“Gonzo Notes” is Kit’s newsletter of political analysis and direct action tips.
Keep your enemies off balance with diversity of tactics
September 17, 2012: the financial district was in chaos.
On the morning of the one year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, marking the day that tents first went up in Zuccotti Park, activists flooded Wall Street for hours.
Some held birthday parties in bank lobbies until the police came. Others took the furniture out of buildings and threw it in the street. One group I knew blocked traffic with a makeshift donut stand, offering dumpster-dived pastries and coffee to the NYPD.
Riot cops ran from place to place, unable to keep up — as soon as they made arrests in one place, a new protest would pop up blocks away. You could see the fear and uncertainty on their faces.
While the day’s protests were all nonviolent, they displayed the power of diversity of tactics. Rather than announcing a single protest or tactic that could be easily shut down, organizers trained participants in a wide variety of techniques then set them loose to invent their own actions.
That night, the occupiers were back in Zuccotti, pitching tents and holding signs. The cops retaliated for the morning’s wildness with savagery of their own, scattering the protesters by snatching random people off sidewalks for arrests and rhythmically smashing their batons against the ground. Before long, the park was empty.
A year after Occupy began, the movement’s primary tactic — pitching tents in public spaces — had been largely defused by a combination of government regulation and police violence.
Authorities were far less equipped to handle the morning’s actions. Everyday Wall Street workers were subjected to searches and ID checks in an ultimately hopeless effort that couldn’t keep us out. Diversity of tactics and unexpected behavior kept the authorities off balance.
The same can be said no matter who we’re fighting, from the police state to white nationalists. There are times when direct confrontation may be our best option, but when our numbers aren’t strong enough we can respond to hate in other ways. I often find myself referring back to the Loldiers of Odin, a group of clowns who undermine the white supremacist Soldiers of Odin through playful antics.
Diversity of tactics also makes it easier for new folks to become activists, even if they aren’t ready to participate in more radical activities.
The Left (& radicals, anarchists and communists who fancy themselves outside any Left/Right spectrum) struggles with diversity of tactics. On the one hand are the centrists and liberals who scowl if anyone says “fuck you” to the cops, much less sets fire to a trash can. The other side can be just as guilty though by sneering at anyone who isn’t ready to throw down with total revolution.
It’s easier for me to empathize with the more radical side of this equation: as we watch the world fall down around our ears, how frustrating is it to see those whose idea of resistance is voter registration and signing petitions.
The problem isn’t really the petitions, however, but that this is where most people stop — if they even get this far in the first place. It’s the job of community organizers to help people along by offering pathways to more effective action.
I’m not the first to point out that antifa and the far left have an image problem right now. As radicals, sometimes we take action first and worry about public opinion later because we know effective action speaks for itself to those who are listening. That’s fine.
We still need to ensure that some of those actions are bringing in new people, or at least changing and broadening their ideas about what we do. The earliest antifascist neighborhood groups demanded community reforms in addition to fighting nazis, and we need to make sure we’re doing the same: fixing potholes as well as burning cop cars.
I’m going to challenge you to take action, as I have so many times before. We need everyone involved in the struggle for a better world. I’ll also remind you that action can take so many forms, from putting up stickers and posters to throwing glitter on politicians to forming neighborhood antifascist and antiracist safety patrols. For some actions, you don’t even have to leave home.
There’s a place for you, and I just want you to find it.
“Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives. As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods or tactics or strategy to reach a common goal.” — MALCOLM X, “THE BLACK REVOLUTION”
Gonzo action tips
This week’s tip comes from “Central Texas’ Least Wanted,” an antifascist zine published by Oh Shit! What Now? collective.
For more information, check out “How To Form An Affinity Group” from Sprout Distro.
Are there other issues or topics you’d like me to cover here? Email GonzoNotes@kitoconnell.com.
Diversity Of Tactics Keeps Your Enemies Off Balance (Gonzo Notes) by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://kitoconnell.com/2017/07/10/diversity-tactics-gonzo-notes/.