Re: WTO review "On Trashing and Movement Building" By Michael Albert FWD

unclescam (
Thu, 09 Dec 1999 23:30:31 -0500

thanks for this. is one to see a movement in this seattle thing?  aside from
analyzing one act have heard no follow up plan for future demo's.rhode island
seems to be a building block. is the union putting people on site. are the
partners of seattle rallying the troops to sleep in the rough.?is there an
available laptop with sattelite link to put in the camp for instant/constant
outreach to gain support ?
     can we cut this up and dis cuss the lack of martyrs (mumia ?) or leaders
(abbey/eldridge )
mlk is dead

Tom Boland wrote:

> FWD   Wed, 08 Dec 1999 12:34:03 -0800
> From: Norman Solomon <>
> Subject: "On Trashing and Movement Building"
> During the last few days, I've received some emails in praise of the
> window-smashing that occurred in Seattle. So I was glad to read the
> following new article by Michael Albert of Z Magazine, "On Trashing and
> Movement Building."
> I fully agree with this article, and I hope you'll pass it along to anyone
> you think might be interested. (Related materials are also posted at
> -- Norman Solomon
> _______________________________________
> On Trashing and Movement Building
> By Michael Albert
> This is a response to a post-Seattle debate troubling many folks regarding
> movement tactics. As a preface, it goes without saying, I hope, that we all
> understand that as far as violence is concerned, the violent parties in
> Seattle were first and foremost the President of the U.S., his entourage,
> the other major heads of state, the leadership of the WTO, etc.
> Poverty-inducing violence imposed with a pen trumps a brick breaking a
> window every time--not to mention that the former is to defend and enlarge
> injustice, while the latter is to fight it. For that matter, in the streets
> of Seattle, mass media coverage aside, in a large public discussion for all
> statistical or moral purposes the only physical violence was that
> perpetrated by police and national guard at the behest of the state. Pepper
> gas, rubber bullets, and truncheons all directed at citizens attempted to
> dissent from vile economic agendas trump broken windows every time on any
> violence meter, much less on one that accounts for motivations. Debate
> about movement tactics arises publicly therefore overwhelmingly because of a
> manipulative and distorting mass media. The issue of movement tactics as it
> arises inside social movements, however, gains attention because of
> potential implications on future attitudes of activists toward trashing,
> property damage, civil disobedience, and other possible demonstration
> tactics as well as participation in demonstrations. That said...
> Any useful discussion of movement tactics must be about their efficacy for
> movement building, winning short-term demands, and laying a basis for
> winning longer term aims. Assessing tactics means evaluating how they cause
> a movement to grow or decline and whether they enlarge or diminish
> immediate chances to win some goal.
> I have been involved in demonstrations in which trashing grew organically
> from the event's logic and intentions--for example, clearly enunciated
> assaults on particular draft boards or ROTC buildings. I have also been in
> demonstrations where trashing was counter-productive and irresponsible--for
> example endangering innocent folks and diluting the message and solidarity
> of the event. Which was true in Seattle?
> Seattle was a massive event and those who tirelessly organized it were
> committed to legal marches and rallies and also to illegal but non-violent
> civil disobedience. Upwards of 70,000 people attended. In the first days
> success was overwhelming and mutually respectful ties developed between
> usually fragmented constituencies, (turtles and Teamsters, Lesbian Avengers
> and steel workers). The prospect that civil disobedience would grow was
> extremely exciting and optimism was contagious. Movement participation was
> climbing and, amazingly, the official WTO gathering was already thoroughly
> disrupted. The police began to employ gas, clubs, and rubber bullets. At
> this point, the highly organized trashers broke off and attacked windows.
> Afterwards they celebrated that due to their mobility and organization none
> was arrested or harmed.
> I remember all too vividly some sixties demonstrations in which over-eager
> dissenters would taunt and otherwise provoke police and then disappear,
> leaving others, often utterly unprepared families, to bear the brunt of the
> response. I was always far more impressed with the courage of knowing folks
> who could easily see what was coming and escape if they wished to, but who
> instead used their talents to help protect their less well prepared
> co-demonstrators, then with the self preservation instincts of those who
> brought down repression and then fled the scene. In the sixties, such
> trashers' behavior was caught up in a set of mistaken expectations and
> hopes. I suspect that the same holds nowadays.
> Imagine that the various contingents in Seattle who had provided energy,
> song, creativity, and militancy at the rallies and especially at the civil
> disobedience, had then also, on top of that, not gone off breaking windows
> but remained with others shielding them, assisting those who were hurt,
> helping those suffering from the gas. This would have capped their
> otherwise positive involvement with exemplary behavior on behalf of their
> fellow
> demonstrators, rather than tailing off into counter productive window
> breaking. The meaning of anarchism conveyed by this would have been
> creative militancy plus humanity and solidarity, in tune with the rest of the
> anarchist involvement in the Seattle demonstrations.
> Does this mean, however, that there cannot be a time and place for
> confrontation and property damage? No, it doesn't mean that at all, at
> least not in my view. Instead, the time and place for such behavior is when it
> will meet widespread approval and increase the power of protest rather than
> providing an excuse for folks to tune out or become hostile to protest. Up
> to the trashing, anarchists in Seattle added energy, creativity, art,
> music, and often greatly needed militancy, courage, and steadfastness to
> many demonstration venues. They uplifted participants' spirits and
> otherwise played a very positive role within the rubric of the
> demonstration's guidelines. It was only when some went off breaking windows
> against the demonstration's norms that a problem arose. And we should note
> that it isn't just trashing that is sometimes warranted and sometimes not.
> Sometimes civil disobedience is out of place too. It too can be at odds
> with the mindsets of people's current orientation and planning for events
> so that spontaneously undertaking civil disobedience would violate an
> event's logic and promise, alienate people who are moving toward dissent,
> and not spur new insight and solidarity but reduce it. Other times,
> however, employing civil disobedience makes excellent sense and is even
> pivotal to success, as in Seattle, for example. For that matter, sometimes
> even a march can be adventurist; other times is can be the ideal tactic.
> In other words, what tactics at an event are warranted and will help a
> movement grow and strengthen, and what tactics at an event are unwarranted
> and will hurt a movement and its cause, is very rarely a matter of
> unyielding principles but depends almost always on how the event has been
> portrayed and organized, who is at it, what their expectations and
> consciousness are, what the event's prospects are for impacting social
> outcomes, and how the event and the tactics are likely to be perceived by
> and to impact non-involved constituencies. Regrettably, once activists
> enter a trashing mindset, they most often don't care about such
> calculations. To trash is good, they feel, exuberantly, because, after all,
> the targets are criminal corporations and damaging them is a step toward
> demystifying and destroying them. Anyone against that must be
> pro-corporate, they announce. The mindset isn't about discriminating the
> impact of possible tactics, but only about what target to hit. But it is
> not the acme of wisdom to deduce that McDonalds and Nike are better targets
> than random passersby or a family grocery store. As far as Seattle is
> concerned, despite other fantastically valuable contributions to the event,
> for a relatively minuscule number of participants to impose on a massive
> demonstration tactics contrary to its
> definition was undemocratic behavior that should be transcended in the future.
> The events in Seattle had, before any trashing occurred, already entirely
> hamstrung the WTO. They had already evidenced militant creativity and
> creative organization and knowledge. They had already begun to generate new
> allegiances and ties among diverse constituencies. They had already
> combined many levels of creative and militant tactics in a mutually
> supportive mix. Speeches at rallies already in many instances made the
> obvious leaps from opposing free trade to opposing free markets, and from
> opposing global profiteering to opposing capitalism per se. The ground was
> laid for the work we all now need to do. The addition of trashing had no
> positive effects. It did not win useful visibility that would otherwise
> have been absent. It did not enlarge the number of folks participating or
> empathizing with the demonstration. It did not cause more substantive
> information to be conveyed either in the mainstream or on the left. It did
> not respect much less enlarge democracy. What it did do, instead, was (a)
> divert attention from the real issues, (b) provide a pretext for repression
> which would otherwise have been unequivocally seen as crushing legitimate
> dissent, and (c) and arguably most important, cause many to feel that
> dissent is an unsympathetic
> undertaking in which instead of actors respecting one another, some, at
> least, feel that they have the right to undemocratically violate the
> intentions and desires of most others.
> Just so we are clear: again, the issue isn't is trashing per se good or
> bad. Suppose that the trashers hadn't embarked on breaking windows but had
> become a support group for those suffering police assaults, rallying spirit
> and protecting bodies. Suppose that hundreds and then thousands more
> students and workers had joined the civil disobedience efforts. Suppose
> that the state had used gas and charging cops repeatedly to break up such
> efforts. And suppose in this context a good part of the city's population
> and of the "audience" around the country and a large majority of the
> constituencies in
> Seattle to demonstrate felt solidarity with the law-breaking demonstrators.
> Now imagine, in this context, that the police charged and folks didn't run,
> but instead suddenly stood their ground. More, suppose they then turned and
> decided it was time to push the police back. Imagine that this led to
> battles, and then to cars turned over, barricades built, and so on. The
> property damage by protesters in such massive melees would dwarf anything
> committed by the trashers in Seattle and it would no doubt extend beyond
> corporate targets and damage even the property of innocents. Some would say
> this couldn't possibly be to the good, but I would say, instead, that as
> described this would have a completely different flavor and logic from the
> trashing in Seattle -- and would expand rather than diminish the involved
> movements and constituencies. There is therefore a judgment call in the use
> of tactics.
> Sometimes a tactic is wise, other times the same tactic is mistaken. What
> was wrong about the political folks who self-consciously trashed in Seattle
> was that (1) despite their other genuine and valuable contributions to the
> events, regarding trashing their judgment was horribly faulty. And (2) they
> egocentrically thought that their judgment alone was sufficient
> justification for them to dramatically violate norms accepted by tens of
> thousands of other demonstrators.
> Changing society isn't a matter of breaking windows, it is a process of
> developing consciousness and vehicles of organization and movement, and of
> then applying these to win gains that benefit deserving constituencies and
> create conditions for still further victories, leading to permanent
> institutional change. Cultivating movement coherence, trust, and solidarity
> -- not just in a small affinity group but far more widely -- is a big part
> of this agenda. Coherence, trust, and solidarity are not furthered when
> small groups undemocratically violate the agenda of massive demonstrations
> to pursue their private inclinations, even when the small group has a
> plausible case for its preferences, unlike in this instance.
> The fact that corporations are so vile that attacking them is warranted if
> it will do good, doesn't mean they are so vile that attacking them is
> warranted if it will do harm. When I was a college student organizing
> against the Vietnam War I used to appear in front of very large and
> animated audiences, give long talks, and then field questions. It was a
> tumultuous time and I was often asked, for example, "would you burn down
> the school
> library if it would end the war?" My reply always took more or less this
> form -- "What moral midget wouldn't burn down a library to save a million
> lives? Of course I would, in an instant. But there is no connection
> whatsoever between burning a library and helping the victims of U.S.
> imperialism in Indochina, nor is there any connection between burning a
> library and altering the fabric of our own society so that the U.S. no
> longer engages in such pursuits. Worse, such behavior would have exactly
> the contrary impact, benefiting those committing the vile bombing. Can we
> now please get on to something serious such as how to communicate
> effectively to new constituencies about the ills of the war, and how to
> build sustained and serious resistance to it, and leave the posturing and
> baiting behind?"
> Back then, it was often very brilliant, well-trained, and highly capable
> minds that drifted into Weatherman and other such formations. What was
> always quite notable was that these individuals could engage carefully,
> critically, and caringly in many domains, but reverted to odd leaps of
> faith and fancy regarding their out-of-touch lifestyle and "activism"
> choices. I really hope we do not have to witness and suffer a replay.
> The events in Seattle were stupendously successful in bringing the WTO into
> the awareness of people in the U.S. and all over the world, in making clear
> to tens of millions that there is great opposition and therefore that there
> is something here to look into and have an opinion on, and in laying seeds
> for further effective activism of many diverse and powerful constituencies
> willing to respect and relate to one another, to multiple agendas, and to
> diverse tactical options. This was all achieved, however, not via the
> trashing, but in spite of it.
> Some of the pronouncements of defenders of the trashing remind me of a very
> brilliant and eloquent friend of mine, who came to my apartment one 1969
> night, about 2 AM, and with three or four others snuck in and said "We are
> the Vietcong, we need a place for the night...the revolution is imminent,
> we are underground, don't mind us, go back to sleep. Wake to a new
> society." They had as excuse for their delirium that they hadn't done just one
> demonstration, but had been enmeshed in full-time activism for years. Their
> environment was almost exclusively their friends in Weatherman and they had
> all lathered themselves into a well motivated but utterly out of touch
> turmoil of hope, rage, desire, paranoia, anticipation, and abstract
> rationalization that was so divorced from reality as to render them, so long
> as the mindsets persisted, virtually useless as positive agents of social
> change. These were in many cases the best minds and best hearts of my
> generation. So please note: those who read this essay or others about
> Seattle or who were there and are angry at the political people who
> trashed--do not make the callous and ignorant mistake of thinking the
> trashers were by nature anti-political, uncommitted, insensitive, or
> unsympathetic, much less police agents. Life is not so simple. It isn't the
> case that those you disagree with are always in some way abhorrent. These
> are overwhelmingly movement people, indeed some of our best movement
> people. For those who were involved or supported the trashing to sharply
> disparage those who didn't, or vice versa, isn't going to get anyone
> anywhere useful. There is misunderstanding on both sides, but the distance
> to unity and progress is much less than the distance was between "turtles" and
> "teamsters" before Seattle. We all ought to be able to quickly bridge that
> gap and agree on the broad logic of how to assess tactics -- if not to
> agree on every judgment about every single specific tactic, of course --
> and especially on how to abide collective norms at our demonstrations. This
> accomplished we can move on to Philadelphia, NYC, SF, Chicago, Denver,
> Miami, LA, Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Detroit, in unity and
> without fear of one another.
> I hope those who did trash won't take these words as disparagement of your
> potentials and aspirations. I hope you will seriously consider, instead,
> that perhaps with the best intentions you are mistakenly repeating one part
> of sixties movement history--the saddest and least functional part--and
> will in reaction rise above the temptations and confusions that bedeviled
> many of the best of my generation.
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