On June 10th, ACT for America held anti-Muslim rallies across the country. They were assisted by American Vanguard, a white-supremacist fascist group, and the Oathkeepers, a hyper-masculine organization of former military and police officers. One of the rallies was held in Harrisburg, PA, where they were joined by the ultra-racist Keystone Skins. In an effort to create a strong counter-presence a call was put out to activists in the region to join Harrisburg comrades in shutting them down. We were among many who answered.
As anarchists, we firmly believe in self-criticism and learning lessons from every action. This is our attempt to do so.
Leading up to the day of the action, we had concerns about what we perceived as some organizers’ peace-policing discussions of militant tactics. We did not gain a complete understanding of their concerns, and felt that ours were not fully heard. Arranging a spokes council well in advance would have prevented much of the resulting tension in both preparation and execution, and provided clarity in terms of goals, contingency plans, support for autonomous actions, diversity of tactics, etc.
A spokes council, when properly implemented, is distinguishable from representative councils: the spokes (individuals comprising the spokes council) constantly rotate, must closely follow the affinity groups’ mandates, can be immediately recalled, and any decisions are non-binding. This provides a method for organizing the decision-making process of a large group while preserving the autonomy of all involved. A spokes council can help level the field of communication, so that everyone’s voice is heard, most importantly those of folks who are too often silenced, i.e.: women, people of color, lgbtqia+.
Decisions can be made using consensus, and agreements and understandings can be efficiently communicated from each crew to the spokes council and vice versa. Groups voluntarily opt in or out, and have time to speak amongst themselves to determine the nature of their relationship to the spokes council. Moreover, a spokes council provides the opportunity for people from different crews to establish personal connections, and potentially boost confidence in the strangers they will stand with as comrades on the day of the action.
For the action in Harrisburg, the spokes council would have been talking on a regular basis, met the night before and morning of, and been ready to meet quickly when necessary during the action itself. Instead, there was an attempt to make critical decisions among 40-60 people. While full participation in decision-making can function on the ground, with the lack of clarity between groups leading up to the action and with cops and fash looking to pick a fight, it proved ineffective.
Our crew plus one person from Harrisburg arrived at the meet-up spot at the designated time already bloced up. It took the rest of the day’s main organizers and crews over an hour to arrive, during which time we were scouted by both fash and cops. This put us at a severe disadvantage and deflated the morale of those who had waited around for so long.
Once more people arrived, a decision was made to move the group to a location that was not clearly communicated and to which several individuals and crews had severe misgivings, leading to further lack of confidence in some of the local organizers. A few crews even de-bloced and considered leaving town, and then re-bloced once we decided to take to the streets. That said, at least one of the local organizers was attentive and responsive to outside concerns, and did their best to relay messages to the other local organizers. We had established a rapport with them weeks prior, vibed well, and felt comfortable looking to them in times of critical decision-making, which speaks to the need for good inter-regional communication before an action. Unfortunately, other organizers appeared to drown them out and dismiss them, which not only hampered confidence but, in our eyes, actually led to harmful chaos.
Upon arrival at the capitol, it was clear we had arrived well after the fash and pigs, whose occupation of the capitol steps was reinforced by armed paramilitary, police barricades and mounties (pigs on horseback). For our movement to succeed we must constantly evaluate the situation on the ground and ensure we dictate the terms of success. The goal was immediately changed from stopping the march (which was clearly not going to happen) to preventing fash from approaching the rallying point and drowning out their chants. Crews continued to arrive, bringing noisemakers and other supplies. Fash continued to arrive, too, albeit in meager numbers, and when some people within the bloc attempted to hold the line as they approached, others did not, and they were able to break through easily, assisted by the pigs, who came armed with rubber bullets, smoke grenades launchers, and zip-ties.
Around this point, some crews left and de-bloced. While some returned, others did not. Organizers had continuously called for the bloc to “tighten up” so we could somehow reach consensus as a full bloc. This was clearly not working, and some of us recommended the creation of a spokes. An ad-hoc spokes was assembled, in which not all crews were represented, some individuals attempted to function as an actual spokes, a few attempted to dominate the conversation, and others seemed unsure of how to operate within that environment.
Amidst this spokes reevaluation, a peace-police antagonizer came into the bloc and began yelling incoherent nonsense. Rather than removing him, pigs arrested a person of color who was standing close by, and the bloc did nothing to stop it. We attribute this arrest to disorganization and miscommunication, and need to figure out how to avoid situations like this in the future: how to neutralize rogue antagonizers while protecting and maintaining the bloc.
Eventually, the spokes decided we should leave the location and begin a march as a way of coopting the fash’s plan and create an anti-racist march.
The march was immediately pursued by mounties, police on foot, and several police vehicles. In an attempt to outpace the pigs, the “leaders” of the march kept a fast pace, which was dangerous for several reasons. First and foremost, it was ableist—some who may have wanted to participate couldn’t. Second, it risked spreading the bloc thin. Luckily several individuals ensured this did not happen. We began to feel much more confident, forming lines in the street and pushing through aggressive mounties who tried to penetrate, reroute, and divide the bloc. We dictated the terms of the march and cut off police interference. A local civilian joined the march and suggested a densely populated public destination, and we marched there effectively.
Once we’d passed this location, the mounties became much more aggressive, charging the bloc in an effort to remove us from the street. Shit was going south. As we weighed separating from the bloc and some of us even began to so do, pigs started to make arrests and we were cut off.
After de-blocing, regrouping, and meeting up with others, we observed several roaming bands of Proud Boys (who appeared young and weak) walking the streets looking for members of Antifa to fight. Groups of pigs did the same, clearly in coordination with fash and also in pursuit of Antifa, stashed gear or perhaps even cars that looked out of place. Nonetheless, several members of different Antifa crews beat the shit out of a few Proud Boys with their own weapons (they later complained about their wounds, using social media to request safe spaces to spout their hatred).
1) There should always be a secure and comprehensive scouting plan before any action, but especially a large-scale action. This includes leading up to and day of. We need to ensure that we have a complete understanding of the terrain: potential locations where we can demonstrate our power, choke points, escape routes, etc. This must be done carefully and thoroughly.
2) The host crew and folks coming from abroad must be clear about where they stand, what they are willing to do, goals, and contingency plans. Clear communication is key always, and every effort must be made to listen to anyone who expresses concerns during planning. This is crucial when working with others as it ensures that people know they are being heard, and helps everyone to work as a more cohesive unit.
3) As a movement, we need to be more creative with our tactics. The fash and pigs have become accustomed to bloc strategies in these types of scenarios. In order to win we need to think about other ways to take them on.
We were able to enact an effective noise-making counter-demonstration, drowning out the fash’s pathetic chants and renditions of “God Bless America,” or whatever. We were then able to take the streets, creating decent optics by staying tight, chanting in unison, and maintaining the bloc through an extensive route in downtown Harrisburg. And, after the bloc dissipated, folks were able to de-bloc and make some fash regret leaving their keyboards. All of these elements of the action could’ve been improved with better communication and planning, and in the future, as we make a more concerted effort to do so, we must take into consideration lessons from the June 10th action in Harrisburg.
P.S.: Remember, horses are our friends, and even though they can be scary they don’t want to be involved in our oppression any more than we do. They are frightened in those moments, and will often defy their masters when the heat is on.