Smash the State, Yawn at 68! by Julia Barton Without explanation or a hint of needing any, strange white banners surround Chicago's United Center. WELCOME TO DALEY COUNTRY, they proclaim from the few remaining businesses in this sector of the West Side. Apart from the towering, rotund hall that now contains the Democratic National Convention (and will soon contain Pocahontas on Ice), there wasn't much to see in Daley Country last week. Just the corporate logos of AT&T, Bank of America, and Bud Light hoisted on street lamps above acres of excessively fresh concrete--that sort of thing, all of it bearing that peculiarly sad aura that demolished affordable housing leaves behind. Daley Country's vacant (now temporarily overcrowded) stupor couldn't be more different than the rest of bustling Chicago. In particular, it couldn't be more different than the scene at two warehouses just four blocks north occupied by the Active Resistance "Unconvention," a ten-day event organized by Chicago's anarchist-central, the Autonomous Zone. Over 600 self-proclaimed anarchists from around the hemisphere have gathered here to discuss everything from collective living to racial dynamics, sustainable agriculture to free health clinics--and to hash out a plan for making their ideals a reality. Superficially, Active Resistance could be compared to another Unconventional gathering in Chicago 28 years ago. Most of the attendees are young, white, and dressed-to-rebel--this time in black rags, their bodies adorned with multiple piercings, dreadlocks, and combat boots. Hundreds of young punks amassed near the DNC: could be a replay of 1968, right? That's a possibility the Chicago police, at least, seem almost wistful for. Members of the Active Resistance "security collective" say participants report being tailed by marked and unmarked cars, even helicopters, as they walk from site to site. Officers also have been stopping by the convention's various locales, asking to see lease permits and asking if anyone plans to make trouble. Of course, many anarchists are planning to do their bit to smash the state this week--but not under the auspices of Active Resistance. The strict non-sponsorship policy, along with the savvy security operation (complete with cellular phones, registration IDs, and detailed incident logs) are just a few aspects of the Unconvention that set it apart from the Yippie gathering of old. Still, there is something happening here between young and old, an exchange mottled with animosity and affection that could make Chicago 96 a unique time and place in leftist history. A few of the Active Resisters were around in 1968, and still more of the old cadre were invited to facilitate some of the Unconvention's core workshops, among them Z Magazine editor Michael Albert. The prevention of wheel-reinvention is a tricky thing to pull off, but Albert handled it well at a public talk in the Chopin Theater Friday night. With a bit of comradely yet fatherly advice, he lightened up his otherwise serious analysis of the world's institutionalized injustice. "This is not in any way to demean people in the movement, and besides, my own history is replete with far worse," he told the group of us, most of whom were pre-zygotic in 1968 or gestating in anxiety-laced pre-natal waters (at least, my mother claims mine were). "But I've been told that some anarchists have adopted a lifestyle that involves being dirty. And this is bad. Not only because it adversely affects your interactions with the outside world, but also because it can make you very sick." A sense of mild boredom among the (relatively well-washed) audience instantly dissolved in laughter. But on Sunday night, a chance encounter between the generations ended in disappointment. Active Resistance had loaned its central meeting hall, "The Ballroom," to a benefit for Countermedia, a resource center for alternative journalists. After speeches about political prisoners and a rappin' radical puppet show, Paul Krassner took the stage to indulge in an interminable monologue about his role in the events of 68. As the stand-up routine continued ("And we all sat at separate tables because it was one of those Yippie things, you know, sit at separate tables when you're stoned in Chicago being trailed by plainclothes police"), droves of black-clad youth exited to the railroad tracks out back. "Who cares?!" shouted those stuck in the rear of the hall painting more political puppets. A more lucid and grandfatherly Dave Dellinger spoke next, but seemed equally unable to connect with the younger crowd. In his talk, Michael Albert warned the anarchists that the road to sell-out, burn-out, and irrelevance starts with expecting too much too fast. That's one piece of advice Active Resistance seems to have thoroughly absorbed. Talking with participants, I often heard the words "process" and "pragmatic." Although A-Zone organizers have an almost Nixonian paranoia about the media (giving Friendly, Neutral, or Evil badges and a heavy dose of tude to the few of us who showed any interest in the Unconvention)--their no-nonsense approach to revolution has allowed them to focus energy where it counts in the long run. That is, in building cross-continental networks, examining their own dynamics, and talking about how exactly to create the kind of world they want to live in. Albert also left his audience with advice he said was hard-won: radical movements have to be fun enough to sustain their members and attract more. In many ways, Krassner's descriptions of hash- and acid-augmented absurdity made 1968 sound much more fun than the anarchists and their rigorously process-conscious meetings. Most Active Resisters share the grim sobriety of a generation that's seen too much bullshit too soon: taking drugs or taunting cops is generally regarded here as pointless behavior that plays into the hands of the State. Still, some of these warm nights The Ballroom's atmosphere undergoes a change. Volunteers clear a huge patch of floor and someone sets up a righteous sound system. Down the street, police cars swarm over Daley Country, although its only possible targets are the area's few remaining residents (gathered on the few remaining stoops), and the dazed, badged members of national press corps, who stand blinking beneath the United Center's glare. The anarchists are nearby but sequestered away, bouncing and slamming and flipping cartwheels to beats of the Pogues or Hindi house music. They plan to be a part of the revolution, so tonight they're damned well going to dance.
This news alert issued by CounterMedia, a coalition of political
organizations, media groups and individuals dedicated to providing
alternative coverage of the Democratic National Convention and community
struggle in Chicago.
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