The only way to learn revolution is by doing it. — Abbie Hoffman
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I have accumulated a boatload of links about protests over the past fortnight. What a selection, some of which I shall share in this post.
You might be wondering what has gone on in the world to cause all sorts of protests within the past month. Of course, there have been protests before that, but from the latter end of April through May, we’ve seen a plethora of gatherings take place all over the world concerning a variety of local and national issues.
When you look at the conservative Tea Parties (many in the US and one in England to date), which are well-organised, quiet affairs involving lawnchairs, homemade signs and the Stars and Stripes, they are in stark contrast to what’s been happening in parts of the US, Greece and Thailand.
Tea Partiers, who check availability with each other as well as best rates on hotel rooms, take a lot longer time to put one of their events together than those who organise violent protests. There are reasons for this: first, many Tea Partiers work for a living; second, they will want to be able to dine and rest in relative comfort; third, they don’t really know how to organise a spontaneous protest, although they wouldn’t mind learning how.
Even if they did, though, they would still find themselves behind a desk working, planning a wedding anniversary or attending a school event. Conversely, the person protesting on a spontaneous level has no such worries. They can break from whatever they are doing and go with the flow.
The success of the protests in the US (about immigration), Greece and Thailand require mass organisation in a comparatively short time scale. The people participating generally know how protests work as well as the dos and don’ts. Whilst some are new to the game, others are seasoned ‘professionals’, or ‘rent-a-mobs’, as it were.
Sites such as Indymedia list upcoming protests and protest news on every kind of cause imaginable. Subsets of Indymedia include sites such as Indybay, which covers the San Francisco Bay area. Whatever your cause is — be it global justice, animal liberation or immigration, to name a few — you’re sure to find events to attend which are listed reasonably well in advance.
A variety of groups and people participate in these protests. Many protesters are anarchists. Others feel strongly about the cause itself; they may be socio-political activists, community organisers, students or relatives of ‘victims’ of these causes. Some have police records, others do not. Some are younger, others are older. Older anarchists tend to be known to the police, so they ‘pick their battles’, participating only in more important demonstrations.
Groups who participate frequently in protests are what are referred to as affinity groups. Their raison d’etre is to take direct action. Some groups are peaceful, others are violent. Most groups are small enough so that the members know each other. They may be squatters. They must be able to trust one another in order to carry out the actions of the group. They agree on a plan of action only when they have buy-in from all the members. Otherwise, they run the risk that their grand plan falls apart. They devise codes so that if Plan A doesn’t work, they can put Plans B or C into immediate action.
There are also a variety of hangers-on who haven’t participated before. This is where the student crowd, even high schoolers, comes into the picture. They get a few friends together who are looking for fun, adventure and a chance to defy authority. The type of young people attracted depends on the activity. A dance-in on a California freeway is likely to attract a more middle-class milieu than another type of protest would.
Anarchists come from various affinity groups. The idea is to create disorder but to mix it up a bit so that the groups together appear as one mob of protesters, even though many smaller groups may be involved. This is to deliberately confuse the authorities as well as the media, allowing for more subversion at a later date. One group is likely to be the target of the police and headliner for the media; the others largely go undetected. It’s worth noting, however, that the Communist Party in Greece organised its own events at other locations away from the fray during the Athens riots in May.
Anarchists would like to get more people involved but differ on the approach. Some say that new recruits, even casual ones, should buy into the ideology behind anarchy. Others say that the protest causes are more important. After all, who has time to convince someone to become an anarchist?
Some protests last longer than others because those participating enjoy the experience. Everyone has a mobile telephone and can go instantly from a public square to a railway station and carry on in a neighbouring suburb. They can create havoc at each point along the way.
Of course, protests aren’t flashmobs; they often turn violent. People get hurt or maimed, livelihoods may be ruined, and innocent people get caught up in these reigns of terror. Children may even be used as human shields.
Like it or not, many anarchists are intelligent and articulate. I’ve put links below to help us better understand why people become anarchists, how they organise and what their mindset is. Some of these have a few four-letter words interspersed in the prose, so be warned. However, they are eloquent essays that should answer the question, ‘How does a mob form so quickly and why?’
On the non-violent side of things, Tea Partiers and Christians might pick up some legal, constructive tips below on organising their own peaceful protests.
For further reading see:
Greek protests and We are an image from the future (book featured on Glenn Beck): ‘We are an image from the future’, ‘We are an image from the future – US tour’, ‘Athens: We are an image of the future’, ‘Who’s protesting May Day 04-10’, ‘We are an image from the future: The Greek revolts of 2008’
France’s ‘The Coming Insurrection (also featured on Glenn Beck): ‘The coming insurrection’ (YouTube), ‘The coming insurrection’ (libcom.org), ‘Extreme left calling people to arms’, ‘Radicals following European playbook’
Blue State Digital (organises online activity for President Obama and co-ordinates campaigns for some peaceful European movements): ‘Blue State Digital takes over the world’, ‘Organising for hope not hate’ (UK), Twitter feeds from Blue State’s Joe Rospars and Lauren Miller, ‘The Europe Roundup’, ‘Take back Parliament’ (UK)