From Global Justice to Antiwar and
Back Again: A Personal Chronicle of a Season of ‘Better
to Laugh than Cry” Antiwar Activism. (continued
1 2 )
by Ben Shepard
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: http://AuthoritarianOpportunistsWhoCozyUpToGenocidalDictators-forPeace.org
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
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 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.
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 http://globalresearch.ca/articles/NYI304A.html>
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.
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