Keepers of the Flame

As Moderate Groups Turn Down the Heat, Anarchists Light a New Way for Dissent

She arrived in the U.S. from India with her parents when she was just a little kid—long before she took the name Warcry or started protesting institutions like the World Economic Forum. It was 1976, the bicentennial, and right off her dad bought her a small American flag. She says he saw America as a land of promise, but she watched him work hard as a researcher every day of his life only to die young. "I don't want to live my whole life for the system," she says. At college in the Bay Area, she read Emma Goldman for the first time, and "it was like someone threw open a window in my brain. Fresh air rushed in and I never went back." She got her direct action chops tree-sitting in old growth forests—and then came Seattle, and the chance to take on the "corporate death machine" itself.

In an activist video about that now famous protest against the World Trade Organization, there's a shot of Warcry, a black scarf masking all but her radiant eyes, shouting giddily, "I always wanted to be part of a revolution!" Yet this same Warcry has kept that little flag all these years, and still feels an affinity for her dad's struggles and hopes. "The American dream is dead," she says. "But there are certain American ideals—freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to dissent—these are things I believe in and would like to make real."

That zeal, matched by the passions of thousands of like-minded young radicals, will be on full display in New York City this week, as activists raucously confront the World Economic Forum, whose thousands of global elites will gather at the Waldorf-Astoria. This outpouring will get a boost from the recent resurgence of anarchism after years relegated to the oral history dustbin.

Warcry’s American Dream: "Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to dissent"
photo: Dennis Kleiman
Warcry’s American Dream: "Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to dissent"

The cries of the anarchists may echo loudly in this post-9-11 world. In a climate where dissent has been called un-American, and the Patriot Act has granted the government new powers to eavesdrop, arrest, and detain, many of the global justice movement's more mainstream players have decided to lie low. The Sierra Club has completely bowed out, while at the fair trade outfit Global Exchange, says cofounder Kevin Danaher, "we are still dusting ourselves off" from the blow of 9-11. The group will conduct only teach-ins. The AFL-CIO had hoped to march, but was denied a permit.

So the anarchists and direct action types like Warcry have been left to lead the charge. Not only have they assembled the samba bands, but also, for the first time, the anti-capitalists even negotiated a permit for a march, the only legal one this week. To a great extent, what happens at the WEF showdown—the size and energy and confrontational tone—depends on them.

While the whole world wasn't watching, anarchists have spent their time between demos getting organized.

If you had wandered into the InterGalactic Anarchist Convention last Sunday, in the Chashama Theater just off of the New Times Square, you'd have passed a tableful of Barricada back issues, including the one featuring "The Black Bloc in Genoa: An Affinity Group's Account"; stacks of literature on animal rights and labor exploitation in the global south; free copies of To Arms!!!, with its ecumenical listing of WEF protests and a handy lesson on wheat-pasting, published by the CrimethInc Ex-Workers Collective. You might also have been invited down to the basement for a vegan meal fashioned from supermarket throwaways, or happened upon a few dozen sweatshirted activists in low-slung pants and rumpled hair talking protest.

Perhaps none of this would have surprised you. But most striking, if you listened in, would have been the gently earnest tone of the debates, and the palpable humility of the participants. That night, a twentysomething hippie sitting cross-legged on the floor offered up a defense of nonviolence that could have come out of SNCC's civil rights playbook—"We draw out the inherent violence of the police"—while a rosy-faced teenager decried what he called "militant pacifism" and an older woman drew a distinction between damaging property (OK, since property doesn't feel pain) and injuring people (unacceptable). Everyone spoke briefly and passionately and stopped to really listen, and speakers reflected on how much they had to learn. At a larger meeting, facilitators set aside just five or 10 minutes for each agenda item—as if to schedule in a half hour was too presumptuous—extending the time only after seeing enough fluttering fingers (a sign of consensus). Sunday night's impromptu conversation ended only when Lena, 28, one of the conference organizers, quietly mentioned that the evening panelists had arrived, and would it be all right for them to take the microphone?

The textured disagreements that aired out that weekend—sandwiched between lectures on Afghanistan, Argentina, and "Why WEF Is Evil"—hardly call to mind the anarchism we have read about in the two years since Seattle.

It was there that America discovered anarchism for the first time since Sacco and Vanzetti—in the intimidating form of the masked militants of the black bloc. "Street rage," blared The New York Times; "nightmare of protests," declared NBC Nightly News, as everyone from the Rainforest Action Network to the president rushed to separate the good protesters from the bad. Rainforest head Randy Hayes said the vandalism hurt the movement, while direct action trainer John Sellers, head of the Ruckus Society, called it "inexcusable." Last year's protests in Genoa inspired more variations on the theme: The black bloc'ers were "barbarians at a castle's gates . . . whose modus operandi is to infiltrate more moderate groups and launch attacks," reported Newsweek. And as WEF delegates began to arrive at ground zero, even a Village Voice reporter regurgitated whole the police assertion that black bloc'ers are "Al Qaeda-like."

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