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Commentary :: Organizing : Politics
anarchists, the left, and saturday's demo
06 Dec 2004
Modified: 02:31:10 PM
overall, it was a good time. this is important. there has been some feuding, disappointment, misplaced congratulations and other drama. this critique is based on my own opinions and observations as well as conversations with other participants in the anti-authoritarian contingent and breakaway.
let's start where my first face-to-face involvement with all this began: last sunday, at an organizing meeting of the loose coalition of campus groups who put together the rally and march. at this point, there was no permit, nor apparently any clear prospect of one. some people suggested the appointment of marshalls to force demonstrators to stay on the sidewalk (in case the cops didn't do a good enough job). after some debate it was agreed that this would be silly if we had sufficient numbers to take the street unchallenged, and that we should all just play it by ear. this would be aided by the use of a police liason, who would relay communications from the police to the crowd, but was not empowered to tell anyone what to do.

apparently, this decision came up for review at another meeting friday night, and was postponed further to a spokescouncil meeting to take place the next day before the rally at one. this never happened. apparently, the march also obtained a permit to march a whopping five blocks straight to copley for another rally. this information was not widely disseminated.

around the time zinn finished speaking, somehow word rapidly circulated among the drum-and-banner-armed AA contingent that we had been asked by the central coalition organizers to lead the march to copley. maybe we should have checked up on that, but i think most of us assumed that this meant there was no permit, and they were asking us to go in front because we're brave or crazy or whatever. we were more than happy to oblige. in recent years, protests of similar size have repeatedly taken the streets without a permit in boston, with minimal police harassment, snaking through downtown commercial zones. we were especially excited at the prospect of all the holiday shoppers on newbury st being forced to contemplate the horrors being visited on the middle east in their name while they placidly consumed.

so off we went, and pretty soon after hitting the streets our "police liason", who apparently appointed theirself a marshall despite the last standing decision against such a role (and was joined by one other student organizer), started yelling at everyon to go to copley, that we had a permit to copley. this was confusing, we were expecting to have a snake march through back bay and downtown, we had just stood through an hour and a half long rally and it really seemed that everyone, as in all 400 of us, was excited to be out in the streets. there were only about 5 cops at this point, and this number remained constant til the very end.

upon reaching copley, about half the marchers at least wanted to keep going, and proceeded to do so with rather half-hearted police interference. however, the police were able to get the two socialist organizers to do what they were unable to, which was terrify a lot of the marchers by screaming at them that they would be arrested unless they went into copley square. of course, this was nonsense, as mentioned earlier there were 5 cops and 400 marchers, and protests have often taken the streets in boston without problem. it would seem that the biggest problem here was the fact that there actually was a permitted route, which almost no one had even known about but which the police were attempting to hold us all to.

to make a long story short... some marchers proceeded to have another rally in that big empty fountain in copley, below street level so that cars thirty feet away on boylston st could not even see most of them, where they heard from yet more speakers about why the war they were already out protesting was bad. many people started to leave out of cold, frustration, boredom and fear. attempting to reinject some life into the flagging demonstration, a group of around 60 anarchists, palestinian solidarity activists and another announced that they were retaking the streets, and proceeded to loop around back bay, scuffling occasionally with cops but avoiding any arrests or injuries til we returned to copley, where the second rally had already fizzled away.

the globe and herald both referred to the breakawy march, with the herald placing such heavy emphasis on it that it seemed they might have not covered the whole event at all otherwise. they also refered to repeated instances of the police's violent behavior towards marchers, in the most protest-sympathetic herald article i've ever read, as well as featuring a few great quotes from our side.

today at the reportback meeting of the student groups' coalition, i saw socialist speaker after socialist speaker pat themselves on the back about how good the turnout was, and how they were really "building the movement", and just what a fabulous rally it was. i blinked; were they at a different protest? because the one i was at was short and barely noticed by anyone until a motley crew of rebels took the streets, permits and schedules be damned, and went where we pleased. for this, they scolded us. apparently it was "undemocratic" of us to not follow the permitted route we weren't even told existed, and more important to "build the movement" by standing in a big hole in the ground then to take to the streets in protest.

but four hundred people turned out! and we flyered a lot! and signed up people for our mailing list! and sold newspapers! and BUILT THE MOVEMENT!

and there you have the essence of the so-called schism. they want to "build a movement" and we want to stop a war. they want to appear legit and play nice with the cops, and we want to go out into the city and make a complacent society listen to our outrage. this was reflected not only in their manipulative, fearmongering, authoritarian behavior in the streets, but in the meeting where they attempted to force a majoritarian decision-making process into the coalition's framework, apparently setting it up to become yet another marxist front group. fortunately, there were enough A-types present to hotly debate the issue, and to point out how undemocratic majoritarianism really is. still, there were signs that many of the leftists involved hope to turn this new alignment of campus antiwar groups into a hierarchical group expressing sectarian socialist political lines.

many of us believe that this coalition is valuable as a space for student and youth led groups to interact on the common ground of our opposition to the war. also, there are a number of people involved who are clearly not yet aligned to any dogmatic, authoritarian leftist group. it is unfair that an organization worked on by people of so many different political persuasions is being primed for a takeover by one sect. so, basically, i think it's safe to say that most of the dozen or so As at tonight's meeting feel that we can and should continue to work with this coalition. it may involve some compromises, but the alternative is to bail en masse, and let it turn into a socialist circle jerk which will then inevitably collapse under its own boredom. for their part, the dedicated leftists seem to be glad of the energy and momentum we bringing to organizing and events, but don't understand that depriving our actions of autonomy and spontaneity would just kill it all. it may be hard but we don't have to let it be that way. we can demonstrate through the effectiveness of our way of doing things that it really isnt such a bad way of doing things after all. and hopefully, we can help this coalition create situations where resistance to the u.$. war machine can flourish, in the schools and in the streets.

it's time to ride the lightning.

big ups to the As, palestinian solidarity and everyone else who didn't drop the beat!

love & sol,

xxx maus.

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