The global wave of revolutionary uprisings kicked off last year has finally reached the shores of the USA. This Friday, the third #FTP protest took the streets and trains of New York City, the latest demonstration in an emerging movement fighting to win four demands: 1. Free fare on the NYC transit system, 2. No cops on the trains or in the stations, 3. The end of police harassment of street vendors and performers, and 4. Full accessibility for all.
This protest was a clear escalation from #FTP2 on November 22nd, and points to the culmination of years of revolutionary intelligence being built in the city, from Occupy to Black Lives Matter. Young people formed an essential contingent of the demonstration, providing spirit, vitality, and determination unburdened by entrenched activist dogma.
What many suspected during #FTP2 became blatantly obvious during #FTP3: the New York Police Department is fundamentally unequipped to deal with these protests, which have a very real possibility of escalating into a combative popular movement in the center of the American Spectacle. The following reflections are meant to briefly identify successful tactics and strategies from the movement, and to provide concrete proposals for pushing the struggle forward.
The bet of #FTP3’s strategy was correct: the police cannot keep up with a diffuse crowd using the subways to flash mob different locations around the city. Diverse crowds of people stormed train stations, hopped turnstiles by the hundreds, chained open emergency doors and destroyed ticket readers. Train cars full of protesters branched off into multiple directions, creating “freedom trains” where people chanted slogans, dialogued with commuters, and graffitied the subways together.
NYPD’s model of policing relies on them having close contact with marches, flooding the streets with police and to keep protesters on the sidewalk, and making violent arrests whenever protests don’t move fast enough. They rely on following the marches through traffic in police vans, and are unable of predicting where marches will exit the subways. When the marches move through the trains, they can surface back up far from police control, and have ample amount of time in the streets before the cops are able to catch up. The speed of these protests is an essential advantage over the police, who rely on bureaucratic chains of command and are thus incapable of making decisions on the fly. ‘Freedom Trains’ are both tactically effective and spiritually liberating, and reflect a core principle of the movement: the journey is the destination.
In comparison with past demonstrations in New York, this march felt much less determined by activist figureheads or non-profit organizations, and we see this as a sign of growing maturity. We’ve learned our lessons from Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street. The few moments where authority figures were able to seize control – in Grand Central Station, in Restoration Plaza – were also the moments where most arrests occurred. The relative absence of leadership, however, comes with an important caveat, familiar to anarchists : it’s on us to self-organize and to take initiative, and we must share the knowledge of how to do so with as many people as possible.
Compared to #FTP2, there were quantitatively more spontaneous acts of resistance, both during and in the lead up to #FTP3. We suspect that this increase in autonomous direct action is directly linked to the propaganda strategy pushed by various groups online, encouraging people to come prepared with things like lasers, paint, bicycle locks, and umbrellas. With a young crowd, we have to open source the unique skill-sets of sabotage and organization we’ve built up over the years. Spreading instructions manuals and infographics massively on social media resulted in diverse and leaderless affinity groups taking up various levels of subversive activity, from using umbrellas to shield protesters disabling ticket machines, to using laser pointers to keep the cops at a safer distance. This made the crowd’s dynamic much less determined by either specialized activist groups or by isolated militants. Also effective was the social media strategy of posting of a continual and ongoing stream of autonomous actions throughout the day before the demonstration, documenting acts of resistance blossoming all across the city.
In concrete terms we see leaderless resistance that stays physically moving and outpacing the cops as a viable tactic. What is lacking most in the crowd is experience, but the momentum from the first #FTP march to #FTP3 is quickly building up the confidence of the protesters. Small subversive acts create trust between people who then feel safe doing even more subversive activities later. This lack of trust within the movement has been one of its biggest obstacles, but luckily #FTP3 proves that this trust can be built especially quickly when the justification and know-how behind these acts of subversion are clearly communicated. This is the subtle art of pushing struggles towards their revolutionary horizons. The more people trust each other to face their fears together, the better chance we have at creating a rich and diverse movement.
Coming out of this, we offer the following proposals for a two-pronged strategy for the future of the movement.
1. Diversity of tactics means diversity of content: we need to produce propaganda from many different angles reaching out to as many different kinds of people as possible. The goal is to create an open source database of anarchist knowledge that doesn’t restrict this knowledge to a specialized group of self-proclaimed ‘activists’ or ‘militants’. We need content that’s humorous, angry, sad, informative, inspiring, all working together to create a wide ecosystem of affects and information. If you can’t go to the march, you should meme it. Everyone has a place in the movement, and both our propaganda and our organizing should reflect this.
2. Find ways to digitally allow people in metropolitan areas to coordinate with each other on a large scale, both in daily life and especially during the protests. This helps people share their reflections and experiences and create an environment where a visible class consciousness can emerge. It also helps people coordinate in mass to be maximally effective in the constantly changing environment of a mass demonstration. While being leaderless is a clear advantage, the movement at this point lacks the architecture that could synchronize protest actions both in the moment, and over an extended period of time.
The end of the protests present the unique opportunity for uncontrollable action to spread. When the march ends, people should hop the train together in a crowd and flash mob unexpected locations spontaneously. The formula is simply: exit the train, graffiti the train station, take the streets, build barricades to prevent the cops from chasing, and march to the next station to do it all over again. The success of #FTP3 shows that the cops can be easily outpaced. Urban geography is a weapon, and we can use it against them just as effectively as they use it against us. We must set the tempo of our demonstrations and never let it be determined for us. Our biggest advantage is the capacity to disperse and regroup before the cops can mount an effective response. In the future, this coordination should be facilitated by digital platforms, which would allow crowds of thousands to people to quickly disseminate the locations of targets to flashmob, and the locations of meet-up points for protesters to re-convene.
The broken windows model of policing seeks to eliminate any visible signs of resistance in the city. We can use this logic against them. May a thousand acts of resistance be used methodically against the police and the world of capitalism they uphold. We’ve proven that this model of protest is effective, and we must continue to refine our speed, agility and coordination. One day we may not have to commute at all.
Water hollows out a stone not through force, but through persistence.
Dozens of us jumped the turnstile rushing on the 4 and then the A train heading to Nostrand. Everyone passed around one paint marker until the train car was completely covered in slogans. Cops were following us as soon as we left the station, trying to keep us on the sidewalk, screaming at and pushing people who were on the sides. We still managed to take the streets multiple times, marching towards Restoration Plaza. Drivers honked in unison with the chants. One lady, with her two kids in the back of her car, exclaimed, “Damn, I need to be out there with y’all! Fuck the police!” I got nervous as we got to the plaza and I realized there weren’t multiple exits. We waited there for other groups to arrive. Once everyone started holding hands, I realized my fears were shared by everyone around me. Facing our fears together I felt more powerful than ever before. I was holding hands with my childhood best friend on one side and a girl who looked to be about our age on the other. We were standing in front of the small back exit of the plaza, and cops started approaching from behind us. We squeezed each other’s hands. Someone suggested we form a tighter circle, and we all stepped forward. As the cops closed in, my friend and I moved back to the edge of the plaza to try to keep them from entering. We started pulling everyone back with us. Some people holding a black banner cheered us on. We didn’t let the cops into our circle. We were peaceful, and all they wanted was violence.
– Grace, age 16, Cancer
We get home. It is cold but we are hot and sweaty. Everyone smells kind of bad. We trade clothing, everyone searching for the scarf they came with but passed off or the hat they promised they wouldn’t lose in the streets. We collapse onto the mattress pads on the floor, asking each other “how do you feel about tonight?” Friends start looking for news coverage. We find grainy footage from a so-called ‘newscopter’ reporting on the protest but talking about a march we were never in. Stories emerge on social media of autonomous actions in Brooklyn, Harlem, queens. We read of fires we never started, turnstiles we never glued, barricades we never built, and windows we never smashed. We realize that our living room floor is not the only one decompressing. This action was bigger than us and our friends; it splintered and fractured in glorious ways, each march coming together and breaking apart with increasingly blurred lines between participants and onlookers. We are not the only sweaty friends who smell kind of bad and are still searching for their favorite hats.
– Chelsea, age 23, Gemini
I only ever saw your eyes, which hinted at mischief in the fluorescently lit A train heading towards Nostrand. I was wearing a black (stolen) Patagonia jacket and a surgical mask. You were wearing a Nike hoodie. Our gloved hands met when I passed you my red sharpie so you could scrawl in steady, determined handwriting: “Peace, Love, Unity, Respect” across the Seamless advertising banner. It was electric, convulsive even. Like pissing on the third rail. I could tell there was a shared understanding. I lost you in the crowd as we exited the station. You still have my marker. If you felt it too, add me on Co – Star: @readdesertdotorg.
–Morgan, age 24, Pisces
As we marched through the streets, little green dots begin to appear on the building ahead of us. The entire march cheers. The kids behind me say “dude those lasers look like we’re in Hong Kong.” I turn around and respond, “you guys, everyone needs these for the movement. They’re $2 on Ali Baba.” Everyone smiles and giggles as the cops trip on their own feet and bump into each other. Green beams blind the cameras hovering over our heads and, for a moment, we feel like we can do anything, we are free.
– Rashad, age 25, Sagittarius