How to Kill A Movement
There are many facets to the destruction of movements. Although playing a key role in the failure of movements the state requires other components to make their plan of action successful. Organizations with their own vested interests, the media, and stagnation are all factors that contribute to the death of movements.
The state however is the ultimate arbitrator in this, whether through the use of repression with physical violence and imprisonment, or through infiltration and psychological tactics. The state will use and has used everything in its arsenal to eliminate what they see as a threat to its system of control. This is achievable through the granted legitimacy of violence that the state is given under the guise of security. We have seen countless examples of this from the formation of unions, the red scare, the elimination of the panther party, animal liberation groups, the anti-globalization movement, Muslim Americans after 911, the Occupy movement, and the continuous war on black lives that has existed since slavery. The state is rather predictable in their tactics; they have used the same methods of spying, jailing, and in some cases murder for hundreds of years. The only difference from earlier and now is that the state has the monopoly of technological surveillance that the Internet and computer together have created. Now instead of depending solely on intel to gather information and track possible threats, the government who is already tracking every US citizen can simply use the devices that perceived threats use to spy on them. This new technological arm of the state is growing at a fascistic speed. Recently, President Obama signed in an executive order allowing for individuals to be sanctioned for cyber threats. This strong-armed approach on Internet activism has been continuously growing.
We’ve seen Anonymous go from a string of cyber attacks threatening governments such as the U.S. and Israel for injustices they have committed to now going after celebs like Kanye West and Iggy Azalea. While Wikileaks, whose direction before Julian Assange’s embassy fiasco had promised to release documentation proving that the banking industry was guilty of fraudulent behavior. Both groups have been successfully neutralized, Wikileaks has refocused on getting Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London and Anons have been either forced underground, fleeing the US government, or were turned into informants helping to capture other possible hackers or Anons. One thing about the state is that one always knows how they will choose to strike. Movements need not waste time wondering if they are infiltrated or being surveilled – you are. There is also no need in strategizing in favor of the state’s preferred method of protesting in hopes of avoiding conflict. If your movement is to succeed and grow then conflict is a thing movements must learn to embrace. This is not a fetishization or romanticized idea of wanting to fight with cops, but an observation from participating in uprisings and resistance and understanding that embracing the riot is what leads to movement growth. It is liberalism, media, and the stagnation of classical protest techniques with the desire to work with police and appeal to the state that cause the demise of movements.
This part I decided to title liberalism because I feel that it encompasses the mentality that goes into co-optation and hierarchical organizing.
Many activists or organizations would like for you to think that movements require leadership, and the expertise of experienced activists. They’re wrong, the movement doesn’t need activists or leaders – the state does. The state depends on non-profits that can be bought off with grant money, or leaders whose egos can either directly or indirectly work in favor of the state’s interests. We’ve seen that when uprisings occur, established organizations will quickly try to take credit and gain control over spontaneous youth inspired rebellions. ANSWER Coalition and the Revolutionary Communist Party are a constant in this pattern of treatment – quick to show up to marches they didn’t organize with their bright laminated signs featuring their logo and some slogan that at this time and point has become cliche. So quick to redirect the fiery marches off of the streets and into the hands of the state.
Recently with the black uprisings that have taken place throughout the country we have seen an uprising that was started by the community members of Ferguson that was quickly infiltrated by vanguardist and opportunist leftists. Many including myself using the #blacklivesmatter hashtag didn’t know we were breathing life and power over to an already establish organization. The media that is always quick to label movements ran with the title and no one from the organization stated otherwise. There we had it, the Ferguson protests had become the Black-Lives-Matter movement, with leadership, social capital, and control.
In Occupy the unions were quick to play ally only to use protesters as a bargaining chip for their own state negotiations. When protesters were no longer needed unions like SEIU were quick to dispose of them and work with the police in criminalizing those said protesters. This is why I stay clear from civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a privileged concept and a nice way for the state to gather your DNA, retinal scans, and information. There is no need to willingly give yourself up to the state. There is no merit in going to jail. Getting arrested should not be glorified or seen as a right of passage but as something that sometimes is an unavoidable consequence of revolts. Organizations use wide-eyed newly radicalized individuals to perform civil disobedience so that their orgs can gain social capital and make news headlines. These groups are opportunistic at best and state operators at worst. In general be wary of anyone that asks you to give yourself to the state.
Once one understands what liberal groups have to gain from working with the state and the power that they actually lose from uncontrolled unlabeled uprisings, it is clear to see and understand why these groups can not be trusted and how easily they can be compromised. In this time of resistance quelling radicalness is measured by the desire for liberation not assimilation into the political process.
These uprisings are the fastest way we get to revolution, and they are murdered by the ego of organizers and self-proclaimed activists far quicker than they are by the state. It is important for this reason that we reject the label of “activist”, hierarchical organizing, and leaders.
The majority of media outlets are US propaganda machines and the few that aren’t are independent media and guerrilla journalists. Mainstream media regurgitate information the state wants their citizenry to hear. Quite often we’ve seen here in Los Angeles news outlets lie and edit taped interviews to portray a pro-cop anti-protester sentiment. In 2013 when hundreds of people took to the streets to protest the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman from South LA to Hollywood Boulevard KCAL9 News reported that protesters had violently destroyed property at the W-Hotel, frightening hotel patrons and employees. This news story was proven to be false when a spokesperson for the W-Hotel stated that no such thing happened. The news story that was provided by LAPD was completely fabricated. KCAL9/CBS 2 news has a history of reporting on fabricated stories for LAPD, often reporting misinformation with the intention in vilifying protesters.
The media’s job is to frame the narrative for the state. To quickly label it and give the movement a name so the next process of discrediting it can begin. It also makes it appear as if all acts of uprising are contained within a designated set group. The concept goes as follows: a group of individuals decides to take the streets, that protest grows, and it turns into an uprising, then the media label it an Occupy protest (or whatever movement is big at the time) which makes it sound like it’s the same group committing all these acts instead of an unrelated event.
The media will continue to play the role of the mouth of the state. Since we know this there is no point in trying to work or organize events based off of trying to achieve “good” press. These acts only further legitimize them and makes their slanderous reporting seem more accurate. Movements should cultivate the culture of denying news agencies interviews and statements, unless that news outlet has been proven to be report honestly. The concept of press conferences and photo-opts should also end. Actions should be based on the effectiveness to bring liberation and revolution not attempting to appeal to the state ran media.
Movements are a verb, something that is in continuous motion – progression is required. Often we see the stagnation of movements caused by liberal co-optation, media smear campaigns, and state repression. Soon regression follows, if the goal is to achieve any gains then their must be a constant push from the resistance. This challenges both the movement and the state.
There is also internal stagnation when individuals stop deconstructing the internalized systems and structures that surround them. There is this false notion that there is an endpoint of consciousness that once one understands the workings of the world around them they themselves cannot perpetuate oppression or internalize the oppressor’s thoughts. Like revolution, the deconstruction process should be a constant, one that should never end.
Often in movements, especially single-issue movements, intersectionality is lacking. The organizers and followers push aside concerns of racism, sexism, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia, ageism, and religious inclusivity to the side and proclaim that all these issues are mere distractions to the goals of the movement. This logic is one usually spouted by benefactors of those set systems of oppression and who have their own self-interest of maintaining. Whatever the initial spark of the movement may be intersectionality must be at the forefront, or the movement will be no real movement at all. It is also important for this reason that those who benefit from the current power structure the most are extremely conscious of the roles and space that they take. Far too often I have seen white cis-males leading, dominating organizing meetings, and space, this is a fatal flaw.
Tactics should be forever evolving and progressing. Recycling old tactics is dangerous and predictable. The state uses force to arrest, fear monger, and keep movements behind the line of comfort. This decreases the participants’ interest and weakens inspiration which leads to more participants, resistors become bored with the lack of progression and everyone but the paid activists go back to their own individual resistance. In LA the first night of the Ferguson solidarity protest people took the 110 freeway and shut it down. The next day people did the same thing and shut down the 101, by the third day any time their was an attempt to go anywhere near the freeway the police immediately kettled the group and blocked the entrances. They continued to do this as the uprisings continued. At that point it is known what the police tactic is going to be and what they expect for us to do.
It is then that we must adjust and push both ourselves – and the police line.
Most movements do not have an agreed upon set goal, this is usually when the rhetoric of organization and leadership begin. The reality is that any movement under the umbrella of social justice must make liberation and revolution its end goal, anything short of that is not real social change, but instead social convenience.
Theory is a comfortable place to live in. The resistance will not be comfortable, it will not be safe, it will not be easy, but then again, for those who are systematically oppressed by the state our lives are anything but that.
It’s time to end the reign of convenient activism.
If you enjoyed this writing and other pieces by Bobby London, please consider being a patron and contributing to a monthly or one time donation here.