"We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to."
Tell no lies, claim no easy victories… Amilcar Cabral
I have been doing headcounts at protest marches for some ten years. I have only counted a fraction of the perhaps thousands of protests I have been in, but sometimes I think the crowd is of a reasonable enough size, and I don’t have other tasks. I offer to you the basics of my method, most of which simply depends on counting very rapidly and having a quick and attentive eye. There are some details worth sharing, however.
Pick a march & start small
For your first count, start small. Long counts require lots of stamina to remain equally attentive and alert. Pick a march that is in the hundreds. If you can headcount a rally, feel free to, but marches are much easier. In a march, almost everyone in the crowd is walking in the same direction, whereas in a rally, people are milling about, and there is greater variability of people coming and leaving, reducing the ease of a count. Also, marches that march on sidewalks or streets can get more narrow, so you have a better shot of counting across the crowd. I have counted up to 20,000, and you can too, but not nearly on your first try.
Where to count from
There are multiple ways to locate yourself, but there are a few criteria to help:
First, use some of your knowledge as an organizer and a protester. Is this a point in the march before a lot of people will leave? Is this a point in the march after where a feeder march or rally might join? What’s the point of counting if you pick the smallest point? If the main rally is before the march, count as early in the march as possible, and if the main rally point is toward the end, then count later. If there is a site where people are rallying or marching into the march, wait until after that point.
You’ll need to be able to see high and low. You’ll need to be able to see across heads, signs, banners, and puppets to the other side of the street, but you’ll also need to be able to see babies (I count them), children, short people, and people under banners and puppets. Be ready to move up and down like a gibbon, and don’t get too self conscious. Climbing can also help, but not if it still leaves any people who are short or behind something obscured.
You’ll need to be able to move. If the march starts to pick up fast, or you find yourself counting too slow, you’ll need to be able to begin to move with the crowd. At this point, being able to recognize people you’ve already counted is important. Equally as important, learning to walk sideways or backwards without running into people or lamp posts. This means overhangs (like a Chicago El station) are not ideal, unless you are sure you can stay ahead of the crowd in your count.
Make sure people can’t march on the other side of you. Pick a side, and if you are on a curb during a march in the streets, and some marchers cheat and take your sidewalk, try to count them or account for them.
Find a bottleneck. One of the easiest ways to count is to find a part of the march that is either forced to be narrow (e.g. where there is construction on one or both sides of the street) and/or where marchers are forced for some reason to go slower or stop often. It’s a lot easier to count 10 across than 30.
Pick who you’re counting
I have my understanding of who I am counting. I count marchers, babies, and reporters, but not uniformed police, plain clothes police that I recognize, or bystanders that I am positive are not in the march (be careful with this one). I count press, because a lot of journalists who are there may support the cause, and because it is very difficult to distinguish between marchers and reporters, unless they have a foot-long Nikon lens in front of their face. Don’t stereotype by race, clothing, or culture who is in the march and who is not, unless it is plain-as-day (e.g. a march of uniformed union workers).
Don’t get distracted
The thing about counting is, you can lose track really fast. Don’t stop to look at friends, beautiful banners, or attractive people. Pretend you’re counting zebras or geese. Learn not to respond to friends if the march is moving too fast, and to flash them a smile while keeping your eyes on the prize.
There are too main methods I’ve used over the years to keep my count. One is to tally based on 100 and 1000. I can do this two ways: one is to have a pen and paper or a sharpie on my skin, to tally every 500 or 1000 marchers. I keep track of hundreds on my left hand, which begins as a fist and I pull up a finger for every 100. It can be useful to count by pointing with the other hand, if your eyes need the assistance. If you keep a good tally, you can start only counting to 100. Occasionally, say the full number aloud to a passerby, which will help you keep track.
The other way began in 2012, when a comrade who had seen my many counts decided to make my life easier by giving me a few tally counters. At first, I felt like John Henry seeing the steam drill, but then I realized how much this would help me. They are manual, and they should work great. Be prepared, in large marches, to need to switch which finger is doing the clicks. In this way, you can either still try to count the whole thing with the counter as a back-up, or you can start counting only to 10 or 20 at a time (pick a low-syllabic number close to the number of people who might be marching in a row). The key, then, is to click for every person you count.
If you lose count
Find someone in the crowd with a flask of bourbon.
Learn to stop counting
When it’s all over, remember to stop counting. The people on the bus or the subway will think you are weird or have OCD. If you need to keep counting for a little while afterwards, make sure to ended with a laugh like the Count on Sesame Street. You’ll still look crazy, but at least a bit more amusing.
Now, through the course of your count, you missed people. Someone was too short, or was under a puppet. Someone walked around you. Maybe you even got distracted (if so, up your game). More likely, people left the march before the point in the route where you started counting, and other people joined the march late. You simply can’t count everyone- even counting twice means you are only getting two numbers, not differentiating between who was in one count but not in another. When you give numbers, add a buffer that can honestly account for that. Consider variables like how many public transit stations did people pass before they got to you if they might’ve left early, or vice versa. Take an honest estimate of anyone who might’ve gotten around you on the other side (having worked in animal shelters, I’m confident few marchers ever get passed me). Add a small percentage of your count on top. So, if I counted 5,800, I might say 6,200. If I counted 390, I might say 415. You should never have a buffer estimate of over 10%. And in neither case am I suggesting I know how many people were in the rally, which I always assume to be bigger, since a lot of people don’t feel like marching for whatever reason.
The worst part of counting is that you have to tell organizers and marchers that they didn’t have two million people. If the spirits are high, and the energy is good, and you feel like your number is going to disappoint, consider only telling press, press relations activists, and organizers, until the next day. Make sure to put forth the effort, though. Organizers and press should be told on the spot, especially if you think they are likely to inflate or deflate the numbers. Be prepared to have to explain to people that they can’t believe their own estimate over your count, because your number isn’t an estimate, it’s a headcount.
First, it is laughable that any organizer ever uses the phrase “Speak truth to power” if they can’t be honest with the people they are trying to organize. You are not building a new subjectivity if you are treating people as objects. Be honest with your march participants and your movements.
Second, we can’t complain about the bourgeois press if we aren’t honest with ourselves. We have to be on point in honesty and being truthful. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place for misleading the authorities or whomever is the target of your political action. But if you tell them you had multiple times the number of people in an action that you did, they will laugh at you, not be intimidated. Similarly, it’s easy for the press to deflate our numbers when they can never find the numbers we tell them to be credible. The only reason to lie to the enemy is to confuse them, not to try to scare them or to prove you’re bigger than you’re able of organizing, which leads me to…
We can’t assess our strength, our ability to mobilize, our needs as movements, if we sit around lying about the details. It is better, for example, that organizers know they had 6,200 marchers in May Day 2013, half of the 12,000 marchers in May Day 2012, so they can analyze both what they did differently, and how the material conditions of the moment made their mobilization easier. Sometimes our strength is in our numbers, and sometimes it is in our solidarity, our work, and our creativity. If we can’t guarantee 10,000 or 50,000 or 500 in the streets, then it helps us know not only that we need to organize better, but that we have to be more creative with the numbers we have. Maybe it’s just the historical materialist in me, but part of the fight for social justice (or social revolt, which I prefer) is the fight for critical thought, for agency, and for truth.
[Note: I wrote this before reading a lovely piece by a comrade. Check it out.]
(Note: The following is a draft. Expect an expanded piece soon.)
It had been unduly hard to discern where the emerging and sexier trends in Marxism have placed themselves, veiled as they are in ultra-left aesthetics and memes. Sure, plenty of cues are present, but those might’ve been incidental and only indicative of a desire to suggest a broad selection of socialist thought.
The need to investigate has ended. TheJacobin have staked themselves as pink, when what we need is a nice maroon. Bhaskar Sunkara haswritten a piece for In These Times that has planted his flag down for a revisionist stand for democratic socialism, a turf that seems to be populated by a lot of these groups and editorial boards, including as well The New Inquiry.
It isn’t that democratic socialism is altogether a sad derivation from Marxism. In fact, the energy these people are bringing to the table is welcome, and I, for one, hope their project of growing the democratic socialist left is successful, particularly if it finds a strong tendency toward feminism, ecology, and decolonizing politics. If anything, I would see their project stronger. The historicity of the contemporary moment in social programs that Sunkara lays out is finely laid out although severely incomplete, including its disregard for gender, questions of self-determination, and the significant impact of anarchism, and even more so autonomism, on today’s active radical left. He is right as well that progressive (re: liberal but social democratic) reform is a welcome alternative to the “things must get worse before they get better” strategic thinking that come out of the ultra-left and insurrectionary corners.
But what I will say is that Sunkara’s vision is not the best that Marxism can offer, and it is not the breath of fresh air I might’ve hoped to see. What we needed most was a Marxism that takes all of the lessons of the 20th Century, including decolonization and feminism and the recognition of the failures of the Soviet model, and what it appears we are getting is a retread of the revisionist politics that Lenin and Luxemburg were fighting against. It is a socialism that in the end didn’t challenge empire, held workers back from fighting for power, and devolved into what was termed economism- that is, the fight of socialists for immediate economic gains in lieu of a synthesis between economic struggle and the struggle for political and social power. It is a socialism that pulled back on the insurrections in 1919 in Europe or in France in 1968, rather than having faith in workers and students and oppressed groups to experiment with the seizure power for themselves. What we needed was a new communism, and what we are getting is a new Keynesianism.
My own communism (which I understand to be within the wider realm of socialist thought) has taken lessons that Sunkara seems to have ignored from anarchism. The anarchists, many not realizing that much of their style is derived from autonomous Marxists in Europe and Latin America (as well as feminists and environmentalists closer to home), including mass scale direct actions and shut-downs, bring a sense of rebellion into the post-Soviet era that has offered the vast majority of the participation and training in direct and participatory democracy this side of the non-profit industrial complex. Corporate-style as they are, the non-profits and unions have done some of this groundwork to rebuild a civil society, but the autonomism and horizontality in the environmentalist, counter-globalization and Occupy movements, as well as in a myriad of other movements, should not be dismissed nor dismantled. Just as progressivism and what Sunkara calls the labor-liberals should be pulled into a pink socialist camp, the far left needs a Marxism that takes on the tremendous advancements in thought and practice paved by those in autonomist circles as well as the radical agents who are correctly using identity-based tools to combat intersectional oppressions, without dispensing with the wealth of thought provided by Lenin and decolonization struggles in the last century.
Take, for example, the question of social programs, one that I recentlylaid some thoughts on, and the recognition of a profiteering non-profit industrial complex that itself is an amalgam of caring leftists trying to be useful, and poverty pimp careerists who couldn’t give a damn about questions of agency or self-determination in the hood, the barrio, or the workplace. These operations have strings that trace back to their financiers or state funding and to a politics of conciliation and sometimes even abandonment of poor people when they decide organizing resources are need to go elsewhere. While a greater entanglement with overt socialists would be invaluable, the mutual aid and direct action efforts of the farther left (which themselves are far from cooptation retardant where non-profits are concerned) offer alternative methods of organizing on the ground that many communities have found more effective and less top-down. From school occupations to copwatch to wildcat strikes, they have offered methods of organizing that cannot be halted by the Congressional sequester or a nervous donor. While the autonomists get stuck in dogmas around self-management, sometimes they offer valid lessons to projects for self-determination and direction in poor communities and workplaces.
Just as Sunkara’s democratic socialism (with markers that ring of eurocommunism to me) is needed to challenge and pull the liberal left, the autonomist and communist lefts need to be the radical projects that occasionally collaborate with democratic socialism from the left while building up our own institutions, intellectual and street-level. The dream of the young democratic socialists I’ve met in recent years cannot be an effort that pulls back on the reigns of the far more radical attainments made in the most spectacular elements of the left, themselves greatly influenced by social struggles in regions like Chiapas, Argentina, Venezuela, and Greece, where either the erosion of state control (or the governance of the Bolivarian left) has opened space for the creation of popular power in factory occupations and neighborhood assemblies. What the radical left needs is a break from its puritanical fetishization of tropes, a respect for the need to collaborate with other lefts, and most of all, a healthy, engaging series of projects in theory that the New Inquiry, the Jacobin, and others are affording to the soft left ideal. The left in the United States does not need a new praxis in the sense that the Jacobin is bringing it, but one that coalesces around the models and methods of lefts old and new, something we perhaps get to watch social movements do in places like Venezuela and Greece. We are neither of those countries, but it is not enough to fall back to a social democratic movement that in the past centered around poor method and led to capitulation to war, exploitation, and sell-out politicians and institutions.
Those of us who have spent most of our political lives in the streets need to engage more with theory, and we need to do so with the most open and critical minds we can muster. We need to bring our experiences and reflections to the minds of all of the newly radicalizing or older but reinvigorated radicals for a project centering around popular power, and foster a healthy environment of critical thought that creates a space for feminism to Bolivarianism and Pan-Africanism, while figuring out how to pull liberalism out of these frameworks. And we need to grapple with the dialectic of spontaneity and organization, figuring out how far left movements that have become incredibly decentralized and autonomous can find an interplay with modes of organization that allow the far left to be effective, expanding, and long-term, rather than falling into sectarian dogmas that lose the relevancy that is created in fits and starts.
If both Occupy and the counter-globalization movements (along with anti-prison, immigrants rights, environmentalist and anti-imperialist movements) has shown anything, it is that we can actually build institutions outside of the conservative ones present in neo-liberal society, and ones that are not stuck in the bitter nostalgia of wishing past methods of organization (e.g. Leninist parties and syndicalist unions) could just be done better. Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of revisionist Marxism was not to say that communists (and anarchists) don’t appreciate and participate in fights for social reforms, but that they do not confuse the means with the ends, and in that place they also don’t shy away from direct confrontation. We can march for reforms, but not in place of engaging in militant work to erode police power in brown communities or to building community-controlled institutions of mutual aid and struggle. Taken alone, Sunkara’s path can offer the strengthening of the imperial republicanism, of a bourgeois power that is actively killing our brothers and sisters in our streets and around the world. The militant left need not only be an alternative to an emerging democratic socialist left, but a complement to it.
I wish the Jacobin well, then, and hope it achieves something of the goals laid out by Sunkara. I hope he also takes these criticisms in the spirit of camaraderie as he might not have in the past. We can, nay, must have our alliances. We can collaborate. In the end, though, they can have their soft left, but in the radical left we go hard.
Sometimes, people who fight for social change feel dirty about particular work on reforms. Other times, so-called activists gloss over the need to have an understanding of the work that they do, and the institutions they are fighting for or within.
First, let’s come up with quick and simple definitions, since words should never be taken for granted:
The state is the organized monopoly of violence for the domination of a class over society.
Government is the system by which a state is governed for given periods of time.
So, for instance, the French state (laid over a nation, making a nation-state), can have successive governments that are empires, monarchies, and republics, but they each govern the same state. More particularly, successive administrations in power in the French Fifth Republic (the current one) may have different theories of governance, and therefore each successive administration may be understood as a different government.
In this way, the French state has always been an instrument of domination by either the feudal or capitalist upper classes against the exploited classes, including both those domestic and those in colonies or neo-colonial states. Therefore, the cause of the workers, women, and oppressed races and nationalities has always been to smash the state. But, different governments have existed that have had very distinct theories of governance, such that some have built institutions that serve the people and/or have been far more susceptible to pressure from the social unrest and organization of oppressed people. That leads us, I think, to suggest that the French Republic is preferable to monarchism or a Bonapartist empire for radicals, socialists, feminists, and anti-imperialists. The same could be said, for example, of the Spanish, Portuguese or German states, and their successive governments. We would be better to live and fight in a state governed by a liberal republican government than a fascist or monarchist government.
In this way, we can oppose the bourgeois state (a monopoly on violence for the domination of the bourgeois class), while fighting in our short-term work for more progressive governance and fighting in our long-term work for the abolition of the bourgeois state.
Two contemporary examples should best help us to express this on a practical level, social programs moderately, and Venezuela more radically:
Domestic Social Programs
Institutions of oppression can indeed change. The undeniably revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg begins the seminal pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution with a paragraph on how the two are a false dichotomy if they are understood at different levels: say, the first as means and the second as ends. A radical (most of whom are some form of socialist) should be understood to be one who does not confuse the two.
Outside of government, we can look at unionism or other efforts. The Community-Farmworker Alliance and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers can fight for Wendy’s or any corporation to pay Florida tomato pickers more, and those workers can be paid more. Aside from the lessons that collective social struggle makes social change, and the importance of cross-class and multi-racial coalitions in that change, there is another lesson. That is, that while no radical would argue for Wendy’s or Trader Joe’s to continue to exist, most radicals would agree that a change in their internal policies is better than a complete maintenance of the status quo. That lesson comes with the caveat that the change in policy cannot be the final goal of the social struggle, or it becomes a general maintenance of the status quo, but that it is nevertheless a step in a project with larger ambitions.
With the understanding that reforms within institutions of capital (i.e. businesses) are clearly more progressive than inertia or reaction, we can apply that lesson to institutions that serve capital, like the media or the government. The autonomy that institutions of government have from the state determines their level of progressivism. Their autonomy is generally related to the power that radicals have within civil society. So, we can oppose the state while fighting for a myriad of social programs and regulatory agencies. We can oppose the state while fighting for social spending to support non-profit or private entities that do important work (e.g. Planned Parenthood or PBS), or to fight for spending for and progressive administration of institutions like libraries, public schools, public utilities, state banks, fire departments, public transit, public hospitals, or what have you. We can also oppose the state, and sit in clear opposition to the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal system, while demanding the government not neglect its role to regulate capital through the EPA’s regulation of the treatment of the environment, OSHA’s regulation of workplace safety, the SEC’s regulation of finance. All three of the types of things that those agencies regulate are exploitative, but we will not win a revolution if the Earth, workers, and civil society are all dead.
Liberalism is the idea that these reforms are the ends, even sometimes claiming that there are more radical but usually unspoken goals that we don’t need to mention in public. Liberalism, then, is conservative because in the end it seeks to conserve the state and capital’s hegemony. Sometimes, liberal sheep wear a radical wolf’s clothing to claim this is some evolutionary revolution. Liberalism also shies away from talking about the need for radical change, thus turning reforms into tools of the hegemonic power to maintain the consent of the masses. But left-wing radicalism (again, which is generally socialist) has no intention to stop there, either in word or in thought or in deed. Indeed, the best way for a radical to make sure their radicalism is more than skin deep is to have at least some theory of society, and some essence of that theory at work in their practice.
The record of socialist revolutionaries taking over the machinery of the state can best be described as two forms of failures: either they failed to maintain the monopoly of violence and were defeated (e.g. the 1973 coup in Chile or 1871 counterrevolution in Paris); or they failed to create the domination of society by the oppressed, instead creating a new oppressive class and system of exploitation (e.g. China or the Soviet Union). In each case, their failures were not necessarily predetermined, but were based largely on mistakes made in the act of experimentation in attempting something that had never successfully been done previously. Their failures are not to be dismissed, but to be learned from.
Many strongly interpret the process in Venezuela over the past 14 years (and increasingly in other Latin American countries) as another such experiment. The state in Venezuela is still very much one that secures bourgeois dominance of society. The Hugo Chavez-then-Nicolas Maduro government is one that is trying to transition out of that state, however awkwardly, into a socialist one built for, by, and of oppressed sectors of the society. For this reason, many communists and anarchists that fundamentally oppose the state are able to support and work for the government, and its participation with society in creating institutions that bring about popular power and social programs.
For this reason, we fight not only for Venezuela, but for its government and its Bolivarian-socialist process, in hopes that they are indeed in battle with the state’s preservation of capital.
I hope that this brief contribution has been in some way helpful to you, and that you consider it a tiny bridge in a longer path to understanding how to fight for a better world in the ashes of the old.
The United States bourgeois press didn’t learn the cliche that “a lie told enough becomes the truth,” it practically invented that method. From ThinkProgress to the New Yorker to the Atlantic, it doesn’t take Republican-alignment to find producers and publishers hurling falsities down an echo chamber.
Back track to the 1960s. To spoil one of my favorite long-form stories, I have had interviews with a Pananian former CIA agent. His work was not only to inform the agency of local political or military insider information, but to misinform. The CIA sent him scripts to read on his radio show to the Panamanian public for decades, and he was brought to the United States to tour and spread more misinformation about Panama-US relations in universities in the United States. I still have copies of the letters and photographs that prove his point. The CIA, was not alone, and he recalls recruiters from many US agencies and private contractors in the 1960s going after local students and officials. In order for the United States to be sure there is democracy, clearly, it has to make sure it controls the democracy.
The problem with misinformation is that it acts as a decoy. Rather than responding to the confusion or curiosity of sectors of the general public- maybe writing to youth or academics or working class families- too many of my comrades on the Left direct their focus to responding to the spray of vitriol. It’s like being afraid to put your washed clothes out to dry and instead washing what you’re currently wearing because the upstairs neighbor keeps dumping their bath water. The sheer volume leaves the respondent in shock and unable to even find sources to say otherwise in the search engines. A little decoding doesn’t hurt, but it all detracts from remembering our main mission to uncover the truth in the pursuit of social transformation. If you do it, do it short, sweet, and with a sense of humor.
Decoding the Vitriol
It doesn’t take a decoder ring to parse through the language of the bourgeous press.
Chavez was an anti-Semite - Chavez didn’t support Israel.
There is no security - Chavez didn’t use the highly authoritarian styles of policing that also haven’t worked in Mexico or Central America.
Anti-US/tense relations with the United States - He showed the United States Venezuela was not their backyard.
Strongman - See Chavez consolidated power and add orientalist-style denigration of brown peoples’ capacities to make their own democracy and their own destiny.
Authoritarian - Don’t read the article about the US federal governmen’s assertion of its right to kill US citizens on its own soil, or the US support for Fujimori, Pinochet, Rios Montt, Somoza, Trujillo, Noriega, Suharto, Marcos, Stroessner, Mobutu, the Shah, the Greek Colonels, Saddam Hussein, etc.
Despot - Elected with enormous popular support again and again in the fairest elections in the world, despite a unified opposition in the corporate media and the U.S.-backed coup. Special Thanks
Now that you have your unofficial decoder ring, skip the bourgeois press and let’s get back to seeking out the truth.
These are unedited notes. If you like them enough to want to publish, I’d be happy to come back and edit.There are many grammatical errors, however.
Our generation has few great heroes who have fallen before their time. Our parents can remember losing Malcolm and Martin and Allende and Nkrumah and Lumumba and Che and Medgar and so many others. But we have few we can really point to. And when we see them go, many of us are too quick to prove our disdain for iconography and our lack of faith in any kind of leadership.
Especially from the 1960s to the 1980s, Latin America was in the grips of dirty wars. Dirty, filthy, anti-communist wars. Wars in the shadows, wars in broad daylights, wars in mine-filled bay waters, in helicopters over seas, in industry-turned-torture chambers. Hundreds of thousands were tortured, murdered, disappeared. Continent-wide white terror heard that cliche about “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come” and set out to prove that death squads had a way of doing so. Towns erased, family lineages extinguished, peoples washed off the historical record, and dreams shattered. Dreams of independence, of socialism, of agency. On top of that, the Soviet-style dictatorships collapsed, and while the realities were complex (I probably don’t mean what you think I do), the writing was on the wall:
“History is over.”
“Socialism was an experiment of the past.”
“Neo-colonialism has won.”
The 1990s (starting earlier for some, later for others) was a decade of defeat for many. It was a decade of rebuilding after the wars and dictatorships. It was a decade where neo-liberalism emerged atop the heap of rubble that was social unrest, and declared it had vanquished every foe. Cuba struggled through its Special Period. NAFTA had passed, and rushed processes that had hit people hard. The Zapatistas were a rare beacon of hope, and truth be told, their particular brand of autonomous struggle did not spread nearly as rapidly or forcefully as many other styles of revolt. The blood still visible in the streets. Privatization creeping across the lands like the Nothing. The Washington Consensus with its chin up. The people cowered.
It was into this mix that Hugo Chavez stepped. He was a man. Larger trends on either side of him propelled the possibilities. Squatters and anti-privatization uprisings and Zapatistas and social struggle. But Chavez’s victory, one I remember, signified that the Americas were not destined to be mono-polar. It signaled that the Allendes and Arbenzes and Bosches and Sandinistas had not existed in vain. And a hope sprung eternal, resonating across the continent.
Chavez played a huge role with social revolt across the hemisphere to resoundingly prove that socialism was not a dead fish in the water, and that capitalism’s warpath would not only go contested, but would take a beating back. Venezuela early on experienced a Constituent Assembly, where the same families whose loved ones had been massacred in the Caracazo of 1989 could participate in the creation of a new constitution, one of few countries to have ever successfully done one. Thanks to massive protests in every successive Free Trade Area of the Americas summit, Chavez was able to walk out of the project altogether. The process, be it revolutionary or socialist or radical, has often been slow, but it has happened.
And while Chavez was busy reapportioning the country’s wealth, building a different multilateral model in the Americas, breaking the oil oligarchy, nationalizing industries, and pushing back el tiburon (Uncle Sam), so much of the past 14 years in Venezuela was actually done because Chavez created the space for the people to do it. They no longer need fear another Caracazo massacre, death squads, or a dirty war. People occupied factories and reactionary institutions. It was people who set up this clinic and that literacy program, and people who demanded these resources or squatted land for community gardens. And when Chavez was ousted in a US-sponsored coup d’etat in 2002, a few days I will never forget, it was the people who revolted and did the unthinkable- overturned a fascist coup in a manner of days.
Uprisings and revolts across Latin America became increasingly common, as the masses were emboldened. Leftist or mildly left governments came to power in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, with varying results- but the point is that people across the continent (and indeed, the world) BELIEVED. They didn’t just fight, they believed once again that they could win. They believed it wasn’t just a ritual fight for their lives against inevitable doom. They took to the streets, or the haciendas, or the factories, and knocked oppressive structures flat on their feet.
You and I cannot assess Hugo Chavez right now. He is as worthy of biting criticism as he is of great praise. I follow Marx who contented we need “ruthless criticism of all that exists,” without fear of the results of delving deep. If you aren’t capable of that, you’re a poor Marxist. But you must look at the world for the forces that exist, and examine the balance of where we were yesterday and where we are today. Hugo Chavez impact was massive. He took a world spinning on an axis that would lead us all to ruin, and knocked it into left field. Venezuela struggles mightily with corruption, crime, and a violent criminal justice system. Y’know, like Mexico, Colombia, Iraq, Italy, and Chicago do. But the true assessment of Chavez is not what he did in life, but what carries on after him.
If Venezuela has been in the early throes of a socialist revolution, if the process was fueled by the creativity and sweat of the people, if that country and our region has built a sense of historical-subjectivity for those who were subaltern, bound to the margins, then Venezuela’s process has only just begun. Then Latin America is as much on a road toward a collective liberation and the downfall of authoritarian violence and mammonic exploitation, and the people across nuestra America have only just begun to fight and negate and build and create.
If it all ends soon, and we can’t simply point to some Western destabilization scheme as the sole cause (and we can’t), then I have been wrong. It was a wonderful moment, a huge and very exciting wave, millions saw improvements in their quality of life, and hopefully it will be done right next time. It will have laid some foundations, changed some details, saved many lives, and will be by-and-large rolled back under another reaction-Thermidorian or Chamorro-style.
But if it doesn’t, we are still just at the dawn of the future. And as Chavez has taken his last breaths, we move on that much stronger. A new world doesn’t just come correct. You have to build it. Our late comrade, I believe, has helped lay some strong foundations for that better world.
I regularly send this video out, because it makes some constantly forgotten points. Allow me to express what I get from it.
The phrase People of Color has been used so profusely in some circles that it has lost all of its meaning and bite. It is not a demographic phrase. We cannot talk about people of color in prisons or public housing, communities of color targeted by stop and frisk, and you are not a person of color. The phrase has come to be used out of fear of saying more appropriately what people mean, like Blacks & Latin@s or Brown people.
And it is fallacy to believe that we need to speak about non-white people in some demographically collective way. Different people experience racism and the system of white supremacy in very different ways, and to box all non-white experiences together (it’s hard enough boxing Blacks or Latinos as an experience) is to create a false sense of uniformity that makes many of those experiences invisible.
People of Color, as Loretta Ross explains, is not something you’re born into. It’s a solidarity term, defined by people who claim the title when they’re in solidarity with each other. I can’t be a person of color, but I am a Latino, and when I am in solidarity with other minoritized and racialized groups, we are people of color.
I am happy that your __media_type__ the __paper/show_name___ chose to cover the anarchist feminist collective Pussy Riot, and Russia’s unjust incarceration of three of the members, one of whom has now been released. Coverage of the repression of dissent anywhere is one of the seminal tasks of a news media that serves the public.
That is why I am asking you to cover a story closer to home. As you know, the United States incarceration rate is the largest in the world. Among our country’s political prisoners, three young anarchists in Washington and Oregon states have now been remanded into federal prison for up to eighteen months because they refused to testify before Grand Juries.
Matthew Duran, Kteeo Olejnik, and Leah-Lynn Plante have not yet been charged with any crime, but face nearly as long as the Pussy Riot members for simply refusing to speak in one of the only institutions that somehow ignores the fifth amendment right to remain silent. The three are being held in Secure Housing Units, which studies conducted by the UN and the NY Bar Association have concluded are a form of inhumane treathment and torture, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Consitution.
For more information, check out nopoliticalrepression.wordpress.com . I look forward to reading your coverage of this important domestic case.
Soliciting donations to something that doesn’t exist
Nycga.net, and now Occupywallstreet.net, host a button to an account that is obsolete. It is to a general OccupyWallStreet fund that is directly controlled by the Accounting Working Group, and whose funds are supposed to be under the control of the New York City General Assembly. There is not New York City General Assembly. Therefore, the button must be erased. There need not be any decision made in any body that doesn’t exist. The button must simply be deleted. If the General Assembly returns, the button can return, but without a body to make decisions over the fund, without the body even existing that the fund is a donation to, the fund itself must cease to exist.
There is no argument to keep it. You can’t suggest “We need to get consensus” in a body that doesn’t exist. Period. So shutter the button and stop receiving donations.
Does this mean fundraising should stop? No. But all fundraising from henceforth should be intentional and directed. The idea that the NYCGA would have a general fund was foolish to begin with, and laid us open to graft, a resource war, and what everyone should agree was the deevolution of the General Assembly, which slid into becoming a chaotic foundation offering grants. That is the very type of institutional bureaucracy people like me are completely uninterested in participating in, and there are plenty of foundations to promote in that way without creating a new one. A new one with far worse issues of accountability.
It also became a massive security issue. It opened OccupyWallStreet up to investigation and the entrance of a legion of vultures and leeches who sought to swindle and scam money out of this massive budget. And those swindlers helped kill the energy and imagination that we had been creating.
How to Keep Fundraising
Instead, we should receive donations to very specific funds which are controlled by specific working groups or collectives. For example, the Tech-Ops Working Group should have its own fund. The NLG and a bail fund make absolute sense. Outreach, the Street Medics, Livestreamers, Arts & Culture (or individual artists), and perhaps specific political projects like Liberation Summer, F the Banks, and the Summer Disobedience School could have their own buttons, using wepay, indiegogo, or kickstarter.
But there should be no general fund, especially without a body which it allegedly funds. Delete the button and stop taking donations into that account.
Note: A rational response should be written to that dick statement concocted by liberals like the funders of the buses, Shen and whomever the fuck else. But that’s not where I’m at this week.
In order to board a bus to Chicago, you have to thank the rich 1%ers and their liberal cronies who are mostly unpopular within Occupy Wall Street but still creep among us, by signing this piece of shit.
Unfortunately, they don’t begin to know the meaning of solidarity. It doesn’t mean unity of purpose and strategy. It can mean alliance across wide sectors for a common cause. They completely ignored the Chicago Principles of OccupyChi. They used the word solidarity like a cliche and a buzzword, because liberals know more about marketing than coalition building.
There is no offer, from what I understand, to front the bill for bail for non-violent arrestees. There is no due process to determine if someone broke this Agreement. There is no offer of support to find a place to stay, to find a means of nutrition, but only a dependence on local Chicago organizers who have a different framework that isn’t beholden to fears of Black Bloc Boogiemen, or the fetishization of the nonviolence/violence false dichotomy.
And speaking of Due Process, on a day when a federal court found the NDAA of 2012 lacking in 6th Amendment protections, they didn’t define this terribly vague violence of fist, tongue, and heart. As one friend joked, “so no heartbreaking flings?” Does that mean no swearing? Or could it have possible meant no denouncing each other in the media, which is what real solidarity is about.
And there’s no humanity in it. The people who wrote this statement have not by and large been suffering from the PTSD of this system (and yes, I realize in the following I’m making a lot of assumptions for which I might need to eat my hat, but being poor, I’m used to that). They haven’t known the hunger or humiliatition or homelessness of poverty. They haven’t lost their jobs to automation or outsourcing and found no job but Wal-Mart greeter. They haven’t had their fourth amendment rights trampled for being a young brown man. They haven’t lost their families to the prison system. They haven’t lost cousins at US military checkpoints. They haven’t toured the bombed out areas of their homelands with their brown grandfathers. They haven’t suffered NATO wars or those of the white supremacist police state at home. (And yes, I know Shen’s self-promotional back story.)
What they did do was prop back up that Black Bloc Boogieman and instil wider fears that there are bigger threatswithinthe anti-war/counter-globalization/occupy movements than there are from the war machine and the police state. What they did do is delegitimize certain manifestations of struggle, outrage and indignation, and decide that there must be a play fair mentality with a system that does anything but. What they did was spit in the face to anyone who has undergone irrevocable damage at the hands of this system, and put the language of “the 99%” and “protesting NATO” at the face of it.
They made an avowed commitment to liberalism and to reject radicalism, right in the language of seeking “reconciliation” and some ephemeral “justice” rather than to “conquer and control,” the latter being their euphemism for being a part of the creationg of a better world on the ashes of the old. And then they had people sign that they will be stranded in Chicago if it is alleged that they violated the agreement.
And organizing a bus is not that much to be proud of. In Chicago, we did so tons of times to head to Washington, Minneapolis, Detroit, Benton Harbor, New York and elsewhere. It took some logistical work and fundraising, but there’s little a big institution like NNU gets to pat themselves on the back for. It woulda meant a lot more if they filled those buses with their members.
I’m not having a good week, so I’ll speak plainly. People who seek to enforce this law and order upon people in struggle are one of the cancers in occupy. To the few of you who are part of this and very well know what you are doing, go fuck yourselves.
The big day is done and the energy spent. How do we look back on a single day that was the culmination of hundreds of other days of collective efforts to promote, build and create an experience that can move us forward? Here are the three ways that I think it is useful to honestly review New York City’s May Day, from an Occupy Wall Street perspective.
Looking at May Day from a perspective of the massive expectations is not going to be pretty. Promotional materials overwhelmingly declared a General Strike, and the actual participation in the strike could hardly expected to have been a single percentage point of the workforce, shoppers and students. It was not a general strike, though it was billed as such.Strikes are not personal choices that individual workers or students make- they are conscious decisions by a workplace or by the working class and its allies as a whole.
Many declared that tens of thousands of people would be in the streets, and the numbers did not cumulatively build up to over twenty thousand, according to someone who does headcounts. It was suggested the city would see its largest shut down ever, but it paled in comparison to some surrounding the Iraq War and the Republican National Convention, not to mention the blackout, the transit strike, and other events. The 99 Pickets largely did not happen, in what instead became a roving and merging series of marches that visited multiple sites. The tunnels and bridges functioned normally, and there was no insurrection on Houston. The expectations were set as high as the greatest mountains, and they were not nearly met. There’s a clear lesson for next time. Don’t bluff, or expect your language to simply create the conditions for the realization of your goals.
The Day in itself
The day in itself was arguably pretty great. Bryant Park probably topped off at two or three thousand people, who broke into large picket lines of between eighty and 674 at nearby labor disputes and corporate headquarters. A march of 1,471 people followed the Guitarmy down to Union Square. There was a weak emphasis, however, on promoting next steps or creating space for new participants and attendees to plug in and feel a sense of commitment.
Union Square Park in particular needs to be understood in the context of New York City’s previous May Days. On the one hand, it was the united mass that had failed to materialize when two separate May Days happened at Union and Foley Squares in previous years, and that is a particularly exciting development.
Perhaps 15,000 people were in Union Square, and more than 11,000 were in the march down toward Wall Street, which should be seated in the reality that in the last few years’ May Days, I personally counted between eight and ten thousand marchers. The sad reality is that the unions, and I am a radical who is still pro-union, could have brought out numbers that brought the day up to forty to seventy thousand, or far more, but they chose not to exert their energy. The numbers themselves belie the significance of Occupy Wall Street. OWS was never strong based on numbers, and likely has never seen over twenty or thirty thousand in the streets of New York, numbers dwarfed by the many hundreds of thousands in the streets against the war in Iraq and Bush in 2003 and 2004. But OWS hit nerves and created space for mass participation. Don’t count the heads or feet, count the hearts and minds. Leave counting the bodies to me.
Students did walk out, inspired by OWS. Some businesses were indeed closed, hundreds joined together across the Brooklyn Bridge, the marches felt positive, and the assemblies on Water St gave a space for speech. A united mass march, the united action of Brooklyn-based occupy assemblies, and the coalitions that kept the day together are of particular note.
Militants engaged in a Wildcat March, one of many unpermitted marches, that did not steepen repression for the rest of the day’s participants, and hardly gave the press anything to divert attention away from the political significance of the day. Several other alleged militant marches failed to materialize. Far fewer were arrested than expected, though the over ninety arrests throughout the day did measure up to the worst arrest toll since November, and few if any will need bail.
The day was also notable as a day which was not at all strong on direct action. In point of fact, I’m not sure I can point to any at all outside of the few work stoppages or student walk-outs. But it was still a great day, and most responses I heard on the ground were positive and filled with hope. The day was not groundbreaking, but people felt an energy that comes from numbers, standing together in coalition, and variety of creative actions. Those left in the streets at the end had to deal with some police repression and a sense of confusion at the next steps, but most people left feeling that they were not alone in their indignation and desire to act against structural inequalities, termed capitalism or corporate greed or austerity.
Today for Tomorrow
The final, and perhaps most important, evaluation comes not from the yesterday or the today, but from the tomorrow. Were next steps actions well promoted? Did demonstrators see the significance of returning to the streets, the workshop spaces, the assemblies or actions of the ensuing days, weeks, or months? And did people leave with heightened energy that will propel us forward.
It’s hard to tell, but I think on these levels it may prove lacking. The May 10-15th days of action (#anotherNYC) were hardly discussed. Liberation Summer and the Summer Disobedience School did not become the watch phrases. Plans for further engagement at Sothebys, Capital Grille, and other local labor struggles may not have immediately panned out. Many people who had not felt a leg into OWS in months definitely came out, and some of them will be people mobilized as actors, not simply bodies in the streets.
Nothing was occupied or maintained in the way that we saw on March 17th and again over the next five weeks, where hubs and excitement over spontaneous shifts were seen at Union Square, Wall Street and Nassau, or the Federal Hall steps. Coming out of March 17th in particular, Occupy Wall Street found a reinvigorated sense of street and plaza presence and a dynamic capacity to adapt to changing conditions in those streets. It remains to be seen if May Day inspired a similar effect.
None of this is to take a one sided perspective of May Day, or to shit on people’s incredibly hard work. But we should tell no lies and claim no easy victories in the words of Amilcar Cabral. Our honest capacity for self-criticism and assessment helps us see what works and what doesn’t, and in a rapid and constant beast like OWS, allows us to look at where we are at in any given phase or period. May Day was a beautiful day in itself, a day that simply could not reach its massive expectations, and its effect on the immediate days, month or months afterward remains to be seen. New York City is a great city capable of some spectacular forms of resistance and creative experimentation with direct democracy, just as other cities have very distinct strengths in those fields. Occupy Wall Street is not going away, and our persistent work toward the campaigns and struggles that we plan or spontaneously move toward will take us forward. Just so long as we take pauses to assess that work and where we find ourselves.