Anarchists: Impressions of the Miami FTAA
Issue #65, January 2004
In the long media buildup to the November FTAA negotiations, Miamians were often told that of the tens of thousands of outside protesters who would be coming to our city, ninety percent would be decent citizens who were exercising their rights of speech and assembly, but ten percent were "anarchists" coming to destroy our businesses and property. To me an anarchist had always seemed a rare kind of utopian intellectual proposing a theory that all government is inherently coercive — with a connotation of violence deriving from 19th-century assassinations by bearded men.
Official estimates said there were about 10,000 protesters. Many thousands in 280 buses had not been permitted to enter the city, and many Miamians and others had been excluded from the downtown area, which was barricaded and fenced in maze-like fashion within ten blocks of the Intercontinental Hotel, where the FTAA delegates were supposedly negotiating. There were over 5000 law enforcement personnel (mostly Miami police) involved in this operation, which reportedly was financed by eight and a half million dollars from Homeland Security, a half million from Miami-Dade, and one million "plus" from "private donations." The police were in new kinds of outfits, most black (foot phalanxes which pushed and herded protesters with their shields and bats around the streets), white shirts (bicycle patrols), brown shirts (tear gas and special weapons), and blue shirts (horseback patrols). They had and used new tanks, gunboats, bats, plastic shields, tasers, tear gas, stun guns, rubber bullets (which cause severe injury at close range), pellet bags and concussion grenades.
They had no bone to pick with the unions or South Florida progressives and their groups, but clearly were after the anarchists, who are discernible by what they wear — boots, dark pants and shirts and often bandanas on their faces like bandits, which they think protect them from the gas. All week anarchists were being stopped, questioned and searched without cause or suspicion. There were hundreds of injuries, dozens of hospitalizations, 220 arrests leading to charges, many more taken into custody and eventually released without charge. I doubt seriously that any of the charges will hold up in court, if the accused can afford the time, distance and cost to contest. The police motto was "You can beat the rap but not the trip."
To my surprise my 32 year-old daughter turned out to be an anarchist. She had come with a group of fifty from Austin. By hanging out with her a few days I was able to get a clearer picture of what they are about. In general they are Americans from all walks of life, all ages (mostly young), who are idealists and activists. They had come at great personal sacrifice to face substantial physical risk in order to help create a better world for themselves and their familles. They don't seem to want to discuss theory, and it's clear there is no common ideology. Some may be traditional anarchists, some economic-political decentralists, some "pagans," socialists, ecologists, democrats, liberals, conservatives, whatever. They have differing affinity and geographical groupings within the larger circle, and decisions seem to be made by rough consensus after all who want are heard. The smaller groups decide what actions they do, but all agree to support each other to the extent they can. Their "convergence center" was a warehouse they rented in central Miami for eating, messages, conferences, discussions that had to do with tactics and practical matters. They call their demonstration tactics "nonviolent direct action." This is really what they have in common. They emphasize responsibility and accountability and their ethical standards and solidarity seem strong: many of them were still here a week later trying to raise ransom money or help those coming out of hospitals.
One important purpose they had was to demonstrate that our hallowed constitutional rights are meaningless, and in this they were successful. Because of the buildup, the local media gave substantial coverage to the events of demonstration day; however, national coverage was eclipsed by the apparently significant Michael Jackson arrest story. At the rally and marches they had lots of American flags, African drums, and political puppet shows. Many were in costumes or on stilts. Their "cheerleader" groups sang chants and songs about the Bill of Rights. As they were being searched they would say "What about the Fourth Amendment," and as they were being pushed around the streets by police phalanxes they would shout "These are our streets." Their "weapons," used only in defense, were a few smoke bombs and small balloons filled with white paint, which sullied a few new police uniforms.
On Thursday morning, the morning of the march, I was with a small group who were marching into Overtown, the poorest section of Miami where they bring the homeless so tourists won't see them. The police lining the block ahead yelled to stop, but the two young men in front apparently didn't hear because they were talking. An officer jumped out and hit one of them on his head with his bat. We took him to a vacant lot where an anarchist van was called to take him to the hospital and an anarchist nurse was trying to bring him to consciousness. His friend was crying because a similarly inflicted skull fracture the previous day reportedly had resulted in partial blindness. One of the Overtown residents said to comfort him: "He'll be all right, don't worry, they do this to us all the time."
The local media reporters were initially antagonistic toward the anarchists but slowly began to come around when they saw what was really happening. At the end of the day when they finally began to interview some on TV, the anarchists were quite articulate about the trade agreements and their effect on our society. TV crews constantly searched for instances of anarchist violence, like throwing rocks or breaking windows, but never found any. Police chief John Timoney often complained on TV that they were outsiders here to cause trouble, but he himself is some kind of an outside "crowd control" expert hired a year ago to come here to mastermind this operation.
Timoney re-routed the parade at the last minute so that the delegates at the Intercontinental could have no view of it, but if they had access to TV they might have seen what happened. Regarding the negotiation, there wasn't any, or even discussion of the differences which had surfaced in Cancun. All that happened was that some Miami businessmen and Florida politicians (including the governor) tried unsuccessfully to woo or pressure the South Americans. As the self-styled "Gateway to the Americas," Miami hopes to be the future FTAA headquarters, supposedly a financial boon for all of us here. Mexico and Chile, already on the hook, were disappointed. The US will now negotiate bilateral agreements with smaller, weaker nations of the Caribbean and Central America.
As for the agreement signed, the Miami Herald, by no means a liberal newspaper (it provided free advertising to FTAA), said its "crowning achievement" was the promise to continue talking in the future. The South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial recommended the FTAA be put off until 2010. In other words, the only purpose of this conference, which was scheduled over a year ago, was to preserve the public illusion that that the talks are progressing. While the demonstrations might have helped, I believe the real reason for FTAA's unseemly demise is the increasing poverty and misery which unregulated, unlimited capitalism is bringing to South America. The Herald summed it all up with a large color photo of a police phalanx on the front page, with the caption "Free Trade Area of the Americas." It was a political cartoon but the drawing was a real photo.
The men who run this city often speak of their devotion to the "rule of law," by which they mean the law that enforces their contracts and patents, especially in other countries. To me, the rule of law means the idea that the law applies to everyone equally, weak and strong, poor and rich. This November in Miami "law enforcement" was the use of raw power without regard to law. The only devotion to our Constitution and laws was shown by the anarchists.
Tom Crumpacker is a retired lawyer living in Miami.