Agonizing and Agonism

It's the G20, everybody!

Normally the G20 isn't one to get so excited about. Now, the IMF/World Bank meetings, the WTO, or maybe the G8--those are exciting. But then again, this year is different. EVERYBODY is going to be at the G20.

What am I talking about? I'm talking about protesting!

Protesting at a big, international conference, hosted by some unassuming town that thought it might get a little bit more "tough city" cred at the next World Mayors Forum, is somewhat of a sport. There is a schedule, and an in-crowd, and even to a certain extent, a "fan domain", similar to the tailgate section or the "in-field" at a NASCAR race: serious protester parking only.

But, protesting is more than that. Naturally, many people would be happier if the protest was limited to the "Carnival Against Capitalism" crowd. If it was, the media could feel free to ignore the events entirely. The police wouldn't have to feel any compunction from local businesses to do anything, so they could just arrest a few people crossing the border with giant papier-mache puppets, feel up a few college students, and collect some hazard pay. And the Carnival crowd would probably like to keep their puppets and their bodies intact (though they will never, but never be happy with the media coverage).

Unfortunately, there is also the other side of protesting--the violent.

You know who they are. The Agonists. The Bad Element. The Agitators. The Terrorists. The Anarchists. The Foreign/Internationl/Non-local Traveling Punk-Youth. They are coming to your town, to burn your Starbucks down. They are the few, (oh, but even a few bad apples spoil this barrel!) they are the violent, (Gandhi! GAND-hi! Can't you hear me?), they are the non-democratic, ruining civil disobedience for the rest of us.

This, if you read anything about major, event-centered protest, is the story for the last two decades, since the birth of anti-globaliza... gaak! I almost said it. Okay, but this has been the dominant narrative for the past ten years, and maybe a bit more. Certainly since Seattle. Because that's what happened in Seattle.

From my carnival-of-overwhelming-sarcasm, you might be beginning to suspect I disagree.

No, I'm not going to deny that there are some just plain violent people at protests, nor will I deny that some people just like to make big, musical art projects for any reason, protesting or otherwise. I know both kinds, and have been at protests with both.

I don't want to speculate about why people are the way that they are, or why they do the things they do, or what the juridico-historical combine of reactionary institutions in and amongst regimes of power do to either of them. That sort of blog post could go on forever, and I'm already looking at like ten scrolls to get to the bottom of this one! Even if I do get philosophical on you, I want to limit it.

What I actually want to talk about is this particular sort of "sport" protest: the International Event Protest (IEP).

Let us say right off: the International Event Protest has nothing to do with a guy who liked to camp at a lake in New England. Nor does it have to do with any particular issue, cause, or position. Nor does it have to do with people, in a democratic sense, nor any other theory of liberal politics. Though politics and people are the surely common denominator of any IEP, (Think youth have poor self-image and no interest in politics? Ask any attender to define his/her political stance, and prepare for at least a five-minute verbal improved pamphlet!) politics, on their face, are not the governing theory one should attempt to use to understand the protest.

There is one, single pivot point for understanding an IEP: violence. The cause, the rationalization, the action, and the emotion of violence.

Yes, even the non-violent protesters are there for the violence.

An IEP is a HORRIBLE place for actual protest or civil disobedience. Try locking yourself to a door or occupying a bus. In twenty minutes, a riot squad officer comes along with a bolt cutter, clears you out, and chucks you into a van. Then you go to jail until the weekend is over. Add more people, and it just takes a little longer, or a bigger van. Some of the most successful protests and C-D projects I've seen or heard about take place in the middle of the week, at the corporate offices of offending corporations in Omaha, or Kansas City, or somewhere like that. They aren't expecting it. You can shut an office down for most of the day, and seriously get under the employees skin. And they are likely to prosecute with trespassing only--you really can't make the case that the protester punched a cop when it was in an office waiting room with five cameras and 20 employees watching. Want to be more effective than that? Shut down a retail store that's open. Customers will be horrified to find students locked to their Starbucks at 6AM on a Tuesday. Stage one action per week in a new city, combined with a targeted media campaign. The whole consuming population is figuring out you are at war with their "local"
store, and you've won. How long will a corporation put up with that before taking the easy way out, and launching a PR campaign about how Socially Responsible they are now? Six months to two years is the answer. Start with the industry leader. After they cave, the rest will be push overs.

Even if your target is a bit harder than merely a corporation (it's surprising how fickle the market actually makes those who believe in the market...take a look around), a city locked down for protest, with all surrounding cops called in on overtime, is hardly the place to stage an action. Surely there are better, more effective places.

The sheer facts of convergence of thousands of people is the reason a IEP is not a political zone, either. Who expresses themselves at a +60,000 plus sporting event? You eat some nachos, grumble about how much beer costs, and then leave early to beat the traffic. Protests have more Food Not Bombs one-pot meals than nachos, but the idea is the same. The power of Freedom of Speech is blasted into obscurity by hand-painted signs and people plastered in bumper stickers, to the tune of about a quarter million of them. Besides, no matter how many signs you make, the Socialist Worker's Party will always make more.

In addition to not being a place for these "democratic" ideas, nor is the large protest a point for launching the revolution. This is not the 60s--one is not facing eighteen-year old National Guard troopers, asking them to make the decision to shoot or not and thereby determine the course of history. The "People" got as far as the Pentagon lawn, and then the rules changed. They don't send the army anymore--they send the mall cops. Okay, the very well-armed and organized mall cops, but mall cops all the same.

Have you ever been kicked out the mall? This is how it goes down:

You shoplift something, or get in a fight, or are simply loud and being a teenager. Somebody gets the mall security, who come puffing up, shining their badge and gripping their flashlight. They make a lot of noise about respecting the rule of law and private property, and march you to OUTSIDE THE MALL (horrifying!), at which point they either hand you over to real cops, or tell you to never come back.

This is pretty much the strategy of crowd control and counter-protesting. You find the trouble spots, you seize those who are elevating the situation, and you take them out of the equation. Other than that, it's shining the badge, taking out the trash, and making the old ladies feel safe. At each IEP I've been to, the cops found out where the organizers were, raided it the night before and detained people, and the rest of the weekend was a cakewalk for them. Same thing at the actual event. They push the line back, grab a few folks who look tough or like they could energize people, and then the rest is herding cattle. One time I was in a public park, which was surrounded. We were scared they were going to charge; they had tear gas, rubber bullets, big arrest buses, etc. They kept us in the park, getting nervous, for about an hour. Then they opened one side, and herded everyone out. Everyone was glad to get out, and dispersed.

So this is what the IEP is not. Okay then. What is it? (Time to get a bit more serious.)

The International Protest Event is not spontaneous. It is a reaction to a Power Structure Event (PSE). (I don't like these phrases or acronyms especially, but I'm using them to save words, and so it is clear I am talking about these specific instances of protest, structure, and so forth, and not in general terms.)

The Power Structure Event is pretty simply that--the G20, the WTO, and various international and national organizations exist largely outside of their annual ministerial meetings, and all of the effects of these organizations, which the protesters are supposedly protesting, certainly do not occur in the hotels and convention centers of the Event itself, but in the money, the power, and the structure represented at these meetings. In the same way a terrorist knocking a hole in the Pentagon does not take out the American military (or even hurt it at all, really) "Stopping the G20" meeting does not stop the G20. It is symbolic.

And that is what the protesters are drawn to: the symbol. The symbol is made by the power structure, for reasons I don't understand. This is why I've always somewhat believed in the Illuminati (what? yes, he said it!): if ever there was an organization clever enough to control the world, it would be clever enough to make people think it was a crazy, old conspiracy theory.

But really--it is classic anti-cathexis. The PSE is a wound--the leaders take all the injustice and suffering in the world they are responsible for, and sum it up in a meaningless meeting at a luxury hotel, during which time they claim to be "fixing" the problem. The protesters run to this wound like pain shooting down the legs of a five year-old with double skinned knees.

So why do the G20 and others even hold public meetings, if they are only rough scabs, ready to be rubbed raw by the unwashed international protest set? Well, because part of the rest of the world does like these institutions. They think they are important, and are thrilled that all our leaders are getting together to eat food and save our asses. Of course, other people are just interested in the UK vs. Ukraine match, but we'll forget them (for now).

But when they hold these meetings, they are going to attract a significant about of distaste, staring in extreme distress at the ripped skin with the gravel still stuck in it. The power structures of the world hold on to their power by threads. Of course, these are very numerous and long threads, but threads all the same. You need to have a car to get a job. You need to have a job to have a house. And you have to wash and cover each wound you receive, every time (otherwise, dreaded INFECTION).

Every time a kid smokes pot, one of these strings break. Every time a person loses a job, and thinks "why do I bother?" a string breaks. Every time a student reads Kropotkin, and says to him/herself, "wow, he's not so crazy," a string breaks. There are still many strings, don't get me wrong, but they break all the time. It is conceivable that one day, they all may break.

The PSE is a giant rope. Such events re-tie a whole bunch of threads at once, even though they do relatively little.

At a news conference in Vina del Mar, Mr Biden said he hoped the protesters would give the politicians a chance.

"Hopefully we can make it clear to them that we're going to walk away from this G20 meeting with some concrete proposals," he said.


Yeah, you better be damn sure he "hopes".

You might have noticed a lot of strings have been snapping recently.

I don't think they will have much in the way of proposals from the meetings, but perhaps they will retie some of those broken strands.

Of course, there are those who don't like to be tied up. For whatever reason. When they see such a big PSE planned under their noses, in their cities, or in their neighboring countries, or on the other side of the world despite being told it represents them, certain people get annoyed. They decide to go and disagree, by standing in the street, since that seems to be all they can do. They react to the PSE with a IPE, and they aim to cut some of those strings.

Now, it is not as simple as that, of course. People are complicated, and have very complicated reasons for doing or not doing all sorts of things. It was these complicated reasons I didn't want to get into.

But, I think we can say it is complicated. Some people show up, and they want to carry a sign or a prop. By standing in the mass, and by showing themselves within it, they are saying, "I am one of those who not retie the threads." Others go further. They choose to block traffic, to lock themselves to things, and to cross line they are told specifically not to cross. "This march's permit is revoked. You will be arrested if you do not move." Oh, will I? Then arrest me. I won't move myself. They are saying, "I challenge your threads, and will pull until they break."

Others (and you knew it was coming) seek out threads to cut. They are done being pushed, and they are done talking about it. They are going to cut threads. It doesn't matter how small the threads may be. A Starbucks window? FUCK IT. I've had enough of their shiny image, and their crap coffee market. A cop who can't wait to beat me with a stick? FUCK IT. I'm going to beat him with a stick.My tax dollars protecting a mall (and worse)? FUCK IT. I would burn it all down if I could.

I don't believe destruction of property is violence. If it is your property, you clearly feel the property is an extension of yourself, and to destroy it is attack you. But then again, people used to feel this way about their jobs too, until they were reminded that it is the bosses' job: you're just lucky enough to be allowed to work it.

Actually though, all three of the "fuck it" examples above are violence, regardless of the target. They are the willful seeking of conflict, and the counter-acting of the will of power. To violate another's will is to bring violence to them--to stop another's hand you must use your own, or something else, word or tool (is there a difference)? The Pink Grandmothers Against the War? Yup, violence. Because first you must stand up to disagree.

As always, we will seek to facilitate lawful demonstration while focusing on any illegality. We are speaking to most of the protest groups and there are some who are not as keen to talk to us as others.

- Sir Paul of the Met Police.

This statement is the most brilliant ignorance of the entire logic of the IPE I have ever seen, summed into one sentence. All protest is lawless, because it seeks to protest the law. And there is only one way to protest the law when there is no legal recourse--with "violence" that countermands the "peace" of the law. There is violence within the law as well, and within those who support it. But we are now in a situation where law overwhelms those who have no interest in it. They call it society. Fascism is unique because it seeks to collapse ordinary, human violence into will of law (but this isn't the target of this current investigation. At least, not directly...)

Violence is a state of mind, and a human emotion. To attempt to rubric violence into different quotients of damage, pre-meditation, and method is a task of a law obsessed with a Schild-sense of justice. Protest, the taking to the streets by human beings, to counteract the force of their own towns and cities, has no debt attached to it. There is nothing the G20 could repent or pay to reduce the number of protesters by half, or a quarter. Though I hate the topicality, it is too apt to say, and so I must: Anger is not a CDO. It builds within our unconscious mechanisms, our pent up desires, and our built pathways of reaction. Then, it may be released.

Anger, and the violence that is its form in human action, is a positive force, not a negative vacuum. There is nothing that "fills" up anger, because it seeks to fill other things. Anger pours into the streets like blood into a bruise. Anger flows down the length of the arm, propelling a brick into panes of class. The squeezing choke of metal handcuffs increases anger's force, pulling on the elbows and the shoulders, sucking juice into joints like batteries, charging limbs and muscle for when the restraints are removed. Violence, filling itself from the tips of the fingers, finds expression in weapons, in words shouted in pure hate, in stones from the road, or in hammers, saws, and nails. It's biblical in scope, and it's always been.

Violence, as the power behind a hand, mind, or tool, can be capable of doing any number of things, in the sense of non-emotional, material gain. But none of these things are going to happen at a protest. Violence can fill one's brain, arcing words out of the tongue and onto the page, but you'd have better luck writing in a Starbucks than in the streets. Violence can flow into one's work, building great things from the passion sublimated into effort, but you are not going to produce anything at a picket line. Revolution, which is the real action of turning around the systems of the world with the mechanics of individuals action, can be motivated, formulated, and produced from great stores of anger, in the same way violence is powered. But this will not happen at any IPE. This happens at home, in the workshop, at the desk, and among people who are discussing, planning, and working. None of this happens at a protest.
But, this is not to say that the violence of protest is useless, either. Great moments in history have happened in the heat of an event, when anger is at its hottest. Scab riots, occupations, and liberations have happened when a mob is able to turn the ebb of a particular tide with violence. These events have their place and time, but this is not something you can predict before the place and time occur. Undirected group will can do many things, some of them good. But they are notoriously, as one might guess, hard to direct or will. The only thing one can will is oneself.

Place and time... events, and history. This is really what the PSE and the IPE are about. One force sets up an event as a demonstrable symbol if its power--a symbol of, and a symbol for its power. Another force, organized or not, seeks to counteract that symbol with its own, even if there is no group will involved. Other symbols rise to clash with it, and over time, in the memory, symbols of events are recognized as meaning things. We won Seattle, yet the WTO still exists. They won the Iraq War, yet protest still exists. Symbols are a mob: they run in the streets, screaming their sound, fury, and nothing. It is only the interpreter, after the anger has subsided, who can pick through the rubble, and decide who, what, where, and when--for what its' worth. Outside of that, we are only angry engines, running on a hot mix of hormone, neurotransmitters, and inertia. And anyone who tries to deny that, be it media, government, or individual, will eventually find themselves staring down a dead-end alley with the mob of humanity facing them down, rather than flowing with it. There are many groups one should not join--but the human species is not the sort of gang that refuses membership. They can divide people into "violent" and "peaceful", but once they've arrests all the violents, do you think there will be no more violence? They can make every person a cop, but still the people will exist. They can punish us like children, threaten us with castration, sadism, or worse-chastisement: but still we get angry. There's nothing more human than that.

I was going to end this post by retreating to words already written: theorists on the philosophy of violence, society and its sublimation of anger, and etc. But I don't really know what it would gain me by putting another person's words here. I think a much better source of evidence for my words lies in you. Think about yourself, and think about the times you've been angry. Think about who or what has made you angry, and what systems and methods of control that allow them to make you feel that way. We've all be angry. We all will be angry in the future. But what will we do about it?

I just try to keep a sense of humor about it. Oh, and I also write when people who claim to be better than human piss me off. It helps some.

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