May Day in Seattle: Creating the Conditions for Social Revolt

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Post May Day Anarchist Poster

Post May Day Anarchist Propaganda

Like many anarchists, we were somewhat surprised by the intensity of the black bloc actions in Seattle on May Day. Several businesses were vandalized and striking pictures circulated on the Internet (see for example a Crimethinc video on May Day 2012). Somewhat surprisingly—at least from the eyes of a town in the Midwest—Occupy Seattle put out a statement rejecting media and police attempts to “divide the movement” and largely supporting the autonomy of those engaging in black bloc tactics to make their own tactical choices.

But how did it get to that point? A partial answer can be found in the recently published piece “We are Contagious: a gift to those who desire social revolt.” In it, the writer(s) explore how what happened on May Day was a product of conscious decisions by anarchists to up the stakes. Not just talking about intensifying attacks on property, they write:

“…what happened on May Day didn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, it’s been steadily building for over a year, stretching back to the anti-police protests of winter 2011, through Queers Fucking Queers, the emergence of Occupy Seattle, the encampments, the Chase 5 day, the building occupations, and, finally, the Port Shutdown. Glossing over the less glamorous aspects of what ultimately made May 1st so amazing obscures the complexity of Seattle’s social war and makes it more difficult to effectively precipitate future conflict.”

Specifically, they cite anarchist involvement in circulating propaganda and in Occupy Seattle:

“There are anarchists in this city who have taken very seriously the project of finding accomplices. They have intervened effectively in Occupy Seattle and related social struggles over the past several months through a day to day insurrectionary practice. And this has had results.

The first is a context that has altered slightly to our favor thanks to loads of propaganda, particularly Tides of Flame (nearly 10,000 copies of the paper have gone out over the past 10 months), the flyers and texts distributed at Occupy actions and at the camps, and the numerous May Day posters that were pasted up all around town by all sorts of people. Actions like nighttime bank-smashings have obviously also contributed hugely to the normalization and acceptance of targeted property destruction. It is important to remember the necessity of both above-ground and clandestine methods of spreading and encouraging sabotage, subversion, and attack.

The second result is a spreading anti-capitalist/anti-state network that can be tapped into for any number of useful purposes, including finding friends, comrades, and accomplices. Most of what remains of “Occupy Seattle” is this informal network based on bonds of shared affinity and solidarity. Its existence is partially thanks to anarchists’ (often antagonistic) participation in Occupy Seattle’s general assemblies and some anarchists’ willingness and desire to form relationships with people outside of our tiny social milieu, sometimes despite backlash from other anarchists. Surprise of surprises, our ideas actually do resonate with many people.”

The authors end with a consideration of some ways in which anarchists can expand on their work – a theme that has been circulated elsewhere. Their ideas:

  • Create and maintain more antagonistic infrastructure.
  • Experiment with reclaiming and repurposing space, both indoor and out.
  • Without resorting to populism or watering-down our ideas, we need to continue creating and distributing texts that link recent events and shared personal struggles to fundamental anarchist critiques of domination in all of its forms.
  • Make more friends; make friends into accomplices.
  • Assess what resources you have access to—take stock, put them to use, scheme. There’s that old saying, “Anything is a weapon if you hold it the right way.”
  • Use and encourage forms of self-organization and decision-making that are informal, decentralized, and non-hierarchical, and that do not emphasize conformity but instead encourage diversity and autonomy.
  • Be more creative, go further, choose surprising targets. Thanks to the Occupy movement, big banks are by now recognized as the exploitative institutions that they are. What other institutions deserve some closer attention?
  • Recognize opportunities for effective intervention when they arise and go for it. The ruling class and their lackeys in politics and law enforcement are constantly plotting new ways to further exploit us and rob us of our dignity. Their goal is to maximize both control and profit while minimizing the political and economic costs of fucking us over. New gentrification schemes, the spreading of surveillance, pacifying reforms, threats to what’s left of the wild: these are the fresh abuses and insults praised by the newspapers everyday. They are also the things people get upset about, but often feel powerless or afraid to confront in ways outside of the proper, legal channels. That doesn’t mean that the desire to do so is not already present.

We strongly encourage folks in Grand Rapids to read the article and consider the themes that it raises. For more background information, people should check out the zine “Burning the Bridges they are Building” which explores anti-police activity in Seattle and the larger Pacific Northwest region in 2011.

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