August 2003
volume 1, issue 2


From Global Justice to Antiwar and Back Again: A Personal Chronicle of a Season of ‘Better to Laugh than Cry” Antiwar Activism.

I arrived that Thursday morning knowing I had only about thirty minutes to participate and then get the hell out of there. Yet, I was certainly glad I made it.
The sidewalks from 5th Ave. were completely clogged as activists mulled about, chanted within police pens. 8 came and went and the police, who’d blocked the entrance to Rockefeller Center, stood not knowing what to think. Suddenly, a horn went off and activists stepped pushing over the police pen, laying in the streets. Crowds of protestors roared with approval as chaos literally took hold. Traffic stopped. The police pushed to re establish control, trying to re push up the pens dividing the protestors from the streets. Cameras, journalists and police were everywhere. Always the media whore, I mugged for several of the cameras as I cheered the activists, hoping to see my photo the following day in the news, only to realize the new paparazzi I was oozing for had no press credentials. They were police, released to photograph activists (see “Domestic Spying Pressed Big-City Police Seek to Ease Limits Imposed After Abuses Decades Ago” By Michael Powell, Washington Post, November 29, 2002). Still, the energy of the action was electric. As bodies filled the streets, the air filled with more and more chants of “No Blood for Oil.” News stories of the theatrically dead bodies on the streets of New York appeared around the world.

On the less creative side of the antiwar spectrum, International ANSWER was sponsoring yet another march in Washington for April 12. Their stickers promoting the action proclaimed, “STOP THE WAR, SURROUND THE WHITE HOUSE,” in light blue, black, and white fonts with the ANSWER website listed below, not unlike those designed by L.A. Kauffman for Mobilize New York and UFPJ. Sigh. Instead of involving itself in any of the exciting or fresh direct action stuff which involves not getting a police permit or lining up speakers to preach to the converted, ANSWER was doing their best ground hog day routine pushing for its third march in DC in six months. There is riveting activism, and then there are the blogs which take everything creative in their path, ingest it, and rehash it in its own design. Back in January, Mobilize New York received a great deal of heat for promoting the ANSWER antiwar march in DC by referring subscriber’s to its anti war bulletin to ANSWER’s own position statements. “For details on how you can attend the event, and background on the group sponsoring it, visit this humorous and helpful new site:

The site included articles by ANSWER members about their support for dictators from Serbia to North Korea and other reports (see ). Mobilize New York got countless calls thanking us for informing them about the group; others suggested we were redbaiting for publicizing ANSWER’s own position statements.

On the Right Track - Protesting War Profiteering at the Carlyle Group

In the week following M27, the amalgam of anti-war groups which organized the civil disobedience actions continued to meet. The coalition was bound by three central points: calls for additional massive non-violent civil disobedience during the national day of action scheduled for April 7th, a respect for decentralized, autonomous direct action affinity groups on this day, and corresponding legal protest to stop business in New York while people die in this war and money for our the future bombed away. April 7th, the M27 coalition planned to target the Carlyle Group. If ever there was a time when I felt like I was onto the right on target, April 7th was it.

War == $ == freedom, was one of our 1984 slogans for the day.

Our story was pretty simple for the day. Reclaim the Streets was working with the GLAMERICANS, a new direct action group, and Circus Amok, a queer performance art/free circus in NYC, to create a bit a bit of an aesthetic intervention in the often dour antiwar protest scene. The GLAMERICANS organized a call for protest just the week before. At our one joint meeting, we all agreed that no one wanted to get arrested. Sadly, in order to even have a crappy apartment in New York you have to get a real job with responsibilities and accountability these days. First we were going to go as all things French to counter protest the xenophobic "no French fry" movement. But as we talked about protesting the war-profiteering Carlyle Group, we decided to go as mock billionaires. The Carlyle Investment fund was making billions buying cheap defense contractors low and watching their stock prices climb as the war continued. The group was run by Bush 41, with his secretary of state Baker, as their counsel, and former Tory leader, John Major, Bush’s main ally on Gulf War I, among others. Some have even noted that the Bin Laden family was part of the group. The Carlyle Group had done nicely with their connections with the Bushes, the Saudi Royal Family and their investments in munitions and oil companies to the tune of $14 billion. The scenario was simple enough. The protestors would converge at the Carlyle Group offices at Madison Avenue between 58th and 59th as the emblem of the war-mongering profiteers. War is about making money; American socialist Jack Reed said it during WWI, and we were repeating the mantra.

The Glamericans did the heavy lifting, made the signs, wrote up the call which we sent out everywhere, including to the New York Billionaires, who shot it around. "Looks like RTS is also joining in as Billionaires," one of their posts noted. The GLAMERICANS's call read: GLAM ALERT #1: BILLIONAIRES SELL-ABRATE THE WAR! MONDAY, APRIL 7: As part of the National Day of Direct Action we are amassing our weapons of mass distraction and coming out to help our president in getting his message across - MORE BLOOD FOR OIL! So we say - celebrate this paradigm of capitalism! Join Glamericans, Reclaim the Streets, Circus Amok, and other fabulous protesters in our mock pro-war stance. We're talking over the top and we need you to help make it over-the-topper!?? The attire was a simple, we called for activists to come in corporate drag - business suits or fancy dress. SLOGANS: "MORE LIVES TO THE GALLON" "WAR IS GOOD FOR YOUR PORTFOLIO" "STOCKS AND BOMBS!" "STOCK AND AWE!"

The demo was supposed to start at 8am Monday morning. I was running late, of course. It took a while to find the top hat I'd used the last time I dressed as a billionaire during the WEF protests last winter. Running down from F train at 63rd, I'd lost the exact address of the protest. So, I just followed the riot cops I noticed running through the streets and the roars of the crowd. The police lead me straight to the faaabulous, decadent looking billionaires, dressed with gothic vampire makeup most appropriate for sucking the blood out of local economies. Yet the protest was ending. Everyone was like, 'hi ben' a bit surprised, like where the hell have you been and getting ready to leave. The civil disobedience at the entrances across the street blocking the entrances across the street had just ended.

Around 8:35 the police, who'd surrounding the entire group, started squeezing in. They're going to arrest us, a few people started saying. Nah, I'll go talk to them, I said. Can I go to class? I asked. I have class at 9 and would love to leave. I told one cop. No comment. Nothing. A few of us busily called in to work, to cancel appointments and watched the police start arresting folks. Oy ve. I grabbed the one other RTSer right there, we stayed close, mugged for the cameras, and got locked up. We were neither charged nor or told to disperse. We were just arrested. When asked on what, one policeman said they'd figure something out later. Slowly, the police then began arresting people, random people, standing on the sidewalk exercising their First Amendment right to protest the war on Iraq. All in all, some 115 people were arrested.

We were taken down to 1 Police Plaza, where activists commiserated and conspired. A short history of New York activism could be read in the stickers throughout the cells, fading "Mayday is Jay Day," from the Million Marijuana March of 1999 and Spanish "silenzio ==muerte ACT UP Wall Street" stickers could be seen everyone. The cells even had a few old June 18th, 1999 RTS stickers from the worst RTS demo ever when the police arrested the only people who had any idea of what the plan for the action would be.

Within the confines of the holding cell, the consensus was that the police were once again squeezing out dissent, making it all the more intimidating for us to even make an appearance at a protest. But of all the protests we've done outside of corporate targets, I've never seen the police move in so fast. It was most certainly on a call from above. And the police seemed fine with doing the war contractor's bidding. For the Carlyle Groups, there was certainly little interest in a story getting out connecting war profits Bush 41 is making that 43 stands to inherit.

I was out by 6 PM, which wasn't bad. Others were in until after 11PM. Our charges were disorderly conduct and failing to disperse. Yet the police never gave us word to disperse. I barely arrived before I was arrested.

The news that night was dominated with more information about Hussein maybe being shot and perhaps there being weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We're fighting to plant a democracy in Iraq while tax payers are being arrested for speaking out in the streets of New York and activists are being shot with wooden dowels, "sting balls" and sand bags outside the port of Oakland.

The following day activists shared their accounts of their experiences of being been arrested. Many were interrogated about their political associations. The following day, the NY Times reported that the NYPD reported they had ceased using the “demonstration debriefing form,” (“Police Stop Collecting Data on Protesters' Politics” - April 10, 2003). Another lie. Oh well.

New York University professor Steve Duncombe, who was also arrested that day, explained: "I've been going to legal protests in New York City for more than a decade and I've never seen anything like this. They arrested us for peacefully standing on the sidewalk and with no warning. Is this what's happening to the Constitution in this country?"

Spin, spin, spin

That’s how the Mobilize New York Alert read the week as the military campaign winded down. “One clip of a toppled Saddam statue shown again and again does not a victory make. We appreciate the corporate media_s attempt to package this as a tidy, glorious finish. (So considerate!) However, in the past three weeks, this war did a lot of murdering, maiming and orphaning. In addition to the happy Iraqis dancing on CNN, there are a great deal of thirsty, hungry, homeless Iraqis.” In the meanwhile Iraq’s museum of artifacts from the fertile crescent of civilization have been lost to history. Speaking of that whole heroic statue being torn down, the Canadian website Global Search> reports it was a staged media event. “Does this scene look like the fall of the Berlin Wall?” reads a caption of photos from Reuters of an empty square, with a few U.S. troops, reporters and U.S.-friendly Iraqis. And that wasn’t the only fib. If recent months suggest anything: we live in an era of the big lie. Beyond the fabricated story of Jessica Lynch’s rescue (see BBC documentary 'Saving Private Jessica: Fact or Fiction?'), perhaps the greatest deceit is Administration’s condescending view of that no one should really care if no weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq or Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz’s confession that weapons of mass destruction were, ‘Just A Convenient Excuse For War'.’ Tax cuts don’t equal deficits (equaling some 44 Trillion, reported by former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil before he was booted); War = democracy and peace, and so on. We live in the era of pastiche. In a 1939 essay entitled, “Avant-Garde and Kitch” cultural critical Clement Greenberg suggested that commerce intersects with cultural and political forces with the grace of a used car sales drive. He explains “…a great sales apparatus has nevertheless been created for it, which brings pressure to bear on every member of the society. Traps are laid even in those areas, so to speak, that are the preserves of genuine culture…” Given this, “It is not enough, in a country like ours to have an inclination towards the latter; one must have a true passion for it that surrounds and presses in on him from the moment he is old enough to look at the funny papers.”

I have often wondered what in us drove us to reject the politics of authenticity and embrace a brash, bratty absurdity during the anti war mobilizations, especially after the war started. “Camp and tragedy are antithesis,” Susan Sontag once explained. Its an important point to understand as we anticipate more cheese and kitch, blatant omissions and flagrant lies during the Republican Convention’s attempt to appropriate the legacy of the dead in New York City during the 9/11 anniversary September 2004. Sontag contines: “The whole point of camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful anti serious.” Instead of frothing with anger, this engagement allows us to maintain, “a new more complex relation to the serious.” From here activists will continue building counterpublics and liberatory spaces, while expanding on the Patriot Act Free Zones popping up from Hawaii to Alaska.

1 | 2 | back<