A contribution to the "Reflections on J18" collection.
Dancing in the Ruins
There seems to be a lot of informal debate going on about June 18th tactics. I’ve written this in the hope of encouraging people to respect each other’s angles on the day, and keep the debate positive rather than damaging.
What was it all about? Last year, I went to one of the very early J18 meetings. Something that came out very clearly then was the following idea:”This is not another street party. We will even try and avoid using the words ‘street party’.Rather, we will be taking the fight against destruction and exploitation directly to the place where much of it is controlled. We will be targeting the Square Mile.” Though a Carnival did end up being part of the day, I feel the “targeting the Mile” line was carried right through in all the J18 publicity and planning. I personally was well aware of the kind of things that might - and did - happen, in the way of such buildings as the Futures Exchange & banks being damaged and occupied, and accepted - okay, hoped! - that this would just as much part of the day as dancing, boys in sexy frocks, sound systems, and running into old friends. I knew that I would be at risk perhaps of being arrested, or hurt (anywhere there are police that is a possibility), or - yes, of course - caught up in things that I personally would not wish to support. But I knew that the overall message of the day, resisting global capitalism globally, as a hugely diverse group of people, was absolutely, totally, worth these risks, no matter what happened, and that it was vitally important for me to go and take the action that I personally felt was right.
After many years of campaigning, I have learnt that the mainstream media have, and work to, their own agenda. I do not any longer believe that our agenda influences theirs. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, our agendas coincide a little - an example of this being the anti-capitalist message getting through somewhat - it was clearly a weird enough concept for the papers to include it! I am not unduly affected by the way the mainstream media presented the events of June 18th because I believe we had no control over this. I think we knew beforehand that the sections of the media that wished to, would present it as a violent event; that those who wished to take the oh-so-worn-out “peaceful rally hijacked by drunken anarchists” line would, and that the liberal papers would include some political comment and maybe some half-decent comparisons to the Rebecca riots & other examples of the “tradition of British resistance” - as indeed they did. We should know very well by now the role we are placed in by the media - regardless of what we actually do. If everybody at J18 had done nothing but dance, we still would have been “eco-terrorists obstructing mums & kids needing to get to schools & hospitals” - and hell, I reckon the tabloids would have gone out and staged their own bottle-throwing photo-shoots. (Did you notice how so many of those photos were the same few scenarios just taken from different angles?) Remember the Reclaim The Future march? When the police arranged for the headline on every single news report to be “protester held for attempted murder in violent protest condemned by Dockers” - a complete lie?
As well as putting effort into using our own alternative media, I am still trying to learn what we can do with the mainstream lot. But I will not credit them with telling the truth, and I will not let their predictable lines affect what I do, and I will communicate to as many people as possible the way they work - something a vast number of ordinary people know anyway. And I will certainly not let the media affect my memory of my real experience of the day, or our own legitimate debate, as if they are something we are, or can be, responsible for.
What really happened?
Let’s not lose track of what in fact did occur. Thousands of people had a party. Hundreds of people occupied, prevented work in, or damaged buildings where a lot of outrageous stuff goes on. Hundreds of people resisted/fought tooled-up riot police who wanted us out of the space we chose to occupy. And, as at any crowd event, a small number of people got drunk or tanked up on excitement, and went for seemingly random, meaningless acts of destruction & intimidation.
AND NO-ONE HAD ANY CONTROL OVER ANYBODY ELSE’S CHOICES FOR THE DAY.
Now, frankly, from a personal point of view, I was kind of frustrated at the number of people who moved off with the sound system out of the square mile quite early in the evening due to police presence - although for some it was an attempt to move to a different part of the mile, apparently, this didn’t work and the majority of people shifted to Trafalgar Square. From a personal point of view, I wasn’t into fighting with the police (you don’t always have a choice, but where I was, for a long time there were enough of us to hold the space simply by holding our ground physically) but I do recognise that those who were doing so were making it a lot easier for the rest of us to stay where we were. From a personal point of view, I was pissed off with the nutters who were off their faces and intimidating random members of the public, and I felt strongly enough about this to try a) reasoning with a few (which didn’t work!) and b) physically getting in the way/away. Of course it’s easy to say “that had nothing to do with politics anyway”, but the point has been made to me that it does - the politics of alienation, poverty, discrimination, frustration. From a personal point of view I am totally chuffed by what happened to the Futures Building & other such places - it will be a cheerful memory for a long time. From a personal point of view, I thought the sight of a carnival in the centre of London, with little kids and everything, was very cool. But that’s just me. And not everyone felt the same as me about tactics and what they wanted to do. And I think that’s absolutely fine, because the people resisting the domination of global capital are hugely diverse, rightly so, and will only become more so as more people wake up to what’s going on.
But what will people think? That depends on a lot of different things. For a start, how much information they have. If they believe the media tell the truth, they’ll have a ridiculously inaccurate angle on the day - but as I’ve said, I feel we have little or no control over that. I would imagine a large proportion of the population take what they read in the papers with a lot of pinches of salt, and they’ll get some of the message, possibly, and perhaps think a bit themselves about the day and what it was about. Maybe. Maybe some will try to find out more. And those who get alternative media will have more of the truth & issues, and those who can be independent thinkers or have access to information or who already find out about issues for themselves will know more, etc etc etc. That’s the way everything works. Would the world be in the state it’s in if people normally had access to the truth? But my feeling all the way along was that the main point of June 18 wasn’t about “changing people’s minds”. It was simply about - in solidarity with folks all round the world, some of whom get shot when they try to resist the way we do - targeting the places that are fucking us all over. And shutting them down, just for a day. And we did. Changing hearts and minds? Communicating with as many people as possible? Building creative alternatives? OF COURSE. That is what we do the other 364 days of the year! All in our own ways, once again. And, having gone right back to doing that myself, I’ve been mentioning June 18 a lot, to a quite large variety of people. These are questions about tactics, but I answer these by going straight to the main issues. As in “do you know why people felt strongly enough to take such actions? Because in those buildings, they take decisions, and do deals, that are about destroying the very earth we live on, and murdering those who resist.” And I’m personally finding that people see the point. Some of them even say “I wish I could have gone.” Many say “don’t underestimate how much people are aware of what goes on.” And despite varying views on what they think is appropriate or effective, none of the “ordinary” people I’ve talked to have said much about personally feeling one kind of resistance invalidates another - they have been more into talking about the idea of resisting capitalism, and what it means. If “what will people think” is what you base your actions on, how far back do you go? Do you refuse to break the laws that make peaceful protest illegal, because people won’t take your message seriously if you’re a “criminal”? Do you move away when someone is being beaten up, because the police tell you to, and respectable people obey them? Do you pay taxes, despite knowing they go on bombing whoever Britain’s bombing currently, because “what will people think?” There are too many people out there, with too many different views, based often on too much erroneous information, to measure our actions this way. Our first duty is to ourselves, to do what we feel is right.
And when I remember the views I held a few years back, and wonder what I’ll be thinking in a few years time, I think “thank god no-one tried to cater to what they thought I could handle, what they thought wouldn’t turn me off. That’s not having respect for me, and I would have no respect for them. How would I learn anything without challenges?”
I guess that’s what I’m asking for us to hang on to. I am concerned that there has already been some “attacking” each other about what happened, from various different angles. How dare we intimidate eachother for being where we’re at? I have my own feelings about the tactics of the day, and I realise many people may disagree with me. That’s okay; a few years ago, I would have disagreed with me. And I think the debate that goes on about tactics, means & ends, etc, is healthy. But at the same time., let’s accept our diversity. Assume that people have carefully considered what they do and how they do it, and are making what they feel are the right choices for themselves at that time. I refuse to narrow my vision of where we are going collectively to exclude anyone who works differently from me. Yes, it would be easier to do that, and I‘ve had to work hard not to make that mistake myself with different methods of campaigning. But frankly, if all of you I have tactics arguments with, aren’t there with me, it’s not my revolution. I’m not going to sign this, for the simple reason that there will be some state follow-up to J18, and a signed paper feels a bit too much like evidence. I’ll be having discussions with lots of people hopefully anyway.