DEMONSTRATE FOR A DIFFERENT TODAY
To come straight to the point: I don't like demonstrating. The larger the demonstration, the more it grates. What, in Bakunin's name, is the point? The great majority of demonstrations are boring and as far as I am concerned belong to the category pointless political folklore. The main reason that I occasionally go to a demo is to bump into people I know from other parts of the country, to have a chat and network a bit during the course of a ‘themed’ stroll.
Incidentally, my distaste for demonstrating does not mean that I consider the topics and themes which the demonstration highlights irrelevant - far from it! Although the subjects of demonstrations are often things that I care deeply about, I still have to convince myself to go to them.
It would be wrong to claim that every demonstration is a waste of time and lacks strategic purpose. The question is, which and whose purpose do they serve…
Demonstrating is one of the most conventional ways in which large groups of people express themselves politically. Demonstrations come in all shapes and sizes. The basic idea is pretty straightforward. You walk from A to B, carry banners and shout some slogans. The cause for the demonstration is almost always defensive. Generally it is a reaction to an existing or expected political policy.
One reason that is often given by the organisers of demonstrations for taking to the streets is the desire to inform the population. If this is the case, the choice of one, central demonstration would seem ill considered. In the Netherlands, demonstrations tend to take place in either The Hague or Amsterdam, where they are a normal part of the scenery. The locals have got used to demos and don't bat an eyelid anymore at a hoard of ambling protesters.
If the point of the demonstration is to inform as many people as possible, it would make more sense to hold it in a smaller place, Tilburg, Katwijk or Haarlem, for example. Opinions are often more conservative in smaller places, and so not only is the demonstration's progressive message more needed, but the demo itself would attract more attention.
As well as being aimed at the general public, demonstrations also seem geared towards the mass media. The reasoning seems to be that when a demonstration makes the newspapers or the TV, politicians will be put under pressure to change their policies.
It is questionable whether the media can actually be trusted to articulate a population's point of view. The coverage is not normally that good, and the more radical the demands, the worse or even the more counterproductive, the reporting is.
The idea that people are dependent on the media is persistent and exists primarily in people's heads. After all, there are many ways in which to communicate with the public, without subjecting oneself to the filter of the media. The internet in particular has recently opened doors which were closed ten years ago.
Independent of whether or not it is wise to court media attention, there’s the question of whether a demonstration is the most effective way of attracting attention in the first place. Organising a demo takes up a lot of time and resources, whilst a well timed solo-action (a banner-drop or a pie) can often provide much more media coverage.
Demonstrating: for whom?
Apart from trying to win the public's attention with or without the media, there is another important reason why people demonstrate. Many feel the urge to inform politicians of their discontent and to try to force them to change their policies. This is why the most demonstrations take place at the parliament buildings in The Hague. Tens of thousands of demonstrators pass by there every year. "If there are enough people, they will have to listen," you can almost hear the protesters thinking. Sometimes, at the end of a demo a petition will be handed over to an MP, who will crawl out of the fortress especially to receive it. Or people will do something nice for the media, like sing some kind of protest song or release hundreds of helium balloons. If a demonstration provides a nice image or a decent sound-bite, the chances of making the headlines are bigger.
Reality teaches us that demos hardly ever influence government policy, let alone change it. At the end of the day, political decisions are often the result of difficult compromises reached between political parties, and politicians are not keen to restart debates on hard reached agreements. In addition to this, policies always need to serve capital and the state. Moreover, political margins are extremely limited.
It is true that so called 'social policies' exist, but effectively these are little more than a modern version of the time old 'bread and games'. The central aim of social policy is to prevent the population from rising up against the exploitation and repression, made legal under capitalism. The fact that this exploitation and repression primarily manifest themselves in the impoverished South, whilst the vast majority in the North live in relative luxury, only emphasises the global context of capitalist processes.
It would be wrong to say that every demonstration is a waste of time, that they don’t fulfil any strategic purpose. The question is which and whose purpose do they serve...
The legal right to demonstrate is intended in the first place to serve the status quo. Demonstrations, like elections, consultations and discussion organs, are designed primarily to channel discontent. Were it the case that demonstrations actually posed a threat to the establishment, they would be made illegal.
The Dutch ‘polder model’ is characterised by an extreme mish-mash of discussion organs, where state, employers and non-governmental organisations (such as trade unions, consumers' organisations and environmental groups) work together. Many of the big demonstrations are intended to legitimise and strengthen the hand of the social parties at this negotiating table.
The idea that the state and capitalism can be reformed from within is becoming less and less convincing and is losing support fast. The facts indicate the opposite, namely that the channelling of discontent and resistance has been unable to prevent the gap between rich and poor from widening substantially. Supporting ‘discussion’-capitalism with demonstrations has been declared as useless by many. On the contrary, attacking it has become a more logical action.
A small, relatively active and above all unhelpful promoter of 'demonstrating' are the authoritarian left-wing splinter groups. This is not that surprising. The offspring of Marx cherish dreams of the proletariat united behind their flag, marching into parliament, chasing out the capitalist elites and installing a people’s government (under their inspired leadership, naturally). Demonstrations are the embodiment of their desire for a united proletariat and for capturing state power. Moreover, demonstrations provide them with an opportunity to recruit new people and grant them the opportunity to try and present themselves as the leadership of the movement.
Demonstrating for a different now
Having said all that, there are certain situations imaginable when demonstrating can be of use to the anti-authoritarian movement, especially when a demonstration is part of a broader political strategy, which includes an element of direct action.
Demonstrations can for example offer a 'safe environment' for a direct action, the form of action that directly attacks harmful (often) political-economic processes. The strategy of the 'Black Block' springs to mind. Their strategy of 'capital destruction' (destroying amongst other things banks) and 'dispossession' (plundering) is not uncontroversial in anti-authoritarian circles. A large part of the anti-authoritarian movement, varying from country to country and from person to person, condemns violence against property just as resolutely as violence against people, for ideological and/or strategic reasons. This does not take away the fact that the Black Block was successful to some extent, until the moment when it became clear that police provocateurs and the far right could use the anonymity of the demonstrations to manipulate them from within.
Sometimes, a demonstration ends with the occupation of a building or with a blockade. The demonstration is the vehicle to the direct action and is also part of a strategy of 'de-regulating', of disturbing the criticised order by interrupting the political-economic processes.
Demonstrations also prove effective when they are surprising in form and content. The protests of the movement for a different form of globalisation are a good example. For a while, this movement's protests were extremely successful. The international and diverse character of the protests, in addition to the (at the time) little heard criticisms of free trade, managed to take the world by surprise. This situation is however no longer the case, and regardless of their size, the protests have now become part of the summit programme. The political impact and effectiveness has been reduced to practically nothing. The (world-) leaders have listened to the criticisms and neutralised them, by giving them a spin which ultimately strengthens their own (unchanged) agenda. In this, they are frequently aided by the docile and uncritical mass media. It is important therefore to maintain the element of surprise and stay out of the clutches of politicians and the spectacle addicts that are the media.
A final point which should be mentioned is the extent to which demonstrations contribute to a feeling of unity in the movement. Especially in a world that is structured so that people compete with each other, or at least are strangers to each other, and where greed and profit are seen as the criteria for success, it is a relief to occasionally be surrounded by people who, like you, are fighting for a better world. International mobilisations for protests against the capitalist institutions had something almost religious about them, the celebration of a dream, a longing for another world, for heaven on earth. Busloads of mostly young activists travelled from far and wide to make their modern pilgrimage at the shrines of Seattle, Prague and Genoa. Summit hopping only lost its magic when the novelty wore off, when the demonstrations became predictable, the state repression more effective and when different political movements took the foreground.
Direct Action FOR
Participation of an organisation in a demonstration should not be regarded as self-evident. Anti-authoritarians advocate (forms of) basis-democracy whereby autonomy, (horizontal) self-organisation, solidarity and co-operation are the key concepts. And because means and ends are, for them, the same, they generally opt for direct action. Yet direct action is no guarantee for success and effectiveness. It is important that clear goals are set for direct action. Goals, ideally geared towards lasting results and which go further than just creating an 'action moment' for its own sake. In other words, direct actions that yield something substantial and permanent, something that strengthen existing anti-authoritarian structures or creates new ones. This means that not only action 'against' but also action 'for' is important. Resistance is only effective and lasting when at the same as intervening in objectionable capitalist processes, people are involved in building parallel social structures to provide an organisational framework to practically articulate and shape their ideas and desires for a different society. The practise of direct action 'for' finds its expression in the autonomous self-organisations set up by anti-authoritarians, such as action groups, collectives and companies. It is from this mentality of 'revolution every day' which the world can take hope.
Marco (member of the Eurodusnie collective)
that survived us,
in the planes of September 11th,
let us tell you:
There’s something wrong
Turn around and start
Let us join where we have the same experience, not where I persuaded you.
The Dominican Republic is one of the ramparts of the USA. Virtually it belongs to the USA, but it hasn’t the law of the USA, it is an occupied territory like its neighbour Haiti, both on the island of Hispaniola where Columbus went ashore first.
The USA occupied the Dominican Republic first in 1924. Several times, its people voted for a government independent from the USA, but they were defeated by the lies and frauds of the US puppet government. It maintains power by manipulating the constitution, by corruption, by oppression. The majority of the people is very poor because of the free industrial zones where consumer goods for the USA are produced, average monthly wages 185 US$.
German tourist industry und German manufacturing industry are also profiting by the low wages. Most tourists come from Germany. There is even a settlement of 25.000 German residents. A treaty of protecting German investment in the Dominican Republic is on the way. Corrupt governments like the Dominican Republic get the most of German “development” aid.
In November 2003, more than 100 activists und union leaders had been arrested in the Dominican Republic ahead of a strike called to protest against the government’s economic policies, high prices and constant power cuts. The country’s GNP rose by 7 % per year between 1996 and 2000, now it dropped to 1 %. The majority of the people never participated in the boom, but now they suffer from a 30 % inflation and the immense rise of power prices after privatisation.
The strike was set to take place in the same week that the government resumed talks with the International Monetary Fund over a stalled 600 m US$ two-year standby loan. The International Monetary Fund agreed to support the Dominican Republic after the collapse of a major bank. The banking crisis was followed by a meltdown of the national electricity network as the cash-pressed government failed to come up with the funds to pay subsidies and left energy distributors unable to pay generators. Fifteen-hour power cuts gave become the norm in a nation that was once a star economic performer and a haven of economic and political stability.
President Hipolito Mejia accused the opposition Dominican Liberation Party of financing the strike and warned that police and the armed forces had orders to take firm action against lawbreakers: “If the left comes to power one day, they can apply their policies. In the meantime, I’m a social democrat and it’s up to me to govern.”
Keep the easy line, even to your dissenters.