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Feeder Marches and "Diversity of Tactics"
in Northeast Ohio Anti-war Activism
by Dana Williams

Abstract
The time period of Fall 2002 to Spring 2003 saw unprecedented anti-war activism throughout the world. In Cleveland, an organization called the Northeast Ohio Antiwar Coalition (NOAC) formed to counter the US push for war against Iraq. Cleveland anarchists organized with NOAC, but also independently, sponsoring “feeder marches” that “fed into” the official NOAC events. Feeder organizers did this to project autonomy of action and promote a broader philosophy. Their un-permitted and decidedly more radical events marched under the banner of “Stop the War – Fight the System!” The public announcement of the first feeder evoked a long-standing fear from mainstream peace activists of anarchist violence and property destruction, concerns that were eventually un-substantiated. These events helped to grow the anti-authoritarian movement in Cleveland and laid the groundwork for mass civil disobedience after the war began.
Key words: anti-war, anarchism, feeder march, social movement, Cleveland.

Anarchism and Social Movements

Anarchists believe in and work towards the two-fold goal of (1) dismantling oppressive institutions, hierarchies, and authorities, and in their place, (2) creating cooperative and horizontal social relationships based upon the principles of self-determination, mutual aid, direct action, and voluntary association.

Fitzgerald and Rodgers (2000) present the best model for classifying anarchist organizations. Radical social movement organizations (RSMOs) are non-hierarchical and participatory organizations, which use diverse tactics and alternative communication channels, and are very likely to have few resources and intense institutional opposition.

There are two main ways in which anarchists have contributed to the Left in recent history. First, anarchists themselves have become an important presence in direct action politics. Secondly, anarchist thought has influenced the general aesthetic of direct action politics. For example, affinity groups, spokes-council arrangements, black blocs, and now feeder marches – now tactics widely known in activist circles – are either modeled upon or owe a debt to anarchist principles.

Two of these key anarchist principles are autonomy and solidarity. Although this may seem contradictory, anarchists commonly practice both concurrently. These two ideas converge most with the concept of a “diversity of tactics” (DoT). This concept states that activists will respect and not publicly criticize others who chose tactics different than what they chose. Some recent large demonstrations have been organized with this concept in mind; the anti-FTAA demos in Quebec City in 2001 had a “three-tiered, color-coding of events to indicate varying possibilities of arrest risk and militancy” (Milstein 2001).

Very little has been written in academic circles about DoT specifically, possibly since it is a relatively new term.[1] Albertani (2002) stands in relative isolation in favorably discussing the use of aggressive tactics in protest situations. In activist literature, however, the debates surge both strongly against (Lakey 2002, Schutt 2003) – though often on pragmatic grounds – and loosely in favor of (Starhawk 2002).[2] Lakey and Schutt conclude that “DoT” is code for “violence is permissible if not recommended”. Starhawk doesn't make this assumption, but instead demands more clarification. None of the above writers embrace the concept fully or without clarification.

To further muddy the waters, social movement theorists regularly conflate property destruction with “violence”, in fact so repeatedly that I will not reference the scores of works doing so. Yet, since anarchists are a central component to the upcoming discussion, I will adopt the basic anarchist assumption that property destruction is nothing more than property destruction, while violence is harm caused towards living beings.

... in Northeast Ohio

Cleveland activists began organizing against the “War on Terrorism” after the US invasion of Afghanistan began. Disputes within the anti-war movement, specifically between anarchists and liberal anti-war-veterans, spurred a public activist dialogue to discuss differences and look for common ground. An event entitled “Building Bridges” was later dubbed by some as “Burning Bridges” for the way that, according to some activists, conversations took place without others listening.

Faced with the growing need to counter the Bush Administration's intensified saber-rattling regarding Iraq, the Northeast Ohio Anti-war Coalition (NOAC) was formed. Participation came from traditional leftist anti-war and pacifist organizations, socialist and communist parties, ANSWER and NION-affiliates[3], and anarchists circles.

Social movement participants often have very strong feelings and ideas about methods of organizing.[4] Those who participated in NOAC were no exception, and conflicts were clear from the start. Interviewed activists pointed towards age/generation and ideology being the source of greatest conflict within NOAC. But the two primary differences were in message and tactics.

NOAC's message is seen in the slogans it settled on for its first permitted march (and all subsequent events): “Stop The War On Iraq!”, “No War for Oil!”, “Not In Our Name!”, and “Money for Jobs, Health Care & Education ... Not for War!”.

Approximately 10 days before NOAC's planned anti-war march in Cleveland November 16th, the Burning River Revolutionary Anarchist Collective (BRC), composed mainly of young adults in their twenties, made a general call to activists for an unpermitted “feeder march” to begin beforehand, that would “feed into” the main NOAC march:

The Burning River Collective hopes to see everyone that opposes this war [at the NOAC event]. In addition to the demonstration, we are calling for a feeder march and contingent within the march under the slogan, "Stop the War, Fight the System!"

At the same time as the Bush administration is threatening war on Iraq, it has already bombed Afghanistan, stripped Muslims, Arabs, and South Asian immigrants of any semblance of civil liberties, passed policies nearing police state-like measures, and rained batons and bullets on the urban warzones of our communities. We say that we not only need to stop this war but we need to fight the entire system that is pushing it!

Join the "Stop the War, Fight the System" contingent and feeder march on Saturday Nov. 16th at 11:00am at W.44th and Lorain as we march through communities drumming up opposition to the war on our way to the larger demonstration. (NEO-RAN message 2308.)

This declaration sparked immediate concern with NOAC activists. Some thought it was a call for street violence (possibly from the wording of “fight” the system). Some were likely concerned because it was an anarchist group that had called for it. Others feared that demonstrators were cryptically declaring their intention to destroy property or cause confrontations with police. One expressed a strong concern about the anti-war movement being marginalized by “extreme messages/tactics” that would “scare off” those who were just entering into the movement (McLellan 2002).

The main concern ended up being a fear that media attention would be distracted from the NOAC event, since such a march organized by anarchists was guaranteed to attract the attention of the Cleveland Police Department. It was felt that conflict with the police – especially conflict resulting in arrest – would have surely become the media story of the day, blotting out the rest of NOAC's message. This concern was accented by other large protests in the US that had recently resulted in mass arrests.

Thus, concerns over public image and “protester violence” dominated the attention of key organizers in NOAC during the last week of planning the march and rally.[5] One NOAC leader indicated that these concerns could easily have been put to rest with a face-to-face meeting amongst key organizers of NOAC and the feeder.

In response to these concerns, the BRC circulated the following notice on various activists email lists:

Organizing for the "Stop the War, Fight the System" feeder march and contingent on Nov.16th in Cleveland are going well. There have been concerns brought up to us about our intentions and message. While our message may very well be different than others, we think diversity in the anti-war [movement] is a strength not a weakness. We will be marching into the larger to be a PART of it. This feeder march is to create more of an effect in the community and to bring forth our politics at the same time. (NEO-RAN message 2362)

As one anarchist elaborates, opposing a single war is not itself enough, since war is “tied to the systems of capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and unnecessary hierarchies”, and to not oppose that entire system is to ignore that “war is the health of the State”. It was hoped that the feeder would inject this more radical critique into the peace movement and also reach other Clevelanders along the feeder route.

About 30 activists showed up for the feeder march, which went without police engagement until it turned onto Lorain Avenue a few blocks from the NOAC march's starting location. Police attempted briefly to contain the feeder, but quickly gave up and settled on blocking traffic for the marchers. The march lasted just under one mile in length. (Turner 2002)

Feeder organizers and participants stated that most activists responded favorably to their analysis and actions when it was offered during and after the event.

The NOAC march ended up being the largest anti-war event in Cleveland since the Vietnam War-- the Cleveland Plain Dealer estimated that nearly one-thousand people took part (Stephens 2002), while other local media estimated more. As the march crossed over the Detroit-Superior Bridge into downtown, the crowd swelled to the point where the Cleveland Police Department had to close down the entire 4-lane bridge. This closing was, along with an earlier incident with the feeder banner in front of the NOAC banner, were the only problems cited by NOAC organizers on the march.

While the anarchists wanted to expand their circles, and chose an “exciting” method for doing so, traditional peace activists were in the majority within NOAC and were concerned mainly with public portrayal in the media and attracting more mainstream participation. These differences in method, with slightly different short-term goals, had similar long-term goals. The usage of both tactics clearly constitute the practice of DoT, in addition to a diversity of messages.

BRC called for another feeder march for a second NOAC march and rally in Cleveland in December. The call issued beforehand hinted more clearly at the organizer's motivations:

We... are appalled by the blatant disregard for humanity that imperialist war, imperialism and capitalism entail. We want to see a lively, militant, creative movement emerge that paves new ground on the road to liberation.

Although the typical, formulaic protest is a good way to show the U.S. government the sheer numbers of people who oppose its policies and is a needed demonstration of solidarity among progressive, radical and revolutionary forces, there are also many other forms of protest we can engage in and a plethora of tactics we can use that might be just as effective or more effective. Furthermore, using a wide and creative assortment of tactics allows us, as a movement, to not stagnate. (NEO-RAN message 2501)

These non-permitted marches laid the groundwork for a “day-after” march that started at Public Square, downtown Cleveland.[6] Anarchists and anti-imperialists led a crowd of 300 – mainly youth – into the streets, marching throughout downtown for approximately an hour. The marchers faced a strong police response, but no resistance and were essentially escorted through the streets by police on foot and squad cars blocking intersections. After these subsequently larger and larger youth-based responses to the war, the police struck back a few days later, arresting half a dozen people for doing essentially the same thing.

Conclusions

Olzak and Uhrig (2001) point out that the viability of a social movement increases when there is no competition from other movements. In this case, the feeder and NOAC organizers were drawing upon (usually) separate resources and audiences. The tactics used reflected a choice of repertoires, which is based upon the breadth and structure of the tactical options available. Ideology and a cost-benefit analysis influences how a repertoire is chosen, which was true in Cleveland's case. (Ennis 1987)

Amongst the activists I interviewed, there was a general consensus that the feeders were not a problem – at least in retrospect. Most lamented not conversing more with each other or being more involved in solidarity organizing. They appreciated the need for diverse methods of resistance and personal expression, and gained (or retained) a tolerance for each other's choices. As a Vietnam-era activist put it, “anarchists are part of the anti-war movement in Cleveland”, and they always participated within the accepted parameters of the NOAC events. Thus, despite their different approaches, both liberal and radical tactics allowed diverse people the opportunity to participate in protesting war on the basis of their interest and comfort level.

Activist debate on the efficiency and effectiveness of certain tactics in creating a mass movement of resistance will likely continue. As with other movements, this injection of radical participation and action can re-frame the typical mode of anti-war protest and organization. The experience in Cleveland shows that diverse tactics and message can be useful to social movements, granted there is a certain degree of transparency and dialogue between activists.

End Notes

[1] However, it is often pointed out that few tactics are actually “new”, and DoT is likely not an exception.

[2] Incidentally, all three are nonviolent direct action trainers.

[3] ANSWER (Act Not to Stop War and End Racism) and NION (Not In Our Name) are national organizations, initiated by the International Action Center/World Worker's Party and Revolutionary Communist Party, respectively.

[4] What James Coleman might refer to as “zealotry”... which is not to denigrate the level of their concern and passion.

[5] Later, the usage of profanity would also become a key concern. See McLeod and Detenber (1999) on media selection bias.

[6] Many communities through out the US preplanned “day after” protests (that often included civil disobedience) that would go into action the day following a US invasion of Iraq – an event that activists had been predicting for months prior.

References

 

North Central Sociological Association