Rejection and Difference I: ‘Centrists’ and ‘Children’

[As the dissertation work takes real shape, I find nuggets and sections like this that I can share without need to preface it with an entire history of everything]

In the final sections of Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism, Portwood-Stacer argues that questions about the effectiveness of prefigurative lifestyle politics (or any political action) can only be asked in relation to specific historical and spatial contexts. She is echoing Robin Kelley’s (1996) observation that “certain forms of resistance create their own limits,” and that these are “limits that can be understood only in specific historical and spatial contexts. It is hoped that this historical and spatial specificity can be achieved here through the application of scenes to the concrete reality of everyday life for today’s Punks and radicals in Philadelphia.

My project aims to explore a number of interrelated issues within this specified context. It asks after issues of power and privilege at work in the formation of prefigurative political identities and how this relates to the tendency for lifestyle practices to “become targets of self-righteous moralizing and other forms of social policing,” or what Laura Portwood-Stacer calls “politicking over lifestyle” (Portwood-Stacer 2013:9). Further, the project investigates how, in this case, such politicking can “fracture bonds of solidarity among activists who make different lifestyle choices,” with dual interest in fracturing within the scene itself and in relation to Occupy Philly, thus taking up Leach and Haunss’ call for research into the “negative effects scenes may have on movements ” (Leach and Haunss 2009:21).

Therefore, the project takes issues of solidarity and rupture as a means to approaching its empirical work, with the understanding that rupture or ‘distancing’ can occur in a variety of ways. Indeed, because identities “are constructed through, not outside, difference” and can “function as points of identification and attachment only because of their capacity to exclude, to leave out, to render ‘outside,’ abjected,” the project is interested not only individuals’ conscious rejection or dismissal of other groups or people, but also the rejection and difference embedded in the very formation of prefigurative political identities (Hall 2000:18).

Rejection and Difference I: ‘Centrists’ and ‘Children’

My first encounters with the rejection and difference work done by scene members in and around Occupy Philly (OP) were difficult to ignore. In fact, the high tension and strong emotions expressed in these moments were what inspired the focus on rejection and difference work in the first place. While it was easy to see the obvious points of contention between radical leftists and, say, the Ron Paul supporters who maintained a significant presence at OP, the divisions and distancing that occurred between prefigurers and more moderate leftists was surprising and, at times, entirely unexpected.

One example stands out in particular; the following passage is from my fieldnotes taken at a GA held in January of 2012:

Two middle-aged men brought a proposal to a sparsely attended GA asking if OP would support voter registration drives in Philadelphia, particularly in the poorer sections of the city where voter registration and turn-out is incredibly low. They were not asking for material support or even door-to-door help; he asked to use the OP logo on the voter registration materials. They ended their presentation by asking, “Is the GA going to vote in line with the interests of disenfranchisement?”  It is important note that Pennsylvania is at the center of a nationwide push to make voting more difficult through ID requirements other hurdles.

Scene members seem to outnumber other groups at the GA (plus they are all sitting together, on a bench in the back of a huge mostly empty room). Their response was overwhelmingly negative. They began ganging up on the presenters and accusing them of, among other things, ‘trying to trap people in a broken system,’ ‘using guilt to and shame to make us [the GA] do things,’ and ‘being Democratic Party operatives.’  This finger-pointing quickly escalated as one or two older, white Quakers commented that ‘people died to get the right to vote’ and were immediately met with middle-fingers and accusations of ‘classism,’ ‘racism,’ and ‘privilege’ by the bench full of scene members. The scene members, at this point, were standing on the bench, getting in people’s faces, and some were crying. I’ve written ‘everyone is being awful’ four times in a row in my scribbled notes.

I followed the two men who brought the proposal back into the hallway and encountered them telling the facilitator leading the GA, “We don’t care so much about the ‘no’ vote, but the disrespect we felt was ridiculous. We are two black men trying to raise political consciousness in poor black neighborhoods in this city and we were shouted down and accused of all kinds of things by a bunch of radical kids…I mean, they were acting like children.”

It was clear in this moment that the focus of the scene member’s ire was the act of voting as an element of formal, institutionalized politics. This was a message repeated across the Occupy movement; further, the movement’s resistance to engaging in formal politics (by supporting candidates or shaping clear demands into a platform) was frequent point of criticism of Occupy, as suggested by Pickerill and Kinsky’s observations. In later interviews and online discussions, many scene members (both those involved in OP and not) made it clear that they thought voting didn’t encourage people to ‘think for themselves,’ and only helped to ‘support’ and ‘justify’ a ‘corrupt’ and ‘evil’ political system.

However, when asked for examples of work OP was doing that did encourage people to ‘think for themselves,’ people found it difficult to specify anything beyond the basic existence of OP as a visible form of resistance. To be sure, the spectacle of OP certainly spoke to and encouraged some people to ‘think for themselves.’  But as reflection in the years following OP have revealed, it seems that for many Philadelphians, this message-via-presence wasn’t so clear for everyone.

While this position vis-à-vis formal politics is expected and manifested itself in interactions throughout OP (e.g. resistance to dialogue with city government, tensions with unions engaging with OP), what is most interesting for this project is the manner in which this political orientation was commonly expressed. This example highlights the deeply personal way in which prefigurative perspectives tended to be set against those of more mainstream leftists. One person’s suggestion that registering to vote might ‘help people start thinking critically about politics in ways that you [scene members] already do’ was met by shouting, jeering, and what can only be described as scene members ganging up and forcing this person into silence and, eventually, early exit from the GA.

Indeed, it is not hard to hear scene members’ statements about voting as something akin to: ‘I don’t vote because I’m smarter than that.’  In fact, in many situations, the ways in which individuals’ critical opinions about formal politics were presented in interactions with others were deeply imbued with condescension. Crucially, this condescension is intimately tied with notions of authenticity, the idea being that authentic radicals don’t vote. A deeper look into the scene helps us tease out these authenticity struggles from what looks like simple condescension.

T-minus 9 Months: Dissertation Organizational Rework and Focusing on ‘Scenes.’

9 months.  That’s how long I’m giving myself to have this baby.  I’ve been officially (i.e. via registration) working on this thing since the Fall of 2012, but it feels much longer.  In an effort to induce delivery, I have been easing into an increasingly rigorous writing schedule; I hope it works.

My return to a more structured writing schedule was initiated by a deep revisit and reworking of my dissertation’s structure/arrangement.  I think this produced a more logical  discussion and I think the new outline puts the focus more squarely on the real heart of the research: micro-level constructions of the political in and around social movements.

The problem all along has been how to incorporate discussions of how people reject or distance themselves from a movement (and/or a movement’s politics) within a discussion of the movement itself.  I think a key problem was that I was trying to hard to ‘stick to the movement.’  I had to bend over backwards in order to tell the story of everything that surrounds the movement because I was trying to do it from a discursive position inside the movement.  I found myself going through hoops of justifying the connection of the scene to the movement rather than simply allowing myself to speak to the scene directly.  I began thinking that by carefully filling in the details of the scene, the movement will arise (in some sense) in relief, a sort of negative space drawing of the movement.

My new organizational scheme, as I said above, strives to keep the focus on practices of Rejection and Difference, vis á vis Occupy, within Philly’s radical DIY ‘scene.’  The scene concept strives to capture a layered combination of spatial/physical and sociocultural networks, linked via a combination of radical-leftist political orientations and practices as well as a set of symbolic/cultural markers and practices drawn from the DIY-Punk subculture.  This object of study will be referred to here as Philadelphia’s ‘radical-DIY scene.’

The use of ‘scene’ here draws on Leach and Haunss’ (2009) initial development of this still very new concept.[1]  Broadly, scenes are meant to describe the social and spatial infrastructure that surrounds culturally-oriented movements or social and political struggles more generally. Following the lead of the concept’s creators, the project conceives of ‘scenes’ representing both networks of people who share “a common identity and a common set of subcultural or countercultural beliefs, values, norms, and convictions” as well as the networks of physical spaces where members of that group “are known to congregate” (Leach and Haunss 2009: 259).

Scenes might be thought of as something like Melucci’s ‘submerged networks’ (1985; 1989).  Since the social movement studies field began to give increased attention to movements’ efforts at “politicizing the institutions of civil society,” (i.e. so-called ‘cultural-minded’ movements), numerous scholars have turned their empirical focus to an intermediate sphere, “between ‘private’ pursuits and concerns, on the one side, and institutional, state-sanctioned modes of politics, on the other” (Offe 1985:820).  These spheres have been given various labels: ‘free spaces’ (Polletta 1999; Johnston 2005), ‘submerged networks’ (Melucci 1989), ‘oppositional subcultures’ (Johnston 1991), and more.  However, despite the fact that these spheres have received scholarly attention, as Leach and Haunss demonstrate, we still don’t know much about “their inner dynamics, the circumstances under which they arise, or their effect on social movement development” (Leach and Haunss 2009: 257).

That said, scenes differ from these sorts of concepts in a number of ways.  Take for example probably the most widely used concept mentioned above, Polletta’s ‘free spaces’ (cf. Polletta 1999); these are usually defined functionally (and tautologically) as ‘generative,’ ‘communicative,’ or ‘nurturing’ settings that are necessarily political and tied to movement mobilization.  Alternatively, scenes, as developed by Leach and Haunss are: (1) not necessarily political; (2) not necessarily attached to movements, and when they are, a scene is not reducible to the movement itself or to the organizations within it; and (3) where scenes are connected to a movement, the relationship between the two is not always beneficial for the movement (Leach and Haunss 2009:259).

My development of the concept makes one important modification to Leach and Haunss’ initial development. The authors suggest that, much like earlier ‘free spaces’ concepts, scenes have an assumed autonomy, that is, they are places “where group members are able to interact beyond the reach of oppressor groups” (Leach and Haunss 2009:258).  This project does not accept this assumed autonomy, if only because ‘oppressor groups’ as conceived of by Leach and Haunss seems to refer to somewhat obvious groups like the police with no further clarification on what these ‘groups’ are.  For example, while Philly’s radical-DIY scene may be beyond the reach of or be closed to ‘oppressor groups’ like the police, this is not the same as being beyond the reach of the very socially or culturally rooted systems of oppression these radicals understand themselves to be struggling against, for example the ‘intrusion’ of internalized racism or the replication of hierarchical (particularly gendered) social relations. Indeed, if this project is to remain open to examining how scenes may not always be beneficial for movements, this assumed or ideally conceived autonomy must be open for critical investigation.

There is also an important difference in this project’s approach to ‘scenes’ that relates to the case that Leach and Haunss use in their initial development of the concept – the German autonomous movement.  The authors approach the scene associated with this movement as having developed around the movement, which makes it difficult to distinguish between the scene and the movement.  The case at hand is quite different.  First, Philly’s radical-DIY scene existed prior to the OP emergence, and though it was of course altered by the OP ‘moment,’ the scene’s preexistence sets up the potential for a very different perspective on scene-movement relationship than that seen in the German case.  Second, and relatedly, while there was certainly a strong strain of the radical-DIY scene’s prefigurative political orientation in OP, and in the OM more generally, what is perhaps most interesting about the Occupy case is that this radical political orientation encountered many other political orientations in OP contexts.

Thus, in the interest of answering Leach and Haunss’ call for more insight into ‘negative effects scenes may have on movements,’ it is hoped that these OP encounters will offer insight into issues the German case makes it difficult to see; for example: when and how does a scene (or subscene) develop a political agenda, or, put differently, how and when does a political agenda develop within a scene; how and when does this agenda produce the sort of ‘active’ politics that lead to the initiation of or participation in collective organizing and mobilizing activity; how does this agenda compare and interact with others in the context of a broad-based movement like OP; and, what are the conditions and dynamics of movement ingress and egress for scene members.  Thus, the dimension of ‘encounter’ in scene members’ OP involvement is expected to allow for a more through consideration of scenes’ ‘negative effects’ on movements than the German case offers.

So, where I am at now, and what you will likely see more of on this blog, is efforts to work out the subtle specifications of the universe of Rejection and Difference within the scene that surrounded Occupy.  A pathological analogy might be that I would be looking at the scene’s antibodies and white blood-cells that formed around the edges of Occupy.  While there was plenty of scene participation within Occupy, there was also plenty of non-participation.  And with a scene so intimate tied to not only radical political ideals but also a movement history that is the very ancestor of Occupy, these forms and mechanisms of non-participation can be approached as important sites for gaining a better understanding of micromobilization processes, internal movement dynamics, and perhaps most importantly, these are important places to attempt to gain some deeper analytic perspective on the radical politics espoused in both scene and movement.

 

I hope this is a relatively painless birthing experience…

 


[1] To date, there are only two systematic studies of scenes: Hitzler, Bucher, and Niederbacher 2001; Leach and Haunss 2009.

Jaco(has)bin

 

Occupy Anti-Politics | Jacobin

The link above is to an article in Jacobin Magazine titled ‘Occupy’s Anti-Politics.’  In it, author Shawn Gude attempts to connect that apparent ‘failure’ of the Occupy movement with Occupy activists’ aversion to what he calls “acting politically,” arguing:

[C]ommunity is important. Occupiers were wrong, however, when they viewed it as a resounding step towards a more egalitarian, just society.

Politically, Occupy accomplished little because we were often too wary of acting politically, of making demands on the political system, of acknowledging conflict and structuring our movement accordingly. Many in the movement thought structure carried the patina of the establishment, that demand making would simply serve to legitimize the malevolent state. So we got an amorphous, highly decentralized movement that, after a miraculous flourish in its embryonic stages, tapered off.

…Even for those who find the state of American politics repulsive (and I, emphatically, do) the principle, the idea, of politics and the democratic process must be defended. Jaundiced resignation redounds to the benefit of the Right. They relish anti-political cynicism. They oppose concerted collective action, so they harness the sentiment to subvert politics itself. They adopt a sort of aloof, cooler-than-thou detachment from the political arena, a pernicious posture that ineluctably elevates apathy and inaction to the status of beau ideal.

…Acting politically means confronting power, not side-stepping it. It means reshaping existing institutions, not just building alternative ones. It means directly and indirectly engaging the state, not cocooning oneself from it.

First, there is the irony of an article supporting engagement with established political institutions being published in an magazine called Jacobin, which prides itself on being “hostile to liberal accomodationalism.”  But let’s not get into petty shit.

There is something larger that this article helps to highlight.  Gude is responding, and largely mimicking  an Thomas Frank article that similarly bemoans Occupy’s supposed lack of ‘acting politically;’ he argues that where most (especially academic) coverage asks what made Occupy so successful  we should instead ask:

Why did this effort fail? How did OWS blow all the promise of its early days? Why do even the most popular efforts of the Left come to be mired in a gluey swamp of academic talk and pointless antihierarchical posturing?

What I find interesting about this position, which is equally common as the celebratory accounts, is that it elevates and reifies ‘acting politically’ in the same way that they claim Occupiers have ‘fetishized feelings.’  This argument criticizes Occupy’s (and other/previous movements’) rhetorical/ideological celebration of prefigurative politics, of community building through mutual aid, of ‘being the change you want to see.’  In doing so, authors who follow this line of argument often just come off sounding grumpy.

It’s important to make clear that the defense of ‘acting politically  is often  pretty vague   It focuses on Occupy’s appranat lack of impact as evidence that it ‘needed to do more.’  What ‘doing more’ by ‘acting politically   means is  rarely specified; usually it signifies a collection of ideas and practices that say more about the author than any essential qualities of ‘democracy’ or ideal tactical choices. ,’

In fact it usually just seems to mean voting, or supporting people to vote for. It signifies a resigned politics of the old Left..literally old.  The tendency to view the world in a way that valorizes ones historical experience: ‘the greatest generation ‘the radical 60s and 70s.’  But the source of Occupy’s ‘antipolitics’ is born out in the history of movement of the 60s/70s: a path of institutionalization that raises important questions about ‘acting politically,’ questions that cannot be addressed with general talk like:

Even for those who find the state of American politics repulsive (and I, emphatically, do) the principle, the idea, of politics and the democratic process must be defended.

What does this mean?  What is detestable and what must be defended?  I might even argue that part of Occupy’s story is a frustration with this conundrum: deadlock and powerlessness.

Instead he says that what prefiguration and ‘community’ avoid is the brave recognition of conflict and compromise that ‘acting politically entails.’  Yet, in my experience, those Occupiers who most avoided conflict were those pushing for engagement with institutional politics, and they started leaving early.  As soon as things ot messy, out came the calls to “get back to work” and move on to a campaign.

But is this not politics?  What is political?  this is not philosophical bullshit im asking. what do you mean?

And here is a crucial issue.  And it pivots.

We can also ask of community/prefiguration: aren’t communities embedded in a wide and diverse set of social contexts, in which electoral, party, institutionalized poltics figure heavily?

To the Pennsylvanians: if corbett could have not been elected, perhaps through organizing around voting or if strategic voting weren’t so distasteful to white male anarchos, there might have been fewer fracking permits, fewer ruined watersheds?

Arg!

Anyway, the Jacobin stiff: What is even stranger about this whole (and again common) argument is the implicit suggestion that celebration, prefiguration, and community are not involved in the creation of a more egalitarian society.  I am not arguing for these ideas here, but simply against the factual basis on which tthis line rests, and the fact that it seems to presume to know everything.

Indeed and  besides, Jacobin’s own intro about obama signs is precisely the point.  movements are not controllled. it may be appropriateion, but there are more people involved in social change than activists and their critics.

 

 

Proper Falling Technique: Are GOP Intellectuals and Strategists Only Focused on Losing the Right Way?

The other day a friend planted a bug in my ear.  We were rambling, and they slurred: “it’s like the gop has given up, what if they just lost on purpose, like flame out.”

At that time we laughed and then moved on to a movie or some such.  But I can’t stop think about it.  More specifically, if gop intellectual heavyweights knew the chances of a presindential win were slim, might they choose to spend their time and energy in a more productive way?  What is to be won in a lost presidental campaign?

What if:

Following the 2010 Congressional success, gop thinkers begin filling their dance cards for presidential candidates.  There are few obvious contenders.  Given the ‘tea party’ take over in 2010,  Mike Huackabee was a pretty good choice.  The tea party, if we include its life course through the cooption by electoral politics, was the product of the financial collapse and ‘dislike’ for President Obama.  To be clear, American racism is a significant factor here; while the economic critique of tea party collective action was formidible (many intellectuals, widespread knowledge of facts), it was it’s encounter with racism, subsequent stoking with funds from established poltical forces, all working against a single figurehead/individual and the embodiment of ‘all that is wrong’…it was this that gave any economic critique legs.

So Mike Huckabee has an awful radio show and sucks.  So, tes-party, Mick Huckabee…seems like a good fit.  But Mike wont run.  Fuuuuuccck.  Well, try again later and lets see the rest of the field?

romeny, cain, bachman, etc.  wow.

the GOP thinks bide their time.  cain doesn’t get handlers, santorum is lifted only to be abandoned…romeny has the cash to stick it out.

“We are going to lose” they say to each other.  Weeks of rethinking and rearranging.  Romney cant win, or at least is not worth it.  So change strategy.  Here’s what we’ve seen:

Introduce Rubio and Ryan, Christie and let Jebb Bush in the back door.  Stoked emotions like resentment and bitterness, which keep over time.  Finally, they’ve promote a handful of issues that can be swept up in a future platform/campaing of ‘states rights.’   What is this is a controlled stall, and we can glimpse possible trajectories for the future.  A vitriolic campaign platform of state’s rights and ‘individual liberty,’ weilding reproductive rights, environmental regulation (nebraska fracking in speech), and religious ‘freedom’ cases opening the door to things like prayer in school, as Ryan recently suggested.

Occupy occupy occupy

Are we doing something?

There is endless journalistic ‘coverage’ of occupy: fawing (link), possessive (link, blah), exploitative, etc.  There is also a bloom in the life of the academic field of social movement theory.  I’m willing to bet $100 that social movement theory journals have seensubmission rates the likes of which haven’t been seen since seattle99.

Yet, there is something worrying in the tones across the board.

As a movement, the approximate cannon approaches occupy with tools that are biased toward a particular rationality: liberal democratic governance.  The notion of seeking rights and recognition encounters the lived realities of imagined communities, seeking expansion and realization.  The term movement is limiting in itself.

Are movements marches, demonstrations, or riots?

Are movements media time/spotlight?

Are movements facebook or twitter activity?

Are movements the same thing as change?

Perhaps, are movements simply the cresting waves in tides of social changeNetworks form like flotsam: relationships and coalitions.

Is the US Government Preparing for the Possibility of a Large-scale, Federal Crackdown on Dissent?

Despite an apparent media blackout, the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act has managed to capture widespread attention across the country.  While the NDAA itself has been repeatedly enacted over the last 48 years, amendments made to the current proposal effectively redefine the US homeland as a “battlefield” in the war on terror and would authorize the military apprehension of US citizens and their detainment for life.  Further, this could be done with allowing access to a trial or attorney.

 

Obviously this has garnered a lot of criticism and Obama has stated he may veto these amendments.  That said, Glen Greenwald notes that these amendments do not actually change existing practices, but moves to codify them.  I find this an even more frightening scenario, particularly when we look at the recent history of the US government’s use of anti-terror laws against US citizens.

 

Indeed, the codification of existing practices seems like a final step rather than the beginning of a new approach to silencing dissent.  In fact, if we look at the use of terror laws against ELF and ALF activists in the mid-2000s, the subsequent 2007 passage of H.R. 1955, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Bill, and the recent passage of the NDAA, what emerges could be interpreted as an escalating use and flexibility of anti-terror laws in the prosecution of American citizens.

 

Operation Backfire

In December of 2005 and January 2006, the FBI indicted 11 people on charges of “arson and destruction of an energy facility” as part of their alleged participation in “a campaign of domestic terrorism in five western states on behalf of the extremist Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) movements” (USDOJ 2006). These arrests marked the culmination of year-long, multiagency investigation into the ELF and the ALF, dubbed ‘Operation Backfire’ (FBI 2006). In February of 2006, five more activists were arrested, in two separate investigations, on similar charges; these arrests are assumed to be extensions of Operation Backfire (AGR 2006).

In May of 2007, federal prosecutors successfully convinced Judge Ann Aiken to add Terrorism Enhancements (TE) to all but two of the original 11 Operation Backfire defendants. While these ‘enhancements’ could have added up to twenty years to prison sentences, all sentences handed down thus far have been under 12 years, in line with the original, pre-TE sentencing recommendations (GITNR 2007).

The question, then, is why fight in court to add the word terrorist if you are not seeking tougher penalties?  One logical conclusion would be that federal prosecutors were attempting to establish a legal precedent to build upon later.

Indeed, a short time later, in October of 2007,  the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1955, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Bill. This bill has draw sharp criticism for its vague language, dubbed the Thought Crime Prevention Bill. It defines violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and ideological violence as follows:

VIOLENT RADICALIZATION- The term `violent radicalization’ means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.

HOMEGROWN TERRORISM- The term `homegrown terrorism’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

IDEOLOGICALLY BASED VIOLENCE- The term `ideologically based violence’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs.

 

NDAA

Turning to the recent passage of the NDAA, the immediate reaction of many Americans may be, “But I am not a terrorist.”  However, this is irrelevant.  What matters is if the US government decides you are a terrorist.  In the past week, a document leaked from the police department of the City of London shows the Occupy movement listed as a terrorist group.  There is no justification, it is simply a matter of framing.  It is this easy.

I am not sure what to make of this picture as a whole, other than to feel scared.  There are other examples of the use these and similar against Americans.  Further, the US government has wrongly accused individuals of terrorist practices in the past. Add to this t

What I see is the free wielding of the ‘terror’ label to intimidate American citizens.  Add to this picture the NDAA passage.  Add to this the involvement of DHS and the FBI in coordianted crackdowns on occupations.  Finally, consider the Pentagon’s offer of free military weaponry to US police departments the militarization of US police departments by the federal govenrment, and, well…intimidation may soon grow legs.

 

Cited:

AGR. 2006. “Asheville Global Report: Eleven indicted for ELF/ALF sabotage” 12 December 2007 <http://mambo.agrnews.rack2.purplecat.net/?section=archives&cat_id=11&arti cle_id=196>.

DOJ. 2006. “#06-030: 01-20-06 Eleven Defendants Indicted on Domestic Terrorism Charges.” 12 December 2007 <http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2006/January/06_crm_030.html>.

FBI. 2006. “Federal Bureau of Investigation – Major Executive Speeches – January 20, 2006.” 12 December 2007 <http://www.fbi.gov/pressrel/speeches/mueller012006.htm>.

GITNR. 2007. “Green Is The New Red.com » Blog Archive » Government Seeks “Terrorism Enhancement” for Environmental Activists.” 12 December 2007 <http://www.greenisthe newred.com/blog/2007/05/11/terrorism-enhancement-hearing/>.

 

 

Black bloc, oakland, and the debates that watch us tear out our own intestines.

Someone asked me about the use of black bloc tactics during the november 2nd oakland events.
To me, the question of the ‘validiity’ or potential ‘damage’ done to movements by such behavior is almost logically incoherent. It is a conflation in terms.
My perspective is that the ‘tactical-ness,’ or even the ‘validity’ of black bloc action is entirely malleable and dependent on the situation.  sometimes black bloc is VERY important for group cohesion, organizational solidarity, long-term movement solidarity, and the all-important venue for expression, something akin to personal solidarity i guess.
In oakland, as I see it, everything denounced as “Black Bloc Violence” is actually the form of violence that would inevitably arise from this movement.  Here, black bloc becomes truly tactical, because it becomes a ‘toolkit’ of methods and accumulated knowledge.  The oakland actions drew on the history of direct action (lessons, models, etc.), but their expression was particular to the situation.  The building that people attempted to occupy was a beautiful choice; symbolic yet logically and empirically consistent with the current framing of movement ‘demands.’  The use of dumpster fires was stated to be effective against tear gas; the mere statement and its quotation in the press…again, tactical black bloc.
the notion of black bloc really needs to lose its value-laden representation as an ideological postion, which is in turn set against the realms/groups/worlds of pocketbook-activism or against the ‘passivity of the left.’  I don’t disagree with these evaluations; however, black bloc should rise above the silly rhetoric that can flower around it. black bloc is about doing, application, and implementation; black bloc is just as ‘tactical’ as voting, petitioning, or legal action.  Rather than attempting to ‘take-it-to-the-next-level’ for no particular reason and/or without thought to the myriad possible outcomes, when black bloc organizing focuses on the war rather than the battle, the careful use of black bloc methods stands to become the quiver that holds the tools of this 21st-century uprising.

Let’s share occupation experiences, Wall Street and beyond.

Hi everyone! I have tried to get this out to as many people as possible, I hope it worked.

I was set on traveling to NYC tomorrow (wednesday) for the wall street occupation related rallies. That is, until tonight’s second occupation general assembly (GA) meeting in Philadelphia. It was held in a beautiful methodist church, (one of the oldest structures in the city); with a capacity of 900, and people in the aisles, choir area and alter, there were easily over 1000 in attendance.

The democratic process shined, and this huge group came to a consensus decision about place, date and time for occupation. In this city, I have never seen such behavior on this scale.

At first, I was torn between witnessing the events in NYC or staying in Philadelphia. Then I realized…

There are all of us. Tonight, at the GA, within the media/communications working group, a subcommittee of academic outreach was formed. What if we pooled our experiences, shared our observations and ideas? The academic skills that have buried millions in debt can be very powerful. Reflection is invaluable.

I propose that we form some sort of central hub for collecting our experiences. dispersed team ethnography. something.

Where can we locate this hub? I have a website and server space (www.warofposition.com). I volunteer to receive “submissions” (no one will be turned away, REGARDLESS OF POSITION OR POLITICS), and post them.

OTHER IDEAS?

What do you see/think/feel?

EMAIL POSTS HERE: ecolinr@warofposition.com
or
Post in the comments section of this thread…

Economic ‘Crisis’ and the Development of an Historic Bloc

It occurred to me after rereading the last post on the lack of clear message coming from the London G20 resisters that I might have come across as overly critical.

I always tried to avoid is precisely the position of critic, that is, a removed actor poking holes in the actions of others with no particular goal other than poking holes. That entry was aimed at those who walked off of the streets of London and felt something lacking, or something was missed. Here I want to clarify that post as well as build on its message.  Let me explain my thinking. I argued below that an historic moment was being missed with this G20 meeting. The global economic crises, primarily a crises for the wealthy, have provided the seedbed for frequent, public and relatively detailed discourse about the interplay of economics, society and politics. The discourse is wide-ranging. From the Left, there is a resurgence of articles and books with the word ‘socialism’ in the title as the old guard tries one last time to slap their name on something. On the right, the crises have sparked deep reevaluations of conservative politics, moving away from a more or less universal support of American-style capitalism. For everything in between, the discourse draws on both of these elements, producing a vague sense of ‘rupture’ or instability.

What this amounts to is not necessarily a crisis of capitalism but a crisis of capitalism’s hegemony, that is, capitalism’s ability to create in people certain modes of behaviour and expectations consistent with the hegemonic social order. In modern liberal democracies, direct confrontation (armed uprising, general strike, etc.) will not threaten the dominant groups so long as their credibility and authority is firmly supported by this hegemony. However, crises in the material world such as those we have seen recently have the ability to weaken this hegemony. As the messages become less convincing and actors begin to shy away from those practices that previously reenforced late capitalist ideologies, their ability and willingness to listen to other messages grows.  It is based upon this thinking that I argued that G20 resistance suffered from its lack of a clear message.

Of course, I don’t want to overstate the potential of the situation. The weakening of hegemony is complex and, in many ways, relative.  I by no means believe that simply having a clear message will turn the average American watching demonstrations at home into an anti-capitalist. Instead, there should be two incremental goals of such a message: 1) to encourage solidarity and 2) to further undermine hegemony.  I emphasize incremental goals here.

First, solidarity. The aim here should be to make very clear the framework within which on-street protest takes place. Smashed bank windows can carry a great deal more power when linked to a wider message. It is far to easy to come across as cranky children rather than clear-headed thinkers with concrete visions.  Second, further undermine hegemony. The goal here is to develop and disseminate discourse that offers sympathetic viewers the tools to conceive of different modes of life. The aim to to create antagonism where there currently is none. The difficulty with fighting relations of subordination within hegemony is that the subordinator and subordinated are necessarily presented as the same, that is, the subordinated are absorbed in the system so as to mask their externality to the relations to which they are subjected. A clear message accompanying on-the-street action can serve to drive wedges and construct this externality and antagonism. Once the subordinated are no longer considered ‘absorbed,’ once there is a relationship of antagonism and a recognition of externality between groups, a snowball effect may occur. Armed with the language of an alternative discourse, anyone becomes capable of describing (to themselves most importantly) the relations of subordination and oppression.

This may seem scattered and I want to offer three phrases develop by Laclau and Mouffe: ‘relations of subordination,’ ‘relation of oppression’ and ‘relation of domination.’ A relation of subordination is that where an agent is subjected the the decisions of another (i.e. employee/employer). Relations of oppression move one step further; they are relations of subordination which have been altered into sites of antagonism. That is, the masking and absorption have been countered to the point that the externality of subordinator and subordinated serve as a front of antagonism. Finally, relations of domination are those relations of dubordination which can be concieved as illegitimate by a social agent external to them; for example, the category ‘serf’ does not define itself as antagonistic except within a discursive arena that includes the notion of ‘the rights inherent to every human being.’

So, again, the goal here is to establish a discursive arena that capitalizes on the material crises, is accessible to large numbers of people and serves to develop the discursive formation that can create antagonism within relations of subordination, draw lines and create a language that allows people to give voice to their oppression

London G20

Aside from the London riot police’s manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson, who may have been simply trying to get home from his downtown job, last week’s demonstrations surrounding the G20 meeting were, in terms of raw events, nothing particularly new. (A nice timeline of events and collection of photos and video can be found at Indymedia London here.) This is not to say that protester’s efforts were in vain or insignificant, only that the mechanics were familiar – smashed bank windows on the street and workshops in the Climate Camp. Unfortunately, these familiar actions failed to take advantage of the unfamiliar backdrop.

Until recently, these meetings were buttressed and sheltered by booming economies and a great deal of financial security among attendants’ home populations. Previous demonstrations were pressed to draw from the far off frontiers of unchecked capitalist expansionism to paint their picture of the pain, damage and lunacy of late capitalism; the most telling and powerful stories came from third world factories and destroyed wilderness. However, the populations of the world’s wealthiest nations were comfortable. First world economies were strong, the people rich in consumer goods and, in many ways, deaf to the notion that the system was sick. For many, the solutions to these problems was simply tighter regulation and better enforcement.

The backdrop of this meeting, however, is quite different. Not only have the ‘problems’ worsened (i.e. ecological damage, workers’ rights, etc.), but the cracks in the system have begun to widen to a point where even the wealthiest populations cannot ignore it. Even the casual, suburban American observer can see that there is something fundamentally wrong, that things aren’t adding up properly, that the basic logic of it all is, at the very least, shaky.  Regrettably, this unique situation was not met with an equally unique response. Buildings were occupied, people marched and the police flexed their muscle. What was missing was a clear message, a narrative for those at home to connect the dots with smashed windows, the work of the Climate Camp and anti-capitalist thought. Instead, the police and capitalist hegemony were free to develop their own picture in the press. For example, the Financial Times printed a bizarre and mocking article by Robert Shrimsley, a faux ‘performance review’ for anti-capitalists. He writes:

Right, well, let’s just have a look at your Key Performance Indicators for last year. I see from our website’s statement of aims that you were set three targets for the year. One: organise a carnival party at the Bank of England; two: plan events demonstrating against the G20 during the meltdown period; and three: overthrow capitalism. So how do you think you’ve done? Hm. Well I think we have to give you number one and we can put a big old tick against number two. But I’m afraid that on number three we have fallen short. That does, of course, mean that sadly your bonus this year will pay out at only 66 per cent….One last thing, we’ve been talking to image consultants who feel we need a brand refresh so we’ll be putting an umlaut over the 0 in G20 in all future literature.

Similarly, the absence of a coherent message to frame protester ‘violence’ leaves it in the realm of chaos, allowing the police to confuse their manslaughter with questions of wether Ian Tomlinson was a protester or just trying to get home. It should not matter, a man was killed, but the image of unfocused, violent masses bought the police some time in the shadow of ‘understandable confusion.’  The heightened public awareness of structural volatility may be slight, but it is not to be taken lightly. It is an historical moment.