Filed under: Analysis, Anarchist Movement, Northwest
Report and analysis from so-called Olympia on the ongoing rebellion in the streets following the police murder of George Floyd. Originally published on Puget Sound Anarchists.
So much has been happening in so-called Olympia and so fast that it feels impossible to catch a breather. The consistent level of energy and action has out paced any other struggle here from what I can remember. It’s been a real moment of ‘anything is possible,’ … Conditions are changing rapidly so it makes less sense to sit down and do a thorough analysis of what currently is because by tomorrow it may be completely useless. What I hope to do instead is give a general over view of the broad terrain we’re fighting in, give some suggestions, and pass on some tools that everyone can use for moment to moment analysis as we delve further into the chaotic stream of struggle.
Glossary of Terms
I use some specific terms so I want to define them real quickly for people.
Strategy: A flexible and constantly evolving medium to long term course of action to get from point A to point B.
Terrain: The culmination of all physical, social, economic, and political situations that influence the goals, possibilities, and actions in a given area.
Maneuvers: General moves we can make in any given situation to influence any given set of terrain.
Discursive: Having to do with communication, messaging, and discourse.
Reading the Terrain
The first thing to acknowledge is Olympia ain’t Seattle, it ain’t Portland, and it sure as hell ain’t Minneapolis. Olympia itself, not including Lacey and Tumwater, is around 50,000 people. 1.8% of that is black, so give or take the accuracy of census data that’s roughly 1,000 black people. Olympia is physically small, you can reasonably walk from the west side to the east side, and downtown is, roughly, a 5 block by 5 block grid.
Olympia is also a seat of government, and it shows in how heavily policed it is. While OPD themselves aren’t much, there’s also the Washington State Patrol HQ and an FBI field office downtown, up on the west side is the Thurston County Courthouse which is also the Thurston County Sheriff HQ. On the edge of downtown and the east side is the City court & jail as well as DOC probation services, and just in the east side is the National Guard Armory.
The core of downtown is a lot of increasingly upscale local businesses, and as such, much of the town is entranced by the myth of the ‘good local business,’ as the area is becoming flooded with upscale condos as well as some bigger banks and government offices as you get closer to the capitol.
The business class of #Olympia had parks shut down + bathrooms closed, while police used tear gas to clear protesters, all to secure future gentrification. Banding together, a collection of local groups organized + began to push back. This is their story. https://t.co/wnN8CgMN82 pic.twitter.com/EzoxjwiX4e
— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) December 12, 2018
One of the major power blocs in the city is the downtown local businesses and land owners, and while they are not unified (and we’ve seen some of those cracks recently via who supports the protests vs opposes), they tend to learn towards the reactionary side to defend their interests. They are mostly organized via the Olympia Downtown Alliance, essentially a business union that has its offices downtown on 5th. They’ve been the strongest push for gentrification as well as the most organized anti-homeless forces to kick homeless people out of downtown.
Out of this bloc has come figures like former Mayoral candidate David Ross and Peter Diaz of American Wolf. Much of this camp is organized through Facebook pages and groups such as Olympia Looks Like Shit, The David Ross Show, Thurston County Scanner, and Olympia News Network. Other organizing is done via the Olympia Downtown Alliance and occasionally via Nextdoor.
In #Olympia, a coalition was able to kill a contract with the city + private security tasked with sweeping homeless out of the downtown to benefit gentrification. In return, police, State + private institutions came together to target community organizers. https://t.co/nai3B7Fu0T pic.twitter.com/ZLb9M9KED4
— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) June 12, 2019
The other major power bloc is of course the city. Specifically the city council and police. These forces aren’t necessarily unified but are unified on the continuation of business as normal (and literally business since that is the main driver). As far as the city goes, most power is in the City Manager position and of course in the police. The mayor is an empty figure head that is mostly just fun to hate on and make miserable. Most organizing is obviously done via city council meetings and sessions, as well as the Olympia Police Guild.
Maneuvers and Considerations
With the general terrain laid out I want to voice some considerations and suggest some particular maneuvers. When I talk about “maneuvers” here I’m talking about general moves we can make in any given situation. These apply both to ‘in the streets’ and ‘discursive’ (dealing with communication and messaging) situations. These are obviously not hard rules (not that I’m in any position to set rules or have any desire to), there are no rules when it comes to strategy, it’s a lot of observation and acting as best as we can off those observations.
The first consideration is that Olympia is small, people wise and size wise. What this means is that we have a much more direct impact on things that happen here, rather than say a place like Seattle where 10 anarchists doesn’t mean much. 10 anarchists means a lot here. That also means the loss of a single anarchist is felt much more strongly here than other places. The flip side of this is that our enemies also have a much more direct impact on things here, and likewise the loss of one of them has a much bigger impact.
The small amount of people broadly and anarchists and radicals specifically means that the actions of a single person effect us all much more strongly, and our collective actions have a much more profound impact on the wider community – for boosting morale, for demoralizing our enemies, for building power, and for putting people in danger.
The small size of the city means both us and our enemies can get around quicker, and it means it’s easier for people to be followed. Similarly it’s much easier to recognize and be recognized by our enemies around town. A particular consideration is due to the whiteness of this city, people of color and specifically black people stick out much more which also makes us a much more particular target when autonomous far-Right forces get agitated.
— WANaziWatch (@WANaziWatch) June 16, 2020
Speaking of the far-Right, since American Wolf and their cohorts are essentially a Diet Patriot Prayer, we can think about some tactics that have worked. Humiliation and absurdity works incredibly well, using things like glitter, silly string, air horns, and just generally being flamboyant and annoying. Things like blocking them with big banners or blank sheets or umbrellas also works as a good de-escalator as it blocks them from the object of their rage. These things tend to work well because it hurts their image as brave defenders against the hordes of raging antifa, as well as it thins them down to their ideological core as on one hand those who came out to fight don’t get their fight and on the other hand the less committed ones who didn’t realize what they were getting into see what the group is about.
It’s natural for us to want to just kick their ass, but fights are risky for a number of reasons. While a win for us can be a huge morale boost, it can also be a huge mobilizer for them, as well as slim wins can be just as demoralizing as a loss. There is a real possibility of our people getting hospitalized or dying, which is never good. The police will always be on the side of our enemies here and we can come out of a fight unscathed only for the State to come down with charges. None of this is to say we shouldn’t fight them, but we should weigh risks vs reward and generally it’s best to find alternatives to fights we aren’t sure we’re going to win. It’s important to know when to escalate and when to deescalate.
Tangentially related, it quickly becomes a hindrance if we start viewing everyone that’s not us as a potential enemy. First of all, that’s a cop mentality. Secondly we have to understand anarchy ain’t just for the “anarchists,” but for everyone. Just because someone doesn’t understand or approve of people smashing windows or burning shit doesn’t mean they are our enemies. I’ve had a surprising amount of good conversations with people in the streets that approached pissed off about people smashing up local businesses but were everything from uncaring to excited about smashing up the City Hall or the police station. That can be worked with. Sometimes good aim is key and we have to sacrifice what we want to do in the moment for shit that will bring us closer to the larger goals.
Let’s talk maneuvers. These are generally stolen from The Art of War and 36 Stratagems. These can be used both for on the ground actions, discursive actions, and broader strategy.
1. Make your Enemy Tire; Conserve Energy
When possible, we should be making our enemies react to us rather than react to them. We don’t have to show up to every fight we are invited to (better to leave them chasing ghosts), and we should set the time and place of conflict. Consider the ways in which the city has currently militarized downtown throughout the night and the ways in which the wannabe cops continually go out. They are essentially in a state of siege and like all humans they will burn out, and waste money doing it too. In what ways could we encourage our enemies to chase after more ghosts to run themselves down and make a fool of them even more?
2. Loot a Burning House
The best time to strike is when our enemies are in disarray. The best part of it is we can help sow that disarray.
3. Cry Wolf
Fake a move multiple times and your enemies will grow weary of it. Strike once they are no longer prepared.
4. Startle the Snake by Hitting the Grass Around It
If you do not know the plans of your enemy, make a direct but brief attack and observe how they respond.
5. Remove the Stick from the Axe
If an enemy is too powerful to engage directly, they must first be weakened by attacking their foundation. (Equipment, funding, social circles and social acceptance, etc).
6. Break the Old Models
Strategy is built off information and patterns. When we do the same thing, it can be planned for. When we deviate and do something unexpected and strange, it can throw off our enemies.
7. Spread Thin
Whether its multiple different marches happening at once or different political crises and scandals happening, our enemies can only be so many places at once and deal with so much at once.
An Analysis of Our Own
Many people tend to shy away from conversations around analysis and strategy, and it makes sense. The way it currently exists is in the hands of a few who often use it to flaunt their intellectual prowess and aren’t particularly good about sharing the actual skills of analysis and strategy. But it’s important to recognize these things for what they are, learned skills, and to a degree most people have them. If you’ve ever looked around at your surroundings and thought “maybe it would make sense if we did this instead of that,” you are analyzing and thinking strategically.
My hope is to offer you some tools to help sharpen your skills of analysis and strategic thinking, because we don’t need a handful of anarchists “strategists” and “theorists” but a dispersed practice of analysis, theorizing, and strategic thinking that everyone is able to and feels comfortable contributing to.
Good, Bad, and Different
The first tool I want to share is a very simple one that is best done with your crew (or even by yourself) after an action, it’s a simple debrief where you talk about the positives of an event, the negatives, and what you would have done/had/prepared different.
One of the most important tools you can have for analysis is questions. But what questions should be asked? And when? That really depends on what you are doing and trying to do, but I can share some of the constraints I work under and some of the questions that guide me.
When it comes to discursive struggle – talking about communication and messaging – one of the main questions I ask myself is: “Does this reinforce prisons and policing?” Thinking about demands like ‘jail killer cops’ the answer would be yes, so that then becomes something I have to push back against. You can, and should, take this further as it helps clarify your which then helps you communicate it. So ‘jail killer cops’ reinforces prisons and policing, so then I could ask how and why? And then to those answers I could ask how and why? And so on and so forth and when you hit an ‘i don’t know’ (and we should always recognize what we don’t know’, we know where we need to get more info.
"The force of an insurrection is social, not military. Power is determined not by military confrontations, but how pervasive resistance is, how widely distributed tactics & resources are, how durable and liberating the relationships are that underpin the whole endeavor." pic.twitter.com/WsXD8U1xzt
— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) November 21, 2017
When it comes to acting – how ever that may be – good questions to ask are: “Has this been done before? If so, what happened?” “Is this course of action being expected by [police/reactionaries]” “How did our enemies respond?” “Why are we/do we want to do this?” “If this goes well, how much of a success (measured in whatever way, whether morale for our or our enemies, damage done, new friends made, get creative) will this be versus if this goes bad how strongly will it impact us and our wider community?”
Some questions only make sense in the context of a specific goal that we want to achieve, so it’s important to ask broad, orienting questions, and to continually coming back to these. “Where do we want to be at the end of this (whatever this is, a particular struggle or event like a pandemic or election), where do we want to be [x amount of time] from now.” “What’s changed in the last [x amount of time].” “What are we able to do now that we couldn’t do before? What were we able to do before that we can’t do now?”
Observation is key, this is where you get the information that informs your analysis and strategy and how you know in which ways things are changing. Information can come from all sorts of sources, from social media platforms and pages to city council meetings. Here’s just a few things people should be keeping an eye on.
Official city statements
City council meetings
Posts on city council members social media pages
City and police social media pages
The Olympia Downtown Alliance website
the local Reddit page (r/olympia)
Olympia Looks Like Shit FB group
The David Ross Show FB page
Thurston County Scanner FB page
Olympia News Network FB page
FB pages of any notable individual enemies
What should you be looking for? Plans and events first of all. When it comes to anything said/posted it’s good to compare it to previous things. Who is being targeted as an enemy or ally? Is what is being said an escalation? What’s the goal of our enemies in saying/posting this?
If policy changes are happening you should be asking and looking into: how is this going to be enforced? Who is going to be most impacted and in what way? How does this intersect with other ongoing struggles (housing/gentrification, police abolition, antiracist/antifascist, black liberation, indigenous liberation, environmental).
Observation is a slow and boring process, but the more you do it, the easier it is to spot the important information and how that factors into how we move. Patience and persistence is key here.
Final Thoughts & Resources
While this is by no means an in depth analysis of Olympia or a thorough guide on analysis and strategy, I hope this proves to be useful for people. More is possible now than ever before, but along with that means the stakes and threats are higher too. We need to fight smarter so we can fight longer and come out with some wins, because our lives depend on it.
For those who want to delve a little deeper into strategy and analysis, I want to leave you with some resources to go through.