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Day 3 - Heart Attack

by Beneath the Snow 2010 Olympics

Day 3 - Heart Attack

Also posted by beneaththesnow:

Day 3 – Heart Attack (To see the story with photos and video, click here)

Angry Bystander: "You don't have the support of the public"
Calm Anarchist: "We are the public"

From yesterday's anarchist presence in the "family friendly" Take Back Our City march directed against the Olympic opening ceremonies to this morning's anarchist-organized Heart Attack directed at blocking road access to the first day of Olympic games, the anarchists and especially black bloc contingent have been a strong force of resistance here in the Unceded Coast Salish Territory. That's often true at such convergences. What's especially striking here, though, is how disciplined and strategically--even politically--effective they've been, and how much respect they've earned through their organizing efforts leading up to this point as well as their actions on the streets.

Much of this is likely due to the fact that anarchists have been a big part of organizing efforts toward this convergence for years now, and have been doing lots of public outreach, popular education, and even press conferences, not to mention direct actions. They've also created a space, through a "diversity of tactics" strategy that reaches outward while retaining its anticapitalist stance, for genuine ties of friendship and solidarity beyond anarchists, to others who share concerns for a just world. Many of the anarchist organizers here on the ground in Vancouver and nearby cities have long been working in collaboration with nonanarchists on everything from tent cities to No One Is Illegal--on issues that impact people's daily survival needs. Many also "came of anarchist age" through the anticapitalist movement of movements, and are utilizing lessons from that to build and perhaps expand on past successes as well as go beyond past mistakes. And they are acting and organizing in concert with others, premised on daily issues that impact people's lives and their communities--communities of which many anarchists here are also a part (poor, people of color and indigenous, queer and women, among others). Finally, they seem to have been willing to work out a balance within the various political events here, where during yesterday's Take Back Our City march the anarchists followed the lead of others, so to speak, and today, some of those nonanarchist folks joined the anarchists for their more militant Heart Attack direct action, as part of this anticolonial and anticapitalist convergence.

These are some impressions, at least, from an outsider perspective. But as an "U.S." anarchist, it's been striking to witness what appears to be cooperation and solidarity of a genuine character between anarchists, justice types, nonprofit types, and others, in a way that's ensuring that all the components form a far more powerful whole, and probably far beyond this particular convergence. At the same time, interestingly, the message here overall remains radical.

What's also striking, however, considering that many in today's anarchist action were from out of town, is how seemingly coordinated and in sync the black bloc was during Heart Attack. How tight and disciplined it was in a way that allowed for a smarter, clearer, stronger street presence.

Of course, it didn't feel like that at first, when at the "8:30 a.m. sharp" meet-up time in a fairly empty park near the Olympic village there were more indie/anarchist media, legal, and medic affinity groups than black bloc ones. It's great to see so many anarchists taking up such roles, but it also felt rather sad, initially, that we weren't simply there as part of the action, rather than its mutual aid contingent. Slowly but surely, anarchist affinity groups trickled in, most masking up into black bloc, and one group in white chemical suits with pink wigs, soon to be joined by an anarchist marching band. But it wasn't only anarchists; people from the previous day's march--from two PETA people to folks from a host of issue-based concerns such as climate change, anti-road expansion, the anti-Tar Sands development, and so on--joined the bloc, whose numbers seemed to go from around 100 to several hundred or more as the Heart Attack crew immediately took to the street. Or rather, instantly took the streets.

Again, the police presence seemed absurdly light today, as it has at other convergence events. The same bicycle cops who'd been at every demonstrations followed, or more to the point, were serving as traffic cops to this supposed street takeover. It all felt rather contained, until the bloc turned toward the downtown, and once past the poor section of the city, black bloc folks started methodically bringing newspaper boxes, dumpsters, plastic road barriers, cafe chairs, and other things into the street, creating obstacle after obstacle. As the Heart Attack bloc reached the now-crowded downtown, specific stores were targeted for a few broken windows--such as the Hudson Bay Company.

And then there were riot cops, clubs to thighs and shoving (police first), arrests and unarrests, and police increasingly blocking off access to the Heart Attack destination: the road to Whistler, where athletes, tourists, sports fans, and others would need to go to ride to the first of the Olympic games. There's lots of good stills and video of these actions, the melees created by the police, and the kettle the police used to finally put a damper on Heart Attack (but after some three hours). The story of "which street," "whose street," and so forth seems less interesting than some further observations on how this black bloc in particular functioned: overall, really well. And, overall, it offers some lessons of sorts for black blocs and, it could be added, the social war insurrectionist tendency in the United States. (Given how exhausted this anarchist "reporter" is, these are some tentative and sleepy observations, hopefully to be followed up by more thoughtful analysis at a later date.)

1. Good organization from the start. For example, the Heart Attack organizers handed out a flyer at the original meet-up point, detailing three plans toward the objective of blocking traffic to the Olympic games, people's rights and legal info, dispersal instructions, safety tips, and a section on "in the (unsurprising) event of police violence." They also gave out a tiny slip of paper with a time and location for reconvening later in the day (plan 4, which they called off due to police targeting specific individuals).

One of the organizers also explained how the bloc would be guided through the streets: with two black flags, one at the back and one at the front. When needed, the bloc would turn and yell "backward," and the whole thing would reverse direction. There was also a white flag, to indicate a relatively safe zone.

2. Practice makes perfect. "To be sure you all understand the principle," the organizers then had everyone practice this guiding method in the park, before the bloc set off, with the caveat, "you can do whatever the fuck you want; we're not your mother." And yes indeed, everyone practiced, and instantly got it perfect--rather a funny but sweet sight, with cops watching from the sidelines.

3. Discipline and just being good to each other. Once in the streets, people were good about keeping the bloc together--for example, often stopping with a "slow down" shout to the front until everyone was in a solid group, and always keeping calm and not running randomly. They were good about focusing on the mission: to put obstacles in the streets so as to slow or stop traffic, and thus hopefully the Olympic spectacle. And equally good at focusing on not needlessly antagonizing the police--a distraction to this mission--but doing so when needed--such as when trying to unarrest people. When the first window broke and the riot cops started shoving folks, a few shoved back, then stopped to yell "You started it," followed by "no justice, no peace, fuck the police," but then the bloc moved on.

People within the bloc also didn't "police" each other. For example, a giant black-and-green flag with a circle A flew right next to a raised umbrella boosting Canadian flags and also the white "safety zone" flag. There was a "diversity of tactics" within this direct action bloc that allowed, say, for some anarchists to play music while others tried to fill the streets with barricades or smash strategically targeted windows--and everyone good-naturedly enjoyed both.

4. Good messaging and public education. This bloc showed that anarchists can be "insurrectionary" and yet still demand something--that is, put out a clear message(s) about why people are opposing the Olympics, in this case, and why they are choosing direct action tactics. The two most recurrent chants, as at the torch disruptions and Take Back the City march over the past two days, were: "No Olympics on Stolen Native Lands" and "Homes Not Games." One of the main big black banners leading the march read "Anti-Poverty Committee," and surprisingly, no one felt the need to circle the A in "anti-" (suggesting enough confident in anarchist politics and actions that branding was almost redundant). Sure, there were the usual rousing anarchist chants related to smashing capitalism and the state, but given the move within U.S. insurrectionary anarchism to see the color black, or inaccessible French theory (much as French theory can be great), as the message, it was refreshing to experience "old-fashioned" anarchist messaging that was both revolutionary and on point to the specific convergence. Again, this even included the choice of windows to smash: those related to stealing indigenous lands or underwriting the Olympics.

It seemed to work, at least in many cases, to "educate" bystanders. Sure, the fanaticism of Canadian nationalism tied to sports was often hard to crack, and there were plenty of instances of people yelling the ever-idiotic "get a job" slogan, for example, at the bloc. But there was also lots of instances of support, such as a car honking its horn in time with the marching band's latest offering, or the mainstream-looking mom leaning over to her young daughter, just when the Hudson Bay department store window shattered, to say something along the lines of: "They are doing that to show that the Olympics are doing some bad things like..." Another guy who randomly stumbled on the bloc asked, "This is a riot, right? When people randomly throw things into the street and violently break windows?" He ended up getting the strategic use of objects to in fact fulfill the goal of this action, and how those particular broken windows related to the Olympics, and then happily stuck around.

It's always hard to judge the impact, particularly in the immediate moment, of such blocs. As one anarchist from Vancouver commented, it's upsetting when you're "standing up for people's rights who don't know that you're standing up for their rights and they are against you [when] little do they know, a few years down the road, they're going to be in our shoes themselves."

Yet perhaps that's why it was good to witness a more strategic, message-oriented anarchist direct action like today's. When combined with anarchist participation in and solidarity with less militant events over the course of a convergence such as this, and especially solid anarchist organizing in the long lead up to shape this whole convergence, there seems to be a better fighting chance of anarchism actually contributing to social transformation--even if anarchists are simply offering a message in a bottle for those few years down the road when capitalism gets so bad it's impossible to ignore, much less support.

As another black bloc participant explained, to paraphrase: "I used to be all about putting my anger into battling it out on the streets with police for the sake of battling with police. But we need to channel that anger into love for each other, and that means being smarter about how we do things, to both change everyone into better, loving people, which is revolutionary in itself, and change society."

The fact that anarchists within Heart Attack appeared to see the point of changing the hearts (and minds) of people who aren't anarchists to also want to struggle for a world from below, even as they attempted to "block the arteries of capitalism," well, that's the best sort of (almost) valentine's day gift that any anarchist could wish for. At least this anarchist.

Enjoy our other pre-valentine's day gifts to you: great still and video footage of Heart Attack, from the temporarily (re)occupied streets and lands of Vancouver.

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still giggling

I thought Colbert did satire. Wow.

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