Big Brother is Watching You

Philadelphia undercover cops illegally infiltrated protest groups before RNC Here\’s some helpful hints on making it harder for police agents next time around

Over the past year as more militant tactics at demonstrations have made the public and the police increasingly aware of an \”anarchist menace\”, the level of police repression has also been increasing. The extreme police reactions in Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Los Angeles were easy to observe: in Philadelphia, hundreds were arrested and held for weeks, some on million dollar bail for acts that would normally be minor misdemeanors. Convergence centers were preemptively raided in DC and Philly. LA police fired rubber bullets and pepper spray at fleeing demonstrators.

What is impossible to measure, but which must also be taking place, is that the level of police infiltration, surveillance and undercover disruption of radical groups has been increasing since Seattle. In 10 years, if we\’re lucky, a Congressional investigation will reveal what\’s been up over the last year. Activists in the 1960s didn\’t learn about the full depths of COINTELPRO (the code name for the FBI\’s counter-Intelligence program) until years later. But the fact that we currently don\’t know how we\’re being watched or disrupted doesn\’t mean it isn\’t happening. And it doesn\’t mean we can\’t take measures to protect ourselves.

A fascinating example of infiltration at the Republican National Convention has already surfaced. A month after police preemptively raided the \”convergence center\” in Philly where activists were organizing protests against the RNC and making props for demonstrations, the search warrant application filed in Court before the raid was unsealed. The unsealed application revealed that state police officers posing as demonstrators had infiltrated the convergence center and worked there for four days gathering information before the raid. The day after the raid, Philadelphia\’s Police Commissioner John F. Timoney lied to the public when he denied police had \”infiltrated any group.\” The applications were sealed for a month because the police claimed that earlier \”disclosure of this affidavit could endanger the lives\” of the infiltrating cops.

Under a Philadelphia mayoral directive, city police were prohibited from infiltrating protest groups. Instead, city Detective William Egenlauf submitted an affidavit stating \”This investigation is utilizing several Pennsylvania state troopers in an undercover capacity that have infiltrated several of the activist groups planning to commit numerous illegal direct actions.\” According to the affidavit, the officers assisted \”in the construction of props to be used during protests\” and overheard discussions in which protesters planned to use \”puppets . . . as blockades.\” The affidavits also stated that police had monitored email lists and websites.

In a quaint throwback to the cold war (and apparently showing police confusion about the difference between communists and anarchists) the affidavit stated that funds for one organization \”allegedly originate with Communist and leftist parties and from sympathetic trade unions\” or from \”the former Soviet-allied World Federation of Trade Unions.\”

Amazingly, many people working at the convergence center sensed that four large men claiming to be union carpenters who appeared a few days before the convention were police! The four-suspiciously named Tim, Harry, George and Ryan-were reportedly politically uninformed and stuck out in the youthful, slim, heavily pierced convergence center crowd. Apparently, the police weren\’t very worried that their agents would be detected, or else they might have tried to find officers who fit-in better. (DEA agents, for instance, reportedly usually try to look the part-just stand by the Federal Building some day and check out all the outrageous hippies.)

While it\’s important not to be paranoid about anyone with a different fashion statement, a certain measure of discretion is important when \”illegal\” direct action is being organized. As a public service, here are some tips (some from the 2001 Slingshot Organizer) on dealing with government surveillance and disruption:


Assume you are under surveillance if you are involved in organizing mass direct action or anything illegal, and take precautions. Don\’t discuss sensitive matters on the telephone, through the mail, by email, or in your home, car or political office/center. Keep written materials and lists of individuals secure and never bring address books to protests where arrest is possible – if you\’re arrested, the police may investigate all your friends.

Never discuss illegal activity

It is never okay to:

  • ask about someone else\’s illegal activities;
  • discuss your involvement or someone else\’s involvement with an underground group;
  • discuss someone else\’s desire to get involved with such a group;
  • talk about your participation or someone else\’s participation in any action that was illegal;
  • talk about someone else\’s advocacy for such actions
  • discuss your plans or someone else\’s plans for a future action.

    The only time it\’s okay to speak about illegal actions is when you are planning them with the small group of trusted people who will be doing the action with you.

    Adopt a Security Culture

    Activists organizing mass protests, direct action or anything illegal should make it as difficult as possible for police agencies by adopting a security culture. Activists who are part of a security culture know behaviors that compromise security and quickly educate anyone who acts in a way that violates or threatens security. When all members of a scene understand security and correct mistakes, unsecure behavior should become unacceptable and will stop. This frustrates police surveillance and infiltrators because they can\’t obtain information or plant it.

    People in the scene who gossip, brag or ask for unnecessary information about underground groups or illegal activities are a severe danger to the movement. The first time this happens, take such a person aside and gently educate them in private about why such talk is a danger. Be careful not to preach, injure the individual\’s pride, or raise defenses and prevent them from absorbing the advise. If an individual repeatedly engages in gossip, bragging and/or seeking unnecessary information about inappropriate topics after repeated educational talks, the person should be removed from any position of trust in movement by being kicked out of meetings, organizations, base camps, etc. Such a person is a grave risk at best, and a police agent looking to provoke or entrap others at worst.


    Infiltrators attempt to get information about organizations, disrupt them by creating splits and disorganization in meetings and in individual\’s lives, and entrap activists by urging insecure illegal activity. They often disrupt groups, ironically, by promoting destructive witch hunts for infiltrators! Carefully check out the authenticity of any disturbing letter, rumor, phone call etc. before acting on it. Ask the supposed source if she or he is responsible. Don\’t try to expose a suspected agent or informer without solid proof. It generally works better to criticize what a disruptive person says and does without speculating as to why. Avoid entrapment by only doing illegal direct action with people you know well and trust. Avoid government-sponsored splits in movement groups by dealing openly and honestly with differences within our movements in race, gender, class, sexual orientation, etc. before the FBI can exploit them.

    Grand Juries

    If you are subpoenaed by a grand jury, don\’t try to deal with it alone. Contact a lawyer and movement friends for support immediately. Grand juries have the power to hold you in prison for months if you fail to answer questions, and lying to a grand jury is a serious crime.

    For more informa
    tion, read War at Home by Brian Glick from South End Press, 116 S. Botolph St., Boston, 20115.

    (By the way, after the raid, police chief Timoney displayed items seized during the raid, which included \”two massive slingshots.\”)

  • Round II for Lori Berenson

    Activist imprisoned in Peru faces second trial

    US activist Lori Berenson is fighting for her life. Although the Peruvian Supreme Military Council recently admitted that she was wrongfully convicted of treason and aggravated terrorism and overturned her life sentence, Lori now faces a second civilian trial.

    In November 1995 while working in Peru, Lori was arrested and tried before a secret military tribunal presided over by hooded judges. She was never informed of the charges against her or any of the evidence against her and was given no chance to defend herself. She was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison.

    Now, after almost five years in inhuman and life-threatening conditions, Lori is being subjected to a second unlawful trial. Retrying her on the same allegations is considered \”double jeopardy\”. Lori has not been given the charges in detail, and was given insufficient time to hire and meet with a lawyer, and insufficient time and means for the lawyer to prepare the defense. In addition, the judge has already taken testimony from witnesses without Lori\’s lawyer present because he had not yet been hired.

    After she finally obtained a lawyer, the pre-trial judge and the Peruvian prosecutor interrogated Lori on the record for 14 hours over a three day period. She made it perfectly clear that she was never a member of the MRTA. Her lawyer told the US embassy and the Peruvian press that he is confident that she is innocent of all charges and that she has been imprisoned only for her beliefs.

    Meanwhile, Peruvian media and government officials have already declared her guilty and President Fujimori has said she will get at least a 20-year sentence. He picks the judge and there is no jury. The only chance for justice for Lori is for the US government to intervene and secure her release. For more info: The Committee to Free Lori Berenson, 110 Maryland Ave NE #102, Washinton DC 20002. (202) 548-8480

    Revolution is the Only Solution to Global Pollution

    While the scientific evidence makes it more and more clear that automobile travel and other human industrial activity is causing global climate change that is likely to extinguish millions of species from the earth, possibly including human beings, nothing is being done. Business as usual proceeds, and everyone gets in their car every day to drive more as if nothing was up. At what point do we realize that every car on the street is waging war against life and must be stopped, by any means necessary? At what point do we realize that our struggle for \”revolution\” can\’t just be idle talk-a dream for some distant time in the future after we\’re probably old or dead-but needs to be a very immediate reality if human life is to continue? Nothing short of revolution is going to save our asses at this point: the entire global economic system is designed to use as many resources as quickly as possible. Capitalism >requires constant \”growth\” which basically means more cars, more fossil fuel use, more pollution, more green house gases, more global warming. This is not a joke.

    A draft report from the United Nations\’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leaked to the press October 25 concludes \”there is now stronger evidence for a human influence\” in global climate change. The IPCC, made of 2,500 of the world\’s top climate scientists, predicts that the average global temperature could be as much as 11 degrees F higher by 2100 than it was in 1990. Temperature at any particular place could rise more than that. An increase in the average global temperature adds energy to the world weather system, making weather far more chaotic, with more severe storms, flooding, droughts, cold snaps and heat waves. The change would be larger than the world has seen since the end of the last Ice Age, and plants, animals, human societies and agriculture won\’t be able to adapt fast enough to avert widespread, diverse disaster.

    The IPCC report blames the global climate change on human emissions of green house gases, mostly carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels. Driving is the largest contributor to green house gas emissions.

    One example of the drastic and devastating ecological changes that are being caused by global warming, car driving and ultimately global capitalism is provided by a recent report by scientists at the 9th International Coral Reef Symposium. They found that more than a quarter of the world\’s coral reefs have already been destroyed, mostly by global warming, and that unless \”urgent measures\” are taken to prevent global warming, \”most\” of the world\’s remaining reefs will be dead in only 20 years. The reefs play a crucial role as an anchor for most marine ecosystems, and their loss could trigger the extinction of thousands of species of fish and other marine life. Ultimately, if the oceans die, we\’re next.

    The above studies aren\’t done by wingnuts in People\’s Park or by the Slingshot Collective. These are mainstream, world class scientists who tend to be pretty wary of making dire predictions until they have a lot of data. These scientific reports seem to exist on another planet, given most human\’s behavior. For example, a couple of months ago, Europe erupted in protest against high gas prices. These protests were eventually copied (in a much weaker, Americanized version) here in US suburbs. The beef: government taxes on fuel make driving \”too expensive.\”

    Europe has fuel prices many times that of the US, and gasoline costs over $6 a gallon around Europe. In England, with the highest taxes in the continent, taxes account for 76 percent of the cost of gasoline. These taxes are intended to reduce driving, and it is no coincidence that Europe is light years ahead of the US in non-auto methods of transportation. Most European countries have excellent public transit; everyone is accustomed to taking trains; broad segments of the population bike frequently (not just young, \”healthy\” people); walking is feasible, fashionable and fun; European cities are dense and vibrant; European urban planning is oriented towards options for non-private auto transport. Not that they don\’t have a long way to go-we need to learn to drive a lot less not just a little bit less. But its a start.

    Amazingly enough, despite endless talk about how expensive gasoline is now that is costs over $2.00 a gallon, it turns out that in inflation adjusted dollars, gas in the US is still cheaper now than it was in the early 1980s. Until this year, in inflation adjusted dollars, the price of gas had been consistently falling for 20 years. When all of the real costs of driving are factored into the price of gas-environmental damage, government subsidies, the cost of military action to protect oil supplies, -the \”real\” price of gas is as high as $15 a gallon!

    Is the reformist tactic of increasing gas taxes to discourage driving the way to avoid global warming? No, but when even these modest measures are the targets of popular protest, one worries \”are we doomed?\” Americans, constituting about 4 percent of the world\’s population, consume about one fourth of all energy in the world. And apparently, that isn\’t enough. Gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks are the most popular vehicles sold (the car companies can\’t keep up with demand) and it seems like every 20 something hipster-people who should know better-has to have one.

    I\’m thinking about all of this as I stand by a cross-walk, trying to get across a busy street in Berkeley. A river of cars passes by. About half of them are SUVs, pumping carbon into the air. Whether they\’re SUVs or compact cars, they\’re mostly occupied by a single person. Most of these people don\’t have to be driving-far from it. Two thirds of car trips are under 5 miles-easy biking distance. A third are under one mile-walking distance. And most of the one third of trips over 5 miles are pretty silly indeed-long commutes from sterile suburbs to meaningless jobs. Time to move closer to work, ditch the job, or both.

    What to do? I don\’t precisely have the answer. Emotionally, I want to start a war on cars and driving with escalating tactics. Start by putting bumper stickers on everyone\’s car in the city in the middle of the night reading \”driving this car kills the planet.\” Next a guerrilla front would issue threats to stay off the road or else. People who still drove would start to experience petty inconvenience and vandalism: air released from their tires, scraped paint, broken windows and lights, barricades in the streets, parking opportunities sabotaged, gas stations disabled. Finally, there\’d be all out insurrection: cars seized, overturned and burned in the streets with running street battles erupting everywhere.

    The above fantasy isn\’t the answer because its all based on force rather than free will and consent, and because it\’s all directed at the individual, who doesn\’t necessarily want to drive or choose to drive at all.

    Over the last 100 years, our transportation options have been stolen from us-car, oil, and tire companies bought and closed down public transit. They bought politicians who subsidized the construction of suburbs, they bought culture, our likes and dislikes, so that people love cars, driving and sprawl more than they love life itself. The opportunity to live within walking distance of work, your whole life-everyone walked everwhere until 1800-no longer seems to exist, given our modern definitions of reality.

    The answer is revolution-where people would be free and therefore where people\’s needs (including all of our environmental needs) would be more important than corporate needs. Where everything would get re-evaluated. Despite all of the scientific evidence about the drastic reduction in driving and fossil fuel use that needs to happen immediately, no one can even begin to explain how this would happen under the current global c
    apitalist order. Every indication is that this order is entirely incapable of making any kind of drastic resource consumption reductions. We can\’t \”reform\” away the precise purpose of an entire economic system-nothing would be left without ever increasing resource use.

    And no, revolution isn\’t exactly an easy solution either. How to get there is beyond unclear; what \”it\” would even be is open to considerable debate. But more business as usual is just no longer an option.

    Zine Reviews

    Working Class First! By Jacob Pugh

    Clydeside press

    37 High Street

    Glasgow G1 1LX


    Focused, as the title suggests, on the working class in Britain. The scope is a pretty standard leftist analysis of how the working class should keep what it earns from production and not let the managerial/owner classes reap the profits. OK as far as it goes but isn\’t it time to get beyond the work centered, take over the factory, technology is ok as long as everyone has it leftism? Not that the author is trying to be anything but leftist. In the conclusion he says two contradictory things. First \”The struggle for working class affluence should be at the centre of left-wing struggle\”. And then, \”Our world of affluence and consumption offers on the surface a life of pleasure and contentment. In reality it creates only fear, insecurity and toil\”.

    Doris #16

    POB 1734

    Ashville, NC 28802


    Cindy is back again with another great issue mixing the political and the personal. Stories about what is like being a girl/woman in these times and other hellish times too. Tales of hanging with friends and life. Always a good read!

    I Defy #9

    Casey Boland

    614 S. 48th ST Apt. 2R

    Philadelphia, PA 19143

    No price on it, send a buck or two.

    Casey can write, that\’s for sure. It is a pleasure to read such a well written zine. Pieces on job hunting, living in Philly, actually having a job and power and violence. The piece on body image was great and goes to show that hating one\’s body is not for women only.

    Kerbloom #26

    PMB 553

    5337 College Av.

    Oakland, CA 94618

    $20.00 a year

    Artnoose does a great zine. Hand done on letterpress in batches of 250. Always cool stories from Artnoose\’s\’ life. This issue is about a trip to New York. The cover is silk-screened on fabric. Way cool!


    Vol.1 #1 & #2

    PO Box 2671

    Gainsville, FL 32602-2671

    $1.00 each

    This is a well put together paper. Issue one has articles on Philly, Iraq sanctions, Shaka Sankofa and a history of the Black Liberation Army. Issue two has stuff on Prague, Yugoslavia, the Zapatistas and Mujeres Libres. Both issues focus on political prisoners and prisoners of war. There are a few problems, though. While supporting all prisoners is a good thing and supporting political prisoners is great, in a paper that calls itself anarchist they should rethink the weight they give to ABCF (Anarchist Black Cross Federation). There don\’t seem to be any anarchist prisoners ABCF supports. A letter in issue two from Robert Thaxton states clearly why @s should question support of ABCF. (Support the prisoners by all means!)

    The Black Clad Messenger #13


    PO Box 11331

    Eugene, OR 97440

    BCM Rocks! Those Eugene anarchists know how to put together an anarchist paper. Articles on Free and Critter, S26 in Prague and elsewhere, other direct action news and sustainable mini-farming. It also came with the newsletter of the Northwest Anarchist Prisoner support Network. Check it out.

    Green Anarchy #3

    PO Box 11331

    Eugene, OR 97440

    Another great paper out of Eugene. Articles on Prague, Melbourne, news of anti-GE actions and prisoner support info. Plus lots more.

    Disorderly Conduct

    Anarchist Action Collective

    PO Box 11331

    Eugene, OR 97440

    A cool zine that covers a lot of ground. Some of this was at the NAAC as single sheets. It is nice to see it all together. There is some history of May Day and the Paris commune, an intro to primitive anarchy and guerrilla gardening. Also,, a good piece on how to adopt a security culture so as to minimize police infiltration and a whole lot more.

    Clamor #5

    Become the media

    PO Box 1225

    Bowling Green, OH 43402

    Six issues $18.00

    This is a cool new zine that looks like a glossy magazine. OK, it is glossy but don\’t let that deter you. They print articles form a lot of different folks so there are many points of view here. Articles on traveling in Africa and Zagreb, Attica, the RNC in Philly and the DNC in LA. Much Much more.

    Warning: GM Trees Coming Soon to a Forest Near You

    The worldwide movement against genetically-modified organisms (GMO\’s) has mostly focused on food and animals, but there is a general lack of knowledge about the genetics, physiology, and ecology of most genetically-modified (GM) tree species. In addition to the unknown effects humans will experience from eating fruits from these trees, there could also be disastrous effects on both the newly-engineered tree species and their native ecosystems in the future. These questions have prompted many anti-GMO and pro-forest activists to turn their attention to transgenic foods and to question their sustainability.

    What used to be disdain for tree farms for their lack of aesthetics and clearcutting of hardwoods (resulting in \”value-added\” business) has become genetic fear. Trees are not just \”trees\” but a crop and GEO trees pose the risks of genetic pollution and toxicity to wildlife and a real threat to biodiversity. Genetic pollution from GEO plantation crops/trees threaten the stability of native ecosystems in a completely unpredictable, and potentially permanent way. Answers to questions about the threat they pose to biodiversity will not be known for generations.

    There are many similarities between the environmental threats posed by transgenic (GMO/GEO) trees and those for agricultural crops — genetic pollution, invasiveness, effects on biodiversity. There are six important issues which have been ignored:

    1) time and location factor, in that many tree farms are located in remote areas where constant vigilance against unanticipated problems is diffucult, if not impossible;

    2) crop trees are managed in the centres of origin or close to natural species, increasing cross-pollination risk;

    3) the effect transgenic trees will have on long-term site productivity;

    4) unlike agricultural crops, trees have not been subject to the same degree of domestication & research, and current knowledge regarding the biology and ecology of tree species is inadequate;

    5) the vast majority of current field trials only examine the direct effects of the manipulated traits.

    6) the environmental impact of accelarated growth or completely sterile trees are not considered.

    The (mad) scientists now are developing tree fruit engineered to provide medications to the poor and undernourished. As if working toward fundamental challenges to social injustice, the science industry and various \”development\” programs is not the answer to hunger. Correcting these deeply rooted problems of colonialism and capitalism with frankenfoods is supposed to be. GEO companies are now researching on sugar cane, coffee, bananas, papaya, kiwifruit and cocoa. What next?

    In 1999, agricultural economist Charles Benbrook defined \”sustainable agriculture\” according to the following conditions:

    • Provides a reasonable rate of return to farmers, to sustain farm families, agricultural infrastructure, and rural communities;
    • Assures a reasonable rate of return to public and private providers of farm inputs (seeds, fertilizers, etc), information, services, and technologies;
    • Preserves and regenerates soil, water, and biological resources upon which farming depends, and avoids adverse impacts on the natural environment;
    • Increases productivity and per-acre yields at least in step with the growth in demand;
    • Adheres to social norms and expectation in terms of fairness, equity, compliance with regulations, food safety, and ethical treatment of workers, animals, and other creatures that share agricultural landscapes.

    Many non-governmental organizations all over the world have called for a moratorium on the use or release of GMO\’s until more research has been done on their effects. Meanwhile, protests continue all over the world and more and more people are looking to certified organic products as safer and more sustainable.

    Increasingly serious economic surprises and setbacks for farmers are occurring because many emerging biotechnologies are more expensive to bring to market. Biotechnology results from mergers of seed companies and pesticide companies. As pesticide companies try to raise the profit margins of their new acquisitions, the cost of seed and chemicals will probably continue to rise for farmers. Genetically modified crops are requiring more herbicides than farmers were initially led to believe they would, thus driving up weed management costs. Traditionally farmers get reliable information from land grant colleges, but GMO crops are developed in secret by for-profit companies so farmers are privy to only a small amount of the info available on the crops.

    2nd DIY Conference In Berkeley

    Due to the great success of last year\’s Anarchist gathering that filled a need for free hands-on access to sustainable living/skills information, there will be a 2nd Skillshare Conference at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, April 19-22, 2001. Similar to last year, there will be three 2-hour workshop slots each day with half-hour breaks in between, and about 2 hours for lunch (provided), during which some short microworkshops and presentations can take place.

    Some confirmed workshops include: knifemaking, seedsaving, making clothes and shoes from salvaged materials, small-scale graywater treatment systems, capoeira, building pirate radio equipment, making and using stilts, bike powered washing machine and many more other delightful classes.

    Many volunteers are needed to make this event happen. If you can help out by working a couple volunteer shifts (food serving, cleanup, registration table, childcare, bike library/maintenance, shuttle drivers, and more) contact: Skillshare P.O. Box 4934, Berkeley CA 94704

    Porn Again Anarchists

    The following communiqué was received by Slingshot in a plain, unmarked brown wrapper.

    \”An Ark Hoe Pro-Duck-Tions\” wants you to get down and dirty for anarchism.

    That\’s right, the much anticipated anarchist porn project is forming. We need filthy writers, camera people and yes actors who aren\’t afraid to bare all to further the goals of anarchism.

    Writers: Can you write about your politics in a sexy way? Do you understand the connection between mutual aid and mutual masturbation? Bad dialogue is OK as long as we look sexy, for reels.

    Camera people: Can you say without laughing, \”Move the puppet, I need a close-up of penetration!\” Do you understand the difference between overhead lighting and spot (mood) lighting? Can you direct people without being overbearing and control freaky? \”You have to use a damn to tongue the bung!\”

    Actors: Do you really believe in anarchism? Do you feel a hot passion for living in a non hierarchical world? Can you become sexually aroused on cue? Class war porno can be provided. Are you game to put the hoe back in anarchoe?

    Here are story lines in the works, and some exciting ideas for scenes:

    1. \”Seattle Jail Solidarity\”, lots of same sex screen melting scenes. \”Watching a teamster and a turtle come together with the aid of an anarchist facilitator\”, \”not talking to the fuzz, but sharing of the deepest desires between prisoners\”, and \”the naughty legal aide\”.

    2. \”Black block of smoldering desire.\” Show what really happens in an affinity group. Need some help on this one. Potential plot lines: \”are we gonna break this window, or are we gonna fuck?\” \”First we are gonna break the window, then we\’re gonna fuck!\” \”After beating back the police all night, I just want to get beat off.\” \”Just try getting out of these restraints\”.

    3. \”I\’m next to speak\” The meeting video, showing how well our process works. The talking stick is a massive butt plug / dildo. This will cut down on redundant overbearing dom male speakers. This could be the heady theory based video, where everyone would have their moment to shine.

    4. The reenactments of anarchist sex lives, oh yes. Emma and Alex; Sac and Van; Noam, Murray and Zerzan the hottest 3 way ever; & of course the Wobblies in their One Big Union.

    You might think that this is a fantasy, or that we cannot hope to achieve these expectations. But, dear anarchist, I know that we can and will. This project is the culmination and real manifestation of all the symbolic and theoretical work that we all have done. This is our chance to become the media and lead the discussion. It will let the powers that be know that we are serious and will stop at nothing (not even under endowment) to achieve our goals. They cannot shame us into silence any more. Join us now!

    Contact the project, C/O Slingshot.

    From Demonstration to Organization

    A word of warning: The Battle of Seattle was a shining hour where grassroots activists were able to simultaneously deal a serious blow to global capitalism, and excite, mobilize and organize a lot of people. But now, after a year of national mega-gatherings organized in imitation of Seattle that haven\’t had the same huge payoff, we\’re in danger of losing momentum, if we haven\’t already. Mega-gatherings like Seattle are great and can end up organizing thousands of people, but such a result is far from guaranteed.

    It Is certain, however, that over the last year, many of our best organizers have abandoned anything you could call \”local\” organizing, in favor of traveling to a new city every few months hoping for another Seattle. Hopefully I\’m wrong, but it appears to me that over the last year, the level of awareness, activity and organization has been stagnant, or even declined, which is in sharp contract to what a lot of people expected after the boost we got from Seattle.

    Somehow, the Seattle moment isn\’t translating into a more balanced, organic, local resurgence in radical political activity. No matter how exciting and great mega-gatherings are, changing society requires a lot more than periodic uprisings. Contrary to our hopes, the gatherings haven\’t gotten bigger and bigger since Seattle, and perhaps that is a symptom of our failure to do more broad-based organizing.

    Instead, it seems like these post-Seattle protests have followed a formula around organizing, reaching out to the young and the white, but leaving behind a lot of other people. Organizing for a mega protest necessarily excludes a lot of regular folks with jobs and kids and lives who can\’t pick up for a week, go to a strange city, sleep on the floor, etc. etc. This is a big mistake. While its great when a mega-protest organizes folks \”by remote control\” through the media, what if the cops, the media, whatever, don\’t cooperate? Broad-based organizing is very slow, difficult, not always exciting, but will always be required to expand the social influence of anarchist/radical tendencies. We need to be about organizing on a mass scale, reaching out to unlikely allies, not just organizing those who already are organized. An anarchist scene with 5,000 members nationwide is a playpen, not a movement.

    What would broad-based organizing look like? I don\’t think any of us really know completely, or else it would be happening more. Here are a few ideas designed to encourage discussion, debate and reflection. I\’m not against continuing the focus on big international meetings (go to Quebec City in April, y\’all) but we need to do a lot more than just that.

    Randomized Outreach

    This is basically about being available to talk to \”regular folks\”-whoever they are. At a meeting to organize a Reclaim the Streets demo in Berkeley in solidarity with the Prague protests, we were discussing where to flyer. The protest against the National Association of Broadcasters. Check. Critical Mass. Check.

    But wait a minute, this is like preaching to the choir! I was at the NAB protest and everyone there was already involved in activist work. It was fun flyering my friends (or people I wish I could get to know) but this isn\’t really \”organizing\” or \”outreach\”, which in my mind is about more than just getting people who are already committed to put another event on their calendar.

    Someone mentioned flyering at UC Berkeley, but no one wanted to do it and it didn\’t get done. Flyering UC Berkeley wouldn\’t be reaching out to \”regular\” folks as much as standing in downtown Oakland would be, but it would have been a start. No one even mentioned the idea of flyering random folks in Oakland. I\’m not saying such an idea would work or would be a good use of resources, but there are opportunities to meet and politicize non-involved people that aren\’t considered often enough. We did hand out 1,000 flyers at a Berkeley city parade, and as far as I could tell, all of those flyers went to people completely outside our scene. We need to be careful not to assume that \”normal\” people aren\’t interested in changing the world or getting involved, and based on that assumption, not even try.

    The whole world is an opportunity for random outreach. Even more than stapling flyers to telephone poles (most people don\’t walk anymore) we ought to be picking places where people are, and become a presence. Sports games? Flea markets? Saying a few words at churches? Outside the grocery store?

    Random outreach is the most difficult, most threatening type of outreach, and because of that, we usually don\’t even try. If we\’re willing to get pepper sprayed and tear gassed, we ought to be willing to risk talking to those dreaded \”regular folks.\” It may not always be as effective as we would like, but it could reach people we would otherwise never meet.

    Recruiting through Struggle

    As mentioned above, the excitement of realizing that someone is protesting business as usual does organize folks. A lot of people hate the way things are-they hate their mindless jobs, they hate their loneliness and lack of community, they hate the ugliness and pollution around them-but they have no feeling of empowerment to change any of this. They feel totally defeated and powerless. (They hate their feeling of powerlessness, too.) Seeing or being part of struggle is a powerful antidote to this feeling of apathy. There ought to be more constant and visible images of protest, not just \”far away\” in Seattle, DC, Prague where those protesting are \”the other,\” but right in every community up close. The S26 protest in Berkeley injected new life and excitement into everyone who was part of it or who saw it. Certainly a valid method of outreach and organizing is organizing protests and action events.

    Working within Existing Movements /Organizations

    There are numerous opportunities to work with existing single issue organizations or campaigns and bring a non-hierarchical, anarchist perspective. A lot of people already do this kind of work (Mumia organizing is always in coalitions, etc.) and the question is how to promote anarchist values and not end up being silenced in the coalition.

    Issue Oriented Organizing

    Another possibility is to work harder starting our own community organizing projects around generally relevant issues, but injecting anarchist analysis and organizing tactics into the mix. For some reason, a lot more anarchists tend to work with groups controlled by others (liberals in reformist campaigns or Marxist groups on political prisoners, etc.) than just organize our own groups. Housing seems like an especially fertile ground for starting organizing campaigns, but police accountability, poverty, etc. etc. are all available. Again the problem is how not to get so caught up in the single issue that any of the larger issues are forgotten.

    A lot of organizing opportunities are available around work places and campuses. These social subgroups lend coherence and make it easier to reach out, because there is some basis of similarity to get conversations started.


    Since 1993, a few dozen Infoshops (reading rooms usually providing access to alternative information and resources) have come and gone around North America. Many activists have abandoned Infoshops because they didn\’t fulfill their purpose-that of community outreach. But rather than abandoning a form of outreach that has a lot of potential, future Infoshop projects (and existing ones) should learn from the mistakes of the last 7 years. Crucial to making Infoshops successful as community outreach is working much harder on outreach about the Infoshop. This sounds like circular logic, but it really isn\’t, since outreach about the existence of a place is a lot easier and less threatening than outreach about an alternative analysis of the world. Most Infoshops fall into the trap mentioned above by only reaching out to people already
    in the political scene and failing to provide anything to the much larger group of people in any community who may be vaguely dissatisfied with the state of urban industrial capitalism, but can\’t put their finger on why. Infoshops, if revitalized and made relevant and more open, are an excellent opportunity to outreach and spread anarchist ideas. Again, they can permit us to talk on a regular basis to \”regular folks.\”

    The Alternative Media

    Finally, we shouldn\’t forget the importance of growing our own media. Publishing and more importantly widely distributing alternative media can be an effective form of activism, because a lot of people can pick up and read new ideas even if you never meet or talk to a that person. A lot of media projects fall into the same traps listed above-just preaching to the converted by only distributing to people already involved. There need to be \”internal\” publications, radio shows, TV shows, internet site, etc., that we just distribute to ourselves, but we also need to emphasize producing \”external\” media which is written and designed to speak to people who aren\’t already totally absorbed with movement work. \”External\” publications or media put more emphasis on explaining ideas, rather than assuming a lot of pre-learned knowledge. For instance, don\’t assume everyone know s who Mumia is and what his case is about. Don\’t assume everyone knows what anarchism is about. Such publications or projects need to look attractive and relevant enough to get read, and then put out places where folks can find \’em.

    After Seattle, everyone in America knew one thing about the WTO: it was bad. Most people weren\’t even aware of the protests in LA and Philly. The police, expecting militant protest, were present in massive numbers and erected barriers (both physical and legal) to prevent protesters from threatening the conduct of the conventions themselves. The injustice and oppression of the mini-police states created to protect the conventions is legendary within the activist community, and unknown outside of it. Self-appointed \”organizers\” appeared afraid of militancy and didn\’t work to create situations where it could emerge. These gatherings, which required huge resources to organize and consumed thousands of people\’s vacation time, really pointed out the weakness of the last year\’s strategy of focusing energy on centralized, mega confrontations, in imitation of Seattle.

    The question is, if imitating Seattle is no longer working so well, what next?

    Orphans of the Living

    Every year, 200,000 teens in foster care \”age out.\” When they reach the age of eighteen, they lose assistance, and may be turned out onto the street with $50 and a couple of blankets.

    Many former foster children, often homeless as children, experience homelessness as adults. As a quasi-survivor of this naive social machinery, I found myself on the street from time to time during the last thirty years. No one could help me put the pieces back together. Most therapists have no idea how to help those who have lost their families of origin or grown up in the homes of strangers, whose main concern was the housing of the body.

    A network of former foster children is now being organized at the Berkeley Free Clinic by Michael Diehl and myself. The goals of the network are to help survivors of fosterage integrate the disconnected stages of development, better relate to our families of origin, and raise public awareness of the consequences of the foster system.

    The Berkeley Free Clinic will provide a free drop-in peer-support conversation on the second Thursday of each month, 7 to 9 pm, beginning November 9, 2000. The clinic is located at 2339 Durant St., Berkeley.