How Not to Smash Global Capitalism

Why the Kalifornia Anarchists had their butts handed to them on May Day

"The first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it."

Abbie Hoffman

On May 1, a group calling itself Kalifornia Anarchists arrived in downtown Long Beach to celebrate May Day the old-school way: by staging an angry protest on the streets and hoping for a chance to clash with the police and maybe destroy some property.

But instead of kicking ass and upending global capitalism, the roughly 125 protesters got their own asses kicked.

The demonstrators found themselves quickly surrounded by cops who outnumbered and outsmarted them. Final score: 95 anarchists arrested and at least 20 shot with rubber bullets and bean bags by a phalanx of police officers lined up like a firing squad.

It wasn't pretty, but the cops did exactly what they were supposed to do, while the anarchists failed to observe the first rule of organizing protests: demonstrate only when you're pretty sure you'll win—or at least pretty certain the experience of losing will be empowering.

Rule No. 2: don't carpool. Instead of arriving in small groups, the anarchists arrived en masse and hung about in a group that practically screamed trouble.

Rule No. 3: blend in. The anarchists dressed in anarcho-syndicalist black: black combat boots, black sweat shirts and black pants. Most wore black bandannas and hoods pulled over their faces. They should have taken a sartorial cue from the small number of anarchists whom police said were from Orange County: they wore red Hawaiian shirts and red bandannas. Remember the Viet Cong? They wore black pajamas just like all rural Vietnamese, making it difficult for American GIs to distinguish them from civilians.

Which brings us to Rule No. 4: find an unsuspecting front group. The chances of creating chaos improve considerably when demonstrators infiltrate a larger peaceful demonstration. In Long Beach, the anarchists were on their own. Dressed as they were—with everything but "SHOOT ME, I'M AN ANARCHIST" signs on their chests—they were quickly surrounded and subdued.

Rule No. 5: recall the U.S. Army aphorism "Speed is a weapon." A police video obtained and analyzed by the Weekly reveals that instead of immediately spreading mayhem and breaking things on the streets of Long Beach, the Kalifornia Anarchists gathered for a predemonstration meeting in a grassy courtyard just two blocks from police headquarters. The battlefield is not a place for chitchat. In broad daylight, they sat on the grass for half an hour, either waiting for stragglers, figuring out a plan or both. It cannot be overemphasized how extremely stupid this is. If you are going to dress like vandals and (as police allege) carry rocks and baggies of shit that you intend to throw at police, do not sit on your ass in a park.

Rule No. 6: know when to quit. If you're going to violate rules one through five, be nice. Cooperate with the Man. The police video shows that two police officers—without riot gear or weapons drawn—calmly approached the protesters. Police say the pair offered to provide traffic control if the demonstrators would simply share their planned march route. Not surprisingly, the group indicated it wouldn't cooperate. Repeatedly, the officers can be seen on the video in postures of supplication—raising their hands into the air as if to indicate that they were pleading with the protesters and really, truly doing their best to communicate—without much success.

Shortly after the two cops left the group, the demonstrators began their march, unfurling a massive banner that read, "CAPITALISM STOLE MY LIFE" and carrying placards boasting, "THIS IS OUR CITY! WE CAN TEAR IT DOWN!" Long Beach police public information officer Steve Filippini said the cops had one concern: preventing the anarchists from entering Pine Avenue, which is full of shops, cafés, shoppers—and plate-glass windows.

Despite the protesters' claim that police fired rubber bullets at them without warning, the police video shows that a cop speaking through a bike-mounted megaphone gave at least one order to disperse while sitting on his motorcycle only a few feet from the crowd.

The video does show police hitting protesters before that order was given, including a few cops swinging bats like Babe Ruth on speed. But this came a full 45 minutes after the protesters first arrived in downtown Long Beach. By that point, the Kalifornia Anarchists had missed several opportunities to avoid getting stomped.

"The crowd wouldn't cooperate; it wouldn't respond to orders that were given several times," Filippini explained. "So we pushed them toward Ocean Boulevard. When we got to Ocean, that's when objects started being thrown from the crowd. It's not like that whole crowd of 125 were throwing things; there were a few people throwing rocks and [plastic] bottles—and there were a few bags of feces found in the street."

Within a few minutes, police pushed demonstrators toward a building, cornering them. At that point, the police video shows that officers began indiscriminately firing at demonstrators, many of whom can be seen scrambling for cover; sadly, there wasn't any. Then, one by one, police arrested about 95 protesters, who were later charged with crimes ranging from failure to disperse to conspiracy to assault with a deadly weapon.

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