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Don’t Let Unity Erase Your Struggle (Gonzo Notes 04)

Posted in Austin, Creative Commons, Gonzo Notes, and Journalism

Gonzo Notes” is Kit’s newsletter of political analysis and direct action tips.

A rant against bland coalitions.

A vital part of preparing for the next 4 years is building broad coalitions, but lately I’ve been reminded that coalition building has a dark side too.

This is work we need to do, without a doubt. A coalition can mobilize thousands of people from diverse backgrounds, and illuminate the intersection between our struggles.

The trouble is that with every group you bring to the table, you have to accommodate not just another political agenda but differing tactics for achieving those goals.

Questions quickly arise: How far are you willing to go to resist the government? Will your coalition collaborate with the police and in what ways? Are all organizations committed to nonviolence and, if so, do they have compatible definitions of what nonviolence means?

Here in Austin, Texas, I attended a planning meeting just days after the election, full of effective, passionate but frightened activists who were ready to react fiercely to this resurgence of American nationalism and white supremacy. From the start, we envisioned a January 20 that was one part radical direct action, and one part family-friendly rally and recruitment for our organizations.

Then I found out I’d be losing my job, and I missed some meetings in the scramble to secure my income.

Time passed between attendance, and every time I made it to a meeting the coalition had grown larger and their tactics less confrontational. By December, the group had discarded the idea of beginning the day with direct action, but were committed to shutting down an intersection downtown to hold a speak out in the streets.

I attended again last week, and found the group in the midst of a press conference where they were promising to cooperate with the cops. Prompted by a reporter, one speaker suggested that keeping “communists” out of the coalition would help ensure a family friendly event, even though the coalition is actually full of frustrated socialists who were all biting their tongues.

The speak-out in the streets was gone, because the city wouldn’t give us permission. Instead, we’d gather in a park, march in a big circle, and then return to the same park to talk. It’s a feeble show of people power compared to what we’d imagined back in November.

The planning meeting that followed the press conference was full of daring, bold justice workers who had somehow, like myself, chained their lot to this coalition of the timid. As a good comrade of mine pointed out, radical activists make these coalitions move. Without their efforts at recruitment, there’s no way that the thousands of people expected to show up on inauguration day would ever materialize.

I want protests to be accessible to all. At the same time, we must find a way to embrace diversity of tactics, and build coalitions that allow safe spaces for movement building and bold resistance simultaneously.

If the incoming administration is as dangerous as we think, unity is a necessity. But we must find ways to act together without erasing our beautiful differences in the process.

Though I’ll be marching and livestreaming in Austin on January 20, I know my mind will be elsewhere as I walk, imagining what that day could have been if we’d been willing to resist just a little more, and ask permission a little less.

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Don’t Let Unity Erase Your Struggle (Gonzo Notes 04) by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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