David Graeber: Major Direct Actions (1994-2003)

The following timeline appears in David Graeber – Direct Action: An Ethnography, AK Press (2009).

January 1, 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement goes into effect. Uprising by the EZLN (or Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, or Zapatistas) in Chiapas begins with a surprise military offensive that leads, briefly, to the seizure of Chiapas’ capital, San Christobal de las Casas.  The Zapatistas, however, quickly transform from an offensive force to a defensive one, creating a series of self-governing autonomous communities, seeking international allies, and promulgating a politics of direct action, democratic experimentation, and a new approach to revolution that converges with the anarchist tradition in its refusal of traditional attempts to transform through the seizure of state power.

August, 1997 Second Zapatista “International Encuentro For Humanity and Against Neoliberalism” in Spain ends with a call to create an international network, that ultimately comes to be known (in English) as Peoples’ Global Action. Aside from the Zapatistas themselves, the core of PGA, at first, consists of the Brazilian Landless Farmers’ Movement (MST), the Indian Karnataka State Farmers’ Association (KRRS, a mass-based Gandhian direct action movement), anarchist or anarchist-inspired groups including Ya Basta! in Italy and Reclaim the Streets in the UK, and various indigenous and agrarian movements and radical labor unions.

June 18, 1999 “JI8,” the first massive PGA-sponsored global day of action, known alternately as the “Global Day of Action Against Financial Centers” or “Carnival Against Capitalism” to coincide with the G8 meetings of leaders of the major industrial powers, with coordinated actions in over a hundred cities worldwide from Australia to Zimbabwe. In America, several demos are organized, mostly under the banner of new American versions of Reclaim the Streets.

November 30, 1999 “N30” actions against the WTO ministerial meetings in Seattle, another international day of action proposed by PGA.  The action is long in the planning but comes as a total surprise to the mainstream media, who see it as the birth of a movement. Seattle saw sharp divisions over tactics between nonviolent protesters conducting the lockdowns and blockades of the hotel where the ministerial is taking place, organized by the newly created Direct Action Network (DAN), and participants in a smaller “Black Bloc,” mostly made up of anarchists and radical ecologists, who have a more militant interpretation of nonviolence, and ‘who, after police begin to attack the blockaders, start a campaign of targeted property destruction against symbols of corporate power (mostly windows) downtown. On the first day, the meetings are actually shut down, and negotiations end in failure. 1he next few days see massive repression, culminating in the declaration of martial law and the summoning of the National Guard. The months immediately following Seattle are filled with a burst of new organizing and activity, and the creation of autonomous chapters of DAN in cities across the US, and even Canada.

April 16, 2000 “A16” actions against the meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Washington DC.  While not as tactically successful as Seattle (the meetings are not shut down), A 16 marks the beginning of a rapprochement between the DAN organizers and the autonomous Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc-the Black Bloc assembled for the occasion-with the RACB refraining from property destruction and instead providing support for blockaders and those in lockdown.

August 1, 2000 “R2K” actions against the Republican Convention in Philadelphia. Combined with D2K actions against the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, these are collectively known among activists as R2D2. While LA DAN rejects widespread direct action for a strategy of marches in alliance with community groups, the Philly actions, organized above all by DANs in New York, Philly, and DC, mark further integration of Black Blocs and blockaders, with the “Revolutionary Anti-Authoritarian Bloc” in this case providing a diversion to draw police away from the lockdowns. Philly is also marked by an attempt to create alliances between the mostly white DANs and radical people of color organizations, with mixed success. Retrospectively, it is seen as the point where the lockdown/blockade strategy has largely run its course, prompting an interest in creating more mobile tactics.

September 26, 2000 “S26” actions against the IMF/World Bank meetings in Prague, Czech Republic. This is the first large and dramatic action in Europe after Seattle. Like many European actions, the level of militancy is much greater than in the US. The actions see fierce dashes between Black Bloc anarchists and police, the first appearance of the festive “Pink Bloc,” and the first international debut of the Italian “white overalls” tactics (the “Tute Bianche,” organized by Italian Ya Basta!), a kind of comic mock army of activists in helmets, padding, shields, and often inflatable inner-tubes, who attempt to storm police lines armed, among other things, with balloons and water pistols.

January 20, 2001 “J20” protests at Bush’s inauguration, the second largest inaugural protests in American history, though they receive almost no attention from the mainstream media. Most members of NYC DAN end up joining another Revolutionary Anti-Authoritarian Bloc. The Black Bloc manages to crash through police barricades and temporarily occupy Naval Memorial, hoisting a black flag and blocking the parade route, and Bush’s motorcade, for some time before finally being forced out by secret service and police.

January 25-30, 2001 The first World Social Forum (WSF) is held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Originally conceived as the radical alternative to the World Economic Forum (WEF)- a kind of junket and networking session for global officials and bureaucrats, usually held in Davos, Switzeriand-the WSF rapidly becomes the intellectual center of the global movement against neoliberalism, with thousands of different organizations and individuals participating in hundreds of sessions.

April 20-22, 2001 Actions against the “Summit of the Americas,” negotiations over the Free Trade Area of the Americas pact (FTAA) in Quebec City, Canada. This is the first action where the authorities organize their strategy around building a large fence (“the wall”) around the section of the city where the summit is to take place. The actions, organized primarily by the Montreal based Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalistes, or CLAC, mainly aim attacks at the wall itself, as a symbol of the contradictions of neoliberalism.

July 19-21, 2001 Several hundred thousand protesters converge on Genoa, Italy, for the G8 meetings of the heads of industrialized nations. The wall strategy is again employed, and Italian police, who had traditionally been relatively tolerant of white overall tactics, adopt a strategy of extreme repression this time, refusing any contact with protest leaders and employing a systematic strategy of encouraging fascists and agent provocateurs to provide excuses to attack, arrest, and afterwards, systematically abuse and even torture activists. Genoa is seen as a watermark of repression in Europe and causes European groups to scramble to formulate a new strategy.

September 11, 2001 Attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.  Anarchists in New York are among the first to mobilize against the upcoming war, with marches culminating in a march of six thousand people to Times Square a month after the event. These are almost completely ignored in the mainstream media. Actions being planned for the upcoming World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington DC are radically scaled back as the movement is forced to reconsider its overall strategic direction.

February 3-4, 2002 World Economic Forum protests in New York City. In the immediate wake of 911, the WEF announces it will relocate, this year, from Davos (where it has become the object of frequent activist sieges) to the Waldorf Astoria in New York “as an act of solidarity.” Anarchists in NYC DAN and the newly created NYC Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC) are forced to throw together an action in a matter of months, abandoned by almost all of their usual NGO and Labor allies. The action is successfully and nonviolently pulled off, but is met by massive police intimidation and hundreds of arrests. The stress of 911 , and of being forced to create a national mobilization out of nothing in such a short time, creates endless tensions within the New York scene and eventually leads to decline and eventual dissolution of DAN over the course of the next year.

September 10-14, 2003 WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico.  Mass actions by Mexican and global activists-including the dramatic suicide of a South Korean farmer-end in a definitive check of the WTO process.

November 17-21 2003 FTAA negotiations in Miami, met by the first genuinely large-scale national convergence in the US since 911. These meetings also see the first use, in the US, of a new policy of massive preemptive attacks and extreme police violence against protesters-an approach that comes to be known as the “Miami model” after Homeland Security announces it as the way to deal with such actions in the future. The free trade negotiations, on the other hand, come to nothing, marking the definitive end of the FTAA process.


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