What's the point of flashpoint action?

Flashpoints are moments of resistance - often violent - against systems of oppression. Can such actions build social movements or do they destroy solidarity and community? Yalla Matame argues in favor of their potential and Bellamy responds to her arguments here.

Yalla Matame
4 December 2013

Hundreds of police in riot gear raid Occupy Oakland in 2011. Credit: Demotix

“And so,
human strike
after human strike, propagate
where there is nothing but,
and where we are all
- Tiqqun, “How is it to be done”

Stop waiting and take action. It will spread like wildfire.

What does it take to live our politics everyday instead of merely discussing them? What does it take to inspire liberation? We are urged to wait, to wait for the right time for revolt. But why?

The radical community should not wait, but rather take to the streets in a way that inspires a chain of further uprisings. The spontaneous resistance known as flashpoint action is also liberatory action. Flashpoints are moments of resistance – often violent - against systems of oppression, usually in response to police. Flashpoints thrust normally hidden repression into the public sphere.

Several small-scale San Francisco Bay Area demonstrations in the past year were met with severe repercussions from the police and the legal system: months in jail and thousands in bail. There is a culture of fear around initiating street actions. The fear is that we will be snuffed out. People don’t want to get booked under severe felony charges for as little as just marching down a street.

But what if an action becomes the flashpoint for a larger revolutionary fire?

Let’s return to 1969, when police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. They went in under the guise of 'liquor fraud', but were actually looking to gay bash the patrons. The unsuspecting police were met with spontaneous, violent resistance when the patrons fought back against the police and successfully de-arrested people. 

“When did you ever see a fag fight back? Now, times were a-changin'. Tuesday night was the last night for bullshit.... Predominantly, the theme [w]as, 'this shit has got to stop!'” said one anonymous Stonewall rioter. All of the sudden, New York’s butch dykes, drag queens, trans women, and homeless queers of color were fighting back against the police. They had had enough, and erupted into action against the police.

These two nights of riots triggered the Gay Liberation Front. The wider queer community in NYC came together in the form of the anti-capitalist GLF, seeking sexual liberation for everyone and the destruction of the social institutions that perpetuate gender norms.

The importance of the flashpoint action for sparking further events is emphasized in “Insurrectionary Anarchy: Organizing for Attack”. The article says:

“For these events to build, they must spread; insurrectionary anarchism, therefore, places particular importance on the circulation and spread of action, not managed revolt, for no army or police force is able to control the generalised circulation of such autonomous activity.”

One essential facet of this kind of action is that it resonates beyond the subculture to radicalize people and transform communities. “What the system is afraid of is not just these acts of sabotage themselves, but also them spreading socially,” writes Do or Die. The Stonewall Riots resonated with the greater queer community, and that is how a larger social movement began. 

After George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin on July 13th earlier this year, people’s anger about systemic police violence and racism overcame previous fears of state repression. An emergency demonstration was called for later that night in the streets of Oakland. People protested until two am, without consequence, resulting in almost a full week of demonstrations in Oakland alone, as well as all over the Bay Area and the rest of the United States. A freeway blockade on Sunday in Los Angeles inspired a freeway blockade in Oakland on Monday.

From the outset, the disillusioned activist might have said: “Can a thirty minute march really change anything?” The answer is unpredictable but if Propaganda of the Deed (the ripple effect of political action), takes effect, the march will spark another march, which will start a freeway blockade, which will initiate a week of riots, as seen in the Trayvon uprisings.

Suddenly, the entire U.S. became concerned with police violence. And for anyone who was still on the fence, Zimmerman now faces possible conviction to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for choking and pointing a gun at his partner.

In The Insurrectional Project, Italian insurrectionary theorist Alfredo Bonanno explains: “Because rather than wait, we have decided to proceed to action, even if the time is not ripe.” He did not wish to negotiate with the oppressors.“Because we want to put an end to this state of affairs right away, rather than wait until conditions make its transformation possible,” he states.

Whether or not the time was right, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) exploded onto the scene earlier this summer with thirty reported acts of sabotage. The ALF’s entire ‘Freedom Summer’ began with one flashpoint action. At the end of July 2013, 2,400 mink were released from a fur farm in Burley, Idaho.

As if to exemplify Propaganda of the Deed and Bonanno’s theories, within the following month, locks were glued, businesses graffittied, and fur farms were infiltrated to lift the cages from mink, bobcats, and pheasants. These subsequent actions of animal liberation were met with minimal legal repercussions only based on circumstantial evidence. Using Bonanno’s framework, the ALF did not appeal the fur farms’ owners to better treat the animals, but instead took action to release the animals themselves.

The Stonewall, Trayvon Martin, and ALF uprisings show that flashpoints can and do cause revolutionary fires, which we must stoke with the strength of our social connections.

The Crimethinc Ex-Workers Collective (CWC) piece “Rolling Thunder” highlights the social nature of action, “The force of insurrection is social, not military. That means it depends on the strength, solidarity, and relationships of an entire social body—not just an affinity group or crew…One can break a window with a single brick and the muscles of one’s arm, but one can only participate in a long-running social conflict as part of a community,” they write.

We do not need to focus on the disparity of resources and weapons between revolutionaries and the state, but rather on building strong social relationships with each other. These bonds will translate into confidence and cohesion in the streets. Imagine a demonstration where you took the streets and due to long-standing social bonds, trusted everyone around you. The crowd would be cohesive, impenetrable, and fearless. Nurtured community strength can transform what would be a disparate mob into a confident, cohesive group.

The authorities know that social movements depend on bonds between individuals and have therefore amplified their attacks through heavy surveillance. “The authorities understand themselves to be engaged in social war, perhaps more clearly than most insurrectionists do. They do not simply attack our bodies with batons, pepper spray, and imprisonment; they also set out to attack our relationships and social connections,” write the CWC.

The FBI routinely map out activists' social networks, targeting “weak links”1. If someone commits an act of sabotage and gets caught, the state labels them as a “domestic terrorist”, a strategy to isolate, intimidate, and discredit that person from the greater community. Without support, they may fall victim to the state’s worst torture, entrapment between snitching and prison. If our social relationships are strong from the small cell to the larger radical community, we can protect those from isolation.

With a certain critical mass, our groups cannot be dispelled. During Occupy, the milieu of widespread occupations all over the U.S. allowed for Occupy Oakland to emerge as a militant stronghold. The occupation of public space as a form of protest suddenly became the norm. Occupy Oakland challenged that norm with an onslaught of direct actions including building occupations, the port shutdown, and a general strike.

Without the backdrop of the greater Occupy community, the consequence of militant action would not have been as successful. But, in 2011, the U.S. was not expecting such ubiquitous occupations. On the part of insurrectionary anarchists, it was a creative tactic. The occupations confronted the overwhelming failure of capitalism to take care of its citizens. They spread like wildfire, and in turn, successfully radicalized masses of people.

Action after action after action can be exhausting and dangerous, but if we ground those actions in a radical community rich with tenacious social bonds, we will be the dangerous ones. 

Insurrectionary actions offer a break from the everyday monotony of capitalist drudgery. A downtown financial district can become a queer dance party in the street. Go dance.


To read more, see: A flashpoint action reading list

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