Report on A16/A17

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Tue Apr 18 09:34:58 PDT 2000

Well, back in New Haven now after a week of protests and rallies in DC. Overall, I have to say that it was an inspiring week where the left-progressive movement made major strides forward, not just in the individual protests but in interweving the communities that coexisted for much of the week, while a whole new host of folks joined in mass militant actions.

The A16 events started for me on Friday when, planning to meet a friend apart from the protests up at DuPont circle, a puppet parade and critical mass bike event was launched from the circle there. After the puppet folks conducted a pageant, the bikes returned. Suddenly, screaming police sirens sounded and the whole circle was surrounded by cops on motorcycles and cars, essentially locking the A16 folks into the circle. They eventually allowed folks to exit one by one at th crosswalks, but it opened a taste of the shut-down approach for the weekend.

The shutdown of the convergence center later that night and over the next day seemed like a gratuitious assault. Even the media, which had been wandering through the space all week, couldn't take seriously the "code violations" justification for the shutdown and confiscation of the puppets and medical supplies. One comment by the police I found both sadly amusing and significant; after they returned a handful of the puppets, a captain said, "We had to give them a few back; otherwise they'd get mad and riot." Wow, now the cops are getting lessons from the IMF, or is it the other way around, on using selective "aid" to try to control dissent.

The Saturday mass arrests down at the Prison Industrial Complex protests were the biggest screwup by the police of the weekend. They gave no dispersal orders apparently and ended up arresting a lot of tourists. That incident will probably be the biggest lawsuit magnet of the week. The estimated 600 folks arrested were processed by late that night, so most were around by the next day.

A16 itself was pretty well planned with large "clusters" of affinity groups taking responsibility for pie slices of territory surrounding the World Bank-IMF offices. Everyone assembled around 6am and headed towards police lines. The police had set up metal barricades for blocks from the White House over to the west of the IMF buildings, cordoning off something like 40 square blocks. I walked the perimeter and it took something like half an hour, so it was a pretty good size internal barricade by the police. The protesters set up their human barricades outside the police lines and the standoff was created for the next eight hours. While there were a few scattered conflicts, mostly the police stayed behind their lines with a few police approaching from outside, making feints, then standing down. Delegates, press and others trying to go through the lines were almost uniformly turned away from the protester lines.

Unfortunately, the authorities did eventually get most of the delegates in. Some of the delegates just got up incredibly early and got in before the protesters set up lines. One delegate was quoted saying, sleepily, "well the protesters wanted to send us a wakeup call; they succeeded" with forcing them to get up so early. Others turned away at the lines went through the White House grounds and were dumped out near the IMF inside the barricades. The top ministers from France, Brazil and many other countries were turned away and delayed from getting to the meeting.

Walking the perimeter, the entrace to the White House on Constitution avenue was a gaping hole left open by the A16 organizers. In any case, it would have been very hard to hold, since shutting down Constitution would no doubt have led to the cops breaking the standoff, since they would no doubt have been unwilling either to see the White House itself barricaded in or to have a major thoroughfare shut down. Still, the organizational failure there was a major failing.

Generally, the training for holding the lines had been very good, but communication on the day was incredibly poor. Rumors ran wild for hours, few had any idea what was happening at other parts of the perimeter. Our corner about a block or so from the IMF had a very disciplined set of folks, so everything went well, but it was a serious porlbem. I ended up doing a good bit of picket organizing, leading chants. Patrick and other abolitionists will be happy to know even I found slogans being displayed like "Spank the Bank" silly, so for the sake of elegance of the chant, was leading the "Hey, Ho, the WB/IMF has got to go" style chants. For all those who worry about the liberal imperilment of my soul, I am always more militant in praxis than in email seminar :)

Still, just holding the city center for over eight hours, followed by the massive permitted rally to the ellipse, was an impressive display of the continuation of the movement from Seattle.

A17 was a debacle, on the other hand, largely due to the ultimate weaknesses of the anarchist consensus model of leadership. A lot of folks all week had been urging that plans for A17 be developed, but there was not time in the mass meetings, so it all ended up being done on the night of A16. I went to the meeting, with masses of folks stuffed in a gymnasium, and despite pledges of up to 1800 folks for the next day, they still had no plan at 9pm, when I had to leave for logistical reasons. With decisions made so late, few people had any idea what the plans would be or had time to get word to their affinity groups.

The result was a complete fizzle the next day. Like other people, I spent almost an hour just trying to find where folks were rallying. The rain thinned the numbers, but the real thinning was the dispersal of folks, where the cops began rounding up scattered bands of people who out of frustration began individual actions.

I also have to say I was appalled at the lawyers who did the training during the week. I was ready to be arrested on Sunday in mass arrests, but I was not going to on Monday in a more chaotic situation, because I did not trust the lawyers. One thing they had said was that if for whatever reason, someone gave their name and cited themselves out of jail, the lawyers might negotiate better treatment for those who stayed in jail longer. That willingness by the lawyers to coerce perceived militant in-jail action under threat of poorer legal representation was I thought an absolute betrayal of both political and legal principle. It was obstensibly to encourage protection of undocumented folks who might get arrested and be unable to give their names - a fair enough concern - but given the realities of who was being arrests, largely white students, it in practice was more a discriminatory policy against working people with work or family obligations who could not afford to stay in jail.

This goes to the "leadership" question that will have to be sorted out. In militant actions where people get arrested, one thing leadership does is supply lawyers and the policies of those lawyers exert powerful direction on the movement. For all the "consensus" rhetoric, this legal threat by the Direct Action associated lawyers was an incredibly coercive exercise of power in trying to dictate strategy. It is one reason why a more democratic, more accountable structure needs to be created in the movement to address both such legal concerns and hopefully address the logistical and planning breakdowns that affected A17 actions.

Still, with that all said, the folks who planned A16 and the weeks event do deserve great credit. They kept a wonderful tone, good energy and did many preparations well. The message was strong, media work was professional, and good alliances were made with all sorts of allies.

So a great week and a wonderful set of actions !!!

Onto R2K!

-- Nathan Newman

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