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News ::
Yellow Overalls Interview
05 Jan 2002
Interview with former member, NYC Ya Basta Collective

Yellow Overalls Must Rise! (in order to lay down again)

TFG Casper, former member of dissolved NYC Ya Basta!

Part One.

By Mira Jovanovich


MJ: I'm wondering if you can give us a little background on
Ya Basta and the yellow overalls, as it has played out here
in North America.

TFGC: The New York City Ya Basta! Collective formed just a
few weeks after the pictures and stories from the protests
in Prague [IMF meetings, Sept 2000] were transmitted across
the Atlantic. Like many people inspired by these
communications, we were interested in understanding the
dynamics of this relatively new and somewhat poetic tactic
of civil disobedience, and attempted, as far as possible, to
gather intelligence on the efforts of the "tute bianche". We
had the fortunate privilege of having an Italian activist as
a member of our local collective, one who was more than
familiar with the developments of the white overalls and the
Ya Basta Association, specifically as things evolved in
cities like Milan and Genoa. We received greatly informed
reports as developments would happen.

Our first attempt to organize some sort of formation, on
more than just an affinity group type scale, was during the
Quebec City mobilization. Our original intent was to
organize a "block" of yellow overalls made up of clusters
from all over the States, as well as Canadian affinity
groups. This attempt was met with certain interesting
resistances. We called for, and carried out, several
formation type trainings at a location just south of the
Canadian border, in the small college town of Burlington,
Vermont, which had become a sort of way station for those
trying to get to Quebec from many points south. This
experience of pulling together these trainings (at this
point none of us had a direct experience of the kind) was a
bit problematic. At one point these trainings developed into
a sort of sports try out, in which a few overly enthusiastic
jocks tried to rally "the troops" to a cause celebre, and
unfortunately for the majority of participants became
another forum for a sort of street fighting bravado. It gave
some participants the valid impression that what was playing
out within this "tactical movement" was the same dynamic
frequently extent in other tactics that tend to become or
appear to be male oriented. What was equally frustrating was
that the greater collective was lacking a meaningful
political consciousness to resist these manifestations of
machismo, even though many of us were aware and disgusted by
it. Ultimately, while we had committed to counter the
repression of the cops, we failed to counter the inner
tendencies, within the group, of similar oppressions
breaking out.

And on top of this, most of the NYC crew never made it to
Quebec. We had immigration problems.

One related question that developed out of the trainings, a
tendency that never really resolved itself, was our
inability to come to an understanding about what exactly we
were. That is, were we an affinity group, or a tight
collective of individuals adopting the tactics and partial
rhetoric of the tute bianche, or were we more appropriately
trying to foment a broader and specific political project,
a tactic AND a philosophy of action? It's an interesting
question if viewed within the context of the way activists
organize in North America, or specifically in NYC, as
opposed to more European flavors. We uprooted the language
from its political and historical context, and in this way
gave short attention to this question of transplantation.

MJ: The rumor is that the collective has dissolved. Has Ya
Basta! come to an untimely conclusion? What of the North
American movement?

TFGC: I can't really speak about the situation in North
America in its entirety, but I can say that it's yet to be
seen what effect it could still have across the continent.
I can also say that it was hardly a movement per se, we
hadn't reached that point quite yet. Unfortunately for the
NYC group of yellow overalls, two occurrences stopped it in
its tracks. One was of course the collective decision of the
Europeans to take off the overalls, made just before Genoa,
which directly influenced many in the NYC collective. The
other is the strange environment coming out of the September
11th tragedy here in New York, and the assumed repression
that will most definitely come about as a result, which many
members felt had neutralized the efficacy of the transparent
nature of the tactic.

Unfortunately the idea of yellow overalls barely got off the
ground before these troubles set in. As for New York, there
was no "dissolving" action in any sense, the collective
simple fell apart for these reasons, which may have
exacerbated our lack of vision and clarification about what
exactly it we were trying to do, and with an additional bit
of personal intrigues. There are still remnants of the
notion of Ya Basta! floating around, but nothing like the
transparent political project that characterized some of the
initial thinking on the part of the collective. Whether or
not the outward project that characterizes yellow overalls
will rematerialize is a matter of the will of whoever
decides it's a worthy pursuit, I guess.

More generally speaking, "Where for art thou, direct
action?" is the question many are asking now that
"everything has changed" following 9/11. In New York City,
so called "ground zero", we are coming upon a semi-mass
mobilization of thousands from all across the country who
will find out for themselves what the cops have in store for
disobedience, now that the lines are more clearly drawn
between what is "right", or "patriotic", or simply
"American", and criminality, even downright "terrorism". In
this environment, I believe the tactic, in its entirety, is
more appropriate than ever. What better way than to come out
of this darkness, shinning forth so brightly?

MJ: Will you be surprised if we see a large group of people
wearing yellow overalls?

TFGC: My feeling is that the visualness of wearing the
overalls is problematic at this point. Many people are
afraid of being picked out for this reason, although I don't
agree with the naive assessment that we should, say, take
into account the fact that those anthrax decontamination
outfits resemble, symbolically, our overalls, and that we
would be disrespecting or offending these workers by wearing
them. It seems obvious to me that the Yellow Overalls are
more appropriate now than ever, as another visual symbol for
the invisibleness we're all becoming in the face of Empire,
after 9/11. Although it's not simply a media tactic, but
also a way to camouflage the individual in a sea of
similarity, becoming a force recognizable by our numbers and
force, an "adelante humanity", a "non-violent" wall of
bodies. How else can one view this collection of Big Birds
with elaborate padding and bright colored helmets? Will
there be a mobilization of efficacious size to offer this
protection? I don't think so.

It's important to note at this point that "Ya Basta" never
meant a creative tactic alone. To think of it as a fashion
of practicality, of how to be more successful in "getting
away with it", is to misrepresent such a complex political
project. Ya Basta in its entirety means so much more than
this, and the return of the "street fighting man" was hardly
part of the picture.

MJ: What's your hope for the future of the yellow overalls

TFGC: In Genoa the "disobedience" block was the product of
years of organizing, including a media blitz that at times
got out of hand, using media manipulations thought to "play
with the language of the state". On this, Ya Basta was
criticized severely, essentially accused of taking a
central, hegemonic position in relation to the more broad
coalition against the G8. This criticism particularly
targeted Luca Casirini (it's still a bit confusing as to the
way in which he was to become the main spokesperson) holding
press conferences and declaring "war", and so forth. Of
course these were all valid criticisms. But the tute bianche
has always interacted with the media in creative ways,
understanding its power, most of the time. They refuse to
ignore it, which is seemingly practical when such monopoly
exists. It's this notion of "negotiation" that is central to
the project of the overalls, a process by which one
understands the overarching power of the state, or the
media, turns that power around against these entrenched
power structures, but also knowing when to say, "Ya Basta!",
or enough for now, let's pull back and regroup and discuss
the successes and failures, and go at it again when the time
and energy is right.

In a sense, this is probably the single most important idea
the tute bianche can leave us, the idea that there is a time
and a place for everything, and backing off, or knowing
ones' limitations, or that regrouping for another day
doesn't translate into a "reformist" approach, or "not
militant enough", and so on. If we look at the act of
throwing off the overalls, just before the mobilization, as
it plays with the notions outlined repeatedly regarding
this, then the point was made, that the position of
visibility was attained, 300,000 people and the worlds'
attention was enough.

As far as the specific tactical utility here and now, I
think it's obvious that we have neither the time nor effort
behind us, as far as our place in the movement is concerned.
But to also think that we could simply do away with the
overalls because our Italian friends found reason, is to
miss the larger point of why we would wear them in the first
place. We've only just begun a process of proposing the idea
as it could relate to resistance in North America.

I think the focus on the tactics alone misses a much larger
picture of a language that the overalls communicates, what
it has meant to the Italian political landscape. With that
said, there are indications that the tactical utility of
defensive protection that characterizes overalls has had an
immediate impact on the North American scene, evident by the
paddings and gear many bring to mobilizations like Quebec
City. The drawback is of course that we've seen this
development before, and history has shown that the "street
fighter" alone, withdrawn from the type of informed
political project that tute bianche attempted to forge, may
just develop into a boys' club of toughs, divorced of any
larger picture of resistance.

Dec, 2001 NYC

Mira Jovanavich can be contacted at mirajova (at)
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