** Breaking the Spell - Coverage and Analysis of the Anarchist Convention
(originally published on the Sonoran Activist Network News, 8.15.00)
Hundreds trekked to LA this past week to attend the North American Anarchist Convention, held concurrently with the Democratic National Convention, several alternative conventions, and a steady flow of street demonstrations that have rocked the city with activity and reflected the need to address deep societal problems.
At a warehouse in a sketchy neighborhood near Elysian Park in downtown LA, black-wearing, patch-sporting crusty punks, red and green anarchists, and others not necessarily fitting the mold of what most perceive as "anarchists", came together to do workshops and trainings that ranged from history of the anarchist movement to bike repair to womyn's healing. In gathering as like minds, they were also enacting their vision of living an alternative to the system, one free from authority, in which personal freedom is maximized yet balanced by personal responsibility.
A security clearance consisting of giving a name, being solicited for a donation, and offered housing. In the warehouse, individuals with backpacks containing all they owned lounged on the floor alone, in small groups, or circled-up in workshops. Tables covered with literature were available for the browsing, and daily movies around the topic of anarchy were also played.
Although some wondered if the conference was perhaps more of a "scene" than a movement, many of those present were there specifically to express a loathing of the corrupt political system and the urgent need to dismantle it. While the general level of organization was low, there was discussion on the need to increase discipline and unity within the movement.
Also a main topic of discussion was infiltration and systematic repression of the movement by the federal government. Several anarchists from Eugene, Oregon are currently facing questionably brought felony counts that, if convicted, could lead to up to eighty-six years in jail. The threat this poorly-organized group represents stems mainly from their advocacy of corporate and state property destruction, which got the spotlight in November as a small group of anarchists smashed windows and sprayed graffiti on chain stores in downtown Seattle during the WTO protests in Seattle. More recently police cars were vandalized at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.
Anarchism, which has a long worldwide history as a movement, has been gathering momentum among disaffected youth in the US, as evidenced by the attendance of at least several hundred people at the conference. When scores in the "Black Bloc" marched with linked arms during Human Needs not Corporate Greed, it was clear the movement has grown since Seattle and the goals of unity and organization within the movement are being addressed.
The impromptu tactic of tossing bottles and other miscellaneous items at the police line over the massive protective fence at the Staples Center showed the Black Bloc anarchists are still there to challenge the system that tries to control "civil unrest", but that their efforts are at this point still mostly symbolic.
To destroy corporate property is empowering to those who participate in the Black Bloc. A quote from "Breaking the Spell", a movie by an anarchist filmmaker covering the activities of the Eugene anarchists in Seattle explained: "Our whole lives we are barraged with corporate logos and trapped by consumer culture. When you smash the window of Starbucks, it breaks that spell." (not the exact words, sorry)