American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Elephants Stampede, Wildflowers Remain
The RNC Not Welcome Collective created www.RNCNotWelcome.org, an online resource for New Yorkers and those coming to New York to protest the Republican National Convention, August 30 - September 2, 2004.
Throughout New York City, the sidewalks crack as dandelions push through the gray cement. Despite the efforts of city council members and thousands of road workers, the system is simply overwhelmed as green life - decentralized, autonomous, determined - continues to thrive in this modern world. Before the GOP stampedes into Manhattan for the Republican National Convention (RNC) next August, perhaps we can learn a tactical lesson from nature.
At the first convention the Republicans have ever held in New York, their plan is to coronate George Bush amidst an array of pre-programmed pageantry. The challenge will be to devise actions which are creative and empowering for participants, and send a message to the GOP and their financiers that they cannot ignore.
Unlike the wildflowers, our tactics often mimic those of the apparatus we seek to dissolve. Centralized, dependent, inherently hierarchical, our mobilizations have been easily crushed by police who find our movement easy to infiltrate, our actions easy to anticipate, our bones easy to crack. Yet, for every demonstration, we form broad coalitions and coordinate large marches that lead us into steel barricades surrounded by riot cops who eventually do what they are paid to do. The need for alternatives is evident.
Much of the talk in New York among progressives is of shutting down the RNC. This is a popular (and effective!) goal for international gatherings of institutions like the G8, and the International Monetary Fund. When these ministerials are postponed or stalemated (as the World Trade Organization was recently in Cancún), their repressive plans can be forestalled and changed. The Republican National Convention, by contrast, is a public relations event. The disruption of this spectacle would have no effect on the policies of the Bush administration.
We feel that the focal point, therefore, should not be Madison Square Garden, which will house the Convention. Instead, we feel the rage should be focused on the crimes of the people and institutions who are bringing the Convention to NYC without consulting New Yorkers, and who benefit from and support the GOP's repressive policies here and abroad.
In short, we advocate coordination without coordinators. Any organization or group of friends can use resources such as articles, maps, observations of police maneuvers, etc., and plan their own action, whether their goal is to get a soundbite on CNN or to shut down the Lincoln Tunnel. With this stratagem, there could be effective, safe actions throughout NYC.
We know from press releases that those attending the RNC plan to see Broadway shows. If theater workers refuse to open the curtains because Republican budgets do not contribute to the arts, if the restaurant and hotel workers refuse to serve foie gras and turn beds, if the streets are so congested it takes two hours to get from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to the Garden, if independent media folks occupy a Fox studio, if your creativity and energy is put into action, not only will the RNC not feel welcome, but we will be living our commitment to creating social equity, economic justice, and peace. An action in one location might get thwarted. We'll sprout everywhere else.
Though permits thus far have all been denied, there will surely be large marches and rallies in September. We do not oppose such actions, but we feel they will not achieve their ends - namely positive media coverage and political influence.
First, according to an article by Ben Smith in the October 27, 2003 New York Observer, the Public Relations person who embedded reporters into military units during Gulf War II is now in charge of the RNC. Using that same strategy, reporters will easily be kept out of the streets after the hours-long process of passing through security perimeters and check points. The toughest battle would surely be for the media's attention.
Scripted, legal demonstrations have not been effective at achieving political influence. The escalation of the war against Iraq, despite tens of millions in the streets worldwide, is proof enough that this administration ignores (while repressing) demonstrations. The point this year will not be to compete with the $90 million Republican National Circus for airtime, but to change the way we live our lives and impact the lives of others.
When the vote does not place in power those who represent the
will of the people, democracy must be taken to the streets. The
Bush administration has made mistake after countless mistake ever
since the stolen election. Their choice of New York City, historically
known for its diverse population, its welcoming of immigrants
from far-off lands, and its radical politics, will prove to be
their biggest mistake yet.