Reports and Reflections from a Wave of New Experiments in Demonstration
May Day 2020 confronted us with a difficult challenge: it has never been more necessary to take action for change, and it has never been more difficult. In some parts of the world—including Ljubljana, Vienna, and Chicago—anarchists achieved inspiring breakthroughs; elsewhere, where people remained indoors out of despair or attempted to repeat familiar traditions, the results were disheartening. Here, we offer an overview of all the different experiments people engaged in, ranging across a dozen countries, in hopes of offering inspiration and useful models for the next round of organizing.
Our enemies in the ruling class want to resume the functioning of the economy without permitting us any of the freedoms we need to defend ourselves from their impositions. All around the world, we saw police without any sort of protective gear harassing and attacking properly masked demonstrators, blithely risking spreading the pandemic in the name of halting it. This underscores the foolishness of counting on state violence to protect us from a virus. Police have surely been one of the chief vectors via which the virus has spread around the world and penetrated into our communities. We won’t be safe until we are neither forced to engage in risky economic activities to survive nor forced to remain confined and subservient to our rulers by mercenaries who don’t care if we live or die.
You can read strategic reflections about the possibilities and disadvantages of automobile demonstrations here and here. We hope a wider array of tactics will emerge over the months of struggle to come.
As usual, these reports are arranged by country to show the regimes that the participants are fighting against, not because we affirm the legitimacy of any state or colonial legacy.
May Day celebrations and demonstrations took place across Austria. The lockdown measures restricting individual movement ended at midnight, and several of the day’s demonstrations were officially registered and permitted. Besides the usual marches and gatherings of the Social Democrats and various communist groups, which took place in altered form with social distancing measures, there were also several demonstrations from radical left groups.
A large march met at noon under the motto, “Transnational Solidarity—against Racism and War.” About 850 people attended the march, wearing masks, maintaining distance, and carrying banners and signs. The march ended in front of city hall around 3 pm.
As the protest ended, a critical mass (bike demonstration) with the motto “Solidarity instead of the ‘New Normal’” rode by and many people from the march joined in. The bike demo included almost 600 participants. The demo wound around the Ring, a wide boulevard circling the city center. The demo had not been registered with the authorities; larger and larger numbers of police started following the demo and a police helicopter could even be heard overhead.
After trying to block the road, the cyclists regrouped and made their way to the Prater, a large park where the demonstration was planned to end. The police attacked protesters in the Prater, knocking cyclists over, kicking a person who was sitting on the ground, searching people, and arresting three people, who were brought to the police detention center at the Rossauer Laende.
The Plattform Radikal Linke, one of the groups who supported the call for the bike protest, summarized, “Despite the police repression, we were able to show a clear sign of solidarity: with refugees in camps and detention centers, against forcing those dependent on wages to carry the burden of the crisis and its effects, for another form of societal (re)production, outside of capitalist and patriarchal forces. For a stateless and classless global society! This is also what the 1st of May, as the day of struggle of wage workers and oppressed, stands for.”
Asparagus for everyone! In Salzburg, anarchists “liberated” some asparagus and gave it away in a pre-May Day direct action. Asparagus is expensive at the grocery store, but Austrian (and German) farmers rely on Eastern European laborers to harvest it for minimal wages. Asparagus producers have rejected the idea of using Austrian laborers who have offered to work the harvest, arguing that they want higher wages and would not work as hard. Eastern European laborers are being flown into Austria, despite Covid-19 restrictions, even though Austria has thus far refused to evacuate a single person from the detention camps at the EU’s outer borders (such as Moria). The conditions there are inhumane, as they already were before the Covid-19 outbreak. We see borders open for the profits of corporations, but not to save the lives of human beings.
Health care for all! Open the borders, evacuate the camps! With the closing words, “Luxury for everyone” and “Bon appetit,” the Salzburg anarchists included some asparagus recipes. The full article with pictures is available here.
A new rent strike initiative got off the ground in Belgium ahead of May Day. A list of rent strike organizing efforts now includes groups in the US, Canada, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Brazil, and Greece, as well.
A poster for the rent strike mobilization in Belgium.
In Brazil, only a few anarchist actions took place for May Day, such as this banner drop in Bahia in the north.
In Brasilia, the nation’s capital, a supporter of Brazil’s fascist president Jair Bolsonaro made the news by attacking a group of nurses who were demonstrating to bring attention to the plight of healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, Brazilian anarchists mourn the passing of a comrade who has just been killed by COVID-19.
In Hamilton, a “Keep Your Rent” vehicle convoy drove through the Central, Durand, Corktown, Stinson, Gibson, Landsdale, and Beasley neighborhoods, stopping at high-rise buildings owned by some of the biggest landlords in Hamilton, to promote the rent strike and offer solidarity to those struggling to pay their rent..
In Montréal, banners and graffiti appeared all over the city expressing anti-authoritarian messages.
In Toronto, in response to pandemic profiteering, some anarchists glued the locks of several banks, decorating the buildings with graffiti and publishing a communiqué explaining their motivations in detail.
A demonstration in Hamilton.
In many places, people called for cacerolazos (noise demonstrations) for May 1; one assembly had a day for making masks and face shields.
In Santiago, there was a small demonstration in Plaza de la Dignidad (formerly, Plaza Italia), one of the chief flashpoints of recurring confrontations with police last fall, where a small number of people gathered to commemorate international workers’ day and to demand the release of all political prisoners. This began around 11 am; there was already a heavy police presence. Around noon, the police started violently arresting people and shooting water at them with the water cannon. Police were playing a recording over a loudspeaker warning of the dangers of violent protest and declaring that the police “would take proper action against illegal gatherings” and so on. The recording said something about violent protest—which, by any standard, is not what was taking place in the plaza. People were just standing, holding banners, sometimes throwing fliers in the air.
The police arrested almost 60 people; the official news says 57. They arrested a lot of journalists, including a reporter from a national TV channel, who continued to broadcast live from inside the holding vehicle for a few minutes until the cops came to take the camera away.
At the police station, they released members of the press first. Then they took arrestees to another police station, supposedly because this one had too many people inside and there were rumors that someone infected was inside. The news reports claim that this is confirmed; we don’t know for sure. Besides moving prisoners to another station for processing, they did not take preventative measures or release the detainees with any special instructions to quarantine or that they would be provided with testing,
After some people left the first police station, the cops there tear-gassed everyone waiting and showing solidarity outside.
Although the police took advantage of the situation to spread the news that one of the arrestees allegedly tested positive for COVID-19, we note that they did not even request that the arrestees engage in any sort of self-quarantine after release. This calls their narrative into question. It is certain that from here on, the authorities will use the specter of COVID-19 to terrorize people out of demonstrating, even as they try to force us to resume dangerous work without any protections.
Confrontations continued in the plaza through out the day. There was also a demonstration outside of the government palace, where a union leader was arrested for trying to put up a banner. Demonstrations also took place in other cities, including Valparaiso and Concepcion, where there is also video evidence of the particular
brutality of police repression that day.
Later on, police attacked the residents of various neighborhoods of Santiago with tear gas, specifically Villa Olimpica and Lo Hermida, two places that are usually politically active and confrontational towards the police.
The Chilean government—almost universally regarded as illegitimate before the pandemic—keeps doing things to antagonize people. Over the past several days, they have reopened some malls, yet continue to forbid public gatherings. They had originally wanted to send schools back to class this week, but faced a lot of backlash from different sectors, including mayors of municipalities and other politicians, so they decided to not do it just yet. The truth is that the school system here doesn’t have the capacity to hold classes following health regulations limiting the number of students per classroom and so on.
Many people have lost their jobs and the government has offered practically no help with that, either.
In general, people are trying their hardest to keep the memory of struggle strong, to remind each other why the revolt of last fall happened and to hold on to the idea that when things quiet down a little bit with the pandemic, we will return to streets.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the authoritarian and liberticidal political measures taken by the French government in order to stop it, there were a lot of uncertainties approaching May Day 2020. For almost two months now, the population has been asked—or rather, forced—to comply with the unilateral decision taken by the government to implement a drastic confinement strategy. To make sure that people follow these new sanitary measures, the government has deployed a massive number of police forces in the streets in order to control people’s movements and attack any gatherings. As we already mentioned in a previous article, the fact that police squads are among the only groups of people allowed to be in the streets at any time has caused an escalation of police harassment and brutality on the pretext that those targeted were not respecting confinement. In this strange and alarming time, we knew that we would not be able to gather freely in the streets to celebrate May Day the way we did in 2018 or 2019.
“The virus, capitalism, [state] power—let’s destroy what destroys us.”
Nevertheless, despite all this, several calls to demonstrate on May Day all over France spread online. One of them, entitled “1er mai : pour des cortèges sans cortèges” (“May Day: for processions without processions”), had the merit of explaining why demonstrating during May Day 2020 was important, but also, why we should take the opportunity of the current pandemic situation—embodied by social distancing behavior—to reinvent offensive strategies against the state and capitalism outside of classic, ritualized, mass marches.
Here are two excerpts from the call:
“May Day is a good test to find out if we have the virus of fear, an indicator to find out where we are in terms of street confrontation, a thermometer to take the temperature of the insurrectional fever and the state of our antibodies against repression.”
“Well, maybe if the social distancing measures not only prevent us from organizing massive demonstrations, but also stop us from taking advantage of what is usually reassuring and effective, that is to say: to feel the strength of numbers, the heat of the crowd… therefore, these questionable, unpleasant hygienic measures force us to develop another type of demonstration. Isn’t this the historic occasion for developing offensive demonstrations (of any level and embracing any kind of tactic, from simply making noise to actively participating in property destruction) that are multiple, decentralized, mobile, never static, and the less often repressed? As we are more and more into micropolitics—this resistance to biopower—could we not make micro-demonstrations a new strategy? By recalling that the Hong Kong slogan “be water” didn’t mean “be like a river,” but rather “be like a drop,” I hope for May 1, 2020, a rain of micro-demonstrations to avoid the drought of the struggles to come.”
“A first of May without confinement.”
Due to the difficulty of gathering in the streets this year, we can’t provide an exhaustive list of all the actions taken throughout France. Here, we’ll present some of the initiatives in the Paris region. Other demonstrations and actions took place in Lyons, Saint-Étienne, Grenoble, Gap, Poitiers, Toulouse, and Rennes.
In Paris, a call was made to gather at 10 am at Place de la République. A small group of people showed up with several banners and spread across the square while respecting social distancing. Unfortunately, the action didn’t last very long, as a large number of law enforcement units were already on site and started controlling and arresting people.
Other calls were made to gather in the 18th and 20th districts of Paris. Again, police forces were already on site to prevent any gatherings, and some units were even patrolling the streets to control and dissuade potential demonstrators. The police strategy of occupying the streets and harassing pedestrians ended up succeeding, insofar as the call to gather in the 20th district was finally cancelled.
Attempting to demonstrate in France.
On a more positive note, some hospital workers and demonstrators succeeded in demonstrating around the Saint-Antoine hospital in Paris and took this opportunity to denounce the financial cuts imposed on public hospitals for decades.
In Montreuil, people gathered and started a wildcat demonstration in the streets while respecting social distancing. Unfortunately, a large number of police forces ended up blocking their progression at some point and started checking IDs and distributing fines. However, another group of people who organized their own demonstration succeeded walking freely and happily in the city streets during an hour and a half. Also in Montreuil, the Brigades de Solidarité Populaire (Popular Solidarity Brigades)—an initiative inspired by the Brigate Volontarie per l’Emergenza created in Milan, Italy—had organized the distribution of food to people in need, showing once more that solidarity and mutual aid is one of our best weapons. However, authorities decided to send police forces to attack them in the name of public safety and confinement. As a result, dozens of members of the BRAV (Brigades for the Suppression of Violent Action) surrounded the market, stopped the food distribution, and gave fines both to activists and to people in need.
French police destroying a mutual aid program.
As we already explained, the current pandemic gives governments worldwide the opportunity to develop and implement new policies in order to increase control and surveillance of targeted groups of people and communities, tactics which will later be extended to the entire society. In France, it’s becoming harder and harder for authorities to hide the fact that people are treated very differently in terms of confinement enforcement according to which community they are part of. On one hand we see people constantly harassed, injured, or killed by cops because they are considered as not respecting the confinement rules—while, on the other hand, traditional homophobic and xenophobic bigots can gather freely in a church with the authorization of the police prefect.
May Day 2020 wasn’t an exception to this rule. While on one hand, the authorities decided to repress any form of gathering or action during May Day, at the same time, the officials of the Rassemblement National—a xenophobic far-right political party—were able to carry out their traditional ceremony in front of the Joan of Arc statue without any police presence, surrounded by journalists aiming to capture this moment.
To top it all, during his May Day address—in which he glorified “work” as one of the chief pillars that “unifies” a “nation”—president Emmanuel Macron explained that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this May Day was special and “unlike any other,” adding that we should all keep the hope “to rediscover as soon as possible the joyful, and sometimes squabbling, May Day that make our nation.” A classic condescending statement from a president who considers May Day riots, confrontations, and demands simple child’s play, and who legitimizes the use of brutal force by police forces, considering the permanent mutilations that the police inflict in these clashes a net gain for his side in the class war.
On May 2, 2020, after a special meeting between all its ministers, the French government announced that they want to extend the “sanitary” state of emergency to July 24. This decision gives gendarmes and security guards in stores and public transportation the power to issue a ticket if they allege that the target is not respecting some sanitary rule during the transition towards the end of confinement. This means that we will have to deal with even more police aggression in our daily lives.
All these elements highlight once more that in France, as everywhere around the world, we all have to fight several viral pandemics at once. Not only are we fighting against the COVID-19, we are also fighting the virus of control and surveillance that is rapidly spreading in our streets—as shown in this video. We are also fighting against the virus of xenophobia, against the virus of the state and capitalism.
More than ever, we must not go back to normal!
Germany saw a lot of banner drops, symbolic occupations, music from the neighbors, and the like. Some of the most interesting events took place in smaller cities like Greifswald and Wuppertal.
In Leipzig, people carried out two symbolic occupations:
In the morning, there were decentralized actions in Berlin:
3000 people participated in the traditional radical demonstration in Berlin; basically, this meant running from one meeting point to another without anything really happening. In the end, it was almost the way Berlin May Day always is these days, but less people.
The night before, there had been fireworks for Walprugis Night and some very small confrontations in Friedrichshain:
There was also a serious attempt to carry out a new occupation in Berlin:
In Hamburg, during the day, a lot of people went around looking for Nazis who eventually didn’t show up. In the evening, there were some attempts at demonstrations, little confrontations:
In Greifswald, there was a legal demonstration involving 250 people and legal fireworks and legal masks. This was the only demonstration of its kind:
In Wuppertal, there was a demonstration on the night of May 1:
Some spontaneous demonstrations took place during the day, another demonstration including fireworks at night. Three houses were squatted; one remains occupied as of this writing.
In Freiburg, 500 people joined an anarchist bicycle demonstration.
In Dortmund, people carried out banner drops and symbolic occupations:
In Hannover, the “Alliance for a Combative May 1st” experimented with radio demonstrations, a potential new model for protest and outreach. People used free radio to stream a specific audio program, making it public through radios on their balconies and in the streets.
At the same time, fascists and conspiracy theorists were on the streets, causing some problems. They beat up the camera team of a liberal mainstream media satire show.
This list is hardly complete, but it gives a sense of the events of the day.
With what the press described as “military” discipline, the notoriously authoritarian Greek Communist Party (KKE) held its May Day demonstration with a specific location marked for each protester to stand apart from the others.
Up to 600 anarchists gathered for a march involving perhaps 1000 leftists; police did not engage. A motorbike demonstration called by a grassroots labor union drew 200 participants, who drove through many neighborhoods around the city, followed by a large number of police. Smaller anarchist demonstrations of several dozen people apiece happened in neighborhoods throughout Athens.
The anarchist group Rovikanos (“Rubicon”) also carried out a daring attack on a corporate office.
Many public meetings were held online by groups all around Italy. May Day celebrations took place in many cities in the form of flash mobs, strikes, and demonstrations. Several of these focused on denouncing the hypocrisy of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and on attacking Confindustria (the Italian employers’ federation and national chamber of commerce) on account of all the workplace deaths and infections caused by the disinterest of the government regarding the lives and health of workers. Many strikes were held at the logistic warehouses in Milan, Padua, Florence, Rome, Naples, and elsewhere.
Most of gatherings were organized by Potere al Popolo, a radical left-wing party. In Naples, for example, there was a surprise action at Confindustria headquarters; demonstrators held banners reading: “It will be all right if we defend the workers.”
In Genoa, the group Non Una Di Meno demonstrated outside the headquarters of the Region for women’s rights, emphasizing that “Health is a common good, care cannot be profit!” and demanding an end to cuts and privatization. The flash mob was stopped by law enforcement after a few minutes.
In Trieste, a peaceful demonstration took place at 11 am. After 30 minutes, police approached some people holding a banner and riots began. Protesters were claiming their right to protest, while respecting all the social distancing measures. The banners displayed slogans including “Produce, consume, die—the real virus is the state” and “We don’t obey, Covindustria go away.” Demonstrators will be fined because of gatherings and resisting the police.
In Lebanon, where powerful protests broke out last October, we see a grim vision of the future. With the economy in free fall, the army has been set loose on the streets to crack down on a new, more confrontational wave of protests against banks and the government. Social distancing and other protective measures are unthinkable as unmasked soldiers brutalize civilians.
Our hearts go out to those fighting for survival in Lebanon today.
As of April 26, nearly 800,000 people in Spain (nearly 2% of the total population) had been fined and 7000 arrested for violating lockdown. The fine comes close to the median monthly income.
With all public gatherings prohibited and the police empowered to arrest groups of two or more adults as well as any individuals outside without a “valid” purpose, comrades found novel ways to celebrate May Day. The CNT and anarchist publishing collectives in dozens of cities organized online speeches and presentations. In Barcelona, people sacked a supermarket, graffiti appeared overnight in countless locales, and organizing continues apace for the rent struck that began on April 1, with tens of thousands of people participating and dozens of strike committees popping up across the country alongside the hundreds of mutual aid networks that already existed. The rent strike is expected to grow this month.
There is also a hunger strike spreading in some prisons.
In Slovenia, this year’s May Day coincided with the fifth week of anarchist and anti-authoritarian mobilizations against repressive governmental policies under the pretense of fighting COVID-19. After weeks of massive graffiti actions, noise demonstrations from balconies, and the first bicycle mobilizations a week ago, yesterday more than 5000 people hit the streets of the capital city Ljubljana on bicycles, blocking all major roads and intersections in the city center along with all governmental institutions under the slogan “A May Day of solidarity, not fear-mongering and austerity.” For the second week in a row, anti-authoritarian protests on bikes occurred in several other cities and villages as well, accompanied with “protest rowing” on 11 rivers by 160 activists fighting against the devastation of the environment in Slovenia.
Back to the Future: The Far-Right Government and Resistance
In the beginning of March, when the pandemic was acknowledged in Slovenia, the far-right government took the power. It is led by the same prime minister who was overthrown by a popular six-month uprising in Slovenia in 2012-2013.
The government’s measures were similar to those in other European countries: complete lockdown of people, total disregard for those who cannot afford to stay at home, and free rein for capitalists. While most industries and factories kept their workers at work with mostly insufficient health prevention measures, the government prohibited all public gatherings, including protests, and embarked on a path of changing the laws in order to give itself more executive power—increasing the authority of the military (they tried to call them in to police the streets), increasing the power of police to track citizens via cell phones, enter our apartments, and surveil us more efficiently, and, of course at the same time, they got involved in several corruption scandals. Meanwhile, they are leading a hate campaign against migrants and people who express any sort of dissent, be that independent journalists, whistle-blowers, or, especially, protesters.
For anarchists and anti-authoritarians in Slovenia, the question since the beginning of pandemic has been simple: how do we organize collectivity in a time of complete governmentally imposed isolation? How do we create mutual aid and safe spaces in our communities while at the same time initiating conflict with the government and capital? How do we create new forms of togetherness, conflict, and disobedience while at the same time taking care to protect each other against both the police and the virus?
The stakes are higher than ever in terms of the forms of control that governments are trying to impose on us, the threatening rise of the far right, and the challenges of finding new ways of relating as we face the virus in adverse circumstances, seeing how neoliberalism has destroyed the public health system and health care is simply not available for everyone that needs it. We knew from the beginning that this is a moment for a wide mobilization of all anarchist and anti-authoritarian initiatives.
During the first few weeks, we were focused on creating situations in the city that would spread disobedient messages and create wider mobilization. These included slogans against the military policing the streets, solidarity with homeless people, against rent collection and evictions, authoritarianism, and the like; graffiti appeared all over the walls of the city, not just in Ljubljana, but also elsewhere in Slovenia. Many people took creative actions—for example, placing 800 black duct-tape crosses on the square opposite to the parliament at 1.5-meter “social distance” regulations in order to demonstrate a safe way of protesting. There were numerous solo actions carried out across the city, including car protests around governmental buildings, placing candles and symbolic drawings on the ground in the streets, jogging around the city with banners, and hanging banners on windows and balconies. Most of the actions “went viral.” Police were helpless, chasing people one by one, issuing citations, but failing to stop more and more people from all walks of life from participating in dissent.
The message was clear: people are angry and there is something boiling in the city, an unstoppable spirit of revolt.
Every Friday since April 2, people have gathered on their balconies, in parks, and on the rooftops of buildings for noise demonstrations with pots and pans. Each week, this highlighted a different topic—from the class dimension of the #stayathome message that failed to address the homeless or people working in industries, to a mobilization around the global rent strike, opposition to the militarization of society, capitalism, precarious conditions of labor, and so on. More and more, anti-authoritarian initiatives were joining the call: from anarchist groups, squatting communities, do-it-yourself cultural collectives, environmental activists, and feminist initiatives to groups organizing mutual aid in response to the pandemic.
Last week, noise demonstrations moved to the streets under the slogan #frombalconiestobycicles. A bicycle-based “critical mass,” a method familiar from the early 2000s anti-globalization era, was chosen because it allows for quick movement around the city, enabling people to blockade major intersections, and at the same time provides a certain amount of physical distance that many people need in order to be able to find their place in the movement.
This first gathering of more than 400 people was already a great success. After weeks of quarantine, the fact that we were able to create a different kind of togetherness was extremely empowering. Through in their presence, our collective bodies symbolized conflict with the police, government, capital, and all the other sources of power and oppression. Police were unprepared for the boldness of the biker gangs; they were overpowered and people from all walks of life took over the streets—from random delivery personnel who stepped away from their daily precarious lives to join the protest to small children. The slogans were explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist. The protest ended with slogans calling for us to meet up again in a week. Over the following days, a few smaller bike gatherings followed across the country along with graffiti and banner drops.
The stage was set for May Day.
May Day in Ljubljana.
The May Day 2020 mobilization
After this buildup to the symbolic point of struggle for May Day, it became clear that the government was feeling threatened again. All week long, we saw attempts to intimidate people out of joining the actions, with the minister for internal affiars threatening jail sentences for everyone “endangering public health” by protesting. They failed. People showed up in greater numbers than any average self-organized protest in Slovenia usually gathers. There were more than 5000 bicyclers in Ljubljana, 200 in Maribor, 100 in the small towns of Koper and Trbovlje, and couple dozen people even gathered in the village of Brežice. People also took to their bicycles in Celje, Novo mesto, Nova Gorica, Slovenj Gradec, and Murska Sobota, and several symbolic action took place in small villages across the country. In most of these places, anarchists had a significant presence with messages and slogans. Combined environmental action was simultaneously happening on 11 rivers, protesting against dams, the building of new hydroelectric plants, and the general destruction of environment.
In Ljubljana, we directed special attention to the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the slogan “First of May without barbed wire, military, and fences” in order to emphasize the repressive border regime against migrants crossing from Croatia. The message we were spreading was clear: we are not only fighting this far-right government, but against all governments, and we are not fighting to get back to normal, we are fighting against normality. Because this mobilization was anti-authoritarian, all attempts at nationalist interference were blocked. Due to the anti-nationalist nature of the mobilization, in Ljubljana, we did not see a single one of the state symbols (such as flags) that we usually see at such demonstrations for May Day in Eastern Europe.
There was also an explicitly anti-capitalist bloc in the bicycle parade.
If May Day in Eastern Europe is usually also observed by official bureaucratic unions that are completely detached from workers, it was funny that on the day of these massive protests, their leaders gathered to have a chat with the president of Slovenia. The masses self-organized on the streets, the leaders of all kinds were together in the palaces. The lines of history are clearly drawn.
Police repression was heavy against smaller demonstrations across the country, but even in Koper, where the police showed up in the greatest force, they failed to subdue the demonstrators, who continued with their protests across the city after the skirmishes. In Ljubljana, the police were overpowered again. Decentralization worked, just as it did during the uprising eight years ago. The more we spread out, the more unstoppable we are.
The success of the mobilization in Slovenia, which drew much greater numbers than usually attend anti-authoritarian protests, shows that the usual suspects who aim to maintain this oppressive order are feeling helpless in the new circumstances caused by the pandemic. Before the left political parties, liberals NGOs, and civil society and bureaucratic unions manage once again to consolidate the situation to maintain the status quo, anarchists and other anti-authoritarians have a window of opportunity to set an example of what it means to fight.
This is the time to be bold in our actions and daring in our ideas. Let’s think together about how to create new forms of social conflict and where we will find each other next.
A more complete overview of events around the United States is available here. Below, we zoom in on the details of some of these actions and the reflections the participants have drawn.
Graffiti in Bloomington, Indiana.
A car demonstration:
Following a protracted struggle by anarchists and other prison abolitionists, on Thursday US District Court Judge ordered the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reduce the number of detainees in three Florida detention facilities from 1400 to about 350 within two weeks. Demonstrators gathered at one of these facilities again on May Day to demand the release of all the detainees.
Demonstrators outside a detention center in South Florida on May Day.
On May 1, a group of outraged neighbors, abolitionists and other rabble-rousers came together at the end of a march to storm the gates and occupy a child detention center run by nonprofit Heartland Alliance in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. This child prison is currently undergoing renovations and is temporarily unoccupied. It is the site where migrant children who attempt to escape or rebel against their captors in other detention centers are transferred to and imprisoned.
As the demo approached its final destination, after visiting another currently occupied facility, fireworks and smoke filled the air. People danced joyously in the streets and lit mortars with abandon. As part of the chaos, a group stormed the facility, gaining access to the grounds. The rent-a-cop stationed there, after throwing a pair of bolt cutters back at a protester, walked off the property without a word. People defaced the building with slogans such as “Free Them All” and “This is a Baby Jail.” One person got on the roof, and dropped a banner proclaiming “Close The Jails—Open The Houses” and threw copies of a written
statement of solidarity onto the street below. As the cops closed in, protesters helped sound the alarm and assisted each other in getting to safety.
Heartland Alliance masks its sinister programs of social control and isolation as altruism and non-profit do-goodery. They hail themselves as leaders at the forefront of a noble fight, and deny their role as an arm of the prison-industrial complex. This torture chamber located at 1627 W. Morse has been used to isolate and punish migrant children who attempted to escape or rebel against their captors in other facilities.
The following communiqué was thrown across the surrounding streets and flung from the rooftop of the facility:
We are occupying this building in solidarity with all of the rebellious children who have been detained here in the past, those who are still being detained elsewhere, incarcerated people everywhere, and all who continue to experience violence at the hands of the state. With each passing day of this pandemic, we realize, as some have long known, that coronavirus is not the only thing killing us—its effects are weaponized by systems we are told to trust and rely on but which are actively harming and disposing of us.
Heartland Alliance—a non-profit organization masquerading its sinister program of social control as altruistic endeavor—jails migrant children in all corners of this city, including right here at 1627 W. Morse. This detention center is currently empty, not because Heartland has started releasing kids to their families, but because the brick-and-mortar cage is being renovated and re-secured to continue detaining and traumatizing children or to transform it into another type of carceral facility to hold our houseless neighbors while thousands of CHA units remain vacant. Regardless, this building’s purpose will be to surveil, control, and
There are currently 42 cases of COVID-19 at Heartland’s facilities. Even before these numbers were confirmed, solidarity demos have been denouncing what in cages is inevitable. As a result, Heartland has claimed that singing to the children, demanding their freedom and expressing love, both frightens and endangers them. Meanwhile, those on the outside witness smiles, waves, hands forming the shapes of hearts, signs reading “thank you” and “I love you.” At a recent demo, a written plea for “HELP” was launched towards the crowd standing below, after which Heartland covered their windows with tarps to stop children from interacting with us. Their flustered responses reflect the intensity of our connection and reveals an important truth: solidarity is powerful and our collective action is starting to create some cracks across the prison walls.
We are destroying the illusion that Heartland’s baby jail business is anything but an insidious overlap between the non-profit and prison-industrial complexes. The pandemic has laid bare this tortured interplay, exposing an avalanche of contradictions. It is within these cracks that we begin to grow new worlds. Worlds without incarceration, without domination, in which we no longer rely on systems that seek to extinguish and exterminate our autonomy and joy, and which reject separation from our greater power: each other.”
St. Louis, Missouri
The city government of St. Louis aims to evict a homeless encampment in downtown that has been there since the outbreak of the pandemic, seeing that homeless people cannot “shelter in place.” City government director of operations Todd Waelterman had quipped that he could get rid of the encampment quickly himself with a bulldozer. On Friday, a resident of the encampment pulled off his face mask, exposing him to a tiny part of the risks that he constantly imposes on others without any consideration.
We regard this as a courageous, laudable act. If it were impossible for privileged officials like Waelerman to protect themselves from the health consequences that they ceaselessly impose on the poor and defenseless, they would change their policies soon enough.
In Austin, a car demonstration including more than 30 vehicles shut down the main arterial freeway running through the city for over an hour. Police ultimately attacked, arresting over a dozen participants and towing and impounding their vehicles.
A car demonstration:
In Olympia, a rowdy caravan of rent strikers, unemployed people, and anarchists paraded through downtown in festive vehicles. Crafty cyclists held intersections and directed traffic, keeping the demonstration together. Two property management companies got a small taste of tenant power when they were visited and redecorated with banners and fliers declaring a rent strike. Property managers at each site came out and attempted to argue, only to be drowned out by the honking of dozens of car horns. We hope they know that this is only a small taste of what will happen to them if they try to evict anyone during or after this pandemic.
After a jubilant and chaotic parade, we convened with a caravan in solidarity with undocumented and migrant workers that had driven all the way from Seattle to demonstrate at the capital. A smattering of reactionary death-cultists huddled densely with their MAGA flags and their Q-Anon conspiracy signs, but they were largely drowned out and jeered at by the many cars of our comrades.
After the caravan, organizers hosted a spatially distant migrant farm worker ceremony, complete with a coffin covered in candles and offerings in memory of those whose lives are being unnecessarily sacrificed on the altar of the economy.
Car demonstrations are a new tactic, and a strange one; around the country, everyone is learning by doing. Cyclist scouts & traffic flaggers were essential to maintaining a tight formation through small city streets with roundabouts and traffic lights. After an uncertain start, we realized that with cyclists holding cross traffic back, we could stay together in formation and ignore traffic lights. Many of the basic tactical lessons from marching in the streets together translated to the car realm quickly. Communication, however, proved more difficult; a low-power FM radio transmitter, or an internet radio station, could allow everyone to play the same soundtrack and also receive announcements and coordinate directions on the fly. The police were largely hands-off and seemed at a loss as to how to engage with a large pack of cars.
Once we reached the capital, the dynamic changed dramatically. Right-wingers were also parading in cars; we often found ourselves stuck in traffic right next to a band of Trump cultists, trading jeers. After facing down these same reactionaries in the streets for years, it felt much more disorienting to all be in vehicles together, partially protected from one another but also potentially at greater risk. The confusion and inability to draw easy spatial lines between parties made policing essentially nonexistent, but it also reduced most of the conflicts to individual exchanges rather than the unity that arises when a bloc marches together. It’s not difficult to imagine a near future in which clashing car demos become more antagonistic, but it is difficult to imagine anything desirable emerging from such clashes.
While this caravan was largely a show of power and unity and less a material disruption of the world, the possibilities of strategic caravan demonstrations are endless. A caravan of 30 cars could easily shut down an interstate, surround distribution centers for Covid-19 profiteers, picket striking workplaces, and more.
There is a strange inversion at play with this new tactic.While wearing a mask is finally socially acceptable in everyday life now, making anonymity easier, we also find ourselves reduced to using our vehicles in demonstrations, complete with their license plates. It seems a necessary tradeoff at the moment—better to take some risks and build an antagonism than to cede antagonism entirely to the virus-denying death cultists who can’t imagine anything better than going back to work. But it remains to be seen how we can preserve anonymity in an era where car demonstrations appear to be the safest and most effective tactic.
Stay home—if you want to see totalitarianism consolidated forever. But don’t take the virus lightly, either.