|English | Español||November 19, 2017 | Issue #34|
Narco News Publishes Seven Essays from We Are Everywhere
A Primer on Radical Actions of the Last Decade… with Lessons and Ideas for All Movements
The book We Are Everywhere can be purchased online through the Authentic J-Store at this link.
October 21, 2004
It was while reading the chapter on “Networks: the Ecology of Movements” from the book, We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism (Verso, 2003) that it hit me: The book, as it brings us all over the world for a ground-level view of diverse protest movements of recent years, ends up telling universal truths about us all. Its description of tactics, strategy, the construction of international networks – all that and more – could be talking about how Narco News happened, though in better words than I’ve been able to conjure. The parallels are manifold, and the inspirations for the movements described in this book, and our own roots at this newspaper, often come from the same source artists. The Zapatista rebellion in Mexico, for example, is an obvious lighthouse for many. This book underscores a larger commonality: Great movements think alike!
We Are Everywhere takes us on a dizzying trip around the globe, documenting and celebrating rebel movements making history on all five continents. It is a collection of stories and photographs, written by participants on the front lines of the resistance against capitalism and economic globalization that has erupted over the last ten years. The Commercial Media often calls this phenomenon as the “anti-globalization movement,” but almost everyone involved in it rejects the label. After all, this movement has shown the world that there is something positive to globalize: rebellion. For the purposes of this essay I will call it “the international autonomy movement” or movements, because “autonomy,” as the We Are Everywhere authors write, “is our means and our end.”
Amazingly, the Notes from Nowhere collective, while not exactly focusing on journalism or the drug war, but rather on other autonomy movements in 26 countries, has hit upon paradigm shifts in how to beat the system that have characterized our own efforts too. The book can and ought to be read by anyone looking to change the course of history on any front.
The authors – including 2004 Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar Jennifer Whitney, along with Katherine Ainger, Graeme Chesters, Tony Creland, John Jordan and Andrew Stern – wrote of the fluid movements that have gained traction throughout the world ever since the January 1, 1994 Zapatista rebellion. The message – that there must be room in this world for “many worlds” – was coherent enough to take root in many faraway places over a very short period of time. The artful communiqués of Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos, familiar to Narco News readers, too, educated a new generation of change agents.
But this story isn’t confined to Latin America, or even the “developing world”: On November 30, 1999, those ideas and the people who believe in them surprised the world with a strong North American flank when 75,000 protestors shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle. From there, an international series of protests and movements popped up, and put the brakes on what had been widely considered an inevitable, uniform, global economic policy. The savage capitalist dream of imposing a sameness on all economies everywhere – thought to be as inevitable as, well, drug wars a few years ago – turns out to be dead on arrival, thanks to the networking and people power of a new kind of globalized movement.
We Are Everywhere reconstructs the fast-moving timeline of the past ten years:
“We are the network,” declared the Zapatistas, “all of us who resist.”
Like a virus, uncontrollable and untameable, this inspiration flowed from city to city, country to country, spreading at the same speed as the trillions of dollars involved in the reckless unsustainable money game of international capital… Capital’s dream of super fast networks that will spread consumerism across the planet was turned on its head…
As the links grew, more stories were added to the flow, accounts of audacity and courage, moments of magic and hope. The tale of the Indian farmers demolishing the first Kentucky Fried Chicken in the country, or the news of five million French workers bringing the country to a standstill and reversing their government’s neoliberal policies – layer upon layer of stories traveled along the thin copper threads of the internet, strengthening the global network and developing relationships between diverse groups and individuals. People found strength in the stories, which expressed a sense of identity and belonging, communicated a shared sense of purpose and mission…
We live now in October 2004, a crucial time when, politically speaking, the earth is about to quake. The context is about to shift for all social movements and authentic journalists everywhere. On the second of November, an election in the United States will either embolden the administration of George W. Bush to become more extreme in its anti-democracy dreams, at home and abroad. Or it will elect John F. Kerry, once an organizer of a social movement himself, with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, whose victory some errantly hope will allow them to go back to sleep on November 3 and leave the driving to him. For those who know better, the path of social change, either way, will have to take fast new directions as never before.
No matter which way it goes, anybody anywhere who wants to change the world, or to simply change the course of human events in his and her community, will have to adapt and evolve different tactics and strategies applicable to the new set of societal circumstances that are about to appear.
The book We Are Everywhere and the movements it describes provide a starting point through which any movement can begin to ask hard questions and develop effective solutions for the “tune up” we’ll all need just a few weeks from now.
There are those who say that Narco News’ editorial mission for ending the US-imposed prohibition on drugs is a worthy goal but that it aims too high and is therefore unattainable. It’s oft said that the special interests behind the drug war are too entrenched to be defeated. Cynics note that bankers – more powerful than gods – make too much money laundering the profits of drug trafficking under prohibition. They say that police agencies, prison construction firms, and others on the dole of this brutal drug war wield too much political power in the United States. They lament that the Commercial Media continues to foment too much fear of drugs, addicts, and pushers, among the ranks of the American public, and that politicians get too many votes by pandering to those fears… All these powers and more act in concert to create a consensus, or, better said, the mass illusion of a consensus in favor of an irrational and counterproductive set of policies. And it seems so damn overwhelming, doesn’t it?
Some more optimistic drug policy reformers, seeking examples of how impossible changes can be pushed forward, point to the end of alcohol prohibition (1933), or the rise of civil rights for blacks and women, or the movement that ended the Vietnam War, or go back as far as the nineteenth century movement that abolished slavery… They know that an imposed “consensus” can be shattered and a new path can triumph. All good examples, they are, but the progress made in the past decade to reverse the bulldozer of imposed “free” trade offers a more current and relevant example of how to make the impossible possible in the new reality of a globalized, networked planet.
The blueprint – for journalists, for drug policy reformers, and others – can be found in what has occurred over the past decade with autonomy movements.
The autonomy movements are largely made of networks, really, usually temporary and ad hoc. They generally do not count with “memberships.” They do not often lobby governments. Most of them shun bureaucracy. As a whole, they are difficult to measure. But, on many occasions in recent years, their ranks seem to have come out of nowhere to “take” a city – Seattle, Davos, Prague, Cancun – and have provided the counterpoint to the suited-and-tied men of wealth and power, laying waste to their planning meetings and their insider plans for world domination.
Could these tactics and strategies be applied to the honorable cause of ending the war on drugs? Could they also be utilized to change the direction of journalism in our time from a money-driven con-artistry to a media in the service of the people?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. It is already underway.
We are Everywhere counts with 55 stories, seven essays, a running timeline, and photos… With so many different elements, it reads more like the Internet than a textbook. In the coming days and weeks Narco News will publish seven of them: the introductory essays to each of the seven chapters of the work.
We publish these essays as a path to deepen our own discussions with readers and journalists about strategy and tactics, and to focus the questions that a sister movement is asking of itself onto those we pose on our journalistic beats, reporting on the drug war and democracy from Latin America. In any strategic discussions, there are always differences in perspective and opinion. I certainly don’t agree with every word published in these essays (nor with every word published on Narco News: we’re pluralists here). Some of them are frustrating because my experience tells me they are wrong (the “we have no leaders” gospel, for example, doesn’t reflect my own impressions, and leads to some bad strategic and tactical calls in any movement that starts to believe its own press on such romantic gestures: I’ll be eager to discuss that, in its due moment, on The Narcosphere). Other axioms common in parts of the autonomy movement and reported this book are frustrating because I would like them to be wrong, but think they might be right. And if they are right, well, they offer hard challenges to my own work and realities. I’ll leave the details to our upcoming discussions about these essays on The Narcosphere.
But one thing is for sure: autonomy movements are winning ground against some very powerful forces, many of which are the same that we struggle against on Narco News every day. So there is much to be learned here by applying their successes to the areas where we want to see more success.
The seven essays, most thankfully, are splendidly written. They are a pleasure to read. They provoke thought. They provoke discussion and debate. They provoke action.
1. Emergence: An Irresistible Global Uprising, in which the authors explain the roots of the direct action movement that has torn down fences, literal and figurative, in recent years, through the words of people who have done the tearing from the U.S. to the U.K. to Senegal and France and, of course, from Chiapas with the Zapatistas. Once their revolt began, the authors state, “The time of single ideologies and grand narratives was over… Though [the Zapatista] army had a hierarchical command structure, the communities they represented had no leaders, only those who led by following the will of the people, who demanded an end to the war, and who have led the army into pursuing an unusual path towards peace… They did not march on the capital to seize the state, nor did they want to secede from it. What they wanted was autonomy, democracy….” The book goes beyond recounting the Zapatista timeline (although it does that quite thoroughly): it tells the hundreds of stories of other movements in other lands that took sustenance and strategy from the indigenous of Chiapas and applied it to their own realities. Naomi Klein calls this work “the first book to truly capture and embody the exuberant creativity and radical intellect of the protest movements opposing neoliberalism around the world.” Importantly, the reader also comes to know how such different movements, speaking distinct languages, coming from dramatically divergent cultures, came to link up and see themselves anew through the mirror that is the creativity of others.
2. Networks: The Ecology of the Movements, in which the authors note that “it was the RAND Corporation, a US military think tank, who actually came up with the most accurate description” for the “formless howling mob” that has shut down international trade talks time and time again. Viewing the RAND-published book, Networks and Netwars, from the distinct perspective that comes from looking up from below, the We Are Everywhere authors focus on the concept of “the swarm” (a concept we’ve openly borrowed, many times here when speaking of “the Narco News swarm” of Authentic Journalists on big and breaking news stories from Bolivia to Venezuela to Mexico). RAND’s think-tankers, note the authors, “predicted that swarming would be the main form of conflict in the future. While for most commentators, a bottom-up system that functioned so effectively was totally outside their conceptual framework, the RAND Institute, steeped in the latest developments of systems theory and complexity, turned to the natural world for the best metaphor… that there is enormous power and intelligence in the swarm.” This essay embraces four axioms as keys to successful social change: “More is different,” “Stay small,” “Encourage randomness,” and “Listen to your neighbors.” We’ll be discussing these concepts, among the others raised in these essays, on the swarm-inducing Narcosphere as we publish each of the seven parts, one after another, trying to see how they can be better applied to journalism and the drug war.
3. Autonomy: Creating Spaces for Freedom, in which the authors explain the concept of autonomy as a political rallying cry and goal. This essay has particular relevance to our drug war beat: if all lands and communities enjoyed the democratic autonomy to establish our own drug policies, there would not be an imposed sameness of prohibition on one and all. The problem with the drug war, as with the push toward “free” trade on Power’s terms, is one of top-down imposition… and the solutions are to be found in local and regional autonomy. The book draws out select examples – from the Northern Italian factory-based autonomy movement of the 1970s, to the archipelago of islands known as Comarca Kuna Yala off the coast of Colombia and the innovative forms of self-governance by 70,000 of the indigenous Kuna people there, to the autonomy models put forward by the Zapatistas in Mexico, among others – and reports on them in detail. Autonomy is not some pie-in-the-sky concept doodled about in academic books, but rather, is a multi-faceted set of experiments already underway in so many different forms. We Are Everywhere reports from many of those fronts.
4. Carnival: Resistance Is the Secret of Joy, is a chapter that would warm Abbie Hoffman’s heart. It is about how protest movements can be a lot of fun, and is filled with reports backing that claim. (There’s a particularly gut-splitting story in this section from a group that calls itself The Yes Men, titled, “The Pranksters and the Golden Phallus: Impersonating the WTO,” about what happened when a Finnish textile manufacturers’ organization got snookered into inviting the wrong guy as a World Trade Organization spokesman at their conference.) The introductory essay to this section begins with a behind-the-scenes report from the organizing of the thunderous 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle, and the creative sparks that distinguished it from less successful protests beforehand. The authors write: “Reinventing tactics of resistance has become a central preoccupation for the movement of movements. How to make rebellion enjoyable, effective and irresistible? Who wants the tedium of traditional demonstrations and protests – the ritual marches from point A to B, the permits and police escorts, the staged acts of civil disobedience, the verbose rallies and dull speeches by leaders?” The authors posit that the historic model for the kind of protest that works in our times is that of the carnival: “a time for inverting the social order, where the village fool dresses as the king and the king waits on the pauper…. It is in the capricious moments of history when we can best see that carnival and revolution have identical goals: to turn the world upside down with joyous abandon and to celebrate our indestructible lust for life, a lust that capitalism tries so hard to destroy with its monotonous merry go round of work and consumerism.” The goal, say the authors, is to open up “an alternative social space of freedom where people can begin to really live again.” If you’ve had it with attending tired conferences and boring meetings, or being handed pre-written letters to sign to your Senator or of a journalism that wants you to shut up and believe what you’re told, to continue as docile spectator, rather than participant in the making of history, you’ll enjoy this essay and its subsequent stories documenting other, more fun, and more effective paths to changing the social orders. You probably didn’t read about them all in your daily newspaper – particularly not the ones from Nigeria or Bolivia – but you can read about them here.
5. Clandestinity: Resisting State Repression, in which the authors take on “the control society” and the mechanisms by which change agents and everyday citizens are marginalized and kept from doing anything effective, much less anything heroic. This essay looks at the espionage and repression efforts by authorities when confronted with the mass actions in Seattle, in Prague, and elsewhere, and how protesters adjusted their tactics both for self-protection and for efficacy. In the post-9/11 world with its Patriot Acts, military occupations, technologies of total surveillance, and other control measures, there is a constantly evolving landscape that requires change agents to be fast on our feet and quick witted, and to adopt tactics flexible enough to adapt, with lightning speed, to Power’s every innovation. “The process of state repression – and the media’s collusion through its treatment of our movements as both absurd and threatening – creates a vicious circle which provokes increasingly negative perceptions of activism and struggle, and results in a gradual distancing of the sectors of society that are not directly involved in the processes of social change,” write the authors. Of course, we at Narco News believe a big part of the solution is to report on human events ourselves, presenting the change agents throughout Latin America as they present themselves, and constructing new paths to break the information blockades and get those truer stories out there.
This essay, I hope, can lead to a very interesting discussion on The Narcosphere: resisting state repression (and its Commercial Media weapon of defining good people into marginality) is, as the book demonstrates, about much more than identifying repressive measures and complaining about them. (After all, what is more disempowering than constantly reminding each other how powerful and cruel the other side is: something we already know?) More to the point, resisting state and media repression involves the use of communications weapons easily available to so many of us, and we have a duty to do a better job at communicating outward. Authoritarianism is not just authority’s fault. We are often “oppressed” to the exact degree that we allow ourselves to be fucked with. We are certainly often marginalized to the degree that we self-marginalize or view ourselves as “victims.” Our motto, as voiced by the Authentic Journalist Mario Menéndez, is: “Here we don’t cry. We fight.” Or, as the late Guy Debord once wrote, “The first duty of a revolutionary is coherence.” I think that incoherence, laziness, unwillingness to do the heavy lifting of reporting on one’s own movement’s activities, and fear of (or snobby disdain for) speaking with ordinary folks in words and gestures and images that anybody can understand, are the worst enemies of all social movements. Heaven knows, our journalists have been imprisoned, detained, sued by narco-bankers, spied on, threatened, and worse, and often in lands with less safety than most. There is, in my opinion, smart clandestinity (the Narco Newsroom doesn’t give out its physical address or phone number to, say, Colombian paramilitaries for example) and then there is a kind of paranoid culture of anonymity that plagues social movements, that even prevents many people in not much danger at all from signing their real names to their work. On The Narcosphere, for example, one of the only rules is that we all use our real names. A culture of anonymity in activism has, I believe, brought harmful consequences for accountability and truth. Again, this will be an interesting discussion when we roll this essay out online.
6. Power: Building It Without Taking It, is an essay that leans heavily on the Zapatista strategy of not trying to seize state power, but rather, of replacing it by strengthening the positions of Civil Society outside of and over the State. “The desire to conquer the state maintains the illusion that the state is the foundation of sovereignty and autonomy,” the authors reflect. “But in the networked world of global capital, the state is merely a node in a web of power, woven between the banks, stock exchanges, corporate headquarters, and multilateral institutions.” This essay delves deeply into recent events in one of the countries we report on, somewhere in América: Argentina, and its social struggles that have toppled presidents and defied dictates of the International Monetary Fund. The discourse, though, is applicable to any social cause. For example, in seeking a better journalism, do we merely want a column of our own in the New York Times or our own half-hour on a major TV network? Or do we create a more compelling newspaper, even if only online, that answers to different motives and principles than the money-driven mission of media that is dependent on advertising dollars? Or, take the drug war: Many reformers are obsessed with the laws against drug use and the use of state power that ruins millions of lives through its prohibitionist policies. And yet what of the private sector ruination of the lives of peaceful pot smokers through, for example, compulsory urine tests and loss of livelihood for those who don’t comply? Not all the threats come from the state, nor can the state protect us from all drug prohibitions. The obsession with the state detours us from creating the world and community we desire.
7. Walking: We Ask Questions, the final essay in We Are Everywhere, concludes on a rather journalistic note. It almost seems to interview the reader (or ask the reader to interview herself). “When a movement stops asking questions, of itself, of the world, it becomes an orthodoxy – an idea that has run out of ideas,” write the authors. “It becomes fixed, static, brittle, rather than fluid. Water can resist the most savage of blows, ice shatters. It is only armed with our questions that we can change history.” This essay walks through the stages of the past ten years of autonomy movements as voiced, when describing movements of the past century, by Mohandas K. Gandhi: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” The essay envisions a “second stage” of that movement, one “of working closer to home, a stage where mass action on the streets is balanced (but not entirely replaced) with creating alternatives to capitalism in our neighborhoods, our towns and cities…. Yet returning to our neighborhoods, we must not fetishize the local, retreat into subcultural ghettos, nor forget that we are the world’s first grassroots-led global political project. We must not undo the ties that bind us together in a worldwide network.” The questions asked are those on the minds of all strategic change agents: “How can we discover the paths we should take? How will we know they are the right ones? For is there any revolution in history that has not taken a wrong turn eventually, ending in bloodshed and betrayal – ultimately in failure? …The idea of a revolutionary movement that genuinely listens is itself a paradox. Revolutionaries normally shout, they chant, they try to make their screams heard above the roar of a system that bulldozes their means of living, their desires. Yet the idea of listening is central to many in these movements.” From our perspective in the Narco Newsroom, a movement that counts better listening among its demands sings in certain harmony with the Authentic Journalism renaissance.
The idea of listening is central to good and authentic journalism. Listen poorly, and one reports badly. If you’ve ever attended an event reported on by a Commercial Media organization, you’ve probably wondered if their reporters listened at all, and if so, to whom. And if you’ve tried to correct them, or talk back, you already know about the obstacles they’ve created to any effective rebuttal. That’s one of the reasons why, early this year, Narco News invited all its participants – journalists, readers, contributors, activists – who have invested time, labor, or resources into this project to enter The Narcosphere, where any one of us can ask questions of any other about the stories we report. It’s a forum where we challenge and help each other to do better.
One of our motives for publishing these seven essays from We Are Everywhere is to listen, together, to the words of colleagues who have been listening to what the autonomy movements of the past ten years have been saying and doing. In many ways, it’s the same movement that we are part of. And in other ways, we have separate priorities and paths (as do so many of the local, regional, and national movements that the mega-movement embraces). But making history is making history no matter where it is being made: the commonalities – especially in the tactical and strategic challenges – are so great that movements must learn from each other, especially from those that can point to demonstrable success.
Whether one agrees with some or all of the goals of the so-called anti-globalization movement, nobody denies that it has won battles and already defeated the sense of hopelessness that “nothing can be done” against gigantic financial interests and their plans for the world. Without exception, all movements from below face similar – often the same – powerful special interests and fixed rules of play, and the same set of systemic disadvantages. How one breaks or changes the rules, and therefore the momentum, is of paramount interest to all.
So, at this hour when the strategies and tactics of the Authentic Journalism movement, the international autonomy movement, the drug policy reform movement, the medical marijuana movement, the legalization movement, the harm reduction movement, the coca growers’ movement, and all others are about to enter a new global set of circumstances, this is the time to speak – and not too softly, please – with one another about the road we take from here.
These seven essays are merely a starting point:indeed, you can order the entire book, with the remaining stories and photographs, at the link below, to deepen the inquiry and develop a very comprehensive understanding of what these essays are saying, as well as the historical and, yes, journalistic data that support their theses.
I’ll be posting my questions and commentaries (and I hope, kind reader, so will you), as each essay unfolds over the next three-and-a-half-weeks, on The Narcosphere, and we’ll see you there – and everywhere! – to continue the discussion that, if we really believe in authentic democracy, never ends.
For more information about the book We Are Everywhere, see the book’s website. For a special offer to purchase a copy of the book, the Authentic J-Store is now open at Salón Chingón.
Essays from We Are Everywhere on Narco News:
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism