September 11 Digital Archive

[MAPC-discuss] Xresponse to 9/11


[MAPC-discuss] Xresponse to 9/11



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September 11 Email: Body

I have mixed feelings about this approach.  What do you think?

>  Only Poetry Can Address Grief:
>  Moving Forward after 911
>  By X
>  In the middle of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence march in
>Washington DC last month, I found myself nose to nose with a line of
>police attempting to push the crowd back.  I was facing an angry but
>very short policewoman so in my case it was actually nightstick to
>bosom. "Get back, get back!" she was shouting, but our line was not
>giving ground.  I explained to her, calmly and I thought, quite
>reasonably, that we were not going to get back, because there was
>nowhere for us to go. I think of that moment now as a metaphor for
>where what I like to call the Global Justice movement is today.  We
>are facing an array of forces telling us to get back, to disperse,
>to leave the scene.  The forces of the state, the media, all the
>powers that support global corporate capitalism would like to see us
>go away.
>  But we have nowhere to go.
>  We have nowhere to go because the conditions we have been fighting
>have not gone away.  The disparity between rich and poor has not
>grown less, the attempts of the corporate powers to consolidate
>their hegemony have not ceased, the environment has not miraculously
>repaired itself, and our economic and social systems have not
>suddenly become sustainable.   We're on the Titanic; our efforts to
>turn the course of the ship have just been hijacked, and we're
>churning full steam ahead into the iceberg.
>  We don't have the luxury of defraying action to a more favorable
>moment.  We need the movement to keep moving forward. How do we do
>that in the face of increased repression and much potential public
>  I.  Stand our ground:
>  First, we don't panic, and we stand our ground.  Fear is running
>rampant at the moment, and every effort is being made by the
>authorities to increase and play upon that fear.  While the general
>public may fear more terrorist attacks, we in the movement are
>equally or more afraid of what our governments may do in restricting
>civil liberties and targeting dissent.  But either way, fear is the
>authorities' greatest weapon of social control.  When we are in a
>state of fear, we're not taking in information, we're unable to
>clearly see or assess a situation, and we make bad decisions.  We're
>more easily controlled.
>  We can learn to recognize fear, in our own bodies, in our meetings,
>in our interactions.  When fear is present, just stop for a moment,
>take a deep breath, and consciously set it aside.  Then ask, 'What
>would we do in this situation if we weren't afraid?'  From that
>perspective, we can make choices based on reasonable caution but
>also on vision.
>  II.  Acknowledge the grief:
>  911 threw us as collectively into a deep well of grief.  We have
>had to face the awful power of death to intrude on our lives, to
>sear us with pain and loss, to reorder all our priorities and
>disrupt all our plans, to remind us that we walk the world in
>vulnerable, mortal flesh.
>  The political task that faces us is to speak to the depth of that
>grief, not to gloss it over or trivialize it or use it to further
>stale agendas.  If we simply shout at people over bullhorns,
>recycling the politics, the slogans, the language of the sixties, we
>will fail.  The movement we need to build now, the potential for
>transformation that might arise out of this tragedy, must speak to
>the heart of the pain we share across political lines.
>  A great hole torn has been torn out of the heart of the world.
>What we need now is not to close over the wound, but to dare to
>stare more deeply into it.
>  To comprehend that grief, we must look at the possibility that it
>was present within us before the 11th, that the violence and death
>of that day released a flood tide of latent mourning.  On one level,
>yes, we mourned for the victims and their families, for the
>destruction of familiar places and the disruption of the patterns of
>our lives.  But on a deeper level, perhaps many of us were already
>mourning, consciously or not, the lack of connection and community
>in the society that built those towers, the separation from nature
>that they embodied, the diminishment of the wild, the closing off of
>possibilities and the narrowing of our life spaces.  This frozen
>grief, transmuted into rage, has fueled our movements, but we are
>not the only ones to feel it.
>  With the grief also comes a fear more profound than even the terror
>caused by the attack itself.  For those towers represented human
>triumph over nature.  Larger than life, built to be unburnable, they
>were the Titanic of our day.  For them to burn and fall so quickly
>means that the whole superstructure we depend upon to mitigate
>nature and assure our comfort and safety could fall.  And without it
>most of us do not know how to survive.
>  We know, in our bones, that our technologies and economies are
>unsustainable, that nature is stronger than we are, that we cannot
>tamper with the very life systems of the earth without costs, and
>that we are creating such despair in the world that it must
>inevitably crack open, weep and rage.  The towers falling were an
>icon of an upcoming reckoning we dread but secretly anticipate.
>  The movement we need to build now must speak to the full weight of
>the loss, of the fear, and yet hold out hope.  We must admit the
>existence of great forces of chaos and uncertainty, and yet maintain
>that out of chaos can come destruction, but also creativity.
>  III.  Develop a new political language:
>  Faced with the profundity of loss, with the stark reality of death,
>we find words inadequate.  "What do I say to someone who just lost
>his brother in the towers?" a hard core New York activist asks me.
>"How do I talk to him?"
>  The language of abstraction doesn't work.  Ideology doesn't work.
>Judgment and hectoring and shaming and blaming cannot truly touch
>the depth of that loss. Only poetry can address grief. Only words
>that convey what we can see and smell and taste and touch of life,
>can move us.
>  To do that we need to forge a new language of both the word and the
>deed.  We on the Left can be as devoted to certain words and
>political forms as any Catholic was ever attached to the Latin Mass.
>We incant "imperialism" or "anti-capitalist" or "non-violence" or
>even "peace" with an almost religious fervor, as if the words alone
>could strike blows in the struggle.
>    Those words are useful, and meaningful.  But they're like the
>cliché that the bad poet turns to.  They are the easy first answer
>that relieves us of the work of real expression.
>  Lately I'm hearing some of my most political friends say, "I can't
>go to another rally.  I can't stand hearing one more person tell me
>in angry tones what the answers are."
>  What if we stopped in the middle of our rallies and said, "But you
>know, these issues are complex, and many of us have mixed feelings,
>and let's take some time for all the people here to talk to each
>other instead of listening to more speeches."
>  If we could admit to some of our own ambiguities, we might also
>find that we are closer than we think to that supposed overwhelming
>majority of war supporters, who in reality may have deeply mixed
>feelings of their own.
>  IV.  Propose our own alternative to Bush's war:
>  Defining the September attacks as an act of war rather than a
>criminal act has only dignified the perpetrators.  Going to war has
>turned us into Bin Laden's recruiting agency, rapidly alienating the
>entire Muslim world.  Bombing Afghanistan has made us look like
>thugs to the Muslim world, (and to everyone else with a heart and
>sense) and bred thousands of new potential ready-to-die enemies.
>The bombing, by preventing relief trucks from delivering serious
>food supplies before winter, now threatens to impose starvation on
>up to seven million Afghanis.
>  In spite of what the polls and the media tell us, I don't
>necessarily believe that the bulk of the U.S. population is frothing
>at the mouth with eagerness for Afghani blood. The phrase I keep
>hearing is a plaintive "We need to do something."   Bush's program
>is the only one laid out for us.  The attacks are real, and
>devastating; simply calling for 'peace' and singing "Where Have All
>the Flowers Gone?" does not address their seriousness.  If we oppose
>Bush's war, we need a clear alternative.
>  Diplomacy does not mean weakness.  It means being smarter than the
>opposition, not just better armed.  Diplomacy also does not mean
>simply issuing ultimatums backed by bombs.  It means actually
>understanding something of the culture of the people you're
>negotiating with.  It means actually negotiating, offering a carrot
>as well as a stick, being willing to let the other side come out
>with something less than total humiliation.  If the goal of the war
>is truly to get Bin Laden, well, the Taliban just offered to deliver
>him to a third country.
>  This could be a moment to switch our policy, to negotiate, to work
>with and strengthen international institutions and the U.N., to
>begin to deliver massive and meaningful humanitarian aid to the
>region.  Any or all of those acts would increase our long term
>security far more than our present course.
>  V.  Expose the real aims of the war:
>  We have about as much chance of doing any of the above as I have of
>being offered a post in the current Administration.  All the
>indications are that Bush wants a war, to establish U.S. hegemony in
>Central Asia and the East, to forestall an Asian alliance that might
>oppose our vested interests with interests of their own, to take
>control of rich oil resources of Central Asia and provide a safe
>passage for an oil pipeline across Afghanistan, to deflect from the
>illegitimacy of his own presidency, to implement the entire right
>wing agenda.  We need to continue educating the public about those
>aims and about the real consequences of the war.  To do that, we
>need to talk to people-not just at rallies and teach-ins, but in our
>neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools, on the bus, in the
>street, on talk shows, with our families.  It can be easier to march
>into a line of riot cops than to voice an unpopular opinion where we
>live, but we've got to do it and to learn to do it calmly and
>  And while we're talking about the war, we need to make the
>connections to the broader issues we were working on before the
>eleventh of September.  The war can be an opening to challenge
>racism, and to spotlight the U.S.'s historic role of training,
>arming, and supporting terrorists-including Bin Laden and the
>Taliban in previous years. In an age of terrorism, does an economy
>entirely dependent on oil-based long distance transport really make
>sense? (Especially as it didn't make sense before, but never mind
>that.) The Anthrax scares are a perfect opportunity to push for true
>domestic security in the form of a well-funded, functioning public
>health system, availability of hospital beds and medical care,
>support for local food producers, development of alternative energy
>resources, etc.  The right wing has used the attacks and the war to
>justify their agenda, but with a little political jujitsu we can
>redraw their picture of reality.
>  VI.  Develop our vision:
>  Despair breeds fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.
>  A world of truly shared abundance would be a safer world.
>  The policies of global corporate capitalism have not brought us
>that world.  They've been tried-and found wanting.  We need to
>replace them with our own vision.
>  The global justice movement has often been accused of not knowing
>what it wants.  In reality, we know clearly the broad outlines of
>what we want even though we have a multiplicity of ideas of how to
>get there.  I can lay it out for you in five short paragraphs:
>  We want enterprises to be rooted in communities and responsible to
>communities and to future generations.  We want producers to be
>accountable for the true social and ecological costs of what they
>  We say there is a commons that needs to be protected, that there
>are resources that are too vital to life, too precious or sacred to
>be exploited for the profit of the few, including those things that
>sustain life:  water, traditional lands and productive farmland, the
>collective heritage of ecological and genetic diversity, the earth's
>climate, the habitats of rare species and of endangered human
>cultures, sacred places, and our collective cultural and
>intellectual knowledge.
>  We say that those who labor are entitled, as a bare minimum, to
>safety, to just compensation that allows for life, hope and dignity,
>and to have the power to determine the conditions of their work.
>  We say that as humans we have a collective responsibility for the
>well being of others, that life is fraught with uncertainty, bad
>luck, injury, disease, and loss, and that we need to help each other
>bear those losses, provide generously and graciously the means for
>all to have food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, and the
>possibility to realize their dreams and aspirations.  Only then will
>we have true security.
>  We say that democracy means people having a voice in the decisions
>that affect them, including economic decisions.
>  VII.  Develop our strategy:
>  We might begin by acknowledging that we have had a highly
>successful strategy for the past two years.  Since Seattle, what
>we've done is to oppose every summit, as a means of focusing
>attention on the institutions of globalization that were functioning
>essentially in secret, and delegitimizing them.  Systems fall when
>they hit a crisis of legitimacy, when they can no longer inspire
>faith and command compliance.  Our strategy should continue to work
>toward creating that crisis for the institutions of global corporate
>capitalism.  In the meantime, in spite of all appearances the
>government may already be creating that crisis for itself.  For
>ultimately, nothing delegitimizes a government faster than not being
>able to provide for the physical or economic security of its people.
>  Now our strategy needs to broaden and become more complex.
>  Contest the summits when and where we can, but perhaps with some
>new tactics that clearly embody the alternatives we represent.
>  Turn more of our attention to local organizing, bringing the global
>issues home and making organizing and activism an ongoing, sustained
>process.  And find ways to make that process as juicy and exciting
>as some of the big, global actions.
>  Find ways to link local issues and actions regionally and globally.
>  Start to build the alternatives:  alternative economic enterprises
>on new models, directly democratic systems of governance such as
>neighborhood or watershed councils or town meetings, everything from
>alternative energy co-operatives to community gardens to local
>currencies.  Look for ways to let those alternatives delegitimize
>the status quo.
>  VIII.  Organize openly:
>  In times of increasing repression, the strongest way to resist is
>not to hide, but to become even more open in our organizing and our
>communications.  The more out there we are, the harder we'll be to
>brand as terrorists.  The more faces they photograph at rallies and
>marches, the less meaningful any single face will be.  The more
>information they collect, the less they'll be able to collate,
>analyze and make sense of it all.  And if they read my email-they're
>welcome to read my email.  Somebody ought to, and I don't have time
>to read it all myself.  Maybe I could pay one of them a small extra
>fee to sort it for me and send me a summary of the high points.
>  Security culture either has to be so good you can outspook the CIA,
>or it simply makes you look like you have something to hide and
>attracts the attention of the authorities.  And it makes it
>extremely difficult to mobilize, educate and inspire people.  Yes,
>there are actions that depend on surprise, but with a little
>cleverness we can figure out how to do that in a basically open
>setting.  "And tonight, each affinity group spoke receives a sealed
>envelope-open it at five A.M. tomorrow and it will give you two
>alternative beginning points for your march.  Flip a coin to decide
>which one to go to"
>  IX.  Make our actions count:
>  Political action may well become more costly in the next months and
>years.  That simply means we need to be more clear and thoughtful in
>planning and carrying out our actions.  Most of us are willing to
>take risks in this work and to make sacrifices if necessary, but no
>one wants to sacrifice for something meaningless or stupid.  We can
>no longer afford vaguely planned, ill considered actions that don't
>accomplish anything-and believe me, I've done more than my fair
>share of them.
>  We should never carry out an action that involves significant
>risks, unless the following five points are addressed:
>  1.  We know what our intention is-are we trying to raise public
>awareness, delegitimize an institution, influence an individual, end
>an immediate wrong?
>  2.  We have a clear objective and know what it is--are we trying to
>close down a meeting, deliver a petition, pressure an official to
>meet with us, provide a service?  What are we trying to communicate,
>to whom, and how?  What would victory look like?
>  3.  We make sure the acts we take, the symbols we use, the focus we
>choose and the tactics we use reflect our intentions and objectives.
>We resist the temptation to do extraneous things that might detract
>from our focus.
>  4.  We have an exit strategy.  How are we going to end the action?
>How are we going to get out once we get in?
>  5.  We have ongoing support lined up for afterwards-legal, medical,
>political support, people willing to offer solidarity if needed.
>  X.  Use tactics that fit the new strategy and situation:
>  All of us are rethinking our tactics in the light of the current
>situation.  We often argue tactics on the grounds of morality-is it
>right or wrong, violent or nonviolent, to throw a tear gas canister
>back into a line of police?  To break a window?  We might do better
>to ask, "Do these particular tactics support our goals and
>objectives," and "Are they actually working?"
>  Those who advocate highly confrontational tactics, such as property
>damage and fighting the cops, are generally trying to strike blows
>against the system.  But at the moment, the system has been struck
>harder than we could have imagined, and is reeling toward fascism,
>not liberation.  In the present climate, such tactics are most
>likely to backfire and confirm the system's legitimacy.
>  Many classic nonviolent tactics are designed to heighten the
>contrast between us and them, to claim the high moral ground and
>point out the violence of the system.  But many of those tactics no
>longer function in the same way. Static, passive tactics become
>boring and disempowering.  Symbolic, cross-the-line arrests don't
>seem to impress the public with our nobility and dedication any
>more, even when they are noticed at all.  Mass arrests may be used
>to justify police violence, even when the arrestees were completely
>peaceful.  When the police cooperate in making the arrest easy and
>low risk, the process confirms rather than challenges the power of
>the state.  When they don't, even symbolic actions are costing
>heavily in jail time or probation.  The price may well be worth it,
>but there's only so many times in a lifetime we can pay it, so our
>choices need to be thoughtful and strategic.
>  We need a new vocabulary of tactics, that can be empowering,
>visionary, confrontational without reading as proto-terrorist, and
>that work toward a crisis of legitimacy for the system.  We also
>need tactics and actions that prefigure the world we want to create,
>but that do so in a way that has some edge and bite to it.
>  Here are a few we are already using that could be further developed:
>  Mobile, fluid street tactics:  Groups like Art and Revolution,
>Reclaim the Streets, the Pink Blocs of Prague and Genoa and the
>Living River in Quebec have brought art, dance, drums, creativity
>and mobility to street actions, and developed mobile and fluid
>street tactics.  Such actions are focused not on getting arrested
>(although that may be a consequence of the actions) nor on
>confrontations with the cops, but on accomplishing an objective:
>claiming a space and redefining it; disrupting business as usual,
>etc., while embodying the joy of the revolution we are trying to
>make. In Toronto on October 16, snake dancing columns of people
>managed to disrupt the financial district in spite of a very tense
>police presence.  The Pink Bloc has snake danced through police
>lines.  The Pagan Cluster in Quebec City and DC was able to perform
>street rituals in the midst of dangerous situations, in ways that
>allowed participation by people with widely varying needs around
>safety.  The Fogtown Action Avengers in San Francisco combined an
>open, public ritual which distracted the police from a surprise
>disruption of the stock exchange carried out by an affinity group
>dressed as Robin Hood.
>  Claiming space:  Reclaim the Streets takes an intersection, moves
>in a sound system and couches, and throws a party.  A Temporary
>Autonomous Zone is a space we take over and then exemplify the world
>we want to live in, with free food, healing, popular education, a
>Truly Free Market where goods are given away or traded, workshops,
>conversations, sports, theater.
>  Street services and alternative services:  Groups like Food Not
>Bombs have been directly feeding the homeless for decades.  One of
>the most successful direct actions I've ever been involved with was
>a group called Prevention Point that pioneered street based needle
>exchanges for drug users to prevent the spread of AIDS.  In DC in
>September, during the Anti-Capitalist Convergence's Temporary
>Autonomous Zone and during the Sunday peace march rally, the Pagan
>Cluster set up an Emotional Healing Space that offered informal
>counseling, massage, food, water and hands-on healing.  The
>IndyMedia Centers provide alternative news coverage and a powerful
>challenge to corporate media.  The medical and legal services we
>provide during an action could be expanded.  Guerilla gardeners
>could be mobilized in new ways.  Imagine a convergence that left a
>community transformed by community gardens, with toxic sites
>healing, worm farms thriving, and streets lined with fruit trees.
>  Popular education:  One of the values of mass convergences has been
>the education and training we've been able to provide for each
>other, from teach-ins on the global economy to climbing instruction.
>Almost every Summit has had its CounterSummit.  Most of these have
>followed the rough format of an academic conference, with presenters
>talking to an audience or facilitating a discussion.  But many more
>interactive and creative ways of teaching and learning could be
>brought into them: role plays, story-telling circles, councils.  We
>could hold a giant simulation of a meeting, with people role playing
>delegations and grappling with the issues on the table, but from the
>starting point of our own values.
>  People are hungry to talk about the war, about their fears and
>beliefs and opinions. The Zapatistas give us the example of the
>Consulta-a process of going out to the people to both listen to
>concerns and mobilize. We might halt the speeches at a rally for ten
>minutes to let people talk to each other.  Or do away with the
>speeches altogether, and instead ask groups to facilitate
>smaller-group discussions on their issues and tactics, run short
>training sessions, offer games or dances or rituals.  And we could
>develop ways to create instant Public Conversations as actions and
>as education.  Caravans can bring discussion and education out of
>the urban centers, and could embody alternative energies and
>possibilities, running their vehicles on vegetable oil, bringing
>solar panels to power sound systems.
>  These are just a few ideas that can stimulate our thinking and
>awaken our creativity.
>  XI.  Renew our spirits:
>  These are hard times.  Many of us have been working intensely for a
>long time and are now seeing the possibility of our hard won
>political gains being swept away.  Fear and loss surround us, and
>many forces are at work trying to make us feel isolated,
>marginalized and disempowered.  At best, the work ahead of us seems
>  If we are going to sustain this work and regain our momentum, we
>need to allow ourselves time to rest, to go to those places we are
>working so hard to save and be open to their beauty, to receive
>support and love from the communities we are working for.  We need
>to nurture our relationships with each other, to offer not just
>political solidarity but personal warmth and caring.  Death and loss
>rearrange our priorities, teach us how much we need each other, and
>make it easier to drop some of the petty things that interfere with
>our true connections.
>  Many activists mistrust religion and spirituality, often for good
>reasons.  But each of us is in this work because something is sacred
>to us-sacred in the sense that it means more than our comfort or
>convenience, that it determines all of our other values, that we are
>willing to risk ourselves in its service.  It might not be a God,
>Goddess or deity, but rather a belief in freedom, the feeling we get
>when we stand under a redwood tree or watch a bird winging across
>the sky, a commitment to truth or to a child.  Whatever it is, it
>can feed and nurture us as well.  For activists who have some form
>of identified spiritual practice, now is a good time to seriously
>practice it.  For those who don't, it might still be worth taking
>time to ask yourself, "Why do I do this work?  What is most
>important to me?  What does feed me?"
>  The answer might be grand and noble, or it might be small and
>ordinary, hip hop or sidewalk chalk.  Whatever it is, make it a
>priority.  Do it daily, if you can, or at least regularly.  Bring it
>into actions with you.  Let it renew your energy when you're down.
>We need you in this struggle for the long haul, and taking care of
>yourself is a way of preserving one of the movement's precious
>  The goal of terrorists, whether of the freelance or the state
>variety, is to fill all our mental and emotional space with fear,
>rage, powerlessness and despair, to cut us off from the sources of
>life and hope.  Violence and fear can make us shut down to the
>things and beings that we love.  When we do, we wither and die.
>When we consciously open ourselves to the beauty of the world, when
>we choose to love another tenuous and fragile being, we commit an
>act of liberation as courageous and radical as any foray into the
>tear gas.
>  There is nowhere left to go, but forward.  If we hold onto hope and
>vision, if we dare to walk with courage and to act in the service of
>what we love, the barriers holding us back will give way, as the
>police eventually did in our Washington march.  The new road is
>unmarked and unmapped.  It feels unfamiliar, but exhilarating;
>dangerous, but free.  We were born to blaze this trail, and the
>great powers of life and creativity march with us toward a viable
>  X
>  (This copyright notice protects me, as this piece will be published
>in Spring '02  in a collection of my writings called Webs of Power:
>Notes from the Global Uprising.   But please feel free to forward
>this, reprint it, translate it, post it or reproduce it for
>nonprofit uses.)

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[MAPC-discuss] Xresponse to 9/11


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