Unconventional Futures: A Proposal for Building Decentralized, Nationwide Anarchist Momentum
Over a year ago, a group of anarchists hoping to initiate nationwide anti-authoritarian organizing against the DNC and RNC formed a project called Unconventional Action. Their vision of catalyzing organizing on the local level to promote coordinated resistance to the conventions yielded success, as over 20 different collectives in various cities and regions took on the UA banner and began preparations for plugging into the convention protests. The informal network of UA groups from coast to coast, working in conjunction with local projects and organizers in Denver and the Twin Cities, successfully mobilized hundreds of anarchists to attend the DNC and RNC protests. Now that the conventions have come and gone, let’s continue to build on the infrastructure we’ve created for this single event. Rather than simply letting that energy and organization evaporate with the conventions done and gone, what sorts of uses can we create for these active, interconnected nodes of direct action-oriented radicals?
Anarchist organizing in the post-Bush political situation
If Obama becomes president, many anarchists and other radicals predict, the euphoria on the part of liberals and progressives will quickly give way to disillusionment as the shining star of the Democrats fails to follow through on his empty promises of hope and change. It’s extremely unlikely that an Obama administration will end the occupation in Iraq, threats against Iran, police repression, anti-immigrant crackdowns, escalating poverty, oil dependence, or any of the other crises facing the US; given this, how will the country respond? One possibility is that the vast liberal/progressive base of Obama’s campaign and the new Democratic Party followers will find themselves disaffected from the two-party path and open to new, increasingly radical directions. In this case, anarchists should be ready to seize the moment with consistent, visible, exciting actions and propaganda, and provide accessible points of entry for people to become involved in anti-political organizing and direct action. On the other hand, another possibility is that large sectors of the US population will respond to the failure of the hope/change rhetoric by moving in a more overtly fascist direction (supporting heavily authoritarian leadership, accelerating imprisonment and police repression, intensified scapegoating of immigrants, etc). In this instance, a solidly functioning network of communication and action will be crucial to anarchist self-defense, to oppose right-wing reaction from the community level and promoting anti-authoritarian analyses of the situation.
It’s also possible that McCain will become president, in which case two distinct trends may emerge with possibilities for anarchists. For one, military involvement abroad and border militarization at home will likely increase even more swiftly, along with social conservative attacks on reproductive rights and queer and transgender people. In all of these areas, direct action will be crucially necessary to stem the tide of militarism and oppression, and the haphazard, disconnected, and sporadic undertakings of these past years won’t be enough. Also, the massive grassroots swell behind Obama will find their hopes frustrated, and many will seek new political outlets for their disappointment. Anarchists demonstrating alternatives in practice to the electoral system can provide a path for this energy away from the two-party black hole and towards direct action.
In any of these scenarios, anarchists in the US will need ways to effectively mobilize ourselves to respond to the political situation. In recent years, the fantastic variety of projects, networks, actions, and culture that constitutes anarchism in the US rarely comes together in a coordinated way except around specific mass mobilizations. This can result in an effective but woefully brief fighting force that coalesces sporadically at the expense of local organizing and projects, and at great cost in terms of time and resources invested with little lasting momentum beyond the mobilization in question. How can we harness the collective power that we have, but in a way that sustains rather than depletes it and expands beyond mass mobilizations to everyday and local resistance?
What we’re proposing is to use the infrastructure we’ve created through these Unconventional Action chapters in different cities and regions, and expand them into a network that can plan, coordinate, and carry out anarchist action and resistance on a variety of fronts.
As we see it, here are some of the potential strengths of using the foundation of Unconventional Action organizing to create a national anarchist action network:
It already exists. UA collectives exist in over 20 cities and regions around the country, and with the context for them already established, can be easily founded anywhere. The UA framework has successfully mobilized people to attend the protests, to create and circulate propaganda, to gather and disseminate information, to initiate and carry out local organizing and solidarity actions, and more. Since we’ve seen that this loose network of collectives in different places works effectively, it is the most promising starting point for national and regional anarchist organizing.
Seize the post-convention momentum, with an eye towards the future. As a first step, this emerging UA network can take on organizing election day and inauguration day actions. For November 4th, UA collectives can offer each other strategies, talking points, messages, propaganda, and our collective wisdom; conversations between chapters could produce a few themes or tactical innovations to make our efforts coherent. Unlike previous election years, in which either scattered acts of consciousness-raising or resistance went unnoticed in their isolation, or focused solely on the elections without connection to previous or subsequent actions (i.e. the Don’t Just Vote campaign), actions from a UA network will allow us to make connections between resistance against the conventions, the elections, the inauguration, and more. Coordinating actions by UA chapters and through UA networks has the triple advantage of tapping into an existing, effective network [increasing participation]; having an explicitly anarchist/anti-authoritarian “brand” [making our perspectives clear and avoiding simply having to participate in liberal or communist front-group actions]; and using the common UA theme to link them [building coherent connections in the media and public consciousness around the interconnectedness of anarchist resistance to politics, capitalism, and all systems of oppression]. After the election and dialogue about whether a national mobilization in DC or coordinated local actions makes the most sense, we can apply the same reasoning to the inauguration on January 20th. Looking even further ahead, we can anticipate immigrant and worker solidarity actions on May 1st; resistance to police brutality on the US day of action October 22nd and/or the Canadian date, March 15th; opposition to the occupation of Iraq on March 20th, the war’s anniversary; and other coordinated days of action that we can decide regionally and nationally. These coordinated days can combine with our own locally-focused organizing to create vibrant, active, and nationally linked momentum of anarchist resistance in the US.
Organization for specific action, not for organization’s sake. By basing the foundation of regional and national anarchist networking in an existing web of interconnected nodes that came together for a specific purpose, we can avoid the pitfalls that come from attempting to create an artificial organizational structure for a general purpose anticipating future actions. Learning from the mistakes of regional efforts such as the Southeast Anarchist Network, where such an artificial framework for general purposes never got off the ground in spite of considerable enthusiasm, we can ensure that the network always has a basis in shared actions, and that organizational structure can be adopted or scrapped on an ad-hoc basis as necessity demands. Anarchists and others will join or found collectives for the UA network out of a desire to work on a specific action or campaign, so it won’t get abstract and overly formal.
Accessible points of entry beyond the cookie-cutter projects. One part of the stagnation of anarchist resistance over the past years is that of the “cookie-cutter” project. Many types of common community anarchist projects – Food not Bombs, Indymedia, etc – that once held fresh and vital roles as a part of broader anarchist resistance often now provide the only local entry points into anarchist action, and become bogged down in inertia and internal politics. Because they frequently exist in isolation both within communities (detached from other radical projects in the same area) and between communities (little or no regional and national discussion, gathering, or organizing amongst different chapters), these groups often putter along without genuinely engaging participants, threatening the status quo, or assessing how to build towards long-term success. Local UA chapters can avoid this stagnation by staying rooted in organizing for particular actions (election day, the inauguration, and beyond), with the energizing effect and multiplied support and resources of a national network behind them. At the same time, chapters can provide an entry point for new anarchists and radicals, pathways into various projects and a catalyst for broad, integrated anarchist resistance.
Harmony through diversity. UA collectives are not homogenous or uniform. Not all are comprised solely of self-described anarchists; some focused exclusively on the convention organizing, while others organized a variety of events around different themes; their sizes, styles, and methods of functioning varied greatly. This is one of the network’s strengths, and can continue to be as it expands past the specific focus of the conventions. Continuing and new UA groups can range from tight-knit anarchist collectives who undertake numerous specific local projects together, to a loose coalition of radicals who agree to come together to organize non-hierarchically around particular events or issues in a broad region. Some collectives take the name “UA-city/region,” while others have entirely different names; ultimately what’s important isn’t the title but the commitment to forming a tight-knit network of mutual aid, solidarity, and coordinated action. We don’t need to strive for unity and identical ideological lines, but for harmony and mutual interests, goals, and tactics. The conventions showed that we can do this, so let’s take it further.
Connect capitalism, the state, and oppression coherently through harmonized anarchist resistance. When the UA network takes on coordinated active resistance not just to the political conventions, but diverse manifestations of the oppressive power of capitalism and the state, we will demonstrate concretely the links between these struggles. For example, currently anarchists who search for a visible militant response to a police murder in one city or an ecologically destructive building project in another have few ways of tapping into our collective power other than resorting to an empty “call to action” posted on Infoshop or Indymedia. What if instead we could count on a national network to turn out solidarity actions in 20 different cities under a common UA theme? Our power to respond as anarchists would expand exponentially, and the coherence of our critique of all power and domination would increase along with it, as people witness UA resistance to various manifestations of domination culture. It will take consistent and coordinated anarchist action to begin to demonstrate anarchism and direct action as viable alternatives to government and voting, and a network rooted in UA organizing can build our capacity to deliver it.
Decentralization with coordination. Because UA chapters take diverse forms, and since regional and national networking need only involve as much formality as the moment demands, there’s no risk of creating some central anarchist directive whose commands we’ll slavishly obey, or risk excommunication from anarchist circles. As St. Paul showed, our decentralization is one of our strengths: pre-emptive arrests of the Welcoming Committee “leaders” couldn’t stop four days of actions from different groups and individuals. But in the absence of effective coordination, our power and effectiveness remains a fraction of what it could be. Based off of the model of different UA collectives tackling different sectors, actions, and tasks, we can extend this decentralized but coordinated approach to a wide variety of campaigns and days of action across the country using the UA network.
Capitalizing on renewed anarchist visibility. One success of the convention protests is renewed anarchist visibility: journalists, politicians, and pundits across the country used the terms “anarchist” and “anarchism” consistently in association with radical or “violent” protestors, to an extent unprecedented in recent history. So now that anarchists have entered the popular consciousness as the militant opposition to the political order, it’s up to us to continue that process by showing more and more examples of anarchist action as a viable alternative to the futility of politics. An expanded UA network can provide the basis for consistent coordinated anarchist action that can keep up that visibility, demonstrating alternatives to the two-party dead end that will come increasingly under scrutiny as disillusionment with Obama intensifies.
The consulta model works. Regionally and nationally, Unconventional Action chapters organized consultas to share information and skills, develop links between cities and regions, and make decisions about strategies and planning actions. From these gatherings emerged concrete plans for actions such as the blockades strategy and the map of sectors, as well as new and strengthened links between collectives and individuals and also broadened bases of skills and knowledge. We can continue this model of consultas on a regular or infrequent basis, as we plan for future coordinated actions, set themes for giving coherence to local projects and campaigns, and continue to teach each other skills and analysis. Of course, for a decentralized network to work, local collectives shouldn’t be dependent on consultas to authorize their actions or set their priorities for them. Instead, consultas can convene only as they’re needed to address issues of collective concern.
Now is the time. With a national network of anarchists organizing diverse local projects and actions under a common theme, we can offer an accessible route for disaffected ex-Obamaites to tap into resistance to politics and capitalism. At the same time, we can offer cohesive resistance to any right-wing backlash, with a network for efficient communication and to mobilize support and coordinated action. There hasn’t been any national anarchist organizing network beyond event-specific coordination since the Love and Rage Federation, which disintegrated before Seattle. Building off of the UA framework, we can create the strongest foundation for collective anarchist resistance that has existed for a very long time.
Conclusion – Where do we go from here?
To summarize, we believe that the network of Unconventional Action collectives contains the seed of a vibrant, nationwide, decentralized network for anarchist action and resistance. It currently exists and has demonstrated its capacity, and its concrete purpose and orientation towards action avoids the pitfalls of organization for its own sake and the staleness of cookie-cutter projects. We can take advantage of the diversity of different UA chapters to create a decentralized but coordinated framework for anarchist resistance, using the successful consulta model to move forward collectively. Our actions through the network can capitalize on renewed anarchist visibility and demonstrate clear links between capitalism, politics, and oppression, advancing anarchist analysis and providing crucial accessible points of entry. Using this network, we can use the momentum from the conventions to flow into election day, inauguration, and more actions, and effectively respond to this pivotal moment of political change in the US.
So how can we make this vision into a reality? We propose that over the next two months, local UA collectives meet, debrief their experiences at the convention, and set local priorities for action based on their own local circumstances and capacities. One of the key functions of the UA network can be to support the initiatives of local collectives, so at home with our crews we can focus on planning creative new directions for action and assessing how a broader network can support us in those. On regional and national levels, we can direct our efforts towards prisoner and legal support from the conventions and continuing the conversations about the future. Specifically, we can discuss possibilities for coordinated election day actions on November 4th: what themes should we focus on? What kinds of writing, propaganda, and information should we share and distribute? How can we link together our actions in different areas? What are our goals, targets, and tactics? And in the aftermath of the election, we should immediately begin discussing plans for responding to the inauguration. Should we collectively mobilize in Washington, or focus on local action? Depending on who’s elected, what themes are most important to emphasize? Over the winter, different UA chapters can consider hosting regional consultas to plan for these days of action and discuss possibilities for the future. Above all, let’s keep talking, planning, and resisting, with an eye towards building our capacity to fuck their shit up and create other worlds.
This statement was created through the collaboration of members from UA collectives in several cities. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.