Saturday, March 29, 2008

Stop traffic

Stopping traffic. Something I love when put into practice. Check this out (h/t Madman in the Marketplace over at Marisacat's place):
The intermittent blare of car horns cut through the silence on George Street yesterday afternoon as hundreds sat quietly in the middle of an intersection. Traffic lights flashed yellow to red to green as protesters commemorating the five-year war in Iraq laid down their banners and megaphones for five minutes in hushed repose while dozens gazed at the impasse from sidewalks and downtown high-rises.

Protesters held up peace signs to impatient drivers as they waited out the minutes, each one symbolic of one year the U.S. has spent in Iraq.

The sit-in was part of an anti-war demonstration by University students and faculty as well as New Brunswick community members. The crowd took to the streets following a rally organized by the Walk Out Coalition.

Approximately 300 people marched in support of peace in the Middle East and ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The crowd carried colorful signs, waved flags, held banners, chanted and sang for their cause all under the watchful eyes of the New Brunswick police, as well as media on both a local and national level.

As a rally comprised of several speakers came to an end, organizers urged the crowd to participate in an approximately 4 mile march in which students took control of city streets, forcing cars and buses to a standstill. The only exception the crowd made was allowing a lone ambulance passage through the masses.

[snip]

Members of Rutgers Against the War and Tent State University led the protest with a front banner that read, "End Campus Complicity! Divest!" as part of RAW's campaign to end to University spending that indirectly aids the war effort.

[snip]

Kristofer Goldsmith a member of the New York City chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, addressed the crowd amid the interruptions.

"I'm an American soldier, okay?" he said. "I'm a combat vet. I have friends that are [in Iraq] right now. I'm speaking for the guys that don't want to be there and members of Iraq Veterans Against the War." Goldsmith asked everyone in the crowd to please stop calling the conflict in Iraq a war.

"It's not a war it's an occupation," he said. "When Congress votes in support of the War, they are not supporting the troops. I never got a pay raise when I was there."

After leaving the Marine Corps Recruiting Station, the march continued down George Street to the Exxon Mobil gas station.

"Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, take your war and go to hell!" protesters shouted as they sat in the street once again, blocking traffic at the intersection where the gas station is located.

"We are going to Exxon to protest their involvement in the war and their profiting from the war." TSU organizer and Rutgers College alumna Amanda Troeder said.

Demonstrators marched to Douglass campus at which point, TSU organizer and Rutgers College junior Erik Straub offered the crowd two options: the first, a speak-in at Voorhees Chapel, and the second, an extended march onto Route 18.

At the mention of taking over a major highway, the crowd cheered with approval.

As demonstrators approached the entranceway to the highway's southbound side, police scrambled to catch up to the front of the procession where they learned of the impromptu course decision.

"We are unstoppable, another world is possible!" the crowd chanted.

A year ago from Stop Me Before I Vote Again:

Real politics doesn't necessarily imply hanging “investment bankers” from lampposts – though that would be fun as well as salutary. It is not, however, essential, at the moment, and perhaps not ever. The elites know they are greatly outnumbered by the rest of us, and they are fundamentally frightened of us. All you have to do is stop traffic.

Stopping traffic is, in fact, the minimum precondition for real politics, and thus of real democracy, just as the touch of skin on skin is the minimum precondition of real sex.

Interestingly, it has never been easier to stop traffic. Those Merry Pranksters in Boston a few weeks ago did it with a handful of blinking LEDs. Self-imposed “War on Terror” hysteria and police frenzy have made the armorbound, overgunned Talus of the enforcement state frightened of its own shadow – or, more accurately, of any point of light, no matter how transient and faint, that isn't its shadow. Anything Caliban sees in the mirror that isn't Caliban will have Caliban on the floor, chewing the carpet.

Buy a cheap knapsack or duffle bag every week. Stuff it with rags or old underwear and leave it in a subway station, or an airport, or just on a sidewalk. Tune in to the evening news and watch the fun.

They hate crowds. Go to Gawker Stalker and report Britney Spears running bare-tit down the street in front of the Israeli Consulate. Be sure to provide the address.

Carry a small can of black spray paint and use it on the lens of every surveillance camera you see. I know, it won't stop traffic, but it'll drive 'em crazy.

Drive really, really slow. In fact, get a couple of co-conspirators to drive really, really slow alongside you. When news radio reports a mysterious slowdown on the Whatever Expressway, take credit in the name of the Asphalt Liberation Front.

Create a dozen or so bogus accounts on some Web site that annoys you – may I suggest Daily Kos? -- and keep the troll-hunters wakeful and strung out. It doesn't stop physical traffic, but it stops, or at least impedes, the ideological traffic in exploded notions.

Don't allow your kids to do homework.

The main thing, though, is to stop being constructive. Don't waste a moment thinking about what “policies” might be better than the ones we have. The fact is that the institutions we have absolutely guarantee insane policies, and unless the balance of power between the elites and the rest of us is changed, then those institutions will continue to manufacture insanity day in and day out.

And there is, needless to say, no institutional way to change the balance of power. The institutions exist to maintain the balance of power – or, more accurately, to tip the balance of power ever more toward the elites. Changing the balance of power requires interfering with the institutions, and impairing or impeding their operation.

In short: stop traffic.

Stopping traffic, either in the physical or non-physical sense is about trying to wake people up by interrupting routines. Protests that literally stop traffic are good. A bit of monkey-wrenching here and there? Why not. The main thing is not to be "constructive" at least as defined within the current system. Something I said last year:
Of course that's just the punchline. Check out the rest while you're at it. Certainly we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that if we elect one party or the other to office that suddenly everything will be peachy keen. It's safe to say that it hasn't worked out that way in my lifetime, nor do I foresee that happening any time too soon. There might be some superficial differences between Democrats and Republicans on some issues, but that's just the window dressing. As long as even the self-styled progressives are committed to the same imperialist agenda (as another blogger has noticed) as their more right-wing counterparts, we will continue to see a state of perpetual war and the continued justification for the 700 or so military bases around the world in the name of "national defense." We will also continue to see an escalation of the government's war against its own citizens in the form of draconian drug laws, PATRIOT Act-style legislation, "free trade" policies that impoverish an increasing number of Americans, and yes the condemnation of vast parcels of farm and ranch lands (along with the towns that exist in the vicinity) in order to build gargantuan military facilities. To expect any sort of substantial change in practice to correspond to a change in the fortunes of the two official political parties is folly.

The sane thing to do when faced with an insane system is to screw with it. That may well be the one tangible bit of power we ordinary folks possess given that the current political game is so badly rigged to the elites' advantage. Stop traffic. Wean yourself away from the prevailing consumer culture. Don't do anything that contributes to strengthening the system as it currently exists. Obviously I am not advocating giving up the fight for the causes one holds dear. I have no intention of doing so myself or to stop writing as time permits. I guess what it comes down to is taking a different perspective in light of the realities of our current situation, and to find a healthy detachment from the American political scene. That reality necessitates a certain amount of jadedness along the lines of Arthur Silber and Billmon's now defunct Whiskey Bar.
I see the possibilities regarding "stopping traffic" to be practically endless - whether it's weaning away from consumerism to boycotting elections. It's quite liberating to not feel the need to pay attention to all the sniping between the Clintonistas and Obamistas, or at least to see it for what it is rather than to get caught up emotionally in something that is little more than a reality show for wannabe wonks.

Another world is indeed possible - heck, since the Seattle WTO protests as 1999 (that even continue to manifest themselves in my dreams from time to time), I think we're seeing the faint outlines of what that world might look like. It won't be paradise - just humanity making use of the remnants of what had been and moving on to something else. The potential for that "something else" to be mostly good is what keeps me going. It's still winter in America (as Gil Scott-Heron once wrote) - actully winter all over the globe - but spring will come. Those first tentative signs of new life are already there if one merely stops for a second and takes a good look. Until then...

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