Anarchists flaunt counter-culture
Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles Monday August 14, 2000
The banner spells out the theme of the gathering: "Whoever they vote for, we are ungovernable".
While the Democrats assemble downtown for the razzmatazz coronation of Al Gore and the Reform party disperses in chaos in Long Beach, the North American Anarchist Conference has been meeting quietly at the weekend in a crowded studio just north of Dodger Stadium, the home of one of Los Angeles's baseball teams.
For the coming week Los Angeles will be the focal point of US protest, and the American anarchists have a tradition of involvement in such battles, stretching back to the beginning of the last century.
This has made them suspicious of the police and the media, and many of those on the door at the studio building have obscured their faces with Zapatista-style bandanas and wear badges naming them as Idiot, Corpse, Sativa or Stream.
There are many young activists in black T-shirts with badges honouring everything from the anarchist band, Crass, to the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as the Wobblies.
Cameras and tape-recorders are banned, and everywhere notices warn of the possibility of police infiltrators or raids. No drugs, alcohol or weapons are permitted. "Nothing that will endanger the safety and security of others" is allowed.
The first discussion of the day is not on plans for this week's street protests but on Liberation Pedagogy, including suggestions that children should be encouraged not to go to school until the system has changed. But the 500 or so anarchists assembled here, split fairly equally between the sexes, are aware that the media are focused mainly on the part their members will play in the street protests.
"What happened in Seattle grabbed a lot of attention," said a young Asian-American with a Meat is Murder tattoo on his arm, who asked to be identified as Vegetarian Peace Punker. "I think a lot of people in Los Angeles know that there are protests going on, but [they] don't know why.
"I think all the issues being raised [globalisation, drugs laws, racism, poverty, corporate funding of politics] are equally important."
Jay Brophry, an LA engineer who broadcasts on the illegal anarchist station, Radio Clandestino, said that one of the main problems was explaining to people what their message was.
"A lot of people get their news from television and don't realise that, for instance, what happened in Seattle was that the police rioted and the demonstrators reacted. The impression they got from television was the opposite of what really happened.
"We are in a historical period when the nation state is being overwhelmed by the corporate state," he said. "Decisions are being made by the WTO, who no one elected."
Anarchists say they have had a problem getting their message across partially because the media ignored them unless there was violence.
However, many of those present in Los Angeles were aware that they were being painted by the police as the potential sources of violence on the streets and are increasingly careful not to give credence to that image.
The conference's organisers say they have been heartened by a growing interest in the movement, particularly on the US west coast.
The anarchists are just one of the dozens of groups which will take to the streets of Los Angeles this week, but they know that their symbol, the anarchist A in a circle, will attract particular attention.
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"Our first work must be the annihilation of everything as it now exists." - Mikhail Bakunin
"I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own." - No.6