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Starhawk on Miami
by Threehegemons
09 December 2003 03:42 UTC
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Miami:  A  Dangerous Victory
By Starhawk

For those of us who participated in the protests against the FTAA, the
Free Trade Area of the Americas, in Miami the third week in November,
it's a bit hard to feel victorious.  We are bruised, battered, worried
about companeros still in jail, and grieving for the Jordan Feder, a
young medic who died of meningitis after the action.   We've been
harassed, arrested, tear gassed, pepper sprayed, hit, beaten, assaulted,
lied about, and in some cases literally tortured and sexually assaulted
in jail, and we've stared directly into the naked red gaze of the New
American Fascism.

Nevertheless we have had a significant victory that we need to
understand and recognize, not least because it throws us into a new and
very dangerous phase of activism.

Our victory was not tactical.  None of our own attempts to physically
enter or disrupt the conference were very effective.  I've heard rumors
that one group did actually take down a section of fence, but most of us
just managed to march up to it and maintain a presence close to it for
short periods of time before being driven back by police riots.  And
while I could list numerous missed opportunities and tactical errors we
made, I can't honestly think of anything much we could have done, given
the overwhelming police presence and the physical layout of Miami, that
would have made for a significantly different tactical outcome.

We were Iraqued-that is, we were attacked not for anything we'd done but
for someone's inflated fears of what we might do; shot, gassed, beaten
and arrested for weapons of destruction we did not have; targeted for
who we are and what we stand for, not for acts we had committed.  The
8.5 million dollars that was allocated for the policing of this event
came out of the 87 billion dollar appropriations bill for Iraq.  Miami
was the Bush policy of pre-emptive bullying brought home.

There is a certain visceral sense of satisfaction in breaching a
barricade and directly blocking a meeting, but those are not actually
the measures we should use to judge our success.  The direct action
strategy in contesting the summits is not really about physically
disrupting them.  It's about undermining their legitimacy, unmasking
them, making visible their inherent violence and the repression
necessary to support them and undercutting public belief in their
beneficence or right to exist.  And there, we are winning, not because
of any tactical brilliance on our part, but because in truth all we had
to do was show up, to be there as a visible body of opposition and
withstand the onslaught.

Our most effective direct actions may have been those we did in the days
and weeks before the meetings: the outreach, the community gardening,
the door-to-door flyering downtown, conducted under the constant threat
of arrest by a police force acting like Nazi bully boys, arresting
protestors for walking on the street, standing on the sidewalk, talking
to people or witnessing other arrests.  In spite of the major fear
campaign and the negative propaganda being put forth by the police and
the media, just about every interaction we had with ordinary Miami folks
was positive. Locals were told by police that dangerous anarchists would
burn their shops, would shoot them with squirt guns full of urine and
feces, would smash their windows, and destroy Miami if not contained.
Nevertheless, local people were scared, but interested in what we had to
say.  The poor and immigrant populations of downtown Miami understand
the issues of underlying economic injustice.  They could quickly grasp
what the FTAA might mean for their jobs.  They told us stories of water
privatization in their home countries, of 16 hour a day workshifts on
cruise ships that unions couldn't organize because they are registered
in other countries, of their daily struggle to survive on the streets,
of the ongoing police brutality faced by the homeless and the poor.

When we were driven back into Overtown, Miami's black ghetto, people
smiled and waved, came forward to help us, offered places for hunted
activists to hide, sheltered our puppets in their back yards.  Other
local people came forward to offer housing and shelter, to donate food,
plants, and time to the mobilization, to hold vigils at the jail and to
provide support after most of the action had left town.  It was as if
the bulk of the population pressed the 'mute' button on the soundtrack
spewed by the media and the police, noticed what their own eyes were
telling them, and knew who their true allies were.

That disconnect, that gap between the reality the power structure was
attempting to construct and the actual reality of ordinary people, is
the fertile political space we need to nurture and explore in order to
move forward.  For it leaves the bullies building a more and more
elaborate fortress of control that is unsupported by any foundation of
credibility or legitimacy.  Where there should be the concrete of
credence and the rebar of faith, there is only air: and such a structure
is bound to fall.  In its fall, it may well take a lot of us with it,
and therein lies both the danger and the opportunity of this political

Miami was a clear example of the New American Fascism brought home.   I
don't use the word 'fascism' lightly.  I use it to mean that combination
of brutal state power applied ruthlessly against its critics, backed by
surveillance, media distortions, hate propaganda, and lies, allied
politically and economically with those who profit from the industries
of weaponry, prisons, and war..

In "The Lord of the Rings", the evil Sauron is represented by a red,
glaring, all-seeing eye.  To be in Miami in November was to suffer that
searing, hostile gaze.  The red eye of fascism is a double-barreled
gaze:  the eye that watches, that records, that holds you under
surveillance and videos your comings and goings and compiles the
records: and the media/propaganda eye, that frames the story, that
defines and distorts you and tells everyone just what the justification
is for your repression.

For true totalitarian control, misrepresenting facts, telling a false
story, is not enough.  Total control requires control over the frame of
the story, the meaning of the language you use, the boundaries of what
it is possible to think about.  So "Violence" becomes a word whose
meaning changes radically when it is applied to protestors as opposed to
agents of the state.  'Violence' is simply not applied to police by the
media or the political powers that be.  The use of sound bombs, pepper
spray, rubber, wooden and plastic bullets, wooden batons, bean bag
pellets, and tear gas, illegal arrests, beatings, deprivation of basic
human rights, medical care, food and water, overt torture and sexual
assault are properly characterized by the word, "restraint," as in "the
police acted with restraint."

Friends of mine who were watching the news on the days of action all
reported a similar experience. They saw police move in on a crowd of
peaceful protestors, swinging billy clubs and firing tear gas and rubber
bullets.  What they heard was commentary suggesting that protestors were
'violent', and that therefore the police were justified in whatever
measures they chose.

Applied to activists, 'violence' means, 'any act of opposition to total
military and police control, any act of resistance from walking in the
wrong place to talking to the wrong people to allying with other
suspects."  Above all, any attempts to remove oneself from the
all-seeing gaze, to mask oneself, to carve out any space free of that
hostile red arc light, are evidence of violence.

Totalitarian control is deeply racist, sexist and homophobic, for it
depends on division and separation.  Police attempted to divide the
unions from the direct action folk, by pushing the action into the area
where the permitted labor march was scheduled to go, attacking the crowd
there, attacking union members and punishing them for associating with
'potentially dangerous' others.

Activists of color were singled out for special abuse by the police and
prison guards, subjected to brutal beatings and outright torture in
jail, in spite of solidarity efforts by other activists. Sexual assaults
were carried out on women and transgendered prisoners.  Queer prisoners
were harassed and mistreated.

The greatest victory we achieved in Miami is that these strategies of
division did not work. Instead of dividing labor and direct action,
repressive police tactics angered the unions who are now calling for a
congressional investigation.  Our solidarity with labor remains strong,
as does our commitment to stand together and support each other through
the aftermath of the brutal attacks against our fellow activists, and to
name and unmask the racism, sexism and homophobia we encountered.

The overwhelming military force and brutality of the police was a
measure of the utter bankruptcy of the policies they were defending.
Neoliberal economics, the 'Washington consensus' behind the various free
trade agreements and institutions, is not hard to delegitimize because
it doesn't work.  It promises increased prosperity for all if we allow
corporations free reign over the globe, privatize all public resources,
and end government support for any arenas of human activity that
actually increase health or well being or quality of life.  Somehow the
poor are supposed to benefit from this.   But this promise has
overwhelmingly proved false.  Countries that implement these policies
have lost economic ground or gone belly-up, like Argentina. The gap
between rich and poor has grown into a vast chasm.  NAFTA has been
devastating to the US economy, costing us over 785.000 good
manufacturing jobs, allowing corporations to sue governments for loss of
their projected profits if governments pass inconvenient environmental
or labor regulations. The developing countries have not been able to use
the WTO or any of these trade agreements as platforms to reduce tariffs
for their products or persuade the US and EU to reduce the agricultural
subsidies that have devastated small farmers around the world-hence the
walkout in Cancun of countries from the global south.

No one was defending the FTAA with any passion.  In fact, brute force
seemed to be the major argument in its favor.   And the FTAA summit
ended in a glossed-over failure.  To prevent its utter collapse, the
conveners referred all controversial issues back to committee, ended a
day early, and pulled back from the original vision of an overarching
agreement to a truncated 'FTAA-Lite'-which even in its watered-down form
has little chance of being adopted.

Their failure was a result of the years of organizing, education, truth
telling, and direct action we've done in the north to create and foster
that gap of belief, and perhaps even more, a result of the absolute
social disruption that the policies of the neoliberalism have spawned in
the global south, where governments have already fallen and ministers
know their populations will not tolerate more of the same.

We in the north are left confronting an alliance between  economic
powers desperate to retain their advantage in a sinking economy, the
most powerful military/police force ever amassed on the planet, and a
subservient media willing to tell whatever story the rulers command.
But the more ruthless and brutal the system becomes, the wider and
deeper that gap of legitimacy may become.

Our political success and personal survival may depend on our ability to
understand and deepen that disconnect between eyes and ears, direct
experience and propaganda. At what point does it set in?  When do people
start to believe their own eyes, to question the authority of the
commentators?  How do we prevent the power structure from consolidating
a new foundation of belief?  How far does that gap extend?  How do we
widen and deepen the gap, and how do we mobilize and empower those who
have ceased to believe to take action?  And as the fortress of control
begins to crumble over our heads, where do we find shelter from the
falling debris, and what new structures will we build in its place?

If we can build on the successes of Miami: the solidarity, the deepened
alliances, the trust, if we can turn those alliances into real political
power, we will have a strong victory.  If the combined forces of the
progressive movements and the unions and the NGOs can succeed in making
the political and police powers of Miami pay a political and social
cost, we can stem the tide of repression.

There were actions we took in Miami that undoubtedly contributed to the
support we received: we waged a proactive media campaign, we planted a
community garden in Overtown and gave away dozens of trees, above all,
we went out and talked to people on the street.  In the worst moments of
police assault, there were always those who moved forward to put their
bodies on the front line and slow the assault of the storm troopers.
People helped and supported and strengthened each other, and the shock
of the violence we experienced was tempered by the sweetness of support
and the inspiration of acts of courage.

We can go further in making our actions and organizing welcoming and
friendly, can perhaps devote more of our efforts to outreach and
connection instead of obsessing on our tactics, can confront our own
vestigial racism, sexism, homophobia and the other prejudices that can
divide us, and we can frame our actions and organizing with a clear
strategic goal: to broaden and deepen that gap of belief, to make strong
alliances with the disaffected and to mobilize the political power of
dissent, to unmask the violence, repression, and sheer ugliness of the
structures of control, to counter them with the beauty and joy of our
visions brought to life.  Then we can stare back into that red,
totalitarian eye and pierce it with a white-hot gaze of truth, a spear
in the eye of the Cyclops.  And we will have the support and strength we
need to withstand the monster's crash, and to begin the process of
building the world that we want.

Starhawk's daily reports from Miami are achived at:
Starhawk is an activist, organizer, and author of Webs of Power: Notes
from the Global Uprising and eight other books on feminism, politics and
earth-based spirituality.  She teaches Earth Activist Trainings that
combine permaculture design and activist skills, and works with the RANT
trainer's collective, www.rantcollective.org that offers training and
support for mobilizations around global justice and peace issues.  To
get her periodic posts of her writings, email
Starhawk-subscribe@lists.riseup.net and put 'subscribe' in the subject
heading.  If you're on that list and don't want any more of these
writings, email Starhawk-unsubscribe@lists.riseup.net and put
'unsubscribe' in the subject heading.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving the included information for research and
educational purposes.***

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