (two of them DAN members) tried to convince me that my refusal to be nonjudgemental and my commitment to nonviolence must be a “psychological problem.” In response to my question, they even asserted members of the Mobilization could not publicly condemn even violence like Tim McVeigh’s bombing the Murrah Building because “the press will just use that to divide us.” (I wrote a book on Waco and was asked by at least half a dozen television and radio interviewers after the 1995 bombing if I “condoned” the bombing; I strongly condemned it. Can you imagine if I had taken the alleged “Mobilization position” that we cannot judge other activists’ tactics?)
Several of us objected to this enforcement of a “guideline” which none but DAN members remembered having agreed to. Nevertheless, street fighters and friends continued to bully those who criticized property destruction under the guise of “nonjudgementalness” and "respect for diversity of tactics"--Orwellian terms for condoning property destruction and attacks on police.
Emphasis on “Nonmarginalization”
of Those Who Target Property
At the February 15 Spokes Council meeting friends of street fighters asked the body to address the issue of (as it was written in the minutes) “how A16 can mobilize within the nonviolence guidelines without explicitly marginalizing the folks who want to target property. It was decided that Working Groups should discuss this issue in their next meeting and report back their decisions” to the Spokes Council.
The morning of that meeting, February 22, lead organizer Nadine Bloch sent out an e-mail to the moderated Coalition-wide mailing lists speaking in favor of nonmarginalization. In it she wrote, in significant part:
It has been requested that the WG's [working groups] discuss the issue of how a16 can mobilize, within the non-violence guidelines, without marginalizing activists that use other tactics (like those that target property.)
To inform this discussion, here are a few points:
As activists engaged in a struggle for a more peaceful and just world, we need to be careful NOT to divide and conquer within our own movement (that's just what the corporate elites would have us do-- it is called a "wedge issue", one of the ways the right destroys us from within.) In particular, different people use various tactics in a broad spectrum of progressive work that express essentially the same understanding of the issues and the changes that need to happen....
Now, you may personally think that property destruction is inappropriate for the situation, or you may think that blockades without property destruction are lame. That is YOUR RIGHT to your thoughts. However, as a Movement to deal with structural violence that is perpetrated by monstrous corporate institutions, we can do ourselves a HUGE favor by focusing on the issues and not divide and conquer ourselves over questions of tactics.4/
The e-mail repeated the call for unity two more times, setting up a
for the truly absurd proposal that a DAN member made that evening: that
all members of the Mobilization be forbidden to criticize those who
in property destruction or other such tactics. The minutes read:
“The proposal put forth is that we don't make public comments to press
and others about people that we don't have any control over and can't
for. The people making the proposal feel that if we are asked
tactics, we should put forth our own message about the issues and not
our message about tactics. The reason for this is a feeling held
by many that to get lost in discussions of tactic takes us off of the
about the real injustices caused by the WB/IMF.”
This inherently anti-free speech proposal was blocked by consensus of members of the Message Working Group and not brought up again formally. Nevertheless, trainers in “media trainings” and Mobilization leaders in various meetings repeatedly reminded other activists of the importance of not criticizing to the press potential or actual activist violence at the direct action.
In a May posting on the D.C. Indymedia site anarchist self-appointed spokesperson “Chuck0" writes as if the defacto nonmarginalization policy was an actual decision of the body: “Folks should also recognize that anarchists were very much behind the nonmarginalization policy that the Mobilization adopted.......we successfully broadened the debate about tactics and started to get people to think beyond the simplistic moralisms of the nonviolent protest tradition.”
The refusal to judge or marginalize those who might use violence did not escape the press. The Washington Post noted: “The protesters pledge nonviolence and no vandalism, but they acknowledge that they can't control everyone, and they refuse to condemn vandalism outright.” The Post quoted Nadine Bloch: "We're saying, 'You're not welcome at our demonstration if that's the tactic you choose.' " (Quite different from her earlier pronouncement at a press conference that property destruction is just another tactic.) But it also noted that she said, "I'm not saying whether it's right or wrong." The London Times also noted this point, writing: “The protesters do not plan violence, although some activists refuse to condemn it.” And a good portion of the Washington City Paper’s front page article on April 16th, titled "Puppet Show," was devoted to the controversies over process and violence in the Mobilization for Global Justice.5/
For the last twenty years of relatively peaceful organizing, rally and march peacekeepers have been one of those noncontroversial after-thoughts, hastily organized in the last few days before the event, if organized at all. However, in the last year, with the return of street fighting man, peacekeepers suddenly become objects of scorn, derision and accusations of being “cops.”
In organizing for Seattle there was so much hostility in meetings against peacekeeping that, according to one D.C. organizer, an individual actually threw a chair. It is not surprising that, in reaction to the breaking of windows and other violence in Seattle, some unorganized and untrained angry protesters engaged in inappropriate police keeping–pointing window breakers out to police and even tackling and beating a couple of window breakers. However, street fighters were equally angered by individuals who engaged in traditional and truly nonviolent peacekeeping techniques like asking people to refrain from violent behavior or standing between windows and those who wanted to break them.
After Seattle street fighters became determined to abolish peacekeeping and label any one who advocated it “peace cops,” “peace Nazis” or just plain “cops.” They also constantly misrepresent nonviolent peacekeeping, falsely claiming peacekeepers want to beat up protesters or hold them until they can be arrested by police. As “Dylan” wrote on an e-mail list, “...if liberals and pacifists didn't quel the rage that people get when the leaders or filth push things to far, outright expressions of rage would be more common... the attempts at the liberal pacifists to calm and quiet the rage and anger people feel when they get fucked over too many times are the things that STOP real movements from emerging, and it is counterrevolutionary.”
East Coast activists were slow to understand this new development. At the February 10, 2000 Training Working Group meeting eight trainers openly discussed training activists in peacekeeping techniques like de-escalation of conflicts between property destroyers and people opposed to such tactics. No decision was expressed on official peacekeepers.
Nevertheless, at the very next Spokes Council meeting the Training Working Group spokesperson (a leading DAN member) falsely reported that the Training Working Group had agreed (according to the Spokes Meeting minutes) “the term peacekeeper is meant to describe people who are liaisons to the cops, not people who are activist control units or ‘peace cops’...Experienced folks need to train the peacekeepers so that they don't hinder activists or attempt to have control over them by negotiating with cops. It was thought that if peacekeepers are present, their role should be to ‘slow down’ the cops and help de-escalate volatile situations by providing a calm presence between cops and activists.” Sitting behind the woman in the meeting, I kept hissing out “Liar! Liar!” But since I was not allowed to speak, I could not contest her false statement.
Several of us who tried to argue for peacekeepers in various Working Group meetings were either ignored by the clique member facilitators when we raised our hands or shut up by insistence that the discussion be postponed. A few Spokes who agreed with us were too intimidated to say anything in Spokes Council meetings. Those who argued for peacekeepers on e-mail lists open to Mobilization members nationwide were insulted as “peace cops” or “pacifist ideologues” until most were silenced.
Pressure to Conform
Many young people engaging in some of their first organizing activities did not understand that concepts like nonjudgementalness, nonmarginalization and respect for diversity of tactics were new and alarming permutations on nonviolent activism. They readily followed the lead of more experienced activists who promoted that line.
Seasoned activists who initially resisted this trend soon found themselves subject to severe peer pressure (arguments, guilt trips, threats) to bring them in to line. I find few things sadder than seeing one-time peace activists become apologists for and even advocates of property destruction and assaults on police. I personally saw several of them change their tunes in a matter of weeks.
There can be little doubt that on a man to man level the bottom line argument was: prove you are a real man, i.e., one willing to use violence, and not an emasculated woman. Women who exerted such peer pressure fell into the old primal roles of supporters and enforcers of male dominated values and goals.
One woman initially complained to me that women of her generation were obsessed with property destruction. A few weeks later she was sent to a peacekeepers meeting as a defacto “enforcer,” asking us, “How dare you think you can tell someone at a demonstration to stop smashing a window!” (Evidently she was a little confused about the party line because she also opined that we should let the police take care of window smashers!)
Another man spoke out strongly against property destruction at a meeting and even told a reporter he himself would report any violent people to the police. You can bet he thereafter faced some heavy pressure, for soon after he told me he supported window smashing for its publicity value.
A strong defender of peacekeeping allowed himself to be coopted by loyalty to long-time friends into a job working for a leading clique member who kept a close eye on his activities. Another, who initially expressed horror at the idea of his friends’ assaulting cops, later harangued me on his loyalty to his “drinking buddies” and his disgust with my “cop” attitude.
Older and more influential DAN members also have been subjected to pressure from the street fighting grassroots. Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange was repeatedly attacked for criticizing those who did property destruction in Seattle and felt it necessary to issue clarifications. Kevin Danaher, also of Global Exchange, was mocked by anarchists for his commitment to nonviolence. John Sellers of Ruckus Society felt it necessary to explain himself when a Japanese publication misquoted him calling those who did property destruction in Seattle as “vandals,” even though he obviously did not support their actions.6/ (A few months later, after Sellers was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with multiple misdemeanors (later dropped), he openly spoke out against such “vandalism.”7/)
One particularly ugly series of events in D.C. concerned an older Jewish organizer whose small group planned an April 13th protest against the World Bank because of its involvement with German banks that profited from the Nazi murders of Jews. One Jewish female organizer, who had tried to convince his group to cancel the “embarrassing” demo, told another Jewish organizer in a phone conversation (in the same room I was doing volunteer work) that the man would have to be “dealt with.” That he came up with a fund raising idea many people disliked, and openly criticized property destruction, made it all the more necessary to “deal with him.”
Suddenly his conspiratorial views, and a couple of incidents of pestering young women for dates, male dominance behavior which previously had been ignored, became “problems.” From his complaints, it is clear a campaign of harassment and attacks was started to anger him into angry blowups. The female organizer who wanted to get rid of him then claimed he had threatened her with violence. After another angry outburst, he was kicked out of the Mobilization. The woman then threatened to call the police on him on the slightest pre-text when he began picketing the April 16th offices where she worked. Of course, making an “example” of anyone who bucks the leadership, and accusing other dissidents of being like them, is a well-known intimidation tactic.
One radical environmentalist boasted repeatedly on an anarchist list about clique members contacting and “holding responsible” people who made comments “offensive” to the street fighters’ ethos.8/ Having experienced a couple of “re-education” sessions by lead organizers, as well as public insults and smears, I have to feel sorry for those individuals who obviously “broke” under pressure or were afraid of being ostracized by certain powerful activist leaders if they did not go along. Happily, I personally have a wider network of friends and was not dependent on the good graces of street fighters.
of Open Discussion of Tactics and Peacekeeping
At the February 22nd Spokes Council meeting one leading member who was not an advocate of property destruction brought up various complaints: “cliques” pushing through their agenda and silencing objectors; fears that those opposed to peacekeepers intended to engage in widespread property destruction and other violence; the lack of outreach to people of color in D.C. It was proposed that the Mobilization sponsor a facilitated “Community Forum” on these topics. This proposal, like the one on what to do about peacekeepers, was sent back to Working Groups for discussion.
At the March 2nd Spokes Council meeting ten Working Groups spoke in favor of having the proposed Community Forum, of finally airing all the issues. One woman of color spoke about concerns in the African American community that activists were coming to trash D.C. and about the need to discuss these issues at the forum. However, the DAN and anarchist dominated Scenario Working Group blocked any discussion of property destruction, tactics or peacekeeping, as the minutes read because “we need to keep mtg to the meat of the conflict,” (i.e., protesting the IMF/World Bank).
Soon after the meeting, one DAN member alleged the Scenario Working Group actually had decided that these issues should be discussed in the Spokes Council, as opposed to the Community Forum. She stated that the anarchist Spokes misrepresented the decision at the Spokes meeting when he said there should be no such discussion at all. And when a non-Mobilization D.C. discussion group sponsored a “facilitated” meeting on A16 political and internal issues, Nadine Bloch herself appeared and tried to vigorously enforce the party line by insulting those who questioned A16 leadership.
Needlesstosay, blocking such discussion dis-empowered the great majority of members of the Coalition. It was at about this point that a number of leading liberal and union members of the coalition, who had been talking about the possibility of a permitted, legal rally, decided that a large direct action of possibly tens of thousands of people contained too much potential for violence. As two admitted to me privately, they started their successful push for a separate mass or “permitted” rally, with lots of peacekeepers, to allow the mass of people to demonstrate safely without being used as cover for anyone planning street violence. Street fighters bitterly, but unsuccessfully, fought this move.
Violations in Peacekeeper Decision
Those opposed to peacekeepers–especially members of the Scenario Working Group–were not happy that most members had supported the Community Forum. They had no intention of allowing such a fiasco on the issue of peacekeeping. They created their own proposal and pushed it through the Spokes Council in one meeting, despite the fact there was not the required report back from other Working Groups on their decisions on peacekeepers.
Because the rights of Working Group members to block decisions through their spokes person had not yet been clarified, I did not block the decision and ask that it go back to Working Groups. After that I got it clarified I could have done so, but it was too late.
In the same meeting, a leading DAN organizer then blocked the Message Working Group’s issuing a pamphlet on Working Group/Spokes Council structure and process, promising to put one on the A16 web page immediately. This never happened; and there is no such description on the web page of the September, 2001 protest web site. Cliques don’t like the rules in writing since it prevents them from manipulating the process and making the rules up as they go along. True democracy is having the rules in writing and making them available to everyone so that these sorts of process violations do not occur.
Against Peacekeeping Organizers
The Scenario Working Group’s peacekeeping proposal did not include specific peacekeeping roles, but neither did it forbid autonomous affinity groups from acting as peacekeepers. So despite being called “cops” by leading DAN members and anarchists, a few truly anti-authoritarian anarchists disgusted with the abuse of process decided to challenge the ruling clique. Our affinity group "Keep the Peace" openly encouraged the use of peacekeeping techniques by members of affinity groups–we even jokingly encouraging the formation of “hundreds of peacekeeping affinity groups.”
The Scenario group immediately pushed through the Working Group Spokes Council meeting an even more stringent statement on peacekeepers, not only declaring such peacekeeping affinity groups outside the Mobilization, but declaring that “No affinity group is empowered to assign internal roles for external use (for other persons or affinity groups).” That meant that if you saw someone breaking a window or throwing stones at police, you were not supposed to tell them to stop, or stand between them and the object of their attack, or you risked expulsion from the Mobilization! This decision also was passed without being referred back to Working Groups. (Later during the Convergence this proposal was passed through the Affinity Groups Spokes Council with no explanation of these controversial aspects and, in fact, with no real discussion.)
This decision was particularly absurd since it declared that people committed to upholding the guidelines against violence were declared outside the Mobilization in order to protect violent people whose actions explicitly were outside Mobilization guidelines. George Orwell would be proud of the double-think!!
After that decision was passed a triumphant clique member (and "nonviolence trainer") called the meeting house which was letting our peacekeeping group meet in its space and implied that Mobilization protesters would disrupt the upcoming meeting. The nervous meeting house secretary cancelled us out of the space. We held our meeting elsewhere, and were visited by a clique member who spelled out to us the new policy. Of course, none of this intimidation stopped us–we continued to work for nonviolence by organizing peacekeepers for the rally and passing out hundreds of leaflets on good nonviolent peacekeeping techniques, as well as legal information on potential charges and sentences for various statutory offenses.
All these abuses of process, and even outright intimidation, did not in fact stop people from engaging in effective peacekeeping on April 16. During the direct action a number of defacto peacekeepers ignored official Mobilization policy, to whatever extent they knew what it was. For example, several women in red t-shirts broke up one major standoff between police and protesters through singing and chanting, and de-escalated several others. Some protesters stopped vandals from stealing a police radio out of a police car whose windows they had smashed. Others reported a man carrying Molotov cocktails to police. Others reassured reluctant activists they did not have to physically stop a policeman from going through a blockade as one self-appointed leader urged them to do.
In fact, the fear of violence motivated the Permitted Rally to organize 200 mostly union peacekeepers who formed their own tight barricade between the “arrestable” area and the permitted rally to dissuade anyone being chased by police from entering. Some of these defacto marshals were in fact rather authoritarian in trying to dissuade activists from entering the arrestable area. In this case the anti-peacekeeper faction actually created the beast they were opposing!
Dominance and Female Enabling of Male Violence
The Mobilization looked like a female dominated organization because one woman made herself the defacto leader, because women were a large majority of the facilitators of the general and Spokes Council meetings, and because women were very influential in most of the Working Groups. However, a number of these women were paid employees of white male dominated organizations and, assumedly, taking some orders from these males. Some were girl friends of dominant males.
More importantly, the issue which dominated so much discussion and took up so much organizing energy, the issue that was made the ultimate test of loyalty to the Mobilization for Global Justice, was “nonmarginalization of those who use other tactics,” i.e., tolerance of (largely) male property destruction and male fights with police. I personally ran into only two women who, on either anarchist or A16 e-mail lists or in personal discussions, claimed for themselves–as opposed to their male friends--the right to use violence. Footage of activist violence in Seattle and D.C.–and most of the demonstrations since--shows very few women engaged in actual property destruction or assaults on police.
However, there were a number of women who acted as defacto “enablers,” doing the bidding of the mostly male street fighters. They promoted “nonjudgementalism” and “nonmarginalization” proposals in meetings and used peer pressure on men and women to go along.
The most absurd such peer pressure incident I experienced occurred when three women “nonviolence trainers" in a small workshop assumed that my complaints about “male violence” were related to some personal incidents and pronounced that I had “emotional problems” and should seek help. They refused to listen to my past experience with problems caused by male violence, personal and political, in the context of political groups. More absurdly, these three women then attacked me and a man in the room for doubting their assertion that rape was only about power and could never have any relation to male sexual satisfaction. I had a feeling that I was dealing not with thinking beings, but women so accustomed to following a party line, be it the current one of protecting street fighters, or some left over feminist orthodoxy regarding rape, that they had lost all ability to think for themselves about issues of male violence. It is that sort of colonization of womens’ minds that is the true problem of sexism and male dominance.
These issues were addressed brilliantly in Robin Morgan’s book “The Demon Lover: On the Sexuality of Terrorism,” where Morgan describes how women start many movements, men co-opt them just as they start to become viable, and then turn them into excuses to prove their “manhood” through violence, thereby harming the movements. (See excerpt.) She uses as examples the civil rights movement (from Rosa Parks to the Black Panthers), the environmental movement (from Rachel Carson to Earth First and the Red Army faction), and the welfare rights movement (from female welfare clients to male militants.)
Attitudes and Incidents
The single-minded desire to protect from marginalization anyone who might engage in property destruction or “other tactics” resulted in some of the most racist behavior I have ever seen white from “progressives.” Mobilization members did, of course, display the sort of passive racism many white organizers engage in: an initial failure to reach out to people of color who did not share their political views (most in D.C., after all, are Christians, Democratic party members, and aspiring capitalists); a failure to utilize the skills and energy of those who did share their views; a failure to listen even to those who did attend meetings; a failure to really consider issues of importance to people of color. For example, it was only the night before the Mobilization brochure went to print that, on my urging, Message Committee members agreed to put into the cover page list of concerns “racism,” “prison issues” and “police brutality”--and the last was later stricken from the list.
In order to assert any outreach to people of color, several leading members contracted for an African American woman to be paid to do outreach. However, they did so without consulting the Spokes Council, which annoyed several white activists. I wonder if she would have been hired at all had the predominantly white group had to consense on her hiring.
There were several issues, all related to violence, which to me smacked of the most overt kind of racism. One issue was the dismissing as mere “looters” those a-political street people who got caught up Seattle's white-activist led window smashing, trashing and looting. As one activist wrote in a “first hand account” e-mail in December, 1999: “Don't believe what you hear in the media; the property damage was for the most part directed and organized and not simply ‘senseless’. I do not deny that there were thugs who joined in the fun, especially later on, but these were a very tiny minority. And the looters don't even deserve mention.”9/
I complained on e-mail lists and in person to several leading activists that news video showed most of these “looters” were people of color and said police probably would be more likely to bust people of color than whites for such activity. Several activists replied defensively “that’s their problem” or “they have to take responsibility for their own acts” or “that’s what they get for looting instead of running,” i.e., using the “smash and run” techniques of trained white activists.
As noted earlier, Mobilization leaders asked African American Reverend Graylan Scott Hagler to support them at their big press conference. But when he objected to Nadine Bloch’s equating hand holding with property destruction and repeatedly asserted that the Mobilization did not condone property destruction, he made himself persona non grata with organizers. After that I heard him dissed by two different organizers as an “egomaniac” who is “very difficult to work with.” One organizer of the Permitted Rally questioned whether he should be allowed to speak at the rally after all. A male organizer later told me Hagler "did not show up to speak." Something tells me he did not feel truly welcome.
Organizers refused to admit the legitimacy of the fears of African Americans, even as expressed twice by an African woman at two Spokes Council meetings, that Seattle-type riots here in D.C. could blossom into big riots like those in Washington, DC in 1968. In those riots a thousand buildings burned and 12 people died, mostly by fire. See article describing how that riot was caused inadvertently by activists, who were angry over the murder of Martin Luther King.
I myself only became aware of the concern by talking to neighbors and shopkeepers who remembered the riots. D.C.'s African American police chief did reflect the feelings of the community when he told reporters: "They ain't burning our city like they did Seattle."10/ But the white activists just belittled such concerns and those who expressed them. As one calling him/herself “MOB” wrote on the A16.org Action Guidelines page: “Riots are often the ONLY thing that ever affects change in societies.... i grew up in DC, lived there from 79-96. a nice riot there is looonnnnggg overdue.”
Another case of racial insensitivity happened the first week of the Convergence when white activists decided to “squat” in an unoccupied building in a mostly African American neighborhood without consulting the neighbors. As it happened the building already was being renovated by MANNA for low-income residents. Television footage clearly shows several youths screaming from the rooftop as one upset African American man argues with other white activists in the street. One participant admitted in an e-mail that white youth intimidated the objecting black man who “backed down when he realized he was being surrounded by a large number of us.”11/ One out-of-town activist who witnessed the incident told me other neighbors also complained and he feared it would turn into a true racial riot of whites against blacks.
Finally, I cannot help but feel that there was a real undercurrent of racism involved in the numerous confrontations (which can be seen on news video and in photographs, including photos on this web page) between white activists and the large number of African American police officers deployed on April 16 and 17th. Street fighters disagree, arguing “cops are cops, no matter the color.” However, most whites grow up in homes with various levels of fear, antagonism, superiority towards people of color. This may be especially true of people from very dysfunctional homes--and those are the people most likely to be so angry they think fighting with cops is a great tactic. So I can't help but feel that part of the ferocity with which some white youth attacked or fought with black cops on April 16th was latent racism and not just their hatred of police officers.
As soon as young anarchists on D.C. anarchist e-mail lists started debating violent tactics in mid-1999, I warned them that police, and more especially the FBI and federal prosecutors, were just looking for new activist targets for disruption, infiltration and prosecution. After the violence in Seattle, I knew that police repression against those who engaged in such violence was inevitable. However, the pre-April 16th police and FBI activity was much more intensive than anything even I had expected.
According to the Seattle Weekly police and 30 other local, state, and federal agencies aggressively gathered intelligence on protest groups for six months before the Seattle protests. The FBI paid personal visits to some activists' homes and police tailed others.12/
After Seattle, police all around the country began training in crowd-control and "critical situation management." In February of 2000 police commanders from several major cities gathered at the FBI Academy in Virginia to study the Seattle protests. Police said they saw more sophistication and organization than they had seen in decades.13/
Dozens of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies all around the Washington area were mobilized. All 3,500 D.C. police officers were put on alert, along with probably hundreds more from federal agencies like the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Park Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The National Guard was put on call and was in fact used on April 17th. The D.C. police were shows hours of video of the confrontations in Seattle and were trained a special force of 1,400 officers in the latest baton-and-shield techniques of crowd control.
The authorities spent over $1 million on new body armor and bullet-proof shields; they also stocked up on fresh pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. They set up three mass detention centers where arrested protesters would be taken. They removed 69 mailboxes where bombs could be hidden.14/
According to the Intelligence Newsletter "reserve units from the US Army Intelligence and Security Command helped Washington police keep an eye on demonstrations staged at the World Bank/IMF meetings" and "the Pentagon sent around 700 men from the Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Belvoir to assist the Washington police on April 17, including specialists in human and signals intelligence.”
According to the report, six Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) centers funded by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance have been collecting information on the new anti-globalization protest movements. Set up to counter organized crime, drugs and terrorism, they have used the violence and property destruction that accompanied civil disobedience in Seattle and Washington, D.C. as an excuse for surveillance. The report, which has not been independently verified, notes that in order "to justify their interest in anti-globalization groups from a legal standpoint, the authorities lump them into a category of terrorist organizations. Among those considered as such at present are Global Justice (the group that organized the April 17 demonstration), Earth First, Green Peace, American Indian Movement, Zapatista National Liberation Front and Act-Up." According to RISS program documents, RISS shares intelligence and coordinate efforts against criminal networks throughout various jurisdictions and serves more than 5,300 law enforcement agencies including the FBI, BATF, DEA, IRS, Secret Service, and Customs.15/
Below is a listing, drawn from various sources, of suspected police surveillance, targeted enforcement of trivial or laxly enforced laws, pre-emptive raids and pre-emptive mass arrests meant to demoralize and disrupt the April 16 and 17 demonstrations. Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams called it a "proactive, precautionary and preventive" police strategy.
** Police told reporters they had been monitoring 73 Internet sites and e-mail list serves where groups have been exchanging messages. They even had gone online posing as protesters, though whether they were the ones most freely advocating violence and attacking those who argued for nonviolence is not known.
** Police attended open meetings of the Mobilization.
** Police read on the A16 e-mail list about a planned meeting to send six crews around D.C. to paste up posters. They sent two detectives to an organizer’s home and warned him the protesters could be arrested if they postered illegally (i.e., in the wrong places or with the wrong materials).
** When organizer Nadine Bloch said on television that it was a “possibility” that protesters would block bridges between Washington and Virginia, the FBI started an official investigation of this potential illegal interference with interstate commerce. An alleged FBI memo was distributed on A16 lists mentioning Bloch and a range of possible disruptions.
** Police watched student organizers meetings and rallies at both American and George Washington Universities for two months before the demonstrations. American University abruptly canceled the town hall meeting on globalization set for the week before the demonstrations, citing security fears. George Washington, which is near the World Bank, actually forbid organizers from having friends stay overnight during the week before the demonstrations.
** When police discovered Mobilization activists were trying to organize a high school student walkout for April 17th, they send out a memo to educators in Montgomery County warning that: “Splinter groups, possibly associated with this group, took part in the recent demonstration in Seattle that turned violent." They asked school officials to contact them about any such activity. The walkout was effectively quashed.
** Police visited the home of one organizer who had offered to allow protesters to stay at her home in rural Maryland.
** Fire Marshals visited a peace organization’s homeless shelter where members of the Midnight Special Legal Collective, who were providing legal support, were staying to help with the protests, obviously with intent to intimidate.
** The week before the demonstrations, police started closing streets throughout the Foggy Bottom area. They closed public sidewalks near the IMF and World bank to all but those with acceptable identification. Officers with video cameras wandered the area taking photographs and video of any one wearing political buttons or carrying signs.
** The week of the A16 Convergence, law enforcement agents followed individuals suspected by their mode of dress to be anarchists, especially in the area of the IMF and the Convergence Center on Florida and 13th Streets.
** On April 12 seven activists in two vehicles driving to the Convergence Center were pulled over by the police, supposedly on a tip from someone who had been in a workshop on blockades. Police seized 256 PCV pipes, 45 smaller pipes, 2 rolls of chicken wire, 50 rolls of duct tape, gas masks, bolt cutters, chains, an electrical saw, all equipment for making “lock boxes,” which are tubes which lock activists together during blockades of streets and buildings. Because these are considered a means of resisting arrest by police, the activists were arrested for Possession of Implements of Crime.
**On April 14 police raided a rented house in Mount Pleasant where they found equipment for making another 100 lock boxes, plus chicken wire, duct tape and six gas masks. Three people were charged with Possession of Implements of Crime. Suspicions grew that a deep cover informant was giving the police this information.
** On the morning of April 15, fire marshals, D.C. police and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bomb detection specialists raided the Convergence Center warehouse that served as the A16 headquarters. Their excuse was enforcing fire codes, despite the usual lack of such enforcement throughout D.C. Because of a lack of properly marked exits, the use of propane tanks for cooking, and the crowding of hundreds of people into and around the building, authorities forced activists out and shut it down. Police initially claimed that a paint bottle and rags they found in the building was a Molotov cocktail and that cooking supplies were the makings of homemade pepper spray. (Claiming miscellaneous contents of targeted individual’s or group’s cellars or work places are “bomb making materials” is a favorite police and prosecution ploy.) Only after several hours of negotiating did A16 lawyers convince police to release a number of the Mobilization’s large puppets. However, they refused to release t-shirts for sale, literature for distribution, and medical supplies for use on April 16 and 17th. Two activists were arrested for “interfering with a police officer.”
** Activists allege that on the 15th activists several ”24 hour” Kinkos printing stores in the downtown area were shut down or threatened with shutdown by police because they might print activists’ literature.
** On the evening of the 15th police arrest 678 protesters, falsely claiming they were "parading without a permit and refused a police order to disperse." However, most protesters were on the sidewalk, for which they did not need a permit, and the police did not order them to disperse. In fact, they blocked off the street and would not let anyone leave, including shoppers, passerbys and one member of the press. All were arrested and held for up to 24 hours. This was the largest mass arrest in D.C. in over twenty years.16/
** On April 17th Mobilization Radio (probably a low-power “pirate” operation) which had been disseminating information to activists about the ongoing actions, was raided by the D.C. police, the FBI and at least one official from the FCC. However, the enforcement squad did not produce a warrant when they ordered the station closed and station operators refused to comply. After two hours, during which authorities refused to make any comment or even to explain why they were there, they left, without closing the station.17/
of Police Repression
What was the end result of all of this police harassment, especially the closure of the Convergence Center and the Saturday night arrests? In my experience, at the Convergence Center shortly after the busts, and during the meetings that followed at the new temporary Convergence Centers set up in nearby churches, activists were variously angry, confused, discouraged, and re-energized.
The Saturday night arrests probably were the most disruptive in that it showed law enforcement’s willingness to arrest hundreds of people for no valid reason. Two people told me they decided not to attend even the Permitted Rally after hearing about those arrests. I myself was initially concerned by the prospect of an unwanted arrest, especially since my disgust with lead organizers’ lack of commitment to nonviolence left me with no interest in being arrested for any reason.
Considering that the United States has become a defacto police state, where even truly nonviolent protesters are abused, we should not be surprised at the crackdown on a “Mobilization” whose self-appointed spokes people refused to condemn activist property destruction, who equated hand holding with smashing windows in front of a packed press room , and whose public web pages abounded with discussions of activist property destruction and confrontations with police. The police look for any excuse to call even truly nonviolent sitdowns and blockades violent.18/
However, the violence in Seattle and, as we shall see, in D.C., gave the police a green light to increase their disruptions and brutality–and their lies about their brutality. One self-described “federal marshal” in a pre-A16 posting on the A16 web site signed “MDLawman@yahoo.com” alludes to such brutality: “Before doing something stupid like assaulting any of D.C.'s finest, I think you should talk to those who have personally made the journey through our system. Think long and hard before you throw that rock.”
As it happened, the April 16 and 17th demonstrations in D.C. did not fulfill the worst fears of Seattle-type riots escalating into city wide civil disturbances. However, there was enough dramatic television footage of violence to convince politicians, law enforcement, the press and much of the general public that controversial and even unconstitutional police measures had been appropriate–and to exceuse the same against activists in Philadelphia two months later.
April 16th "Permitted"
As mentioned before, mainstream union, student, peace and other groups were fearful that ten to twenty thousand protesters milling in the streets would give cover to street fighters intent on property destruction and fighting with the police. They hurriedly organized a Permitted Rally and widely publicized their search for 200 peacekeepers.
Rally organizers doubtless warned union people and others to stay away from the direct action. During the April 15th Affinity Group Spokes Council meeting a union representative told anti-peacekeeper direct actionists that the AFL-CIO head John Sweeney would be “wearing his peacekeeper hat” on April 16th. This clearly was a warning to street fighters that they could not expect to find safe haven from the police inside the peacekeeper-ringed Permitted Rally. Just in case they didn’t get the message, orange and yellow vested rally peacekeepers carefully watched those attempting to enter the rally area and discouraged rally attendees from entering the direct action area, warning of possible injury or arrest. Ten to fifteen thousand people participated in the Rally on, and March near, the Ellipse, south of the White House.
on April 16 and 17, 2000
Like many of those who attended the April 16th Permitted Rally and walked the perimeter of the direct action area in the early afternoon, I experienced a boisterous, colorful and fun event. I saw no confrontations between police or demonstrators. However, as I met up with various friends and acquaintances during the day I began to hear disturbing stories of violent incidents. Because I came down with a bad cold on Sunday, I stayed home on the chilly, rainy Monday, April 17th, and taped several hours of news footage of both days.
On tape I saw enough incidents of provocations of police and of actual violence to confirm that my concerns about activist violence were well founded--and enough to counter the later lies of street fighters that they were innocent of such acts. There was far less property destruction than in Seattle, in part because of relatively low numbers of activist who had to block very wide streets while facing numerous, well trained police. However, there was more defacto coordination of street fighters with allegedly nonviolent activists and better organized attacks on police.
Perhaps two thousand or so activists participated, if only briefly or
in the direct action. Of the two thousand direct actionists,
half were committed nonviolent activists who had no interest in street
fighting. Street fighters, active and passive, included at least
700 “Black Bloc” (anti-capitalist anarchist) members, a few hundred
leftists, a couple hundred inexperienced young people looking for
and, no doubt, a few government agents or provocateurs posing as
From all I have seen and heard, the direct actions were mostly blockade actions with at least a dozen major, and probably a few dozen minor, street fighting incidents such as: building barricades from nearby news boxes, automobiles, construction debris; rushing or pushing through police-lined barricades; forcefully preventing police from passing through lines of human blockaders; breaking automobile windows; assaulting police.
The street fighters integrated their affinity groups among nonviolent actionists at various police barricades and activist blockades. They also formed Black Bloc “flying wedges” which moved among barricade and blockade actions to shore up weak intersections that IMF vehicles might try to get through or to help activists who police were trying to push back.
Mobile phone or bicycle communications helped them choose their targets. Since the Communications Working Group was dominated by anarchists, they made sure their comrades had mobile phones and walkie talkies to coordinate their actions; anarchists bicyclists also provided communications help. (Amusingly, some of the anti-property anarchists may have “forgotten” to return their equipment, as repeated requests on the A16 e-mail lists for their return suggest.)
The street fighters intentions were not to be a totally nonviolent flying wedge that would only use bodies to block; they intended to –and did– aggressively rush barricades and throw objects at police in several incidents. The Black Bloc started out as several groupings in the morning, joined together around 9:30 a.m. for a charge up fourteenth street, and then broke up into several blocks for the rest of the day. The battle cry of the Black Bloc and other street fighters was the highly territorial chant, “Whose streets? Our streets!” Controlling a half a block and keeping the police out was considered a great revolutionary coup.
of Activist Violence
Below is a rough chronology (most times are approximate) of street fighting incidents, compiled from newspaper reports, news videos, and various first person accounts distributed by e-mail and on the DC Indymedia web page. Most of these I have not footnoted to protect the foolish. The police and Federal Bureau of Investigation doubtless have put together a much fuller and more accurate chronology (and database) from police radio and video, media video and reports, officer debriefings and Internet accounts. Nonviolent activists have the right to know the same information.
6:30 am, 18th and I Street: activists lock arms and physically prevent angry police motorcycles pushing through the crowd from passing.
8:30 am, Pennsylvania Avenue and 19th Street: police pepper-spray a crowd trying to push through the barricades that wall off the World Bank building.
9:30 am, 14th & NY Ave: activists build barricades across streets with newspaper stands, garbage cans, flower pots, dumpsters, construction debris, and automobiles.
9:45 am, proceeding north on 14th Towards K: crowd of several hundred activists (mostly Black Bloc) yelling “Whose streets? Our streets!” push two large sections of 10 foot chain link fence at motorcycle cops who then regroup and charge, pushing the fence over onto activists, pepper spraying and beating activists; both groups re-group, activists throw stones, bottles, a construction cone, and physically assault police with sticks and a pole; police use tear gas. Activists harass and intimidate woman reporter filming event. (Doubtless news of the whole incident was spread by radio throughout the ranks in a minutes, infuriating many officers.) After the confrontation a leading anarchist and an A16 media person deflect press questions about the assault to discussion of the issues.19/
(Note: either this or another Black Bloc stand off with police was defused when several women in red t-shirts went right up to the police line and began chanting, "To the police, we come in peace. To the banks, we say no thanks." Disgusted Black Bloc-ers left the area.)
10:00 am, nearby: soon after that confrontation ends, activists break window of one or two news cars and steal contents to punish reporters would not stop filming them; they jump on a car to harass a woman reporter trying to retrieve her belongings.
10:45-11:00 am, 15th & G/H: protesters rush barricades, with Black Bloc as backup jamming the streets; police react violently.
11:00-ish am, 21 & E Street: police pour out of a bus and start to hit blockading students; activists fight back throwing debris and bottles.
11:30-ish am, 21st & G: (may be continuation of or the same incident above) Police accompany a bus and group tries to block it; large orange construction barrel thrown at defending police who beat protesters.
11:30 am to Noon: 19th at H & I: Thirty minute confrontation between police and activists; activists roll a dumpster, and later a garbage can, towards barricades as other activists yell out “No violence!” (One activist reported a dumpster burning at some point that day.) Chief Ramsey tries to cool things down. At either this point, or in later incident, two activists spit on him, according to news and activist reports. Activists smash the windows of a George Washington University police car and spray paint graffitti reading: “a kop is a kop is a kop.” An activist tries to steal police radio from the car but other activists discourage him.
Noon, 17th & E Street: When protesters block the street, motorcycle cops try to run through and over activists. One angry activist hits an officer with a poster on a stick.
2:15 pm, 19th & F Street: Black Bloc marches into and joins the Permitted Parade, despite the presence of dozens of peacekeepers, with no known incidents.
4:00 pm, Constitution and 15th-16th Street: About 40 protesters block Constitution Avenue. Police on horses rush in to drive them away. A hundred Black Block members rush in, jump on news vans and televisions, skirmish with and scream at police, get in fight with a newsman and take his badge. Protesters lose interest and move back towards Ellipse.
7:00 pm, 15th and Columbia Road: Affinity Group Spokes Council meeting in a church. Four Spokes complain that activist violence led to police brutality towards members of their nonviolent affinity groups. Another 20 or so individuals “twinkle” (shake fingers in a silent gesture of agreement). However, the Direct Action Network facilitator treats the matter lightly and moves on to other concerns.
(Note: at one point during the day police allege an activist alerted them to the fact that an individual had two Molotov cocktails; television footage does show them pulling two clear bottles filled with liquid and stuff ed with rags from his backpack. Police alleged he was an “anarchist wearing black” though television shows he was wearing a red shirt. The Washington Times reported he previously had been arrested repeatedly for theft and assault. It later was reported on the A16-Legal list that he was “no papered,” i.e., released without charges, so we have to wonder if he was influenced by the police to carry the devices. In future demonstrations activists – or government provocateurs – would brazenly carry and throw Molotov cocktails.)20/
10:00 am, 19th and I Street: Two dozen activists surround a lone policeman by his police car and repeatedly lunge at him, taunting him; he swings his night stick in self-defense and other officers come to the rescue.
1:00 pm, 18th and I Street: According to news reports, Chief Ramsey and Asst. Chief Gainer briefly are surrounded by protesters; one tears off bars from Ramsey’s shoulder; another tries to take Gainer’s radio and Gainer arrests him.
April 16 and 17th
One longtime nonviolent activist who roamed the direct action area on Sunday April 16th from the earliest morning told me privately that almost every incident of police violence he saw was provoked by activists rushing barricades or otherwise provoking police. However, I also heard several credible stories of totally nonviolent activists being attacked when there was no nearby activist provocation, or being attacked while those provoking the violence a few feet away were left alone. Police also arrested and assaulted members of the media who got in their way.
On Monday, April 17th, police took advantage of the lesser numbers on the street to assault and arrest several small groups of young people dressed in anarchist-looking outfits even though they were merely walking on the street. Television video shows the police chief himself manhandling protesters.
Of course, once arrested, protesters were at the mercy of police and the especially abusive U.S. Marshals (many of them Virginia and Maryland police officers deputized for the event). According to various reports: they left protesters on buses for long hours without food, water or toilet privileges; denied phone calls, food and water to people in cells; released some in the rain, far from public transportation; applied cuffs too tightly and painfully; beat people who spoke out of line or did anything to their disliking; verbally harassed protesters with taunts about their vulnerability in prison to physical assault by guards and prisoners, and especially to rape; lost confiscated items like wallets, keys and eye glasses. Some women reported that male officers sexually harassed and/or searched female protesters.
What Street Fighters
They Accomplished in D.C.
Below are more quotes, plus other evidence and commentary, indicating what street fighters think they accomplished during the April 16 and 17th demonstrations.
Fighters Helped Progressives “Get Over” on the Media: Street
think they and their progressive supporters “got over” on the press
and foremost because they used violence to attract the press to the A16
actions. The weeks leading up to April 16th did see an unusual
of wire service and local newspaper, television and radio coverage,
of it issue oriented, for what would surely be a relatively small, by
D.C. standards, demonstration. Media coverage afterwards gave
equal coverage to nonviolent and violent demonstrators, and covered
brutality, most news report made police the heros of A16.
Street fighters also “got over” on the press because some liberal activists were professional media flacks who knew how to “spin” the story. As member of Black Planet Books wrote: “Tactically, it is in the best interest of reformist factions to continue to use the anarchists to blame for violence even while benefitting from the extensive media coverage violence against property achieves and the fear it puts into the hearts of the reactionaries they hope to obtain concessions from.”21/
Ben Ehrenreich wrote in an L.A. Weekly article: “I ask John, an anarchist from New England swathed from head to toe in black fabric, if he really thinks they can get through the barricades. ‘The point is to make a ruckus and draw attention to the issues,’ he explains. ‘If violence happens, it happens. If violence does break out and we get past the barricades, that’s great, but that’s not what matters.’”22/
Moblization/Black Bloc press people definitely got over on a Washington Post reporter who wrote admiringly of the Block: “This is the Marine Corps of the baby-faced, anti-World Bank movement--always first on the scene when there was trouble yesterday. Its members were dressed in black, down to their flimsy handkerchief masks. They owned the defiant chant, ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’" The reporter’s description of the confrontation with police on 14th Street fails to mention the street fighters’ attack on police, only noting that the police attacked them.23/
Of course, given street fighters’ proven willingness to spray paint camera lenses, smash camera crews’ car windows and physically fight with them, one wonders how much “freedom of the press” there would be in the street fighters’ version of “democracy.” (A few months later, protesting activists actually made the New York Times back down on a reporters’ accurate claim that there had been activist violence in Seattle!”)
Fighters “Proved” Violence Works Against Police: “Mark S.”
on an anarchist list: “The fact that we controlled the streets all
and turned the police back anytime they attempted (or more accurately,
faked) a move on a blocade, demonstrates the power of popular violence
(against corporate property and police) backing up otherwise
actions. ..What happened on Sunday (April 16, 2000) furthered these
by showing the Black Bloc to be of great aid to the rest of the demo
otherwise might have opposed street fighting tactics..... But the
to push the police back was not limited to the Black Bloc however much
they served as a lighting rod for stronger tactics. Their was no
clear line between those who would maintain a strictly pacific response
to police aggression and those who would fight back more
The willingness of pacifists to use the Black Bloc inevitably has the
of undercutting strict pacifist tactics/politics within the movement.”
A bragging anonymous poster wrote on an anarchist list. “DAN (Direct Action Network) called upon us directly to bail out their sometimes failing blockades. In other words they needed the threat of violence to keep their non-violence functioning. Thats a big shift in their postion from "pick another day to protest if you arent down with our plan.”
Chuck0 in postings on DC Indymedia wrote:”If anybody is under the impression that future Black Blocs and anarchist actions will avoid Seattle-type property destruction, you'll be in for a big surprise. Most of us had no problem with the Seattle Black Bloc actions.... One of the main objectives of the Black Bloc was to show other activists how large the spectrum is for direct action.... I think most of us, not just anarchists, are tired of protest as usual. We're also tired of movement veterans telling us that we can't do something ‘because such and such happened in the 60s.’ We should learn from the past, but the present is different than that era. ...
We successfully broadened the debate about tactics and started to get people to think beyond the simplistic moralisms of the nonviolent protest tradition.”
“Mike” in e-mail account of the Black Bloc 14th Street assault on police on April 16, wrote: “My friend Adam, shares my admiration for the Black Bloc, commenting that "we need more of them" and calling them "...the Marines of the Movement".... Well, now the movements for freedom and justice on this_do_ have their own Special Forces, and they're called the Black Bloc.”
Fighters Refined Tactics: “Flint” on anarchist list quoting
April 10, 2000 ZNet commentary “Action Not Division: Some Thoughts on
for A16" wrote: “ Brian [Dominick] suggests the Black Bloc do this:
‘More useful than attacking inanimate objects which pose no immediate threat to the day's actions, it would seem sensible for Black Bloc type affinity groups to engage in diverting police attention from those aggressively or passively engaged in trying to shut down the streets and the meetings. Moreover, such affinity groups could engage in all manner of offensive actions to penetrate police lines, spontaneously construct barricades where needed, and so forth....’ Which is exactly what we did.”
An anonymous anarchist message forwarded to a listserve reads: ”Despite some organizational challenges that the bloc failed to overcome we held pretty damn tight and it showed. Just like the police weren't too tough on us, we also weren't as tough as we could have been on the police. And they know it. Our mere presense at the demonstration made it cost 5 million dollars in overtime and 1.6 million in new toys for just the local pigs. I'd call that raising the stakes.”
Fighters Built Solidarity: "solstice smurf" in a May, 2000 e-mail
an anarchist listserve wrote: “‘Peacecop’ instances and media
were impressively few. In fact, I only know of four instances
this entire mobilization, and all of those people have been held
accountable.... Solidarity is quite possibly at an all-time high in
An anonymous anarchist message forwarded to an listserve reads: “Everywhere the Anti-Capitalist Bloc went people were so damn happy to see us, not just when we showed up in the nick of time but everywhere we went people cheered for us. There was no separation between us and the other protestors in terms of them seeing us as people separate from them. There were a few exceptions. but not many. The only shit I had to listen to was from the witness for peace people, and so what?
“Don't underestimate this. What we saw was huge crowds giving a broad endorsement to our politics and some of them being moved to join us. That's what we always wanted, right?”
Street Fighters Radicalized “The Movement”: Nonviolent
look for strictly nonviolent actions to dramatize their causes.
their actions provoke a totally unjust and brutal police response, one
which radicalizes activists and draws sympathy from the general public.
Street fighters try to provoke police, through property destruction and violence, into hurting nonviolent activists and innocent passerbys. Such police violence, which they usually deny they provoked, is supposed to prove the evilness of the establishment and radicalize “the people” into supporting or joining the revolutionary cause–or at least its violence. Znet editor and street fighter-supporter Michael Albert himself criticizes such tactics: “I remember all too vividly some sixties demonstrations in which over-eager dissenters would taunt and otherwise provoke police and then disappear, leaving others, often utterly unprepared families, to bear the brunt of the response.24/“
In both Seattle and D.C. nonviolent protesters complained about the masked activists who would taunt police, throw things at them and then run away, leaving the police to take out their anger on nonviolent activists who remained. Nevertheless, some nonviolent activists beaten by police for the first time were “awakened” to the brutality of the system. And while few street fighters may openly admit that getting people hurt in order to radicalize a movement is their goal, it’s easy to read such intent into their glee over the resultant radicalization.
Defacto A16 leader Nadine Block could barely control her enthusiasm at a televised April 16th press conference where she hypocritically wore a “This is a Nonviolent Protest” t-shirt. She bellowed from the podium: “Despite the scare tactics, the threats, the harassment, the surveillance, the helicopters over head, the raid of our workshop area and teaching area, we will not be silent. And the sounds of this repression will serve as an amplified call to action.” Anyone watching the actions of Nadine and her ilk were quite certain she had gotten just the result she wanted.
Liz Butler, another leading enforcer of the pro-street fighter party line, said at a press conference after she was acquitted of a minor A16 related charge: "The only violence that occurred in Seattle was the police attacking the protesters, and we saw them repeat that here. But, rather than doing it in the streets -- as much as they did in Seattle -- they did it beforehand; they did it when the cameras weren't looking. They broke peoples' noses, they dislocated peoples' fingers, they beat people who were protesting outside the jail to try and get our brothers and sisters out of jail, they "pre-emptively" arrested people, they tried to figure out what they were doing after they did it -- and this is somehow heralded as a good event. Well, this is -- literally -- the undermining of everything America stands for."25/
However, despite all the triumphant breast-beating of those who condoned the use of violence for publicity’s sake, there is no doubt that the press and public considered the police, and not the protesters, to be the real heros. Police Chief Ramsey was repeatedly shown going through and calming the crowds and ordering his police forces to take off their gas masks. The police, who staked out areas of control and held them–as opposed to chasing activists around as in Seattle--were congratulated in Editorials for restrained and localized use of force.
Largely ignored were the legitimate complaints of nonviolent protesters arrested for no crime, held for days, and physically abused. Naive activists and innocent passerbys had no idea that potential and actual activist violence had given the police an excuse, and a motivation, to abuse arrestees–and that that was the real goal of the violence!
And, when the protests were over, the police doubtless felt the provocations they experienced at the hands of allegedly nonviolent activists merely supported their contentions that they had a right to use overwhelming force against any citizen suspected of a crime. Finally, the “faux victimization” actively courted by activists like Butler and Bloch only insults and the cheapens real victimization experienced every day by people of color and young people in this country. The fact that several of these activists pressed a lawsuit against the police for police brutality–when using the threat of violence to provoke that violence was their original intent–is just the icing on the cake. Other true victims of such police brutality probably never realized they had been set up and used by these cynical operatives.