What Is Unconventional Action?
Unconventional Action is an emerging network aiming to complement the work of local organizers in Denver and the Twin Cities with regional organizing throughout the rest of the country. Our goal is to build a horizontal, inclusive framework for protests that will disrupt the upcoming Democratic and Republican National Conventions. We are currently organizing meetings, propaganda, and consultas in our communities and encourage those in other regions to do the same.
We aim to organize militant direct action that manifests opposition to both the Democratic and Republican Parties. As anti-authoritarians, we oppose so-called representational politics, but even those who still believe in it must understand that we can only have leverage over our rulers by showing our own power, that we must back our demands by demonstrating that we can interfere with their business as effectively as they interfere with our lives.
Why Protest the Conventions?
The Democratic and Republican National Conventions present a tremendous opportunity for anarchists and other opponents of war and oppression. If the increasingly unpopular occupation of Iraq is still in effect by summer of 2008, it will be obvious that neither docile street marches nor electoral campaigns are effective means of opposing it; it will likewise be clear that the Democratic opposition is either not capable of or not interested in following through on their promises of ending the war, let alone solving all the additional problems capitalism poses.
Tens of thousands have participated in protests at the conventions preceding the past two elections; we can expect the 2008 conventions to be a major flashpoint. If we successfully disrupt them, this will inaugurate a new era of oppositional activity — and just in time, as federal repression intensifies, wars breed new generations of terrorists, and global warming worsens the ecological crisis.
Why Organize in Advance?
We must go into these protests with a strategy that is widely known, instantly comprehensible, and integrates a diversity of tactics and approaches. The farther in advance this strategy is established, and the broader the diversity of groups that utilize it, the more effective we can expect to be.
One of the fundamental shortcomings of the demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in 2004 was that there was no generalized strategy for anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and anti-capitalists. As a result, though tens of thousands came to the city, many had a difficult time coordinating their efforts or even figuring out what to do besides join marches organized by hierarchical groups. Establishing a strategy early on gives us the advantage of taking the initiative to determine what we do together.
A good strategy provides a simple goal that all the specific actions of individual protesters can combine to achieve. The strategy of the Direct Action Network at the Seattle WTO protests in 1999 was a good example of this: by announcing early that their intention was to block off and shut down the summit, DAN gave all the participants in the protests a common end to strive for.
Everyone need not fall in line behind a single strategy, but there must be an easy way for people to plug into and contribute to something larger than themselves. Even explicitly autonomous actions are more effective in the context of broadly coordinated activity. A strategy is not the same as a unified plan of action; it is simply a framework within which different plans and approaches can complement one another. A good strategy works whether or not the authorities are aware of it: it enables individual groups to retain their privacy in planning how to play their part, and takes into account the responses that can be expected from the police. The past years of experience have shown that not having a plan ourselves, simply so the police will not catch wind of our plan, is not effective.
The strategies for these demonstrations will have to take into account the local context of the host cities and the current political situation. It will also be useful to draw on the lessons of more recent mass actions such as the previous RNC in New York, the G8 summits in Scotland and Germany, and the anti-war protests of 2003.
We urge everyone to begin meeting now on local and regional levels to begin planning for the conventions. One way to begin such discussions is to ask what a victory would look like and work backwards from there, brainstorming approaches that can provide for the widest possible range of participation.
Finally, it is important that we do not approach these protests in a vacuum. We can only expect to arrive at the conventions ready to act effectively if there are actions leading up to them at which we can gain experience and momentum. Likewise, we would do well to aim beyond the protests, using them above all as an opportunity to build up national networks capable of powerful, horizontal, decentralized organizing for a long time to come.
How Do I Join Unconventional Action?
Short version: Start your own group and call yourselves Unconventional Action!
Longer version: We invite others who share our goals to organize under the name Unconventional Action. Unconventional Action is an umbrella name available to all who agree with our points of unity [see below]. It is also the actual network comprised of all Unconventional Action groups. We hope to foster a network that will exist long after the conventions of 2008.
Points of Unity:
The name Unconventional Action is available to all who:
* Reject all forms of hierarchy including capitalism, party communism, patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and so-called representational politics
* Organize on a non-hierarchical, consensus-based basis that promotes autonomy, solidarity, grass-roots involvement, and the agency of those most affected by each decision
* Embrace a diversity of tactics
* Do not condemn any action on the grounds that it is illegal alone
Why Diversity of Tactics?
Communities in resistance are often plagued by conflicts over which tactics are most effective and appropriate. Such debates are usually impossible to resolve — and that’s a good thing. Instead, to the extent it is possible, the activities of those employing different methods and even those pursuing differing goals should be integrated into a mutually beneficial whole.
Accepting a diversity of tactics provides for the broad diversity of real human beings. Every individual has a different life history, and consequently finds different activities meaningful and liberating. Insisting that everyone should adopt the same approach is arrogant and shortsighted — it presumes that you are entitled to make judgments on others’ behalf — and also unrealistic: any strategy that demands that everyone think and act the same way is doomed to failure, for human beings are not that simple or submissive. Critics often charge that the tactics they oppose will alienate potential participants, but the more diverse the tactics employed by a movement, the wider the range of people who can recognize among those tactics approaches that appeal to them. It may be necessary for factions applying different tactics to distance themselves from one another in the public eye, but this need not be done in an antagonistic spirit.
A movement that employs a diversity of tactics is able to adapt to changing contexts. Such a movement is a laboratory in which various methods can be tested; the ones that work will be easy to identify, and will naturally become popular. As we haven’t yet succeeded in overthrowing capitalism once and for all by any method, all methods are still worth trying, in case one works. In this sense, those who employ tactics other than the ones you favor are doing you a service by saving you the trouble of having to test them for yourself.
Different tactics, applied in conjunction, can complement one another. Just as the more confrontational politics of Malcolm X forced privileged whites to take the non-violent civil disobedience of Martin Luther King, Jr. seriously, a combination of tactics from accessible and participatory to militant and controversial can simultaneously attract attention to a struggle, offer opportunities for people to get involved at their own pace, and provide those who engage in it with leverage on a variety of levels.
Honoring a diversity of tactics means refraining from attacking those whose chosen approaches seem to you to be ineffective, and instead focusing on what missing elements you can add to make their efforts effective. Thus, it reframes the question of strategy in terms of personal responsibility: at every juncture, the question is not what somebody else should be doing, but what you can do.
The importance of a diversity of tactics doesn’t apply only when it is convenient for you. Don’t claim to believe in a diversity of tactics and then argue that — just in this particular case, of course — others should prioritize your agenda over their own. Recognizing the value of diversity of tactics means taking into account that others will make different decisions based on their differing perspectives, and respecting this even when their decisions baffle you.
Accepting the legitimacy of a diversity of tactics means moving from a competitive mindset in which there is only one right way of doing things to a more inclusive and nuanced way of thinking. This contests hierarchies of value as well as of power, and undermines rigid abstractions such as ‘violence’ and ‘morality’.
Finally, respect for diverse tactics enables disparate groups to build durable solidarity. Such solidarity must be founded on a commitment to coexisting and collaborating in harmony, rather than on limiting demands for unity.
Just as some shortsightedly reject tactics other than their own as ineffective, others feel the need to compete to determine whose tactics are the most committed or the most impressive. But the most dramatic triumphs of militant direct action are only possible thanks to the support of people applying more conventional approaches, and vice versa. It is important that we not see tactics as existing in a hierarchy of value from risk-free and insignificant to dangerous and glorious, but rather in an ecosystem in which all play an irreplaceable role. As revolutionaries, our role in such an ecosystem is to create a mutually-enhancing harmony between our efforts and those of others, even if some of them want to waste time competing with us for the currency of ‘being right’ or ‘being bravest’. No tactic can be effective alone; all can be effective together.