Filed under: Analysis, Anarchist Movement, Northwest
This critical analysis and reflection of May Day was originally posted on Puget Sound Anarchists.
In our thoroughly alienated and anxious time it is not a wonder that some anarchists find themselves alone on May Day in Seattle. Sometimes this is by choice. The call for “everybody” to come out can be heard as shrill and annoying to those who would rather not. I however found myself alone by chance.
In the days leading up to May Day I was anxious and full of self-critique about previous May Days. This state was so strong that I found myself alone without plans the morning of. At first I was saddened, but then a rush of dizzying freedom overcame me. Enemies abound. Axes for attack are everywhere. In this thrown-ness my means could be largely tactical and what little strategy I had could be emergent. Though it’s dangerous to go it alone, it is not impossible, and safety itself is often an illusion including safety in numbers. Sometimes being unsafe in certain ways is required to achieve our goals, we should of course practice harm reduction where possible, but coming into conflict with the ruling order often comes with risks.
Of course our choices are limited without comrades to watch our backs or join us in a fight. However, there are many forms of attack that can be undertaken alone and opportunities for actions where one can then slip away into the crowd of a bar, or dart down an alley.
No really prime fleeting opportunities emerged where I felt I could easily get away, but that’s part of social control isn’t it. The helicopter over the UW probably isn’t watching you, but it could be, and this is enough to deter many. There were also ideas for attacks that could be carried out better under different conditions. So I left the area and headed home to do a deep dive into social media about the days events.
Some would say to go on waiting is madness, but at times patience pays off. We don’t need to do everything on May Day and we need to start taking more advantage and continue thinking critically. Though of course the wanton energy of May Day can be a very useful thing and arriving all together can be very desirable, but it’s not everything.
I spent the day not only investigating opportunities for attack, but critically analyzing our terrain, social conditions, pitfalls, and the tactics of our enemies. This reflection can be just as valuable as most other actions, if I am able to put my thoughts into practice. There are things I have learned that are so dangerous that I cannot wisely utter them near devices with microphones or in public.
What I can say is that the element of surprise cannot be emphasized enough. We can go to spaces where the cops aren’t get shit done and then leave before or when the cops come. We can choose to not do what is expected of us. We can lull the cops into a false sense of security or make them drastically over compensate wasting their money and making them look foolish. We can play act within the known limits when it pleases us and when their whole narrative and repression operation rests on us going out of them and we can also ethically transgress any limits including those the police and macho assholes have to toe to be respected.
The idea of a decentralized May Day for critical autonomous praxis is beautiful, but we have to make sure we are still creating spaces to find each other and inspire others to take action. I say this not as a some appeal to mass-movements or quantitatively-centered social engagement nor as a platformist calling for cohesion and unity, but as someone who has made friends and comrades at May Days and other open street actions past who may not have found their way into the milieu otherwise. There are of course countless other ways of meeting and linking up with new and even old comrades and there are still a few spaces left in Seattle that host events and the like, but since the fall of Occupy—which for all its faults was great way to meet friends and comrades and perhaps the most grand in Seattle in recent memory aside from anti-police marches in the late 00s—May Day and other big marches have been a way for us to make space for others to wild out. In the street we can actually encourage people to take action they wouldn’t normally by having their back, allowing them to see that we aren’t ultra-specialized professionals, and illustrate that our tactics really are reproducible.
But let’s get to the events of the day. First, there was the May Day March put on by El Comité. As always, the immigrants and workers rights march included a variety of groups from those who are very radical to very passive. The leadership has in the past been less then desirable, but like most formal almost conservative leftist organizations there’s often potential for comradeship among people who are supporters of the group yet don’t place their undying faith in its doctrine or leaders. It was clear that socialism is trending. Groups like the DSA were out in force. At times the people genuinely seemed like they wanted a revolution. Anti-capitalist and anti-police chants were coming from all over which could mean there’s a palpable shift away from liberal respectability politics though I may be being tricked by hijacking of anarchist rhetoric. For example, with the reemergence of somewhat popular state-socialism we have heard statists tell people to become “ungovernable” which to me seems to be incompatible with what they really want people to be which is governed by their party or cadre or central committee or whatever.
In this march however the difference between becoming whatever—that is to say becoming that which is desirable—and being alone in a crowd was made extremely clear. I was alone in the crowd even among other black clad anarchists with their banners unfurled. We were stating positions and making ourselves known, but not actualizing desires beyond that.
A whole nuanced piece could be written about the respectability politics of events like this suffice to say it’s not the “family friendly” character or the fact that it’s just a march coupled with speaking events that limits its potential. Rather it’s the ossified leadership that limits peoples engagement and thus limits the energy that drives people to participate. As well as the ineffective representative politics that permeate the march where questions of “What are you actually doing?” are met with tepid proposals for reform and references to worthless meeting that are in stark contrast to socialist and revolutionary messaging.
Having already written all this about El Comité’s march feels like the overstepping of critique. There is much to be celebrated in the march itself in spite of some of its leadership and in spite of the sewer socialists that flock to it. In spite of the bloc that was there feeling demoralizing to me on a level of tactical costuming and engagement it could have felt great to others and done wonders in other regards that I am unaware of.
Another radical thing that happened was the Bloc the Juvie party that announced it’s location last minute and took place on the Ave. I honestly have no real insight into this action that I’d like to share other than anarchists and others have been pushing for years to fight the new juvie, and all prisons/jails, and now not only does the sentiment seem to be becoming widely embraced but so does the spirit of direct action albeit perhaps in a form that is more sizzle than substance.
As for the autonomous action it seems like people were very busy. There were banners dropped, a plethora of stickers put up, bigots bashed, bikes liberated, and much more all just in Seattle. Some things happened that will never make it into the spectacle of communiques. How many orgies, revenge attacks, ethical expropriations, and walks through the woods did comrades partake in on May Day? We will never know and we don’t need to know.
Also, an IWW backed picket that took place as a part of decentralized May Day activity. This picket was in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers call to boycott of Wendy’s over Wendy’s being the only major chain that still buys produce from farms where brutal sexual assault are a normal part of the working conditions. This picket got rammed with a car driven by an autonomous reactionary which resulted in the injury of three comrades. It’s sad that a great conflictual yet entry level event can be so brutally repressed. This goes to show that even things billed as family friendly can be attacked with potentially lethal force by reactionaries. It’s quite possible that by certain measurements this event could be considered less safe then full scale riots that have happened that were able to complete drive back the police and reactionaries. https://itsgoingdown.org/seattle-wa-vehicle-plows-through-rowdy-wendys-may-day-picket/
There was another coalition of people making moves in Seattle. The Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, and Cascade Legion held a rally, and reactionaries put up stickers ahead of the El Comité march.
The Proud Boys are a group of European Chauvinists (read White Supremacists with sexist and PR overtones) who like street fighting and jumping people, especially women of color, yet aren’t yet the kind of scum that assassinate people. Patriot Prayer is a big tent right wing coalition of patriots and defenders of Christian Supremacists who regularly posture as peaceful and all about love yet continue to bash people in the streets and make space for violent bigots. PPs leader Joey Gibson is currently running for office and was advised not to fight in the streets, but he showed up anyway. Cascade Legion is a psuedo-militia of reject militants ranging from NeoNazis to far right patriot movement types who do logistics and security for Patriot Prayer and sometimes work with the UW College Republicans.
If you want a laugh check out this patriot not even be able to rip a sign.
The main message of this coalition was taking back their country from the red menace and particularly fighting against May Day riots which they would achieve through ranting on Facebook live and milling about in Westlake Park somehow. Other key messages that they weren’t NeoNazis or White Supremacists, that they were proud supporters of the “modern world”, and that they had freedom of speech which all in all is pretty laughable messaging if not excellent material for the capitalist media to spin. What is however worrying is that they took space and felt successful in their stated purpose of ‘reclaiming Mayday’. This rally of reactionaries did not go unchallenged. Some confronted them, some who were flying the flag of the Soviet Union even tried debating the Proud Boys, but were yelled at and attacked with a skateboard. While the framing of their claimed victory over communists, anarchist, and antifascists this May Day is mostly bullshit, they definitely feel emboldened by this rally, and were able to build confidence and normalize their presence. This may seem discouraging and lead to an increase in reactionary violence and recruitment, but their confidence can be used to our advantage. Confidence is the food of the wise but the liquor of the fool, and we can certainly count these bootlickers in the fool category.
For all their efforts and pats on the back this patriot response force and the combined efforts of the police in Seattle did not stop windows from being smashed and rocks being hurled on this May Day.
There was another action that didn’t seem to make the major news. A lone one, much like myself, chose to attack the Amazon Spheres and was apparently promptly arrested. This is what I feared my fate would be. I am not saying I was right. I’m not saying this is the clear outcome of such an attack. I wish I had this comrades courage. I wish I had their fire. And in a way now I do. I thirst for vengeance. Each comment I read saying this comrade should be shot is another ingredient in this dark ritual I am performing. I have the means, the wits, and now I may have the will to act. So long as crime is possible we can still speak of freedom.
The authorities are jumping at shadows and they should be. In each shadow could be another black clad anarchist ready to strike. Another autonomous agent of communism or anarchist nihilist or unique actor, all yearning for the attentat.
I am not purposing only fighting as beings of pure negation. I don’t know if that’s even possible let alone desirable. I am purposing that we break down the barrier between living and fighting.
Inspired by the recent communiqués coming out of Seattle and Olympia I shall break with prose and opt for poetry…
these ghosts, insurgent communards, black-clad anarchists
these dizzy libertines writhing to be free
gathering around their small fires
plotting, waiting, some finally not waiting anymore
jack booted thugs quiver, their whole identity unraveling while they cry their swan songs
we may fail, but we are great failures damn near the best failures
to share a bite, to forage for resources, to once again chuck stones and find beaches
to once again enter the gaze of the panopticon and act in spite of it
to shed the armor of the civilized, but still leap into the fray
for fleeting liberty and hard won autonomy