Here’s an interview I did with a fellow “Boston Straggler” named Luke Radl on my experiences at the Anti-NATO/G8 Protests in Chicago.
Could you start off by telling me why you decided to go to Chicago for the NATO summit?
Sure, so I went not with the hopes that the protests would do much in the way of convincing the elites in power that they should “change their evils ways” but more so to network with other people I could form alliances with and learn from. It was quite a self-educating mission and one in which I hoped to meet up with some cool people and plan for future actions. Apart from that I wanted to talk to others about the virtues of anarchism whenever the subject may have been brought up but I never really pushed it too much to make it annoying. I usually talked about anarchism within the context of trying to clear up misconceptions rather than proselytize. So it was very much an educational and networking driven desire than a desire to really get involved with the chants and protests.
For me the chants and protests are good in terms of maybe raising public consciousness about the problems in modern society (though this proved to be difficult when the CPD and our other “wonderful leaders” scared most businesses and people out of the city) as well as, again, doing education and networking within the rallies and protests. The chants such as, “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off your riot suit!” while probably being my favorite chant I can’t say I think that chant or many others really help anyone outside of the protest. I suppose as an anarchist I’m just de facto skeptical of permitted marches in which a good portion of the protesters think the power structure is made to follow their orders instead of the obvious corporate interests that have clearly bought out the leaders very early on if they weren’t institutionally driven to be corrupt through the very nature of government to begin with.
I also went to Chicago in general to see the city and see the Haymarket Martyrs gravesites. Just to give you a bit of a background in case you on’t know the Haymarket Martyrs were 8 people who were falsely accused of throwing a bomb that exploded on May 4th 1886 near the end of a peaceful protest against current relations in society between capital and labor. The last speaker was told to get off the stage by the police and while the speaker protested a bomb was thrown and resulted in the death of 7 police officers and four civilians and the injuries of many more. Most of the people accused were not there and those who were were nowhere near the bomb and all of this could’ve been demonstrated pretty easily. Unfortunately with titles like “ANARCHY ON TRIAL!” you can see that the press and the prevailing system probably wasn’t on their side.
Anyways, I went to visit them at the Forest Park Cemetery as well as my favorite anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre. Voltairine was an anarchist without adjectives writer, organizer, feminist and more. She was an incredible woman who lived through a lot in her life and specifically spoke about the Haymarket Martyrs most of her life due to their huge influence on her towards becoming an anarchist (though she of course spoke about much else too but this is why she was buried near the Martyrs).
Past all of that I went to meet friends who I wouldn’t have normally been able to meet and again, network.
I hope that answers your question. I can give any more detail on those things so please let me know if you need anything.
What was your experience like?
My experience was…wild. It was crazy, hectic, almost always constant and moving and I really enjoyed it. While sometimes I just felt overwhelmed by all there was to do, see, talk about and so on it was comforting in a way to have so much to do and feel like I was a part of something that really stood for some things that I believed in (postscript: to one extent or another anyways). My experience was also fun, carefree and a very happy one. I met so many great people and I learned so many great things and I networked with people both in the Boston area as well as the NH area who I hadn’t before. I hope to continue to do that.
To be more specific my experience started out too crazy to believe…as I’m sure you’re aware. Namely that the bus we were all on to Chicago broke down 20-30 minutes out of Boston and we waited there for just about 7 hours just to get another bus…to take us back to Boston! And then we waited another 6-7 hours just to get everything figured out. So the beginning wasn’t the best of beginnings I’ll admit but it certainly did bring us all closer together to try to figure things out and we certainly all had our roles to fulfill. I was lucky enough to bring my laptop and think it’d be just useful for my own purposes when it ended up being useful for the group as a whole and really helped us get through the travel plans we needed to make.
On Friday I managed to get to the rally and go to the march soon after which was also hectic. It was interesting to see the march coordinate itself and try to work around the cops instead of following them blindly. It led to bit of a disorder but it was disorder that was well worth having and disorder that was needed in order to reestablish cohesion in the group. Once we got to Grant Park and settled down helping the strikers across the street was quite a trip as well. It was awesome to try and help immigrant workers who didn’t feel like they were getting a fair shake in the business they were working at to get better benefits, wages and working conditions. I thought that action in particular was cool. The GA was a bit hectic but I didn’t get to stick around for most of it so I can’t comment much on that obviously.
Saturday was probably my favorite day because I met up with a few friends and other people and went to the Haymarket Monument at Forest Park Cemetery to see Voltairine’s grave site as well as the other Haymarket Martyrs. I ended up seeing Lucy Parsons and Emma Goldman as well. After that me and my two friends went to get some lunch, and long after one had left the one left and I went back to the convergence center to watch and hear about the anti-capitalist march. I ended up helping clean up the convergence center and see a guy break down in hysterics because his friend was hit by a cop car and no one knew the condition of his friend. It was terrible to watch and very emotionally memorable for me.
Sunday was of course the huge march and rally. The rally was fun…enough. I was mostly by myself though I ended up running into Vermin Supreme which was pretty cool. I ended up seeing him in the march later on and he was really awesome. The march itself was very cool with so many people there, the veterans throwing away their medals were powerful and of course the Bloc…ah I’ll get to the Bloc in your next question. 😉
3. Did any event/march/aspect of the trip particularly stand out to you or make a large impression?
Yes, the aspect of the trip that affected me perhaps the most was the clash of the protesters with the police. Although I’m well aware as an anarchist how brutal the cops can be…to see that in real life and near me was whole ‘nother thing entirely. I witnessed people walked by me bloodied and being handled by comrades who were medics and it was a very…mixed situation for me. On one hand I was proud of the Blocers for their spirit, tenacity, willingness to fight for what’s right and more but on the other hand it was saddening to see the result and especially have that result be right near me. It was disheartening to see that the cops really were so brutal and would just ignore their conscience just to take orders from the ruling class and that conditioning really can make such terrible things happen.
But it also effected me in a profound way: I now support the Black Bloc tactic.
Now before I continue let me clear up some misconceptions of Black Bloc. As some may already know Black Bloc is a tactic and not a unified group. There’s no “official membership list” (that’d defeat the point honestly for reasons I’ll get into shortly) which means anyone from Leninists to anarchists to social-democrats to more radical liberals can join the damn thing. It’s not just left-wing anarchists (though that’s a part of it of course) and people who criticize it on the basis of it being an “anarchist tactic” or an “anarchist group” are hence wrong in more ways than one.
Furthermore the Black Bloc tactic can be used in many different ways. Just like there’s no official list of members so too are there no official line of tactics to be used within the group. It’s up to the people within the group to come up with what they want to use the Bloc for. Is it for security purposes (hiding your face behind bananas, sunglasses and dressing in all black makes you pretty anon hence why having some sort of “list” would defeat the purposes). Is it to defend the less radical people in the movement from police brutality? Is it to hold the line? Is it to make sure there’s buffer space between the cops and the rest of the protest? Is it to show general solidarity with the march and just to let the cops know that there are people who will fight back? Is it to send messages to the local big-time corporations who exploit their surrounding enviornments, their workers, dictate unfair wages and so on? What are we using the Bloc for?
There are many ways to use the Bloc and it doesn’t just mean “smashy smashy!” and mindless “violence” (which is really just vandalism since violence is interpersonal and not on property that’s unjust held anyways…) it can be used for all sorts of ways. But all of that said even though I support the Bloc (and especially over the cops) that doesn’t mean I uniformally think their tactics are the best or think there aren’t other options. Personally I’d never involve myself in what the Bloc does but I wouldn’t be surprised if I ever decided to help.
Now the Bloc may get a bad rap for breaking things but that’s not what they’re all about and it’s not as simple as breaking the stuff for no good reason. The media typically gives that picture so they can reinforce the narrative that the prevailing super-structures of the day (the government, themselves, the corporations, the military industrial complex and so on) are legitimate and if you disagree you’re obviously a crazy and militant nihlist who must necessarily believe in nothing but chaos and destruction for the fun of it. That’s why the police typically do these raids on activists home and trump up huge charges on them to make the rest of the movement bad or like they’re affiliated with “terrorists”. It discredits the movement for many (at least who are in the public and believe this nonsense). They did that at the RNC ’08 convention or before it happened really in an obvious effort to discredit the movement and did it more recently in Cleaveland with the people who had the materials to make bombs.
So that probably impacted me the most, though of course plenty of other things had other smaller effects that maybe I’ll feel later on. But that was one of the more immediately powerful effects of everything that happened.
How has your experience affected you, assuming it has?
In the general sense the trip affected me in (somehow) radicalizing me even more against this current system. Seeing so many people who also oppose the prevailing super-structures of the days in varying degrees and various ways really inspires me. As an anarchist I can’t agree with things like “tax the rich” or other ideas like “vote for third parties” let alone nonsense like “support Obama! The only true hope for the 99%!” but I do like a lot of the anti-war sentiments (which seems nigh universal) as well as the suspicion of the elites, corporate leaders, centralizing the economy on the one notion of profit and then putting that notion over the needs of other people and so on. So there’s a lot to like and some things for me to not like as much.
One thing especially is the liberals who will be all like “peeeace” but don’t realize that you can’t scream peace while your head is being bashed in by a cop and you have no Bloc or anything to defend yourselves. Unfortunately it is my belief that the Bloc very well could’ve been better organized and handled…if Oakland had been allowed to come but I think it’s pretty specious that they somehow “couldn’t make 50 people”. How does 99% Solidarity expect anyone to believe that? It’s obvious that they didn’t want the organized Bloc to take shape based on their “non-violence ” thing which is just a way to crush any sort of meaningful diversity of tactics. But apparently a “diversity of tactics” just means passive defenses with a few radicals here and there.
Anyways, I’m not here to bash 99% Solidarity. They did great work and despite that BS politics thing that I don’t agree with I think they did an awesome job getting this to work as well as it did. So with that caveat kudos to them.
What are your future plans (if any) for activism or organizing?
I don’t have any big plans really. I try to organize online things and try to organize ALL-oNE which is a left-libertarian umbrella/big tent movement made out of individuals who are (generally speaking) left-wing market anarchists of many different sorts. You can go to all-left.net to learn more about ALL but that’s the organization I came to represent when I went to Chicago and hopefully I’ll have a blog post about this soon at ALL-oNE’s site. We’re not a big organization by any means but we’ve in the past tabled at events like the Boston Anarchist Bookfair and hope to do so for next year and even help with the planning if possible. We’ll also be planing to do tabling in the near future at the 2012 Porcupine Freedom Festival which is a festival that’ll have over 1,000 (easily) people who believe in smaller to no government and people who are just curious about the event. So that ought to be fun.
I hope to also continue to network with NH and Boston activists and events whenever possible and when it suits me. Go to other events as part of the ALL-oNE and speak on the virtues of left-libertarianism as well as other things.
Way down the road I want to start up an anarchist infoshop/cafe called de Cleyre’s after Voltairine de Cleyre in Nashua NH (where I plan on living in one capacity or another). But that’s far down the road like I said…but hopefully it gets closer and closer by the day.