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This article represents the thoughts of one anarchist and does not necesarily attempt to represent other anarchists in the city
I was having a couple beers with a friend of mine a few months ago, who has recently come to Vancouver after a few years among the Anarchist/Autonomist milieus in Europe. He was describing to me some level of shock and dismay when he came to the conclusion a year or so ago, that "anarchists are not going to make the revolution." Being somewhat comfortable with the idea (though not 100% convinced), I thought to myself "does everyone have to use the word anarchy to describe a society without rulers where all are empowered to make the decisions that affect their lives?"
"But we have to do something" I responded.
He agreed although his cynicism told him writing projects might be more "worthwhile" than organizing anything in the context that is the tiny Vancouver Anarchist scene. I don't feel I can yet make the same decision, I spent too many of my years in life not getting out there and engaging in struggle, and I'll be damned if I go back now! Anarchists that live in a place where an actual Anarchist movement exists can probably afford to always look inward, in a place where we are little more than a tiny clique, I feel we need to reach outward and spread our ideas and tactics, as far and fast as possible, to engage alongside a multitude of people who probably don't have a goddamn word to say about their "projectuality." And so I justified spending far too much of my time at the gong show that was the Occupy Vancouver encampment.
After exactly one month of painful conversations with libertarians, meeting new comrades, forging brand new relationships with people I would never have otherwise come into contact with, and beating my head against a brick wall, the Occupy Vancouver encampment was given an eviction notice for November 21st 2011. Unlike other Occupies the Vancouver encampment chose not to stand it's ground, and instead to keep on moving from place to place until it lost what little steam it had, settling for daily general assemblies with no encampment to build relationships of mutual aid. It was around the same time that Occupy was moving around, that a call was made for the west coast port shutdowns, Occupy was at this time far too scattered and hectic to make any kind of proposal to about the action.
With only about two weeks to go, some people from the Occupy Direct Action Committee on one hand, and some Anarchists and other working class rebels on the other, decided separately to try and respond to the call.
Having very little time to organize, led to a very limited amount of outreach, and lack of focus. The Occupy side made numerous attempts at negotiations with the president of the ILWU local 500, while Jim Sinclair of the BC Federation of Labour and union bureaucrats from the ILWU refused to support the action (analysis of this here: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/blog/relentless-rising/9378).
The more autonomous group working on the action did not have the ability to make a poster to promote the action, and with what little time it had, made a few attempts to agitate port workers by going to the dispatch centre and passing out handbills, explaining the reasons for the port shutdown (video for those unfamiliar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGqncu3wlEI). The response was profoundly inspiring with a couple port workers even going so far as to give precise directions on how to most effectively shut down the port. Knowing that there would be limited numbers involved in the action, we did not bother trying to implement either plan though the words of encouragement went a long way.
The official occupy action was called for 12 noon. This was smack-dab in the middle of the morning and afternoon shift changes and was going to result in mostly non-union, and Canadian Auto Workers Union truck drivers being blocked rather than the ILWU and non-union port workers. The resulting argument from union bureaucrats and others who wanted to restrict action (or were just lacking in analysis of class struggle), was that it was wrong to block truckers who were going to lose a day’s pay from our actions. Not that this should ever stop someone from taking action to stop the flow of capital, but that it did create a narrative within the corporate media and Occupy Vancouver about hurting “the 99%” (participants in the action were of course going to miss out on a day’s pay as well).
Since the official Occupy action was not able to mobilize an effective force at 7am to block the morning shift change, an autonomous group of Anarchists, union rebels, and people from the Occupy Direct Action Committee (about 25 people); came together and successfully disrupted the morning shift of port workers on their way into work, at the Clark Drive and Heatly Street entrances (article here: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/story/community-solidarity-picket-blocks-access-port-vancouver/9383 Video here: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/video/early-morning-blockade-vancouver-port/9386).
The action was highly successful in the sense that it received a lot of support from people on their way to work, and it destroyed the narrative being deployed by the union bureaucrats, and the corporate media. In spite of some of the best efforts from members of the Occupy Direct Action Committee the official Occupy action was hardly promoted through Occupy Vancouver and where it was, it became referred to as “Occupy the Ports” and made only vague references to “the 99%”. Here the morning action was once again successful at bringing the analysis back around to solidarity against police repression of the Occupy Movement, with the port truckers, and with the ILWU in Longview, WA, facing union busting and police repression as well. Following the lead from Oakland (read this: http://www.bayofrage.com/from-the-bay/the-anti-capitalist-march-and-the-black-bloc/), for about a day “we are the 99%”, became “we are the proletariat.”
At Callister Park at 12 noon only a handful of people had shown up for the official “Occupy the Ports” action. By 1:00pm about 100-150 people showed up for the action, and made their way to the McGill entrance to the port to stop trucks from entering. Meanwhile people went around the march ensuring that it wasn’t announced over a mic check, and told people about an idea to block the afternoon shift change at the 3 main entrances to the port. At about 1:30pm there was a brief standoff with the pigs, who were brandishing zap-straps to intimidate the crowd. At some point a decision made to head back to the park where the march had begun.
From the park, smaller groups got together and headed towards the Clark Drive and Heatly Street entrances (though it is still unknown as to whether anyone actually headed back to reclaim the McGill entrance).
By 3pm a large number of people had taken the Clark Drive entrance. At Heatly, police were vastly outnumbering those blocking the entrance who numbered only about 20 people. A call was made to the Clark blockade for reinforcements which then caused the numbers to swell at Heatly while only 30 or so remained at Clark. The police soon left Heatly and over to Clark Drive to intimidate the people there, very quickly deploying an LRAD sound cannon, to be used as a loud speaker, ordering people to get off the road. Soon a decision was made at Heatly, to abandon the entrance and march over to support the others where arrests seemed impending. As we marched with a red and black flag held high, we chanted things like “Help our Friends, The Struggle Never Ends”, and “Bosses, Landlords, We Don’t Need ‘em, All We Want is Total Freedom”. (video from before the march arrived at Clark Drive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ij1qQNO6Rw)
Arriving at the intersection of Clark and Hastings we observed all the blockaders pushed onto the sidewalk with a line on pigs in front of them, and a line of pigs now blocking the port entrance themselves. People motioned and called for those on the sidewalk to join them in the middle of the intersection. The call was responded to by only a handful of individuals, while others stayed on the sidewalk for various reasons (fear, obedience to law and order, inability to comprehend the situation, etc.)
Before enough people could get to into the street, the police charged, pushing everyone onto 3 corners of the intersection. In the midst of the mayhem 3 people were arrested. 5 people in all were arrested in the action including 2 before the march had arrived at Clark and Hastings.
After a little while, people retook the streets and marched to the Vancouver jail for jail solidarity. About 50 people arrived at the jail, where it was eventually realized that the arrestees had been released elsewhere with bylaw infraction tickets, rather than criminal charges (another account of events that afternoon: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/story/dawn-dusk-actions-disrupt-port-vancouver/9396).
Other Notes on the Days Actions
In Vancouver, longshore workers who are deemed full-time union members can sign up for shifts online, rather than having to wait at the dispatch centre. By about 12:30pm an abnormality was observed that out of over 200 shifts available for the afternoon only 9 positions had been filled, usually the list is next to full by well before the shift.
We may never know what the actual disruption to the port was in the form of money lost by corporations. The positive responses to the morning action and the agitation at the dispatch centre, and the information gathered regarding the shifts taken up online, will say that rank-and-file ILWU members were far more willing to respond to the call for solidarity with their counterparts in Longview, than the union leadership, and discouraging members of Occupy would like to believe.
As an Anarchist I was inspired by the response from rank-and-file union members to act outside of the constraints of collective bargaining and direction from the sellout bureaucrats. I was also inspired by the efforts of some of the occupiers to actually engage themselves with something more consise than flowery language about “consensus” and “the 99%”.
Mad props to everyone that made this happen!
For the Occupiers
No Autonomy: control by... ...consensus?
The key to a democratic state is that it keeps people participating in their own domination and exploitation. This logic is carried into Occupy Vancouver. If you choose to be part of the "occupy movement" then you are expected to adhere to the lowest common denominator within it.
In the first weeks of Occupy, a woman from within the tent council got up on the stage and declared the tent council autonomous from the general assembly, making its decisions for itself. She also declared that the encampment was now intended to be a "weapons free zone" meaning that police were no longer welcome.
A friend of mine being very inspired by the declaration, made a video about it, and posted it to the Vancouver Media Co-op (Video here: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/video/occupy-vancouver-tent-village-cop-free-zone/8792). Perhaps he was a little too fast.
A few days later the same woman got up on stage declaring a miss-portrayal in the video and wanted to assure the general assembly that the tent council was not autonomous. She did however continue with the idle policy of declaring the encampment a weapons free zone, as a way to veil their intentions to make it a pacifist only zone.
Why the change in heart?
The ideology of democracy affords a person, or group, or community no autonomy. Her statement was obviously seen as a threat by those at Occupy Vancouver who wanted to control the actions of others, and the movement generally. Consensus can best be practiced within a group or community that has affinity with each other. Since Occupy Vancouver is a random mixture of people from the woodwork, who only officially are coming together around the vague concept of "the 99%", the idea that they could understand each other’s needs enough to consent on everything is totally false. Given the woman's pacifist tendencies, it was probably quite easy for her to change her statement, given that she too has an interest in controlling the behavior of others.
While other Anarchists around the world champion the Occupy Movement, and pat themselves on the back, for its qualities of direct democracy, my own experience in Vancouver has been that the critique that democracy is a system of control no matter how direct it is, has rung nauseatingly true.
For myself the positive side of Occupy Vancouver has been that for a month it created a space that intended to step outside of the logic of capitalism. Here new affinities have been formed with people, and I was able to effectively agitate around issues of decolonization, and the rhetoric of non-violence.
The actual eviction order was set for November 21st while the eviction began long before. In the first week of November, the Vancouver Fire Department issued an order to the camp to create fire lanes through the middle of it for easy access (in pissing rainy Vancouver!), and orders to remove “dangerous tarps” from people’s tents that were protecting them from the elements. Without gathering any kind of consensus in the general assembly, a number of individuals started moving people’s tents around, and taking down others to comply with the fire order. Here in the logic of the democratic state people are quick to participate in their own repression, and in the direct democracy of the Occupy Movement, they are free to act from the position of law and order knowing that their actions will not be opposed by the lowest common denominator at the camp, while others who just want to organize a simple demonstration or take any kind of initiative of their own are decried as not operating on the consensus of the group.
From what I can tell about the Occupy Movement in other places it appears that the most effective actions, the ones that keep the movement full of life, are autonomous actions taken by affinity groups within the movements while others are free to join in or step aside, often resulting in them being passed by the general assemblies. Oakland would never have ripped down the fences to hold a general assembly and call for a general strike on November 2nd (for those unfamiliar: http://www.occupyoakland.org/2011/10/general-strike-mass-day-of-action/), had they waited for the consent of the lowest common denominator, or the lunatic pacifists. Seattle would have never squatted a building to carry the struggle on through the winter months (for those unfamiliar: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016886287_apwaoccupyseattlesquatting.html), had they waited for permission from the lowest common denominator, or those that fetishize law and order. The ever popular “Run on the Banks” actions would never have taken off had people decided to be controlled by the “consensus” generated in groups of people that they have no or only limited affinity with.
When the fire lanes were cleared, and the tarps removed, at Occupy Vancouver, this created a very disempowering situation where people were roped into the obedience that others had for the law and authority of the Vancouver Fire Department, and the City Government. Not to mention that the people camping were getting soaked in their tents, and numbers dwindled as a result. When the eviction order finally came there was a very demoralized crowd left to deal with it, that had done nothing to defend itself or create any kind of controversy, this as a result of a skewed concept of what consensus means.
General assemblies should not be bodies of control, rather they should be places for people to gather a consensus by sharing ideas, to learn and debate with each other with the intention of furthering the struggle, rather than limiting it. Decisions should be made by people of their own accord with victories and mistakes learned from and adjusted through experience and discussion. (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/A._G._Schwarz__From_Movement_to_Space__the_anarchist_open_assemblies.html)
May Occupy Vancouver break itself out of suffocation and stagnation!
- A friendly local Anarchist
Links on Autonomous Organization and Anarchist Intervention