Thursday, February 11, 2010

That's the sound of history repeating: the poll tax riots and the January 16th migrant march

Watching the short video (posted below) of the storied Poll Tax rebellion in the UK got me thinking about the current political climate we face in the wake of the police attack on the DOA contingent a couple of weeks back. As I viewed the video, I couldn't help but draw comparisons between the attacks that they faced there, and what we've seen here from movement leaders, politicians, the authorities, the alternative press, and the mainstream press. While there are many differences between the attack at the Anti-Arpaio march, and the massive movement against the Poll Tax, which culminated in the popular insurrection in London, it is worth noting how the many voices of power find harmony when attacking those who make demands beyond reform.

It's worth watching the video, which is a compilation of footage and interviews following the London riot, the parallels are striking, most notable are the denunciations that come from the media and liberals. Indeed, about a minute in there is a wonderful interview with a spokesperson from Class War, who really sums up exactly the position that so many people here have been struggling to articulate following the hub bub on the 16th.

Continuing on that note, John from the Haymarket Squares (who have provided the movement with so many great anthems) has posted up a great new song breaking down what happened and calling out the leadership of the migrant movement for tossing the anarchists aside the moment things got the least bit uncomfortable for them. In his song he has a great line which really summarizes the crux of the contradiction, especially given how much work and support the anarchists have given the migrant movement in a time when allies and solidarity from people -- especially white people -- outside that community have been limited, to say the least.

"Cheers for marching with us in solidarity, havin the guts to hold your ground against wreckless authority
Oh, we won't stand up to the P.P.D., but we needed a scapegoat, thanks for the help, now it's under the bus you go."
He follows this up later with another great bit of analysis:
We're gunna turn our backs, when you're under the horses hoofs
With the pepper spray still blinding you, we're gunna feed you to the wolves
Even though those cops have never been friends to us,
thanks for the help, now we're throwing you under the bus
Solid analysis and just the kind of thing movements need. Word up to John for hitting the nail on the head.

The thing to realize about both situations, the reaction to the January 16th police attack and the history of the Poll Tax riots, is that such things are not random. They do not result because of bad personalities, bad cops or bad politicians. The come from the fact that anarchists and the left want different things, even when we may share some short term goals, such as defending migrants from attack by the state or abolishing a regressive, unfair tax. That as much as liberals and others on the left will pretend that we're on the same side, deep down that is only true to a limited degree.

Indeed, perhaps the most common refrain from the mouths of liberals and leftists is that "we're all on the same side" or, "we all want the same thing". As I said, this may be true to some limited extent with short term goals. But these kinds of crises reveal a contradiction that always lies beneath the surface whenever the left and anarchists interact, especially when leaders are involved. This contradiction is that we demand changes far beyond what they are willing to ask for (or can even conceive), and that our demands (and those of the base of their own movement, generally) necessarily force them to reveal themselves as the managers of movements.

Consider the point raised in the Poll Tax video. The spokesperson for Class War points to a fundamental difference between themselves and the so-called organizers of the poll tax protest. It's central to anarchist organizing that we don't believe that movements need leaders in the strict sense. Our class can organize itself and decide for itself what to do. That puts us at least potentially at odds with every movement politician, whoever they are, and in whatever movement. Not at all times, but the groundwork is there for it to emerge at any time.

The more this tension is understood going into and participating in movements, the better off we will be, because we will be able to anticipate such reactions. Those of us who participated in the anti-war movement, or the anti-globalization movement, for instance, saw the same dynamic play out. Anarchists are often welcomed at various times because there is a need for dedicated people, but with time, the political aspirations of movement politicians, or the political pressure to moderate demands or to appear responsible, puts pressure on this relationship. And, when you're dealing with liberals, while they expect you to moderate your views, they can never enter into a true relationship of solidarity with you -- after all, they cannot make their views more radical in exchange. This is a lesson worth learning from history and these two examples serve perfectly to illustrate it in my view.

Indeed, there is another lesson for us in particular that comes out of our role in the January march, which is that, beyond our general politics as anarchists, the composition of our contingent was a threat as well to various elements in the movement. The alliance between Native youth and anarchists was a stick of dynamite, not just for the police, but also for the leadership.

This is important to remember, and the O'odham Solidarity Across Borders Collective recently put out a statement calling on the migrant movement not to use the police attack as an excuse to ignore the demands made by the bloc. Those demands are legitimate and deserve a response. Addressing these concerns will only make the movement stronger. The question is whether the movement, in particular the leadership, is capable of addressing them. Let's hope so.

As for the continuing fallout from the march, there's some good news to share as well, two of the arrested, Garyn and Claire, have both had their charges "scrapped." Garyn had been charged with "aggravated assault on a police officer and disorderly conduct," Claire was facing "resisting arrest and disorderly conduct." The clearing of these charges makes us glad, however there are still three others facing aggravated assault charges, there should be more information soon on how you can help support them. The five arrested had their names dragged through the mud by the press, now that some charges have been dropped can we count on them to put forth as much effort in clearing their names? I think we know the answer.

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