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Hybrid Movement

“Anarchists are tearing up the city,” said the cop who searched me on my way to this year’s May Day celebration in Long Beach. I walked off toward three hovering helicopters, thinking that was an odd thing for a cop to say. True enough, many of the 150 or so people who turned up at Promenade Park on May 1 to march behind the banner “Capitalism Stole My Life” refer to themselves as anarchists. A hundred of them were arrested there (a quarter of those were minors; most were under 20), and though “tearing up” seems a bit optimistic, the Long Beach P.D.’s focus on anarchists is one of the reasons this otherwise-ineffectual street scuffle is worth noting.

Anarchists have swarmed to the forefront of the anti-globalization movement, and not just in the form of Black Bloc street fighters. Lots of the heavy lifting of movement building has fallen to less-militant but equally revolutionary “social anarchists” (as opposed to “individualists” or “primitivists”). Massive anti-capitalist protest actions have been the order of the day since Seattle, and when the World Trade Organization was forced to quit its meeting there, a paradigm emerged. Because no economic summit since Seattle has made even minor overtures to include nongovernmental organizations’ or citizens’ input into trade-agreement talks — not the G8, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Economic Forum, OPEC, APEC, FTAA, nor any of the other acronyms that now form an ad hoc world government — the only recourse has been to try to disrupt the meetings by massive direct action. A good deal of the labor activists and traditional left who join in these summit actions take their cues from mostly anarchist direct-action coordinators. This anti-globalization movement, then, is something a little different from the “New New Left” that so many critics have tried to call it. It is a hybrid, syncretic movement based more on immediate results than on ideology, and it has been almost universally misunderstood in the press.

Some kind of black-clad militant anarchist is on the frontlines of every one of these protests, however, and so, of course, wherever they turn up now they are taking a beating.

In Long Beach, they just got snuffed. Though the Southern Kalifornia Anarchist Alliance released the Long Beach location only hours before the action, police there were loaded for bear. As activists rolled into town for the 3 p.m. convergence, they were pulled over, searched, followed, and instantly outnumbered and surrounded. An impromptu and unplanned march was quickly blocked by police as an “unlawful assembly.” Those who attempted to advance were then beaten and shot pretty much point-blank with rubber bullets and tear gas. At least one uninvolved Long Beach local was shot in the face with a rubber bullet and busted after stepping out of a building. About 50 marchers ended up getting arrested in front of a retirement home called the Breakers, which they assured me was not an intended target (Eat the Old! Retirement for the Young!). By 5 p.m. there was nothing left but gawking onlookers and yellow crime-scene tape. Most of those arrested (a few injuries were reported as “minor” by police) were students, who were clearly shocked at the somewhat hysterical response to what they called a “peaceful march.”

“May Day is an international workers’ holiday, so we were celebrating workers’ rights and alternatives to capitalism,” said a 20-year-old student who called herself Brie Tiger, who managed to avoid arrest. “The arrests were brutal.”

It was, apparently, a good day out for the spooks. People believed to be detectives were reportedly pointing out “organizers” from the march and having them selectively arrested, some of them participants in last year’s May Day or Democratic National Convention protests. One of them was Heather Zetin, a 17-year-old featured in an O.C. Weekly article last September for her role in organizing a Gay/Straight Alliance at Orange County’s El Modena High School. She was one of the first plucked out of the crowd and was later charged with truancy. Several activists were collared by undercover police well outside of police cordons after mass arrests were under way. Undercover cops also tailed several activists after they turned up as jail support at Thursday’s arraignment hearings.

“Corporate greed” brings suffering to workers and animals, said Geoffrey Kerns, of the Los Angeles chapter of the Animal Defense League, who was one of those arrested. He pointed out that the marchers were part of a continuum of resistance, from reformist to radical, from “mild liberalism to communism to anarchism.”

Not all of that continuum were happy with the results in Long Beach. Many activists report that debate has been raging all along the L.A. Anarchist Mailing List. “It could have been a much more positive event,” said Anne Kelly, a student at Caltech and organizer of last year’s North American Anarchist Conference. She and many other L.A.-area anarchists attended both the mostly Latino pro-immigrant-rights May Day march through Koreatown, as well as the April 28 May Day march by the Progressive Labor Party. Both were peaceful and without incident. Citing a New York City action where black-clad anarchists cleaned up an abandoned lot and grew a garden, she noted, “We should present a vision about what we want to build and create. I don’t want to be a part of something that’s just about making fun of shoppers.”

As of this writing, six adults and some juveniles remain in custody, unable to post bail as high as $100,000.


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