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DAN-LA, the Black Bloc, and Anarchism

by Shawn McDougal Friday, Sep. 08, 2000 at 4:58 PM

This is a message from Shawn McDougal, an anarchist organizer in LA, about some of the dispute about LA DAN, the D2K protests, Black Bloc anarchists being angry about exclusion, and so on.

I'll preface my comments by conextualizing my perspective: I'm a Black anarchist, born and raised in LA, I'm 29, and I'm male. I've never been a punk. I'm an anarchist cuz I'm against all forms of status, prestige, and illegitimate authority, and I work to build a society that shows people that self-worth, self-realization, and joy in life are not zero-sum quantities that depend on competition within hierarchies. I grew up poor on welfare, but I've attended schools with middle-class and wealthy folks on the East coast. As an adult, I've lived a couple of years abroad, mostly in Asia and in South America. I work as a community organizer, and am damn happy and lucky to get paid to do meaningful work and not be a stone-cold corporate slave. I see my long-term work as all about building community-based alternative institutions and less about mass mobes.

From what I can tell, anarchists that are outright enraged by DAN are precisely the ones who had no role in organizing with DAN or D2K for the demos...There's a tendency for people, anarchists included, to get stuck in an attitude of 'tribalism', where people find it much easier to categorize and demonize people they don't know than engage them, dialogue with them, get to know them. There's a tendency for people to have this absolutist 'US' vs. 'THEM' mentality that really is at the socio-psychological roots of nationalism and the herd-mentality. It'd be nice to see more so-called anarchists do a little self-analysis on this tip. Without such an awareness, they really do the goals of anarchism a disservice. (Yeah, I know i'm speaking from my own perspecitve of what anarchism means. But that's automatic, since I can't speak from anybody else's perspective.) I was on a panel at the anarchist conference and one of the panelists had a very vehement attitude that dismissed DAN out-of-hand as 'reformist' and 'full of paid activists flying around the country from action to action'. What was funny is nothing she said seemed grounded in any experience. It was straight vitriol and vilification. Although what she said didn't resonate with everyone gathered in the crowded session, it resonated with enough folks there that it made me feel kinda depressed about the level of ignorance and the sense of almost apocalyptic isolationism in the anarchist scene. (There's an almost religious fervor folks get when they're caught up in the idea that everyone who's not exactly like them is out to get them or is in cahoots with THE ENEMY...God, the material is rich for further analysis of mass-psychology amongst people who see themselves as fundamentally alienated from society and yet replicate many of the same patterns in terms of herd-mentality and simplistic, reductionist thinking...)

Having said this is not to say that there weren't dynamics within DAN that were problematic. There were. There was a tendency among SOME local organizers to have an almost obsessive worry about things getting out of hand 'once all the out-of-town hordes show up'. Some degree of concern seems justified: the concern that there'd be a lot of white folks coming into town who didn't have any analysis of white-supremacy and racism as it affects the activist scene, while a good number of the local DAN organizers where people of color and whites used to working in consciously multiracial anti-white supremacist settings. DAN organizers wanted to make a conscious effort to begin to address the ways in which other recent mobilizations were so dominated by white activists. (This is an issue of long-term concern that, partially thanks to the efforts of DAN-LA, has begun to be addressed on many fronts, e.g. the inclusion for the first time of discussions at the Ruckus Camp about white-supremacy and how the movement(s) can address it, 'anti-racism for white folks' workshops at the convergence center...) There was also a tendency among SOME local organizers to obsess about making sure that meetings went off in a way that wasn't derailable. (A not unheard-of concern among any organizer dealing with making meetings happen in settings where all sorts of folks, from provocateurs to psycho-sectarians to random wingnuts may and do appear.) Although I didn't attend later spokescouncil meetings (I was too busy doing other logistical work), I did attend early (before 8/14) meetings before a lot of affinity groups had formed. There were some occasions where process felt rushed through in order to get through an agenda. Another factor in this is that, in LA, we are not all anarchist--probably about a fourth. (Nor would I want us to be, since from my perspective as an organizer for the long-term movement, the whole goal is to draw in and work with people who aren't already just like me. Transformation happens through working and struggling together across differences.) Many of the organizers were new to the spokescouncil and affinity group model, and it was an important learning process for them.

Another factor in the way the actions played out in LA was that early on DAN-LA decided to focus its organizing resources on actions led by local community groups and organizers. (The Seattle-WTO strategy of shutting down the whole thing was ruled out early on as a goal.) So, when out-of-town folks showed up a couple of days before the actions, instead of it being like, 'Okay. Here's a map of Downtown LA. Here's a map of the Staples Center. Go to it!' it would be: 'Okay, you can do what you want. But the actions that DAN-LA has decided to focus the bulk of its resources (communications, media, meeting space, etc.) on are the following...Oh, and one other thing: if you plan on participating in an action organized by a local group, please respect their particlar action plans...'

Although I originally thought the local groups would come up with very elaborate, very confrontational action plans, many settled on more tame, more controlled types of actions, without the kind of excitement one would see in, say, a reclaim the streets type of action. But hey, that was their prerogative. What some local groups planned or didn't plan, however, didn't stop some other (mostly local) activists from doing a very powerful and creative banner-hang right across the street from the Staples Center. I'm tired of activists whining about what others aren't willing to do, and how this oppresses them. I say to them: Fuckin' DIY, asshole, and recognize that it's different strokes for different folks.

Now, one of the tendencies amongst SOME DAN organizers was to assume that anarchists coming to town would mean a movement that would be even whiter than otherwise and that allowing the North American Anarchist Conference (NAAC) to share the space with the convergence center would help precipitate a police-shutdown of the center. At the critical meeting where the question of allowing the NAAC to use the convergence center for workshops was being discussed (the NAAC organizers needed to know right away cuz of time constraints), one idiotically obstinate and misinformed but respected local organizer (white, late 20s, male) said 'If the NAAC uses the convergence space, the space will feel even less inviting to local activists of color [because of the white crusty-punk feel of it all that was prevalent in Seattle]'. I informed them all that, of the 7 people of color in that particular meeting, 4 of us where anarchists. So the idea that the anarchist scene is whiter than the general activist scene is wrong.

The non-anarchist then took the tack that the fact that John Zerzan was on the list of guest speakers at the NAAC would give the cops an excuse to shut it down. (Zerzan's a primitivist who apparently is noted for singing the virtues of fucking shit up; he was on the panel with me at the NAAC and said some annoying things about 'getting beyond Leftism', but I personally haven't read a lick of his work...I hear he says civilization is the root of all evil...) Anyway, after some debate, the guy finally decided to play the asshole and said that, no matter what, he would move to block a decision allowing the NAAC to use the space. Folks in general were miffed at his intransigence, and some of us anarchists wanted to continue the discussion, but it had been a long meeting and most people were damned tired and ready to go home...

This illustrates how, although so-called anarchists caught-up in the throes of tribalistic 'US' vs. 'THEM' herd-thinking may cry out, 'See! DAN wouldn't let the NAAC use the space. DAN must be against us!' the actually reality of DAN's decision around the NAAC is more complex, and the actual reality of DAN is more complex.

Now, as far as all the other claims of police collaboration or moving to quell Black Bloquites on the part of DAN-LA, I say: Bullshit. I don't have any simpler way to put it. Although I can't account for what individuals in groups like the ISO tried or didn't try to pull at the march to the jail (I wasn't there), I know there was no DAN-LA effort to do anything to stop Black Bloquites. The most organized thing that happened was a dialogue, held the weekend before the DNC, where a bunch of folks from DAN-LA and the convergence space, a bunch of folks who were participants at the NAAC--many Black Bloquites, and random other activists got together to discuss the tactical value of property destruction in the kinds of activities that had already been planned by local groups. It was a very interesting discussion, with around 80-100 folks present. It was facilitated by a Eugene anarchist named Tim who was doing a lot to help out with logistics at the convergence center. Although at the outset it was established that no one in the room had the position that there was something morally wrong with property destruction (and this was always the DAN-LA position), it seemed that, when some people would question the tactical value of certain kinds of property destruction in the context of, say, permitted marches or rallies, or question the way certain property-destruction tactics might create sensationalist media coverage that pulled attention from the issues locals were organizing around, the people defending property destruction wanted to take it to the level of principle and claim that the opposition was being reformist or counter-revolutionary. (I swear, there's a way in which the fetishization of or self-identification with certain tactics becomes tantamount to raising those tactics to the level of unquestionable religious rituals or sacraments. More material for further analysis...)

I do know that, on Monday at the rally organized by D2K (not DAN), when the BBites at the fence were involved in escalating tensions with the police on the other side (throwing plastic bottles et al., getting pepper-sprayed, et al.), the rally security folks (all a bunch of non-sectarian activists themselves) did go over and try to deesacalate the situation. They were worried that things would get out of hand and that thousands of people who didn't know what was going on, who just came for the rally or to hear Rage Against the Machine or Ozomatli would be put at risk of police violence for something they had no say over. What specifically happened, I don't know. I'm told the spread-thin security teams were drawn away from the fence when the cops stole our puppets on the other side of the rally, and then the fence tensions between BBites and police escalated soon after, justifying (for the police) the shut-down of the rally...It coulda led to a riot, and maybe that woulda been interesting and empowering and consciosuness-raising for some folks, and maybe it woulda been great for media coverage...but then again, maybe it woulda fucked over a lotta people who weren't part of any of the organizing and thought they were just coming to enjoy some music...Maybe some of the people woulda been trampled over as folks were trying to escape the gas...I think more-militant-than-thou folks should organize their own rallies instead of pulling shit at rallies organized by others. Just make sure the folks they invite understand that there may be a riot cuz people intend to provoke police by throwing bottles at them.


For Liberation Everyday,

Shawn McDougal


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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 4 posted about this article.
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"Tribalism" Jon Sherman Friday, Sep. 08, 2000 at 10:41 PM
tribalism redux stephen Sunday, Sep. 10, 2000 at 4:40 PM
re DAN LA, the Black Block and Anarchism Bert Newton Sunday, Sep. 10, 2000 at 6:32 PM
leave my dog alone Jon Sherman Monday, Sep. 11, 2000 at 10:08 AM
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