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Reportback from Boston no-DNC consulta

by Bl(A)ck Tea Society Thursday, Feb. 26, 2004 at 3:12 PM

An Austin activist provides a reportback to the DNC resistance consulta, held in Boston Feb 13-16.

reportback An Austin activist provides a reportback to the DNC resistance consulta, held in Boston Feb 13-16.

The Democratic National Convention Resistance Consulta, called by an anti-authoritarian coalition known as the Bl(A)ck Tea Society, was held in Boston on the weekend of February 13-16. Participants traveled from all over the country, either with or on behalf of larger affinity groups. Written proposals came in from as far away as Washington state. The purpose of the consulta was to collectively discuss and educate one another about the upcoming actions surrounding the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Boston on July 26-29. Participants came to hear what was already being planned, both by the Bl(A)ck Tea Society and the State, as well as to offer discussion and proposals about possible action scenarios.

The majority of the consulta was held in a rather large rectangular room, on the second floor of a radical community church near Copley Square. (A painting on the third floor featured the Virgin Mary in a balaclava.) The walls of the meeting room were draped with Anarchy flags of every color: black/red (anarcho-syndicalism), black/purple (anarcha-feminist), black/pink (anarcho-queer) and black/green (eco-anarchist). This broad inclusiveness of anti-authoritarian perspectives, staunchly defended by the facilitators against pressure from multiple directions, allowed the Bl(A)ck Tea Society to open a space where struggle was placed before platformist quibbling-where theory was supplanted by a solid commitment to cooperation and action.

Through the morning session of the consulta, somewhere between 60-70 participants were presented with an innovative model of facilitation that was nothing short of inspired. Members of the BTS spoke with all of us about the questions they had dealt with in the weeks leading up to the consulta. The big one, they told us, concerned whether our community had reached a level of maturity where mass decentralized action was now possible. Their conclusion, based on long discussion, was that we, as an anarchist movement, were ready to take the next step.

The decentralized mass action still fresh on a lot of our minds was the “People’s Strike” in Washington, D.C. the fall of 2002. While a certain number of affinity groups there had pulled off daring direct actions (the burning barricade still vividly recalled by a number of us) the large percentage of those that converged on the city were arrested on the first day. Each was corralled together after participating in the few centralized actions that had been planned: the pagan cluster, the snake march, critical mass, etc. From this experience, the problem appeared of how to best encourage larger numbers of people to organize and carry out autonomous direct actions.

The BTS facilitators decided that the problem was one of support and coordination. At the People’s Strike, groups traveling from far out of town did not have access to the sorts of information they might need to plan an action. This was true both in terms of tactical logistics, as well as the particular weave of local issues and threads of history that overlay any city. The consulta opened, then, with a detailed presentation of Boston’s geography and the ways in which certain locations intersected with systems of class and race privilege. About Charlston, Dorchester, and Roxbury, we learned about the construction of INS detention centers, the lack of reliable public transportation, and the presence of Bioterrorism research laboratories. The BTS made it clear that it would provide any sort of historical or community-specific information that might be needed in the planning of any direct action.

“People coming to Boston must have a plan,” one of the BTS facilitators insisted. Affinity groups were encouraged to cluster if they wished to coordinate larger, more above-ground actions. At the same time, all groups were welcomed to approach the BTS about any logistical support needed for more clandestine actions-as long as details were kept private. (For purposes of greater electronic security, all participants were encouraged to procure encrypted accounts from The role of the Bl(A)ck Tea Society, as they described it, was not to plan actions but to provide a framework for action, a certain amount of infrastructure, and their full support before, during, and after each affinity group’s action.

Included in the Bl(A)ck Tea Society’s coalition is the National Lawyers Guild (which has already pledged a minimum of 50 legal observers), BALM (Boston-Area Liberation Medics), and the Anarchist Black Cross, which teaches street defense and provides material, moral and monetary jail support for those arrested. The message delivered to all of us by the BTS was that our backs were covered at every step of the way; and they would bend theirs over backwards to ensure that whatever we wanted to do would be carried off in the clearest, safest, and most effective manner possible.

The education provided by members of the BTS and allies about local issues was considerable. We were given a detailed analysis of the labor situation in Boston, which may or may not calculate heavily in the equation of this summer’s actions. 32 of the 32 city unions do not currently have contracts in Boston, and this includes the Police and Firefighter unions. While it is expected that Mayor Menino (D) will negotiate at least some of the contracts prior to the convention, the ones that remain without contracts are likely to march. In the case of the Police union, the city police are threatening to strike and consider any outside security officials, including Federal and State, scabs. The general consensus was that we should in no way fool ourselves into believing that a Police union is our ally. Nonetheless the situation might provide certain opportunities for action.

Other pressing social issues were discussed, including the severe lack of affordable housing or living wages throughout Boston, high taxes, gentrification, and the unaccountable growth of corporate power. BTS organizers encouraged anyone planning an action to conduct research about the area beforehand, either independently or with their support. The chances are high that allies may be found in even the most unexpected places.

Weeks before the consulta, Tom Ridge declared the Democratic National Convention a “high-level national security event.” While the Boston city council has expressed that it wants nothing to do with the so-called “Miami model,” there will be at least one thing in common between the two approaches. It is what has become the most visceral, material expression of all that we oppose: the FENCE. In this case, however, we might see it in its most honest form: a solid, opaque, black wall fully enclosing several blocks around the Fleet Center where the convention will be held.

Anyone (the police in particular) looking for a repeat of Miami is likely to be disappointed. The BTS has made it clear that, for all the support they intend to offer out-of-towners, they will be planning no centralized march against the fence. Attempts to dismantle it were by no means discouraged, but the implication was that any attempt-small or large-would be more likely to succeed if planned and executed in secret. For this and other such actions, the Bl(A)ck Tea Society reiterated their commitment to provide as much information and coordination as possible before the event.

At the same time, the Bl(A)ck Tea Society expressed a strong desire, shared by most of the consulta participants, that the initiators of any action join and extend local struggles. This would be in contrast to previous “fence” actions, whose participants risked isolating themselves from local communities by seizing upon only the most visible, and also most temporary, symbols of exclusion in the city.

Throughout the discussion on Saturday, which continued for over eight hours with only a few short breaks (as well as an unexpected false “fire alarm” that forced us to evacuate the building) what impressed me the most was the considerable focus and-dare I say it?-“professionalism” of all those that attended. Many attendees took extensive notes and forced themselves to jot down to every comment, even when they seemed ready to topple over from exhaustion. Everyone was fully engaged in the conversations taking place. The dialogue was spirited, cooperative and impressively efficient. There was a general sense that our discussions were of actual import; that all we said and how carefully we listened would have a real, material impact on future events.

I was reminded of the shift described by militants in Paris, France 1968; where they “broke out of the psychology of defeat, the outlook of the loser” (endemic of Western Leftists, even then) and began to understand themselves as subjects of their own history. There were no spectators present at the consulta, and no spectacle either: only participation. Should this level of direct personal involvement continue, expressed collectively in our rejection of electoral politics and its thin veils of “democracy,” the participants of the Republican National Convention protests will have much to live up to: once they see the barricades burning in the streets of Boston.

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