Five people in Seattle, including a member of our Red Spark collective, are currently facing serious charges allegedly related to May Day demonstrations that took place earlier this year. Charges include riot, assault, property destruction, and criminal mischief, which carry over 2 years of jail time for at least one of the accused. A trial could begin as early as late January or February.
The May 1st actions concentrated some of the most radical moments of Occupy in both Seattle and throughout the country. These demonstrations mobilized thousands of people in multiple actions, including a Hip-Hop Occupies festival, an immigrant rights march, and a march against police murder. A mid-day anti-capitalist march ended with banks and a federal courthouse getting their windows smashed.
The May Day 5 are courageous for placing their lives on the line to fight for a radically different future. They deserve our full support, as do all other progressives and radicals caught up in a growing wave of extreme political repression.
This is not a question of “innocence” or “guilt” in the eyes of this system and its state - nor is it the question for us.
This is about denying the basic reality: the FBI and SWAT team raiders claim to represent “democracy” when it is they who refuse to allow democratic assemblies of millions of people in this country. They say their violence is legitimate, and that the people have no right to defend themselves.
These charges are not legitimate. Neither is the state that imposes them, the police that enforce them or the banker technocrats they defend. This is about the right to fight for a better world. Revolution is illegal by definition and its adherents are routinely criminalized. But we are not afraid. The tactics that a liberating movement chooses, whether they be targeted property destruction or civil disobedience, will be demonized whenever they threaten the powers that be.
The May Day charges occur in a wider climate of heightened social protest and repression. Although these charges have been filed in King County, Washington, there is no doubt that Federal agencies will be watching to see how our movement responds as a whole. A Federal Grand Jury in Seattle is conducting a political witch-hunt against radicals in the Pacific Northwest. Two Grand Jury resistors presently remain imprisoned for refusing to answer prosecutors’ questions and a third resister is prepared to be taken into custody on Friday. Last week, Seattle prosecutors mailed a court summons to a protestor who has been seen at rallies against the Grand Jury.
In the last 12 months there have been violent house raids, Federally-coordinated police assaults on the Occupy movement, and extensive use of surveillance, informants, undercover agents, and entrapment as the government attempts to neutralize and criminalize protestors. It has been revealed that the FBI was spying on anarchists from Portland before the May Day demonstration in Seattle for which they are purportedly being investigated.
In Seattle, the City spent seven months and unbelievable amounts of resources in response to targeted property destruction that occurred on May Day, including mobilizing the public to snitch on alleged law-breakers. The City is even procuring domestic drones that will inevitably be used against protesters. These decisions come as public transit routes are cut, public housing is decimated for condos, libraries are forced to close their doors, and the homeless are left out in the cold. This double standard doesn’t just expose a bitter hypocrisy. It underscores the inherently political nature of the charges against the May Day 5.
The repression that we have witnessed comes after months of bold action in Seattle (and all over the world) in direct defiance of private property and profit—as well as the system sworn to defend it at all costs. Beginning in the Fall of 2011, people took over vacant and foreclosed homes to house people, occupied a bank and a abandoned warehouse, and shut down West Coast Ports in support of port truckers, port workers, and as a broader attack against Goldman Sachs and “Wall Street on the Water Front.”
A militant, independent mass movement had joined forces with insurgent workers to temporarily halt the circulation of capital.
Although police and federal agents were embedded in the Occupy movement from its earliest days, the Port actions drew particular attention from Homeland Security, and Obama threatened to use armed Coast Guard ships to break the port workers struggles in Longview, Washington.
It is not “vandalism” that the state fears, but a popular uprising as the economic crisis deepens. The last few years of rebellion have directly called into question the very legitimacy of this system; and both sides understand what is at stake. All over the US, the state is marshaling its vast resources, from the DHS and FBI to local police and the courts to threaten, punish and frighten those who have openly rebelled.
The insecurity of our rulers is reflected in massive popular revolts that stretch across the globe. They fear a rapidly developing international movement that fundamentally challenges the logic and ideological underpinnings of this system. The Egyptian revolution was not just an inspiration for the Occupy movement - it played a concrete role in weakening American imperialism around the planet.
New Repression Tactics?
The US has a long history of political repression in response to movements that mounted serious challenges to the system. In the late 60s-70s, the political police (FBI) employed a diversity of tactics ranging from surveillance, infiltration, disruption, harassment and decapitation strategies including assassinations.
But how do we understand and overcome the present repression?
There is a new strategy of “death by a thousand cuts” being implemented by the police and courts, and monitored (or coordinated) by Federal authorities. We have seen this in the excessive arrests over minor criminal charges that would make all but the supreme dictators of the US blush.
The danger is that such charges, viewed narrowly, threaten to weaken our movements, exhaust our limited resources, isolate us politically and make us afraid to act. The sole intention of militarized house raids is clear: to terrorize and divide us from the broader public (and whoever the police and media declare to be the “good activists”).
The mainstream media has portrayed radicals, especially anarchists, as terrorists. They are eager to condemn ‘violence’ committed against panes of glass, but cannot be bothered to condemn the racist Seattle Police Department terrorism against people of color in the community. The figurehead of the US government is literally a Peace-Prize winning mass murderer who casually drops bombs on children and conducts brutal occupations of third world nations.
It is critical that we build broad support and defense for radicals facing political persecution. Efforts are underway in Seattle, Portland and elsewhere. Link up and help organize actions in your city.
We have an opportunity to engage in strategic conversations about the current nature of repression: how do we understand it, learn from it and orient ourselves in a way that responds to it?
How can we build the broadest networks in the near term to win support and keep our people out of jail? How can we break through with exposure of the state’s attacks to the wider public?
What organizational forms are best suited for our present reality, while at the same time guarding against infiltration and provocation from agents of the state? There have been early discussions amongst various political tendencies that address the question of organization. The ability of our movements to withstand repression is central to that conversation.
What approach will allow us to both defend our politics and militancy as well as win over allies and build movements that can win?
If we are going to win, we’ll win together.