Gathering Storms: A Team Colors Statement on the Upcoming 2008 Convention Protests
by Conor Cash, Craig Hughes, Stevie Peace & Kevin Van Meter/Team Colors Collective
(get the pdf)
On the eve of this year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver, and mere days before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, we have borne witness to a number of narratives unfolding in the political landscape. We see an election year play out before us; we see an astonishing upsurge of activism and participation, much of it connected to the campaign of Senator Obama; we see organizations and individuals planning a wide array of protests, mobilizations, and direct actions. Many of these intertwining strands will converge into massive storms of activity and interaction at the upcoming conventions. We at Team Colors sought to examine narratives such as these, and over the past several months, have collected articles, interviews, discussions, essays – any and all evidence we could dredge up, recording the ways and means of today’s movements. We uncovered a lot – some problematic, some confusing, some even deplorable – but thankfully, enough whirlwinds of promise and potential emerged before our eyes to lend credence to a feeling of change, of gathering storms.
Yet despite these discoveries – or rather, primarily because of them – we feel compelled to state that the storms that intrigue us the most will not show themselves at the convention protests. We don’t disallow the potential for new wrinkles and exciting surprises as the actions unfold – indeed, we’d welcome them – but we also can’t ignore the honest circumstances of where we are at: these protests, overwhelmingly, do not come out of substantial movements, and will not generate substantial movements.
This deficiency necessarily clouds over any ‘successes’ and ‘gains’ from the protests, a gloomy yet heartening prospect; after all, we may see ourselves better without the dazzling sun that inadvertently blinds us.
And we know those sunlit moments all too well: skill-sharing, long-term institutions, creating spaces, increasing morale among radicals, tapping into larger networks, diversity of tactics frameworks, solidarity between causes, better planning, better communication – the list of ‘betters’ is seemingly endless when it comes to these protests. As a collective, we have heard even more pronounced claims than these – that this will be “one of the largest actions at a convention in history,” that this won’t be “the same old ritualized protest,” that “we’ll be a stronger movement afterwards” by “bringing the struggles home.” Behind these rejuvenating words lies a vacuum, an inability to understand or discuss movements; specifically, where (if anywhere) are the convention protests situated in the flow of movements, and how do all the ‘betters’ contribute to movements, if at all. The notion of “bringing the struggles home” as a key to movement, while comforting, is especially dangerous when unquestioned; for we may define ‘home’ as a very small ‘radical community’ marked by regression and fear, rather than a larger field of growth, openness and genuine encounter – the basic ingredients of movements.
Put simply: radicals are far, far behind on the very steep learning curve of movements – how they function, where they’re situated in our lives, why they’ve succeeded or failed. This glaring reality does not support any particular ideology, tactic, action, or moral position. It merely demonstrates our political incompetence.
As such, then, we must devote ourselves to the gathering storms – not the ones exposed at the convention protests, but rather the ones still hidden, still developing. We see emergent communities of care, as work around restorative justice, sexual assault, and mental health brings our everyday engagement with harm and healing to the forefront. We see exciting avenues of organizing that have adapted to shifting capital and production, from migrant worker centers to campaigns for housework wages to the unionizing of Starbucks workers. We see struggles grounded in history and improvement – for dignified housing and healthcare, for community accountability, for intervention at the sites of strongest oppression – instead of struggles predicated on stopping the next disaster, or waiting for people to ‘change their minds,’ or any number of schemes which fail to exert power in effective ways. What we are seeing must increase tenfold, one-hundredfold – magnified, examined, explored in ways that bring forth genuine dialogue and language around movements. As difficult as this process may be, we suffer more from pushing it aside indefinitely.
We make this statement in the spirit of urgency and patience, of examination and action. We acknowledge the weight of conventions, electoral campaigns, mass mobilizations and anarchistic direct action tactics in this fomenting political landscape; yet we take up the magnifying glass and call attention to the places in our everyday lives – the web of activity, work (paid and unpaid), relationships of care and support – that serve as the new battlegrounds against oppression, capital, and mechanisms of the state. We see many jagged thumbnails trace their edges on our very fragile, very tenuous bodies, and the points of rupture demand inquiry, analysis, flow, dismantling, becoming, and renewal. If we are prepared to seriously build, strengthen, and reproduce movements, we must work from where we are at. This challenge – no matter what happens in Denver or the Twin Cities, at voting booths or barricades – will remain for us.
And in this challenge remains another, one that shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but given the high stakes, and the low direct engagement of it, bears reiterating: namely, can we renew honesty and genuine reflection in our work? Can we foster spirits of openness, dignity, and respect? Can we bring clarity to how we discuss movements, how effective we are at confronting and building power, how many gaps exist in our thinking and organizing that we find convenient to ignore?
In 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights movement and on the one-hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation, James Baldwin wrote to his nephew that “the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.” It is sobering to realize that, throughout history, we have so often needed – although not often listened to – these words of honesty and clarity, words of caution that bring us back to ourselves, our responsibilities. When the protests have come and gone, we say: celebrate, mourn, hang onto each other and dig in, for the work toward movement has only just begun.
Will you join us in the middle of a whirlwind?:
Team Colors is a national collective engaged in ‘militant research.’ In May, in partnership with the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, we published “In the Middle of a Whirlwind: 2008 Convention Protests, Movement, and Movements,” a one-off online journal inquiring into the composition and potential for movements in the current period.
The journal can be found at www.inthemiddleofawhirlwind.info; articles can be accessed and discussed, one can sign up for our email list, contributors can be contacted, and donations toward the projects expenses can be made (each donation leading up to our $1,500.00 goal will be matched).
Inquire and Communicate:
We are currently seeking action reports and analysis from the convention protests, in the hopes of furthering this method of inquiry. Please contact Team Colors at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute. You can also visit our website at www.warmachines.info.