We are Contagious: a gift to those who desire social revolt

PSA. May 21:

Barcelona: March 29, 2012
London: March 26, 2011
Seattle: November 29 – December 2,1999
Paris: May, 1968
Cairo: January 28, 2011
Athens: December, 2008
Oakland: November 2, 2011

These are the days my dreams are made of.

**

After May Day, the internet was flooded with impassioned defenses of the black bloc. It was apparent that this all-too-brief rampage of destruction had reignited some previously dormant passion within the Puget Sound anarchist milieu. People who had glumly trudged through winter were more excited than I’d seen them in months. But what will happen now, after the “riot”?

Anarchists are perfectly capable of pulling together enough numbers to wreak a fair amount of havoc on any given evening. What was special about May Day wasn’t the black bloc, impressive as it was in its coordination and preparation. What was special was that the hundreds of people clustered around the black bloc probably had a good idea of exactly what was going to happen when the anti-capitalist march left Westlake…and they liked it. They stayed close the bloc anyway; a few even joined in on the fun. Others screamed in joy. Some, who only months ago might have tried to prevent the property destruction or would have later denounced it, simply smiled to themselves and moved on down the road. Perhaps most importantly, a fair number of these people will return to the streets, better prepared to act themselves. All of this happened despite the fact that the media and the police went into scare-mongering, black-baiting overdrive in the days before May 1st.

Some don’t consider this to be particularly significant or exciting. I do.

In what happened on May Day, I can see both the consequences of anarchist intervention within Seattle social struggles and clues to a course of action that could bring me closer to what I want more than anything: insurrection.

**

I’ve liked the sound of breaking glass all my life. When I was a kid, I’d shove beer bottles one by one into the giant recycling bins behind the grocery store, just to relish each tinkling crash. For a long time, I forgot how beautiful that sound was. Now I remember.

So please understand this: I am glad it happened.

But after one has experienced a few riots and crazy demonstrations, some much more intense than what erupted here on May 1st, the effect of the short, spectacular smash-up wears off a bit. Or maybe it’s just me, perpetually dissatisfied me, who desires so strongly a completely different world, one that will probably never exist, except in bits and pieces, here and there. I had really high hopes for May Day, and though I wasn’t quite disappointed, I am definitely left unsatisfied.

First, let’s get some things out of the way: I’m no combat-worn veteran of street battles, and I don’t have some inflated sense of my own strategic or tactical sense. I just want something more and I’m trying to figure out how to get it. Getting crazy in the streets with hundreds, or even thousands, of other people definitely is one of the most exhilarating and beautiful things I’ve ever done, every time I’ve done it. But it only satisfies me temporarily. That’s because it stops. People go home instead of building and defending barricades late into the night. I want never-turn-back full-scale social rebellion, a collective escape from this prison world, total freedom, and so much more.

I am therefore faced with the problem of creating a project whose immediate aim is destruction, which in turn creates space for the new.

**

There is no question that Seattle’s May Day black bloc was successful in showing (to some) that it is possible (and even desirable) to engage in targeted property destruction. The targets hit—with the exception of non-luxury vehicles—are already so widely hated that the message received (by some) was less “This bank/corporation/court sucks!” than it was “Look what we—and you, if you want—can do!” Even some of the people who hate anarchists and think the black bloc are a bunch of whiny rich kids with no brains are still sort of grudgingly impressed at what this mob of scofflaws was able to get away with.

This is great. But it would be foolish to take this success and not continue to adapt tactics to the changing terrain. Even worse would be to take this time to rest on our laurels. Circumstances might not be so fortunate next time—our enemies will not want this to happen again. That means we need to keep going.

The mayor, the cops, and the media all assure us that there will be arrests; they want very much for the rebellious to be afraid. I am not so worried that the fear of repression will keep people immobile. More than anything, I worry that now that the “big day” has passed, people will disappear again—that no one will move beyond this black bloc towards creating and nurturing the potential for bigger, better actions. This could, and probably will, include more black blocs. But it doesn’t have to. We must remember to adapt and to experiment with creative new forms and tactics.

I could go into the debate over black bloc vs. other potential tactics, but I’m really more interested in moving on to explore what steps to take next in what will probably be another period of low apparent conflict. I think we can draw a lot of inspiration from what went into making May Day 2012 possible in the first place.

**

Domination is a social relationship that is constantly occurring, not merely when we are at work or in school. Likewise, resistance to exploitation must have a constant presence, not just become a display that only rears its head at spectacular street demonstrations once a month. It is important to develop methods to connect these actions, to create a network of covert refusal by building bridges between islands of sedition to create a revolutionary community defined less by geography than by connection to subversion. – I’m Sick of This Shit: Notes on Revolt and Representation in Oakland and Elsewhere

Let’s say May Day was like an orgasm, one that took a lot of careful stimulation to bring about. If we want to have another one like it, we can’t just wait for it to happen on its own.

There are anarchists in this city who have taken very seriously the project of finding accomplices. They have intervened effectively in Occupy Seattle and related social struggles over the past several months through a day to day insurrectionary practice. And this has had results.

The first is a context that has altered slightly to our favor thanks to loads of propaganda, particularly Tides of Flame (nearly 10,000 copies of the paper have gone out over the past 10 months), the flyers and texts distributed at Occupy actions and at the camps, and the numerous May Day posters that were pasted up all around town by all sorts of people. Actions like nighttime bank-smashings have obviously also contributed hugely to the normalization and acceptance of targeted property destruction. It is important to remember the necessity of both above-ground and clandestine methods of spreading and encouraging sabotage, subversion, and attack.

The second result is a spreading anti-capitalist/anti-state network that can be tapped into for any number of useful purposes, including finding friends, comrades, and accomplices. Most of what remains of “Occupy Seattle” is this informal network based on bonds of shared affinity and solidarity. Its existence is partially thanks to anarchists’ (often antagonistic) participation in Occupy Seattle’s general assemblies and some anarchists’ willingness and desire to form relationships with people outside of our tiny social milieu, sometimes despite backlash from other anarchists. Surprise of surprises, our ideas actually do resonate with many people.

Not everyone is willing or able to be a social anarchist butterfly who speaks on panels, takes the people’s mic, participates in assemblies and action planning meetings, and communicates anarchist ideas on a face-to-face level. And that’s ok. But we need to recognize the value of this sort of public agitation and to truly appreciate our comrades who do it.

I bring all of this up to stress the point that what happened on May Day didn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, it’s been steadily building for over a year, stretching back to the anti-police protests of winter 2011, through Queers Fucking Queers, the emergence of Occupy Seattle, the encampments, the Chase 5 day, the building occupations, and, finally, the Port Shutdown. Glossing over the less glamorous aspects of what ultimately made May 1st so amazing obscures the complexity of Seattle’s social war and makes it more difficult to effectively precipitate future conflict.

For the record, it is obvious that many members of the black bloc themselves engaged in a lot of careful forethought and material preparation for May Day. But as I stated earlier… a well-planned smash-up is possible at almost any time. We’re anarchists, for fuck’s sake, this is the stuff we’re good at. Creating a situation where hundreds cheer while people smash the shit out of Niketown? That’s like something straight out of Barcelona or London… or Seattle ’99!

**

In a sense, anarchist intervention is the tightrope between living our own struggle in our daily lives and finding the ways to connect this struggle with the struggles of all the exploited most of whom do not share our conscious perspectives, a connection that is necessary if we are to move in the direction of social insurrection and revolution. A misstep in one direction turns our struggle in on itself, transforming it into an individual radical hedonism without any social relevance. A misstep in the other direction turns it into just another political party (whatever name one might give it to hide this fact) vying for control of social struggle. This is why we have to keep in mind that we are not seeking followers or adherents, but accomplices in the crime of freedom. – Autonomous Self-Organization and Anarchist Intervention

My intention in writing this piece was to encourage those who desire horizontally spreading rebellion against domination to consider reviewing their practices. I want people to ask themselves whether or not the things they do are contributing to what they themselves what to see happen. Just as May Day did not emerge from nowhere, the same will be true of any new rupture in the social peace. To maximize the potential for social revolt, we need to reflect on what has happened in Seattle within the past year, take lessons from elsewhere, and re-read some insurrectionary classics.

We are certainly dangerous to our enemies when we have shared dreams and every intention of making them real. We are even more dangerous when we have the relationships, methods, and means to go beyond intention and into action. It may be that we’ll never get what we want out of Seattle. But for now, here we are. And we really are contagious.

**

Concrete ideas for Seattle anarchists:

  • Create and maintain more antagonistic infrastructure.
  • Experiment with reclaiming and repurposing space, both indoor and out.
  • Without resorting to populism or watering-down our ideas, we need to continue creating and distributing texts that link recent events and shared personal struggles to fundamental anarchist critiques of domination in all of its forms.
  • Make more friends; make friends into accomplices.We’ve been given a neutral idea of friendship, understood as a pure affection with no consequences. But all affinity is affinity within a common truth. Every encounter is an encounter within a common affirmation, even the affirmation of destruction. No bonds are innocent in an age when holding onto something and refusing to let go usually leads to unemployment, where you have to lie to work, and you have to keep on working in order to continue lying… We have the whole of social space in which to find each other. We have everyday insubordination for showing our numbers and unmasking cowards. We have our hostility to this civilization for drawing lines of solidarity and of battle on a global scale. – The Coming Insurrection
  • Assess what resources you have access to—take stock, put them to use, scheme. There’s that old saying, “Anything is a weapon if you hold it the right way.”So many of us precarious workers earn our wages at establishments that, with a little creativity, can also serve as supply centers for other disillusioned laborers and unemployed people. Creating a network of people who either work in industries that enable them to pillage supplies or are simply adept thieves transforms workplaces from mere institutions of stolen time and energy into spaces of covert sedition. – I’m Tired of This Shit
  • Use and encourage forms of self-organization and decision-making that are informal, decentralized, and non-hierarchical, and that do not emphasize conformity but instead encourage diversity and autonomy.[A]utonomous self-organization is first of all the individual organizing his struggle against the conditions this world forces upon her on her own terms, finding the means necessary for carrying out that struggle. But among the means necessary are relations with other people, so autonomous self-organization is also a collective practice. But that collective practice is not based upon conforming individuals to an organization imposed on them, but rather on the development of relationships of mutuality between them in which they discover the areas of commonality in their struggles and need, affinity in their dreams and desires. One could say that autonomous self-organization is the development of a shared struggle based on mutuality for the full realization of each individual involved. – Autonomous Self-Organization and Anarchist Intervention
  • Be more creative, go further, choose surprising targets. Thanks to the Occupy movement, big banks are by now recognized as the exploitative institutions that they are. What other institutions deserve some closer attention?
  • Recognize opportunities for effective intervention when they arise and go for it. The ruling class and their lackeys in politics and law enforcement are constantly plotting new ways to further exploit us and rob us of our dignity. Their goal is to maximize both control and profit while minimizing the political and economic costs of fucking us over. New gentrification schemes, the spreading of surveillance, pacifying reforms, threats to what’s left of the wild: these are the fresh abuses and insults praised by the newspapers everyday. They are also the things people get upset about, but often feel powerless or afraid to confront in ways outside of the proper, legal channels. That doesn’t mean that the desire to do so is not already present.Anarchist intervention…attempts to expand the struggle beyond the circumscribed cause that provokes it, to point out, not just in words, but through action the connection of the specific problem at hand to the larger reality of the social order that surrounds us. This would include finding and exposing the commonalities between various struggles as well as the differences that can enhance a broader struggle of revolt. – Autonomous Self-Organization and Anarchist Intervention

Further reading:

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