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Case #473

Analysis of strategies and tactics used during WTO protest in Washington DC, April 2000


This article discusses the tactics used during the April 16th, 2000 protest (A16) in Washington DC for the International Monetary Fund/World Bank (IMF/Bank) meetings, told from the standpoint of the more radical (e.g. black block) groups..

The protest followed the strategies used so successfully in Seattle the previous year. However, it is unwise to exactly repeat a strategy that worked when up against an enemy who learns quickly.

In classic COINTELPRO tactics, the FBI reportedly paid visits to labor unions and student groups in attempt to scare them away from participating in A16/17, citing probable property destruction, couched in the terms of violence. This was recognized early on for what it was--divide and conquer--and a determined commitment from individuals and groups on all ends of the spectrum prevented this age-old oppressors' tactic from succeeding.

There are undeniably great tactical and philosophical differences between the various groups that mobilized for A16/17. A determination to address these differences in open constructive dialogue internally, instead of in front of news cameras, is what enabled us to avoid repeating some of the disasters seen in Seattle.

The tone of this dialogue was overall non-adversarial, but rather to raise awareness about the diversity of critiques and tactical inclinations within our movement. During direct action preps, participants would stand somewhere along a line on a "controversy spectrogram" indicating their feelings on the appropriateness of property destruction. A "reporter" would then interview people all along the line asking them to explain their position, fostering much understanding. In media preps participants brainstormed how to articulate their particular critiques (albeit pro-debt relief, IMF/Bank abolitionist or entirely anti-capitalist), to stay on message and avoid digressing into tactical debates with hostile reporters.

Concerns ranging from action guidelines to peacekeepers to reformism were articulated in a widely circulated statement. And by committing themselves to open and principled dialogue, the organizers for the more radical groups created an atmosphere where had anyone attempted to marginalize them they would have only found themselves isolated.

This approach enabled everyone to explore tactics strategically instead of debating them morally. Creative tactics, such as guerrilla gardening, humanized the black block to many people. Many black block affinity groups chose to play a support role for other direct action participants, communicating their commitment not only to autonomy, but to mutual aid. Because groups were not knocking each other's efforts, the result was a working continuum for radicalization.

The FBI and other intelligence/police forces engaged in a variety of sophisticated (and illegal) techniques to sabotage our efforts. Midway into the week convergence they pulled over two vehicles, arresting seven organizers (trial pending) and seizing protest supplies and equipment. The morning before A16 they significantly stepped up repression by raiding the convergence space. On the flimsiest pretext imaginable of a minor fire code violation, 100-200 cops were on the scene only minutes after the fire marshals' unannounced inspection. Many believe that the intention was to force us far away from our targets. But to their surprise we already had back-up spaces available. With national and international media on the scene nearly instantly, along with a contingent of people from the global south--who were quick to connect that this is the same repression they face daily for opposing these undemocratic institutions--the raid backfired in a big way.

The police taught us that we need to further decentralize EVERYTHING - material resources and all roles, not just authority roles. When we choose to utilize the corporate media, we need a wider variety of faces (and critiques). Also, more people are needed to play diplomatic roles between various groups involved in our struggles; people who commit to invest the necessary energy to do rumor control, clear up misunderstandings, keep all communication channels open, and generally try to ensure that the autonomy and needs of each group/person is respected.

Insofar as public outreach through corporate media goes, DC was a success--both in terms of volume and character of coverage. Forty to fifty thousand people participated.

And a time may come when the repression we face for our effectiveness becomes so brutal and sophisticated, that the losses from these mass actions could possibly outweigh the gains. Regardless, a reliance on this tactic, or any one particular tactic, weakens us. We need a collective brainstorm of where to go from here; how to base ourselves in our communities and equip them with the skills needed to continue and build this struggle, even in the midst of rampant repression.


Location: Washington, DC, US
Action: Direct, Demonstration/Protest
Setting: Developed World
Extent of Action: National
Issues: Environment, Human Rights, Indigenous, Peace/Conflict Resolution, Agriculture, Other, Corporate/Economic Abuses, Worker Rights, Resources, Conservation
Year(s): 2000
Outcome partially successful
Source: EarthFirst! Journal, Litha 2000


Earth First! Journal
PO Box 3023, Tucson, AZ 85702
520-620-6900 (voice)413 254 0057 (fax)
email: collective@earthfirstjournal.org
Prepared By: alb, 12/03
Rating: 1
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