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Syracuse, NY: Report on Anti-Election Events
Sun & Solidarity: A Report Back from the August 10 National Day of Action Against Electoral Politics from Syracuse, New York
by E. Sebastian Snowflake
On August 10th 2008, participants in the Syracuse Solidarity Network, an affiliate of the North East Anarchist Network, took part in the National Day of Action Against Electoral Politics. To build support and momentum for the protests against the Democratic & Republican National Conventions, in Syracuse, New York we held a small un-permitted solidarity rally, distributed literature and had a community picnic/potluck.
The Syracuse Solidarity Network (SSN) is an anti-capitalist, anti-oppression, and anti-authoritarian network of groups, individuals and projects that has been organizing against the conventions with other anarchists state-wide through the Upstate NY Unconventional Action chapter, aka the Upstate Uprise Unconventional Action Faction. As with the North East Anarchist Network (NEaN), its been a chance for places like Syracuse to be in conversation with the larger movement.
Like the Unconventional Action Network (UA) and NEaN, the Syracuse Solidarity Network is a multi-tendency group of groups, a gathering of insurgent currents - not that it always ends up working as well as we'd like. As we're always careful to mention, none of us speaks for all of us, we don't claim nor want to fall into the traps of representation. The UA slogan "Representative democracy does not equal self-determination" and the anti-representative anti-politics of the radical moment finds echoes in our approach.
This is a late and lengthy report-back for a small event, but there are Syracuses everywhere, small towns and cities with active anarchists and anti-authoritarians getting ready for the conventions, whether they'll be there or not. It was important for us to take part on August 10th to send revolutionary love to everyone taking action and to let our comrades know support and creative solidarity is coming from beyond just the usual radical enclaves. I hope comrades in other small cities and towns across the Empire see something of themselves reflected here and take encouragement. Alongside the big cities with longstanding radical institutions, its in small cities and towns like 'Cuse that the impact of the convention protests will be decided. We are everywhere.
"When the conventions are over, will we have more momentum, popularity, and strategic poise than before they started, or will we be caught up in massive state repression with no public support? With this in mind, let's deepen our roots in our communities this spring so that when we are making headlines at the conventions this summer, the people around us know who we are and hear what we want from our own mouths, not just the propaganda of the State."
- Jake Carman, "Full Speed Ahead!" The Nor'Easter #2
Despite impressive thunderstorms in our infamously dreary city, the sun came out just in time for us to take over the hill on a corner of Westcott Street. We covered the patch of green and trees with signs against the DNC & RNC and the electoral spectacle. The bench where people hang out was transformed into a literature table. A banner proclaiming the National Day of Action was hoisted alongside a pink and black flag and another large red and black flag that had been sewn by friends for the 2000 Republican National Convention protests and used as a blanket during jail support nights.
We handed out most of a huge box of False Hope vs Real Change newspapers made by Unconventional Action Voter Deregistration, stuffed with additional anarchist propaganda advocating direct action, CD's of the RNC Welcoming Committee radio show and a flier we made explaining the National Day of Action.
Our literature recalled the state surveillance and repression at the conventions of 2000 and 2004, giving special attention to the NYPD spying on the local Syracuse Peace Council in the run-up to the protests of '04, a move exposed in the mainstream media. Beneath the heading "If you challenge the architects of war and poverty, they call you a terrorist" we asked people to keep an eye on the upcoming demonstrations and be prepared to respond to police crackdowns with solidarity.
While we were going up and down Westcott St asking people if they wanted a newspaper about how politicians are bullshit, one young woman laughed, "I don't need a newspaper to tell me that, but OK!" We immediately started receiving feedback, with a voice mail message by the time we got home from a friend asking us if we knew what these papers he found against the conventions were about.
After the rally, we made our way to Thornden Park a few streets over, where we had our People's Power Potluck & Picnic (Against Politicians). We were joined by a handful more people, sat in the sun and enjoyed some great food, laughs and excellent discussion about the RNC/DNC protests and beyond. A few people agreed to play support roles here at home in spreading info about what was happening at the protests and getting people numbers to call jails when people get arrested, etc.
With our focus for the picnic/potluck being essentially that we were inviting people to ignore the elections altogether to hang out in our neighborhood and have a fun summer afternoon, we mostly overlooked the story of the FBI seeking spies on vegan potlucks. While our potluck wasn't specifically vegan, though vegan-friendly, this was an interesting talking point. I had some great discussions about the Green Scare at work while inviting people. The Green Scare is especially close to home for people from Syracuse. In the 1990's a visible, fighting animal liberation movement was met with bone-breaking arrests at demos, surveillance and a media flurry of criminalization using the t-word before it came into fashion. Fresh in many of our minds, many radicals here have little doubt Syracuse in the 90's was full of useful lessons in implementing the nationwide Green Scare today.
Circuits of Support
"We will go home to our communities after this Summer, and it is in our communities that the effects of the broadening ecological crisis, the crash of the economy and the implementation of security-as-a-way-of-life will take hold. Whether it is the right wing of capital or the left wing of capital, capitalism will continue to structure our lives and dissolve every inch of autonomy we carve out.
To the contrary of the common narrative of defeat and despair, we notice that it is also in these communities that our affects take hold. It is within these circuits of support—both material and emotional—that we produce ourselves as powerful."
- Everything for Everyone: a Small Demand Call for an Anti-Capitalist Force at the DNC protests, a precarious workers-council of Unconventional Action
I can see why the FBI wants their informants at potlucks; a lot of the most subversive bonds between radicals, among ourselves and the people around us are made outside the meetings, having fun, with our mouths full of some damn good macaroni salad made by our neighbors. Many who didn't make it to the picnic are planning to join us at future events. While we didn't have a huge festival like we first envisioned, we're definitely moving in the right direction to be able to host bigger, public events.
August 10th was all about the conversations we had with people around us and among ourselves. Thanks to the picnic, I had great discussions with people I work at a call center with about electoral politics, capitalism, and ways real change can come from below. The False Hope newspapers were eagerly read and people seemed giddy to be reading something ridiculing all the politicians. Co-workers from across the "political" spectrum have been overwhelmingly supportive and wished me and all of us luck at the convention protests. Hearing heartfelt words of encouragement from the people who help me get by at my miserable job, building that sense of connection to what's going down at the conventions, has been really empowering. Listening when the space is opened up for people to talk about resistance in their own lives has helped me greater appreciate the courage and struggles of my friends and co-workers, often outside the view of any formal movement.
The discussions we had with each other said a lot about where the larger US anarchist movement is at, especially outside major cities; here in Syracuse we're overwhelmed with the amount of problems to tackle, struggling with the pro's and con's of network organizing. We're trying to pick campaigns, trying to think outside the dichotomy of "big" issues and "local" dilemmas, trying to find our own roles in the movement. We debated the collapse & anti-state communism, appreciated the contradictions in doing both formal and informal organizing, shared the most recent news about the fight against I-69. Like many other small town anarchists, we're being self-critical, talking about how some of us don't want to go to demonstrations any more, wanting more socials, and of course thinking of more ideas for events than we could ever possibly put on (or list). Like so many beaten down cities, Syracuse is small but we dream big.
Some of us discussed the recent Left Turn issue with different radical responses to how Barak Obama's campaign will effect liberation struggles, the need to keep a commitment to fighting all forms of interconnected oppressions, keeping critical of power dynamics in the movement. Many of us are worried for the ways settler white supremacy and privilege within the anarchist movement will undermine our chance to make a dent at a critical time, especially if we're unable to answer the Democrat's co-optation of feminist and anti-racist opposition in ways that resonate. For us as a group rooted in and striving for anti-oppression anarchisms, with different approaches and analysis, all trying to learn from movement histories, this is particularly up front. Syracuse Solidarity Network proudly meets at one of the oldest independent feminist community centers in the northeast, the Women's Info Center, and many of us are inspired by the recent events by Anarchist People of Color (APOC), the Bash Back! Network, and by the working class/class war caucus at the North East Anarchist Network assemblies. We hope the anarchist movement (including us) is listening, and changing into, in the words of Autonomy & Solidarity,"the enemy the enemy deserves." We've been really impressed by the RNC Welcoming Committee's sexual assault policy, by their presentation of their local history, by the breadth of different tendencies in the literature they tabled with on their tour. It all had a very small town feel, and there's a lot we could learn from them.
August 10th was also the coming out party for the Upstate NY Bash Back! list serv to network radical anti-authoritarian trannies, queers, and anarcha-feminists across Upstate NY for the conventions and beyond. While we don't have a regularly meeting chapter of Bash Back!, we decided to form an Upstate NY-wide Bash Back! Upstate NY has a powerful history of recent trans, queer, and feminist liberation struggle, like Rochester's Beyond the Binary conference that many people from Rochester Unconventional Action are involved in. For more info check out https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/bashbackupstateny
The next day at a Syracuse Solidarity Network meeting, a few people wrote down messages of support and solidarity for everyone across the country getting ready to take on the electoral spectacle to be shared:
"Good luck and have fun. This is gonna be one of the most important events in years. I wish I could be more involved. Be safe!" - HS
"The peeps at home got your back - we'll be sitting by the phones, waiting to NOT get the call from y'all in jail. Run fast, stay badass." - anonymous
"Take care of yourselves, don't get hurt or killed. Keep love and faith in the people in the front of your minds. We'll do everything we can to build support for you in our community. In struggle," - CB
"Remember the Audre Lorde quote 'When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.' " - S
While anarchists are used to talking about global waves of struggle and their circulation, Unconventional Action and the conventions protests have been part of an impressive amount of communication and sharing in the northeast. Not a wave, but a significant ripple perhaps. For us in Syracuse, beginning with demonstrations in solidarity with Oaxaca, to the North East Anarchist Network, to the insurrectionary October Rebellion in DC screaming "Make total destroy!", to regional organizing against the war and conventions, there has been a surge of struggles and coordination that we hope is only beginning. Its hard to say if Upstate NY anarchists are "more" connected than we were before; after all this is an area with a deep history of anti-authoritarian and radical revolt under the label "anarchist" and beyond, home to continuing indigenous resistance, stop after stop on the Underground Railroad, feminist opposition to the State and militarism from Matilda Joslyn Gage to the Seneca Women's Peace Encampment and the Lesbian Avengers.
But Upstate NY has been in the thick of things. From cities hosting the RNC Welcoming Committee tour, to the small Northeast Unconventional Action conference in Binghamton, we've carved out a corner even when its just been a handful of us. Anarchists from across Upstate squeezed into their cars to trek to Pittsburgh for the North East Anarchist Network-Midwest Action Network consulta and to Chicago for Bash Back! The North East Anarchist Network anti-election campaign has supplied us with a steady flow of ideas, articles, and propaganda. New and familiar faces from Ithaca hosted a NeaN general assembly that devoted time to report backs from the Twin Cities. Rochester Unconventional Action, probably the most consistent and together group, has held regular meetings, held a movie showing of "Shut it Down" & organized the successful Burlesque For Bail fundraising event.
Upstate-wide Unconventional Action meetings, hosted in different towns and shaped by the locals putting them on, were a wonderful opportunity to meet anti-authoritarians working on every project you can imagine. What we lost in projects left unfinished we gained in communication and friendship. There was always a sense of uncertainty on what exactly we could do, what with all the things we were working on in our own towns, different and sometimes clashing tendencies/approaches, the geographical distance to the conventions. There's a lot to be critical of, but it would be hard to deny the vital role Upstate Unconventional Action meetings have had for us in Syracuse keeping us connected, being able to extend solidarity and be kept up-to-date when our comrades in Binghamton were attacked, pepper-sprayed and arrested after blocking a major parkway during a student protest, keeping Food Not Bombs groups in contact, sharing street tactics. While I regret that we didn't get the ambitious projects we often brainstormed done, I think they could be translated into our local and regional fights, from media ideas, to the skills that people have learned along the way. We expect to grow and deepen our ties beyond the conventions.
Its beyond the scope of this article to sum up all the motion across Upstate against the conventions, each town would have so much to say from their own varied perspectives. Hopefully we'll hear more voices as the story unfolds. Anarchists in other small cities and towns, this is a nod to start sharing where you're at.
If your town or city hasn't used the conventions as a way to get anarchists in contact with each other, now is a great time to act. There are other articles and resources out there that talk about the more direct ways solidarity can take place, and remember the best solidarity is always about taking on your own oppressors
Just a few small ideas for anarchists in smaller cities & towns interested in being part of the conventions solidarity:
- Set up dates for report backs in your area
- Have a few people agree to email list servs and talk with groups and friends about repression as it happens at the conventions
- Talk to your co-workers, pass around or post up reports of whats really happening at the convention protests and why, where to get more info
- Wear a shirt during the conventions opposing the repression and inviting people to ask you about the protests
- Students returning to school could photocopy zines or PDF's with info about the protests and local struggles
- Find a corner to hold some signs & banners in solidarity with the conventions protest as they happen - in Syracuse, we'll be holding signs in front of the New York State Fair during the DNC with the Syracuse Peace Council and other local anti-war groups who were already planning on sending an anti-war message
- If you don't know many anarchists or radicals in your area, or if you wanna get closer with the ones you do know, host a get small together and share food and news about the convention protests with your friends into the night
- Organize beyond the conventions, at home and onward to the inauguration!
Original August 10th Call to Action:
For more info about the convention protests check out:
Unconventional Action Network
RNC Welcoming Committee
DNC Disruption '08
Bash Back! News
Bash Back! Denver
Bash Back! Chicago
Upstate Uprise Unconventional Action Faction
For more info about the Syracuse Solidarity Network and the North East Anarchist Network check out:
Syracuse Solidarity Network
Contact & article feed back at
SSN, September 29th anti-war march YouTube
North East Anarchist Network
The Nor'Easter, the official quarterly of the North East Anarchist Network
Some References & Relevant Articles:
North East Anarchist Network Endorses RNC WC Call to Action, http://www.nornc.org/2008/01/13/northeast-anarchist-network-endorses-wc-call-to-action/
Carman, Jake, "Full Speed Ahead!" The Nor'Easter # 2, http://neanarchist.net/noreaster/issue2/article2.html
NYPD Spies on the Syracuse Peace Council, 2004 http://www.peacecouncil.net/spy/
Left Turn Issue # 29, Mailing Addess: Left Turn, P.O. Box 445 New York, NY 10159-0445 http://www.leftturn.org
Milstein, Cindy, Hope in a Time of Elections, Left Turn #29 http://www.leftturn.org/?q=node/1176
Uhlenbeck, Max, Possibilities of a Movement: Reflections on RNC Organizing 04, Left Turn # 15,
Twin Cities Radical Community Meeting on Sexual Assault and the RNC http://www.nornc.org/2008/07/17/twin-cities-radical-community-meeting-on-sexual-assault-and-the-rnc-2/
APOC: Build It From Below! Call http://www.ainfos.ca/en/ainfos21055.html
IllVox: Anarchist People of Color http://illvox.org/
Only One Direction, Trans & Queer Insurrection, Bash Back! Convergence Reportback, http://dncdisruption08.org/?p=59
"Becoming the Enemy They Deserve" Upping the Anti Editorial, UTA # 4, http://uppingtheanti.org/node/2691
Militant Research on call centers, Kolinko Hotlines http://nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/kolinko/lebuk/e_lebuk.htm
Rochester Indymedia http://Rochester.indymedia.org
Beyond the Binary http://myspace.com/beyondthegenderbinary
Solidarity Is A Weapon, A Murder of Crows #1, http://www.geocities.com/amurderofcrows1/issue1/solidarity.htm
Upstate NY history & info
Onondaga Nation land rights & solidarity http://www.onondaganation.org/
Yorkstaters Blog http://yorkstaters.blogspot.com
Emma Goldman in Rochester history http://rocwiki.org/Emma%20Goldman
Syracuse Women's Info Center http://www.myspace.com/womensinfocenter
Seneca Women's Peace Encampment Herstory Project http://peacecampherstory.blogspot.com