Ascolta lepisodio — 106 min
Rae: The Ex-Worker;
Max: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Rae: A podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Max: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Rae: What you’re about to hear is an audio-guided walking tour for Washington, D.C., but if you’re not in D.C., you can still enjoy the tour by checking out the photos in this episode’s show notes at crimethinc.com/podcast. The tour is wheelchair accessible, with just one small detour. You can take the tour at any hour, but we recommend between 8 AM and 8 PM, while The Potter’s House books and café is still open. Also, we’ll be hosting two live versions of this walking tour on Sunday, January 15th and Monday, January 16th, 2017. Just show up at 2 PM at the Lincoln Theater at 1215 U Street Northwest, Washington DC.
Now, for the audio tour. We’ll begin at Ben’s Chili Bowl, 1213 U Street Northwest, across from the U Street/Cardozo metro stop on the green line. Pause now and hit play again when you’re in front of Ben’s.
BEN’S CHILI BOWL
Welcome to Washington D.C., the heart of the empire. I’m Rae Valentine, and I lived just up the street from here in the late 90s and early 2000s, when a powerful people’s movement threatened the advance of global capitalism—especially its global financial mechanisms like the World Trade Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and various free trade agreements.
DC hosted some of the most significant demonstrations of this era, and was otherwise a hotbed of anarchist subculture and organizing. Most tours of DC take you around the monuments and museums downtown, but I want to show you another side of the city—the neighborhoods and DIY spaces from which anarchists launched our attacks on capital and where we planted seeds for a new world to take its place. We’ll be visiting the convergence centers, punk venues, and independent media spaces of old, as well as spaces that are still used by anarchists today, including a radical bookstore, a historic park, and local landmarks like Ben’s Chili Bowl. Through stories, interviews, and primary materials, we hope to pass on some of the lessons and inspiration that the anti-globalization movement can offer, especially as a new wave of struggle begins under Trump—part of whose campaign involved criticizing free trade agreements like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, albeit from a nationalist and protectionist standpoint rather than one seeking global liberation. If those who make revolution halfway only dig their own graves, we humbly aim for this audio tour to contribute to a movement that can do away with all the systems of authority that make a Trump presidency possible, and not just formulate narrow demands that can be used against us by another politician down the road.
The other spoke from our affinity group will be Max Guevara, who will help guide us from site to site. Power to the people, Max!
Max: All power to the people, Rae! If I’ve bottomlined my task well, you won’t need to hit pause much as I direct you through the city. But if I ever get ahead of you, just hit pause until you get to the next destination and our affinity group will regroup there. Alright, have we reached consensus? Let’s get started. If open, go ahead and enter Ben’s Chili Bowl, heading to the back room. If there’s a private function going on, just stand out of the way and be polite, or the middle room works too. If closed, you can also listen to this part from outside of Ben’s. Feel free grab something to eat while Rae tells you some of the history behind this spot. There’s vegan stuff on the menu too, if there’s only one kind of pork you’re okay with fryin’. Heh heh heh…
Rae: Max! Pigs are sensitive, intelligent, loving creatures—the complete opposite of cops.
Max: Whatever Rae. Why don’t you tell our listeners about the history here while I chow down on some veggie chili fries.
Rae: Alright…Thanks Max. This back room was a favored meeting space for anarchists during the anti-globalization movement…and not just because of the cheap vegan eats. The rich history of black political and cultural achievement literally covers these walls, but it’s more what happened within these walls that makes Ben’s a hub for DC radicals.
Founded in this very building in the 50’s, jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Nat King Cole would eat here after playing venues like the neighboring Lincoln Theater. In those days, 14th street was the dividing line between white and black DC, and this side of U Street was a vibrant cultural corridor known as Black Broadway.
Mark: Why is it so vibrant? Well, partly it’s the artificial containment of all of all of this talent into a certain area. Because they couldn’t go west of 14th Street really. I mean, what you have is essentially an independent economy, a city within a city that exists there, because you have this artificial concentration of some of the most extraordinary talents in America. Just to the north is Howard University, and the U street corridor, the Black Broadway springs up, the Howard Theater, all the other theaters. Because that’s the other thing, the politics and the culture are one really, I mean when you stand on U Street you’re in the middle of that political, cultural cauldron, which in many ways is the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. Howard University is the brains of much of what happens in African-American progress.
Rae: In the 1960s, with the Civil Rights Movement in full swing, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, opened their office on U Street, directly across from Ben’s. Like the American Indian Movement, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, and other radical groups later on, SNCC would meet and hash out plans right here in the back of Ben’s. SNCC stands out from other civil rights groups by their use of collective, non-hierarchical organizing practices, like consensus decision making, which saw popularity later on in the anti-globalization movement. One of SNCC’s members was a Howard University student by the name of Stokely Carmichael, who would influence the founding of the Black Panther Party, and eventually be appointed as their honorary prime minister.
On April 4, 1968, as people poured out of nearby theaters, news began to spread that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. Carmichael was on the scene, running up and down U Street urging businesses to close ahead of the anticipated upheaval, but the rage was uncontrollable.
Marshall: You breaking out the windows, doing all that crazy stuff like that there, and you can just see that the police had no control. That’s why they would eventually bring in the army, then they would bring in the airborne. National Guard couldn’t do anything, police couldn’t do anything, guys came in with the tanks.
Rae: When the military finally succeeded in taking back control, over a hundred stores had been looted, hundreds more were set ablaze, and more than 6,000 people had been arrested. Tragically twelve people died, mostly in building fires.
On the second night of looting and burning, Carmichael specifically asked Ben’s Chili Bowl to stay open, to feed activists and provide a safe meeting place. Ben’s owner, Ben Ali, agreed to stay open. Just to be safe he wrote “SOUL BROTHER” in soap on the front windows—but it was really the Chili Bowl’s neighborhood reputation that kept it safe.
Marshall: I’ll give you a thing that you should chew on. There was the Safeway, and there was a thing called Giant. Not one Giant got burned down, but yet the Safeways got burned down. Giants were the only huge food chain that would hire young black to bag their groceries. So they were never touched. They were never touched by certain people for a lot of reasons. There were certain liquor stores that got by and never touched, because the owners were very friendly with the neighborhoods. Then you had others who just took the money and went out to Maryland or Virginia.
Rae: So it wasn’t just mindless destruction?
Marshall: No, no, no. That’s the way they try to portray it, as if it’s just…and that’s why I call it a rebellion. And I can back it up with facts, because I was here and I participated and I burnt and I threw stones through windows. I did all that.
Max: You know Rae, I remember when we would come here to plan protests, there was a rumor that in ‘68, Ben’s was used as a point to redistribute looted goods.
Rae: Yeah, but the owners deny that. However, they do recall that people came in offering looted bottles of liquor for food.
‘68 was the most explosive year for Black struggle in DC, but this city lives and breathes black liberation in general. You’ve got annual celebrations like the African Liberation Day rallies and Juneteenth celebrations. You’ve got afrocentric schools and businesses, many of which are run on egalitarian and cooperative principles. You’ve got all kinds of Black radical culture and art going on. The legacy of black struggle is this city’s social and political fabric, and it textures any other radical movements here, certainly anarchists.
Another important backstory to the early 2000s is DC’s neo-colonial status. DC is not a state and does not have voting representation in congress. For anarchists, we don’t believe the vote is liberating, but you can see how people in DC might feel neglected compared to their neighbors in Virginia and Maryland. Combine this with the federal takeover of the city government in the ‘90s and the white-flight and general poverty post-‘68 and you can understand the resentment DC residents have over their disenfranchisement. If you haven’t noticed yet, every license plate says “taxation without representation.”
All this sets the stage for the same kinds of free market fundamentalist policies—like privatizing schools and health care—to be imposed on DC at the same time that people from around the world are coming here to protest those kinds of policies being forced on the third world… but we’ll talk more about that later. Have you finished those veggie chili fries yet, Max?
Max: No matter how hungry I think I am, I can never finish a full plate of these. Let’s walk this off. Exit Ben’s Chili Bowl, and take a right, heading to the corner of 13th and U. It would be kind of you to spare some change if anyone’s asking for it just outside the door.
Rae: Real quick, before you start walking, see that building across the street at 1212 U Street, to the left of The Prospect bar? That was the Kaffa House, a seedy reggae-go-go-soul bar where I saw some of my first punk shows. During Bush’s inauguration in 2001, the Kaffa House was the convergence center for the protests—where you could go to get information on housing, actions, and the latest on police repression.
WALKING TO THE A16 CONVERGENCE CENTER
Max: Hey Rae, I thought you said this was a walking tour!
Rae: Alright alright, I’ll tell you more about that inauguration while we walk.
Max: Let’s head to the corner of 13th and U, and cross 13th until you’re on the corner with that big sign that says ELLINGTON.
Rae: It’s no coincidence we’re releasing this walking tour to coincide with Trump’s inauguration. There haven’t been inauguration protests this big since 2001, and those were wild. The black bloc used a wheelbarrow to smash a police checkpoint, Bush’s limo was hit with an egg, and after replacing the navy memorial’s American flag with a black and red one, a masked anarchist evaded police capture by leaping over their heads and crowdsurfing to safety. It’s true that before the wars and Katrina everybody already hated W, but even the Washington Post reported that, quote, “For many protesters, Bush isn’t main issue.” In fact, protest planning was under way before Bush was even announced the winner of that whole ballot fiasco in Florida. It didn’t matter who won. Organizers saw both parties as puppets of the rich. Radicals called it the InaugurAUCTION, which perfectly captures the spirit of the movement: the whole world is up for sale; corporations have too much power; and we have to stop them.
A big reason that inauguration was so wild and well attended is it took place in the middle of a growing movement against the World Trade Organization or WTO, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, or IMF.
Max: Standing on the corner of The Ellington building, keep walking down U street to the intersection of 14th and U. These bourgeois condos may be on the Black Broadway where Duke Ellington used to play, but the residents are so white the lobby had complimentary tanning beds when it first opened.
Rae: In Seattle in ‘99, 50,000 demonstrators surprised the whole world by successfully shutting down the WTO’s meetings. The following April 16th, or A16, over 40,000 converged in DC to apply the same treatment to the World Bank and IMF. The president may have been the figurehead for corporate power in the United States, but his neighbors a block away at the World Bank and IMF were the real instruments of global capitalism.
If a country wants to build a dam or a highway, or they’re having a hard time paying their debts, they can go to the World Bank and IMF for a loan. But these loans come with strings attached, structural adjustment policies. This could mean privatizing healthcare or schools, cutting government subsidies of basic goods, or eliminating regulations on what foreign businesses can do or own. Basically, making it easier for multinational corporations to exploit the poor and the earth—what capitalists would call a “business friendly” environment. The ideology behind these policies, that the value of life should be determined by the market alone, is called neo-liberalism, or more commonly, free trade.
These policies lead to higher costs for medicine and education, difficulty for small businesses and farmers, and earth destroying, socially displacing infrastructure projects. Women are impacted the most. If a borrowing country doesn’t comply with these policies, that’s where the WTO comes in, to enforce corporations’ rights to do business without quote “barriers to trade.”
The World Bank and IMF got their money by offering a one dollar, one vote incentive—so the G7, the worlds 7 most advanced economies, control about 40% of their votes—and the US has veto power. This facilitates a kind of re-colonization where rich countries squeeze the wealth and natural resources out of poorer countries, leaving behind poverty and debt.
As terrible as these institutions are, it wasn’t just awareness of their injustice that got people into the streets—it took innovative and participatory organizing.
Max: When you get to the corner of 14th and U, take a look out into the intersection. I want to illustrate what Rae means by “innovative organizing.”
Look at this intersection, I mean really look at it. Notice its size, the width of the lanes. What possible anchors could you lock stuff to? How many people would it take to render this intersection completely unusable? Are the traffic lights too tall to hang banners from? Don’t forget the manhole covers—the day before A16, two anarchists evaded a mass arrest by popping one of those open and escaping through the sewer. Part of the zeitgeist of that era was a kind of re-imagination of the city. Events like Critical Mass bike rides and Reclaim the Streets parties interrupted the dominant logic of the city, that the streets existed for cars going to work, shopping, home, repeat. Street art was a big part of this too. Banksy is a household name now, but back then his zines had just started to circulate, capturing subversive imaginations with his pieces and pithy anti-capitalist rants. Reimagining the city was a running theme across anarchist writing too, from Bookchin’s Libertarian Municipalism to CrimethInc.’s Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs.
Approaching the city as agents of creative disruption opened up a sort of urban tactical renaissance, borrowing much from environmental direct action and social movements abroad. Lockboxes, unarrest techniques, and the famed black bloc all rose to prominence during this time. Other creative interventions too…
Adam: Let me tell you something else we did. On the Wednesday before this protest, we printed up a fake front page of the Washington Post. And it looked like the real Washington Post. It was called the Washington Pissed. We wrapped over 5,000 newspapers by having a fleet of cars go out early in the morning, like teams, with quarters, and they went to the newsboxes. Everywhere, like whole swaths of the city, every single newsbox the papers were pulled out, and the ones that were wrapped were put back. It was like total Fight Club, it was like totally amazing.
Max: Ok. From here keep take a right on 14th and keep walking until you come to Florida Avenue. You’ll pass V street, then W. It’s alphabetical. Back to you Rae!
Rae: Max is right, the whole urban re-imagination thing was vital. The Reclaim the Streets group in London organized the “Carnival Against Capital” in June of ‘99, which is widely regarded as the precursor to Seattle.
Max: Oh wow, I thought Seattle was where it all started. So Rae, would you say that the Carnival Against Capital was the beginning of the anti-globalization movement?
Rae: Mmmm…I wouldn’t say that. Lots of people consider the start to be New Years Day 1994, when the Zapatistas rose up against NAFTA. It was a big deal, and influenced the People’s Global Action network that was instrumental in Seattle, but there was already resistance to neoliberalism for years prior. In the late ‘80s, there was a struggle against a World Bank sponsored dam in India, and G7 summits have had tens of thousands of protesters since at least the early ‘90s. There was also a diversity of smaller, more focused campaigns that in one way or another were affected by global trade issues: solidarity movements with East Timor and Tibetan independence, animal rights “save the turtles” campaigns, campus anti-sweatshop activism, you name it. With all these different strands, it’s hard to find one point in history to call the start.
But what is for sure is that the world debut of this movement of movements was the anti-WTO actions in Seattle, November of ‘99. This was a kind of anti-corporate big bang: the gravity of the WTO and all the different issues it touched brought 50,000 people from various causes in coalition with each other, which on the ground exploded into a mix of marches, sit-down blockades, targeted property destruction, and standoffs with the police. The meetings were successfully shut down, and the inspirational energy from this event shot off in all directions, including plenty of mainstream press. 60 Minutes did a whole special on the feared anarchists of Eugene, Oregon, to whom the targeted property destruction was attributed.
Max: Oh my god Rae, that sounds incredible. Talk about being born too late. Oh, and remember, we’re walking up to the corner of 14th and Florida.
Rae: Don’t Worry Max. History always makes these things sound cooler than they were, but everyone who was there says it was actually quite boring.
Rae: NO WAY! Are you kidding me??? Just listen to this one account from the streets that day: “I can’t TELL you how THRILLED I am to BE here right now. I LOVE every ONE of you, like a SISTER or a BROTHER. There is NOWHERE, in the WORLD, EVER, that I would RATHER BE then WHERE I AM right now. There is NOTHING I would RATHER BE DOING than WHAT I AM DOING right now. I would RATHER be OUT HERE than spend another FUCKING SECOND in my CAR, or at my JOB, or WATCHING TV. I DON’T think these cops can say that. I DON’T think those delegates can say that. I would rather EAT MORE TEAR GAS than any more of their FUCKING fast food. I would rather DRINK MORE PEPPER SPRAY than any more of their FUCKING soft drinks. I would rather DEAL WITH THAT than ACCEPT THIS SHIT for another FUCKING SECOND. And I would rather DIE LIVING than continue to LIVE DYING.”
Rae: Almost as soon as the state of emergency was lifted and the National Guard had cleared out of Seattle, anti-capitalists turned their sights to DC for the IMF and World Bank meetings on April 16, 2000, or A16. Nadine: A16. The immediate background is a whole bunch of us were in Seattle. I took a real job at the time because I was pregnant. I hadn’t told anybody, because I didn’t want anyone to tell me not to go to Seattle. I got fired from my real job, I was so happy! I left within a few days to go to Seattle. When we came back from Seattle, everybody was lit. So we had a reportback that brought out, in my memory it was a 100, maybe 200 people. It was a big, big meeting, bigger than we thought. There was a lot of energy there. People were fired up, so that’s when we launched the Mobilization for Global Justice, leading to the World Bank/IMF protest in the spring.
Max: When you get to the corner of Florida avenue, take a right and walk to 1328 Florida. It’s a white building that says “The Manhattan,” you can’t miss it.
Rae: One of the Mobilization for Global Justice’s important tasks was establishing a convergence center, where protesters coming to town, and certainly a few undercover cops, could go for food, information, and the spokescouncils to hash out the final action plans.
Um, a quick aside for the post-Occupy generation. Much of the decision-making in the anti-globalization movement was decidedly non-hierarchical, even beyond the explicitly anarchist groups. Participants were encouraged to form Affinity Groups, a concept borrowed from Spanish anarchists in the early 20th century. An affinity group is, uh, a group, of anywhere from a few people to dozens. You come together on the basis of some shared, well, affinity—it could be a political idea you hold in common, some level of risk you’re all comfortable with, a certain tactic you want to use, whatever brings you and your crew together.
A spokescouncil is a meeting of one “spoke” from each affinity group—short for spokesperson or like the spokes in a wheel, depending on how you interpret it. Some spokescouncils are more representational, where the spokes are empowered by their affinity groups to make certain kinds of decisions with other spokes, almost always by consensus. Other spokescouncils are more like clearinghouses of information on what different groups are planning or thinking or needing, and from there affinity groups can freely cluster up and work together. Both kinds of spokescouncils recognize that decision-making and initiative take place at all different levels, and in a variety of ways that can’t be encompassed by a single decision-making body. Max: Wow Rae, what a mouthful. Have you been holding that in or something?
Rae: Yeah, sorry to spit that out at you, but the endless general assembly people’s mic rants during the occupy movement left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
THE A16 CONVERGENCE CENTER
Max: Alright, by now you should be in front of The Manhattan building at 1328 Florida, this is where the A16 convergence center was. But walk few steps to its right so you can look down the alleyway.
Nadine: I think if you stood there you would see a steady stream of people going into the bottom of the Manhattan Laundry building. I think most of the stuff was around back—puppets, bikes, oh my god right we had a huge bike thing! So, if you would walk down the alley you would think something was happening behind the building. I mean there was just tons of people going in and out. All the usual types, people in black, people in flowery dresses. The whole works.
Rae: It turns out a disadvantage of doing all your preparations in one place is the vulnerability of police raiding it. With just one day to go and thousands of people flooding into town, police did just that.
Nadine: When they shut the building down, they actually shut the block down between 13th and 14th and pissed off the neighborhood to the Nth degree. Partly because they had been asking for years for certain kinds of help, and the reason they gave for shutting us down was fire code violations. And they were like, “Ain’t no way that’s the case because we’ve been trying to get help from the fire department for years. It’s not that, it’s something else.” And the Advisory Neighborhood Commission woman was totally on our side. They brought in some big dumpsters and threw away everything, and of course we got stuff out of the dumpsters. Everything from beautiful organic tomatoes to the puppets. It was a scene.
Rae: Despite police interference, we still took to the streets on April 16th. The numbers were similar to Seattle. About 10,000 blockading intersections, largely organized through the Mobilization for Global Justice and Direct Action Network. The big unions and NGOs brought in about 30,000 for a rally by the White House.
Adam: All they did was go to the Ellipse. I didn’t even go, nobody went. I think the unions were like, “We can’t outright support the direct action, but what we will do is have a union march nearby and let our members peel off.” And a lot of them did, a lot of them were like “I wanna get in there with the black bloc.”
Whereas the black bloc had around a hundred people in Seattle, the black bloc at A16 numbered over a thousand. Some voices from the streets that day:
A16 Black Bloc: People dressed in black, with their faces covered, and that’s a scary image for them. But if you took two minutes to talk to any one of those people, you’d realize that they are intelligent, they care about what’s going on or they wouldn’t put themselves on the line. We don’t want to just shut down the IMF and the World Bank, we want to shut down government in general, full stop. We believe that capitalism can’t be reformed. The Mobilization for Global Justice, all the people who are down in Washington, have consensed to make a lot of space for different tactics and different politics. I know we can all work together and the coalitions that we form are going to change this world.
Making space for a diversity of tactics is one of the most important innovations that the anti-globalization movement has to offer. Disagreement over tactics doesn’t mean we have to open ourselves up to divide and conquer strategies from the media and police. We can still coordinate and communicate while acting autonomously.
Nadine: So, there was a lot of outreach to the black bloc, and talking. And there was a lot of community meetings, because we were very clear that we weren’t going to publicly diss any tactics. Like, it was all the fault of the World Bank/IMF. If they say, “why are you being violent?” we’d be like, “It’s not our issue. Everybody’s pissed off because the World Bank and IMF are structurally violent.”
But a diversity of tactics wasn’t just a cynical calculus on how to organize in a context of state repression. There were moments of true harmony between the black bloc and other disobedients.
Max: While we play you an interview describing this harmony of tactics, go ahead and walk into the alley, aiming for the far corner of the building on your left-hand-side.
Lelia: You know I had been this person who had ascribed to pacifism and nonviolence and your body kicks in, and says, “someone is trying to hurt me, and I need to fight back” And I remember fighting that instinct in that moment. And I am forever grateful to the black bloc because we had put a call out saying the police had arrived, they’re hurting people, please come. And the black block marched in and just by the sheer force of them arriving, their bodies moves the police back from where they were, and away from us, the people who were seated trying to maintain that intersection. It was wonderful timing. I just remember being so grateful that I didn’t have to leave my post because these people had taken a position. That’s how our intersection was able to maintain for many more hours after that.
Max: Once you’re in the little intersection at the back of the alley, look at the corner of the Manhattan building. There should be a kind of right-angle pipe thing hanging at about eye-level. Hopefully no one has taken it down, but most likely it’s still there because these things are built to last.
This is a lockbox. Go ahead and put your arm inside. Feel that pin in the middle? That’s what you lock your wrist to. It’s pretty difficult to move a line of people locked together like this, and while police couldn’t care less about spilling defenseless people’s blood, they can be camera shy about it, and sawing through a pipe with someone’s hand locked inside is quite a spectacle. You can learn more about how to safely and effectively utilize lockboxes by checking out the “blockades and lockdowns” recipe in CrimethInc’s Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook.
Ok, you can walk back out of the alley now.
Some might interpret the rise of the black bloc as anarchism itself growing in influence—which it was, but anarchists were also involved in the convergence center, pirate radio, food, legal observing, soft blockades, independent media, radical cheerleading, almost every aspect of the organizing, well, save for the union rally… although even there there was probably some anarchist whose day job was at an NGO and couldn’t get out of her work obligations to hit the streets. Adam: Anarchists were the best activists in the anti-globalization movement, and the anarchists didn’t always wear black, and they didn’t always wear masks. They were often wearing rainbow and colorful stuff, and they were fairies, and they were all kinds of different people. People that were willing to bend the law, or even break the law, to do creative actions. Money did not run the organization. Anarchists were really involved in running the convergence center, the meetings, the people who understood the process the best were the anarchists because it was really coming from a direct democracy kind of spokescouncil model. And there was sort of a fashion statement being made by the black bloc—they dressed in black, the represent this new thing even though it wasn’t that new, but in the minds of the media it was very new. It was kind of scary, and it was also kind of seducing.
Rae: In 2000, a quick way to annoy any anarchist was to ask if they were a member of the black bloc, to which the response invariably was, “the black bloc is a tactic, not a group.” While true, the black bloc made contributions that went beyond the streets. Being tactically and organizationally distinct, plenty of people who wouldn’t normally read a book on anarchism would read the black bloc’s calls-to-action to find out what to expect. So despite anarchists being involved in almost every aspect of organizing, the black bloc was one of the main ways that anarchist ideas as such were in conversation with the rest of the movement.
For example, take this excerpt from the A16 Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc statement:
“We feel that calls for national protectionism and national sovereignty pit the working class of each nation against each other. We feel especially that the stance taken by some of organized labor, and many left-reformists, is not a stance of international solidarity and that it is not the most effective stance for advancing the cause of the international working class. We believe in internationalism and the globalization of our struggle against all of capitalism, regardless of political borders, and we work towards a genuine international unity which will one day lay the basis for a global social revolution.”
Rae: Damn. That part about protectionist and nationalist stances against neoliberalism seems especially prescient now that the president is someone who criticizes NAFTA at the same time that he’s calling undocumented Mexicans rapists and criminals. 20 years ago, to criticize NAFTA meant you were in solidarity with poor Mexicans and undocumented migrants.
While A16 did not totally shut down the meetings, it confirmed Seattle was not a fluke. We could mobilize tens of thousands of people, we could establish autonomous infrastructure like pirate radio, medic teams, postering squads, you name it. In Seattle the writing on the wall read “we are winning,” but at A16 it went a step further with “failure is impossible” with a circle A, of course.
Max: Alright! Show’s over folks, the building’s been raided and you’re not getting any of your patchouli puppets back.
Rae: Max…? Are you pretending to be a cop?
Max: Sorry, what I mean is (dramatic) run fast comrades—the old world is behind you! Don’t mourn the convergence center, organize! Is that better Rae? Rae: Uhh…sure.
Max: Great. Turn now so the Manhattan alley is on your left, look at the lamppost next to the trash can. See that poster on its base? In the weeks leading up to any big anti-globalization demo, all the lampposts would have posters like this wheatpasted on them, advertising the mobilization—most of them designed by the same artist as this one, Mike Fluggenock. You’ll see more of his stuff in the scrapbook later.
WALKING TO MALCOLM X PARK
Max: So with the Manhattan alley on your left, walk back down Florida Avenue the way you came. We’re going to cross the street twice when you get to the corner up here with 14th street. You want to end up on the corner with the 7–11.
Rae: That black bloc call reminded me of something I wanted to clear up—“anti-globalization” isn’t a very good name for the movement we’re talking about. Of course we weren’t against having aspects of our lives bound up with those of people in other parts of the globe. But if globalization means being part of the same global conveyer-belt where wage-slaves in the US sell the products assembled by sweatshop slaves in Honduras made with cotton harvested under slave conditions in Pakistan, no thank you. We had our own values we wanted to globalize: resistance to capitalism, solidarity, self-determination.
So why do we keep saying “anti-globalization”? Well, in our eyes, the alternatives are just as imperfect. Anti-corporate globalization is pretty good, but also pretty long to say. The global justice movement is popular for movement sympathizers, but justice is kind of like rights—as anarchists we don’t want some authority to guarantee either, we want self-determination for all and freedom from all authority. We could just call it the anti-capitalist movement, but it honestly wasn’t for everybody, as much as we would have preferred it to be. Anyway, we don’t have a big bone to pick about which name fits best, just wanted to explain that we’ve chosen the one we use critically.
Max: Once you’re on the corner with the 7–11, keep walking down Florida Avenue in the same direction. We’re going to end up on the corner of 15th and Florida, or 15th and W, it’s kind of a crazy intersection, you’ll see.
Rae: After A16, the summit-protest model from Seattle and DC took a world tour, growing in militancy with each stop.
News reporter: September 2000, 50,000 converge on the IMF meetings in Prague, interrupting the final day’s program Robin: Prague was a game changer for a lot of us. It was definitely an eye-opening experience to see the diversity of tactics. That was the big walk-away from that place. Different groups just came together and they shut down the World Bank/IMF meetings. It was pretty spectacular.
News Reporter: April 2001, 20,000 hit the streets of Quebec City to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, which would expand NAFTA to 30 more countries. Militant protests tear down a portion of the security perimeter, delaying the meetings.
Ryan: What we saw in Canada was a group like the Mobilization for Global Justice but organized explicitly under anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian principles. Organized under a commitment to a diversity of tactics, and thus wasn’t bogged down by these outdated conversations about so-called non-violence principles and things like that. So, when we saw that we were like, wow, Canada! Canada seemed so much more radical, because what we’re talking about with the IMF, World Bank, FTAA, WTO is a fundamental problem in the economic system, not just these isolated institutions. So why aren’t we naming it? And it was so inspiring to see this broad-based mobilization that attracted tens of thousands of people, hundreds of people were organizing for it on a local level in Montreal and Quebec city. They were just like yeah, we’re the anti –capitalist convergence, that’s what this is.
News Reporter: July 2001, 100,000 converge on Genoa, Italy to protest the G8 summit. A young anarchist, Carlo Giuliani is shot dead by police.
Adam: We showed videos of Genoa in DC, and it really radicalized people, it also really scared people.
Rae: Carlo’s death was a sobering reminder of how much force the state still had in reserve should our threat to capitalism continue to grow. But it wasn’t paralyzing. It’s not hyperbole to say that after the police killed Carlo, people were preparing for battle, with the next showdown being the World Bank and IMF meetings in September of 2001, right here in DC.
Nadine: The thing we were certain of was that the World Bank/IMF protests in DC post what turned out to be 9/11 would have been biggest thing the US has ever seen in terms of the number of people willing to throw down.
Max: Remember, we’re heading to the corner of 15th and W, but the intersection is weird … You want to follow the sidewalk you’re on as it bends right, until you’re at a crosswalk facing a park. When you’re standing in the right spot, there will be an uphill street on your right.
Rae: Building on relationships from Quebec and the Black Bloc at A16, anarchists in DC formed the Anti-Capitalist Convergence.
Farah: Mobilization for Global Justice happened first, and then I think, in a way, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence came out of people wanting a more radical space.
Ryan: there was this need, because people who had more radical politics, people who didn’t want to be beholden to unions or non-profit funders, or even work with the police or other existing power structures, we were feeling like there wasn’t really a space for us. The Anti-Capitalist Convergence in DC got together right after Quebec City, April 2001. So the Anti-Capitalist Convergence of Montreal is what inspired, their principles and the way they organized, is what really inspired us to create the Anti-Capitalist Convergence in DC. We started to organized the Anti-Capitalist Convergence in DC for the fall meetings of the World Bank and IMF, which would go on to be pretty largely derailed because of 9/11, but still happened.
LOWER MALCOLM X PARK
Max: Ok, hopefully by now you’re on the corner of 15th and W. If you’re down for a stroll in the park, hold tight for a second. If you’re doing the stair-free version of this tour, your detour begins here. Head up the hill on your right, that’s 15th street. You can either wait for us in front of the Ecuadorian embassy at 15th and Euclid, or, from there, enter the park, turn left, and go all the way to the lookout at the far end of the park. You’re in the right spot when you’re at a banister in front of a statue of Joan of Arc on a horse. We’ll meet you there.
If you’re not avoiding stairs, then go ahead and cross the street. See those 4 curvy little steps leading into the park? Go up them and keep on the walkway parallel to the street. Stop when you get to the four bowl-pillar-urn things on top of the stone banister to your left. You’ll know you’re there because across the street is an awning that says 2112 New Hampshire… even though you’re on W street, which then turns into Florida. Yeaaaah…sometimes DC directions don’t make a lot of sense.
Rae: Welcome to Malcolm X park.
Remember that legacy of black struggle I mentioned? This is part of it. The official name of the park is Meridian Hill, but during a rally in 1969, Angela Davis called for the park to become a symbol of Black pride. The “Malcolm X Park” name really began to stick when the annual African Liberation Day celebrations started using the park in the 70s, and thousands of black folks from around the country would arrive and ask locals where Malcolm X Park was.
Max: With the stone-birdbath-bowl things and the awning on your left, there’s a set of stairs on your right. Head up those stairs and just keep going straight back until you get to a giant wall with a banister on top of it. There’s a part where the stairs curve to the left some, but after that just keep climbing the little staircases in the same direction.
Rae: So of course, when the Anti-Capitalist Convergence would do direct action trainings here, or the Mobilization for Global Justice had rallies or free concerts, they didn’t call it Meridian Hill, they called it Malcolm X park.
Robin: Malcolm X Park is the hub. Malcolm X park is the place that people meet if you’re gonna have a movement. Malcolm X Park is one of the most essential places of power in DC, and it’s like the people’s power. It’s pretty cool.
Rae: An important part of the life of the park is the Malcolm X Drummers and Dancers. Weather permitting, you can find their drum circle here every Sunday from 3 to 9. That’s them playing music under my voice. During the anti-globalization years, some of the people in the drum circle were also involved in the Rhythm Workers Union, a global justice drum corps with a suped up baby buggy outfitted with drums that seemed to accompany basically every march I ever went on.
While we were doing the research for this episode, there were so many colorful little stories that give flavor to the whole history of this movement that we couldn’t include them all. One that is maybe a little bit random is that there were a lot of radical marching bands during this time, and it was kind of important. So, you had groups like the Rhythm Workers Union, but you also had more anarchisty, militant marching bands, like the Infernal Noise Brigade and Cackalack Thunder.
The Rhythm Workers Union got formed ahead of the World Bank IMF protests scheduled for September 2001. It’s hard to overstate how significant these demonstrations were poised to be. Estimates circulated of 100,000 converging. Even before September, the mobilization was achieving victories. The IMF and World Bank announced that they would scale their meetings back from a week to just two days. And the US announced that it would not foot the entire security bill, the IMF and World Bank would have to pay 16 million out of their own pocket.
Max: Wow. 16 million dollars. That’s a lot of windows. Once you’re at the giant wall with the stone banister on top, take a right and walk along the wall, then there will be a big staircase on your left. Take those stairs up to the top, so that you’re overlooking the city.
Rae: There was one more thing we wanted to say about the Anti-Capitalist Convergence. Although founded by anarchists, their principles and approach appealed beyond just self-identified anarchists
Zein: I identified as a socialist, and I identified as a Marxist, but felt most at home with my anarchist comrades. Still do. I came out of a bad experience with the sectarian left, and I found that organizing with anarchists was more freeing, more liberating.
Ryan: There were people in the Mobilization for Global Justice who supported what the Anti-Capitalist Convergence was doing. There were certain people who went to meetings for Both. I think there were some people who were frustrated they had to go to two sets of meetings for their political involvement to be like whole, or complete. The two groups weren’t completely at odds with each other. I think they were working in parallel, and I think there were legitimate reasons for MGJ organizers to want to take certain approaches.
UPPER MALCOLM X PARK
Max: Once you’re at the top of the stairs, go to the banister across from that statue of Joan of Arc on a horse and look out over the city. On a clear night you can see the Capitol to your left, all the cranes of gentrification too. Straight ahead the Washington monument looms high in the distance. Once the world’s tallest building, it’s still the tallest in DC.
Small-town anarchist: From everywhere high up in the city, you could see the great big national phallus with its all-seeing eye blinking away through the night, reminding us of America’s patriarchal mission to dominate the world. I guess folks who lived there eventually got accustomed to all that stuff around them every day, but it never ceased to boggle my mind. I was from a smallish town a few hours south of here. When I got involved in anarchist organizing, DC was the place to go for actions and conferences, not to mention political punk shows and festivals. Being from out of town, plenty of things amazed me about the city. On the one hand, I’d heard that there were a dozen different anarchist collective houses in the Columbia Heights neighborhood alone - entirely different crews of anarchists who barely knew of each other! This seemed incredible, coming from a place where every radical knew each other and a town would be lucky to have one or two functioning collectives. On the other hand, DC also had the densest concentration of enemy institutions. It never ceased to freak me out how I’d be biking downtown, stop to tie my shoe, look up, and realize that I was in front to the IMF headquarters, where bureaucrats from the suburbs designed the details of Third World misery. Or I’d pop out of the Metro and walk past the FBI, full of agents working out new ways to justify surveiling and repressing us. Your average march passed so many important targets that my head would spin. Just about every institution that had ever outraged me had some kind of office in DC, crunching the numbers for buying and selling our world, or invading and subduing the parts that couldn’t be controlled.
Rae: Now turn around and imagine this park full of activity in stark contrast to the faceless, oppressive institutions—rambunctious troublemakers practicing unarrest techniques, food not bombs serving up warm latkes, bands playing, speakers speaking, trainers training—puppets, banners, literature tables, circles of friends. To an out-of-town activist who just took a tour-de-horror of all the evil monuments and agencies downtown, happening upon such a scene here might have been refreshing, or it might have been bewildering. In any case, for anarchists in DC we felt an obligation to sow seeds of rebellion right here in the belly of the beast.
Farah: Yeah, we very much articulated that we felt like we had a duty, and I think we kind of did. Like, even were charged with it by people in other cities and other countries. Like, thinking about how people see the US, just thinking about how important it was that we were having visible resistance, and how important that is to happen particularly in DC and New York. And just as someone who traveled internationally I also saw how important that was. I went to Brazil, I actually went for the World Social Forum. The first thing that happened to me is I got in this taxi and was talking to the driver. He was like, “What is up with Americans?” I was like, “I hear you but go on…” He was like, “As a country, our deal is soccer, as a country your deal is empire and war.” And it was just this random taxi driver.
Rae: Turn around and look out on the city again. What our comrade just said about people from all over the world seeing DC and New York as sites of oppressive power is definitely true. Those of us in the anti-globalization movement felt that we were the central protagonists fighting for a new world to come, but we would soon be upstaged. Standing here on September 11, 2001, you would have been able to see the black smoke billowing up from the pentagon and darkening the horizon.
Eddie: We were organizing for another World Bank meeting, that was supposed to happen, and then 9/11 happened, so the demonstrations were called off.
Nadine: In Seattle it was 10,000 risking arrest and 30,000 marching in the streets including the labor unions, and in DC in 2001 we think that we would have had at least 30,000 to 40,000 risking arrest, and some other number in the streets, and that would have really been something. Not only did 9/11 kill the movement in many ways, but the loss of that particular moment in history is really too bad.
Farah: It really did take the air out of the whole anti globalization movement, like very directly. We had expected things to be huge, like huuuge huge, huge….. and then it was just like plfffffft.
Nadine: The immediate reaction of the non-profits and the NGOs was to pull out and leave it to the “peace groups.”
Adam: It became almost a waste of time to work with unions and liberal democrats after September 11th. They stopped thinking critically, they started thinking like nationalists, and they stated thinking about war.
Ryan: This is a really interesting thing about difference between Anti-Capitalist Convergence and the Mobilization for Global Justice. One of the problems that became more and more of an issue with the Mobilization for Global Justice is that you had these big power brokers in social movements, like big unions and NGOs, speaking for tens of thousands of people who made up these movements. So, when 9/11 happened, a lot of the heads of these bigger organizations that made up the mobilization for global justice said, “that’s it. Protests are cancelled.”
Farah: Which was so weird, because it’s so just clearly different that terrorism against random groups of people who happen to be in the same building. It just seems so clearly different—marching, killing people—how those two things can be equated…
Ryan: MGJ called off the protest, the IMF meetings were cancelled, but the Anti-Capitalist Convergence still organized, and there were anti-capitalist protests against the IMF/World Bank and also against war and imperialism.
Nadine: A lot of the people who were there helping to organize, were very young and inexperienced. And so we weren’t prepared for the crackdown, and so many of the younger, or less experienced activists—I mean frankly, in the US, that’s mostly what it’s been. We’re going to enter now another time where people need to be really careful with how we deal with resistance. You know, in DC we had curfew and we had to cancel meetings, and people were stuck in front of their televisions, and they just swallowed hook like and sinker the fear-mongering that was coming out of the mainstream media. That experience actually served us in supporting people in Paris at the COP protest recently, where you had this horrific series of bombings and killings, and we were able to say to them, “hang in there. You can still do something, maybe in different parameters, but don’t abandon the ship. This is more important now, than it was even before, that people are heard.” I think in hindsight that some of those people who backed out realized that that didn’t serve anybody. People were totally flipped out
Rae: So…it turns out anti-capitalists in DC have a lot to say about September 11th. Liberals, NGOs, and Unions may have been scared to protest afterwards, but for anarchists and others with a systemic analysis of the state and capitalism, it was a time to redouble our efforts.
Ryan: A lot of us felt like this is actually a time where we need to be really critical, and we need to be in the streets and we need to be as active as possible, because if we’re not engaged the government can get away with a lot right now.
Rae: With many of the liberals and fair-weather activists gone, the next anti-globalization convergence in DC would see explicitly anarchist and anti-capitalist groups taking on a bigger chunk of the organizing than ever before.
WALKING TO CASA DEL PUEBLO
Max: Turn so that the Washington Monument is to your back and you’re facing the statue of Joan of Arc. Go ahead and start walking to the far end of the park, using the path on your right. We’ll be exiting back to the street at the far right corner of the park.
Rae: The next big mobilization against the World Bank and IMF came in the fall of 2002. The recently formed Anti-Capitalist Convergence decided to not just play a supporting role for someone else’s mobilization, but instead lay the groundwork to support a whole militant day of action with explicit anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian messaging. It was called The People’s Strike.
Zein: I was one of the organizers of the People’s Strike. That’s where the arrested the 600 some activists. Anarchists were, especially in DC where NGOs copped out after 9/11, because of their funding and worries about political repercussions if they continued to act after 9/11. I saw anarchists as the most principled at that time, that were continuing to fight the good fight, continuing to take direct action, not buying the whole police line that they were actually “protecting democracy, protecting the demonstrators" and that’s why they need to stop demonstrating, because it will provide a space for terrorists to hide within the demonstrations.
Ryan: When we created the idea for the People’s Strike, the idea was to do all this during the chunk of time that the meetings were happening, but on a weekday, so we could interrupt business as usual and try to shut down the city. It was kind of a convention for the more mainstream establishment groups to always want to have their protests on a Saturday or Sunday. I think for more critical organizers, we were troubled by the idea that that kind of scheduling logic on its own would make your protest completely symbolic. For those of us who were actually interested in trying to question the legitimacy of these meetings actually happening at all, we wanted to try to shut them down. So, we felt like we should be holding protests during the business week.
Rae: The big thing everyone remembers about The People’s Strike is the mass arrests. Over 600 people, including journalists and ill-fortuned civilians, were QUOTE “preemptively” arrested. This is about 6 months before Iraq was QUOTE “preemptively” invaded. In many ways the massive arrests didn’t matter too much, the organizing had been done in such a way that capitalism as usual had indeed been disrupted. Leading up to The People’s Strike, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence held press conferences where they boldly declared their intention to shut down capitalism as thoroughly as possible by calling for autonomous actions to take place throughout the day. The anarchist website infoshop.org, very prominent back then, published a kind of joke-y anarchist scavenger hunt for the weekend: 75 points for puncturing a police car tire; 300 points for an act of street theater; 400 points for pie-ing a corporate executive or World Bank delegate in the face, vegan pies preferred The list scandalized local police and became the center of several stories about the scary protesters coming to town to wreck everything.
Max: From the park’s exit on 15th, cross the street to the building on the other side. That’s the Ecuadorian Embassy. This just happens when you’re in DC: you turn around and suddenly you’re in front of some country’s diplomatic mission. Keep this in mind if you plan on burning a cop car or something—maybe they’ll give you asylum! Just kidding, as anarchists we know that our safety does not reside in maneuvers between states, but in our own solidarity and good security practices. Speaking of which, WE DO NOT ENCOURAGE YOU TO BURN ANY COP CARS. NNMMM NMMMM. No sir. That would be Un American.
Now turn to face the intersection of 15th and Euclid. Start walking up 15th street. We’ll be walking on this street for four blocks, until we get to Columbia Road.
Rae: Scared of the havoc the media promised the People’s Strike would wreak, many businesses and offices just called the day off. The federal government, DC’s biggest employer, anticipated an unusually high volume of day-off requests. They also encouraged those who could to work from home. On the day of, downtown was a ghost town—but not much happened besides the mass arrests, a roving bicycle blockade, and one broken window. Citibank, 300 points.
Despite the hundreds arrested, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence declared victory at their press conference. The city was shut down, there was no ambiguity about the anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian principles behind the action, and even the mass arrests led to new friendships and organizing relationships. We didn’t even know that years later we would each win thousands of dollars from lawsuits resulting from the illegal, preemptive arrests; not to mention new legal restrictions on policing in DC that are still in place today.
The People’s Strike was the last major victory we could claim. The final showdown in what we would call the anti-globalization era was November 2003 in Miami, against the FTAA, the same expansion of NAFTA that was fought in Quebec City.
A simplistic history of this movement could be told through the names of the protests’ documentaries. After each mobilization, the local indymedia chapter would team up with other filmmakers and release a documentary on the protest itself and the issues behind it—some of these can be streamed for free on our website, Crimethinc.com. One out of Seattle was Breaking the Spell, referring to how a broken window could dispel the illusion that capitalist normalcy was inevitable. A16’s documentary was called Breaking the Bank, obviously referring to abolishing the IMF and World Bank. Miami’s documentary was named after the overwhelming repressive police strategy used against protesters—The Miami Model.
This really was the upshot of the anti-FTAA mobilization in 2003. We had seen raids, surveillance, and police violence in the streets, but this was next level. A giant metal fence surrounded the summit’s perimeter, with rubber bullet snipers posted atop; groups of 8 or more people needed a permit to congregate publicly; and a broad range of items were banned, notably “passive weapons” like shields or lockboxes. It was the first time I ever saw cops use tasers. The police were aggressive even in their public relations, demonizing protesters on the nightly news for weeks leading up to the protest.
At the same time that the police in Miami were equipped with new weapons and anti-protest laws, we were at our least organized. The Iraq war started earlier that year and split organizers’ energy without bringing new people into the anti-globalization movement. Fissures that existed expanded into full-on divisions. In Seattle, turtles and teamsters were in the streets together—but at the spokescouncil in Miami, the unions sent a young, enthusiastic representative to ask that the autonomous protesters , “show solidarity” by not holding actions during the massive AFL-CIO march in the afternoon.
As anarchists, solidarity is an important tool in our toolbox, but many of the tactics and language we use, without anti-authoritarian values behind them, can easily be appropriated and used against us. Suffice it to say that we are suspicious of any logic that says inaction is the right course, especially when the whole environment of surveillance and repression is trying to persuade us of that.
Max: Hey! Before reaching Harvard Street, see that long brick building on the other side with a black fence around it. That’s All Souls Unitarian Church. They hosted street medic trainings and other workshops for global justice protesters in the early 2000s. Ok, keep walking up 15th until the corner with Columbia Road.
Rae: Ensuring that there were no militant street actions during the union march in Miami allowed the police to beat people during the morning march, and then do a full sweep of the city with tanks and teargas once the union members were back on their buses. Lots of people got really hurt.
Adam: That was like a warzone, that was like, wow, it’s gone to the next level. I felt like COINTELPRO was alive and well, like the media war was on, that the police chief would put a happy face on the situation while we were being brutalized. Despite the overwhelming police force, there were still some small victories in Miami. All over the city, Miami residents would throw up the revolutionary fist or buy you a drink if they identified you as a protester. The first ever “Really Really Free Market” took place in Miami, demonstrating a vision of an anti-capitalist economy based on gift-giving and mutual aid. The Really Really Free Market has spread across the world and is still a popular anarchist project. Lastly, during the cops’ evening sweep across the city, protesters retreated and built barricades. The rowdy crowd was eventually routed into Overtown, a historically black and impoverished ghetto. Leading up to the protests, a rumor had circulated that we were paid protestors, and police told Overtown residents that they would turn a blind eye if they mugged us mostly white, and all funny-looking protesters from out of town. But when Overtown residents saw that we were in open conflict with the police, they were incredibly generous in helping us hide out, navigate escapes from the police lines, and some even expressed that if we could escalate the conflict, they would join in.
Despite heartening gestures of solidarity like this, the overall result from Miami was demoralization. Our enemies quite literally beat us, our supposed allies in the unions and NGOs sold us out, and despite spectacular scenes of both resistance and police violence, the national news mentioned almost nothing about it, absurdly choosing to instead focus on a federal raid on Michael Jackson’s ranch. Ugh. Max: Once you’re at the corner of 15th and Columbia, cross Columbia and take a right. Walk about a minute down the street until you see a big brick church with two arched red doors on your left. The address is 1459 Columbia Road. We’ll meet you there.
Rae: So was Miami the end of the anti-globalization movement? Certainly, the changes put into motion by 9/11 had fully set in by this point, and despite hundreds of thousands showing up to permitted, top-down organized anti-war marches, our capacity to organize autonomously and horizontally had dwindled.
At the same time, it’s not like the World Bank and IMF went away, although David Graeber’s essay The Shock of Victory offers some interesting theories on the underappreciated victories of the anti-globalization movement. The FTAA, for example, was never actually achieved. And of course, committed anarchists and anti-capitalists didn’t just go away either.
Zein: When the anti-globalization movement slowed down, I actually don’t believe that it slowed down at all. In fact I feel that people just went into more local work. They resurfaced again with the anti-war movement, they resurfaced again with the Occupy movement, and they’re resurfacing again. The veterans of all these movements are in Standing Rock right now.
But even when anti-globalization summit protests resurfaced in 2007 and 9 in DC, and with the downright inspiring resistance against the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh and Toronto 2009 and 10, it wasn’t the same moment as a decade earlier—we were fighting on new terrain.
CASA DEL PUEBLO
Max: Once you’re in front of the church at 1459 Columbia Road, stand in front of the two arched red doors. This is Casa Del Pueblo.
Rae: Welcome to Casa del Pueblo. After the convergence center raid, the final A16 spokescouncil was moved here. This was also the site of the People’s Strike convergence center in 2002. But many people remember it foremost for the awesome punk shows that happened here.
One of these was a counter-inaugural ball with Anti-Flag the night of Bush’s second inauguration in 2005. It was cold that day, but after getting charged by speeches from Iraq veterans against the war and some rebellious punk anthems, 200 punks poured out of these doors and took to the streets in a torch-lit march, chanting “Bring the war home!”
The march went down Columbia Road into Adams Morgan, where participants dragged newspapers boxes into the streets, and smashed the windows of a Citibank, a McDonalds, and a police cruiser. Dozens of people were arrested, but the real setback came from divisive and bitter disagreements over the appropriateness of the confrontational tactics used that night, despite support for the march coming from bands that played, veterans who spoke, and folks who themselves got arrested. Certain well-known activists with an axe to grind even named the show’s organizers online as responsible for the property destruction and mass arrests—effectively snitching out fellow comrades on police-monitored websites.
There was something about the anti-war movement that changed things. Authoritarian communist front groups dominated the organizing. The protests were bigger, but more homogenizing. The attendance was massive—in fact the anti-war protests of February 15, 2003 are largest day of protest in history, like human history—yet it didn’t seem to amount to much more than marching in circles. While there had been debates about tactics in the anti-globalization movement, they had never gotten so divisive. The arguments and fall out from the Anti-Flag march showed that we were solidly in a new era now, the anti-Bush years, and the participatory, horizontal organizing and diversity of tactics that prevailed in the anti-globalization movement was being lost to the past.
Max: Before we head out from here, I want to add one little thing. Rae and I may be godless anarchists, but progressive and radical churches have been a key part of anti-capitalist organizing in DC. Churches like St Stephens and La Casa have lent a hand for decades, and even offer affordable office space to radical groups. But something especially important about Casa Del Pueblo is that in 1992, the anarchist pop band Chumbawamba played here on their North American tour, making it the closest thing to a church that actually caters to my religion.
Rae: Come on Max, no one likes being proselytized to. If the people are going to come to understand the infallibility and sublime wonder of the ‘wamba, they’ll have to find it on their own.
WALKING TO THE WILSON CENTER
Max: Fair enough Rae, let’s head back down Columbia to 15th street, to the corner that we just came from. Then take a right on 15th and keep walking.
Rae: While much had changed between Seattle in 99 and the inauguration in 2005, there was one thing that hadn’t: PUNK. STILL. ROCKED.
Maybe it sounds a little silly, but seriously, punk was a pretty important part of getting people educated, in touch with each other, and active in the streets—not to mention all sharing a good time together. Smart phones weren’t a thing yet, cell phones barely were, and for sure the whole world was not yet catalogued on the internet the way it is now. To find a radical zine or information on an upcoming protest, or even the conversational opining you get nowadays from comments sections or tweets, you pretty much had to actually, physically go somewhere where information was circulated on paper or by word of mouth—and a good punk show was a helpful and fun place to find all this.
Rae: Of course, punk still exists
Max: Punk will ALWAYS exist
Rae: but the vibrancy of the scene back then was directly tied to that era’s anti-capitalist movements.
Max: Alright old timer, are you on the corner of 15th and Columbia yet? Turn right on 15th and walk up to the corner of 15th and Irving, to a large building with columns.
Rae: There’s something special about the way music spreads ideas. It’s one thing to agree with an essay or book, but it’s another to get your new favorite song stuck in your head for days. The creative boundaries pushed by seeing an amazing band can imply a wider spectrum of possibility in other spheres of life. And music gets your body moving. Dancing together or organizing the logistics of a show gives you a sense of what it would be like to act together in other ways.
In the late 90s, anarcho-punk bands like Aus-Rotten, Anti-Product, and Los Crudos toured through, screaming from the gut about the World Bank, corporate sponsored ecocide, and all the other disastrous consequences of American neo-colonialism. Touring bands also brought news of resistance in other parts of the country, and spread flyers for upcoming mobilizations. Remember, this was before everyone was on the internet. Punk networks were integral to the communication between anarchist movements internationally. The Minneapolis based anarcho-punk magazine Profane Existence collected reports of resistance from around the world—squatting, riots, inspiring bands, and new ideas. In fact, Profane Existence played a major role in bringing the black bloc to the US, first by reporting on militant street protests in Europe but specifically by advertising a new zine on the possibilities of such tactics in a North American context.
Max: Before you get to the corner of 15th and Irving, did you notice that building with the mural on the right? At 3043 15th street, that’s the Latin American Youth Center. Before they moved here, the building itself was squatted during the A16 weekend. In the days leading up to A16, lots of vacant buildings were squatted to house the masses of protesters arriving into town. As Rae will explain, this one was some particularly nice real estate for that weekend.
Ok, when you get to the corner of 15th and Irving, stand in front of the big columned building that says “Next Step Public Charter School.”
Rae: Positive Force, a local punk organization since the 80s, organized regular benefit shows for anti-capitalist and community causes. Local or nearby bands like Crispus Attucks, Strike Anywhere, 1905, and A//Political built a strong scene here, and in DIY spaces, not just bars. Casa Del Pueblo hosted the People’s Strike welcome center because anarchist punks in the Anti-Capitalist Convergence had built up a relationship with the space through years of organizing shows there.
THE WILSON CENTER
Rae: Another melting pot of DIY punk and radical politics was in this columned building, the Wilson Center. Max is right—those squatters picked a good location, because during A16 this was like a second convergence center. There used to be a big set of stairs leading up to the columns, with a big black fence around them, and if you were standing here the day before A16, you’d see tons of people hanging on the stairs, coming in and out of the building, and banners and signs decorating the fence. Some important A16 preparations took place here, particularly the meetings for the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc, aka the black bloc. But also a lot of the stuff from the convergence center at the Manhattan building was moved here when it got raided. The night before A16, Eric Drooker and Seth Tobocman had a multimedia art show that got demonstrators emotionally and spiritually ready to take the streets the following day.
Just like Casa del Pueblo, the reason the Wilson Center was available during A16 was thanks to connections built through the punk scene.
Punk was an important part of DC long before the anti-globalization era, and this is one place DC punk was born. Classic bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Fugazi—you name it, they all played here throughout the 80s. Then the building was closed to shows for most of the 90s. At that time, the building was used as a youth drop-in by the Latin American Youth Center. In 1997, Fugazi approached them about doing the band’s 10 year anniversary show here as a benefit for them.
LAYC agreed, and the show inaugurated a new cycle of punk at the Wilson Center, but not just punk. For example, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence held direct action trainings here.
Max: I remember my first punk show at the Wilson Center—it blew my mind. It was a fundraiser for the protests against the FTAA summit in Quebec City. Before the last band played, a speaker educated the crowd on the issues behind the protests—free trade, neo-colonialism, capitalism. Even though I wasn’t going to the protests themselves, it was one of the first times I felt like I was part of something. Hah. Then Strike Anywhere took the stage and were SO GOOD. I hadn’t seen anything like that before—kids going wild, reaching for the mic and singing along. Their last song had this line that really summed up the spirit of the times, just this sense that liberation was around the corner, if only we didn’t hold ourselves back
“We build a window for the vision of a freedom we could reach//Will we smash it with the brick of self-defeat//Underground America 1999//But it could be any year, anywhere”
God, and the literature, EVERYWHERE. Tables and tables covered in zines on killing your TV and scamming the system, records with incendiary anarchist slogans on them, stuff you couldn’t find in any store I had ever been to before. It was like Christmas came early, but the elves had overthrown Santa and taken over his workshop to produce stacks and stacks of backpatches and seven-inches and photocopied zines!
Rae: Oh yeah the literature tables, how could I forget. One of the staples of big DC punk shows at that time was the infoshop collective, who would later open the Brian MacKenzie Infoshop in 2003. They brought anarchist and radical books to shows long before you could find any of that stuff online. They were also one of the groups to endorse the black bloc call for A16. I sure miss that project.
Max: Aww Rae, let’s get a move on before I get all teary-eyed. I wouldn’t be the anarchist I am today if it weren’t for the punk shows I used to see here.
Rae: Same here Max. If you want to know more about the Wilson Center and DC political punk history, check out the documentary Positive Force: More Than a Witness from PM Press. And for more on how the DIY punk scene supported the anti-globalization movement, check out the essay Do It Yourself…And The Movement Beyond Capitalism in the book Constituent Imagination from AK Press.
WALKING TO POTTER’S HOUSE BOOKSTORE
Max: For our next directions, we want to remind you to follow the crosswalk signals. One, it’s safer, but two we’ve timed them with our narration! Facing 15th street like you just walked out of the Wilson Center, cross 15th. Then cross 16th, and keep going along Irving until you get to Mt. Pleasant Street and wait for us there.
Rae: Mt. Pleasant is a really interesting neighborhood, and where a lot of anarchists lived in the late 90s, early 2000s.
Farah: That was definitely where, lots of meetings, fundraisers, parties, was mostly happening in Mt. Pleasant around that time. There’s a few group houses that have been there since the ‘60s and had been either activist and punk houses, and that’s where I lived when I first moved here.
Rae: In the early ‘90s, this was one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country, with almost equal parts white, black, and Latino residents. Many of the Latino residents came here as refugees from the anti-communist dirty wars of the 1980s in central America. The military dictatorships that so many fled from were backed by the United States government, and particularly a military school in Georgia called the School of the Americas. The SOA, now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, trained US allied military dictatorships in torture, disappearance, and a host of other brutal counter-insurgency tactics. Anti-SOA activism was an important counterpart to the anti-globalization movement. While the anti-globalization movement combated neo-colonialism in the form of the velvet hand of the market, the anti-School of the Americas movement combated neo-colonialism’s iron fist of dictatorship and state terror.
Max: Once you get to the corner with Mt. Pleasant street, take a look around.
Rae: During a Cinco de Mayo celebration in 1991, police shot Daniel Enrique Gomez in the chest, leaving him paralyzed. The next two nights saw looting, burning, and street battles with police up and down this street, mostly led by young Latinos and Latinas. The result was some reforms from the city, like police not being able to inquire about one’s immigration status, but also more attention in general paid to initiatives in the Latino community. This is part of the reason why when Fugazi played their 10-year anniversary at the Wilson Center in ‘97, they wanted it to be a benefit for the Latin American Youth Center.
Max: Go ahead and take a left on Mt. Pleasant and walk down until it comes to a weird point with 16th street.
Rae: Maybe you noticed that the old Wilson Center is now a charter school. This school is also run by the Latin American Youth Center, and has even hosted some Positive Force shows in the last few years, but not all the charter schools in DC are as community oriented as this one. In the early 2000s, DC underwent an aggressive school privatization scheme. Along with closing the general hospital and a number of homeless shelters, this was one way that DC was imposing the same neoliberal policies that the World Bank and IMF had been pushing on third world countries for decades.
Zein: I’m one of those people involved in the anti-capitalist movement, and the anti-globalization movement, who saw the privatization of public schools as a thing to go after. When you talk about anti-globalization connecting with the privatization of schools, the first thing that comes to mind is Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is what, the top corporation in world? Wal-Mart is the corporation that has put in the most money, in the case of DC, into charter schools.
Mark: In my time here, DC Publish Schools have been seen, not entirely, but by and large as a scandal. Like factories for failure. Clearly, there were major problems, I mean illegal drugs, and particularly crack cocaine when you start talking about the mid 1980s, and the terrible violence that comes. It’s in that situation that you can argue for radical measure, and in this case radical free-market measures. If you make the argument, and you can convince enough people that there’s a crisis, you can use that as a way to enact policies that in non-emergency circumstances would never be allowed. Naomi Klein has talked about this in the Shock Doctrine.
Zein: The Democratic Party was actually most active, both here and in New Orleans, in pushing this agenda through. In New Orleans, their dreams came true with Katrina because Katrina was in essence gentrification in fast forward.
Max: When you get to this weird triangular tip of sidewalk at Mt Pleasant and 16th street, cross the street twice so that you end up in that little park. Walk through the park to the opposite corner at Harvard and Columbia.
Rae: Not all charter schools in DC are cynical, for profit ventures. The one in the old Wilson Center is run by the Latin American Youth Center, and there are plenty of others that continue the legacy of afro-centric, non-colonialist education that goes back at least as far as SNCC’s New School of Afro American Thought in the ‘60s. But the privatization of schools made education in DC more market based in general.
Perhaps the creepiest example of what could happen with school privatization is the Marriott Hospitality charter school. If that sounds like the Marriott hotel took over a school and turned it into a boot camp for how to serve rich people, it’s because that’s exactly what it was. Students had required internship hours in the hospitality industry, and despite millions of dollars of investment from big Hotel chains, this “school” was reportedly lacking in educational materials for its first few years, like, oh you know, TEXTBOOKS. They thankfully relinquished their charter a couple of years ago.
School privatization was a major factor in US backed neo-liberalism abroad. To hear one case study of school privatization and resistance, check out Episode 29 on anarchism in Chile. Unfortunately, the parallels between neoliberalism abroad and gentrification in DC don’t stop there. Another important local struggle in the early 2000s was fighting the closure of DC General Hospital.
Max: Wow, as if school didn’t suck enough. By now you should be at the other end of this little park, on the corner of Harvard and Columbia. Cross Harvard, then immediately cross again and walk along Columbia away from 16th street, we’re heading to a bookstore called The Potters House at 1658 Columbia Road.
DC general was the only public hospital in the city until it was privatized and closed in 2001. The result was an immediate spike in preventable deaths due to overcrowding at other hospitals. Seth Tobocman wrote a moving comic about this called “Ambulance Ride.”
At this time, the AIDS rate in DC was literally at “severe epidemic” proportions, affecting black men over all other demographics. It’s not hard to see how anti-capitalists would make the connection between the struggle to keep DC general open and ACT-UP activists demanding that the World Bank lower the cost of aids drugs in Africa.
The city’s assault on the poor didn’t end there. Over the next several years, despite local campaigns and resistance, the city went on to close several homeless shelters and tear down whole neighborhoods of low-income housing, while at the same time investing money in new buildings like the Convention Center and the baseball stadium to take their place. That baseball stadium was particularly convenient for the city—they got rid of a whole low-income gay neighborhood that way.
If it sounds oxymoronic for a government to spend money on implementing neoliberal policies—it’s in fact pretty consistent with actual existing neoliberalism. In practice, governments don’t just let the market do their thing, but orient their spending to attract exploitation, er, excuse me, investment.
This really illustrates the capitalist solution to poverty. Have an epidemic AIDS rate in your city? Maybe a bunch of poor people who aren’t making your city “investment friendly”? Don’t invest in their neighborhoods or health or schools—just take those away from them and drive them out of the city. Who cares what happens to their lives? They’re poor! Whether by the iron fist of dictatorship or the velvet glove of the market, capitalists are murderers.
THE POTTER’S HOUSE BOOKSTORE
Max: When you get to The Potter’s House at 1658 Columbia Road, go ahead and step inside if it’s open. Welcome to Potter’s House, a not-for-profit bookstore and cafe with a great selection of radical books and some vegan fare too! The good folks here have been kind enough to hold a scrapbook of anti-globalization mementos for you to check out. But also, we’re pretty close to the end of our walk, so you can come back at the end if you’re anxious to just finish now. If the shop is closed, we highly encourage you to come back another day. The scrapbooks are like little museums we’ve meticulously curated and they are definitely worth a look. To check them out, just walk up to the counter and tell them you’re on the anti-globalization walking tour and you’d like to see the scrapbooks. There are two binders and a red folder. The red folder has things that you can take out and look at, but please don’t take anything out of the binders, and for the love of Bakunin’s beard please don’t let them leave the building. When you’re done, just wrap the binders back up and return them to the worker at the counter. Feel free to stick around, browse some books, and/or have a coffee. When you’re ready to finish the tour, we’ll meet you at the front door.
WALKING TO THE DC INDYMEDIA CENTER
Max: Ready to move on? Exit Potter’s House and turn left on Columbia, we’re walking two blocks down and taking a left on Champlain Street.
Rae: After A16, more and more radicals started moving to the city—either kids from the suburbs who would come in for shows and demos, or folks who came to town for a mobilization and decided to just stay and keep working on projects. Anarchists started group houses up in Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights, but as the neoliberalization and gentrification of the city got more aggressive, we started to question what part we were playing, because honestly, the activist influx was a lot of younger white people moving into black and Latino neighborhoods. But more importantly, some anarchists questioned what they could do to resist gentrification.
Farah: I was working for an international non-profit that worked on anti-globalization issues. I was living in Mt. Pleasant at the time, and really seeing in my neighborhood, you would literally see people’s stuff out on the street all the time. You would see one minute an apartment building that you would see Latino families going in and out of, then the next minute it was vacant, and then a few months later it’s being built as condos. It was so visceral, so visual, seeing that happen definitely seemed to me like the most important local issue. Because I spoke Spanish I thought that maybe I could be of some use, so I actually started volunteering with Empower DC, and learning tenant organizing stuff from Linda Leeks I think the thing is there were very big forces at work, and they were the same forces that we know form anti-globalization and privatization, and it had been a really vibrant multi-cultural, multi-racial neighborhood for quite a while. So I don’t see as the turning point an extra 10 or 15 white activists who are moving into the neighborhood, but really I see as a turning point the metro, and all of this private investment and public investment. There was a lot of big system stuff going on.
Rae: Gentrification continues to be a hot topic both in DC and for anarchists in general. We bring up this debate because it was indicative of a larger phenomenon going on in North American anarchism. A few weeks before A16, an influential essay by Elizabeth Betita Martinez began to circulate called “Where was the Color in Seattle?” The essay affirmed the need for anti-globalization mass protests, but also explored why, in large part, radicals of color had declined to show up. In a movement that fought against US neo-colonialism, how were colonial attitudes and assumptions present in our own organizing?
Ryan: I think that in mainstreaming organizing there’s often a lot of erasure that happens. A big part of what the Anti-Capitalist Convergence was, in addition to trying to put anti-capitalist and anarchist politics and the center of the organizing, the anti-oppression piece was also huge. For a lot of people involved in the movement locally, it was the first time that they were really asked to grapple with issues of privilege and issues of white supremacy and racism and sexism.
Rae: One of the responses from anarchist people of color was to get organized and start talking to each other. This era spawned the first APOC website and email list in 2001. In the next couple of years, the first APOC conference would take place and the APOC anthology “Our Culture, Our Resistance” got published and widely circulated. With white supremacy at the center of today’s rebellions, the contributions of APOC are even more important to review and consider. We have some links in this episode’s show notes.
Max: When you get to the corner of Columbia and Champlain Street, notice the Capitol Hemp storefront at 1770 Columbia. Part of the start-up money for this store came from a lawsuit resulting from those preemptive mass arrests at the Peoples Strike. Lots of the arrests from the mobilizations we’ve discussed in this episode resulted in costly class action lawsuits—costly for DC and the police. The owners here also put money towards preserving some wild land in Virginia and other good causes.
Ok, at Champlain street take a left and walk down to our final site: the old DC Indymedia headquarters at 2329 Champlain.
Rae: To end this tour, we want to cover what might be the most incorporated and influential aspect of the anti-globalization movement.
Television host: Tell us about the DC Indepdent Media Center.
Indymedia activist one: It’s an international network that spawned out of the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999. Basically, the concept of an indymedia center is a place where people can come from the community and create their own media, and tell their own stories. It spawned out of a reaction to the blackout in corporate media about issues of world trade and the problems and impacts it has on communities. So it’s only collaborative really, there’s no hierarchical positions or leadership in any way. Everyone just makes decisions based on consensus in their autonomous collectives, wherever they start. In Washington DC it started in 2000 when there was this big demonstrating against the IMF and the World Bank. So, people came, and we were like “let’s make our own media! Let’s tell our own stories. Let’s do it in a different kind of way.”
Rae: By 2002, 75 Indymedia chapters existed across the world, and eventually on every continent except Antarctica.
Robin: The different indymedias would focus on their own things. DC was definitely one of the larger ones, because it had enough people coming in and out of it. And we also had these World Bank meetings too, and that really galvanized and brought people together.
Farah: The thing that was actually the easiest to plug into at the time, for me, was indymedia, which like, I’m not really a media person, but I did go to indymedia stuff because it was where I was finding folks.
Rae: And I have to remind everybody…at the risk of sounding old again…
Max: Let me guess this was before the internet, when you had to walk in the snow, uphill both ways if you wanted to know how many windows the black block smashed
Rae: Well, it was before YouTube, before Facebook, before Twitter…but that’s the thing, it wasn’t before the internet, it was one of the projects that shaped the internet in untold ways, as it did to journalism too.
Eddie: It was the very earliest form of people going to a website to get news that they wouldn’t seen broadcast on TV, and anyone anywhere could post stuff and enter into discussion. It changed the way journalism was done, because normally journalism is based on scarcity—you have 8 pages, or you have a half hour program, or you have just a certain amount of page space for pictures. Here, people could come and put as much or as little stuff as they wanted, and there was no hierarchy.
Indymedia activist two: One of the things I recently did, I went to Barcelona for the European Union summit protests, but I didn’t go out into the street with a little journalist badge, I was out there with the protesters protesting. Not as a journalist, but as a protester. When the police were beating us up, I was there, and I could go back and write about that later, whereas the journalists weren’t there because the police put them somewhere eels because they’re journalists. So they didn’t get to see what was really happening, and therefore didn’t get to report on it.
Rae: Having a central website where anyone could publish their stories, photos, video or audio turned out to be the most lasting contribution of indymedia, But the internet still wasn’t king yet. DC Indymedia printed its own newspaper; Indymedia activists launched pirate radio stations during mobilizations; and it was still hard to get your hands on radical videos, so Indymedia would host monthly screenings, often of the documentaries put together by other chapters in the indymedia network.
Max: And you should be coming up on the hive where all this work and coordination got done: 2329 Champlain street. It will stand out because it’s this dumpy, two story building surrounded by fancy condos.
DC INDEPENDENT MEDIA CENTER
Rae: This wasn’t the only spot where indymedia was based, but in my memory this was the biggest and most active.
Robin: Champlain Street just had this energy that was awesome. We had 5,000 square feet in Adams Morgan
Eddie: There was a place for video, place for audio, place for the print people, a big room for the meetings.
Robin: We had a bunch of different filmmakers who would come and go, at one point Democracy Now! Was sharing the office with us. We’d do films screenings, host events, talks, art shows. We had a bunch of people who were dumpster-divers who’d find food so the fridge usually had relatively safe food to eat. At the time, it was really just an amazing spot to coordinate and meet and have meetings and people would use the space. The whole purpose of the independent media centers, like the actual physical space, was to create an environment where people could work on their stories, they could meet each other, think about ways of collaborating and getting stuff out.
Rae: So much of what indymedia did has now been incorporated into how modern journalism and the internet in general work, but at the time it was truly revolutionary.
Max: I mean, it must have been critical, because none other than the mighty Chumbawamba donated $40,000 of their pop-star money to the indymedia network. Although the Indymedia folks were so used to their DIY approach that they didn’t really know what to do with all that cash.
Rae: But Max, I don’t just mean it was important back then. Much of the way we use the internet to share news or information today was innovated early on through indymedia. For example, anarchists involved in indymedia went on to create txtMOB, an sms text-message based program built to allow activists to communicate quickly in the streets. The code from txtMOB was the basis for Twitter. Anarchists created Twitter! During the Arab Spring the media couldn’t stop wowing at the fact that rebels were using Twitter to coordinate their actions, when that’s actually what it was built to do in the first place!!
This is just one example of the way Indymedia brought radicals together who then went on to start their own projects with the relationships and skills they picked up there.
Robin: A lot of those friendships and those relationships that started still exist to this day. I do think that one thing that’s an important thing to put out there is space is really special. Like, having space for people to meet, common areas, is really, really important. Especially, one of the things that for indymedia and for people in the DC community, they try to create those spaces when those things happen. So I think, especially in light of the overall global temperament, and also what’s going on in this country, looking at space is really important, and trying to identify spaces that can be useful. One thing about this tour that you’re on, you’re going to notice a lot of churches, and basements, and community centers. I think it’s really important that people utilize that. One of the great things about activism, and grassroots efforts, and the music scene in DC is that they used those spaces, and they kind of help those spaces stay alive and grow.
Rae: Unfortunately, lots of spaces and projects have died out. The Indymedia center closed its doors in the mid 2000s. The Brian MacKenzie Infoshop closed in 2008. And a host of other supportive spaces have been priced out of where they once existed. It’s not just spaces that were lost to gentrification—as rents increased in DC, many of the anarchists who lived here found it harder and harder to stay, and moved further into the suburbs, or to other towns entirely. But also, after 9/11 the state really did begin a harsher crack down on anarchists. The radical earth liberation movement, who in many ways set the stage for the anti-globalization era, suffered a big blow with the mid 2000s Green Scare wave of repression. Anarchists organizing against the 2008 RNC faced conspiracy and terrorism charges for basically doing the exact same organizing as the Anti-Capitalist Convergence did for the People’s Strike; and the state undertook campaigns of entrapment against young activists at large protest mobilizations, one notable case being Eric McDavid’s. The informant in Eric’s case got her start at the protests in Miami. Of course, anarchy in DC didn’t disappear, but it had to adapt against the forces of repression and gentrification, the iron fist and the velvet glove of state and capital.
LESSONS FROM THE ANTI-GLOBALIZATION MOVEMENT
As we are publishing this walking tour, Trump is getting ready to take office. Folks from all the movements we mentioned are preparing for a new wave of struggle ahead, and while much is uncertain, one this is for sure: new generations of rebels will be born. We hope this walking tour can be one humble contribution to passing on lessons from previous generations of anti-capitalists and anti-authoritarians. There are a few specific ones we think are important for the road ahead…
1-Affinity groups and spokes councils allow for decision-making to happen on a variety of levels and in the ways best suited for each small group. Centralizing decision-making, even if technically democratic, often reduces the autonomy and initiative that lets us make the most of our participation.
2-Movements will always include a variety of tactics, and a variety of disagreements over them. We are strongest when we don’t allow police or media to exploit these disagreements and divide us into good protesters vs. bad protesters.
3-Spaces where we can find each other are really precious. Defend them, seek them out, open them up, infuse them with energy.
4-Capitalists and governments will always exploit disasters to further their own power—whether that’s using Hurricane Katrina as carte blanche for gentrification, or 9/11 for repressing anti-capitalist movements. In times of disaster, it is especially important that we put forward our own visions and demonstrate resistance to authoritarian and capitalist solutions.
5-Numbers are not all that counts. There were more people in the streets in the Anti-Bush years, but accomplishing a lot less than the fewer people armed with vision and bravery during the Anti-Globalization years. The collective imagination about what kind of world we wanted beyond Bush was much weaker than the collective imagination of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movement. It would be a shame if all the different riots and prison strikes and hacking and warrior camps somehow died down and got lumped into scripted, predictable mass protests solely focused on the president.
There was one news clipping in the scrapbook—maybe you saw it—it described a demonstration with, “each protester a champion of his or her own cause.” To me that’s a poetic description of anarchy: collective in our action, individuals in our motivations.
And with that, dear listener, or listener-walker, or listener Google maps clicker, we’ll leave you to start looking forward to the struggles ahead. Whether through punk shows or bookshops, assemblies or occupations, collective projects or street conflicts, it’s a matter of creating the spaces where we can find each other. We are everywhere.
Max: We have a LOT of people to thank for making this walking tour episode possible. In no particular order, many thanks to Ben’s Chili Bowl, The Potter’s House, the DC Punk Archive at the DC Public Library, DC Action Lab, DJ Eurok, Ryan, Farah, Lelia, Nadine Bloch, Mark Andersen, Zein El-Amine, Adam Eidinger, Eddie Becker, Robin Bell, Marshall Brown, Kristen, Underground Reverie as always, And last but not certainly not least, Chumbawamba.
Rae: Everyone we interviewed is still active today with different projects and organizations. In the show notes for this episode, we’ve linked each of their names to what they’re working on now. Check out our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, for more details on everything we discussed plus a full transcript of the show.
Max: If you enjoyed the format of this episode and would like to tell your own local anarchist history via walking tour, we’d be happy to share everything we learned in the process of making this one. You can stay in touch with us by email to podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Rae: Thanks for listening, and remember—there’s no clear road forward, we make the road by walking.
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
We’ve put together a YouTube version of the walking tour with the photos included at our YouTube channel
Anarchist history is not for books you can close and set away on a shelf. Use the lessons and inspiration from this episode to get active. You can start next week with the #DisruptJ20 anti-inaugural activities in DC on January 20th.
We discuss and sample multiple documentaries about the mass anti-corporate globalization protests that took place during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many of these can be found online, like This Is What Democracy Looks Like, Breaking the Spell, Breaking the Bank, The Miami Model, and the highly recommended Crowd Bites Wolf.
The excerpt from the A16 Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc statement came from The Black Bloc Papers, which is a great resource for understanding that part of early 2000s anarchism.
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