The year is 1871. Revolution has just established a democratic government in France, following the defeat of emperor Napoleon in the war with Germany. But the new Republic satisfies no one. The provisional government is comprised of politicians who served under the Emperor; they have done nothing to satisfy the revolutionaries’ demands for social change, and they don’t intend to. Right-wing reactionaries are conspiring to reinstate the Emperor or, failing that, some other monarch. Only rebel Paris stands between France and counterrevolution.
The partisans of order have their work cut out for them. First, they have to get the French people to accept the unpopular terms of surrender dictated by Germany. To force the armistice on its citizens, the new Republic bans the radical Clubs and shuts down the newspapers, threatening Paris with the combined armies of two nations. Only then, after warrants have been issued to arrest the insurgents who overthrew the emperor, do elections take place.
With the radicals in prison or in hiding, the conservatives win the elections. The chief victor is the banker Adolphe Thiers, Proudhon’s old nemesis, who helped to sell out the revolution of 1848—if not for him, the emperor might not have been able to seize power in the first place. Propelled into office by voters from the provincial countryside, Thiers’ first act is to negotiate peace with Germany at a cost of five billion francs.
This strikes Thiers as a cheap price to pay to take the reins of the state—especially since the French people will be paying it, not him personally. And should they refuse? He would still rather fight France than Germany.
One of the terms of Thiers’ surrender is that German troops are permitted a victory march through the capital. After starving through months of siege, this is the last thing the Parisians want. Rumors spread that the Germans are coming to loot the city. The Vigilance Committees that sprung up after the revolution continue meeting, despite the ban.
On the night of February 26, tens of thousands of rebellious members of the National Guard gather downtown on the Champs-Elysées in defiance of government orders. Alongside them are stone-faced revolutionaries like Louise Michel, a forty-year-old schoolteacher from the suburb of Montmartre. Together, they break open the prison in which the latest round of political prisoners are held and set them free. Then they wait in the frigid darkness for the Germans to come, preparing to die for Paris.
When dawn still shows no sign of the invaders, the rebels seize the cannons that remain in Paris from the war. These cannons were paid for by donations collected from the poor during the siege; the rebels believe they rightfully belong to those who are prepared to use them to defend the city, not to the politicians who have betrayed it or the Germans who are coming to disarm and humiliate it. They drag the heavy guns from the wealthy district back through the hovels and trash-heaps of their own neighborhoods to park them on the hilltop of Montmartre.
On March 1, 1871, the German troops finally enter Paris. They stick to downtown, avoiding the restless slums. The shops are all closed; the statues along the parade route wear black hoods and black flags fly from the buildings. Ragged hordes watch from a distance through narrowed eyes; their cold stares make the well-fed Germans shiver. The occupiers withdraw to camp outside the city to the east.
Days later, Thiers’ government announces that landlords can immediately claim rent payments that were suspended during the siege. All debts are due with interest within four months, and the moratorium on the sale of pawned goods is canceled. The salaries of the National Guard are also canceled, except for those who can demonstrate special need. It will take all this and more to pay the terms of the peace Thiers has signed.
On the morning of March 18, Montmartre wakes to find the walls plastered with a proclamation. In patronizing tones, Adolphe Thiers explains that—for the sake of public order, democracy, the Republic, the economy, and their own skins—the honest people of Paris must turn over the cannons, along with the criminals by whom they have been led astray:
To carry out this act of justice and reason, the government counts on your assistance. It believes that the good citizens will separate from the bad, and will support, instead of resisting, public opinion… Having received this notice, you will now approve our recourse to force, because there must be peace, without a day’s delay.
On the previous evening, Louise Michel had climbed to the crest of Montmartre to bear a message to the rebel Guardsmen watching the cannons. It was late, so she stayed overnight at their headquarters. All night, suspicious characters kept turning up with stories that didn’t make sense, pretending to be drunk, trying to get a look at the hilltop.
She awakens to gunfire. It is still dark. By the time she is on her feet, French troops loyal to Thiers are already in control of the building. They arrest the men and ransack the house, but take little notice of her—she is a woman, after all. After the troops have secured the area, they bring in a captured Guardsman who has been shot. Michel tears strips from her dress to staunch his bleeding.
Montmartre’s liberal mayor arrives. Michel can only shake her head at his dismay: he is concerned about the injured Guardsman, but above all he hopes the troops will take the cannons away swiftly before his constituents get unruly. Not knowing that Michel has already dressed the Guardsman’s wound, he asks for clean bandages. Michel offers to go out for them.
“You’re certain you’ll return?” He gives her a sidelong glance.
“I give my word,” answers Michel, deadpan.
As soon as she passes out of view, she is sprinting down the hill through the dim streets, past small knots of early risers reading Thiers’ proclamation posted on the walls. She is yelling out “Treason!” at the top of her lungs when she turns onto the street where the headquarters of the local Vigilance Committee are. Her friends are already there; they grab their guns and rush back up the hill with her. In the distance, the drums of the National Guard can be heard, beating out the call to arms.
Now the streets are thronged: bearded Guardsmen, young men in shirtsleeves fumbling with their rifles, women in twos and threes. They thicken into a human sea, rushing upwards. Ahead of them, Michel sees the hill, crowned in the first soft light of day. At the top, an army waits in full battle array. She and her friends are going to die. The effect of this revelation is almost exhilarating.
Suddenly, Michel’s mother is beside her in the crowd. “Louise, I haven’t seen you in days! Where have you been? You’re not going to get mixed up in all this, are you?”
When she reaches the crest of the hill, the crowd has already breached the infantry cordon. The soldiers are surrounded. Women are heckling Thiers’ troops:
“Where are you taking those cannons? Berlin?”
“No—they’re taking them back to Emperor Napoleon!”
“You can fire on us, but not on the Prussians, eh?”
A shame-faced officer pleads with a matron who has planted herself between a cannon and the horses pulling it. “Come, my good woman, get out of the way.”
“Go on, you coward,” she yells back, “Shoot me in front of my children!”
“Cut the cables!” someone shouts from the back of the crowd. A knife passes from hand to hand until it reaches the woman blocking the cannon. She cuts the straps attaching it to the horses. The crowd cheers.
General Lecomte himself rides up, high and haughty. He assumes command in a voice that resounds above the tumult: “Soldiers! Prepare arms!”
A hush falls. The soldiers ready their weapons. They look pale. Someone cries, “Don’t shoot!” but the crowd does not fall back.
A line of matching rifles goes up. A woman is trembling; another grips her arm, sneering at the young men in their army uniforms. Behind them, Michel and her friends raise their rifles as well. They see that some of the soldiers are shaking too.
“Fire!” There is an instant’s pause.
An officer throws down his weapon and steps out of the ranks. “Fuck this!”
“Turn your rifles around!” someone else shouts. This is the moment Michel will always remember.
The next day, the red flag flies over the Town Hall—the flag of the people, the flag they should have raised in 1848. The Vigilance Committees occupy the neighborhood administrative buildings. Lecomte has been shot. Thiers and his henchmen have fled to the nearby town of Versailles with the remains of the military. The financiers have retreated to their country estates. Victor Hugo has run away to Belgium. From the East, the German troops are waiting to see whether the French government can subdue this new revolution, fearful it might spread across Europe.
Paris is in the hands of commoners known only to each other. Mysteriously, the city has never been so peaceful.
This is a selection from our forthcoming narrative history of anarchism, which we hope eventually to finish—if only the struggles of the present would offer us some respite. In the meantime, if you want to learn more, for starters, you could try:
A l’Assaut du Ciel—: la Commune Racontée, Raoul Dubois
Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune, Carolyn J. Eichner
Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, Gay L. Gullickson
The Paradise of Association: Political Culture and Popular Organizations in the Paris Commune of 1871, Martin Phillip Johnson
History of the Paris Commune of 1871, Prosper Olivier Lissagaray
There are countless scenarios in which you might want to employ direct action. Perhaps representatives of despicable multinational corporations are invading your town to hold a meeting, and you want to do more than simply hold a sign; perhaps they’ve been there a long time, operating franchises that exploit workers and ravage the environment, and you want to hinder their misdeeds; perhaps you want to organize a festive, community-oriented event such as a street party. Direct action can plant a public garden in an abandoned lot or defend it by paralyzing bulldozers; it can occupy empty buildings to house the homeless or shut down government offices. Whether you’re acting in secret with a trusted friend or in a mass action with thousands of people, the basic elements are the same.
Direct Action in a Nutshell: A Step-by-Step Guide
First of All…
Brainstorming: Choose a project and devise a plan
Brainstorming can start with a problem you want to solve, or a social contribution you want to make; it can be informed by the resources you have, the kind of experience you desire, or the people you want to work with. You can plot a single short adventure or a long-term campaign. Often, the best brainstorming occurs in the course of daydreams and informal conversations—it’s good policy to trust that your craziest ideas can become reality and try them out.
By the same token, even when attending events organized by others, it’s best to bring a plan so you can contribute in your own way.
If it makes sense for your action to be organized openly, establish a format, such as a public assembly, in which to work out a strategy and tactics. Invite friends, or circulate fliers, or go from door to door announcing it. Come up with your own proposals ahead of time, in case no one else does.
For more clandestine actions, brainstorm in a secure environment with a trusted friend or two. Keep your ideas to yourselves as you hash them out so you won’t have already given them away when you’re ready to try them.
Goals: Establish and prioritize the goals of the action
Who is your action for? Is it directed at on-the-spot spectators, corporate media viewers, the owners of specific corporations, their stockholders, the police and government, other members of the community, the participants themselves?
What is it intended to accomplish? Is it meant to communicate ideas, to call attention to an injustice, to inspire people, to secure resources, to set a particular tone, to inflict crippling material damages, to provide a deterrent, to demonstrate a model others can apply, to serve as a learning and bonding experience for those involved?
Establishing a shared understanding of the goals of the action from the outset will save a lot of headaches later when your plans shift and potential conflicts arise.
Affinity Groups: Work tightly with those you know
One of the most efficient and secure models for direct action organizing is the affinity group model. An affinity group is a group of friends who trust each other deeply and share the same goals; working together over a long period of time, they become efficient and effective.
For a small action, the members of an affinity group can take on different roles. For a larger action, affinity groups can work with other affinity groups in a “cluster,” each group playing a role. This can make decision-making easier than it would be in one big mass, as each group can send a representative to a spokescouncil. Clusters of affinity groups can work together over long periods, building trust and effectiveness.
Recruiting: Bring in other individuals and groups carefully
Once you have a plan to propose, figure out how many people you need to accomplish it. If your plan requires secrecy, invite only people you trust to keep secrets and that you are sure will want to join in—everyone you invite who doesn’t end up participating is a needless security risk. Extend invitations one by one, or affinity group by affinity group, so those who decide against participating will not know anything about the others involved. Start by asking general questions about what a potential participant could be interested in, and don’t reveal critical details of the plan such as exact target or date until he or she is ready to make a commitment. As people are brought into a plan and go on to bring in others, make sure everyone has the same understanding of the appropriate degree of security.
As more people become involved in the project, it’s important that everyone understands how much commitment is expected of them. Sometimes the group that first presents a plan will be more invested in it than others; if they do months of work preparing, only to have another group they depended on drop out at the last minute, all that work is wasted. Everyone shares the responsibility of being honest from the beginning about what is realistic to expect of them. At the same time, those who initiate a project should be careful to share ownership with everyone else involved.
Dynamics: Make sure power is distributed evenly within your group
Make all decisions in a participatory and consensual manner. If your group is large enough to warrant it, use an informal or formal consensus meeting process to make sure all voices are heard: set the agenda of each meeting together and pick a facilitator to keep things on track. The more that everyone participates, the better informed the decisions you make will be.
Be aware of internal dynamics that may be unbalanced, such as those between people with different backgrounds, or between local organizers and participants from out of town. The more everyone participates in planning and preparing for the action, the more invested in its success everyone will be. A group with good internal dynamics is smarter than any individual can be; individuals can bring in ideas, but together the group can work out the best way to apply them.
Make sure everyone feels supported and comfortable throughout the project; check in with each other outside of formal structures as well as inside them. Though often overlooked, maintaining morale is a critical aspect of successful direct action organizing. Keep level heads in the face of surprises and uncertainty.
Security Culture: Circulate information on a need-to-know basis
Security culture is a way to avoid unhealthy paranoia by minimizing risks at all times. If you and your friends always conduct yourselves wisely, you’ll have less to fear from infiltration and surveillance.
The essence of security culture is that information is shared on a need-to-know basis. In some cases, the whole town needs to know about your action for it to be a success; in others, it is crucial that the action is never spoken of outside the circle of those directly involved. Everyone privy to the action needs to share a sense of what level of security has been deemed appropriate, and to respect others’ needs regarding safety.
Consent is as important in security as it is in sexual intimacy; it is never acceptable to violate another’s wishes regarding security issues. Make your own security needs explicit from the beginning; swear an oath of silence together if need be. Never talk about your or others’ involvement in past actions, however long ago, except with their express permission.
When a group comes together to work on a project, make sure everyone present is vouched for by others in the group as reliable and trustworthy. To protect each other, you should be prepared to remain silent under interrogation and legal pressure.
From the beginning of a project, you should operate according to the highest possible level of security it might require; you can always become less cautious later, but if you start out being careless you close off a lot of options.
Be aware of all the ways your actions can be monitored or tracked: the records of surveillance cameras, the purchases you make, the places you go and the people with whom you are seen, the location of meetings, the items you throw in your trash, the websites you visit, the files on your computer, the fingerprints you leave (on the batteries inside a flashlight as well as on the outside of it, for example), and virtually everything that has to do with a phone. Devise codes and prepare alibis as need be.
Legal Support: Prepare infrastructure to provide support during and after the action
Everyone involved in the action should be aware of and prepared for the risks they are taking and the potential criminal charges associated with them. It’s important not to take things farther than you feel ready to go: if you get hurt or arrested while engaging in a level of risk for which you are not emotionally prepared, the effects can be debilitating. Far better that you get started slowly, building a sustainable involvement with direct action projects that can continue over a lifetime, than rush into an action, have a bad experience, and swear off all such activity.
If your action may result in arrests, prepare a legal support structure for those who participate. This could include a legal aid number for arrestees to call, legal observers to monitor and document the actions of police, money for bail, lawyers to provide immediate support to arrestees and to represent them in court, and a circle of people prepared to offer emotional, financial, and logistical support throughout court cases.
The legal aid number should be open to receive incoming calls at all times throughout the action; bear in mind that in some cases, you cannot call a cell phone from jail. The legal aid number should not incriminate the arrestees or the people who receive the calls—if part of your alibi is that you don’t know each other, don’t all call the same number from jail. If you fear you will forget the number, write it on a concealed part of your body in permanent marker. The person operating the legal aid number should know the full names of those who may be arrested, so as to check on their status.
To bail someone out of jail, you can either give the entire amount of the bail to the court system, in which case you should receive it back after the legal process is finally concluded, or you can go to a bail bondsman and pay about 10% of that; in the latter case, the bondsman’s fees may cost you a significant amount of money. If no one can pay bail, an arrestee may sit in jail until the court date, although in the case of minor infractions it can happen that police release people on their own recognizance so as not to have to deal with them.
If you are risking arrest, decide whether you want to have your identification on you to expedite processing, or to be without it, so they cannot identify you immediately. A large group of arrestees who refuse to give their information can tie up the legal process and sometimes gain bargaining power. If you need medication, consider hiding it on your person, or carry a note from a doctor explaining what you need.
Find a sympathetic and trustworthy lawyer—or perhaps a few of them, since a lawyer cannot represent more than one defendant on the same charges. You can research which lawyers have taken on similar cases in the past, or approach the American Civil Liberties Union or National Lawyers Guild. If you don’t give away anything sensitive, you can ask sympathetic lawyers about the charges associated with hypothetical acts, or specify the dates and times you may require their services—but don’t let them know anything that could implicate them.In order to do their job, they need to be able to prove that they are not connected to anything illegal.
Any community whose members may suffer arrest would do well to establish a bail fund in advance; this can save a lot of running around in the middle of emergencies. Throw benefit shows, sell t-shirts, solicit donations from wealthy sympathizers, have your friends at the university book you speaking dates at their school in return for student funds. Make sure the bail fund stays with someone who is even-handed, trustworthy, and always easy to reach.
Likewise, consider what your media strategy will be—whether it will be wise to direct public attention and support to arrestees.
Media: Establish what coverage you want and get it
Long before an action, when you are establishing and prioritizing goals, work out exactly how much media coverage you want, from which sources, and how you are going to obtain or avoid it. This could mean composing and sending out a press release (Who, What, When, Where, How, Why) or a communiqué, electing a spokesperson to represent your project to the press, inviting corporate or independent reporters to the action or to a press conference, faxing announcements or making press calls, offering interviews (in person or anonymously over a burner phone), or having members of your group cover documentation themselves. If you want to avoid certain kinds of coverage, it could also mean assigning a participant to make sure photographers do not aim their cameras at you.
If you are communicating with the media, compose talking points, sound bites that your spokesperson repeats to be sure they get in the media coverage. Give representatives of the press as little material to work with as possible so they will have to use the part you want them to. Keep track of which reporters tend to provide positive coverage, and approach them personally. If you have a website, get this address into corporate media coverage to reroute their viewers to your media. You can also provide information to the public yourselves by postering, pirate radio, speaking events, or starting conversations door to door.
If your action warrants high security, send your communiqué securely: for example, from a public computer that leaves no record of who uses it. Be aware of how the devices you use can incriminate you.
Planning: Study the context, chart a strategy, plan for different scenarios
Proper planning is the essence of safe, effective direct action. Keeping your goals and priorities in mind along with the resources you have to work with, plot and compare different strategies. Weigh out the risks and potential rewards of each: always pick the safest way to accomplish a given objective, and make sure you can afford to take the risks you choose. It sometimes happens that as the planning process goes on, a project will get more and more ambitious and hazardous, until some of those involved start to have doubts; at that point, it may be necessary to work out a safer or scaled-down version of the plan, so it can still take place.
There are countless factors to take into account in planning. You must pick the most effective tactics in the context of the current social and political situation. You must pick the best location for the action and take into account all its attributes; you must pick the best date and time of day. You must bear in mind the others who will be in the area, and how they will react—will they be sympathetic, or may hostile vigilantes interfere with your activities? You must coordinate the timing of different parts of the action, predicting how long each will take, and figure out how those involved in the action will communicate.
When predicting the responses of others—say, for example, the police—consider the factors influencing them: Are they expecting what you’re planning, or do you have the element of surprise? If you have the advantage of surprise, how long will it last? Will there be a lot of attention focused on the event? Will it be immediately apparent what you are doing? Will there be middle-class citizens or reporters around, and will their presence put a damper on the authorities’ response? What is their strategy likely to be, based on previous precedents for police behavior in this context? Do their bosses want them to come down hard on you—or to avoid provoking a scene? How well do they communicate, how fast do they move, where are they located, what routes will they take?
Don’t underestimate the challenges of simple logistical matters, such as transporting people or communicating in stressful situations. Don’t forget to plan an exit strategy, either.
Because plans rarely come off exactly as they are laid, it’s important to have backup plans worked out for different scenarios: “If ____, we’ll ____; if ____, we’ll ____.” Have a few different objectives in mind, in case your first choice turns out to be impossible. Having a basic structure for communications and decision-making in place will help you to be prepared for situations that play out differently than any of the scenarios you had imagined.
Be careful not to put others at risk for your actions; the authorities will probably charge whomever they get their hands on with the worst crimes they can, so it’s important both to get those who take risks out of the area safely and to make sure serious charges can’t stick to anyone else. In some cases, you can bring together multi-leveled groups in which everyone knows the general goal but only a few know critical details such as what the target is or who is to carry out the riskiest activity.
Be prepared for the best-case scenario as well as the worst. New ideas, if they are good ones, tend to fail because people don’t take them far enough, whereas older ideas usually fail because they are too familiar to everyone, including the authorities. Sometimes the best results come from applying familiar tactics in entirely new settings.
Look back in time for precedents, occasions when similar actions were attempted in similar contexts. These can be very instructive. As you gather years of experience and learn from others’ successes and failures, you’ll develop skills for predicting and preparing for a wide variety of situations.
Preparation: Gather equipment and dress appropriately
Once your plans are laid, draw up a timeline until your action, counting backwards from the big day to establish the deadlines for all the pieces that must be in place.
Early on in the planning, work out what funding, materials, and other resources you will need and how to obtain them. If security is a priority, obtain what you need in such a way that it cannot be traced to you; affinity groups from out of town can acquire potentially incriminating materials far from the site of the action.
Make sure everyone has appropriate clothes for the action, including different outfits in layers if necessary. Take security issues into account as they relate to clothing: if everyone is dressing in black for anonymity, be sure no one’s clothes have unique identifying features; likewise, if you’re going to be posing as random passers-by, remember that civilian dress is different in Miami than it is in Seattle. If timing is important, make sure everyone’s watches are synchronized.
Double-check to make sure everything is ready by your deadline. Go through a practice run, verbally if not physically. If participants are unfamiliar with the area, distribute maps. If need be, plant necessary materials in the area in advance of the action—being careful not to give anything away in the process.
Scouting: Study the site of the action and stay abreast of changes
Before the action, study the area carefully. Chart safe routes in and out; look for hiding places, obstacles, potential targets, and surveillance cameras (including those in ATMs and stoplights). Note how long it takes to travel key distances, and be aware of the visibility from and of key locations. How close are the authorities, how long will it take them to arrive? Can their approach be delayed? Who else is in the area?
While scouting, be careful not to call attention to yourself or leave an obvious record of your passing. Be sure to do at least some of your scouting at the same time of day as the planned action, and if possible do a quick check immediately before it to make sure nothing has changed. If your action calls for daunting tasks, such as climbing a steep rooftop, it may be good to make an actual practice run at some point.
Information can also be gathered from photos, maps, and brochures; aerial maps or blueprints may be available. In some cases you can obtain information from a tourist center, or call and ask questions on a pretext (as a student doing a report, for example), or even receive a guided tour. Once you’ve collected a lot of information, it can be helpful to consolidate the important parts into a map suited to your needs. Be careful to dispose of all files and paperwork securely.
Roles: Divide up responsibilities and set up decision-making structures
Identify all the roles necessary to pull off your plan, and make sure every one of these is filled. Some potential roles include:
internal (“embedded”) media
legal aid contacts
“plants” (for example, people disguised as innocent bystanders who are ready to intervene if necessary, or who will politely honk their horns while a barricade is erected in front of them)
people to transport materials
people to receive information and make tactical decisions
people to carry out the actual action
In some situations, it is wise to have understudies for important roles, in case it turns out at the last minute that someone can’t participate. This is especially true if you don’t know in advance what the date of your action will be—for example, if it is to coincide with an event that you cannot predict in advance, such as the announcement of a verdict or a declaration of war.
Diplomacy: Consider the way the action will affect others
If your action is taking place during or as part of a larger event, there may be large meetings at which different groups try to coordinate their efforts. These can be useful, but they tend to consume a lot of time and energy, so make sure you go into them knowing exactly what you hope to accomplish.
Whether you’re acting in the midst of thousands of other activists or far away from anyone, take into account the way your actions will affect other people. Will they endanger others? Will they provoke police repression? If so, will others bear the brunt of it, and is it possible to offset this? Will your actions make it more difficult for other people to do important work in a given community? Are there negotiations or reassurances you should engage in before, during, or after the action?
Honor all agreements you make with other groups; some might be willing to help you, with or without knowledge of the specific details of what you’re doing. Over time, if you prove reliable and considerate, you’ll build alliances with them.
During and After the Action
Awareness: Stay alert throughout the action
Awareness is key to the success of any action. Often, the atmosphere can change very quickly. It is important to keep up with what is going on around you, and to have established in advance how you will react to a given scenario. For example, is the arrival of a single police car a big deal? How about ten? Is it common for police to tail marchers in this city? While you can never be certain of exactly what will happen, going over possible scenarios in advance and having an idea of how your group wants to deal with them will give everyone a more solid idea of how to react—and how not to overreact—as the situation develops.
When informing others of a development, announce the raw information, not the conclusions you may have drawn from it (“The police are putting on gas masks,” not “They’re going to gas us!”), so others can draw their own conclusions. Resist the urge to panic, and the tendency to get carried away as well.
Communications: Keep each other informed
During the action, scouts can keep track of changes in the terrain such as arriving police, crowd movements, others’ activities nearby, and safe zones. They can use communication systems such as burner phones, encrypted text messaging, two-way radios, or whistles to keep in touch; audio or visual signals such as car horns or fireworks can also serve. A police scanner can be used to monitor police communications.
To make communication more efficient, scouts can report to an individual or sub-group in the center of the action; in a larger setting, they can phone in their findings to a central information hub, which others can call with questions.
Just as communications equipment can make you more efficient and effective, it also increases the risk of surveillance. You can use codes and code names, but be judicious—complicated codes are easy to forget, and prosecutors can argue that your codes meant something more drastic than they actually did. Even if no other communication system is used, it can be useful to have the option of an “abort” signal for emergencies.
Dispersal: Quit while you’re ahead
A safe escape is the most commonly overlooked part of direct action organizing. Be sure to have an exit strategy worked out in advance. If you’ll be in a large group, especially with others who haven’t been part of the planning process, think about how to avoid the herd mentality that keeps crowds together after it would be better to split up. Know when to press your advantage, and when to quit—when to run as fast as you can, and when to walk nonchalantly. Discard anything that could incriminate you, if possible in a place it will not be found; wait to change your appearance until you’re sure you’re no longer under observation.
If need be, gather in a safe place afterwards and make sure everyone is accounted for; collect bail money, seek outside assistance, write press releases. While everyone involved is still around, get contact information for anyone who might be able to testify or provide documentation to assist arrestees.
Debriefing: Regroup to discuss what went well and what lessons can be learned
After the action, destroy any evidence that could be used against you; keep tools that could be tied to the action in a hiding place outside your home. If you may have to testify in court at some date in the far future, consider writing down all the details you might need to remember on a piece of paper and concealing it in some place where you can be sure it will never be found. Get together in a secure setting and go over what happened. Follow up on ongoing matters, such as supporting those with court cases, providing further clarification to the public as to the goals of and ideas behind the action, and sorting out conflicts. Celebrate your victories, offer each other constructive criticism, learn from your mistakes, and lay plans for the next project.
There is something monumental and transformative happening in the United States that very few people are even aware of. It’s been written and talked about for decades, but the conversation is always so academic that it never reaches those who need to hear it most.
Our country is in the process of being ripped into two distinct classes—The Alpha Class and the Beta Class.
I use these names on purpose because they sound classist. They sound as if they imply superiority and inferiority. They sound judgmental. As someone born and raised in the SF Bay Area, they sound offensive. And that’s a good thing; I’ve grown tired of sneaky euphemisms for the extraordinary restructuring of society that’s happening all around us.
The lie we’ve been told
Tens, or maybe hundreds of millions of people in this country believe a horrible lie that goes something like this:
You can get ahead by working hard even if you’re not exceptional. Get a high school diploma. Get a college degree. The degree doesn’t really matter—there’s work out there for you. You won’t be rich, but you’ll have a good life. You’ll be part of the “middle class”, and you’ll have a happy family, time off, sick time, vacations, and you’ll grow old and have a decent retirement.
It’s a filthy fucking lie, and people who believe it are walking themselves (and their children) right into a wood chipper.
Alphas and Betas
The reality is that there are two classes: The Alphas and the Betas. If you don’t know which you’re in, you’re probably a Beta. Here’s how they break down.
The Alpha Class
Members of the Alpha Class are smart, lucky, social, have rich/connected families, or are otherwise imbued with genetic or environmental gifts (another form of luck) that helped them succeed. Most went to a four-year college (at least). Most have good self-discipline.
Most come from good families that insisted on both the discipline and the college. Others are exceptionally bright or talented and succeeded due to a combination of luck and hard work. Whatever the combination of factors, Alphas command salaries of at least $120,000 per year.
Alphas live the lives that America promised. They tend to have one main, high-paying job, although they may do other jobs for fun and/or extra income. They have health insurance. They have sick time. They have some level of control over the type of work they do, and how they execute that work.
Alphas are free to consume the best in life. They enjoy the cinema. They buy electronics. They buy brand name clothing and accessories. They lease vehicles, because they only keep them for a few years anyway. They have good credit. They can get a loan whenever they want to. They have a retirement strategy.
The Beta Class
Members of the Beta Class are less intelligent, less lucky, less social, come from poor and/or uneducated families, or are otherwise lacking genetic or environmental gifts (another form of luck) that would have helped them succeed. Most did not attend a four year college, and many lack self-discipline because they did not come from good families that insisted on both of these.
Others are simply not very smart and cannot adjust to the constantly changing environment at work or in life in general. Whatever the combination of factors, Betas make less than $75,000 and often no more than $40,000 per year.
Betas live in a world of struggle. They either don’t work (a massive number of Americans not only don’t have a job but aren’t even looking), have a single, low-paying job, or they have many low-paying jobs because they’re extremely hard working. They tend not to have good health insurance, if they have it at all. They have very little sick time, or couldn’t afford to use it if they had it. They have very little control over the work they perform, and are frequently treated horribly by management at work, e.g., being given just enough hours to not qualify for benefits.
Betas enjoy very little in life. They can’t afford to spend money on restaurants, movies, and other entertainment. They can’t buy the latest and greatest gadgets on TV. They buy second-hand and off-brand clothing. They buy used vehicles because they don’t have the credit to get into a lease. Getting a loan is a nightmare, unless it’s at the local check cashing establishment. They have little or no savings or retirement.
Rejecting the lie and embracing reality
So with that brief and imperfect introduction to the two remaining classes in America, allow me to relay some difficult truth.
If you are in high school and you don’t yet have plans for your future, you’re about to enter the Beta Class.
If you are raising children and you haven’t prepared them with a college education, they are about to enter the Beta Class.
If you are in high school and “just kind of hoping things will work out”, you’re about to enter the Beta Class.
Essentially, if you’re not actively defending against being part of the Beta Class, then that’s where you’re going.
TABLE 1. — Alpha numbers shrinking in coming years.
My prediction is that the number of people in the Alpha Class will continue to shrink in coming years as the middle is completely destroyed, leaving everyone else in the Beta Class. Beta is the new default, in other words, and Alpha is something you hope to achieve through some combination of preparation, hard work, and luck.
I’m going to state the severity of this problem as clearly as possible:
Alphas are those who enjoy American society, and Betas are those who support them doing so.
Alphas regularly eat in restaurants. Betas serve them food and wash their dishes.
Alphas drive expensive cars. Betas wash and service those cars.
Alphas buy expensive merchandise online. Betas answer the phones when they have problems.
Alphas have passports and travel the world. Betas work in airports and drive them to their destinations.
I hope you’re as sickened by reading that as I was by writing it. Get mad. Feel something. Wake the fuck up. Tell everyone you care about. This is happening, right now, all around us.
So, what can we do? I have a few recommendations:
Focus on what you can do to get ready. Vote, become a protester, enter politics, whatever. But don’t confuse those actions with preparing you and your loved ones for the world that is already here and that’s quickly becoming more severe.
Take the evil out of it. You can burn a lot of energy focusing on this group or that group that’s responsible because “they’re evil and they want to destroy America”. It’s a lot of bullshit. The number of historical, economic, and social factors leading to this reality is unbelievably massive, and it’s most definitely not because of the damn Liberals or the damn Republicans. Remove the emotion and focus on action.
Spread this message. It’s not enough to get this yourself. Help others realize that, no, it’s not “just going to work out”. Let them know that the default state is Beta, and that it won’t be pleasant.
I truly hope this essay helps someone see what’s coming—especially those who are bringing new lives into this world.
I do information security for a living, so take this for what it is—a potentially useful mental model for evaluating the world and how best to live in it. The numbers and estimates are just that—estimates—based on little more than lots of reading and thinking by a semi-intelligent, non social scientist / historian. This is not a theory, and it’s not data. It’s an idea with numbers.
I mention America specifically because I live here and know it best, but this is actually a global phenomenon. Some countries with high social and income equality will maintain a third, middle-ish class because of this, but I haven’t any idea how long that will last.
I obviously have no idea exactly what the exact Alpha/Beta numbers are, or the exact year that they’ll reach a particular number. It all depends on a) how you classify Alpha and Beta, and b) data from the real world that determines how many people are in each. Neither of those are easy to capture. My argument is simply that the numbers useful at the level of accuracy they have. But if you have a good argument that they should be higher or lower, I’d love to hear about it.
You’ll notice there’s a big gap between the $75,000 and $120,000 salaries I mention here. This is for a couple of reasons, but the biggest one is that I think there are about to be far fewer mid-level positions and salaries. More and more people will either go up or down, and most will go down.
I tried to make this very clear in the text, but if you know any of my views on free will you’ll know that I place no specialness on Alphas, or judgement on Betas. I believe it’s *all* a matter of luck, including the go-to explanation from conservatives of “hard work”. Where do you think you got that work ethic from? It was either genetic or it came from your environment, and neither of those were up to you. So I see all of this as a description of reality, not a judgement of those in it.
There are obviously some remnants of a middle class that makes little money, isn’t college educated, etc., but that still has savings and a retirement. But it’s a dying class that’s being replaced by the two above.
There are many different types of people who make less than $75,000 per year, and some of these descriptions apply to one group and not another. In general terms, there is a working class that’s poor despite both parents working multiple jobs, there are people who are actively seeking and not finding work, there are those who were working but have now given up and live at home or with friends, and there are those who are simply taking as much as they can from the government, with no intention of working.
Before all my conservative friends complain, yes, I am aware that there is another class that is Beta on purpose. They take as much as possible, use government benefits to their advantage, etc. It’s a welfare class and it’s well documented. While it’s definitely true and a factor to some degree, the numbers are actually rather small compared to those who are not working but not receiving benefits, or those who are working but not making much money. So yes, it’s a real topic, and a problem to be solved, but not one that affects this model.
I’m getting the top 15% salary of $120,000 per year from here. That of course doesn’t mean it’s going to represent the Alpha Class permanently, but it’s a good start.
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"10. I’m getting the top 15% salary of $120,000 per year from here. That of course doesn’t mean it’s going to represent the Alpha Class permanently, but it’s a good start." He links to a page about household (not individual) income. Not sure I would bother paying attention to much he says.
Reading grand narratives like this is interesting. But the big question I come away with is to try to figure out how we'd know that this is happening? Once you have a framework for splitting the world into classes, how do you actually go out and measure to determine if your distinction is material?
What is presented here is (self-acknowledged) to be something that is pretty anecdotal and off the cuff. In order for it to be validated, we would be looking for (a) increased inequality even when ignoring the top few percent of the income distribution (the alpha class is much larger than the ultra-rich '1%'). (b) quantify the markers of insecurity among the beta class and figure out which income brackets they apply to. (c) Figure out if there is really income spreading as he thinks there is or will be such that fewer people are making incomes in the middle ranges. (d) quantify whether there is an increasing affluence of consumers compared to workers. For example, if car mechanics, dishwashers, tech support staff, etc. are all much poorer than the people they serve that would indicate the bifurcation of classes. A world where waitstaff can afford to go to restaurants themselves and are in some sense serving their peers during their workday is very different from betas always being the waitstaff and serving the alphas who are the only customers who can afford to go out to eat.
On March 4, at the Peace Wall, at 2 PM, the fascists are coming back. And so soon, you’d think they missed us.
What began as a direct response to Feb. 1st – a march for “free speech,” with the frat-brownshirt Proud Boys as special guests – has been completely rebranded since Milo’s fall from grace. Now the organizers of these “Marches 4 Trump” are trying to pull together a coalition of libertarians, ancaps, armed militias, brownshirt alt-right enforcers, the “patriotic” Tea Party crowd, and alt-lite Deplorables without alienating any of them.
Rich Black is the public face of the March on Berkeley. His Twitter header is a pastel ancap flag. He neglected to make the March on Berkeley Facebook event page (or its guest list) private. In an attempt to funnel every angry conservative in California into downtown Berkeley, he (or other organizers) canceled the Sacramento and Los Angeles marches and combined them with Berkeley’s. He seems very eager to simultaneously a) reassure everyone that this is not an alt-right event and b) tag Gavin McInnes begging for promotion, retweet the Proud Boys, and tag both them and the Oath Keepers in his tweets. For someone who isn’t organizing a fascist march, he sure wants all the fascists to know about it.
Black wants his fascist cake and eat it too.
The Berkeley College Republicans, everyone’s favorite concentration of truly banal evil, will be in attendance as well. In meetings they’ve been enthusiastically hyping March 4th and are trying to get the California State Militia to show up. BCR’s alt-right and white nationalist ties are well documented and getting stronger. Jack Palkovic was spotted on BART with Identity Evropa founder Nathan Damigo. They hugged each other goodbye.
The feeling on the ground is that this is, on some level, a trap. They’re massing outside the police station. The cops are ready to protect these fascists, and they aren’t going to be hands-off this time. Camera-hungry Milo counter-protesters like Eddie Brock show up in Rich Black’s Twitter conversations. They call themselves a march, but there’s no parade route even being discussed. Their organizers claim to be working with police, militias, and the FBI. And they’re expecting antifascist resistance. They’ve been circulating our calls to action, warning each other that the spectre of antifa will be back to haunt them.
So show up and haunt these motherfuckers. Bring your friends. Give ’em hell, but be careful. Berkeley is the hill that the alt-right and their growing coalition have chosen to flounder on, and they’re only getting cockier.
We shut these fascists down before, and we’ll do it again.
Over the past week, nearly 700 people have been rounded up in a wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sweeps across the US. In response, people have blockaded roads and ICE vans and organized massive demonstrations. But what would it take to stop the raids altogether?
The raids come on the heels of a set of executive orders from the Trump administration threatening millions of people across the United States. These orders aim to deputize police as immigration officials, to build up massive prison infrastructure, and to target entire communities for harassment, detention, and deportation. The idea is clearly to give police and government officials sweeping powers to terrorize an entire community.
Debate has centered on whether these raids represent Trump’s new program or the continuation of ICE policy under Obama. Obama’s administration deported 2.7 million people, more than the US deported throughout the entire 20th century. David Ward, the Director of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Agents, has stated that the current wave of raids were “probably planned at least three or four months ago, under the Obama administration, and finally launched under the Trump administration.”
Yet the Trump administration intends to open a new chapter in the criminalization of immigrants. Trump has appointed a white nationalist from the anti-immigrant group FAIR to head US Customs and Border Protection. The white nationalist wing of the regime, represented by Steve Bannon, intends to follow through on Trump’s campaign promises to build a billion-dollar wall along the Mexican border and carry out mass deportations.
The Obama administration took a neoliberal approach to mass deportations, using them to disrupt immigrant labor organizing while leaving enough undocumented people in the country to provide a cheap labor force to boost corporate profits. The Trump administration is taking a nationalist approach, gambling that it is more important for white people and US citizens to preserve their comparative status relative to people of color and non-citizens than it is preserve the functioning of the economy. An administration that is prepared to risk economic collapse to carry out its scapegoating is prepared to put up with a little outcry and protest as well.
Ever since the election, people have been organizing emergency hotlines, rapid response networks, and know-your-rights trainings. As soon as the raids took place, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Baltimore and Milwaukee, while confrontational protesters blocked a freeway onramp in Los Angeles. In Austin and Phoenix, people shut down streets and blocked ICE vans. On Thursday, February 16, thousands of people participated in massive school walkouts, marches, and demonstrations against the raids under the banner #DayWithoutImmigrants.
Likewise, blocking ICE vans might interrupt a deportation or two, but they are not going to stop the regime. Certainly, these efforts are disruptive and set a precedent for responding immediately; they demonstrate considerable courage, and they inspire courage as well. But in most cases, they will not be quick enough or forceful enough to save the people who are being wrested from their families.
Applying the logic that made the protests against the Muslim Ban so effective, we see that what is lacking is a widely accessible point of intervention that provides direct leverage on the infrastructure with which these raids are being carried out. People need a pressure point, a place that they can converge to go on the offensive.
But what might that pressure point be? There are several possibilities. ICE maintains offices all around the United States. It is similarly easy to find the detention facilities they utilize. If word got out that protesters were massing around these and interfering with their operations, a great number of people around the country would likely follow suit. If this spread far enough, it could create a political crisis within the state.
Mind you, this is not an endorsement of any particular strategy. Many people surely consider it perfectly legitimate to sit on their hands while millions are rounded up and deported or imprisoned. That likely includes many good liberals who did not object to this under Obama but will be pleased with themselves for having registered their dissent under Trump. “First they came for the immigrants…”
The point is simply that—to paraphrase Utah Phillips—our neighbors and coworkers are not vanishing, they are being disappeared, and the institutions responsible for this have names and addresses.
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If… if… We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more—we had no awareness of the real situation… We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
Wheatpasting is a simple, dirt-cheap way of spreading ideas, news, analyses, and creative expression outside of (and against) the pacified modes made available by the institutions that control and mangle our lives. Let’s reclaim, together, the means of expression from the media, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, and everything else that reduces us to mere observers of life. Poetry is in the streets!
WHAT YOU NEED
•1 cup of flour
•2 cups of water
•Stove or hotplate
•A pot or pan
•A large paintbrush
•A bucket or container
•Flyers that you want to put up
•Latex gloves (if you don’t wanna walk around with drippy hands)
(OR, you can use a gallon of pre-made “wallpaper paste,” which can be bought cheaply at hardware stores. If you do this, you can skip these first three directions.)
•Mix the 1 cup of flour with 2 cups of water together in a pan and stir until there are no lumps.
•Heat the mixture by boiling it until it thickens.
•Cook for about half an hour, and then let it cool.
•Put the wheatpaste solution into a container, grab a paintbrush, some flyers, and head out into the night. Keep in mind that wheatpasting is not “legal” and therefore, it is best to go late at night and avoid being seen by cops.
•When you locate a visible, non-porous surface like metal or glass, use the paintbrush to apply the wheatpaste to either the back of the flyer or the surface itself and smooth the flyer down so there are little or no air bubbles. Put some more wheatpaste on the front of the flyer (especially the edges) to secure it to the surface.