Of Anarchists, Protests, Conventions, and the L.A.P.D.
By christ damitio firstname.lastname@example.org
Over 600 anarchists from all over North America converged upon Los Angeles for the North American Anarchist Conference. I was one of them. From the moment I heard of the conference I knew I had to attend. This was an opportunity to meet my comrades, share ideas, and work together to bring on the revolution. I drove from Seattle to Los Angeles picking up hitchhikers, anarchists along the I-5 corridor who needed a lift, and a bizarre blond woman in a pink top who is a missionary for Ted Turner. She told the rest of us in the car how Ted is God and performs miracles like Jesus. The real bizarre part was how often Ted Turner turned up in conversations over the next week.
Arriving in LA we followed directions to the check in point, a cooperatively owned Mexican café. A large group of protestors from different groups were laying out guidelines for the following weeks marches and protests during the Democratic National Convention. Simple guidelines. Support each other, respect each other, and do what you have to do to get your message out. A severe looking brother handed me the schedule and information packet on the NAAC.
The packet contained directions to the conference space, a giant orange warehouse beside the LA River. We checked in and made our way inside. It was about 10 PM. A motley group of anarchists were watching a video about the police problem in Eugene, Oregon. Almost everyone was wearing a nametag with his or her “handle” on it. Paranoia was running rampant and very few people were using their real names. The house rules were posted in obvious sites “No alcohol, drugs, weapons or anything that will give the police a pretext to close us down” and “No cameras, video, or recording devices.”
It was hardly typical of the first hours of any other conference. People were gradually introducing each other, claiming space to crash, eating free food prepared by Food Not Bombs, and taking in the remarkable anarchist scene. People ranged from clean to crusty and young (14) to old (70+). I met up with one of the organizers who had agreed to let me crash at his house for the next week or so. I said goodbye to my road companions and followed my hosts to their Pasadena residence. They were pretty confident that their phones were tapped, the house bugged, and that cops and/or FBI had rented an apartment across the street. Sure as hell, when I woke up in the morning to go back to the conference a cop in a cruiser watched me walk out of the house. What do you call paranoia when it’s very real?
The conference kicked off with about 200 anarchists present. Mixed in were reporters from the mainstream media and almost certainly a few undercover law enforcement officers. Workshops on Friday covered bike repair, insurrectional anarchism, first aid training, welfare reform, race discussions, radical art, primitivism and green anarchy, legal support, and vision discussion groups. Each hour contained far too much information to go into detail in this article. Each individual had their own ideas of what anarchy is and respected the views of every other person. Los Angeles Times staff writer Nicholas Riccardi described us as “…a multifaceted, hyperintellectual, communitarian bunch….”
The most heated discussions were between advocates of Primitivism (Green Anarchists) and Syndicalism (Red Anarchists). The greens are very anti-tech calling for a return to a more natural human condition while the reds are more involved with radical unionism (IWW), workplace democracy, and collectivism of industry and work. The two philosophies are not mutually exclusive, though an outside observer might of thought so based upon some of the arguments and discussions. Both fill necessary niches in an anarchist future. For more information on Primitivism a good starting point is John Zerzan’s book of essays Future Primitive. Other works on primitivism and syndicalism can be found at your local anarchist bookstore or lending library.
Security was tight and most of us expected the LAPD to burst in and arrest us at any minute during the 3 day conference. They never came. On Friday a federal judge disallowed “pre-emptive” police raids like those used in Philadelphia two weeks earlier.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were community meals. Some of the most interesting discussions took place in spontaneous groups sitting on the concrete floors or next to the concrete river outside.
The second day of the conference focused on strategy. How to bring about an anarchist society. John Zerzan opened up the day with a somewhat controversial presentation in which he argued that civilization erases a world of egalitarian food sharing and creates organized violence. He berated the political left and described primitivism as part of the vision the left doesn’t have. Many were angry or disturbed by his straight up radical vision, but everyone respected his voice and views. As anarchists, we agree that we can disagree. Other workshops covered police abuse, anti colonialism, combating homophobia, developing consensus skills, political prisoners, food politics, and womyns and mens groups.
A panel of radicals and a workshop on anarchist tactics again illustrated the divide between greens and reds. Reds and non-green anarchists shared tales of ditch digging collectives, book stores, and direct action to reclaim the economy and workplace from fat cat capitalists while the more militant Greens condemned industrial tactics and trust fund anarchists as ineffective and contributing to the problem we live in. Both sides have valid points but most of the anarchists there fell somewhere between the two extremes.
One of the day’s most important workshops was on developing a security culture. Knowing that our direct action movement will increase the governments surveillance and harassment of activists and revolutionaries, there are some simple steps we can take to cover our asses. In a nutshell, be sure to know who you are talking with. Many monkey wrenchers have been exposed by people they thought they could trust. Lying, bragging, gossiping, and talking about direct actions unnecessarily are some security breaching behaviors. Never discuss plans in buildings, businesses, on telephones, or in cars. These areas can be bugged and tapped.
Another well attended workshop focused on the Black-Bloc. The Black-Bloc has its roots in Europe where anarchists dressed all in black and wore masks so that police could not identify individuals. This tactic also makes it easier to “unarrest” other activists because the cops aren’t able to tell who’s who. Veterans of Seattle, DC, Philly, and other violent protests shared tips and tricks to help keep people safe. Avoid showing tattoos and other identifying features, do not put grease or gels into your hair(they hold chemicals which can drip down into your eyes), wear gloves so you don’t leave fingerprints, have a gas mask handy, do not wear contacts as CS gas can weld them to your eyes, don’t use sun block or oil based lotions as they cause pepper spray to burn your skin worse, link arms as you march so that you can pull comrades back from the cops, do not bring identification or address books as they can be seized by cops, do not let media film or take pictures of black-bloc activities. Above all, be prepared to be arrested and beaten- but don’t let them if you can help it.
About 30 people woke up sick on Sunday. The amazingly clean porta-potties became puking dens when we could make it to them before hurling. I threw up twice and missed the crapper once. We think it was the fruit or possibly the untreated water we were drinking in the warehouse. Many left the conference to march in the Free Mumia Abu Jamal March, the first of the week. About 15,000 protesters, 2000 media, and 5000 cops showed up. I wasn’t among them. After I finished throwing up, several of the countries most visible anarchists decided to go to the beach. We were going to go to Venice but got a bit turned around and found ourselves looking at what might have been a checkpoint. Motorcycle cop after motorcycle cop zoomed by us. I decided to head the other direction and whipped an illegal u-turn. A cop sped by me and yelled…”Nice U-turn” and then kept going! We stopped at a beach a mile or so down and stood beside the road watching all the cops go by. Suddenly…there was Bill Clinton himself whizzing by us in his presidential limousine and waving. Random chance got us within 15 feet of the President. One of my comrades whispered “The secret service must of never heard of McKinley.” It was an obvious joke, but made all of us a bit nervous.
The DNC opened up Monday with fat cats and delegates sitting inside the posh Staples Center while thousands of activists marched from Pershing Square to the designated protest area or “free speech cage.” The cage was about 2 blocks of parking lot surrounded by a 10 foot high security fence and about a thousand cops with night sticks, rubber bullet guns, pepper spray and tear gas. The black bloc marched and chanted rousing slogans like “Racist, sexist, anti-gay…LAPD go away” “Fuck the police and corporate media” and my favorite “Tonight, we’re gonna, smash the fucking state”. Once inside the cage Rage Against the Machine played a free concert and agitated the crowd with anti political/corporate rhetoric and anti authoritarian music (strange coming from a band on a big bucks corporate label.) The media was largely ignoring the protests focusing instead on the buyers of democracy having a fancy party inside the DNC. Several individuals began throwing water bottles at the police. A lone anarchist climbed the fence with a black flag and began waving it and was promptly shot by the police with a rubber bullet. The police pulled the plug on the second show and ordered everyone to disperse. They gave the huge crowd 15 minutes to leave but started shooting and gassing after 5 minutes. The black bloc picked up abandoned protest signs and covered the fence to protect the fleeing peaceful crowd. Two anarchists climbed on top of the fence and waved black flags taking shot after shot from the brutal and cowardly cops on the other side. Several people began pulling no parking signs from the street and using them to bust up concrete and battering ram the fence. Individuals began throwing rocks at the cops and shooting slingshots at the giant windows on Staples Center. The cops fired indiscriminately hitting peaceful protestors, the media, and even a 4 year old child in the back with a rubber bullet. The black bloc continued skirmishing with the police and then melted into the crowd. The police arrested 10 people, none of them anarchists. Suddenly the media began paying attention to what was happening outside the glitz.
Earlier in the week, members of the community had met with anarchists and organizers and expressed fear that property damage would occur. The LAPD was finally on the ropes about police brutality and the neighbors were concerned that property damage would not only bring on more bruatality later but also do harm to poor working people who are having a hard enough time getting by. The overall consensus was that property would not be damaged. To my knowledge there was no property damage…not because of police but because of communication and solidarity between activists, anarchists, organizers, and the community.
The week continued with massive marches protesting racism, police brutality, womyns rights, corporate control, and a variety of causes. The LAPD had several more skirmishes with those pesky anarchists and continued to brutalize a mostly peaceful crowd with strongarm tactics. The number of police in LA was overwhelming. They were everywhere. Rumors of white vans abducting people from the street began circulating. The FBI nabbed one girl and questioned her, the next day two police cruisers were sitting outside of her mothers home in Michigan. The media largely ignored most of the issues until some brave anarchists created some eye candy violence for the corporate lap dogs. Politicians and delegates never even acknowledged that upwards of 15,000 people were a few hundred feet away calling bullshit on their big money politics and being brutalized by the most racist, violent, and cowardly police force in the country.
As we left LA and California, we all felt relief at escaping the police state. The story doesn’t end there though. We stopped in Eugene where anarchists are serving free coffee traded from Zapitistas. The enterprise is called Café Anarchista and happens on the street daily from 9-11. We scavenged a large bag of donuts from a dumpster to contribute and enjoyed the coffee and open camaraderie on the sidewalk. I dropped off several riders along I-5 and finally drove to Bellingham to relax and de-brief myself so that I could return to our normal fucked up society. I was absolutely stoked to find the good work of anarchists blooming in the ham. The Colmena Collective has established a library /bookstore /beauty shop on State Street. For those of you who haven’t been there…you absolutely must check it out and support it. Other anarchists are working on similar and diverse projects too.
Lessons or morals learned? Anarchy is coming and its bringing free food and coffee, clean restrooms, respectful relationships, friendship, lending libraries, and a damn fine time….Viva La Revolution.