All cops. I've called the police only on very rare occasions. A jock neighbor of mine in another city liked to beat his live-in girlfriend black and blue, fights that frequently spilled out into our apartment complex's courtyard. He was shameless about his drunken abuse and no one else in the complex was willing to do shit, so I called the cops during a particularly brutal episode to get him to stop and maybe to protect her. While driving down the street, I once witnessed this huge guy—6 foot 6 and 250 lbs if he was an ounce—wailing on a small child on the sidewalk. I parked, got out of my car, and tried to provoke the guy to leave the kid alone by yelling "hey asshole, pick on someone your own size." When he yelled back "mind your own fucking business" and kept beating on the kid I called the cops. As a rule though, I don't call the cops no matter how serious the problem. Cops are trouble. Cops cause trouble, much more trouble than they solve by intervening now and again in domestic disputes. To my way of thinking, the only good cop is a dead cop.
Flash back to the 1990-91 Gulf War.
I lived in San Diego at the time, a military town that had a surprisingly strong anti-militarist response to the armed buildup prior to the lightning war. That first candlelit night march and rally marshalled tens of thousands of concerned folks, and subsequent events were almost as impressive. They were also unruly as hell. The SD peace community called and organized these mass events, and then tried to control them with nonviolent peace keepers.
Peace police is what they were.
The marches were so huge that they took whatever street they damn well pleased, whether or not the organizers had permits for the route. One march kept tramping up and down Broadway, keeping the city's main downtown thoroughfare shut down for close to an hour. The real cops didn't contest these more or less spontaneous deviations from officially sanctioned procedures, and the peace cops were more than happy to go along for the ride. It's when folks stepped entirely outside the staid, approved march-and-rally format that trouble started.
A couple hundred kids took off from one of the marches and ran amok through Horton Plaza, the showcase maze-like shopping mall in downtown San Diego that symbolized the city's gentrifying redevelopment program. They didn't do much vandalism but they sure as hell freaked the Plaza's security and the SDPD as well as the peace movement's cops. Shadow painters split off from another march and played tag with the real cops as they ran around town chalking body silhouettes on pavement, sidewalks and buildings to represent what a nuclear blast can do to people. And when a small group of UCSD students attempted to do some well-mannered civil disobedience, they ran afoul of the peace police.
It was at one of the last rallies before the beginning of the American-led military blitzkrieg, held in the San Diego Federal building plaza. After interminable hours of turgid speeches, the UCSD kids walked as a group over to the Federal building's main entrance with the intent of sitting down and blocking it. They were stopped, not by the real cops, but by the rally's peace monitors who told them they couldn't go ahead with their CD.
Those students wanted to commit a nonviolent act in the proud tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and the proper pacifist types of the official peace rally refused to let them!
The students were not to be denied however. They walked out of the demonstration onto Broadway and sat down, blocking part of the street's traffic in one direction. Motorcycle cops responded quickly, but so did the other demonstrators. A chanting militant mob soon encircled the student CDers as the police milled around this trouble spot, jockeying for position in anticipation of arresting the whole lot of us. Enter those pesky peace police.
The peace monitors circulated among the crowd surrounding the UCSD kids and told us to get back on the sidewalk with the rest of the demonstration. The students wanted to get arrested for their civil disobedience and the cops wanted to arrest them, so would we please clear the area so that the police could do their job. I can imagine those asswipe peace cops in Nazi Germany. "Please clear the road so that the Gestapo can do their job." Yes the UCSD students wanted to get arrested, but we wanted to keep them from getting arrested for as long as possible. We wanted nothing to do with making the SDPD's job easy, quick or efficient to accomplish.
The real cops bristled and threatened when we declined to cooperate. The peace police, having failed to give the cops what they wanted and realizing that the situation was becoming volatile, decided to "protect" us—CDers and uncivilly disobedient demonstrators alike—by forming a human chain of peace keepers around our independent protests. Goddamn meddling control freaks! Then I was unarrested. I got a little too close to that circle of peace cops holding hands and a real cop, taunted and provoked by my attitude reached through to grab me, hoping to drag me out and arrest me. A friend in the crowd held onto me and pulled the other way until I was free of the policeman's grasp, a tug-of-war across "neutral" peace cop lines. The street confrontation lasted for perhaps another hour. Peace cops negotiated with real cops, but we refused to listen to either, holding our ground.
The SDPD did manage to cleverly diffuse the situation. They finally informed the crowd that nobody would be arrested. The UCSD students could sit in the street and we could stand around them for as long as we wanted because the police did not intend to throw anybody in jail. The cops would set up police barricades around us and redirect traffic but otherwise they would leave us alone, nullifying any disruptive effect we might have. And of course, if we left to eat or take a shit, we couldn't return. This disappointed the student CDers. They met among themselves and decided to stop their nonviolent action, ending the confrontation as well.
The San Diego peace movement behaved as if they owned the demonstration simply because they had obtained police permits and distributed leaflets for an event with date, time and place under their sponsorship. Complete bullshit of course. No group or coalition no matter how broad can claim to own or control the popular response to something on the scale of the US's military incursion in the Persian Gulf. At most they could have claimed: "We hold the legal permits for this demonstration. If you agree with the way we run things, stay within our peace monitors' perimeter and obey them. If you don't agree, you're on your own." Instead they expressed their proprietary attitude by seeking to control everybody's response, by becoming the demonstration's peace police.
I wrote up these criticisms at the time in a broadside that also described the numerous independent, autonomous actions that broke away from the officially sanctioned peace demonstrations. It was an open letter to the peace movement under the title "We Cannot Be Controlled!," Rosebud's opening lyric from Night Soil Man's song of the same name. The immediate response was that we, those of us who had stood around the CDer's in the street, had also prevented the students from carrying out their civil disobedience. Nonsense, since they were engaged in their nonviolent action when we first gathered around them. Had the real police made their move some of us would have joined the sit-in and taken our lumps, but most of us would have scampered back to the sidewalk's crowded safety. If anything we indirectly prevented the students from getting arrested, which was their intent after all. But we contributed far less to this than did the peace movement's cops when they surrounded all of us "for our own protection."
The folks directly responsible for not arresting the UCSD kids were the SDPD of course. The cops looked over the situation—students nonviolently sitting in the streets, a mob of not-so-peaceful supporters surrounding them refusing to disperse, a line of peace monitors holding hands around this street occupation, thousands of anti-war demonstrators still on the sidewalks—and decided discretion was the better part of valor under the circumstances. In turn their brilliant ploy, to let us all stay in the street for as long as we wanted, took the wind out of the sails of the student protesters; the confrontation's focal point.
Ultimately though the civilly disobedient students had no more claim to ownership or control of that day's events than did the peace movement and its peace cops.
We cannot be controlled.
I heard that things went better, and worse in the Bay Area; my present home. Folks from Prairie Fire and the RCP as well as an alliance of Third World students, and numerous anarchists, punks and ultraleftists engaged in violent anti-war street demonstrations, organizing successful mass blockades of the Bay Bridge. These mass breakaways from the established peace movement and their "demonstrations-as-usual" prompted some peace police to turn snitch and point out rioters to the real police for arrest. As I said, whatever kind of cop, the only good one is a dead one.
There I go again, slagging another part of the already beleaguered, besieged and bewildered American Left. To be fair, I don't put the peace movement in the same wretched category as social democracy and Leninism. I take down some dubious Leninist shit below. As for the peace movement, I do think that it often suffers from the same misconception of itself as does the general public. Both tend to equate the peace movement with the anti-war movement. They simply are not the same.
The peace movement proper is comprised of people serious about peace. They often oppose all war, indeed all violence. The anti-war movement includes the peace movement, but it also involves much of the Left as well as everybody else who opposes a particular war for particular reasons. Alongside the peace movement's pacifist nonviolence there stands well-reasoned anti-interventionism (opposition to US meddling in the affairs of other sovereign nations), anti-imperialism (solidarity with "national liberation wars" against US imperialism), and anti-statism (focus upon the state as the intrumentality of continued US imperial intervention). Some folks simply believe that a particular war is not in the US national interest while others don't want to see friends and relatives, young men and now women coming home in body bags. The peace movement might wish to claim the moral high ground in this much broader anti-war movement, but it cannot claim ownership or control of the movement or its mass events.
Europeans tend to be a little more sober on this score. When a big issue like a war comes along, events are called by organizations or coalitions, but independent contingents are given their autonomy. The black bloc is perhaps one of the more controversial participants in mass European demonstrations; folks dressed all in black wearing helmets and balaklavas who march and act together, sometimes taking on the cops. European peace monitors don't feel obligated to intervene between the rowdies and the police as the San Diego peace cops did, perhaps because Europeans don't think that the actions of said rowdies ruin "their" demonstration.
Not that I would have fought the cops in San Diego as I stood in that boisterous crowd surrounding those nonviolent students. All any of us wanted to do was to be as much trouble as possible without actually getting into trouble. Yet had we wanted to battle the cops, that would have been our expression of anti-war resistance. How arrogant for the peace movement's cops to intercede, either to protect us or to prevent violence from ruining "their" demonstration!
I'm writing this February column for a mid-December deadline and of course it's related to the latest US military blustering against Iraq. The January column deadline was November 15 and this publishing delay makes it difficult to respond to current events in a timely fashion. Given this country's chronic historical amnesia it's likely that people will be saying "Saddam who?" when this issue hits your local record shop, book store or newsstand. But unless the US has invaded and occupied Iraq contrary to the latest settlement, or alternately nuked Baghdad by the time you read this, future confrontations are inevitable.
So let's anticipate them.
The Bay Area has relatively strong unions for the US west coast and relatively few military installations thanks to Congressional base closings. It's also one of the last bastions of Democratic party liberalism, the peace movement, the '50's old Left/'60's New Left morphed into the '90's what's Left, some beleaguered domestic nationalist movements, various relic subcultures, you get the picture. Finally, it's one of the on-again/off-again centers of quasi-political punk rock for the past twenty plus years. San Diego is none of these things, in fact it's the opposite. The following suggestion for what to do should work in either circumstance.
It starts with a standard recommendation of mine; first get together with a couple of your friends. Friends who oppose US military action and who are willing to take action on their own. Sit down and brainstorm what you want to do; then how, where and when you want to do it. (If you need ideas for what to do, check out the resources I mentioned in MRR #174 & 175.) Gather what you need to do your action—contacts, supplies, practice—as soon as possible. The next time the US government starts saber rattling against Iraq or any other country for that matter, carry out your action. Simple as that. Attend those all-too-predictable peace demonstrations if you want. In fact, go with your friends so that you can watch each other's backs in case the cops do something stupid or so that you can take full advantage of any independent, autonomous mass action that also might occur. But do something on your own as well, something outside of and not dependent upon the demonstrations-as-usual that'll come along during the next serious military confrontation.
Don't wait for instructions and don't ask for permission.
I'll personally talk about some of the limitations to small groups of friends taking action next column. In the Bay Area the usual suspects showed up to demonstrate on November 19 against the latest round of US/Iraqi brinkmanship. Called by the International Action Center, a project of the All-Peoples Congress which like the National People's Campaign is a front for the Trotskyist-Marcyist Workers World Party (ya can't tell the players without a scorecard...), I had the misfortune to arrive during Gloria LaRiva's typical Leftist tirade over the APC's portable sound system. Just back from an IAC junket to Iraq with Ramsey Clark, she's run for mayor of SF and was vice presidential candidate on the Peace & Freedom Party ticket in some states during the 1996 elections, with the WWP sponsoring her against the P&FP in other states. I think that's how it went anyway, some split in the old Peace & Freedom. I don't keep track of electoral politics, even though I do remember that she disrupted a few major candidate events. Her folks have a death's grip in the City on the demonstration business, thanks to the above mentioned sound setup as well as some pretty nasty security goons who make the SD peace movement's cops I've been railing at look like Cub Scouts. Her crew have been known to help the cops when things got "out of control" at past demonstrations. You can see LaRiva's police state socialism in those APC security goons, though not many were acting the part at the rather small SF event on November 19.
LaRiva's handcuffs-and-nightstick Leftism is also evident in her unapologetic
support for Saddam Hussein's brutality. This goes well beyond Mao's dictum
that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." I'm no flag-waving US patriot
by any means, but I don't automatically assume that those who oppose US
military aggression are on my side. It's important to remember Iraq's recent
history in particular. Two-thirds of the country rose up in armed rebellion
against Hussein's dictatorial Ba'athist regime at the end of the Gulf War,
with soldier's deserting the Iraqi army in droves and with insurrectionary
workers, peasants and soldiers establishing autonomous shuras (councils)
in major southern and northern Iraqi cities. Hussein's elite Republican
Guard, spared during the Gulf War, managed to smash these revolts. LaRiva
no doubt approved of these Iraqi government actions given the WWP's history
of support for crushing independent workers' councils, from Lenin's and
Trotsky's own justification for Bolshevizing the Russian soviets to Sam
Marcy's "paleo-Leninist banalities" in defence of the Soviet invasion of
The threat of rain kept the SF demo tiny and well managed, confined to APC faithful and representatives of the leftover Left all hawking their own events and newspapers. Most everybody kept a picket line going while the protest honchos made rhetoric laden speeches and lead unspirited chants. Perhaps Gloria can ask Saddam to schedule his confrontations for the early fall/late spring to increase the size of her rallies and further her political career. Completely bored with the WWP's dog-and-poney show, I left early. The Russian brokered settlement of the "international crisis" in turn deprived the IAC/APC/NPC/WWP of sponsoring your typical TDO/TDA action (The Day Of/The Day After any US military strike), even while continued international bickering over inspection details keeps the IAC et al's hands in the game. The next time the US and Iraq square off big time, and trust me there will be a next time, let's deprive Gloria LaRiva and her ilk of the credit for being the anti-war movement's "leadership" with our own independent anti-war actions.
Hey, why not review Leftist events in this column like others review bands, records or shows? In that case, 11/19/97 IAC emergency response to US threats against Iraq = l (blackballed, no politically redeeming value), Next column, all in the family....
...ALL THE NEWS THAT FITS...
READER'S DIGEST IS RIGHT... Laughter is the best medicine. Three funny people with politics, tepid by Hooligan standards, make me smile. Jim Hightower with There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos, Molly Ivins with Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? and Michael Moore with Downsize This!; again their political solutions are unfortunately timid when compared to their savage and brilliant class-based humor. The order is alphabetical by author as well as by my recommendations, with Hightower's folksy Texas vulgarities taking the prize. Something about Texas since sharp tongued Ivins also claims the state. Moore, always a master at self-publicity, has gotten lots of hype for an overrated, though still quite amusing book. All three are good for raising the spirit with a laugh...
JUST ANOTHER JUNKET? Nike president Philip Knight has invited US congressional critics to visit his overseas factories, although he hasn't responded to a congressional request to do so without restrictions, and with the ability to meet with and question workers with respect to working conditions. The Soviet Union used to give guided tours of their country which were entirely staged, a series of red Potemkin villages that falsely portrayed the USSR as a workers' paradise. Wanna bet that Knight has a similar scheme in mind. 11/20/97 San Diego Union-Tribune article thanks to Karl Koons.
CHOCK FULL OF INFO... The latest Counter Information that is. The Liverpool dockers' strike, reclaiming the streets, criticizing Britain's New Labor, over a dozen news shorts under "A World To Win," and tons of contacts; that covers about half of what's in this 4-page issue. Simply amazing. No. 49 (Oct/Nov/Dec); free/donation; c/o Transmission, 28 King St., Glasgow G1 5QP, Scotland.
MISSED THIS the first time around, so I'm glad for the reissue. 1936: The Spanish Revolution by The Ex includes a 144 page deluxe hardcover photo book and comes with 2 mini-3" CDs of music. Outstanding. Allied 79 CD; $24.95; Allied Recordings, POB 460683, SF, CA 94146.
CREDIT for the picture of me smokin' 'da stogey goes to Pickles McGerk who snapped the photo in NYC sometime during chilly December, 1996.
PERSONAL PROPAGANDA... I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. My book, End Time, can be purchased from AK Press (POB 40682, SF, CA 94140-0682) for $10. Keep sending me your newsworthy items and interesting news clippings c/o MRR.