Will you join us in the middle of a whirlwind?
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A Letter Among Friends: A Whirlwinds Introduction
Creating an Encounter: Will you join us in the middle of a whirlwind?
This question, which begins and ends the Whirlwinds project, is not circular nor is it reflective; it does not seek to recruit the populace into a political undertaking, nor does it seek to close off possible answers within or in relation to our own. Rather, it is an invitation to encounter one another.
Encounters require affective and corporeal relationships: actual contact and communication, as well as desire. To describe it another way, encounter requires the flow of sweat, blood and activity and intensities of lust, care and anger among those in relation with one another. Encounters are an expression of our silent and overt refusals and struggles; of the mutual aid, self-activity and self-reproduction that become collective. At the limits of this collective activity war inevitably breaks out in the confrontation with capital and the state-apparatus.
In Autonomia: Post-Political Politics – the classic text on Italian autonomous struggles in the 1970s – Sylvere Lotringer and Christian Marazzi write that the volume “is not only a political project, it is a project for existence.”(1) Originally written in 1980, this passage reflects one period in the whirlwind of struggles that have taken place in the last thirty years. It is our interest to inquire and intervene into contemporary whirlwinds. As particular winds make up this whirlwind, particular struggles and activity move and create movements.
The purpose of the Whirlwinds journal is to bring winds into communication with one another, to create space for encounter, and to understand how these winds are composed. Whirlwinds is a partial project: we cannot and should not attempt to capture these winds. Whirlwinds also seeks to intervene in discussion surrounding the convention protests this summer, as well as amplify the struggles taking place in everyday life.
- This “is not only a political project,
it is a project for existence.”
Whirlwinds: Movement Context
The mass resistance in Seattle in 1999 against the World Trade Organization – which resulted in the postponement of the meetings, and mass disruptions throughout the streets of Seattle during that late November and early December – was one important event in the radicalization of a generation. However, in a certain sense the power of the Seattle actions did not lie in their ability to postpone meetings and startle delegates, but more in their ability to mobilize desire, both for those involved, as well as for the millions in the U.S. and throughout the globe who took inspiration that a new period of movement was afoot.
The Seattle resistance illustrated some of the clear divisions in the counter-conservative spectrum in the United States. Organized “labor” represented the “working class,” while those involved in the explicit promotion of a world beyond capital, explicit environmentalists, promoters of global justice and so on, represented “activists.” The cycle of protests coalescing around summit mobilizations never managed to reconcile the clear division between “activism” and “class struggle.” And, in the United States, this confusion led to a serious inability to adequately address strategic questions related to power and sustainability – from the Seattle resistance in 1999 to the FTAA resistance in Miami in 2003.
What occurred in the period between the Seattle resistance and 2003 was largely an implicit acceptance of the Left’s age-old strategy of “getting people on the street” as power.(2) The movement stalled from there. Many activists, utilizing a self-congratulatory and simplistic analysis of capital, crafted narratives that the protest events themselves – the mass numbers at the summits – were responsible for the derailing of capitalist planning. Activists in the United States often placed themselves at the heart of a movement whose base of power lay in the Global South, without adequately addressing what power was capable of building power in the United States.
While solidarity was often strong in its support for struggles throughout the Global South, and organizers and participants evinced an impressive ability to circulate tactics and stories, many activists in the U.S. overemphasized the tactic of mass mobilization. Centering themselves in the narrative, many activists pushed the “we are winning” line. Who “we” exactly consisted of was unclear. It was less than common to see, hear, or participate in strategic discussions and analysis of just what struggles and tactics were actually capable of defeating capital.
Often times the Left is convinced that a presence on the street means “power,” regardless of the lacking teeth behind mass-demonstrations. Such an argument is politically disastrous. Indeed, if the summit-cycle and the anti-war demonstrations of recent years illustrate the downside of ritualized protest and the Left’s obsession with mass mobilizations, other events in recent history evinced the importance of sustained, locally-grounded, organizing campaigns. Examples of this include the mass demonstrations in 2006 against the Sensenbrenner Bill, and the May Day mass-resistance of the same year. Rooted in community organizations and quotidian relations, these demonstrations evinced how mass mobilizations are one tactic amongst many; a tactic that needs to be carefully and strategically chosen, lest it create another spectacle that cements representative politics rather than build better lives and worlds.
We think that it is through the disruption of everyday relations, and in the building of new social relations – in our communities, in our waged and unpaid work places, in our campaigns – that we build power.
Team Colors and Whirlwinds comes’ out of just this context. As participants in locally-grounded campaigns linked to the global justice movement, as well as past participants in mass-mobilizations, we feel it’s necessary at this moment to raise strategic questions about power. The idea behind Whirlwinds was to take a step back and find out where people “are at.”
Accordingly, Whirlwinds is a process of “inquiry.” Inquiry is a basic community- organizing strategy, just as “meeting people where they’re at” is. The effort is intended to simply raise questions about what builds power, what builds movement and what is and what is not working for building movement that transcends capital. We want this inquiry to function as a public space for “others” to hear “others.” And in place of activism and transcendent moralism, this project emphasizes strategic questions about political power and composition.
Finally, as a collective of participants in movement we want to use this project to challenge other movement participants regarding the anti-intellectualism that so pervades the radical left in the U.S. It is our thought that we need to strategically think through struggle, understand the fields we struggle on, and understand how capital and state are responding to these struggles. Theories and concepts can be very useful tools in such endeavors.
- “By ‘political recomposition’ we mean the level of unity and homogeneity that the working class reaches during a cycle of struggle in the process of going from one composition to another. Essentially, it involves the overthrow of capitalist divisions, the creation of new unities between different sectors of the class, and the expansion of the boundaries of what the ‘working class’ comes to include.”
– Zerowork Collective, Introduction to Zerowork 1
Mapping Whirlwinds, Mapping Our Current Cycle of Struggle
Movement Histories, Capital & the State Apparatus, Theoretical Analysis, Creating Counter-Communities, Interventions, Current Organizing & Struggles, 2008 Convention Protests & Movement Strategy.
The contributions contained within Whirlwinds are often not easily classified and at times deft categories. This is due to Team Colors interest in providing useful materials, and each article is constructed to fulfill a particular task. Articles often draw upon movement histories in a discussion of current organizing or utilize theoretical points in the process of intervening in current movements. This map is not meant to be complete or total. It is meant to be useful in assisting the reader to navigate the collection.
Crafting historical narratives and the sharing of movement stories continues important processes in building sustained and powerful movements. Movement histories – both in content and form – help us strategically: they provide avenues for the circulation of tactics, lessons to prevent the re-invention of wheels, and they empower us through providing hope and derailing isolation. It is in the particular gusts in our voices and experiences where we find one another and amass into winds that can become tornadoes.
Unfortunately, too often the sharing of our stories only comes at the end of an era or with the passing of a beloved friend. This is certainly true of Ben Shepard’s article, “Bob Kohler Recalling: Collecting Oral Histories with a West Village Legend,” where Shepard provides a detailed exploration of queer and radical movements in New York City through the recollection of the vibrant life of militant Bob Kohler. Benjamin Holtzman’s interview with acclaimed historian Robin D.G. Kelley begins very much in the same spirit. Holtzman’s interview with Kelley discusses some of the history of African-American struggles and culture in the United States, as well as recent struggles in context of the themes of Whirlwinds. Finally, Team Color’s interview with Ashanti Alston’s utilizes the experiences of Alston’s life – including his years with the Black Panther Party, Black Liberation Army, as a political prisoner, and his more recent experiences in prison-abolition and anarchist organizing – to draw important political and strategic lessons for current movements
Capital & the State Apparatus
Political repression, the violence of the state, and capitalist crisis are all attempts at decomposing the power that movements build in the course of their struggles. The capitalist class and the State apparatus are in continuous rebellion against our struggles: whether evinced through direct political repression by imprisoning activists, the use of torture techniques in a legal state of exception with the ‘War on Terror,’ privatizing war as a way of avoiding public scrutiny, or the capitalist use of crises to undermine the wage and political composition of the working class.
Daniel McGowan has faced such repression head-on. McGowan’s piece, “Free to be freed (sooner than later)” was written as a prison-dispatch, and discusses the case of political prisoner Jeff ‘Free’ Luers and the intersection of Luers’ case with his own. McGowan and Luers are both political prisoners that face a recent period of repression which activists have dubbed the “Green Scare.” This “Scare” has resulted in numerous members of the animal and environmental liberation movements serving lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in resistance activities. Such repression is clearly the response of the State to the impact of these movements.
In its artistic intervention “S & M Ethics At Home and Abroad” USSMEAC offers a call to all “Painsluts, Submissives and Masochists” to “volunteer to be a prisoner” in the ‘War on Terror.” Here the intersection between war, violence and pain are explored in a thought-provoking manner. In a similar fashion, Dario Azzellini and Lize Mogel provide a detailed map of “The Privatization of War” and provide a visual representation of the growing relationship between private military contactors and the United States government. The “state of exception” we currently find ourselves in is directly tied to the repression of the powerful migrant movements of recent years, attempts to retain U.S. power internationally, and efforts to create a sufficiently disciplined environment for capitalist accumulation in the face of declining abilities to achieve anything resembling a reasonable standards of living by most people in the U.S.
This response by the state-apparatus is married to the process of capitalist planning through crisis, as it seeks to attack the organization and level of power reached by the working class in a particular cycle of struggle. Brian Marks, in his essay “Living in a Whirlwind, or the Food/Energy/Work Crisis,” examines this process in the context of the current food and hydrocarbons (here specifically examining oil) crises. Marks describes the linkages between the rising cost of commodities – most notably food – and that of energy. Unlike many analyses, Marks’ essay situates this link within the context of capitalist responses to working class power.
Often theoretical work is seen as duels between ideological positions, the construction of practices from theoretical objectives, or as a synthesis of theory and practice (praxis). These appear as attempts by intellectuals and academics to exert power over movements, which partially explains the development of anti-intellectual currents in U.S. movements. Running counter to this are movement-based intellectuals who engage in co-research and militant investigation in order to clarify and engage with struggle.
George Caffentzis occupies this position. His contribution, “Terminological Reflections: Crisis, Collapse, Catastrophe, Singularity, Shock, and Apocalypse,” clarifies terms which are often utilized to obscure the struggles that produce and/or prompt capitalist crisis. This contribution intertwines with that of Brian Marks in illuminating the relations between class struggles and capitalist crisis.
This conceptual apparatus appears throughout Brian Holmes article, “The Revenge of the Concept: Artistic Exchanges, Networked Resistance.” In reviewing the planetary cycle of protest unleashed by the 1994 Zapatista uprising, Holmes describes concepts circulating throughout the “movement of movements” and their relationship with artistic discourse and practice.
With a long historical reach, Peter Linebaugh in his essay “’The People’s Business,’ Puerilities, and Pallas” speaks to the importance of juries, as they cause us to think “small, local and slow.” Current examples of direct democracy and “the peoples business” intertwine with Alexis de Tocqueville, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Linebaugh’s own mentor E. P. Thompson in providing concepts and portraying the richness of the commons as a weapon against tyranny and power.
In critiquing current theoretical developments, Silvia Federici’s “Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint” looks at a central concept in the capitalist reorganization of work. Federici proposes bringing the political issues of unwaged reproductive work into movement organizing by addressing the gendered nature of unpaid work and critiquing the concept of precarity. She concludes by suggesting the creation of self-reproducing movements. This final section addresses the need to bring our own reproduction into movement work – as she points out, “anti-capitalist struggle has to create forms of support and has to have the ability to collectively build forms of reproduction.”
Within the general political project of creating self-reproducing movements is the creation of counter-community projects that address particular community needs, desires and populations. In recent years there has been a resurgence of such projects addressing issues of mental health, sexual assault, education, community space and resources, and restorative justice, among others. The projects discussed in this section are attempting to create communities of care and solidarity, and are struggling against the state-apparatus as the coordinator of life
Alex Samets, writing on behalf of The Icarus Project in “Struggle in Movement: The Icarus Project and Radical Organizing for Many Realities,” describes the collective work of those diagnosed with “extreme states” such as bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. This important work seeks to both to challenge the imbalance in power relationships inherent in mental institutions, and challenge practices that assume or attempt to impose mental homogeneity.
In a similar fashion Philly’s Pissed and Philly Stands Up address survivors and perpetrators of sexual assault respectively in “Philly’s Pissed & Philly Stands Up- Collected Materials.” (We respectfully suggest that the reader consider the trigger warning prefacing the materials before continuing.) The Philly’s Pissed and Philly Stands Up pieces are written by Timothy Coleman, Esteban Kelly and Em Squires. They state quite succinctly that they “ are committed to survivor autonomy, perpetrator accountability, and to developing coordinated, radical and grassroots mechanisms to confront sexual assault in our communities.” With three articles, a vocabulary list used in their work, a flyer on consent compiled jointly by the two groups, and a list of resources, “Collected Materials” is one of the most comprehensive collections on the subject of organizing around sexual assault within radical communities.
“I Want To Do This All Day: Redefining Learning and Reinventing Education” is a look at the radical learning movement. It is a 2 hour and 30 minute audio documentary exploring twenty-three spaces around the U.S. Allowing the participants, organizers, teachers and students of all ages to describe their experiences while asking critical questions, this documentary illuminates the movement of people and communities taking control over their own education.
“A History Made of Glass: Bluestockings Bookstore, Fair-Trade Café, & Activist Resource Center” written by Malav Kanuga, worker-owner of Bluestockings Bookstore, provides a history of the Lower East Side of Manhattan’s radical bookstore and event space. Bluestockings is not just a vital to New York Metro Area movements, but is also part of a growing community of infoshops and radical spaces across the U.S. and North America. Kanuga describes the flows and manifestations that take place within and through the space, the challenges of running a radical space and worker-owned cooperative, and the spatial functions of the institution.
Beginning with a narrative from his own life, author Stevie Peace discusses the creation of anti-incarceration harm intervention systems in “The New Undoings & Becomings: Harm Intervention in a Landscape of Restorative Justice & Critical Resistance.” In placing the prison abolition organization Critical Resistance in dialog with Peace’s own experiences working with Restorative Justice Community Action of Minneapolis, Minnesota, he provides a description of ways to address harm reduction in our communities as he intervenes into the anti-prison movement.
Political intervention has a long and multifaceted history, from the militant and co-research of European movements (“conricerca” in Italian), to the popular education of South and Central America and the “encuentro” of the Zapatistas (“encounter” in English). These discourses, methods and concepts have circulated around the planet. Movements have begun to develop theory, interventionist art, and mapping techniques that work in concert with community organizing to increase innovation and theoretical flexibility.
Daniel Tucker has done just this with “Getting to know your city and the social movements that call it home,” which describes the work of AREA Chicago. Tucker provides a methodology for describing the practices and the project of compiling histories and experiences in Chicago. Here the practice of mapping social movements provides strategic information for further organizing and political intervention.
The political intervention of getting to know your community or site of struggle begins with asking and listening, and for much of the left and radical movements this is a revolutionary proposal. Ultra-red, with their “Some theses on militant sound investigation, or, listening for a change,” situate the act of listening in relation to demands, all taking place in an encounter.
Jen Angel, taking a different approach, writes about the importance and future of independent media in her “Media and Activism: Creating and Maintaining Effective Movement Media.” Angel discusses the importance of linking media to movements and communities, and begins to theorize and propose repopulating the independent media landscape.
Understanding that radical social change takes time, activist Chris Carlsson’s contribution, “Acting Historically: Feeling Effective Over the Long Haul,” nudges us all to look strategically at out work. Carlsson cautions against street actions that will garner immediate media coverage and the burnout tendencies within activist cultures: “Avoiding the cycle of frenzied overwork and burnout in favor or a convivial life of good friends, good food, and full enjoyment is a political responsibility!” Carlsson’s argues for involving ourselves in initiatives and projects that will be sustainable and effective, and grounded in everyday life.
Basav Sen seeks to connect local struggles to global ones with “Local Struggles, Global Contexts: Building movements in North America in the age of globalized capital.” Sen takes the position that neoliberalism, while acting in a global context, effects local communities and organizing. Creating substantive local initiatives and situating them within a global context strengthens organizing efforts.
In a similar fashion, Brian Tokar connects the devastation in New Orleans to global changes in climate in “Toward a Movement for Peace and Climate Justice.” While the past few years have seen an increase in understanding of and activity around climate change, many of these efforts do not get to the root of the problem. By drawing examples from historical movements and current direct action initiatives, and addressing a number of the discourses around climate change, Tokar provides a set of proposals that dig at the social and political causes behind ecological devastation.
Proximate to the ecological “crises” is a fundamental shift in the food system and farming practices. Family Farm Defenders director John E. Peck in his contribution “You Are What You Eat: The Food Sovereignty Struggle within the Global Justice Movement” discusses food sovereignty struggles as a crucial element of current movement.
In “The Fourth, the Sixth, the Other, and US” El Kilombo Intergalactico reports on the “Other Campaign” of the EZLN and their own work as a community center in Durham, North Carolina. Always leading with questions, they conclude by asking ‘what do you believe is “behind our masks”? “You.”
El Kilombo continues with an interview/conversation with noted author Michael Hardt. In “Organizing Encounters and Generating Events” Hardt and El Kilombo discuss the structure of neoliberalism, the current protests and cycle of struggle, and two “notions” of encounter.
Maribel Casas-Cortes and Sebastian Cobarrubias, writing here as Producciones Translocales, challenge several analytical sacred cows of the American Left in their contribution “Transatlantic Translations: A Trilogy of Insurgent Knowledges.” Calling into question the validity of “Activism” itself, and challenging popular conceptual categories, they discuss the importance of concepts and the need for situated, reflective and strategically theorized struggles.
Current Organizing & Struggles
Organizing in the current political climate requires theoretical flexibility, tactical innovation and deep strategic thinking. The community and radical organizing techniques of the past thirty years and the “heaviness” of the last century of radicalism weighs on current organizers. It requires both an inquiry into the current composition of movements generally and into the conditions in which the initiative is oriented specifically – to develop a campaign or organizational bodies that can move beyond past struggles toward new forms of life.
Roadblock Earth First! in their contribution “A Look At Resistance to Interstate 69 (Past, Present, and Future),” describe the functioning of their campaign against the part of the NAFTA Superhighway known as I-69. The campaign against I-69 is described in the context of current and past movement, as is the development of the campaign up to this point.
The Industrial Workers of the World have a rich and vibrant history, and the four-year-old IWW Starbucks Workers Union has utilized this history and parlayed it into an engaging campaign. Written by an Anonymous Starbucks Worker, “The Precarious Economy and Its Discontents: Struggling Against the Corporate Chains Through Workplace Organizing” outlines the struggle of Starbucks baristas for dignity and decent wages, and connects their struggle to precarity and larger struggles against precariousness.
In a similar fashion, and also written anonymously, the Smalltown, U.S.A. Worker Center describes the functioning of an immigrant workers center in their “Liberal Mayors & Liberal Funders: A Case of Racism, Classism and Ideological Warfare.” Workers centers are an exciting development at the intersection of community, labor and immigrant organizing, and this contribution looks both at the successes and challenges of this organizational form.
Continuing on the theme of worker organizing and looking at the new subjectivities arising in the course of struggle, Darby Hickey, in an essay originally written for $pread Magazine, describes sex worker organizing in “No Justice, No Piece: Building Alliances and Organizing Across Movements.”
New subjectivities are emerging across the U.S., especially in urban areas. Harmony Goldberg explores the development of such subjectivities through the discussion of two recent campaigns that address gentrification and domestic work in her contribution, “Building Power in the City: Reflections on the Emergence of the Right to the City Alliance and the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance.”
Europe has experienced similar developments and has seen the movement shift from a focus on “globalization” to “precarity.” Emmanuelle Cosse of Act-Up Paris has been witness and participant in the rise of the ‘precariat’ in Europe, and chronicles some of these developments for a U.S. audience in her “The Precarious Go Marching.”
Returning to the U.S. and the shift that has taken place here, we have witnessed the counter-globalization movement captured by the larger, liberal and mostly impotent anti-war movement. One clear example to the contrary, and a model for direct action and radical anti-war work is Direct Action to Stop the War. Written by members of the organization, “Anti-authoritarian Organizing in Practice” describes radical organizing against the war in San Francisco and points one of the possible ways forward for the anti-war movement.
A major site of dialog around the composition and strength of U.S. movements took place at the 2007 United States Social Forum. The continued organizing toward future forums is captured in “What’s Going On? The USSF, Grassroots Activism, and Situated Knowledge.” This contribution, written by Marina Karides (a member of the United States Social Forum Documentation Committee), looks at both the organizing around the Social Forum and the immense activity, knowledges, memories and initiatives that circulated around the Forum.
2008 Convention Protests & Movement Strategy
Whirlwinds seeks to intervene in the organizing in and around protests at the site of the Republican (Twin Cities) and Democratic (Denver) political conventions. Here Team Colors has sought to utilize the attention of the convention protests specifically, and the election year in general, to discuss the current composition of radical movements in the U.S. As part and parcel of this undertaking it is important to look at our strategies and tactics around these actions and movements more generally.
Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough of smartMeme Strategy and Training Project describe the importance of direct action as story telling in their article “Changing the Story: Story-Based Strategies for Direct Action Design.” Canning and Reinsborough provide their suggestions to radical social movements organizing around a myriad of issues and projects, and suggest ways that we can improve our communication and effectiveness.
Crimethinc., looking specifically at the upcoming protests in their contribution “What to Expect from the Conventions: An Analysis of the Strategic Opportunities and Challenges Presented,” examine the specific situation movements find themselves in, the historical context that produced this moment, and some of the proposed strategies and discourses circulating in current radical movements.
To further an understanding of the thinking at work in the planning and execution of the upcoming mobilizations, Team Colors conducted interviews with Unconventional Action (National), RNC Welcoming Committee (Twin Cities) and Recreate ’68 (Denver). These interviews provide a space for discussing their analysis of past summit protests, their conceptions of change, and their thoughts on movement building.
“Hang On To Each Other”
Team Colors has but one final suggestion for those heading into the looming conflicts that are to engulf the political conventions of 2008: in the morning as you dress, as you share coffee with your affinity group, as you “come down from the mountains,” before you “dawn (your) ski mask” – pin a picture of someone to your chest, facing inwards. Our friends from New York will certainly choose a picture of murdered Indymedia Journalist Brad Will or political prisoner Daniel McGowan for the outside of their hooded sweatshirt. Team Colors will attach a picture of our friend and partner Jodi Tilton just above our hearts, as she has recently passed into the unknown and we miss her dearly.
We suggest that you avoid pictures of Subcommande Marcos, Emma, or some other movement figure. Pin a picture of someone you have lost and wish was at your side upon the barricades, or someone you have shared meals with, someone you have held as their cried, someone whose sweat you have tasted, someone you have made love too as the sun came up. Carry them into battle with you because it is for them that we struggle; not against some abstract system, but for those relationships and loves that we share in our everyday lives.
1 Sylvere Lotringer & Christian Marazzi, eds. Autonomia: Post-Political Politics (Los Angles: Semiotexte, 2007; Originally published New York: Semiotexte, 1980), 8.
2 It should be pointed out that we’re explicitly discussing the counter-globalization cycle of protests. The anti-war movement following 9/11took the mass mobilization as power strategy to a new level of absurdity. The Bush administration labeled protesters an “interest group” and laughed them off.