Opinion: Anarchists and Liberals in D.C. on Iraq War Anniversary

By Anonymous

On March 21, I gathered with a small group of anarchists in Farragut Square in Washington, D.C. to oppose the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- an action called for by the Self Described Anarchist Collective. Our plan, finally conceived at a reportedly four-hour-long spokescouncil the day before, was to wait the cops out. By hanging out in the square for a while and then marching to a park near the World Bank to play soccer for a while before starting the real march, we hoped to convince them that we were harmless enough to send home at least some of the 100 or so cops surrounding us. It didn't end up working out that way.

In the square, I caught up with some old friends, was introduced to some new ones and settled in to wait for the banners and food to show up. Meanwhile, the cloud of cops surrounding us kept growing, and anarchists continued to trickle in. Just before the food arrived, Capt. Herold of the D.C. Metro cops approached. Herold is famous in D.C. for chatting up protesters and later using the conversations against them in court. Unfortunately, too many of us took the bait this time, standing in rapt attention around Herold as he laid down his spiel. (Luckily, no one ended up getting arrested that day.)

Soon after, fortified with dumpstered bread and vegan chili, we got underway. The banners were gorgeous (although only two of them were reinforced), the sun was shining and we were on our way to play soccer -- or at least that's what we thought. We were also confined to the sidewalk by about twice our number of pigs, but at that point we still had hope of losing some of them. It was not to be. Upon arrival at the park, the cops immediately told us we couldn't stay. In spite of gatherings in parks being perfectly legal in D.C., they strongly hinted, but didn't quite promise, that they would disperse us by force if we didn't leave. Some of us wanted to stay and call their bluff, if it was a bluff, while others were in favor of moving on. The movers-on were louder and probably more numerous and so prevailed. This was a theme that would resurface later in the day.

Back on the road, we headed for the World Bank building. We took a couple of laps around the place and two of us made a quick dash for the door. It was locked, but I don't know if they anticipated our arrival or just aren't open on Saturdays.

From the World Bank, our march departed on a long and circuitous journey. Our ultimate destination was the "March on the Pentagon" liberal rally organized by the ANSWER coalition, where we hoped to merge with the crowd and escape the cops. Not being familiar with D.C., I had no idea where we were most of the time, but a few events stand out. At one point we came across a homeless man holding a sign reading "Please Help." We gave him some of our bread and chili, the latter in a bowl fashioned on the spot out of aluminum foil, and continued on our way.

In Georgetown, D.C.'s rich neighborhood, the cops got even more aggressive, at one point even denying us the right to cross a street on the crosswalk. We still managed to throw them a couple of curve balls. Passing an Urban Outfitters, one person dashed in and came back out again a few seconds later. A few more attempted to follow suit, but a clutch of cops charged toward the entrance and pushed us back.

A little later, we stopped in front of the home of Jack Evans, a D.C. city councilor who has waged a relentless war against poor people. It didn't look like the cops had any idea he lived there until we announced it, and we were able to stay and give him a hard time, loudly, for several minutes.

Finally, we arrived at the ANSWER rally, loudly chanting anti-capitalist slogans, just as their march was starting. As we tried to merge with the crowd, a line of green-vested liberals -- the ANSWER "security team" -- held hands in a line to block us. Their job was apparently to secure the march from having any actual impact on the war machine. After we had gone around and under their ridiculous blockade, they claimed that they had only been trying to save the front of the march for Iraq Veterans Against the War. However, IVAW would certainly have been invited to the front before the march started, making ANSWER's excuses even lamer than their blockading technique.

All was calm for a little while. We ate some lunch and passed out literature until we got to the counter-protesters -- a handful of right-wing, U.S.-flag-waving genocide supporters who had come out to heckle the march. We happily threw bread chunks and plastic bottles at them while the green vests complained that we were violating the sanctity of Martin Luther King's vision (or something like that, I wasn't really listening).

About 100 yards past the counter-protesters, a line of riot cops stretched across the highway. The march leaders took us all down a ramp to the left before we even got close to it. The March on the Pentagon had just turned into the March Past the Pentagon, and we were the only ones who cared, or even seemed to notice. Instead of confronting the war criminals in their lair, the march shuffled through a sort of miniature industrial wasteland, the main feature of which was a public storage facility. It was the perfect place to chant "WHOSE PUBLIC STORAGE? OUR PUBLIC STORAGE!" but sadly, we let the opportunity slip away.

Soon after, in a narrow stretch of road between a fence and a building, APOC made their move. Anarchist People of Color, backed up by the black bloc, stretched orange plastic netting across the route to cut the march in two. Their purpose was to give the liberal marchers trapped in the back an earful about the racist assumptions and practices of ANSWER and the white-dominated anti-war movement in general, an effort that was unfortunately handicapped by an under-amplified megaphone.

While the liberals squeezed their way around the ends of the APOC blockade, we argued about whether to make a move against a nearby office building. Police presence was minimal, but the same dynamic that had hobbled us before struck again. However, as we closed ranks to continue marching, there was a sound of shattering glass, and a masked figure dashed back into the crowd, pursued by cries of "Provocateur! Provocateur!" A first-floor window had suddenly acquired a large hole.

Further along, Virginia state cops in full riot gear lined the road on each side, prompting chants of "This is what a police state looks like!" Behind them were a couple of guys dressed for a black bloc but apparently confused about which side of the line the protest was on. As we jeered and chanted, one of them pulled down his mask and glared at us defiantly. A colleague quickly summoned him behind a pillar, presumably for a quick refresher on the meaning of the word "covert," but he reappeared a little later, still sans mask.

At the end of the route, the liberals in front attempted to deliver a symbolic coffin to the headquarters of General Dynamics, a large defense contractor. A standoff with the cops ensued in a small courtyard in front of the building. The situation eventually calmed down and nobody was arrested, but for a while it looked like an ideal spot for anarchists to avoid, especially after someone who hadn't been in the black bloc popped up among us, loudly proclaiming the virtues of mass arrests as a protest tactic.

I went home shortly after that, but not before the liberals took their inadvertent revenge. A chorus of Code Pinkers, laboring under the twin delusions that reformism can work and that they knew how to sing, belted out classic protest songs, including an absolutely butchered rendition of "Bella Ciao."

All in all, not withstanding a few bright spots, the day was one of missed opportunities. The poorly defended office buildings near the APOC blockade in particular were a perfect opening for an enraged mob of thousands to wreak enough havoc to get the attention of the ruling elite. But, of course, we didn't have an enraged mob. All we had was a day-tripping liberal mob, surrounding and mostly neutralizing a handful of frustrated and intimidated anarchists.

In this respect our march was a microcosm of the anti-war movement overall. For the last six years liberal anti-war activists have focused exclusively on officially sanctioned tactics while excluding anything resembling direct action. This might have been defensible in late 2002, but after over half a decade of complete futility there is no excuse left for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The insurrection in Greece that began last December, as well as the anti-G20 and anti-NATO protests more recently have shown what can be accomplished when large masses of people get angry enough to break things. But until the anti-war movement is willing to resist the war instead of merely protesting it, they will continue to play into the hands of the war criminals.

Remember, it's not civil disobedience if you do everything they tell you.

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