Even as the last of the 1,252 people arrested in front of the White House in opposition to the tar sands pipeline were being handcuffed and processed, another group planning to make trouble in the capital decided to bide its time. Citizens for Legitimate Government, founded after the 2000 election to oppose the influence of corporations and militarism in politics, had been planning since the spring to conduct Seize DC, a “guerilla” campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience. It was aiming for September 10th, the day before the anniversary of 9/11. On August 30th, though, they announced that the action would be postponed until after the new year.
CLG had been counting on its 75,000-strong email newsletter list and a handful of organizers to produce a flood of eager guerillas. By late August, however, it was evident that those weren’t enough. “We sent out a notice asking people to get more involved, to help organize rides,” explains Michael Rectenwald, the group’s founder and “chief editorialist.” “We received a couple handfuls of responses, but nothing like what we needed to make this thing fly.” For now.
Two weeks before the postponement came out, I met with Rectenwald in Washington Square Park, near where he teaches 19th-century literary culture at New York University. He had on shorts and white iPod earbuds, and bore a passing resemblance to a younger Jack Nicholson. By then, he had come to see Seize DC as one in a series of actions being planned for the fall, an opening salvo that would escalate even more with the occupation slated to begin on October 6th in DC’s Freedom Plaza, also against corporatism and militarism. “We’re trying to build momentum,” he said then. “If this protest gets some visibility, maybe the next will be even bigger.”
Visibility, it seems, is what CLG does best. The group made a name for itself in the early months of the Bush administration by protesting at the president’s appearances around the country. This helped make Rectenwald a regular on cable TV talk shows over the past decade. But his group’s most ambitious stunt was another aborted one: an attempt to fly a plane over the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa with a banner saying “Bush Stole the Election.” The plane was diverted away before it could accomplish its mission.
Visibility would be helpful for the American Autumn now in gestation. The October 6th movement has yet become a subject of widespread attention nationally, despite the several thousand people already committed to join, the almost $20,000 dollars raised, and the hostile shout-out from Glenn Beck (whose latest impassioned conversion is to nonviolence). That hasn’t stopped its planners from doing the extensive on-the-ground organizing that it takes to make something like this happen—the kind of things CLG hadn’t been able to marshal for Seize DC. (“We’re not really organizational people,” Rectenwald told me, actually. “We’re more like propagandists.”) The October2011.org website already features a ride board, a crop of musicians slated to perform, backup housing options, and a busy discussion forum in preparation for the nightly assemblies they plan to hold in the plaza. Offline, the planners are arranging for a stage, port-a-potties, and other such inglorious logistics of outdoor politics.
This October in DC will be even busier thanks to phase two of the Tar Sands Action, which, according to the latest missive from organizer Bill McKibben, will start up again on October 7th or 8th. McKibben has apparently told the October 6th team that his next move will be “synergistic” with their intentions. Citizens for Legitimate Government also continues to endorse the October 6th action.
The next theater of the American Autumn, however, will be the September 17th occupation of Wall Street that Adbusters called for earlier in the summer. The General Assembly meetings in New York’s Tompkins Square Park that are ostensibly charged with planning it have tended to be mired in more process than yield, as they try to reinvent the wheels of democracy. But that hasn’t stopped more than 6,000 people from signing on to the Facebook page, or the hacker group Anonymous from announcing its support, or the group US Day of Rage from posting its own “Official Occupation and Tactical Plan.” The Department of Homeland Security has even issued a warning about Anonymous, its designs for Wall Street, and the danger that it might “solicit ideologically dissatisfied, sympathetic employees” to the cause. According to notices on an informal email list, nine people were arrested on September 1st while occupying a New York City sidewalk as a test run.
It may take a week longer to get going, and then another three weeks before it reaches Washington, but the American Autumn is apparently still on.
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As Congress considers requiring women to register for the draft, it’s time we remember the movements that fought to abolish conscription and learn from their victories.
The push toward corporate profits over people’s needs is already happening, but it doesn’t have to go that way if movements start planning big.