Can't Fake the Funk

By Legba Carrefour and Samantha Miller, DC Students for a Democratic Society

”Funk the War! Yes, we can! Disco beats are back again!”

On March 19th’s unprecedented day of mass direct action in Washington, DC against the occupation of Iraq, the core of the largest and most militant action – among a whole field of radical and brave departures from the anti-war norm – was a red wagon, a car battery, an mp3 player, and a 300 watt speaker. And a guy in a polar bear costume. And women in fairy wings. And glitter. And paint balloons. And 600 kids from all over the US roving through the streets of DC, blocking traffic at will, dancing into war-profiteers’ offices, mussing up the facade of a military recruiting station (twice), and locking down in intersections in complete defiance of a somewhat hapless Metropolitan Police Department – all to the backing of the occasional Donna Reed vocal and a LOT of M.I.A.

The action was Funk the War. It’s a simple idea, but it represents a pretty significant opportunity for channeling youth energy at demonstrations and moving away from the rock-and-hardplace choice of lame-duck marches or black blocs that have often frustrated mass mobilizations for social justice in the last few years (the last IMF/World Bank protest in DC opted for both on separate days to a mixed bag of results).

Back in January, DC SDS was presented with a problem: We wanted to do an Iraq Moratorium action, but no one could stomach a candlelight vigil and we didn’t think we were ready to do an occupation of a recruiting station. People had been kicking around the idea of re-booting the long-dormant Reclaim the Streets model (the European rave-cum-demonstration popularized in North America at the height of the anti-summit movement that arose out of a militant anti-road movement in the UK) and it seemed like a natural choice to do an anti-war version, but with a marching twist. And thus Funk the War was born: a Militant Mobile Anti-War Disco. The first Funk the War started with 30 people, an unmixed mash of music, and a march that weaved around DC’s downtown business district blocking traffic. The second swelled to 100 high school students along with a DJ; a spontaneous occupation of Lockheed Martin; the dismantling of all the posters and furniture on the inside of a recruiting station; and the wallpapering of the recruiting station, DC republican party headquarters, and war profiteers’ offices with stickers. The idea caught like wildfire: By this writing, some 25 other incarnations of Funk the War have sprung up across the US and exploded beyond the confines of being just an SDS thing.

By the time M19 rolled around, the idea hit maturity: A full-scale party that pretty much did what it wanted. Simultaneously, it accomplished something unique in recent activist history: It managed to attract press, seize control of how we framed our protest, and made it impossible for the corporate media to present our message in any way other than how we dictated: young, organized, vibrant, in-your-face, confrontational, likable, infectious, and most importantly, successful. M19 itself is an important milestone. It’s the first time outside of the Direct Action to Stop the War-organized actions at the immediate outbreak of the war that stopped up San Francisco’s Market Street, and the Portland Port Militarization Resistance actions of last fall that any kind of mass direct action against the war has taken place and certainly the first of its kind in DC since the war started. More importantly, M19 represented a return to the best days of the anti-globalization movement – a series of autonomous, networked, mutually supportive but deliberately planned events that showcased a variety of actions.

With rallies, street theater, creative blockades, impromptu marches, Funk the War, and even spontaneous actions by people who hadn’t planned on risking arrest, it gave everyone the opportunity to participate and made everyone’s participation equally key. With just a thousand people, M19 managed to close Downtown DC and get news coverage just about everywhere (and, we proudly note, Funk the War provided the backing visuals for just about every television news report), something that marches with half a million people haven’t accomplished. Meanwhile, it allowed the anti-war movement to move from symbolic protest to a kind of disruption that made visible private interests that support the war. (Thanks to visuals of a “blood”-splattered and stickered Bechtel office with kids dancing in the lobby, millions of Americans now know that Bechtel even exists).

By itself though, the Funk the War idea gives us a newly revived tool of resistance. It showcases bright colors and kids as young as 14 dancing and smiling – something the press loves and couldn’t criticize if it wanted to – mixed with occasional property defacement and reclamation of public space in defiance of the authorities that avoided one of our biggest arguments: How to avoid the problem that escalating tactics might disrupt and endanger the integrity of a demonstration, the safety of protesters, and the message we send to the rest of the world, while preventing our protests from becoming predictable, co-opted, easily ignored, and ultimately frustrating.

Meanwhile, it is ultimately simple. An event that can be scaled to however many people you have, to whatever you want to do, to wherever you want to go, to whatever you want to say, that requires nothing but a sound system and, most importantly, your own youthful energy. In fact, it’s an event that thrives on youth leadership – something that our resistance has been sorely lacking over the last several years.

Funk the War may just be one tool for us to use, but you can’t argue with the results. Our forerunner, Reclaim the Streets, was so successful, so easy to replicate, and grew so fast that in 2001, that FBI Director Louis Freeh, in his annual report to Congress on terrorist activity, included Reclaim the Streets in his summary of radical groups who pose a threat to the US. And that’s success we need. Join DC SDS for Funk the War this summer at the RNC! Check for updates.

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