Direct Action : An Ethnography

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(1961 - 2020)
David Rolfe Graeber (/ˈɡreɪbər/; born February 12, 1961) is an American anthropologist, anarchist activist and author known for his 2011 Debt: The First 5000 Years, 2015 The Utopia of Rules and 2018 Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. He is a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. (From :


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PREFACE A book this size is unusual nowadays. It was certainly not my initial plan. When I first decided to begin writing up some of my experiences of direct action from an ethnographic perspective, I actually had intended to write a fairly short book. But the more I wrote, the more the topic seemed to grow. I realized I was faced with a common dilemma of ethnographic writing: points that seem simple and obvious to anyone who has spent years inside a given cultural universe require a great deal of ink to convey to someone who hasn’t. Something similar had happened to me when I returned to Chicago from my dissertation research in Madagascar, many years ago. I remember fretting over just how much I had to say. I felt I had at best two or three really interesting points to make about the community I’d been studying. Then the moment I started writing, I realized that to explain any one of those points to someone who was not themselves from a... (From :

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INTRODUCTION: YOU BEGIN WITH RAGE, YOU MOVE ON TO SILLY FANTASIES ... “So,” Jaggi says. “I have an idea for what Ya Basta! might contribute to the actions in Québec City. The Canadian press keeps framing this as some kind of alien invasion. Thousands of American anarchists are going to be invading Canada to disrupt the Summit. The Québécois press is doing the same thing: it’s the English invasion all over again. So my idea is we play with that. We reenact the battle of Québec.” Puzzled stares from the Americans at the table. “That was the battle in 1759 in which the British conquered the city in the first place. They surprised the French garrison by climbing up these cliffs just to the west of the Plains of Abraham, near the old fort. So here’s my idea. You guys can suit up in your Ya Basta! outfits, and climb the exact same cliff, except—no, wait... (From :

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CHAPTER 1: NEW YORK DIARY: MARCH 2001 When the CLAC caravan came through, most of us in New York had been locked in a prolonged debate over whether we should be trying to get to Québec at all. At the time, the NYC Direct Action Network was concentrating its efforts on helping to organize a mass “convergence” of activists in Burlington, to run for several days leading up to the action. There everyone would hold a spokescouncil to decide what to do next. Ya Basta! had largely been left to come up with action scenarios. The problem was that there was little reason to believe that several dozen known activists loaded down with gas masks, helmets, padding, and chemical jumpsuits were ever going to be allowed across the border. That meant we either had to forgo the gear or send it to Canada well in advance—neither of which, for various reasons, were particularly plausible alternatives. Faced with a similar dilemma during the World... (From :

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CHAPTER 2: A TRIP TO QUÉBEC CITY Herein lies the story of my first trip to Québec City. One strange thing about the months leading up to the FTAA actions was how our imaginative landscapes were constantly flipping back and forth. When Jaggi and his friends were in town everything was about Québec City and the wall there. After about a month of meetings in New York, all that had become ghostly, insubstantial; Cornwall, Mohawks, border actions, all seemed tangible and real. Over the next weekend, that all reversed again, and I came out of it utterly, completely determined to make it to the Summit. This determination was to create considerable strain with some of my friends, at certain points, but I never abandoned it. Friday, March 23, 2001 The day was mainly spent driving. Me, Emma, Sasha, all from Ya Basta!, and Dean, from the Free CUNY Collective, set off from the city fairly early in... (From :

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CHAPTER 3: FROM BURLINGTON TO AKWESASNE The next couple weeks were increasingly frenetic. I’ll give only the most schematic account. NEW YORK DIARY CONTINUED Thursday, March 29, 2001: Ya Basta! meeting, Brooklyn Ya Basta! meeting, a big circle in Moose’s living room. This meeting marks the first appearance of Smokey and Flamma’s friend Jesse, a cocky-seeming young man newly arrived from Louisiana. Tells us he’s an “organizer,” needs something to organize, and Ya Basta! is clearly in need of help. He’s actually a pretty good facilitator and insists we have a proper meeting, but just about everyone not of the Smokey and Flamma faction takes an instant dislike to him. Friday, March 30: Independent Media Center, Manhattan Hours at the IMC, mainly... (From :

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CHAPTER 4: SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS, QUÉBEC CITY At this point I’ll return to diary mode. What follows is built up largely from notes quickly jotted at the time, fleshed out from memory and later checked against those of other participants, and published (usually web-published) firsthand accounts. Friday, April 20, 2001 2:30AM I have always had a stubborn inability to sleep in moving vehicles. Kitty and the Connecticut crew quickly pass out in the back of the van. Karen and I, insomniac, end up having a long conversation with Janna, the Catholic Worker from Denver, who is there with the SOA contingent. Janna is actually a pagan, but for radicals in that part of the country, she explains, there’s not a lot of choices. “I’d have joined Pagan Worker if such a thing existed.” She was gassed in Seattle and had been in and out of hospitals f... (From :

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CHAPTER 5: DIRECT ACTION, ANARCHISM, DIRECT DEMOCRACY Since this is a book about direct action, it might be best to begin by explaining what that is. I) WHAT IS DIRECT ACTION? Over the years, hundreds of anarchists have tried to answer this question, in pamphlets and broadsides and speeches. Here’s a sampling: Direct action implies one’s acting for one’s self, in a fashion in which one may weigh directly the problem with which you are confronted, and without needing the mediation of politicians or bureaucrats. If you see some bulldozers about to wreck your house, you engage in direct action to directly intervene to try to stop them. Direct action places moral conscience up against the official law… It is the expression of the individual’s readiness to fight, to take control of his life, and to try, directly, to act on the world that surrounds us,... (From :

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CHAPTER 6: SOME NOTES ON “ACTIVIST CULTURE” I started this book with the first CLAC tour that passed through New York in early 2000. Let me flash forward about a year and talk about the second CLAC tour to do so: one held prior to their “Take the Capital” action in Ottawa during the 2002 G8 meetings in Kananaskis. The audience for such tours tended to consist mostly of white anarchists, but this time the CLAC people made a point of bringing in at least one speaker from a local community-based group in each city they passed through. In New York, this turned out to be an organizer named Ranjanit from a radical South Asian group called Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). At that time, DRUM had earned enormous respect in New York activist circles for its work on immigration detention issues—of special interest there in the immediate wake of September 11, when hundreds of people of Middle Eastern or South Asian... (From :


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