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From Piece Movement to Peace Movement: San Francisco Self-Organizes to Implode Empire

An old but very relevant article concering the Day X demos in San Fransisco in 2003.
America's latest war of conquest has been met with massive resistance in the United States and around the world. In particular the response in San Francisco was inspiring - 20,000 people engaged in mass non-violent direct action to shut down the financial district. Over the course of the four business days after the war began on March 20th nearly 2600 were arrested for engaging in acts of protest and resistance, and the momentum continues! Corporations invested in the mass destruction business (like Bechtel, Citibank and the Carlyle Group) had their offices blockaded as did a military recruiting station, the British consulate and a Federal office building. Using tactics ranging from lock-downs to mobile blockades and critical mass bike rides Bay area residents transformed the usually car clogged consumption zone into a living statement of hope and life-affirming resistance to Bush's war for empire.

- Anatomy of an Uprising

The most important thing to understand about the San Francisco uprising is to understand that the "organization" behind it - Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW) - is not an organization at all. Direct Action to Stop the War is a mobilization based on the de-centralized affinity group-spokes council model that has anchored so many of the global justice mass actions of recent years. DASW grew out of anti-war actions last fall but really took off in January when local organizers hatched a framework for popular resistance to Bush's war - a mass shut down action of the financial district.

The organizing was largely driven by a website [] and a weekly spokescouncil. The plan was transparent from the beginning and wittily depicted through a fast food menu as an "Emergency Potluck to Stop the War". 20 locations were identified as places for actions, a combination of "A Moveable Feast" of key intersections for blocking traffic into the financial district and a "Traditional Sit-Down Dinner" of Government and Corporate offices. The action framework was completed with a "Take Out Menu" of Bikes Not Bombs actions as a means to directly confront fossil fuel addiction. At weekly spokescouncils different affinity groups claimed different locations while updating each other on their ongoing work and actions to stop the war before it started.

The spokescouncil model was very successful in allowing people from different communities with different political analysis to work together and build a unity that didn't sacrifice our diversity of experience, analysis and tactics. As a result the streets were flooded with people from different walks of life: soccer moms, black bloc anarchists, people of faith, students, queers, people of color, militant labor folks, even a few anti-war corporate CEO's.

- Build it and They Will Come

The real success of the action came not only from the fact that several thousands people were pre-organized into affinity groups, but that tens of thousands of people joined us in the streets on the day of the action. A key component of the organizing and media strategy were two concepts that may resonate with readers familiar with the work of the smartMeme project ( - Telling the Future and Articulating Values Crisis.

Starting in early March DASW organized foreshadowing events that used the corporate media to "Tell a Future" in which if Bush bombed Iraq Bay area residents would rise up in a non-violent insurrection and shut down the financial district. These events ranged from a high profile press conference, to an open letter to the city to pre-emptive actions in the financial district including a shut down of the Pacific Stock Exchange in which 80 people got arrested.

This media work was successful in its goal of getting DASW's website and the action meeting spot printed on the front page of the newspaper and carried on every major radio and television station. DASW organized an orientation process at the designated meeting spot in which the thousands of people who joined the action day of were rapidly briefed on the action goals, given legal and medical information and then dispatched to support the pre-existing blockades.

- An Inviting Insurrection

Likewise in creating a public image of the action DASW focused on a values-based critique that worked to mainstream the concept s of non-cooperation and civil disobedience. The DASW website and kick-off press conference featured endorsements from leaders of a cross section of Bay area communities - Queer, Labor, Faith, People of Color, Veterans, Seniors even the former CEO of the Pacific Stock Exchange. Without sacrificing the opportunity to put out a systemic analysis, the organizing appealed to mainstream values - democracy, sense of security, justice, belief in international law, patriotism - and used them to leverage opposition to the Bush administration.

This type of mass organizing may stretch the comfort zone of many radicals, however it has great potential to exploit some of the growing fault lines in American society. Bush's naked imperial agenda is challenging a lot of American's sense of national identity as an international beacon of democracy and justice. Regardless of the fact that much of America's national story has always been a hypocritical mythology, there is an incredible opportunity for change activists to lay claim to widely held values like security, democracy, and national pride and direct these energies into "imploding" empire. Let's ask ourselves how our resistance can galvanize anti-war sentiments into a deeper movement for fundamental change that articulates the values crisis - the disconnect between the values of empire and the values that ordinary Americans hold. In San Francisco the strategy worked well enough that 20,000 people joined us in occupying the streets - with more refinement and widespread application who knows what is possible.

- Unmasking U.S. Empire Inc.

Beyond just disrupting business as usual, targeting the financial districts exposed the links between the corporate controlled world of poverty, exploitation and ecological devastation and increasing U.S. militarism around the world. We not only physically challenged the ability of the US government to make war but acted to uproot the entire system of corporate control, racism, anti-earth values and state violence that underlies the drive towards empire.

The San Francisco organizing attempted to contextualize the effort to stop the invasion of Iraq as just confronting a "piece" of the imperial schemes. The reality is that corporate globalization and American militarism are working hand in hand to create a world of homogenity, consumer monoculture and control. The Bush regime has been stunningly public about their vision of a "Pax Americana" their code word for US global military domination. In fact the word "empire" itself is yet again entering the American lexicon, slipping into Pentagon briefings, Washington Post articles and NY Times editorials.

In light of this new level of ruthless honesty we can't afford to just be talking about Iraq. 156 countries around the world have some sort of U.S. military presence - from fighting "terrorists" in the Philippines to protecting US oil installations in Colombia. These troops are doing the dirty work of corporate globalization, suppressing the popular backlash and making the world safe for investment and resource extraction.

DASW's effort provide some stepping stones towards a true "peace" movement - a holistic intersection of movements struggling for justice, democracy and ecological sanity collaborating to confront the entire US Empire Inc. This means not only tackling the war in Iraq but the war at home - corporate rule, the assaults on civil liberties and communities of color, the war on the poor, and of course the ongoing war on the natural world.

Hopefully by the time you read this the showdown between global civil society and the U.S. war machine will be moving more onto our terms. But even if we don't stop this war lets make sure our brothers and sisters around the world know one thing - a hell of a lot of us inside the belly of the beast weren't going along quietly. This war will not be waged in our name but only over the collective weight of our bodies thrown onto the gears of the US war machine. Silence is agreement and peace is an idea that demands action. And you know what they say about empires - the bigger they come, the harder they fall. See you in the streets!

-- Patrick is a SF based direct action organizer and co-founder of the smartMeme project and Wake Up America Campaign. For more information about Direct Action to Stop the War check out or call 415-820-9649

-- From De-colonizing the Revolutionary Imagination Included in the upcoming City Lights Press anthology Globalize Liberation ed. David Solnit



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