In the last couple of days, I've noticed there's a current amongst many of the folks that I'd call the "organizationalists" in SDS to consider the protests at the RNC and DNC as distractions from the real work we have to do. Well, I've long considered myself an organizationalist and I'm heavily involved in anti-RNC organizing, so I think it's about time that someone responded to this murmurings.
I will admit that I involved myself in this organizing very reluctantly, as many anarchists I know did. First, those of us in the TC would probably much rather be in Denver. Everyone hates the Republicans already. The harder and more useful work is setting working people against the Democrats. Second, I feared that by focusing on this one-off event with no future campaign element, I'd be falling into exactly the type of organizing that I criticize other anarchists for.
But, upon reflection, and as the RNC approaches, I think that my time has been well-spent and that we've done important work that hasn't been going on. The primary thing that we've done is raise the consciousness of lots of people.
Lots of what I consider the "important" work of anarchists is invisible. While the occasional protest may make us feel militant, they are mostly small and marginalized by the media and society. The invisible work we do (be it labor organizing, alternative institution-making, or simply creating networks of affinity between people) sets the stage for the kind of future society we'd like to see by building it today. The invisibility of this work is often discouraging, because we'd love it if someone was watching us and encouraging us, instead of ignoring us. But for the people we work with, this work is incredibly important. What's more, it takes interested people, of whatever political stripe, and builds their organizing abilities and analysis. (For me, this was more experienced organizers taking me from ineffective anti-war actions and introducing me to labor organizing as practical work.)
The protests around the RNC are just the opposite of this work, and that's what makes them important. If we could chart a line of actions, in terms of visibility, I would start at important but invisible work, trace it through militant but marginalized direct action, and end with massive but ineffective protest. It becomes immediately clear that the more "acceptable" types of protest attract more numbers and publicity. This doesn't mean that they're more useful. Here (and at about a zillion other points) is where I part from the "organizationalist" vanguardists, who see taking the energy from these large public energy and turning it into large public resistance as the goal. I think this is impossible, as Popular Fronts throughout history teach us.
What is clear to me though is that we can channel people back up across that line. Marching down the street, some of the liberal protesters may see something they don't expect: themselves or their friends breaking free-speech laws or running from the cops. They may begin to challenge the rules of both the state and their own ideology. This process, what many of us call "radicalization," seems to me to be a useful way of encouraging massive numbers of people to go back up our line of publicity, towards the most useful work.
Only as we build our capacity by accomplishing concrete but simple goals can we turn our movement into one of large public resistance. We cannot, like the vanguardists claim, simply magically transfer energy from pacifistic actions to large-scale militancy. We cannot, like the anarchyists promote, magically inspire mass direct-action by utilizing small-scale resistance. But by linking the two, by forcing the pacifists to walk next to the "scary anarchists," by forcing the direct-actionists to politely but persistently challenge the hegemony of would-be bureaucrats of the Left, hopefully we can inspire a whole lot of people to rethink politics and their position in society. Organizationalist anarchists need not toss the RNC out the window because its a four day event with no concrete results. Precisely because it is this, we should carve out a piece of the protests and start talking to people in the street about our ideals. Once the symbolic value of the state and capital starts to fall apart, as it often does one's first time in the street, we can be there to provide ideas for how to go forward and build a mass movement from below.
Post-script: As I've been saying to every single reporter we talk to, "The real work begins on September 5th."