Listen to the Episode — 91 min
Alanis: The Ex Worker;
Clara: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Alanis: A podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Welcome back to another episode of the Ex-Worker! Happy 2017 to all of you.
Clara: Well, as all of you listeners can’t have failed to notice, we were totally wrong about the outcome of the election. Brutally wrong. So we have to start things off with an apology for our inaccurate prediction.
Alanis: That said, Trump’s election has catalyzed a political ferment and rebellious attitude like we haven’t seen in a long time. We’re scared, sure, but we’re also excited - and determined.
Clara: So in this episode, we’ll start with the statement we released immediately after the election, and then share a recording from the CrimethInc speaking tour we conducted in the last weeks to spread an anarchist analysis of this political moment and proposals for what resistance to Trump could look like.
Alanis: We’ll also share the call for disruptive protests on January 20th in DC and beyond, endorsed by CrimethInc. and dozens of other anarchist and antifascist groups. Then we’ll offer an excerpt from a history of counter-inaugural protests to provide some deeper context. Then we’ll wrap things up with prisoner birthdays and an announcement about the recently launched new Crimethinc.com. I’m Alanis,
Clara: And I’m Clara, and we’ll be your hosts. You can read the full transcript of this episode at Crimethinc.com/podcast, along with links to all the texts we draw from and more info about everything we’re discussing. If you’ve got feedback or suggestions, drop us a line to podcast[at]crimethinc[dot]com.
Alanis: Let’s get started.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: COUNTDOWN TO APOCALYPSE
Clara: Move the doomsday clock forward another click.
We were right about the direction things are heading, but wrong about the timeframe. We thought Clinton would win the election, and would then be discredited by new scandals and the challenges of preserving an increasingly unpopular status quo, producing a reactionary surge like the one that recently toppled President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. Instead, the scandal broke before the election, with the announcement of further FBI inquiries into emails associated with Clinton. And, as with the Brexit vote, everyone underestimated just how desperate and reactionary the general public has become—at least the ones who still identify with the ruling order enough to vote at all. It’s later than you think.
It’s significant that the news event that rescued Trump’s presidential bid was essentially an intervention by the FBI. This tells us a lot about the era we are entering: it is the security apparatus of the state that will be calling the shots, not the aspects of government that purport to improve the lives of citizens.
Capitalism, long stabilized in the so-called First World by the compromises that produced the middle class, will henceforth be imposed by force. The surplus of the 20th century has run out; the velvet glove is coming off the iron fist. Sure, demagogues like Trump and Sanders will continue to promise us the moon every four years or so, but it won’t be peace treaties that will preserve the prevailing order—it will be police.
News like this is bound to induce despair, but we must not let this election cause us to lose faith in humanity as a whole. Elections serve to represent us to each other at our worst, distilling the most offensive, cowardly, and servile aspects of the species. Many people who would never personally wrest a mother from her children are capable of endorsing deportation from the privacy of a voting booth, just as most people who eat meat could never work at a slaughterhouse. Were it not for the alienation that characterizes government itself, most of the ugly policies comprising the Trump agenda could never be implemented.
Presidential campaigns are calculated to promote apathy, giving the impression that all the important decisions in the world are out of our hands. That’s the point of state politics: to immobilize us outside the halls of power, distrusting each other and ourselves.
Today, even the most law-abiding liberal must realize that we cannot continue to watch from the sidelines. Against the spectacle of powerlessness, we must counterpose our own agency. But to what purpose? Surely not to prop up yet another political campaign. We have to think bigger.
The fundamental problem is that power is structured into such vertical concentrations in the first place. If the President of the United States did not wield such disproportionate influence over the fate of humanity—if the free market did not enable businessmen to accumulate so much leverage over society—then Donald Trump could not be so dangerous, however despicable a person he is.
Those on the Left who have persisted in the naïve belief that the right government could solve the problems generated by global capitalism are partly to blame for this situation. The Democratic Party was foolish to back an establishment candidate at a time when so many people are desperate, angry, and rebellious. In legitimizing the idea that America is or should be great in the first place, Democrats smoothed the way for Trump to promise to make it great once more. Every tax dollar good liberals paid to the government hoping it would care for the poor, sick, elderly, and underprivileged has built the juggernaut that will now roll over their civil liberties. Every law they continue to obey will aid and abet that process. And if the media outlets and politicians that decried Trump as the candidate of the apocalypse accept him now in the name of the democratic process, this only confirms their complicity.
The problem is democracy itself: the form of government that brought Adolf Hitler into office. In response to the polls, we assert that no one should have the right to rule over anyone else. Neither Donald Trump, nor Barack Obama, nor Mother Theresa could ever use such power for good. We have to create horizontal structures and autonomous movements that can meet our needs directly, rather than continuing to feed resources into structures that will be used against us for the benefit of a few.
Let us look for silver linings in this cloud of oncoming tear gas. Perhaps it is for the best that someone like Trump is coming to power now, rather than four years hence. Let the right wing demonstrate that their solutions are just as inadequate as those proposed from the Left. In a time of economic crises, ecological collapse, and spreading war, the state is a hot potato: no one will be able to hold it long. Those who voted for Trump will be disappointed indeed if they actually believe he will bring back the heyday of Fordist capitalism in a globalized world.
Of course, disillusioned Trump voters will not necessarily join our ranks. They are more likely to move further to the right, just as Sanders supporters may simply entrench themselves deeper in futile and antiquated fantasies of 20th century socialism. We should set out to debunk the arguments from both sides, keeping dialogue open with everyone we can while preparing for open conflict with those who are determined to bring about a more totalitarian world.
We must not let the outrage that people feel today shift into a hopelessness that could become the new normal. Only in taking action, however small, can we come into a sense of our collective agency. This is the time to strengthen ties between communities in struggle and those who will be most affected by Trump’s policies. This is the time to dispense once and for all with hope for any solutions from above, any brighter future apart from the actions we take on a day-to-day basis in our immediate surroundings. This is the time to learn and practice proper online security—who knows how far the repressive operations of the state will go, or how fast.
There will be new social movements, new uprisings, new fights ahead. This is the time to find each other and prepare to go resolutely forward into them.
Cradle the seed, even in the volcano’s mouth. Good luck out there, comrades.
NO PEACEFUL TRANSITION
Alanis: As soon as we heard the news of Trump’s election, we got to work. Apologies, patient listeners, for once again subjecting all of you to a long gap between Ex-Worker episodes. But between circulating a call for disruptive protest at the inauguration, organizing a speaking tour to spread an anarchist analysis of the Trump victory and proposals for the coming years of resistance, and launching a new website, we’ve been pretty swamped. We’ll talk about all of these things in turn.
But first of all, we want to share the call that has been endorsed by anarchists around the world for January 20th.
Clara: #DisruptJ20: Call for a bold mobilization against the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017
On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States. We call on all people of good conscience to join in disrupting the ceremonies. If Trump is to be inaugurated at all, let it happen behind closed doors, showing the true face of the security state Trump will preside over. It must be made clear to the whole world that the vast majority of people in the United States do not support his presidency or consent to his rule.
Trump stands for tyranny, greed, and misogyny. He is the champion of neo-Nazis and white nationalists, of the police who kill the Black, Brown and poor on a daily basis, of racist border agents and sadistic prison guards, of the FBI and NSA who tap your phone and read your email. He is the harbinger of even more climate catastrophe, deportation, discrimination, and endless war.He continues to deny the existence of climate change, in spite of all the evidence, putting the future of the whole human race at stake. The KKK, Vladimir Putin, Golden Dawn, and the Islamic State all cheered his victory. If we let his inauguration go unchallenged, we are opening the door to the future they envision.
Trump’s success confirms the bankruptcy of representative democracy. Rather than using the democratic process as an alibi for inaction, we must show that no election could legitimize his agenda. Neither the Democrats nor any other political party or politician will save us—they just offer a weaker version of the same thing. If there is going to be positive change in this society, we have to make it ourselves, together, through direct action.
From day one, the Trump presidency will be a disaster. #DisruptJ20 will be the start of the resistance. We must take to the streets and protest, blockade, disrupt, intervene, sit in, walk out, rise up, and make more noise and good trouble than the establishment can bear. The parade must be stopped. We must delegitimize Trump and all he represents. It’s time to defend ourselves, our loved ones, and the world that sustains us as if our lives depend on it—because they do.
In Washington, DC DC will not be hospitable to the Trump administration. Every corporation must openly declare whether they side with him or with the people who will suffer at his hands. Thousands will converge and demonstrate resistance to the Trump regime.
Around the US If you can’t make it to Washington, DC on January 20, take to the streets wherever you are. We call on our comrades to organize demonstrations and other actions for the night of January 20. There is also a call for a general strike to take place. Organize a walkout at your school now. Workers: call out sick and take the day off. No work, no school, no shopping, no housework.
Around the World If you are living outside the US, you can take action at US embassies, borders, or other symbols of neocolonial power. Our allegiance is not to “making America great again,” but to all of humanity and the planet.
Spread the word. Join the fight. Signed…
Alanis: An enormous list of anarchist, anti-fascist, and other radical groups across the US and beyond. You can find out more at crimethinc.com or disruptJ20.org. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be included in the list of endorsing groups.
Oh, and one more thing. If you can make it to DC for the protests, be sure to download Episode 53 of the Ex-Worker and take the anti-globalization walking tour. It’s a really fantastic opportunity to bring the history we discuss later in this episode to life, and to offer context for these demonstrations and all the ones to follow. Don’t miss out! You can find it at crimethinc.com/podcast/53.
INTRODUCTION TO CRIMETHINC. SPEAKING TOUR PRESENTATION
Clara: Next, we want to share an audio recording from the recent speaking tour conducted by a few Ex-Workers to discuss resistance in the Trump era. The urgent question we’re confronting in this moment is what it’s going to mean to be against Trump for the next four years and beyond. Will it mean voter registration, third party candidates, letters to representatives, ethical shopping, retweets and Facebook likes—in short, business as usual? Or are we finally ready to make a break with the entire system of democracy and capitalism that produced this nightmare?
To engage with these questions, we wanted to pan back and offer some historical and economic context for Trump’s popularity, and the political limitations faced by our familiar methods of responding to a resurgent right-wing. We discuss why structural features of the capitalist economy, not the unkindness of individual politicians, makes it impossible for us to win the reforms imagined by liberals and progressives. And we begin to sketch out a vision for building autonomy that could allow us to break with all of the systems of misery that keep us confined.
It’s not enough to spend the next four years reacting to outrage after outrage while the world burns. We need to imagine futures completely outside of political parties, private property, and police.
Sound daunting? It sure is. But this is our moment. The stakes have never been higher - and there have never been more people coming out of the woodwork ready to resist. As anarchists, we have a powerful role to play in helping to catalyze resistance and to push it beyond the limits imposed by liberalism and democratic discourse. Let’s get to it.
CRIMETHINC. SPEAKING TOUR PRESENTATION: “RESISTANCE IN THE TRUMP ERA”
Presenter 1: Good evening everybody, thank you so much for having us here. We are coming back from the last leg of a tour around part of the United States. We were on the east coast in December, and we’ve just come back from the Midwest; we were in Carbondale, Illinois last night. What we’re trying to do here is to help serve as a circulatory system of the social body that we hope will rise up to make it impossible for Trump to govern us. We’ve been trying to go to different communities, talk with people about what kind of organizing they’re doing, what they’re thinking about what’s important in this historical moment and this context, and then take those ideas with us from from one community to the next. Tonight, since we’re at the end of this leg of our tour, we’ll start by speaking at some length about the context of our situation, the reasons that we think that Trump came to power, the fundamental challenges that we think we’re up against on the large scale, so that we can aim beyond the target when we’re fighting against Trump on January 20th and afterwards. Having done that, we’ll talk about some of the specific things that we think can be done, and some of the things that we’ve seen people doing, some of the organizing projects that are already taking place in other parts of the country. And then, finally, we hope to have a lively conversation with all of you. So thank you very much for being here.
Presenter 2: Hello! Hi! How’s it going? Y’all can hear me OK? Great.
So: Donald fucking Trump has been elected the next president of the United States of America. And people are pissed. People are angry. People are afraid, people are scared. People are fired up. And most importantly, people are mobilizing; people are getting active, people are coming out of the woodwork, people are emerging with a new sense of urgency, a new sense of political consciousness.
So what is it going to look like to resist Trump in the coming years ? What is it going to mean to be anti-Trump? Because if we look in the media today, we see all kinds of people who are expressing disapproval or outrage about Trump, but a lot of times it takes forms that we don’t necessarily think are that interesting. So we have Jill Stein trying to raise all this money so we can get a recount, and people saying, “Hillary won the popular vote! And Trump—we can’t believe it! He must have stolen the election or something!”
OK, fine. Be that as it may, that’s not what we’re here to talk about. That’s not what we think is most interesting.
So if you crunch the numbers, [there was] something like 58% voter turnout of registered voters nationally. So then if you flip the numbers around, you see that the plurality of votes, the largest number of votes, went to no candidate at all, were cast for nobody from either of the lesser evils. And then when you pan back from that and you look at all the people who didn’t or couldn’t vote, because they were excluded on the basis of their age or their citizenship status or being targeted by the criminal justice system, or just because they didn’t give a fuck about the whole presidential spectacle… Then when you include all of those people, you realize that this supposed groundswell of support for Trump is actually a lot smaller than it seems.
But even given that, we want to ask a different question. Because, OK, so Trump didn’t win the popular vote. But what if he had? What if Trump had gotten 100% of the votes? Would that mean that it would be right for us to go along with his program? Would that mean that we should just accept all the oppressive initiatives that he’s trying to inflict on us? That we should view his power as legitimate?
Of course not! I don’t think anyone in this room believes that. So if that’s the case, then what we’re talking about goes a lot deeper than red states and blue states. And the solutions we’re going to need are gonna go a lot deeper than registering new voters or figuring out third party candidates. Because if we don’t think that Trump’s rule is legitimate, regardless of how many votes he got, then we’re talking about cutting to the heart of democracy itself. We’re talking about completely rethinking what it means to be governed, what it means to wield power.
Because, as we see it—we hear in the media, “Trump doesn’t have a mandate.” Well, sure, he doesn’t. But for myself, I don’t think that any president, that any politician, has a mandate to force me to override my conscience, to force me to accept oppression and hierarchy.
So when we think about what anti-Trump resistance is going to look like in the years to come, we’re not thinking about registering new voters or changing red states to blue states. We’re thinking about what it would be like to organize ourselves horizontally, completely outside the system of representation and parties and rulers, and solving our problems directly, through direct action and mutual aid.
Does that make sense? Does that resonate? Because if so, you might already be an anarchist.
Presenter 1: So to begin this story, to begin the context—we could start this story with the colonization of the Americas or start it before that. But let’s start in the 1950s, the ideal decade that Trump is promising to build an economic time machine and take us all back to. In the 1950s, my grandfather had one of these jobs in a factory. In fact, he worked for for the same company in a factory his entire life; he worked for Goodyear in rubber factories. Does anybody here think that you will get a job and work that for fifty years?
[rueful laughter and muttering]
First of all, you don’t want it, and second of all, you know it’s not possible. Two big changes from the 1950s. My grandfather, as a white man in the Midwest, occupied a position of comparative privilege. And not just this, but because of this he was guaranteed some sort of security in the economy, that his position would be fixed. Now this is a big change since the 1950s for many demographics. Other demographics are suffering as much as they ever have, right?
Why this change? Well, the one-word answer is: capitalism. You can’t have a profit-driven system without constantly pushing out of the way every possible barrier to the accumulation of profit, without constantly speeding up the processes by which some people end up richer at other people’s expense. In a global economy, as soon as there’s an obstacle to the profit accumulation in one place, all of the money that’s invested in that place goes somewhere else. So that means that all of the old stabilizing factors, all of the things that used to serve to protect people’s positions in the economy, have been taken away one by one. And now, the only people that are hired to work in factories are people whose lives are regarded as cheaper than machines, people whose labor is cheaper than machines. That’s why, when we think of the factory collapses in Bangladesh, the thousands of people who’ve been killed just in labor accidents there.
So what will it mean if Trump is able to create some sort of strange nationalist protectionism where those factories come back to the United States? I want to say, first of all, it’s not possible to create this economic time machine. It’s not possible to recreate the 1950s. If those factories come back to the United States, it will be robots that end up working in the factories. The 1950s are not coming back.
People who are desperate in this situation, people whose lives are made unpredictable by the precarity that is essential to twenty-first century capitalism, have been looking around for solutions to this problem, looking around for things to do about this crisis. So there’s a new popularity, a new interest in socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders. Or, for example, in Greece there was this far-left party, Syriza, that ran for office campaigning on the promise that they would protect Greece from all of the neoliberal austerity measures being imposed by the European Union. Now, Bernie Sanders did not get elected, but Syriza did. Syriza was elected to the government, and within a couple of months, it became clear that they couldn’t do any of the things that they had promised. This is the problem with trying to use the government to solve a fundamental problem with the economic system. No government is actually able to offset the effects of capitalism now. Because like I said, as soon as you stop opening the way for profit, that money will go somewhere else. This is a problem for left parties, this is a problem for socialist parties, parties that think that government can solve the problem.
But the problem is actually worse than that. Because if you give the impression that if only the right politicians were in power, they could solve the economic problems that everyone is suffering from, then people will look around and say, if that party couldn’t do it, if the left couldn’t solve the problem, who else is offering to solve these problems? I think that is very dangerous. That explains why some of the people who were going to vote for Bernie Sanders ended up voting for Donald Trump.
Presenter #2: So what does it look like in the context of the United States, this risk that if we invest our hopes in electoral change and politicians that even electoral success will end up making things worse?
So, anybody remember back to 2001 or so when George W. Bush was president? There’s the PATRIOT Act, all this post–9/11 repression; everybody’s freaking out. There’s a strong anti-war movement, a strong popular movements, anti-globalization movement, etc. But then a few years go by, and come 2007, 2008, 90% of that big coalition drinks the Kool Aid and buys into the “hope and change” rhetoric and elects Obama. And so then what do we get? Eight years of deportations, of drone assassinations, of torture in Guantanamo Bay, of escalating racist police violence, of escalating gaps between the rich and the poor… under a Democratic administration.
So now Donald Trump is elected president, and everybody’s freaking out and worrying about all of these repressive programs that might come into effect, deportations… Has anyone been paying attention the last eight years? Even with this anti-Muslim registry program, that’s been proposed (although it may not end up happening) by Trump—that was actually based on a 2011 program initiated by the Obama administration! [Editor’s note: this may be incorrect; it looks like the NSEERS program that could provide a template for a Muslim registry was initiated by the Bush administration, then altered in 2011 by the Obama administration but not dismantled. Apologies for the error. The point is that when we allow the infrastructure of governmental repression to expand, it’s going to be bad for us in either the long or the short run, regardless of who’s at the helm.]
So by pointing out these examples, what I want to say is: whenever we give our legitimacy, our energy, our resources, to a candidate, to a party, to this idea that the state is going to provide the solutions to our problems: what we are doing is literally feeding bullets into the gun that’s just going to be turned around right back at us the next time a new reactionary candidate comes into office.
So if we want to think about solutions to defend ourselves and to get our needs met that don’t end up just being turned against us, then we have to stop giving away our power, allowing our power to be appropriated by the state, and think about what horizontal solutions and direct action might actually look like.
Presenter #1: If you were following the political situation in Europe or in South America, perhaps you were not as surprised by Trump’s victory. because far-right parties, nationalist parties, have been experiencing considerable electoral success around Europe. Maybe last summer you followed the Brexit vote, where [Britain] voted to leave the European Union. A couple of months later in Brazil, the left-wing Brazilian president was basically toppled by a far-right social movement. So this is something that’s happening around the world, actually. Trump’s victory is the new victory of this new nationalist paradigm for governance. I want to talk a little about that, about how that functions and what that means.
Let’s say, imagine that you grew up in Sweden, and you are a Swedish citizen. You love Swedish social democracy. The government provides some things for you, softens the effects of capitalism so that it
doesn’t affect you the way that it affects people in Bangladesh or Nigeria. And you count on the government to provide these things. You also pride yourself on being a good Swedish person; you’re left, you’re liberal, you’re concerned about everybody; the government fixes things.
Then imagine that the economy begins to get worse, that the effects of global neoliberalism start to be felt in Sweden as well (even though Sweden has been this ideal that North American leftists aspire to—why couldn’t the United States be more like Sweden?) Imagine in this situation, the government is saying, well, the problem is, in this economy there just isn’t enough to go around—I mean, sure, the billionaires have money, but we can’t touch that, because it’s capitalism—there just isn’t enough money to go around for everybody else.
Then another party appears, a nationalist party—the Swedish Democrats, basically a fascist party—and they say, “No, there is enough to preserve the social safety net; we just can’t preserve it for everyone. We can only preserve it for ‘real’ Swedish people.” This is the way that nationalism works: it proposes a gated community. It proposes that we can preserve the factors that stabilized capitalism up to this point as long as we exclude some people. This is—for example, for racist people in the United States—this is a very tempting idea.
This functions in two different ways. First, it proposes that you look out for certain people, for the people who are inside the gated community. But it’s also a question of how violence is distributed. Because in a society with so much economic inequality, you need considerable amount of violence to maintain that imbalance of power. And you can’t direct lethal force, you can’t direct all of that violence at everybody in the population at once, right? You have to pick who it is you direct that at. You have two and a half million people in prison; but some people are much more likely to be in prison than others, right? You have police killing more than a thousand people a year, but that is targeted specifically at Black people and Latino people. Nationalism is a way of turning the population into warring factions that see each other as deserving of violence. It’s a way to stabilize capitalism when there is no other way to stabilize it, a way to stabilize a capitalism that’s careening towards disaster. And I can imagine, it seems like this is the new governing strategy for stabilizing the conditions that we’re in.
And I want to emphasize: there’s many different kinds of nationalism. Nationalism can cohere along many different lines. The most obvious one you can think of is a nationalism based in national citizenship, national identity—sort of a patriotism, flag-waving. People who are citizens of this country deserve one thing; people who are not deserve another.
There’s also ethnic nationalism, [whether] old-fashioned nationalism with the KKK or new-fashioned nationalism of this kind, white nationalism, with the National Policy Institute.
We can imagine other nationalisms: what is ISIS doing? You could call this a religious nationalism. ISIS doesn’t care what color you are, or what your national citizenship is, as long as you adhere to their particular brand of Islam.
And even though all these different nationalisms frame the other as the enemy, there’s something symmetrical about all of them. So for example, in France, the National Front, which is basically the fascist party in France, is hoping that their candidate, Le Pen, will win the presidency of France on the coattails of Donald Trump. Le Pen, part of her program is to make life very difficult for Muslims in France. The more difficult life is for Muslims in France, the more likely it is that they will feel that they have no reason not to join in more and more extreme struggles against the so-called West. This is something that is in the favor of ISIS. ISIS is thrilled if it becomes more difficult for refugees to enter Europe. That’s more people to be trapped in Syria and Iraq; more people for them to govern, more people for them to exploit, more people for them to press into military service. Similarly, Le Pen is thrilled if terror attacks intensify around Europe; that will scare European people, white French people for example, into voting for nationalist parties. Their ideal would be to divide the world into warring factions, where no opposition is imaginable except the opposition between one nationalist group and another.
But we have another proposal. We have another idea about what our lives might be, and what the problems are in our society, what struggles we might engage in.
I want to say one more thing about this new nationalism that I think is interesting and I think is very important for us to understand about it. It doesn’t break down always along the old lines of identity in the ways that we’re used to. We’re used to a sort of unified nationalism that was all homophobic, sexist, racist, transphobic, misogynist, along the same lines. But if you followed this National Policy Institute conference that took place in Washington DC last November, if you looked at the photograph, there’s a famous photograph that went up all over the internet with three of them “Sieg Heil”-ing; of the people in that photograph, one of them was Jewish, and one of them was Filipina. I think this is a very important thing for us to think about. Fascists have been thinking about how to redraw the lines of identity for who it is that gets to be a fascist in order to expand the base of people who could participate in their project. This is important because it changes their assumptions about who it is they can appeal to, who it is that they can work with. because Democrats and liberals in the United States have been saying for a long time that the country is going to go further and further to the left as demographic changes take place, and that the demographic changes will take care of that. I think that it’s a mistake to believe this, because whiteness is not a biological thing; it’s an alliance of convenience between different privileged groups. Whiteness has been expanded before to include groups that were previously excluded from it, like Italian and Irish people. We can imagine a new fascist coalition being created that could draw in enough people for a new fascism to take off that could have considerable power in this country.
Presenter 2: One feature of these new nationalist movements is that many of them are appropriating the tactics and the discourses of some of the movements that we’ve participated in or been inspired by. In 2011–2012, [we saw] the rise of the Occupy movement, the occupation of the squares in Spain, things like that, on into 2013, using this tactic of getting together in public squares and taking up space and imagining a new world. Well, fast-forward a year to 2014 in Ukraine: the same method, the same style of protest and resistance was used for a nationalist revolution that successfully overthrew the Ukrainian government, but led in many cases by neo-Nazis, and producing a situation in which Ukraine and Russia were soon at war. We see similar things in the way that atheist discourse is being used to promote Islamophobia and other oppressive ideas.
And we can particularly see this in the way that even feminism is being appropriated by these nationalist movements. If we look at what’s happening in France or in Germany, we hear nationalists saying things like, “Oh, well, you know, all of these Muslims and migrants from African and Asia—look at how badly they treat ‘their women.’ We have these European values, that includes respect for people of different genders, that’s why we need to close the borders, or prevent people from wearing the hijab,” things like this. Obviously, if you scratch the surface of this, this is total bullshit, because these people didn’t give a hoot about feminism or women’s equality six months before. But they’re able to use this discourse to divide people who otherwise might be standing in solidarity against anti-immigrant attacks, against anti-Muslim attacks.
While some of these new nationalisms are using feminist rhetoric and things like that—however shallow—it’s actually a lot more common to see the old school anti-feminist nationalisms, which are still very popular, for example here in the United States. Deep in Trump country where I live, there’s this anti-Clinton bumper sticker that a lot of cars had, a lot of trucks had, that said, “Trump That Bitch.” So we have these really nasty, violent, misogynist ways of expressing opposition to the Democratic Party or to Hillary Clinton. We see that in the way that when the media got wind of Trump’s history as a sexual harrasser, a sexual assaulter, not only did that not derail his candidacy, in some cases it even strengthened his popularity.
Because what’s going on in the US in 2017 is a lot of gender trouble, a lot of cultural anxiety about same-sex marriages, and trans folks trending in the media, and things like that. And you combine that with the economic reality that this old model of the provider, the patriarch, who works in the factory their whole life and can provide for their wife and their kids—this is an obsolete economic model. That’s not how families work today; that’s not how jobs work today. And so there’s this great cultural anxiety around gender that’s going on in the US today.
So when Trump says “Make America Great Again,” that’s not just turning back the clock to 1950 in economic terms; that’s also turning back the clock in gendered terms, continuing this backlash against feminism that’s been going on for the last 30, 40 years. We see that in all this anxiety about what bathroom people use, with these [transphobic “bathroom”] bills here in North Carolina and in other places. So when we think about these new nationalisms, it’s important to remember that they’re not gender neutral. There are these important ways that these nationalists are playing off of what we might call the precarious manhood of the twenty-first century, to try to fracture coalitions of folks who might otherwise be in solidarity by appealing to these old-school ideas about gender as a way of promoting these nationalist agendas.
Presenter 1: So this gives a little bit of context for the situation in which Trump was able to come to power. I want to emphasize that this is not about Trump himself; this is about all the forces beneath the surface that created a situation in which he could come to power, and which we have to do battle with. And right now they are positioned very well. Not only are they about to inherit all three branches of government—and in a way that will probably inspire and embolden nationalist and fascist groups around the rest of the world—but they’re still also able to present themselves as victims and underdogs in the United States, which is laughable. It’s laughable that somebody who is a billionaire could say that he is the champion of underdogs. Where do you think that billionaires come from?
I would like to think, though, that they are coming to power too early, that they’re coming to power without very much of the population behind them, that they’re coming to power at a time when many people really don’t believe in their legitimacy and are willing to question the legitimacy of the state itself. This is a time when we could organize a kind of resistance, a kind of contagious resistance that would make it impossible for them to enact their agenda… if we act quickly. If we don’t act quickly, probably this new level of oppression, on top of all the other layers of oppression that people have gotten used to, will be normalized.
But maybe we could normalize something else. Maybe we could normalize the kind of resistance that will make it impossible for them to deport another million, two million, three million people. Perhaps we could normalize the kind of resistance that will make it possible for us to be the ones driving the changes in society, that could solve the economic problems that drove people to nationalism in the first place. But in order to be able to do that, we are going to have to be able to go through reconfigurations of our own in our social movements. We’re going to have to be done with this idea that we could protest or pressure the government enough that they could fix these problems for us.
This is what I think: at this moment in history, revolution is more realistic that reform. And we actually have to be pushing an agenda that is revolutionary enough that it could actually solve all the problems that people have. We have to push a vision of a world in which profit and property and police are not the most legitimate and important things. And I think that if we can do this, and we can demonstrate this vision and demonstrate that that is possible, we may be surprised with how many people are behind us. This is a time when people are looking for extreme solutions, when people are desperate. even with this supposed recovery of the economy it hasn’t lifted up most of the people who are suffering. But in order to do this, first of all, I think we have to be done with all of the dead weight of old protest strategies and old values that we are carrying with us.
We’re also going to have to do some thinking about what it is that connects us. We don’t want to be pushing notions of identity that when they are turned around, serve fascists, and the idea that society could be divided into warring groups. Because I can’t be free, because I can’t have the life that I want, without fundamentally transforming the society, that means I’m fundamentally dependent on all those who are suffering even more than I am from all the different oppressive factors at work. And that means that when I think about what it means to belong, what it means to have a movement where we can be powerful together, I’m not thinking about my interests as a white person, I’m thinking about something totally different, something totally different that could connect us. And I don’t have a language for this yet, I just have an aspiration, to feel like we have to reach for that.
Presenter 2: So how to we get started? How do we reach all of the folks around us every day that we work with, that we go to school with, that we live with—to help start catalyzing these conversations and imagine what resistance could look like in this era of Trump? So to think about that, I want to propose a few different “wedges”, or points of intervention that we can use to connect with folks who are coming from different places in relation to this political moment.
So let’s start with folks who maybe voted for Trump or seemed supportive of Trump. Now, a lot of us will want to just write those folks off: fuck them, they’re a bunch of racists and bigots. And I understand that. For some of those people, that’s totally legit. And depending on who you are, how you’re positioned, you just may not want to go there. And I respect that. But ignoring these folks isn’t going to make them go away. And based on my experience with the folks who live around me who have the Trump signs and whatnot, while certainly some of them are just entrenched in their bigotry, my perception of it is that the majority of these folks, when they cast a vote for Trump, they were actually trying to cast a vote against Hillary Clinton. And what that meant for them is casting a vote against Washington, against the political class and business as usual. And their perception of Trump is someone who—however out there he is—was willing to speak his mind, or buck the system, or not be beholden to all these corporate donors. You know, there are things in that that make sense to me, that I can resonate with.
Now, I don’t draw the same conclusion from it. But when somebody’s like, “I’m just sick of the federal government imposing on our lives, and all the political class and the big parties just screwing over the little guy,” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m with you! I’m totally with you. But guess what: if you think this billionaire ‘underdog’ who’s actually gonna solve these problems, if you think you’re gonna jump in this time machine and go back to the 1950s and be able to work in a factory all your life like your granddaddy did, well, let me tell you something. You just got played. That’s not how it works. There’s nobody that can create those changes, because what we’re talking about is changes in the global economy that aren’t dependent on that guy. And furthermore, if you think that by him dividing you against your neighbors and the folks that you work with along lines of race, along lines of religion, that that’s going to make you safer, that that’s going to make your job more secure… You’ve got another thing coming. So sure, let’s be against Washington, let’s be against the political class. But let’s actually do that.” And so when a year goes by, two years go by, and folks start to realize that Trump is not delivering on these promises, that these problems are structural, then it might actually be—again, might be—that with some of these folks, we have a lot more in common than we originally realized.
And so this is not a moment to pretend that we’re warm fuzzy liberals, or to pretend like we’re just sort of radical Hillary supporters. No way! The popularity of Bernie Sanders on the one hand and Trump on the other hand shows that there’s this massive disgust, there’s this consensus of disillusionment with anything that smacks of standard politics as usual. And I relate to that; let’s embrace that! Let’s go for that! But let’s actually follow that to it’s logical conclusions, and think about what it would be like to organize our lives without them.
OK, so if that’s Trump supporters, what about progressives and liberals? There’s a lot of them around here; folks who were in to Hillary or were in to Bernie or things like that, a lot of whom right now are just heartbroken and scared and trying to pull up the covers and go back to sleep for four years. Well, as I see it, what’s happening with a lot of these folks right now is there’s these two huge myths that they’ve been invested in that have been punctured and are forcing them to re-examine their worldviews. And I think about that as the myth of American progress and the identification with the state.
Let me explain what I mean by that. So any of us who grew up in public schools are familiar with this idea that America is this great country, that sure, there were lots of problems back in the past, but that bit by bit things are getting better and better. And from the Civil War to the civil rights movement, basically all of these problems are eventually getting better and better. A progressive is someone who believes in that, who believes that the state’s gonna help us on this pathway towards things getting better and better.
But guess what? If we look around us, there’s no way that we can sustain that illusion any more. If we look at two and a half million people and growing in prison, more than any other country has incarcerated in the history of the world; if we look at the escalating ecological devastation that’s threatening our ability to live; if we look at the gaps between the rich and the poor that have grown greater and greater and greater since our parent’s generation; if we look at the way that this idea that we’d be able to work steady jobs, that we’d make more money that our parents, is just a fantasy today… We can’t sustain this illusion of progress anymore.
And so for a lot of progressives, there’s this painful loss of this core myth that was guiding them. And if we can help express that, if we can help open their eyes to the situation that’s around us, then maybe a lot of these folks will be able to break with that idea and recognize that, sure, changes happen; things are different, unquestionably. But that’s not the same as progress. Because a lot of the things that we’re used to identifying as progress are reorganizations or oppression, reorganizations of hierarchy that in some cases make them more even more stable, more resilient. And that’s what we’re dealing with in the twenty-first century, not a story of unbroken progress.
Likewise: what is a liberal? There’s a thousand definitions, but the way I see it, in the US, a liberal someone who believes that the pathway to social justice is through the state. There’s this identification, this sense of the state being something that’s really on their side. You know, not everyone in the state; there’s the bad apples in the police departments, and there’s the Republicans in Congress, and so on. But generally speaking, the state is the way that we fix things, it’s the way that we get health care, it’s the way that we keep ourselves safe, it’s the way that we protect the environment. Again: this fantasy can’t be sustained in the twenty-first century. You think that the US military’s presence around the world is making us safer? I don’t think so. You think that putting more and more cops on the streets is going to protect our lives? I don’t think so. When we look at the state’s basic function, which is preserving private property, do we think that the ecological crisis is going to be contained—against everything that makes sense to us—by preserving the inequalities of wealth and the ability of folks to exploit the environment as they see fit? That’s not how it works.
I think during the Obama administration, a lot of liberals really saw in Obama an extension of themselves, an extension of this ability to create justice in the world through the state. And now looking at the disillusionment with eight years of the same old shit, and following on the heels of that, Trump coming into office, this finally might be the time when many liberals are willing to break with that identification.
Because… what is the state? The state is nothing more than everyone in this room, everyone in this city, everyone in this country all of our energy our resources our passion our creativity, appropriated from us and stuck together into one big weapon that can then be wielded against us. And if we were to stop that process, stop giving away our power, our energy our resources our creativity, and instead build links horizontally, then we might be able to solve a lot of the problems that we rely on the state for.
So, talking to Trump supporters, talking to liberals and progressives… But remember, the largest group of people we’re talking about here in the United States are people who didn’t or couldn’t vote; people who don’t have a stake in the presidential spectacle. Just demographically that’s the case. Not to mention all the people who did vote, but just because… what else are they going to do?
Now, a lot of times these people get written off as apathetic, as people who are withdrawn, who don’t take responsibility for changing the world. That might describe a few people, but [overall] I don’t think that could be more false. Because many of these people, the reason they don’t vote, the reason we don’t vote, is because we know that it doesn’t change the world. But if that’s the only tool we have available to us, what do we do?
So when I’m connecting with these folks, when I’m connecting with other folks who share this disillusionment, this despair, what I want to say is: OK, yeah, I’m with you. Voting? It’s not gonna change the world. So how are we going to do it? Let’s take an example. In the news the last few days, everyone’s talking about the Affordable Care Act, and how the Republicans in Congress are going to get rid of it, and Rand Paul is gonna de-fund Planned Parenthood, and, “Ha ha ha, poor people, sucks for you!” And it’s scary, right? Many of us are feeling really vulnerable; how are we going to get our basic health care?
So… Well, one strategy would pursue is spend the next four years working really, really hard, calling our representatives and registering new voters and getting more Democrats, maybe a third party (or maybe not, let’s be realistic); maybe—Bernie please come back, 2020, we can do this! And maybe if we’re really really lucky and work really hard, then in 2020, we’ll get a Democratic administration! And they’ll pass the bill again… and it’ll be cut down by the insurance companies, but maybe we’ll get something out of it… Until the next reactionary administration cuts that, and back onto the treadmill… And in the mean time, we’ve all died of cancer! Really? Are we going to trust our bodies, our lives, our bodies? our health, our loved ones to those people? No! We can’t do that! But what else can we do?
OK, so we need health care. Who’s got the skills? Who’s got the resources? Who’s got the infrastructure? Because they’re here; they’re here in [your city], they’re here in [your state], they’re all over this country. The stuff, the skills we need, they’re at our fingertips. And what’s preventing our fingertips from connecting with those resources and skills we need is those gatekeepers, the profiteers, the people who have a stake in keeping us sick and poor so that we can’t meet our needs directly. So starting right here and now, let’s figure out what does it mean to take back our lives, to take back our resources, to believe that actually, it should all belong to us. That this profit motive that is keeping us sick and poor isn’t good for anyone, except for that handful at the top who are exploiting us.
And if we applied this logic not just to health care but to all the different problems that we’re facing… In terms of resisting surveillance and things like encryption; people in our communities are developing the apps, developing the software, sharing the skills to protect ourselves. We’re sure not going to rely on the NSA to do that for us. We can think about that in terms of food production, in terms of all kinds of different things; building autonomy proactively, outside of the state, without going through the route of parties and politicians and representatives. That’s the only way we’re actually going to build the kinds of communities, the kinds of resiliency that’s going to last, that’s not just going to become a weapon to be wielded against us the next time a reactionary administration comes into power. So whether I’m talking to Trump supporters or liberals or the silent majority who are unaffiliated with them, these are the things I want to emphasize: that it’s possible—and it’s necessary—to take back our lives, to take back our energy and resources from the state and from the parties and politicians, and to make these changes ourselves.
Presenter 1: I want to say something about autonomy. When we talk about autonomy, we don’t mean independence of the kind where you live on a ranch by yourself and you have to make your own everything. We mean a way of organizing our interrelations where all of us have a say in our lives, where all of us have a say in the ways that we contribute to the collectivity that we make. This isn’t a kind of independence; it’s a kind of interdependence that distributes freedom evenly.
I want to conclude by talking about some of the models for responding to the Trump regime that we’ve seen in other places—some of the models for what it looks like to organize when the goal can’t be just to pressure the government to do right by us for once, but when actually we are talking about trying to meet our needs directly. One of the first places that we went to speak with other people was in Brooklyn; we went to a social center called The Base. In The Base they have a clothing program for people who need clothing, they have books and literature that you can read, they have a space that people can go to get in out of the cold, to meet other people; of course they have all these things. After the election they called for an assembly to talk about what people can do together, and they saw that the people who had RSVPed to the assembly, first it was hundreds of people, and then it was more than that, and they had to move the assembly to a very big space. There were a tremendous number of people who wanted to talk together about what to do in the situation. Some of the initiatives that came out of that: the first of the initiatives was self-defense classes. Not just for people who already feel comfortable going to a gym and participating in some martial arts training, but people from all different walks of life, to have a collective relationship for what it looks like to defend ourselves. This is perhaps the most popular program that they started. They’re also working on setting up their space to serve as a sanctuary space in the event of ICE raids, in the event of attempts to deport people. And in addition to that, to complement that, setting up a rapid response network with a hotline, so that when people are targeted with these raids, or with police violence, or with autonomous right-wing violence like fascist attacks, or domestic violence, or any of the other problems for which someone might want to call the police or might need to, that there is an alternative, that there is somewhere else you can go with this. Creating this hotline, creating groups that are ready to respond to it, and spreading that so that people in the community have cause to trust each other, can have these experiences through which it becomes possible to rely on each other. In addition to this, The Base is also involved in international solidarity work with people who are in struggles like this in other parts of the world, like Rojava for example. And solidarity work with prisoners, people who are inside of the United States prison system. One out of every hundred adults is inside of the prison system. We’re not really organizing in the United States unless we’re also organizing with prisoners.
OK, so this is The Base; this is one group in one part of the United States. I want to emphasize: this is not just their idea or our idea; this idea is in the air. Has anybody here seen the website ungovernable2017.com? Coming out of struggles rooted in Black autonomy in Jackson, Mississippi, there’s a call for people to organize their own infrastructure for survival. In their words, their slogan is “Build and Fight, Fight and Build”: to build the resources necessary for people to have direct access to the food and health care and spaces that they need, that we all need to survive, and at the same time through this organizing to create the infrastructure for us to be able to respond to attacks from the government and defend each other from these attacks. They have also called for a nationwide day of action on January 20th and have endorsed the call from DisruptJ20.org for demonstrations in Washington, DC that day. This is the last thing that we want to talk about tonight, the day of action on January 20th.
One of the other places that we were on this trip, Bloomington, Indiana, a fairly small town— they have a project there called “Inaugurate the Revolution.” They’ve been organizing demonstrations for January 20th, trying to bring together many different people, organizing walk-outs from the university and from high schools, with the hope to get hundreds and hundreds of people into the streets, and to begin setting a precedent for what it looks like for us to organize together, to be able to respond to all the different assaults that are on the way, all the different attacks that are coming.
Finally I want to make a pitch for people to go to Washington DC. If you feel called to do so, if you feel capable of going. The group Disrupt J20 has been organizing now for a couple of months to put all the infrastructure in place for protests against Trump on the day of his inauguration. They’ve been putting together housing, so that there will be housing for everyone who goes there. They’re been putting together a legal infrastructure, so that there will be lawyers who can defend arrestees no matter what they are charged with and regardless of whether they are innocent or not. They’ve been putting together these spokescouncils where people from many different groups can coordinate together to plan their actions. The second of these spokescouncils took place on Sunday, and there were hundreds of people there.
Many different kinds of protest activity are planned for January 20th. Some people will be there offering food and medical care and other kinds of support to make it possible for everyone to be in the streets together. Other people will be there trying to lock down access to the checkpoints that the police will set up around the parade route, to make it impossible for Trump supporters to get into the stands to cheer as his motorcade goes past. There’s a call for a mobile anti-capitalist and anti-fascist bloc to converge at Logan Circle at 10 AM on January 20th, so that there will be a group that can move around the area outside of those checkpoints to defend people who are attacked by Trump supporters, to draw the police away from the blockades around the parade route so that people can engage in nonviolent civil disobedience there. There are also calls for people to shut down the transportation infrastructure around Washington DC. There are many different things.
I want to say a little bit about why I’m going to Washington, DC. For me, the worst case scenario thousands or millions of screaming fans while alt-right trolls and fascists beat up protestors around Washington, DC. If that were the narrative that comes out of the inauguration, that will embolden right wing forces around the country, and the consequences will be something that we will have to deal with in every small town and city around the United States. I’m going to Washington, DC because I don’t want other people in this dangerous situation to be there alone; I want them to be there in groups with people who are prepared to defend each other. And I’m going there finally because I think that the best case scenario would be that we show what it looks like to be ungovernable in a way that inspires people all around the United States and that makes new things possible in many towns, as people become inspired and begin to trust themselves and each other to be able to think that we could change the direction that the world is going.
And finally, I think this is important not just in the United States, but everywhere else that people are waiting to see what it looks like for this nationalist strategy of governance that I’ve been talking about to come into power. People in France that are waiting to see if the French fascist party will win the election. People in parts of Latin America that are waiting to see this is the new way, if right-wing nationalism is the future.
So anyway, that’s my pitch. What we would love to hear from you is what people are doing in [your city], or if you don’t know what people are doing but you want something to happen, what you would like to see happen here. Also we would welcome any of your comments about the hypotheses we’ve made about our historical moment. Thank you very much for listening.
Clara: In forthcoming episodes, we’ll feature more in-depth conversations with folks around the country who are putting these visions of resistance that aims beyond the target into practice. Stay posted to crimethinc.com/podcast for all the latest.
WHOEVER THEY VOTE FOR, WE ARE UNGOVERNABLE: A HISTORY OF ANARCHIST COUNTER-INAUGURAL PROTEST (EXCERPT)
Clara: So as we head to DC for the counter-inaugural protest, what are we getting ourselves in to? Whose shoes are we stepping into as we take on the presidential spectacle? To answer these questions, the brand new History Desk of the new CrimethInc.com - more on that shortly - has produced an exciting history of counter-inaugural protest from the 1850s to the present day. Here we present an excerpt from the piece to whet your appetite; you can read the full piece at CrimethInc.com.
Alanis: Whoever They Vote For, We Are Ungovernable A History of Anarchist Counter-Inaugural Protest
Thousands of protestors will stream into the streets of Washington, DC on January 20 to oppose the incoming presidency of Donald Trump. As they march, chant, unfurl their banners, and attempt to disrupt the inauguration, they step into a decades-long history of protests against the presidential spectacle.
What follows is a history of anarchist counter-inaugural activity from its first stirrings in 1969 to the high point of the anti-globalization movement in the early 2000s, through the failures of the Obama years to today. As we plan our resistance to the Trump regime and the world that makes him possible, let’s consider the successes achieved and the limitations encountered by previous anti-authoritarian generations. We have much to learn from the Yippies, flag burners, radio pirates, and black blocs that preceded us. What we do with their legacy is up to us.
The First Counter-Inaugural Protests: The Nixon Era and the Decline of Radicalism
Protestors, anarchist and otherwise, have confronted presidential inaugurations for many years. The earliest known disturbance took place in 1853, when a group of unemployed men attempted to stage a protest at the inauguration of Franklin Pierce, but were easily repelled by police. From that point on, however, no documented protests took place until the heyday of the civil rights, countercultural, and anti-war movements of the late 1960s. In this heady environment of revolutionary militancy, radicals achieved the confidence to disrupt the inauguration spectacle for the first time.
The first major counter-inaugural protest took place in 1969, when Richard Nixon was elected on the heels of the chaotic Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago and massive mobilizations against the war in Vietnam. In this atmosphere of rebellion, the inauguration presented a natural target for resistance. However, at a December 1968 convention of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), delegates rejected a proposal for a protest at Nixon’s inauguration. Speakers from the organization’s Black caucus argued that it would not be in the interest of the Black community, asking delegates to consider “whose heads are going to be busted.” Despite this dissension, a variety of New Left and peace groups took to the streets to articulate opposition to the incoming regime. While most framed their activity through the dominant rhetoric of nonviolence, others proved uncontrollable.
According to the New York Times, “A small, hard core of the country’s disaffected youth hurled sticks, stones, bottles, cans, obscenities, and a ball of tin foil at President Nixon” and his entourage during the inaugural parade. As Nixon’s motorcade approached, the protestors threw firecrackers and smoke and paint bombs, forcing the President’s car to speed away. After police drove them back from the parade route, the 300–400 “ultramilitants” raged through five city blocks, smashing the windows of banks, businesses, and police cruisers, writing graffiti, chucking bottles and stones at police and soldiers, and repeatedly burning the small American flags handed out by Boy Scouts along the parade route. Lest their politics be confused for those of the liberal anti-war organizers, they marched with “a mottled black bag that they said was supposed to represent ‘the black flag of anarchy.’” Eighty-one rioters were arrested. The rebellious young people were condemned by the nonviolent organizers whose limits they surpassed—a dynamic that remains familiar to this day.
Nixon’s second inauguration in 1973 saw larger but tamer protests. A massive crowd thronged the capitol grounds—from 60,000 to 100,000 strong according to various estimates—and a large march organized by prominent left and activist groups took place. The peace police were out in force, with speakers urging the crowd to remain orderly and marshals along the march route preventing disruptions. A radical march including SDS, the Progressive Labor Party, and “uninvited but active contingents of Yippies” aimed to get within audio range of the inauguration ceremony to disrupt it with noise. However, police successfully delayed the demonstration’s arrival until the ceremony had already concluded. Young people removed and burned the flags around the Washington Monument, replacing them with Viet Cong and other flags, while a few stone throwers managed to cause some minor ruckus around the inaugural parade route. Thirty-three arrests were reported.
The internal pacification within the protests foreshadowed the continuing decline of radical movements. As the corporate media drily noted, the protestors, scolded into passivity, quickly got bored with the litany of speakers in a familiar top-down format: “The cold weather and the familiarity of the rhetoric combined to disperse most of the protestors within little more than an hour.” A similar trajectory would emerge when the riotous diversity of the anti-globalization movement gave way to the larger but monotonous and top-down marches of the anti-war movement in the early 2000s.
[After discussing the decline of counter-inaugural protest from the late 1970s through the 1990s, we pick up the story with…]
The Bush Era: Anti-Globalization, Anti-War, and Crowd-Surfing to Freedom
Amid the complacency of an economic boom and a Democratic administration, anarchism slowly but steadily re-emerged as a vibrant revolutionary force in the United States. Rooted in punk communities and anti-fascist networks, inspired by Zapatistas, pushed forward by the anti-consumerist and do-it-yourself ethos, anarchists around the country began to coalesce into combative anti-capitalist forces. Armed with the formidable new black bloc street tactic learned from European autonomous movements, which made its US debut in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Washington, DC, this new wave of anti-authoritarians formed coalitions with environmental, labor, feminist, and anti-militarist activists. New generations contested state and capitalist dominance of public space through Reclaim the Streets and Critical Mass, while activists from Earth First! and anti-sweatshop movements on college campuses showed the gains that could be made through direct action. Militant anarchist protest exploded into popular consciousness with the dramatic success of the November 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle. In addition to a comprehensive analysis that transcended single-issue politics, the new anarchists wielded confrontational and effective tactics that rejected “speaking truth to power” in favor of material disruption.
The modern era of counter-inaugural protest kicked off in 2001, fueled by a surging anti-globalization movement near the peak of its power. Fired up after large mobilizations in the preceding months against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington, DC and the political party conventions in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, a wide range of activists set their sights on George W. Bush’s inauguration in January. After the controversial election outcome, many liberals waxed outrage over “hanging chads” and the supposed misdeeds of Florida’s election board and the role of the Supreme Court. Anarchists set a different tone from the beginning, however, having laid plans for demonstrations against whichever president won before knowing the outcome of the election. For weeks leading up to the protests, organizers framed their critiques of the “InaugurAuction,” highlighting how both candidates and parties answered to the dictates of capital above all else.
Between 20,000 and 50,000 protestors converged on DC for the inauguration, countered by some 7,000–10,000 law enforcement officers. For the first time, security forces initiated a system of checkpoints at entrances to the parade route. Although these limited the materials that Bush’s opponents could bring into the parade route, they also created bottlenecks that prevented some of his supporters from being able to reach their ticketed seats, as well as offering chokepoints for demonstrators to disrupt. Al Sharpton led a rally near the Capitol, while thousands more converged at Dupont Circle. Just nine arrests were officially reported, despite clashes at various points along the parade route and throughout the city. A lawsuit filed by protestors would later successfully contend that police had provoked and brutalized protestors and bystanders, forcing the department to revise its policies towards protests and pay out $685,000.
The initial call for a militant anarchist bloc came from the Barricada Collective, a project of the Boston chapter of the Northeast Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC). An invitation-only spokescouncil took place the night before, at which folks planned the march route and discussed tactics. A substantial black bloc converged on the morning of the inauguration, taking to the streets behind a banner reading, “Whoever They Vote For, We Are Ungovernable.” At one point, when the march had been hemmed in by riot police, an enterprising protestor used a wheelbarrow found at a nearby construction site as a wedge to lead a charge breaking out of the encirclement. The march managed to get quite close to the parade route before being beaten back. Bush, who had previously been traveling the route on foot and waving to onlookers, was forced to get back into his car, speeding in a motorcade past angry crowds to the White House like Richard Nixon in 1969. One protestor chucked an egg that smashed against the side of his limousine. By pushing militant resistance to the threshold of the inaugural parade, anarchists helped to set the tone for the next eight years, marking a turning point in the narrative of how people relate to the president.
After crashing the parade route, the black bloc made its way to the Navy Memorial. Insurgents climbed the flagpole, removed the symbols of patriotism and replaced them with a red and black flag. As infuriated police formed a barrier to close them in, the mischief-makers executed a dramatic escape, demonstrating once and for all the strategic value of experiences in punk subcultures. One jumped and scrambled away, while the other leapt from the flagpole onto the extended hands of the cheering marchers and crowd-surfed to freedom.
In addition to the black bloc, another anarchist group created a pirate radio station in Washington, DC during the inauguration, jamming the airwaves with anti-electoral propaganda. Around the city, small flyers were distributed publicizing the FM frequency to thousands of listeners stuck in traffic snarled by the demonstrations. The station was carefully set up to allow for rapid disassembly as soon as police arrived to shut it down, which was successfully accomplished. In an era before livestreaming and instantaneous crowd-sourced reporting, expressing the “become the media” ethos by seizing the airwaves back from corporate stations seemed like a critical intervention. However, as one participant in the pirate radio project recalled, “We felt like bad-ass Adbusters-style culture jammers… but in retrospect, I wish I’d been in the black bloc.”
By the time of the next inauguration, the political context had shifted in dramatic ways. The Bush administration capitalized on the September 11th, 2001 attacks both to pursue profitable wars and occupations overseas and to crack down on domestic resistance under the new rubric of “homeland security.” Brutal repression hampered decentralized action against the FTAA in Miami in 2003, marking the beginning of a downturn in the “summit-hopping” model of mobile activist subcultures. Years of massive anti-war demonstrations failed to halt the US invasion of Iraq. This wave of protests had drawn huge numbers of people into the streets, but had been far more centrally controlled by non-profits and communist front groups than the decentralized rebellions of the anti-globalization movement. Anarchists took active roles in organizing a “Really Really Democratic Bazaar” at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston and the DNC 2 RNC march, but a narrower focus on the Republican Party and the war in Iraq attracted more attention. Half a million people protested Bush at the Republican National Convention protests in New York City, driven by a broad coalition of moderates, liberals, and progressives whose “anybody but Bush” logic infected even some radicals. As a result, the overlapping movements converging against Bush’s second inauguration could still mobilize large numbers, but lacked the vitality and foundational respect for diversity of tactics of previous years.
Leading up to January 2005, anarchists from New York City issued a call for a mass anti-authoritarian march. On the morning of the inauguration, a black bloc assembled at a pre-announced convergence point and set off to confront the police lines along the parade route. Miscommunication led to the march departing before many of the anticipated people and materials had arrived, weakening the bloc’s force and prompting frustrating internal debates afterward. The march arrived at police lines a block from the inaugural route behind a reinforced banner that read, “Right Wing Scum, Your Time Has Come.” Unfortunately, the banner was only “reinforced” with flimsy PVC piping, lacking the spray insulation inside that increases its structural integrity. As a result, it quickly shattered when attacked by police, who broke up the banner and beat protesters with shards of PVC pipe.
Participants from that march regrouped at a reconvergence point and set out for the fence again. Encountering a truck stacked with wooden pallets, they chucked them into the street to build barricades against police vehicles and wielded them as shields at the front of march. As the heroic but doomed protestors charged an inaugural checkpoint, police drenched them with wave after wave of pepper spray from behind tall fences. Shortly after, the checkpoints leading into the parade were shut down by security. What role the black bloc’s charge played in their decision remains unknown.
Other statements had circulated among anarchists leading up to the inauguration calling for decentralized autonomous actions. A massive protest rally convened at Malcolm X Park and marched to McPherson Square. Elsewhere in the city, different crews of anarchists created minor disruptions and linked with other protests and marches. Later that night, a packed punk show in a church basement featured speeches from stage and tables of anarchist literature. Afterwards, masked accomplices distributed bandannas, gloves, and cans of spray paint to the enthusiastic concertgoers, some two hundred of whom set off into the streets. The march surged through the Adams Morgan neighborhood, smashing banks and corporate businesses and attacking a police substation with projectiles. A massive banner was dropped over a Starbucks reading, “From DC to Iraq: With Occupation Comes Resistance.” Police eventually detained and arrested dozens of people, including many teenagers participating in a demonstration for the first time, forcing them to kneel in snow in the street for hours. Ultimately none of the charges stuck, and some indignant arrestees successfully sued the police department again and reaped financial rewards for their participation.
Some radicals raised a stink about the march, complaining that the smashed police station included a Latino/a community liaison unit, and initiating a witch-hunt at the 2005 National Conference on Organized Resistance later that winter about who was responsible for the “violence.” Beyond constructive internal debates over strategy and tactics, the controversy over the march revealed the fracturing consensus over diversity of tactics and tensions around responses to white supremacy that would rear their head four years later.
[After passing through the low point of 2009 and the slight recovery of 2013, we’re going to skip ahead to…]
Conclusion: Lessons Learned for the Trump Era and Beyond
Now as 2017 approaches, the wheel has turned again. The counter-inaugural demonstrations against Trump are likely to be the largest in many years, perhaps ever. And once again, anarchists confront advantages and disadvantages: massive numbers in the streets and broad popular support, but a focus on Trump as an individual rather than democracy and the state as a whole, as well as efforts to contain and control rebellious protest. While the last two years have seen an explosion of large, angry, disruptive street protests, they have also seen a proliferation of policing tactics, both internal and external to these movements. While few will dispute that we should be in the streets, many will attempt to redirect our anger and constrict our possibilities - and the stakes are higher than ever.
From past cycles of demonstrations, we’ve learned that we can exercise a surprising capacity for disruption - but attempting to do the same thing twice rarely succeeds. The DC police department operates under considerable restrictions due to frequent lawsuits attacking their repression of protest, so marchers may have more latitude than in other cities. However, the concentration of police, military, and private security will be prodigious, and the explosion of surveillance technology inside and outside of popular movements increases our risks after the fact. We will also likely have to confront the presence of armed white supremacists and fascists emboldened by Trump’s election, potentially a serious escalation from the shouting matches with Bush supporters in previous years. Popular sympathy for Black Lives Matter has at least opened conversation in broader circles about the legitimacy of rioting and disruption. Yet no consensus around diversity of tactics exists between distinct social movements, and the discourse of nonviolence has received a boost - however misguided - from heroic resistance at Standing Rock and misreadings of revolts overseas. These contradictory realities mean that possibilities as well as risks are extraordinarily heightened in this new terrain.
Above all, when we resist Trump and all politicians on January 20, whether in DC or in our own communities, we’re not just fighting to shut down business as usual. We’re fighting to define what it will mean to be against Trump in the years to come. Will our energy be diverted into rallying support for Democrats or raising money for nonprofits? Or will we build towards a world beyond all parties and politicians? Can our opposition to Trump transcend single issues and undermine the legitimacy of capitalism and the state altogether?
On January 20, we will take to the streets. But what we do in the months and years beyond the inauguration will determine the nature of resistance the world that made Trump possible.
UNDER NO MANAGEMENT: THE NEW CRIMETHINC.COM
Clara: And finally, we want to announce the launch of the new CrimethInc.com! Beginning this month, the website has a new look, new features, and an avalanche of new content, including new crews of folks contributing posts on current events, political analysis, technology, history, arts and culture, and lots more. Here’s an announcement from the new site:
Alanis: UNDER NO MANAGEMENT: THE NEW CRIMETHINC.COM
Clara :As 2017 opens, we face new challenges in an increasingly volatile world. Since last summer, we’ve been hard at work expanding our networks and updating our infrastructure to prepare for the global situation that is now unfolding. Over the next month, we’ll be announcing several ambitious new projects.
The first of these is this website itself. We’ve assembled several new editorial groups and are in the process of overhauling the web design.
Effective immediately, we’ll be publishing at least four new articles a week, extending our coverage to a much wider range of topics and formats. We’re not just proposing a subculture or a particular methodology of protest, but a total way of living. Accordingly, in addition to current events and analysis, we’ve established separate CrimethInc. cells to focus on technology, history, the arts, and more. Over the next two weeks, each of these groups will introduce itself here and outline its goals for this new phase of activity.
Meanwhile, we have completely rebuilt this website. The design is now responsive, meaning that it will work equally well on your phone, tablet, laptop, and big screen.
The complete archives of everything that has appeared online under the CrimethInc. insignia are now all in one place, the feed. For now, you can explore the feed chronologically; soon, we’ll have it organized categorically and topically as well.
Along with overhauling this website, we’re also expanding our social media presence. You can find and share CrimethInc. articles on a wide variety of networks and platforms. Links to all of our profiles are in the website footer. You can also join our new email list to receive a forthcoming newsletter. We’ll be putting the finishing touches on the redesign over the next two weeks. If you notice a problem or want to offer your input, please drop us a line.
The website is powered by an app built with Ruby on Rails. If you’re a designer, a developer, or an adventurous explorer and want to help us build a better world, send up a signal flare—we’ll be waiting for you. There’s still plenty of work to do (and always will be until we finally destroy empire). Front end HTML and CSS—backend Ruby and Rails—UI/UX design—copyediting—language translation. There’s something for everyone.
And we’ve only just begun. Stay tuned for several more surprises.
Alanis: And last but of course never least, here are some recent and upcoming prisoner birthdays we want to highlight:
Clara: On January 14th was Sundiata Acoli, former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army soldier;
Alanis: And also on the 14th, Herman Bell, former Black Panther and COINTELPRO target.
Clara: On the 15th, Joe-Joe Bowen, a Black Liberation Army soldier and prison rebel;
Alanis: Don’t forget that the Trans Prisoner Day of Action and Solidarity is coming up on January 22nd. Check out https://transprisoners.net/ for more details and info.
Clara: On the 26th, Marius Mason, Earth Liberation Front saboteur, poet, trans activist, and all-around badass.
Alanis: And on the 4th of February, Veronza Bowers, Jr, a former Black Panther framed for murder by the FBI - check back to Episode 17 for a clip from an interview with him about his life and case.
Clara: Please take a moment to send these folks a card or letter; you can find their info on our website at crimethinc.com/podcast, along with a full transcript of this episode and plenty of links and references.
Alanis: And that’s it for this episode! Stay posted to crimethinc.com for updates and reporting about the J20 protests in DC and beyond. Don’t worry, dear listeners - we are in this with all of you for the long haul. Trump or not, we are going to carry on anarchist resistance to the bitter or beautiful end. Thanks for all of your support.
Clara: And Happy New Year! See you in the streets…